Consider the largest possible market for a physical product. Are you considering about cell phones? Cars? Property?

They are all large markets, but in the next decades, a new product will be released that will eclipse those behemoths, according to Geordie Rose, CEO of Sanctuary AI.

The Vancouver-based company is working on Phoenix, a humanoid robot that, when finished, will grasp what humans desire, how the world works, and have the ability to carry out our directions.

“The long-term total addressable market is the labor market, which is the largest in the history of business and technology.” “It’s everything we want done,” he says.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, he adds, “There is a long way to go from where we are today.”

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Mr Rose refuses to speculate on when a robot might be in your home, washing your laundry or cleaning the bathroom. Others in the industry I’ve spoken with believe it might happen within the next ten years.

Several more companies are working on the technology all over the world.

Dyson is investing in AI and robotics for domestic duties in the United Kingdom.

Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric car startup, is perhaps the most visible on the market.

It is developing the Optimus humanoid robot, which Mr Musk claims will be available to the public in a few years.

We’ll see if that turns out to be the case. What we can say currently is that advances in artificial intelligence are hastening the development of humanoid robots.

“Ten years at the current rate of technological advancement is an eternity.” Every month, there are fresh advances in the AI sector that are like fundamental shift,” says Mr Rose, who has a theoretical physics background and previously established a quantum computing startup.

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When a robust version of ChatGPT was made available late last year, mainstream interest in AI skyrocketed. Its capacity to generate a wide range of relevant text and images has generated competitors and a flood of investment in AI technology.

However, developing AI that allows a robot to perform useful activities is a separate and more difficult issue.

Humanoid robots, unlike ChatGPT and its competitors, must navigate the physical environment and grasp how objects in that world connect to one another.

Sanctuary’s robot Phoenix, for example, has been packaging garments into plastic bags in the backroom of a Canadian retailer in a pilot experiment.

“Because bags are floppy, transparent, and have a place where they open, this is a problem that engages a lot of different complex issues in an AI-driven robotics system.”

“Usually, after manually opening the bag, you have to release one hand and then go put something in a bag,” Mr Rose explains.

“The manipulation of bags is actually very, very difficult for robots,” he adds, making today’s humanoid robots appear far less frightening than some of their Hollywood equivalents.

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Sanctuary has a system in place to teach Phoenix on specific duties such as bag packing. It will video a specific task being performed in collaboration with a business and then digitize the entire event.

This data is utilized to generate a virtual world that, in addition to storing all of the items, simulates physics such as gravity and resistance.

In such simulated environment, the AI can then practice the task. It can have a million trials, and once the developers believe the AI has mastered the event in the virtual world, it will be permitted to attempt it in the physical world.

Phoenix has been educated in this manner to play approximately 20 distinct roles.

Mr Rose believes that mastering specific jobs that are helpful for business is the way forward for humanoid robots. A robot that can handle housework is still a long way off.

One of the most difficult issues is providing the robot with a sense of touch so that it knows how much pressure to apply on an object.

“We have a facility with these types of tasks that comes from an evolutionary heritage that’s like a billion years long… they’re extremely difficult for machines,” Mr Rose explains.

A significant amount of effort need to be done in order to create a robot capable of dealing with all of the events that could occur in a house or busy office.

“You can’t put a robot in an unstructured environment and ask it to move around without essentially destroying everything.” It’s too much to ask of technology right now,” says Prof Alireza Mohammadi, who founded the Robotic Motion Intelligence Lab at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

He points out that while an AI can be trained through millions of situations, there is always the possibility that it will encounter something it has never seen before and behave in an unforeseen and perhaps harmful manner in the real world.

He claims that part of the difficulty is that people have an intuitive awareness of context and consequences. For example, we could anticipate that an overly exuberant dog will jump in front of us and plan accordingly.

That is exceedingly difficult to incorporate into a robot.

“Within ten years, we might have robots that can walk around with some guidance, but not in completely unstructured environments,” Prof Mohammadi says.

But, if those obstacles can be solved, may humanoid robots begin to take over professions currently performed by humans?

Mr Rose points out that many countries have a labor shortage, and his robots could one day fill such places.

Stewart Miller is the CEO of the National Robotarium, a collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh that focuses on artificial intelligence and robots.

“Inevitably, there will be robots doing jobs that were previously done by humans… the question then is, what does that mean?” he claims.

“There will be some growing pains.” But, if we think about it, we can begin emphasizing and concentrating on what humans do best, freeing up that capacity to do so and not having to spend time doing what robots do best.”


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