Robots will take over – only to bring humans closer
Text: Damini Purkayastha

The year is 2051. Two robots are on stage at TEDxLeuven. Zora and Pepper, humanoids who have been assisting humanity for the past 35 years, are here to talk about the past. How mankind progressed from the dark ages of 2016, to this wonderful new Utopian world.

Does that sound too futuristic? If so, the future is already here. This November, for the first time ever, two speakers on a TEDx platform will be humanoid robots - Zora and Pepper - who will share their vision of a Utopian future. Created by Belgium-based company Zora Robotics, these robots mark an important phase in how technology is changing the human experience.

The idea was born seven years ago when creators Fabrice Goffin and Tommy Deblieck met at a hotel in Qatar. After long conversations about the future of mankind and Star Wars, the duo decided to “take over the world”. Their design, thankfully, was inspired more by R2D2 than Darth Vader, and the robots have been programmed to help humans with various tasks in daily scenarios. Since 2014, these humanoids have been used in healthcare, assisting in the care of elderly people, and even working with autistic children. Lately, they’ve also been tried out in hotels and Goffin says, “this is just the beginning”. “Given how rapidly technology is evolving, the next five years will be amazing. Humanoids will be part of every household, able to perform and assist with repetitive and mundane tasks. Perhaps even help children with their homework,” he says.If the timeline seems impossible, he has a factoid to share, “It took 30 years for the telephone to reach the same number of people Angry Birds reached in 30 days.”

Should robots actually become a household staple, will that not make humans redundant in various jobs? “Not really. The humanoids will perform tasks that are boring, for example cleaning, maintenance. Or even something like security, when you’re away they can guard your home. Like a new age butler in every home.”His Jeeves of the future (reminiscent of Richie Rich’s Irona) may not have a wry sense of humor, but it is the key to bringing people closer. “Think of all the time it will free up for actual human interaction. Humans will have more time for each other,” he says.

For Goffin, the upcoming talk at TEDxLeuven is a declaration of change. “It’s quite an amazing statement. To have robots speak on the TEDx platform, a world premiere, no one can refuse to see that robotics is here, a new era has begun.”