The robots are coming

Robot Graffiti Peter Merholz

The European Commission is not necessarily best known for its lightning reactions, but you do know that when it gets its teeth into something it’s not likely to let go.

So it may again prove to be with a technology that already seemed to be everywhere in 2016 and this year shows every sign of continuing that trend.

We’re no strangers to Watson and AI over at PMLiVE, whether in diabetes, patient safety, viral diseases, cognitive advertising or immuno-oncology drug discovery, to name a few of the areas we covered last year.

But this year MEPs concluded that developments in artificial intelligence and robots have placed us on the cusp of a “new industrial revolution”, and they want comprehensive new rules for how to deal with them.

From giving robots legal status as “electronic persons” to implementing a “kill switch” to shut down technology that goes rogue, their report also calls for a new European agency set up to provide technical, ethical and regulatory expertise on robotics and artificial intelligence.

It even proposes a universal basis income for citizens, given the number of jobs that AI and robots could take (and the World Economic Forum predicts that over the next three years more than 5 million jobs will be at risk).

The sharp edge of this issue is already coming to the fore. Just ask the Japanese insurance workers now out of a job after IBM’s Watson supercomputer was judged to be cheaper and more effective at doing their jobs. Next up lawyers may need to watch their backs.

Machines replacing humans is not new. It’s over 200 years since the Luddites took umbrage at automated textile machinery, but the stakes have been rising and last year Foxconn replaced 60,000 workers with robots.

And there’s no need for me to be complacent – 2016 also saw a uptick in articles about robot journalists.

So look out, the robots are coming (and they could have probably written this quicker than I have).

Robot by Logan Ingalls

How many times
have we dreamed it this way:
the Age of the Machines
From The Robots are Coming, by Kyle Dargan
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