Why Apple Should Be More Interested in Robots

In the modern discussion about Apple, we hear about iPhones, Macintoshes, iPads, music, subscription TV, Apple Watches and even electric cars. Where's the discussion about Apple and robots?


Apple does a lot of things, and it mostly does them well. Because Apple has so many customers and because Apple has large ambitions, one would think that we'd be hearing a lot nowadays about Apple and robots.

I started thinking about this right after I saw the movie Ex Machina (on Apple TV of course). The theme there was that a sufficiently sophisticated, intelligent, self-aware robot (an android actually) that could pass the Turing test would kill to obtain its (her) freedom. I would like to call this Phase I of an artificial intelligence.

For Ava, murder is a serious option. Image credit: Universal.

The next logical step is to think that there would be a Phase 2 of AIs in which the being has reached a level such that the respect for life is so well implanted that murder is never an acceptable option, even without Asimov's Three Laws.

Unfortunately, Phase 1 AIs make for much better science fiction. The potential danger of Phase 1 robots makes for a much more exciting movie because that theme preys on human fears. On the other hand, a delightful, cooperative and amicable relationship with robots would make for a pretty boring story.

The State-of-the-Art

An enormous amount of research is being done on robots these days. Everywhere you look, there are stories about breakthroughs in robot technology, in mechanics, AI levels and even sex. In turn, that's trickling down into modern TV shows such as Humans.

Yet there isn't even the tiniest hint that Apple is interested in robot technology. Of course, Apple could be doing this on a very, very secret level, and the security is so good, nothing has leaked. Compare that to the car business where Apple has needed some outside expertise and perhaps some partnering in order to achieve what they want to get done.

And yet, if Apple were working in robotics, you'd think that some trickle of information, some iota of a rumor would get out. But the silence is eerie.

For Lt. Cmdr Data, who can be left in charge of a
starship, murder is a very unlikely option.
Image credit: Paramount.

We Need Apple

If we ever needed a company to get involved with robotics, it's Apple. The reason isn't just that robots can be scary in science fiction, and we don't want those kinds around. The overriding reason is that Apple has developed a set of values for consumer products that we've come to respect more than most, if not all, other high tech companies.

Only Apple, in my opinion, is big enough and wealthy enough to instantiate into robotic/android form the best that humans could achieve in that technology.

Today, we have robots emerging on lots of different fronts, be they receptionists in Japanse hotels or in manufacturing, or in experimental hitchhikers. But there's no one with a coherent vision. There's no centralized company with a strong set of corporate values to take us from the dangerous robots of Phase 1 into the mature Phase 2—a very good place to be if we survive to get there.

Ultimately, the goal is a robot on the order of Star Trek's Lt. Commander Data, not the Ava of Ex Machina. Will Apple throw its hat into the ring someday soon? I hope so.