Robotics & Geopolitics: Automation Could Affect U.S. Jobs and Politics

Nevada is one of the states where U.S. jobs could be most affected by automation. Source: ClipArt.com

October 26, 2018      

According to a new study, U.S. jobs in certain states are particularly vulnerable to being replaced by automation. As in the rest of the world, this will shape policy — and countries are starting to respond, each in its own way. Also, Taiwan has turned to artificial intelligence and drones for self-defense, and Iran joins Japan in applying AI to government itself.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its readers with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, AI, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?

Automation to shape U.S. jobs and voter reactions

Robotics development: A new report said that 10 states rank highest in for potential losses of U.S. jobs from automation. Financial advisory firm SmartAsset ranked the states based on the kind of jobs workers are doing in each state and which occupations are most likely to be automated.

According to the report, the 10 states are (in descending order) Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama.

Geopolitical significance: There is a lot of debate over whether robotics and AI will lead to job losses. For example, the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently predicted that 75 million jobs could disappear by 2025, while 133 million new jobs will be created.

Alternatively, McKinsey Global Institute projected that automation will take up 800 million jobs by 2030.

These predictions, on opposite ends of the spectrum, point to a new reality. Before, the conversation was about whether automation would take jobs at all.

Now, many industry observers and analysts have accepted that workforce changes are coming, even as robotics and AI promise other benefits to business and society. The focus is on how many U.S. jobs may be affected, how fast displacement could occur, and the political and economic implications.

voting booth and concerns about U.S. jobs

Concerns over U.S. jobs and automation could affect elections. Source: ClipArt.com

If automation really does cause U.S. job losses in the 10 states listed in SmartAsset’s report, it could have a direct effect on American politics.

Majorities in nine of these states voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election, with the exception of Nevada, which voted Democrat. Many of the people in these states reportedly voted Republican because of job-creation promises that might be difficult to keep in the face of technology.

Some politicians are already sounding the alarm on automation, perhaps in a bid to demonstrate their leadership. John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio and a former presidential candidate, has warned that automation could eliminate numerous jobs for people in his state. He has called for retraining programs to address the threat.

In California, some experts have stated that the next governor will have to prepare for 63% of jobs in some cities at risk of being automated.

In addition, a study from Ball State University and Villanova University noted that fears of automation taking U.S. jobs are already creating health challenges for workers.

If people feel that elected officials aren’t doing enough to protect their livelihoods, they might change their voting behavior, similar to how the Democrats lost states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2016.

In the U.K., Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has sounded alarms about automation. In the U.S., Congress is starting to discuss how to react to threats to U.S. jobs. But even with politicians paying attention, unless progressive action is taking, politics could change around the world as automation takes jobs.

Taiwan uses AI to defend itself

Robotics development: In order to deal with increasing cyberattacks from China, Taiwan is looking to share sensitive data on these attacks with a range of IT companies.

These IT companies could then help Taiwan create AI-enabled systems that not only protect against incoming attacks, but also predict future attacks. Once the systems predict an attack, they would control which defenses to put in place.

One black swan seats on green grass

A “black swan” event is one believed to be improbable. Source: ClipArt.com

Geopolitical significance: Cybersecurity is on the mind of every country. According to a new poll of cybersecurity experts, 83% believe a “black swan” or “9/11”-type event will happen in the future.

At the same time, geopolitics is heightening the risk of deadly cyberattacks.

The recent revelation that China may have implanted tiny chips in infrastructure used by U.S. technology giants illuminates how geopolitical rivalry can trickle down into technology. AI-based tools are becoming the strongest ways nations can defend themselves (or attack others).

Taiwan’s level of reliance on AI to help secure its economy, people, and businesses is unusual. But this could pick up.

For instance, AI might not just protect critical infrastructure, like electrical grids; it may also protect robots themselves. Last month, Taiwan announced that it is creating a fleet of Tengyun unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol its coasts. Could Taiwan use AI to predict attacks against these drones and other military robots?

Equally important is which AI firms are helping Taiwan’s government. Are they from the U.S., Japan, or Europe? If so, China may view this as foreign interference.

Also, note that Taiwan hasn’t passed any formal policy for cybersecurity. Millions of devices, such as smartphones, are not officially protected. (Taiwan has the second-highest rates of smartphone ownership in the world.) Instead, Taiwan is simply deploying AI.

In comparison, California recently passed legislation for cybersecurity around the Internet of Things, which could lead to federal regulation. This shows two paths that nations are taking to protect themselves from cyberattacks: the development of technology and the deployment of policy.

For now, most are pursuing the latter, but what Taiwan is doing may motivate others to do the same. Or Taiwan itself might offer its AI defenses to other countries, which would likely irk China even more.

Iran deploys AI in government

Robotics development: According to an official at the research center of Iran’s parliament, the government is planning to use AI in its legislative processes. The center has already been looking into this for six months and has reviewed what other countries are doing.

In terms of what the AI would do, one of the possibilities is that it could crunch data and propose ideas/solutions to politicians and officials.

Geopolitical significance: If Iran succeeds in deploying AI to its parliament and legislative process, it would be the second country to do so, after Japan.

In December 2016, Japan’s parliament began testing AI for conducting tasks such as helping officials respond to policy proposals. The system created responses by crunching data such as opinions expressed in the past.

However, there is a marked difference between what Japan is doing and what Iran is doing. Japan is an established robotics leader; Iran is not. For Iran, what could be the incentive to use AI in government? Not surprisingly, it could be geopolitics.

In the past six months, Iran has had to deal with a series of major headaches on the world stage. The U.S. has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, dozens of American and European companies have left the country, and some of Iran’s biggest oil customers, like India, are considering drastic cuts of oil imports.

On top of all that, major protests have begun to spread throughout the country over the economy. In short, these headaches may pushed Iran to find innovative policies. And AI may be key to this.

As Iran applies automation to legislation, what kind of ideas might AI come up with? For example, in Japan, the government is building 10 “AI hospitals” to deal with a doctor shortage. While this idea was not proposed by AI, it is an example of how governments using AI are thinking.

In the U.S., state and federal authorities are also looking at the potential for AI to help citizens. India is also examining AI for national security, disaster response, and utility management.

Will Iran’s AI propose similar ideas? If so, it leads to three separate takeaways. First, AI may be about to take off in Iran, more so than in the past.

Second, Iran will either develop AI locally or buy it from another country, such as China, which creates its own geopolitical dynamics.

And third, Iran may use AI to combat global challenges, in the same way Venezuela has used the Russian digital currency Petro.

All this creates new challenges for countries like the U.S. that may want to control how Iran operates. In the past, currency and resources gave countries freedom. Going forward, it could be AI and robotics.