International robotics is more than just a scattering of researchers, manufacturers, and end users around the world. The flow of funding, government policies, and regional needs and specialties have a huge influence on how the technology develops and spreads into different industries.
It’s easy to assume that the robotics advances and adoption are inevitable and universal. However, every robotics organization needs to take into account emotional reactions, bureaucratic inertia, and national priorities.
In this week’s look at the most important developments in global robotics, we jump from the UAE to Canada, from government policy to fears of automation, and to artificial intelligence and more.
UAE advances through AI
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has long been forward-thinking. The oil-rich kingdom has invested millions of dollars into redefining how its economy and society will integrate technology such as robotics.
The government wants to learn how to use AI to reconfigure how people live and work. A key figure in the Smart Dubai Office said it wants to use AI to “replace call centers” and help parents find schools for their children.
What the UAE is doing goes beyond just another investment in a commercial machine-learning application. Instead, the country is making AI accessible to the masses by integrating the technology into its platforms, services, and design.
Have no fear, automation is far away…
Back in September, the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said it would replace 7,000 employees with robots.
In January, an insurance company in Japan laid off 34 workers and started using IBM Watson. That same month, the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) said it would conduct a trial for AI to respond to “111” calls (its version of 911).
Apparently, these developments aren’t enough to dissuade Steve Mnuchin from the prospects of automation.
At a press conference, reporters asked the new U.S. treasury secretary about how long it will take for robots and AI to affect the U.S. job market. Mnuchin responded by saying, “I think it’s 50 to 100 more years.”
Secretary Mnuchin’s comments may sound strange, but they reflect a broader reality in governments around the world. Officials just aren’t prepared for the potential socioeconomic disruptions from automation. They are either unaware of what is happening or refuse to acknowledge the need for coherent policies for training and innovation.
This lack of awareness put the onus of being prepared on businesses, local governments, and other organizations. Let’s hope, for our sake, that these parties are at least slightly more aware of what’s going on. Competitive advantage in regional and international robotics will depend on how they react.
AI is Canada’s new maple syrup
It’s no secret that Canada faces immense challenges. But one bright spot is artificial intelligence, which I covered last year.
However, Canada’s leadership in this field stems from its technical talent, which has been “transferring” to its southern neighbor. In addition, there has been no government strategy or corporate vision to grow AI — until now.
The Canadian government is investing CAD$125 million ($93.8 million U.S.) in its “Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.” By providing projects funding that traditionally came from other countries, Canada hopes to discourage talent from leaving. The money will also be used to connect all of Canada’s AI hubs instead of having them operate on their own.
In the U.S., there has been uncertainty about President Trump’s stances on automation and trade, so could Canada’s AI strategy be Ottawa’s response? The Canadian government could be making its plans for economic growth as a way to address uncertainty over NAFTA and other pacts.
If this is Canada’s approach, then it places artificial intelligence as the frontrunner for redefining the country’s economy in the 21st century. In other words, AI could be Canada’s new maple syrup.
Union takes lead in preparing U.K. for robots
A new study from PricewaterhouseCoopers claims that a third of jobs in the U.K. are at risk of being automated. With such startling figures, the country needs a strategy, and one labor union is taking the lead in calling for a plan.
Unite has called on the British government to establish an automation commission to advise companies on how to deal with robots. The union’s main objective is to ensure that the U.K. uses automation to its advantage instead of only seeing the negatives.
How the U.K. government reacts will demonstrate how high a priority it places on robotics and related technologies. But Unite’s call also reflects something else.
Unions, which have dealt with increasing automation for decades, could be one of the strongest voices calling for appropriate policies in international robotics. Robots can make work safer and less tedious, but the risk of job displacement will require negotiation with companies and policy makers.
In January, a transportation association called for a 50-year ban on self-driving cars in New York. Now Unite is calling for the British government to prepare. Are unions destined to be adversaries of robotics?
More on International Robotics:
- Global Robotics Developments Include Big Buses, Tiny Drones
- 5 Geopolitical Flashpoints That Could Affect Military Automation
- RoboBusiness, TUS Expo Organize First-Ever International Robotics Week
- Top 5 DARPA Robot Projects of the Past Year
- The Trump Administration and Robotics: Our Initial Analysis
- International CES 2017: Government Robotics Leadership Re-emerges?
- UAE Government Sponsorship Boosts Robotics Industry
- British Government Funds Robotics Projects to Stimulate U.K. Innovation
Self-driving cars fuel a new geopolitical rivalry
Geopolitical rivalry has traditionally revolved around fuel, competing regional interests, military clients, and more. Industrial automation, military robotics, and AI applications are adding to such competition, and self-driving cars are no exception.
Most of the corporations developing self-driving cars are Western, with the exception of Baidu Inc. in China. Russia is now entering the picture, and this could heat up the ongoing rivalry between the U.S. and Russia even more.
Cognitive Technologies, a leading autonomous vehicle company in Russia, is expanding its team to begin operations in the U.S. It claims that its self-driving technology is on par with that of Tesla and other automotive giants.
By 2019, Cognitive Technologies expects to have developed Level 4 autonomy, which is complete self-driving capabilities without any human input. The company also plans to bring self-driving trucks to Russia by 2020.
But how will the U.S. react to a Russian self-driving car company? For example, Americans could be concerned their vehicles could send private or location data to Cognitive Technology.
It’s also possible that Russia could use its influence to provide an unfair advantage. Competitors such as Uber, Tesla, and General Motors might not even know why they’d have a difficult time in the Eastern European market.
This is yet another reminder that international robotics companies are not immune from geopolitical rivalry and are in fact becoming a new means to expand this global competition.Read More