Robot revolution raises urgent societal issues not addressed by policy

robots

Rapid developments in the automation of our everyday lives has prompted a world leading multidisciplinary group of technology scholars to form the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR). Dr Aimee van Wynsberghe (University of Twente) is co-founder and President of FRR. 

We are on the cusp of a robotics revolution with governments and corporations looking to robotics as a powerful new economic driver. Despite the disruptive impact of the increasing automation in our work places, our streets and our homes, only lip service is being paid to the long list of potential societal hazards.

31 MILLION ROBOTS BY 2018

With increasing advances in the technology, robots are moving out of the factories to automate many aspects of our daily lives. The International Federation for Robotics predicts the number of service robots will rise to 31 million by 2018: from healthcare to the care of children and the elderly, from cooking and preparing food to making and serving cocktails, from domestic cleaning to agriculture and farming, from policing and killing in armed conflict to monitoring climate change and protecting endangered species. Driverless cars will change our roads forever and revolutionise our transport and delivery services.

ROBOTS ARE ONLY AS RESPONSIBLE AS THE HUMANS WHO BUILD AND USE THEM

“We urgently need to promote responsibility for the robots embedded in our society”, said Dr Aimee van Wynsberghe, co-founder and President of FRR. “Robots are only as responsible as the humans who build and use them. We must ensure that the future practice of robotics is for the benefit of mankind rather than for short term gains. To accomplish this, the policies governing robotics must maintain ethical and societal standards of fairness and justice.”

NEW TECHNOLOGIES COULD RESULT IN MASS UNEMPLOYMENT

The rapid progress in the automation in so many tasks is threatening the loss of many jobs in unexpected areas. Recent reports from the Bank of England and the Bank of America have warned that the new technologies could result in mass unemployment. Last month the chief economist for the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, said that as many as 15 million jobs could be replaced by new technologies. The governor of the bank of Italy also recently echoed these remarks.

THE ROBOTICS REVOLUTION

Professor Noel Sharkey, co-founder and chair of the FRR executive board said, “We are rushing headlong into the robotics revolution without consideration for the many unforeseen problems lying around the corner. It is time now to step back and think hard about the future of the technology before it sneaks up and bites us when we are least expecting it. We must strive for responsible and accountable developments in robotics without stifling innovation.”

PROGRESS AND INNOVATION IN ROBOTICS RESEARCH

FRR is also concerned about maintaining progress and innovation in robotics research. If it is to be sustainable, public trust must be engendered. The public needs to be assured that new developments will be created responsibly and with due consideration of their human rights and freedom of choice. Early mistakes could set the field back by many years and stifle research.

FOUNDATION FOR RESPONSIBLE ROBOTICS

It is difficult for policy makers and the legislators to keep up with the rapidly emerging developments and so it is vitally important that the scientists, researchers and manufacturers develop a socially responsible attitude to their work. It is for reasons like these that more than 20 of the world’s leading emerging technology thinkers have come formed the Foundation for Responsible Robotics to bring the various communities together to offer advice and guidance.