Robotics & Geopolitics: Car Brains Hit Chinese Stop Sign, Hawking’s AI Warnings, and Flippy Gets Benched
March 16, 2018      

The world loses a renowned scientist, a high-profile burger-flipping robot is too good at its job, and China restricts whose self-driving car brains have access to mapping data. Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its members with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, artificial intelligence, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?

The world needs to care about rogue AI

March 14 is always a big day in the world of mathematics and science. Not only is it Pi Day — 3.14159… not the food — it’s also the birthdate of Albert Einstein. Now it’s also the day that Stephen Hawking died.

Stephen Hawking Time Travel party

Stephen Hawking at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. (Credit: Lwp Kommunikáció via Flickr)

As the world remembers Hawking’s legacy, artificial intelligence and robotics are entering the spotlight. The last “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on Reddit that Hawking did revolved around AI concerns.

A Reddit user asked whether AI would reproduce the same as biological organisms do. Hawking said AI may have a “drive” to acquire more resources to meet a goal. If this happens, it could affect humanity as resources humans need get taken away.

Such an answer only adds to the existing fears around AI. But AI going rogue has a huge impact on geopolitics. Currently, only a handful of countries are developing advanced AI, leaving a void between them and the rest of the world. If AI does “break free” tomorrow, it won’t do this globally, it will do in a specific country. At this point, the world must pay attention. But will it?

Every week, new social explosions or protests take place in some part of the world, yet most of us do little about it, as it doesn’t affect us directly. If AI goes rogue tomorrow, will the rest of the world turn a blind eye as usual?

Automation moves too fast for humans

Flippy, the burger robot that made headlines after it was put to work at a burger place in California, has been taken offline. The $60,000 robot didn’t stop working or hurt a human co-worker. It had a different kind of problem: It was too fast. Human co-workers couldn’t work at the same speed as Flippy, so the restaurant unplugged the robot so humans could undergo training.

Flippy Burger Flipping Robot Miso Robotics

Credit: Miso Robotics

Many people viewed this as humorous, but it’s the opposite. This is yet another sign of how capable robots are becoming, as well as the challenges humans face to remain relevant.

Any executive who says automation won’t take jobs is not taking into account the rapid pace at which robotics is advancing. Robots are advancing at a pace nobody predicted, and they are already threatening numerous jobs.

In the case of Flippy and its human co-workers, the focus shouldn’t be on how humans can keep up with a robot. Rather, it should be on how long before the restaurant decides humans are too slow in general and replaces all of them with Flippy.

Lyft-Magna car brains may stall in China

Ride-hailing companies may not be making headlines the way they used to, but their work and ambitions are just as forward-thinking as ever. Recently, Magna invested $200 million in Lyft. The two companies will work together on autonomous vehicles, creating driverless car brains that can be sold to other car manufacturers.

A self-driving car brain that General Motors, Toyota, or anyone else can integrate to provide autonomous capabilities to customers makes sense. But Lyft and Magna may run into a geopolitical hurdle.

How do they ensure their cars will operate autonomously in markets like China? It’s no secret that China restricts foreign car companies from mapping their roads, only allowing Chinese firms to do so. Without accurate maps, autonomous cars can’t function.

Other countries like Russia, India, and Iran may follow suit, restricting development of foreign car brains to give local companies a boost.

If Lyft can’t overcome the geopolitical strategies of governments in these fast-growing markets, will a car brain have much value outside of North America and Western Europe?

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