November 17, 2017      

As the holidays approach, people are thankful for jobs and national security, anxiously awaiting gifts, and looking to the future. Automation is affecting or will soon affect every aspect of life, from employment and parcel delivery to the risk of killer robots.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with 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?

Report warns that 9% of U.S. jobs at risk from automation

A new report from Forrester Research has projected that automation could eliminate 9% of jobs in the U.S. In 2018 alone, 500,000 “digital workers” will emerge, causing 311,000 office/administrative employees to be replaced or have their positions augmented.

The debate continues on how the nature of work will change because of increasing adoption of robotics and artificial intelligence. Will job displacements be sudden and massive? Or will augmented employees reach new heights of productivity without significantly increasing unemployment?

Many discussions around robots and jobs focus on technical improvements or companies’ bottom lines. Note that the social and political impacts could be profound and will differ around the U.S. and around the world.

Some governments have started to evaluate proposals such as universal basic income or robot taxes. Some nations could face civil unrest or even violence from angry workers who have been laid off.

If a recession coincides with this shift — whether cyclical or provoked by automation — how will consumers and voters react? At the same time, it’s theoretically possible that automation could ameliorate a downturn by encouraging reshoring.

Drone deliveries fast becoming a reality

While you probably won’t be receiving holiday parcels via aerial drones this year, drone deliveries are advancing, thanks to pilot projects in places such as Arizona, Northern Ontario, and Australia.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a three-year pilot program that gives states permission to test aerial drone deliveries, among other types of drone uses. This was based on a directive from the federal government. Partnerships with the private sector are being encouraged.

Las Vegas is among the U.S. cities testing drones. Also, a judge in Newton, Mass., stated that the city can’t ban drone use because federal regulations take precedence.

However, for all of the potential for drones to deliver life-saving medicine in Africa and profitable e-commerce orders to suburbs, there are still safety concerns about collisions, malicious use, and killer robots.

The U.S. and other countries will have to address these concerns as they establish policy frameworks governing drone operations.

As drone swarm technologies advance and drone terrorism becomes a real risk, regional and national governments will have to watch these developments and swiftly prepare appropriate regulations. I talk about the security risks that drones create in my book, Next Geopolitics: The Future of World Affairs (Technology) Vol. 1.

New AI can work without the Internet

Until recently, one challenge facing robotics is that the processing horsepower required is easier to put in the cloud than into the hardware of an individual robot.

The University of Waterloo in Canada is developing an AI system that can operate without Internet connectivity. The researchers’ goal is to make it possible to load the AI onto semiconductors that can be used in various objects, like smartphones and robots.

This could create a new way for users to interact with AI in a secure and private setting. These capabilities are similar to what Huawei has put in its AI-enabled smartphone, but it could create new gray areas about the future of connectivity.

Will people begin operating in their own “silos” because AI gives them all the interaction they need? Would AI apps complement or compete with the Internet?

AI is the future of business, according to AI strategist and Robotics Business Review contributor Aseem Prakash. How will businesses reach customers digitally if AI is offline?

Russia’s military robots keep advancing

Russia is developing a range of new autonomous systems to elevate the capabilities of its military. One of these robots is called Nerehta, which Russia recently said can fight better than humans. This tank can be changed to operate in different conditions, can transport troops, and can be loaded with a range of different weapons.

Many global observers are worried that Russia’s advancements are creating unnecessary global risks and a new arms race. While some believe an outright ban on killer robots is the solution, this won’t be as easy as it appears (see below).

More on Global Robotics and Drone Concerns:

UN to hold event on killer robots

The United Nations is planning a meeting to discuss the challenges associated with autonomous combat systems. The fears are that such killer robots, as they begin acting on their own, can start wars or exacerbate conflicts that destroy parts of the world, or humanity as a whole.

While some scenarios worry about AI controlling nuclear stockpiles, nations are more to deploy autonomous systems in specific parts of the world to enhance their defense. This could raise the risk of conflict exponentially.

As a geopolitical futurist, I can identify and monitor some of the areas where so-called killer robots could be involved, including Ukraine, Syria, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Gaza Strip, and Kashmir.

In addition, as I recently told Newsweek, non-Western nations may view a U.N. proposal to ban killer robots as a Western attempt to “assert control.” If certain nations refuse to ban robots, it creates a new geopolitical divide and gives a handful of nations capabilities that the rest of the world may not have.