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AI robots in our lives: What will it take to accept them?

An EU-funded project is encouraging debate on responsible robotics to promote widespread social acceptance of AI-based robotic technologies in four key areas.

Digital Economy
Society

As robotic technology advances in a wide range of sectors, steadily changing the way we work and live, the question remains: How will AI-based robots affect society? And can the barriers preventing their widespread adoption be removed? An EU-funded project called Robotics4EU is working to achieve a more widespread adoption of robots in four areas: healthcare, infrastructure inspection and maintenance, agri-food and agile production. Its aim is to foster an EU-wide responsible robotics community representing robotics innovators, citizens and policymakers who will address non-technological issues related to the adoption of AI-based robots in these four areas. Through this community, the project aims to establish responsible robotics principles that will tackle issues such as ethical, gender, legal, societal and economic aspects, privacy and cybersecurity, and citizen needs and safety, ultimately helping society accept the use of robotics solutions.

Planned workshops

Starting in November 2021, Robotics4EU will be running a series of workshops in the same four areas. So far, two online workshops have been announced. The first, ‘How can we do better? Data, autonomy and AI solutions in Inspection and Maintenance robotics’, was held on 5 November. The second workshop ‘Exploring caring imaginaries: Futures of roboticized healthcare’ will be held on 19 November. The workshops will continue until mid-2022.

Research and surveys

Since its launch in January 2021, the project has carried out a survey involving policymakers, robotics community members and citizens to see if and how much the non-technological aspects of robotics are hindering the adoption of robotic technologies across Europe. According to a news item posted on the Robotics4EU website, the “top concerns affecting the robotics uptake were technological unemployment (in socio-economic), safety (in ethics), surveillance (in data), harmonized regulation (in legal) and the lack of education (in education and engagement). … The stakeholders considered that overall, the first hindrance towards the integration of intelligent robots in society lies in their technological immaturity. Once such robots have proven their usefulness and efficiency in performing a task, a focus must be given on the absence of a direct negative impact on the user (safety, privacy, understandability, etc.).” The main takeaway from the survey was clear: to tackle these issues, improved communication between policymakers, robotics producers and citizens is needed. Research conducted as part of Robotics4EU has also led to the development of a Societal Readiness Plan. The goal is to develop a strategy for integrating responsible research and innovation principles into project activities, and to provide guidelines for assessing these activities’ impact on the societal readiness level (SRL) for robotic innovation in the four project areas. The SRL rates how ready a technology is for widespread acceptance and involves ongoing consultation with citizens and stakeholders about non-technological consequences related to the technology being developed. The importance of society accepting robotics solutions is highlighted in the Societal Readiness Plan factsheet published by Robotics4EU (Robotics with and for Society – Boosting Widespread Adoption of Robotics in Europe): “Every day new robots promise to change the way we do business and conduct our daily lives across many different areas. However, these technological marvels can only be fully realized if they are broadly accepted by society. If new technologies do not take into account ethical concerns or take into account a diverse user-base the most promising new technologies will not be used in practice.” For more information, please see: Robotics4EU project website

Keywords

Robotics4EU, robotics, robot, adoption, society, policymaker, citizen, ethics, societal readiness plan, societal readiness level

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