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Will robots take our jobs, or make life better?

Possibly both, says Seismic CEO Rich Mahoney.

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When people who don’t know much about robots talk about robots, the conversation drifts in two dire directions: Robots are going to kill us all, “Terminator” style, or automation is going to reach every industry and we’ll have mass unemployment.

Someone who does know a lot about robots — Seismic CEO Rich Mahoney — wants us to be asking some new questions, too. On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, he explained how future generations of robots will help humans work and live around the world.

“We tend to focus on the people who have jobs and we tend to focus on our country, where the jobs drive the quality of your life in general,” Mahoney said. “But even two people who have the same dollar in their hand don’t have access to the same quality of health care, education and other things like that. I do think robotics can help to create more equality, in terms of the standard of living people have.”

And if you’re worried about the “Terminator” future: Don’t. It’s not coming any time soon.

“I tell people, if you’re worried about robots right now, just unplug them or wait until their batteries run out, in 15 minutes,” he said. “That’s the classic issue that everything has, and until we figure out the arc reactor part of the equation, we’re going to be really limited in what robots can do.”

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On the new podcast, Mahoney explained how his company Seismic is developing “powered clothing” that will weigh less than a clunky exoskeleton.

“Exoskeletons are bigger, bulkier — they’re skeleton frames that you wear around your body,” he said. “They [have] stronger motors that are helping to carry the body.”

Exoskeletons have some real-world applications in the military. But Mahoney said “powered clothing” can make life more mobile and comfortable for everyone from people with spinal-cord injuries to sales reps who have to stand all day.

“The clothing has muscles that are harnessed to the body,” he said. “If you go inside the body and think about how muscles grab your bones, and they contract in order to help you move, our muscles do the same thing. They contract and grab the body, and as they contract, they’re contracting with your hip muscles to provide extra strength.”

“Our initial focus is a wellness focus, but we want it to be available to people who are starting to lose strength because they’re aging,” Mahoney added. “Being able to be more independent, live in their homes longer using this ‘super suit’ technology.”

So when will we start to be able to buy that sort of suit for everyday needs? “Within 10 to 15 years,” he predicted.

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