Artificial intelligence has been driving growth in robotics and automation. However, AI is not a new concept. It was actually invented over 70 years ago by computer scientists such as Alan Turing and John McCarthy.
The increasing growth of AI is underpinned by unlimited access to computer power and big data. The growth rate has reached over 50 percent since 2010, according to an Accenture report titled Why artificial intelligence is the future of growth.
In particular, robots have been a hot topic over the years, especially with the news in January this year that EU MEPs voted to categorise robots as ‘electronic persons.’ In October 2017 Fortune reported that a robot named Sophia was given citizenship this year in Saudi Arabia.
There may be some countries, either in the Middle East or EU, which see the intelligence of robots putting them close or even on the same level as humans, but what needs to be understood is AI bots have been built to be intelligent, making them more or a less a figure of creation.
“Different cultures respond very differently. I think it’s interesting that a country that has such a bad history of human rights has chosen to do this PR stunt. It’s kind of ironic and I think it’s also worth pointing out that giving citizenship to Sophia the robot and really seeing her as a person would mean she would have to be wearing the veil.
“If they thought of her as a female, artificial human there would be that restriction on her and there isn’t,” Dr Beth Singler, research associate at The Faraday Institute of science and religion told Techworld in an interview.
As different cultures have their own unique views on the concept of robots and where they should be placed in society, so too are some “still more inclined to have this wider understanding of what a being can be."
“That might be a little stereotypical but I think a lot of cultures that consider themselves to be more rational and secular still do have this understanding of what a being and a person is,” Singler added.
UK vs the rest of the world
The rise of robotics has caused an alarm for some in the UK, due to fears they could potentially replace human jobs. For instance, in 2015 the Bank of England predicted that up to 15 million jobs in Britain were at risk of robots taking over the workforce.
“Jobs like office administration, those jobs have disappeared and they’ve disappeared in enormous numbers. We call that the hollowing out of work and actually middle jobs have gone and what’s happened is two things," Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School said on stage at Netsuite’s Next Ready business tour in London.
“First of all, the high-skilled jobs have become more difficult, so when you get technology to do part of your job the tasks that are left for you to do are the hard bits."
“So some tasks will disappear but others will stay. What is also happening in technology is it’s augmenting you, it’s making you wiser, more decisive and better at making judgements but you need to be able to know how to use technology to be able to do that," she added.
Robotics has a big part to play across sectors such as manufacturing, making services quicker and easier and also giving humans less work to do, which is a positive aspect.
There have also been predictions that robots will be adopted in the healthcare sector. Already, there have been deployments of robots like Kaspar, a child-sized robot designed to help teachers and parents support children with autism.
Currently, the robot is being tested through a two-year trial at Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust and is believed that if successful Kaspar may be adopted in hospitals nationwide.
“We might see some areas that are prone to this and other areas that are more likely to push back against it, and we see it as what’s appropriate but making those sorts of predictions is kind of difficult because cultures are not monolithic in themselves.
“They are connected concepts because you will get AI in robot forms, so a robotic form that has to respond to humans will probably have some form of AI in it. You will also get robotic forms which are much simpler and AI that’s not embodied as a robot,” Singler said.
“That is a goal that some corporations or research institutes think is the way to get a system that can help us, and as humans help civilisation and get to a stage where we don’t have scarce resources perhaps superior intelligence could help with that,” she added.
It is expected that there will increasingly be a variety of artificial agents built by 2020 with different levels of intelligence. With the assistance that robots can provide in the industry this may be a positive outcome for many.
However, what should be made clear is that robots and all other intelligent computers have and will be designed to assist humans in different ways and for now are unlikely to be built to react and communicate just as a human.
On that basis, to give robots rights will be declaring that they are to be accepted as humans, and although there may not be a final answer as to whether this is right or wrong it can be questioned.
“I think that’s something to pay attention to as well, because behind the scenes AI is helping people to make decisions, but is not as obvious so the technology will be in a variety of forms.
“The scientific shorthand of smart robots, talking to an extreme, is going to be a very small part of what’s going to be happening,” Singler said.