Agricultural robots can now determine when an individual plant needs a specific nutrient, or if it is fighting a disease or battling an infestation. They can then determine what action to take—such as adding a nutrient to the water for a single plant—and can even be taught how to pick and pack even the most delicate fruits and vegetables with less damage than a human worker.

Surgical co-bots (human-assisted robots) help surgeons perform operations with greater speed and precision than is possible by humans acting alone. This level of precision supports less invasive procedures and better patient outcomes, and enables the most experienced surgeons to continue to extend their careers years longer.

Of course, this is just the beginning. AI is advancing at an incredible pace, and just as Henry Ford could never have imagined that mobile Kiva robots would dominate today’s factory floors, robotics experts are finding it difficult to paint a clear picture of what the future holds. But there are some things we do know are coming our way for certain:

In the very near future, robots will work shoulder to shoulder with humans. This capability requires social modeling of human cognition, including communication, natural language, common ground, and learning, and all of these nuanced skills are supported by AI technologies that are already available today. Rather than a programmer specifying coordinates and specific motions to empower a robot to do its job, tomorrow’s robots will be able to learn by example and demonstration. Imagine being able to tell a robot what needs to be done, and have it immediately tackle the task.

This level of “learnability” will open the door for robots to go where they’ve never gone before: into smaller enterprises that engage in batch production. In the past, the cost of retooling robotics for small batches wiped out any benefit. Once robots can be trained for simple operations that can be adapted to specific tasks, the need to retool will be eliminated. This next generation of “smart robots” will increase reliability, decrease risks, and decrease costs for companies of every size.

Robots will also take quality to a whole new level. For countries like China that have a desperate need to improve quality, this capability will change the landscape entirely. Because robots never lose attention, they are able to complete simple manufacturing operations with greater accuracy. When tackling more complex tasks that require making critical evaluations, robots are much more reliable than humans who may become drowsy or bored.

For activities in which a single mistake can be critical—driving, pathology, radiology, surveillance—AI systems are much more consistent and accurate. Plus, they can learn on their own. With the ability to read and understand technical literature, robots will soon exceed the expertise of humans in nearly every field.

Robotics and AI have long been popular themes in science fiction, but today’s reality is outstripping even most sci-fi fantasies. Henry Ford would be more than amazed at how far we’ve come. And yet, as the confluence of technical advances and readiness comes together to form a perfect storm for robotic advancements, every one of us should be prepared to have our minds blown.

This article was republished with permission from ROBO Global.