Editor’s note: Ramesh L. Ratan is CEO of Bell and Howell, a technology company based in Research Triangle Park. He has also worked at Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies and the Direct Marketing Association. Contact him atRamesh.Lakshmi-Ratan@bhemails.com.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Many people, including some very famous inventors and intellectuals whom I admire, are afraid of automation. Perhaps they’ve read too many sci-fi stories or seen too many movies where robots take over the world. Or perhaps they’re concerned about the very real issue of job displacement.

I personally believe their fears are unfounded.

In the long run, I believe robotics will help improve the human condition, create entirely new job categories we haven’t even thought of yet, and help develop new ways of building things.

Growing Acceptance of Robots

Although trained as a mathematician, early in my career I worked as a mechanical engineer. The natural evolution of my career is a direct result of experiencing and promoting the synergy between mechanical and information systems and their interplay with humans.

What I’ve seen is that when you put together all the elements of industrial automation — mechanics, electronics and computing ― the combination forms robotics.

We’ve seen robots deployed in security, military, manufacturing, health care, distribution-center and other work environments. For years, the Cleveland Clinic has been using automated guiding vehicles to deliver supplies, food, linens, medications and more throughout its main campus.

Outside of work, consumers are encountering robots more and more in their daily lives. We’ve seen iRobot’s Roomba accepted into households and Savioke’s Relay robots deployed in hotels.

So, why all the fear? People fear change. However, I think they are forgetting the limitations of robots. Robots may look autonomous, but their programming and computational algorithms can’t replace human intuition and judgment. I believe in augmented intelligence instead of artificial intelligence. Intelligent robots can work with us, but they cannot replace us.

Yes, Machines Talk to Each Other

In the “Terminator” movies, the robot revolution did not originate from autonomous robots but rather from a centralized conscious group mind called Skynet.

Perhaps that’s why some people are afraid of the internet of things (IoT), which allows “smart devices” to communicate with each other and exchange information. Your smartphone can program your thermostat remotely; the power company knows how much energy a neighborhood consumes and can adjust its output accordingly; and your refrigerator knows when you’re out of milk.

That’s just too much for some people to take. What they don’t know or forget is that the internet of things cannot function by itself — it requires people. Communicating and exchanging data is not the same thing as dreaming, thinking and planning; only humans can do all that.

I actually think the internet of things is a misnomer. I’ve written articles wherein I refer to “the internet of people and things” (IoPT). Recently, Bell and Howell issued iPhones and smart devices to hundreds of our service technicians throughout North America. Our technicians use these devices to share data and videos with each other in order to improve their individual knowledge and provide better service to clients.

Augmenting Human Capability

So, what is the proper role for robots? Very simple. Robots can augment human capability.

I believe it is the combination of humans and technology that will propel us into a new age. I predict that in the next 30 years, robotics will be responsible for more productivity enhancements than the last 300 years of industrial revolution. The promise of all that robotics can deliver in the coming decades should be enough to allay the fears of those who still view robots in a negative or cautious light.

The glass is not only half-full, but will one day be filled by a robot butler who knows my beverage preferences. I look forward to that day.