Robotics & Geopolitics: AI May Shake Up Middle Eastern Status Quo

Robotics Business Review

Artificial intelligence and related technologies are increasingly the focus of international competition, but could policies level the playing field between larger and smaller countries, or might they exacerbate regional conflicts? This week, we also look at British research into military robots, despite concerns about ethics.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its readers with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, AI, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?

Malta wants to be the next AI power

Robotics development: Malta, which claims to be the world’s leading hub for blockchain, wants to become a world leader in AI. To do this, the tiny nation is developing an AI strategy called “Malta.ai.”

This strategy has several aspects, including a “citizenship test” for robots and a public-policy framework to govern how AI behaves. One of the overarching goals is to create “benevolent” AI.

Geopolitical significance: Like many countries, Malta is looking to AI and machine learning to grow its economic and global power. But how will it differentiate itself from everyone else?

For example, the European Union is speeding up its own deployment of AI. Starting this month, border authorities will use AI to determine if travelers are lying at checkpoints in Hungary, Latvia, and Greece.

In addition, the European Commission plans to release a blueprint by the end of this year to govern AI ethics. And recently, the European Patent Office released its own guidelines around registering AI patents.

As the EU looks to compete with the U.S. and Asia, it may not realize it, but its biggest competitor may be next door. For example, Malta’s citizenship test, which could grant robots certain rights, is quite similar to a proposal that entered the European parliament in January 2017. It called for EU-wide robot “rights and freedoms.”

In other words, both jurisdictions are pursuing similar initiatives to show their leadership in AI. Will the winner be the one that approves these policies the fastest? Could Malta’s decisions challenge those of the EU?

Equally important is the debate around so-called robot rights. If even 2% of citizens are robots, society will need to be reconfigured. Can robots vote in future elections? Can robots sue humans in courts? The relationship between the government and its “citizens” could fundamentally change.

Commonwealth entrusts military robots with new roles

Robotics development: According to a new report, the British Ministry of Defense is developing several AI systems that could change warfare by giving military robots more control over what to do in battle zones.

One system being tested, called a “predictive cognitive control system,” uses big data to predict what could happen next. The AI fine-tunes its predictions to make them more relevant to the military forces using them.

British Commonwealth

Flags of the British Commonwealth. Source: ClipArt.com

Geopolitical significance: Because of fears around autonomous weapons, there is a stigma and fear that military robots could cause the next war. But, in reality, most military robots are not about combat, but support and logistics.

For example, last week’s column looked at Russia automating the direction of air strikes. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is investing in new technologies to enhance its military capabilities, like 3D-printing weapon parts and sending them via drones.

The U.K.’s military robots may be key to growing its geopolitical influence, such as through the Commonwealth, a grouping of former British colonies. Besides an annual summit, the Commonwealth plays little role in the world, but it could be a vehicle for autonomous weapons sales.

Consider that while the U.K. is being criticized for developing AI-enabled weapons, it is holding Autonomous Warrior 2018. Displayed at the event are advances such as autonomous ground vehicles for resupply and robotic targeting systems.

By using the Commonwealth to share its military robots, the U.K. could create a new role for the group in the 21st century, and it might even attract new members who want access to this technology.

UAE policies may heighten Middle Eastern friction

Robotics development: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will start to create its own laws and policies around self-driving cars and AI, according to a government minister.

This is part of a strategy laid out by the president of the UAE, who approved the testing of “future technologies” and who announced the creation of “RegLab,” a government organization that would “anticipate” and develop public policy around new technologies.

Geopolitical significance: It is no secret that the UAE wants to become a world power in robotics and AI. Until now, this focus has revolved around creating new industries or attracting talent. This has not been cause for alarm as military robots would be, but the UAE might soon raise eyebrows.

For instance, the UAE wants AI to increase its revenue from oil and natural gas by $2.85 billion by 2020. The UAE could put AI in charge of setting oil output levels. This would have a dramatic effect on the Middle East.

If the country trusted AI rather than following the lead of Saudi Arabia or the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations (OPEC), this would create new divisions.

At the same time, the UAE is increasingly using AI, not energy, to grow its global influence. And other Middle Eastern countries may view this as a threat.

Earlier this year, India and the UAE signed a $20 billion deal around AI. More recently, the UAE and Nigeria agreed to cooperate around AI and solar energy.

The UAE is also exploring similar partnerships with Finland and has already agreed to strengthen its cooperation with China in AI through the One Belt, One Road initiative.

Even as the UAE makes AI and robotics a priority for its economic and foreign policy, it could disrupt the status quo of the Middle East at a time when few of its neighbors want it disrupted.

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