Robotics & Geopolitics: Russian AI Supplies the West With Workers

The Argonaut robot won last year's ARGOS Challenge. Credit: Taurob GmbH and TU Darmstadt

April 06, 2018      

A project in the North Sea will include autonomous robots inspecting offshore oil rigs alongside humans, but will they lead to more geopolitical competition? This week, we also look at how San Francisco and Japan are holding makers and owners of self-driving cars liable for accidents. In addition, Russian AI is reviewing job applications for some companies that you might not expect.

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?

Autonomous robots in energy exploration

Total SA, the French energy giant, will be sending autonomous robots to its sites in the North Sea as part of a $5.59 million project. Austria-based Taurob GmbH is supplying the hardware, and the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany is providing the software.

The robots will work alongside humans and inspect offshore oil and gas platforms for safety. The project partners claim that this is the first instance of such collaboration happening in this industry.

There are geopolitical implications beyond robots potentially replacing humans in dangerous jobs. Such autonomous systems could well carry out oil and gas exploration in the future. But what happens when they make a decision that doesn’t sit well with another country?

Let’s consider a hypothetical joint project between Total and U.K.-based BP PLC to use robots to locate and extract gas in another part of the North Sea. Total’s robots might extract energy from BP’s area or behave in a way that reduces the ability of BP’s robots to extract gas properly.

If such incidents were to happen repeatedly and BP loses out, the behavior of Total’s energy robots could fuel new tensions between France and the U.K.

Liability laws another means of global competition

A police officer in San Francisco has given a ticket to a General Motors Co. self-driving car for ignoring a sign requiring vehicles to yield for pedestrians. According to the officer, the GM Cruise got too close to people crossing the street, but GM disputes the charge.

This isn’t the first time a self-driving car has been ticketed. In 2015, officers pulled over a Google self-driving car for driving too slow, except there was nobody in the car to give the ticket to.

As nations turn to robotics and AI to grow their influence, liability is as much about economic competitiveness as it is about driver safety.

For example, lawmakers in Japan are debating whether to put the liability of self-driving cars involved in accidents on the owners of the cars, not the car maker. If such rules are passed, it will give Japanese carmakers more “breathing space” to rapidly innovate, breathing space that car makers in other markets may not have.

At the same time, these liability laws could help Japan compete with self-driving innovations coming from its economic and geopolitical rival, China.

Western multinationals turn to Russian AI

Nation-states and regions have a strong interest in being competitive in multiple industries and technologies, but corporate interdependence skips across borders. Russian startup Stafory has developed an AI named “Vera” to help companies find (human) employees.

Stafory is already helping big-name companies such as PepsiCo (U.S.), Loréal (France), and Ikea (the Netherlands and Sweden). Vera does all of the initial vetting, from finding the best resumes and calling job applicants to even conducting video interviews with them.

This is another sign of the increasing importance of AI to geopolitics.

Western firms could become dependent on Russian AI. For now, Russian AI is being used to fill worker shortages, but tomorrow, could Vera be the worker itself, performing many entry-level tasks in marketing, accounting, and human resources? If this happens, the next panic for Western governments might not be dependence on Russian gas, but their multinationals depending on Russian AI.