Robotics & Geopolitics: Coffee-bot Barista Could Create a Latte Angst

Credit: CafeX

May 11, 2018      

The world this week saw Google News taking another stab at the news business with artificial intelligence, a robotic barista serving coffee, and flying cars and taxis moving closer to reality.

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, AI, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?

Robots grind away at the coffee shop 

Robotics development: From fast-food workers to bartenders to cashiers, it seems like every entry-level job is on the path to being automated. Now you can add baristas and coffee shop employees to the list.

Last year in San Francisco, Café X featured a robot serving coffee. This week, the company behind Café X launched the second generation of the robot, which costs $25,000 and can process 300 to 400 orders each day.

Geopolitical significance: Baristas are in the crosshairs of automation. According to a recent report, other jobs that teenagers or young adults typically get also have a high risk of being automated, such as cashiers (97% chance of being automated) and delivery drivers (98% chance of being automated).

Governments will have to decide how best to help this demographic to find entry-level jobs. Interestingly, the developed world is more affected by automation because the price of these machines is still high.

For example, tea vendors in India, known as “chaiwalas,” will never buy a robot to automate their job. They don’t earn enough, nor do they have the need.

But tea vendors in the West might buy systems, because they can afford them, and have a need. Cultural, social, and economic differences could bring barista and barista-type job automation more in the West than anywhere else. This is another sign of automation affecting countries differently.

Google’s AI keynote is the new iPhone keynote

Robotics development: When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007, it marked the start of a new era in the way people communicated, worked, and lived. This year, what Google unveiled at its annual I/O conference could be viewed with the same importance – the beginning of AI going mainstream.

Google announced it will use AI to fully curate and power its Google News service, without the use of human editors. Google’s AI will analyze information on an event as it emerges on the internet, then decide how to package it.

To see an example of Google’s AI in action in another area, watch this demo of its new AI assistant booking a haircut appointment and making a restaurant reservation:

Geopolitical significance: For centuries, news has influenced, if not controlled, what people think and believe. AI creating a news feed takes this to the next level. People won’t have to rely on news outlets anymore — they could rely on Google’s AI, which may be in their pockets.

This raises several questions. Will the AI be neutral, or will it have a political bias? Would governments scrutinize Google News less than media outlets because Google is a technology company? If the AI starts curating news that is perceived as anti-Russian, anti-China, or anti-Iran, would foreign governments view this as a tool of American foreign policy?

To counter Google — and the U.S. — would other countries create their own AI-enabled news services and plug them into smartphones? Would China require that Android phones use a Chinese AI news service over Google News? Would India, Russia, Iran, and North Korea do the same?

AI news could be a new way that nations grow their geopolitical influence to protect their people.

Flying cars come closer to reality

Robotics development: Uber this week held its second Uber Elevate conference, announcing its plans for uberAIR, a flying taxi service. The company will start testing its flying taxis, which can take off and land vertically, in 2020, with the goal of the first official ride in 2023.

Uber said its goal is to make uberAIR pricing cheaper than owning a car. One study said that if uberAIR existed today, about 700 million people would use it. The company said it would expect flying taxis to become autonomous in the future.

Geopolitical significance: Most work around flying cars is taking place in the West. Along with U.S.-based firms, companies like Airbus and Audi are in the flying car space. China’s eHang was a market leader until it declared bankruptcy in the U.S. earlier this year.

Because flying cars have the potential to transform economies as people and goods move faster than ever before, it makes flying car technology highly coveted. Will other countries share/sell this technology to adversaries? Will those that have it grow faster than those that don’t?

At the same time, flying car technology could be a new way that nations gain access to resources. For example, China is currently building huge amounts of infrastructure in Africa. In the future, could China offer select African nations flying cars in exchange for exclusive rights to resources, such as fresh water or rare earth minerals?