Tech Tent: Robots, radio and Indian phones

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This week we roam far and wide in our search for the top trends in tech, from the history of robots, to a huge battle for dominance in the Indian mobile phone market, and an innovative way of interacting with your radio.

Image copyright Carl Court
Image caption The exhibition shows off both old and new robots

Robots and jobs

This week a major exhibition on the history of robots opened at London's Science Museum. It tracks our relationship with humanoid devices from the 16th century right up to the present day, where robots embedded with artificial intelligence are encroaching on all sorts of jobs.

The curator of the exhibition Ben Russell was once an economic historian so he has an interesting perspective on the impact of automation on employment. He tells us that concerns about new technology taking jobs are not new, pointing out that in the Industrial Revolution those fears led to riots and social unrest.

Right now, he argues that there is a choice between accepting mechanisation, with fewer, more skilled workers, or going down a labour-intensive route where you employ lots of people but pay them very little.

Laura Gardiner, who has studied the impact of automation for the Resolution Foundation, is hopeful: "At the aggregate level, technology and automation have generally been complementary to employment rather than replacing it."

For all the gloomy forecasts of mass unemployment, she says there are no signs yet that we are falling off a cliff. She believes that pattern can continue and that we can adapt and learn to work alongside the robots.

Image copyright Indranil Mukherjee
Image caption India's smartphone market is being upset by a firm offering a free voice and data plan

Free data shake up

Offer customers something for free - and they are likely to bite your hands off. So it's no surprise that 70 million Indians have rushed to sign up for Jio, a free voice and data plan for smartphones offered by the giant telecoms business Reliance Industries.

Our India business correspondent Shilpa Kannan tells us that India's richest man Mukesh Ambani has put something like $25bn (£20bn) into his mission to reach 90% of the Indian population with this offer within a year.

Unsurprisingly, there's been a very disruptive effect on the market, with rivals in what was already a very competitive market complaining to the regulators. The second biggest player Vodafone is now talking about merging with the third, called Idea, so the upheaval is likely to continue.

A thinking, feeling radio

You might think that radio was a medium where there was little scope for digital innovation. Well you would be wrong. We have a report from Adrian Lacey on a new radio called Solo which takes the idea of mood music very literally. It works out your emotional state and if you're looking sad will play you a song to fit your mood.

We are hoping of course that when you hear Tech Tent coming out of your radio device, it will leave you with a smile on your face.

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