Looking ahead to 2050 - Symbiotic Autonomous Systems VI - Technologies

Self healing materials have been designed. These will be part of new design approaches aiming at creating self healing structures. Credit: University of California Riverside

Anthropogenic Biomes

We will be living in a world where the boundaries between life and objects will be more difficult to perceive. Of course this may take several decades but we will find ourselves speaking with objects and with the environment more and more, we will take for granted that we can talk to them, they will talk back to us and engage in a meaningful interaction. Echo, Siri are just crude prototypes of what is around the corner. We will expect robotized objects to be the norm and to take the initiative. Notice that a further step in symbiotic autonomous system foresees an awareness of an artificial autonomous system, like a robot, to become aware of its limitation and to seek assistance from another system, including interacting with a human. This can be, of course, a design choice, making sure that an artificial autonomous systems relies on human for help (although it may open a can of worms: whom should the robot trust? How can we trust the human and who becomes accountable?)

We will also expect them to be able to self repair or at least to take action to ensure a smooth overall operation while the repair-robot comes to rescue and fix the problem. This is no longer science fiction and there are studies to design cities able to self-repair (starting from fixing potholes!).

Programs like landing on Mars will generate a host of innovation in the area of autonomous systems that will create a fall out on the Earth, in our homes and cities. NASA is dedicating significant efforts to improve autonomous systems and create symbiotic autonomous systems in view of the long expeditions to Mars. Those systems will need the capacity to be autonomous and to fix themselves, they will need the capability to cooperate with yet to design systems… basically they will have to adapt and evolve.

Scientists have noticed how evolution has resulted on the creation of biomes on our Planet. These are balanced ecosystems where autonomous systems (living beings including plants, animals and microbes) achieved a dynamic equilibrium with resources. In the last centuries (and accelerating), human civilization has been a major factor in the evolution of biomes by changing their equilibrium leading to anthropogenic biomes (meaning we are shaping the mix of life and its interplay).

This has been done without any conscious design on our part. Actually, we have just recently realized the impact we are having on the Planet and the undesired consequences. Hence we are starting (or at least there is a strong demand for) to take actions leading to a rebalancing (e.g. decreasing CO2 to halt the climate change).

Robotics will be a science of artificial life forms and their interactions will be au pair with today’s communities of living beings, first, probably more comparable to ants or bees societies but them upgrading to more “sentient” societies, like human societies. The former will probably become realities in the 2030-2040 (with some proto-societies developing sooner) the latter will likely become real and diffuse in the second half of this century.

In the coming decades we will start designing biomes, possibly on the Moon and Mars to start with. This will be part of the symbiotic autonomous systems “science”. It will see a cooperation among different technologies, from the ones supporting monitoring to the ones supporting intelligence (these include all ICT nuances), from smart materials to complex systems theory and application.

The “scaring” part is that only few will realise the change. Although these reflections may seem today closer to science fiction than to science (and they are not, we have already today what it takes, it is just not yet affordable…) the change will be gradual. The upcoming 5G is in a way an autonomous systems in its potentiality. I am pretty sure that those potentiality will be exploited in the first years of the first decade leading to a revolution in the communications world that will be similar, actually greater, in its impact to the one that has led to the appearance, and dominance, of the OTT (Over The Top). And 5G also has all it takes to be a planet wide symbiotic autonomous system!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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