Now I admit that I love robots. I love the idea of robots. As a science fiction fan since childhood (a long time) I have been looking forward to the day when robots take over household chores for many years. I one two robots already. A Roomba for vacuuming floors and carpets and a Scooba for washing floors like those in my kitchen and bathroom. Both from iRobot a company named after a book of science fiction short stories about robots. How cool is that!
So when I read that Bill Gates says that robots are the next big thing my response is - well about time! In the article Bill wrote he talks about a convergence of events including the reduction in prices for robot hardware, the improvements in software to control robots and the massive increase in computing horsepower at greatly reduced costs that we have seen in recent years. Bill gets to visit a lot of the top research institutions around the world and he describes being shown robotics projects in many of them. The problem, he is often told, is now getting the software right. There is a huge opportunity for software people to make a difference in robotics these days. There are computer science problems that are key to making things work right. One of these is finding ways to better deal with concurrency - monitoring and controlling several things are the same time. This is a huge problem and one that developers will all have to learn more about in the near future. It is the shape of things to come.
In the next 15 years or so there are projections that personal robots alone (in other words not including large industrial robots) will become a 50 billion dollar industry world wide. That's huge. There robots will be involved in handling household chores, medical care, surgery (article about surgical robots with a sense of touch), working in dangerous environments and who knows what else. Will robots in the future shingle roofs so that people don't have to risk falls? Who knows. It will be up to today's students to dream up and develop the robotic applications of tomorrow.
BTW As a result of those visits and some research done at Microsoft Research, Bill funded a group of top people to develop what is now called the Microsoft Robotics Studio. If you are interested in robots and robotics this is a package you will want to look into.
[By the way I am actually on vacation so response to comments and email will be slow. This post was written earlier for display later.]