December 15, 2017      

The potential applications for artificial intelligence include — but are not limited to — making robots more flexible and useful. Industries as diverse as cybersecurity and the law are the subject of initiatives crossing Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Of course, China is a competing hotbed for developing AI apps, with new research centers and services around self-driving cars on the way. Both suppliers and prospective users need to beware of competitive pressures and public backlash, however.

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San Francisco loses love for robots

Knightscope's security robot

Despite its proximity to Silicon Valley, the city of San Francisco has demonstrated decidedly mixed feelings toward mobile robots. It has banned mobile robots such as Estonia-based Starship Technologies’ delivery systems on the basis of sidewalk safety. Its backlash has reached Knightscope Inc., a leading U.S. provider of security robots.

Knightscope has been involved in noteworthy incidents in a shopping mall and now with allegedly harassing homeless people. The animal shelter that had been using a robot nicknamed “K9” (even if it looks more like a Dalek) ceased using it. However, mobile robot suppliers are unlikely to be deterred by restrictions or occasional public relations problems.

For better or worse, security and delivery robots are just getting started, and other cities will be interested in hosting trials. As with any tool or AI app, resistance should fade as people become more accustomed to seeing them, even if ethical questions around their use remain to be resolved.

Canada looks to secure self-driving cars

BlackBerry Ltd., the Canadian technology company that once manufactured mobile phones, is making inroads into self-driving cars. Specifically, BlackBerry wants to focus on securing driverless vehicles from cyberattacks — including ensuring that they can operate even when “anomalies” are detected.

BlackBerry’s push is part of a growing interest in the need for proper security for connected and smart devices, including robots and self-driving cars. This is a market opportunity for mobile technology and security firms, as well as regional initiatives.

If BlackBerry becomes a leader in providing security for driverless cars, it will further fuel Canada’s rise as a global robotics and AI leader.

Robot investigators rise in the U.K.

David Green, the head of the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), said he supports the idea of using AI apps in future cases. The SFO is in charge of investigating and prosecuting fraud and corruption in the U.K. Green’s comments came after the SFO used an algorithm to scan through 30 million files that Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC shared for an investigation.

Robotic investigators for legal discovery and checking precedents represent the integration of AI apps into legal systems around the world. As this happens, new challenges will emerge over ethics, rights, and conventions. Could humans hire robot lawyers to represent them in court? What happens if robot lawyers contest each other in court?

And, perhaps more importantly, if investigators and lawyers can be partly or fully automated, what about judges, who are supposed to be impartial?

Google turns to China for new AI lab

Google has announced plans to open an AI laboratory in Beijing. This is the latest goodwill gesture by a Western firm to win support from the Chinese government, after Siemens moved its robotics lab to the country. It also comes as the U.S. and China are embroiled in what many industry observers have called an “AI arms race.”

While Alphabet’s leadership at Mountain View, Calif., may believe that this could result in more favorable conditions for operating in China, the reality is that Beijing isn’t likely to change its policies. The government doesn’t want to create competition for local technology firms by allowing Google to operate in China unhindered.

It remains to be seen whether Google’s AI lab delivers the market access that it wants, and the decision could result in Google sharing more that it wants for little in return.

More on Global Robotics and AI Apps:

Future mobility services may create $1T in revenue

A new report has projected that “car-based mobility services” — such as ride sharing, self-driving cars, and in-vehicle entertainment — will create $1 trillion in new revenue for companies by 2040.

The report also predicts that China will receive the lion’s share of that market. China already has 290 smart-city projects under way, of which 93 include AI apps and high levels of mobility.

A market that would generate $1 trillion in new revenue would define the future of economies, business, and geopolitical power. If the projection of China’s dominance over this new revenue stream is accurate, then it further reinforces China’s position as a leader in autonomous systems and AI applications.

Perhaps the biggest risk for China is not the economics but the politics. Can the government remain in power without social instability? It has shown little hesitation to move workers at will.

Could outside influence such as nearby competitors or unpredictable geopolitical crises derail China in the coming years? If so, the future of China, including its robotics sector, would be up in the air.