I wrote this post for Life | Art | Us on 17 May 2011. Click on the link at the bottom to read the full post.
In his session Where the robots work, James Bridle led a provocative and inspiring talk about the role of robots in today’s society, and why he thinks we should make friends with them – sooner rather than later.
The proposition at the heart of James’ talk was the idea that for centuries we’ve built our cities and towns around our needs, but as technologies have advanced, the design of the world around us has started to shift towards the needs of our inventions, such as automobiles, electricity, networks, data and robots. The question is, have we managed to keep people at the centre of our decision-making? And do we really understand the implications of setting robots to work, behind closed doors.
Robots race camels
In 2005 the starting gun was fired for robotic jockeys in Qatar, as they set off on their very first camel race. Controlled by jockey operators from the sidelines, this premier fleet of robotic jockeys were instructed to pull reins to change direction and whip their camels to go faster and win!
Although this may sound and look quite ridiculous, the use of robots as camel jockeys represents an astonishing development in technology and human rights. The owners of racing camels in many regions of the Middle East have traditionally used children as jockeys because of their light weight; sometimes children as young as four years old. Faced with heightening pressure from human rights groups, Qatar outlawed the practice of child jockeys and looked to technology to keep their popular camel racing culture alive. The robotics firm K-Team in Switzerland came up with this ground-breaking solution and a new robot was born. Robot jockeys weigh-in at 57 pounds (26 kilograms) and cost about U.S. $5,500 each.
Interestingly, since Qatar handed their camel racing reigns over to robotic jockeys, both the United Arab Emirates and Oman have followed suit. So, in the last decade, robots have helped to ensure the future of this entertaining pass-time, and helped to end the exploitation of children involved in this activity. Go robots! Right?