The need to stay economically competitive and to be seen as a global leader is driving many international initiatives around robotics and artificial intelligence. However, developers, suppliers, and end users must be able to respond to automation fears and ethical concerns. This week, we look at how Denmark is focusing on AI, a U.S. automation council, and the inevitability of autonomous weapons.
Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its readers with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, AI, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?
Denmark aims at becoming an AI leader
Robotics development: Danish brewer Carlsberg has been using AI to “predict” how a beer will taste. Carlsberg is doing this to reduce costs associated with mixing chemicals in labs to see how different beers might taste.
Equally important is that it is impossible for Carlsberg to taste every beer they concept. Through AI, the process is simplified.
Geopolitical significance: While countries such as the U.S., China, and Israel get most of the attention in the AI world, other countries are on the move, too. One of them is Denmark.
Danish AI is being used in gas stations in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to control prices at the pump. Emergency dispatchers across Europe are testing Danish AI to tell if an emergency caller is having a cardiac arrest. Businesses in Copenhagen are tapping the Danish Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence to predict customer demand for a product or even develop new products.
The Danish government is planning to use AI to decide which people and businesses will receive welfare payments and grants. It has also unveiled a $155 million strategy called “Digital Growth” to help businesses take advantage of new technologies, including AI. In addition, Denmark is exploring the creation of a “data ethics council” to help create policies for privacy in the age of AI.
As AI leadership decides which countries matter, Denmark is buzzing with activity and innovations that could benefit the world.
My company, Center for Innovating the Future, in partnership with the Danish Technical Institute (DTI), held an event last year in Copenhagen called “CEO 2025,” which received a huge response. More than 100 executives and policymakers attended, showing that in Denmark, there is great interest in the future.
For robotics companies thinking about which markets to enter or where to find talent, Denmark might be easy to overlook. Perhaps that’s an advantage for Denmark. Because it’s a small country in Northern Europe, it isn’t in the spotlight like China or Japan. But this means Denmark can work on AI without interference.
By the time the world catches on to Denmark’s leadership in automation, the Nordic country may be miles ahead of much of Europe — and the world.
As U.S. convenes council amid automation fears, businesses should appoint policy experts
Robotics development: Several large U.S. corporations, such as IBM, Lockheed Martin, and General Motors, have joined an automation council led by the White House.
The council will work with the U.S. government to outline automation policies and train workers with new skills. The goal of the council is to prepare the U.S. for job displacement that could arise as AI and robotics are adopted by more companies.
Geopolitical significance: By 2030, automation could threaten 800 million jobs, claims one study. In the U.S. alone, up to 73 million jobs could disappear. Whether or not tens of millions of jobs actually disappear, forward-thinking nations are preparing policies today based on automation fears and perceptions. These policies could define how robotics and AI firms operate in the future.
For example, a ballot initiative in San Francisco could introduce taxes on ride-sharing firms, Internet companies — and self-driving cars. Similar taxation ideas are being explored in Europe and Asia. Automation fears may push governments to implement robot taxes.
Another study in the U.S. asserted that between 1990 and 2007, every robot introduced resulted in three to 5.6 local jobs disappearing. And, for every robot added per 1,000 workers, wages in the area supposedly dropped between 0.25% to 0.5%. How will robotics and AI firms operate if their services are being taxed at 10% or 30%?
As with migration, automation fears will be politicized as a way to attract voters. With millions of jobs said to be at risk, candidates and political parties will begin to campaign on protecting workers from robots.
At the same time, unions could introduce policies that affect how companies purchase automation technologies. Last month, casino workers in Las Vegas threatened to strike because of automation fears.
Earlier this year, 260,000 UPS workers (part of the Teamsters union) began talks with UPS over a new contract that includes protections from automation. If UPS agrees to these measures, will it slow down its robotics strategy?
None of this even touches on how automation fears could lead to social unrest or radical politics, new geopolitical challenges. The actual effects of robots on jobs are still being studied and debated. Enterprises large and small can’t just dismiss automation fears, because governments that believe the warnings will act accordingly.
Instead, robotics and AI companies should appoint public-policy heads to work with governments. Experts who understand how countries, states, and cities will react to automation fears can design policies to address worker and public concerns before they adversely affect corporate operations.
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Pledges won’t stop autonomous weapons development
Robotics development: More than 2,500 people have signed a pledge to not help develop autonomous weapons. The signatories include researchers, academics, and executives from the U.S., Russia, China, Brazil, and many other countries. Over 150 AI firms are represented in the document.
Geopolitical significance: The reality is that such pledges are more “bark than bite.” Around the world, countries are moving forward with plans to develop autonomous capabilities, regardless of organizations publicizing military automation fears.
Around the same time of the pledge, the U.K. announced a £2 billion ($2.6 billion U.S.) fighter jet from called Tempest, which will have an autonomous mode.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins program envisions dozens of autonomous drones being launched and recovered from transport planes. DARPA also recently handed the U.S. Navy the “keys” to “Sea Hunter,” a fully autonomous warship.
The EU has given the green light for autonomous weapons programs to apply for €500 million ($582 million) in funding as it tries to build up its military capabilities.
And in Russia, the arms maker Kalashnikov is working on drones powered by neural networking that can make military decisions on their own.
For technology providers and their stockholders, promising not to develop “killer robots” may seem like an ethical decision in response to automation fears, but it means losing out. Military robotics is the fastest-growing sector in robotics, dwarfing all others. By 2026, the military robotics market could be valued at close to a quarter of a trillion dollars.
Increasingly, the next fighter jets, tanks, ground vehicles, drones and other military hardware will come with some autonomy.
Several robotics companies such as iRobot have divested from military projects, and others such as Google have scrapped or offloaded contracts with the Pentagon. However, there is such demand that these gaps will be filled quickly.
The moment one major power develops autonomous weapons, every other country will. The moment China acquires killer robots, so will the U.S., and then so will Russia. The list goes on.
This is the biggest reason why pledges not to develop autonomous weapons will fail. Consider this: Some countries are developing autonomous weapons just to see if they can.
Along with the Tempest fighter jet, the U.K. has also developed a drone called “Taranis.” It is named after the Celtic god of thunder and has a fully autonomous mode where the drone can carry out entire missions on its own, deciding what to do.
But Taranis will never see the light of day, perhaps delaying automation fears. Even though it passed tests, the drone was created as a concept.