Robotics & Geopolitics: Consumer Drone Rules Return; AI to Identify Emerging Threats
January 15, 2018      

The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) might be over, but U.S. consumer drone regulations, Nvidia’s latest self-driving car deal, and the growing role of AI in national defense are just some of the other news items from the past weeks. How will robotics affect fast-food chains and daily life?

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FAA reinstates consumer drone rules

As part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has brought back rules for “hobbyist drones.” These rules require drone owners to register their drones with the FAA.

Before flying an unmanned aircraft system on or near Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., review local rules and regulations. Guidelines for Shaw AFB are provided by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Shaw AFB Plan 31-101 Integrated Defense Plan. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

The FAA has revived its commercial drone rules.

The rules specify which consumer drone models must be registered by criteria such as weight, as well as civil and criminal repercussions if drones are not registered.

Such laws, while likely to ignite fears over privacy, are important because they help track a technology that could be used in dangerous ways. As drones are tapped by terrorist organizations and as the number of near-misses with planes grows, nations will turn to tracking laws to mitigate these threats.

However, these drone rules may not be enough, as those that seek to cause harm through drones may not ever register them, leaving the onus of what to do with the consumer drone manufacturer (something which I talk about in my book, Next Geopolitics: Volume One).

Beijing doubles down in global AI competition

During a press conference at CES 2018, Qi Lu, chief operations officer at Baidu, reflected on the growing competition among nations over artificial intelligence.

Specifically, he noted that AI firms in China have backing from Beijing, since the Chinese government views AI with rising importance. The COO also claimed that China will succeed with AI because of its large population.

While China continues to dominate headlines around AI, there may be a large element of hype. While Chinese firms like Baidu, Huawei, and Alibaba make inroads in AI development, China faces major challenges to its ability to compete around AI on the global stage.

For one, foreign companies and nations may not trust China the same way they trust the U.S. Equally important is who is using Chinese AI? If only Chinese organizations use home-grown systems, China would be an AI power, but not a global one.

VW's ID Buzz electric van

Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz concept electric van includes Nvidia processors for autonomous driving.

Nvidia signs self-driving car deal with Volkswagen

Nvidia and Volkswagen have signed a deal to use Nvidia chip sets in Volkswagen self-driving cars. One of the first cars that will use Nvidia’s technology is the famous VW bus, which was popular in the 1960s and ’70s. The updated version, called I.D. Buzz, will include Nvidia technology called Drive IX to enable self-driving features.

This partnership with Volkswagen is one of many AI deals that Nvidia has struck in the past few years. I’ve discussed how such deals demonstrate that the U.S. is competing in the global AI race through chip sets.

However, the question for Nvidia and other U.S. companies isn’t whether they can sell these chip sets — there is a lack of supply and high demand — but what happens when nations begin developing local alternatives.

Fast-food workers on the chopping block

The chief executive of fast-food chain Jack in the Box reportedly said last week that increases in the minimum wage in states such as California will lead to more automation.

Previously, Jack in the Box tested the use of automated kiosks in stores, but the company didn’t move forward with it because of costs at that time.

The debate over whether robots will take jobs and what the appropriate policy responses should be has continued. Automation is spreading in different industries at different rates, so strategic thinking should take place right now.

Governments should pay attention to what business leaders are saying. In the case of Jack in the Box, how can state governments retrain or re-employ fast food workers who are displaced by machines? If there is no answer, then it once again reinforces the threat that automation poses to social, economic, and political instability.

More on Drone Rules, Robot Law, and China:

Future Army capabilities may include bots

A request published on the Federal Business Opportunities website outlines a new capability the U.S. Army is exploring, namely an AI system that can analyze social media, including posts in other languages. The system should be able to analyze posts for emotion and would help the U.S. government stop social media from being used to influence people against its interests.

Artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming core to how militaries combat threats in the digital age. The challenge for nations though is whether AI will objectively look at threats online, or whether AI will carry the same biases and attitudes that humans currently have.

In the case of the U.S., if such systems analyze and stop content only from Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Venezuela, that would only heighten tensions between the U.S. and these nations.