Robotics & Geopolitics: Is the World Ready for Robot Doctors and Politicians?

Credit: StockSnap via Pixabay

April 20, 2018      

Humans might be worried about robots taking jobs, but some of them have no problem with electing them or letting them treat their diseases. This week saw news around the concepts of robot politicians, robot doctors, and robot shipbuilders.

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?

Could a robot or AI politician win an election?

During a recent mayoral election in a part of Tokyo (Tama City), approximately 4,000 people voted for a robot named Michihito Matsuda. The robot said it would create “Policies for the future,” and its campaign slogan was “Artificial intelligence will change Tama City.”

More light was shed on its vision when it said, “Let artificial intelligence determine policies by gathering city data and we can create clearly defined politics.” While Matsuda lost — it placed third — it may reflect two things: how tired people are of the political landscape and the potential of AI holding a political office in the future.

Matsuda isn’t the first AI-powered robot to seek political office. Last year, as Russia prepared for the presidential election in 2018, a robot named Alice received 36,000 votes. Her vision was to “form a political system of the future, built exclusively on rational decisions that are adopted on the basis of clear algorithms.”

In New Zealand, creators of an AI candidate named “SAM” are hoping it can run in the next election in 2020.

Many questions are raised should a robot or AI entity win office somewhere. Would it influence government behavior, including towards other countries? Would an AI propose laws or regulations that affect foreign businesses, defense treaties, or economic/trade agreements? Would other nations communicate, negotiate, or deliberate with AI?

Robots threaten jobs at ship builders

Worries over automation replacing jobs have hit the shipbuilding industry. Hyundai and Daewoo, through their shipping subsidiaries, are turning to robots as they build ships for clients. Hyundai is using a 1,500-pound industrial robot to bend steel for the front and back of ships, while Daewoo is using a robot named “Caddy” to weld pieces of a ship together.

Many workers in the shipbuilding industry do not have a college education. Like other trade skills, shipbuilding remains a profession that a person can attain without a degree. If these workers lose their jobs due to automation, they may find it extremely difficult to find work somewhere else. What will they do?

Robots appear to be threatening not just shipbuilding, but shipping too. The famous protests in Rotterdam over automating ports may have paused automation at that specific port, but it hasn’t stopped other ports from automating, such as the Port of Qingdao, in China.

If companies can pump out ships faster and cheaper because of automation, new trade tensions may emerge.

For example, would the U.S. consider Hyundai, a South Korean company, as being anti-competitive because of the speed and cost at which it builds robots? Could it ban U.S. firms from using Hyundai? Will automation indirectly create the next era of trade protectionism?

Doctor shortage in China drives AI for robot doctors

China needs doctors, fast. As its population ages, China is facing a doctor shortage. The country has only 2.3 doctors for every 1,000 people, compared with 2.8 in the U.K. and 4.25 in Switzerland. This shortage is fueling the development of AI-enabled doctors.

The Guangzhou Second Provincial Central Hospital has applied AI to all aspects of its operations, from CT scans to patient diagnosis and file organization. When it comes to diagnosis, people can access robot doctors through WeChat, the popular messaging service that hit 1 billion users in March.

A hospital in Beijing plans to push all its lung scans through AI later this year, treating 10,000 patients every day.

In addition, the Beijing-based General Hospital of the People’s Liberation Army hired two AI robots named Xiaoman to answer questions and free up time of nurses. Soon, around 50 hospitals in China will be using Xiaoman.

AI health care in China could be worth $930 million by 2022. But will China keep its AI doctors at home or also export them abroad? Will foreign countries be OK with China offering health care to citizens? After all, health care has traditionally been the jurisdiction of a country’s government, not a foreign government.

Perhaps China will integrate its robot doctors into other AI initiatives it is selling to countries, like the smart city brain that Alibaba is building in Kuala Lumpur.