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Illustration by Toby Leigh of a robot babysitter©Toby Leigh

If ever you start to fret about being replaced by a robot in some Terminator-style apocalypse, look up a YouTube video entitled “PR2 Autonomously Pairing Socks”. The two-minute clip from a University of California, Berkeley research project in 2011 shows a robot identifying the two matching pairs from five socks. After carefully flattening the socks to inspect their shape and pattern, it checks they’re not inside out, then couples them.

It’s an impressive feat of robot engineering, of course. But for some it will be quite comforting that this task, dispatched in seconds by us humans, takes the $280,000 Willow Garage PR2 robot fully half an hour.

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