In recent years, the global dialogue surrounding robots and their impact on the workforce has experienced a remarkable transformation. Instead of the widespread concerns about robots taking jobs, the focus has shifted towards exploring how rapidly these machines can bridge the gaps in the labor market. At the forefront of this pivotal shift is Sanctuary AI, a Vancouver, B.C.-based company that has successfully secured over $100 million in Canadian dollars to bring its vision of “labor as a service” to life. The centerpiece of their innovative approach is Phoenix, a 5-foot, 7-inch general-purpose humanoid robot, equipped with an AI system called Carbon.

Geordie Rose, the CEO and co-founder of Sanctuary AI, passionately states, “The economic opportunity here, in terms of being able to both provide the labor that people want and being able to profit from it by developing a technology like this, is an opportunity unlike any that I think has ever existed. It’s way bigger than the steam engine, for example.” In an episode of the GeekWire Podcast, Rose discusses the evolving trends, the current capabilities and limitations of Phoenix, the company’s overarching strategy, and the hurdles that lie ahead.

Transforming Labor Market Trends:

Geordie Rose reflects on the significant changes in the zeitgeist around automation over the past half-decade. Initially, the prevailing narrative was that automation threatened jobs. However, this narrative has shifted to emphasize the necessity of automation to fulfill essential tasks. Rose explains, “There’s this dramatic, alarming shortage of people to do the things that are necessary to keep our economy going. Right now there’s more than 10 million unfilled jobs in the United States. So the answer has to be technology.”

According to Rose, the future promises a transition where all work will be executed by machines. It’s merely a matter of when, not if. As technology continues to advance and robots become more affordable and efficient, it’s inevitable that machines will outperform humans in various tasks. The evolving landscape is poised to make a compelling argument for the integration of automation into our workforce.

General-Purpose Robots Redefining Labor:

Sanctuary AI’s unique approach focuses on creating a general-purpose robot that can tackle an array of tasks. Rose elaborates, “What we decided to do was a different thing, which is, try to automate the person in the warehouse, or the whatever, by building a machine that can do all of the small things that you wouldn’t automate on your own but in sum total, makes it a very valuable thing to have.”

Phoenix can navigate spaces, manipulate buttons, operate machinery, manage waste, provide security, and undertake numerous other responsibilities, all of which typically require specialized solutions. This broader approach aims to solve the multitude of intermediate problems that conventional, single-purpose machines are ill-suited for.

Harnessing the Power of Generative AI for Robots:

Rose further discusses the potential of new generative AI models in enhancing robot capabilities. These models often deliver rapid but occasionally unreliable results, creating a juxtaposition between logical reasoning and quick responses. Rose likens the generative AI model to “the devil on your shoulder,” which rapidly generates solutions based on vast knowledge. On the other hand, the more deliberate, wisdom-filled, and time-consuming “old sage” offers a different approach to problem-solving.

The challenge, according to Rose, is to merge these two modes of thinking – logical reasoning, and large language models for predictive text generation. While various experts are exploring this fusion, it remains an ongoing endeavor without a conclusive solution.

Sanctuary AI’s journey exemplifies a significant shift in the perception of automation in the workforce – from a threat to a necessity. As the labor market evolves, and companies like Sanctuary AI continue to push the boundaries of what AI and robotics can achieve, the future of work is poised for a transformation that could have far-reaching consequences.

By Impact Lab