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Is a Cambrian explosion coming for robotics?

About half a billion years ago, life on earth experienced a short period of very rapid diversification called the “Cambrian Explosion.” Many theories have been proposed for the cause of the Cambrian Explosion, one of the most provocative being the evolution of vision, allowing animals to dramatically increase their ability to hunt and find mates. Today, technological developments on several fronts are fomenting a similar explosion in the diversification and applicability of robotics. Many of the base hardware technologies on which robots depend—particularly computing, data storage, and communications—have been improving at exponential growth rates. Two newly blossoming technologies—”Cloud Robotics” and “Deep Learning”—could leverage these base technologies in a virtuous cycle of explosive growth. I examine some key technologies contributing to the present excitement in the robotics field. As with other technological developments, there has been a significant uptick in concerns about the societal implication of robotics and artificial intelligence. Thus, I offer some thoughts about how robotics may affect the economy and some ways to address potential difficulties.