At present, conventional robots’ interface to computers and information systems is their primary benefit. Collaborative robotics allows for comingling computer power with the innate intelligence of humans and the full responsiveness of their senses and dexterity. Thus far, such capabilities cannot be matched or replaced by robots alone.

ADDITIONAL TOPICS OF NOTE

Certain fields, while not trends in and of themselves, represent studies into disciplines that are intriguing and potentially relevant. A limited discussion of six such areas follows. The sections were taken from the original papers and edited for clarity. The language is primarily, and the assertions completely, those of the cited authors.

Climate Change

Studies of past climate changes show that the Earth system has experienced greater and more rapid change over larger areas than was generally believed possible, jumping between fundamentally different modes of operation in as little as a few years. Ongoing research cannot exclude the possibility that natural or human-caused changes will trigger another oscillation in the near future.19

Global climate change is of interest because of the likelihood that it will affect the ease with which humans make a living and, perhaps, the carrying capacity of the planet for humans and other species. Attention is focused on the possibility that human activities will cause global climate change, because choices affect outcomes.

Long climate-change records show alternations between warm and cold conditions over hundreds of millions of years associated with continental drift. Large glaciers and ice sheets require polar landmasses, continental rearrangement, and associated changes in topography that affect oceanic and atmospheric circulation; in turn, these affect and are affected by global biogeochemical cycles, which include high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, associated with warm times.

According to Alley et al., the last few million years have been generally cold and icy compared with the previous hundred million years but have alternated between warmer and colder conditions. These alternations have been linked to changes over tens of thousands of years in the seasonal and latitudinal distribution of sunlight on Earth caused by features of the Earth’s orbit. Globally synchronous climate change—despite some hemispheric asynchrony—is explained

19  

Frontiers of Science/1998. Richard B. Alley, Jean Lynch-Stieglitz, and Jeffrey P. Severinghaus, at <http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/96/18/9987>.



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