How Robotics May Affect Our Nine to Five

FROM pizza delivery robots, digital house assistants and self driving cars, there is a lot of technological innovation in our economy right now and we want to know more. For example, have you taken time to consider how innovation like robotics may affect productivity, and how our area might take advantage of the economic opportunities?

The University of York’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Jon Timmis has given us an insight into how advanced robotics and artificial intelligence may affect our lives.

It is part of our #YNYERFutures series where we are refreshing our economic strategy to gain a shared understanding of how to make the most of our area’s economic opportunities.

It will be used to create a new economic strategy that will strengthen future cases we make to government for investment opportunities in our area like the Industrial Strategy.

Have a read, share it and best of all take a look at our short questions at the end to have your say on the challenges and opportunities we face.

 

By Professor Jon Timmis, BSc (Hons), PGCHE, Ph.D, Senior MIEEE
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Knowledge Exchange at the University of York

“THE DOORBELL rings and your pizza has been delivered and you use your thumbprint to sign for the delivery. You don’t have to talk to the delivery person, it is a robot, a small car like vehicle adapted for the delivery of piping hot pizza, right to your door. The next morning, you are woken up by your alarm and your digital house assistant tells you about the day ahead, the traffic and when you need to leave the house to get to work at the right time.  Your digital assistant prepares the car. You go into the garage, sit in your car and begin to read the latest news: you don’t drive, the car does it for you.  As you drive to work, you go past fields and see large tractors ploughing the fields, they have no driver, just like your car.

These scenarios might seem farfetched, but digital personal assistants are here already, Google Home or Amazon Alexa are the first generation of these products. They have limited functionality at the moment, but as research into artificial intelligence (AI) develops, these assistants will only get better and more sophisticated over time. Likewise with self-driving cars, not so farfetched. There have been road tests of many such vehicles with Google and Tesla to name a few. Recently, Harper Adams Agricultural University, are set to grow a hectare of cereal crops through full automation, without setting foot in the field. The start of such technology is here, the next 10 years will see it grow and have a wide variety of effects on our region.

Underpinning all these technologies is advanced robotics and engineering, combined with increasingly sophisticated AI, where machines have an ability to learn about tasks and improve over time and adapt to changing circumstances easily. As this technology develops, it is important to understand that they will increasingly interact with the local population, people of all ages and backgrounds. Such developments in technology present significant challenges and opportunities for our region, technically, socially and economically.

From a technical perspective, new technologies will need to be developed to allow robots to understand the world they are operating in better. This might mean better sensing equipment to allow them to be more accurate with delivery of pesticides on fields, or sensors to better assess the movement of pedestrians to ensure the car takes into account their movements.   Such technological requirements could help drive innovation in our region. With new high tech companies able to move in and work with local partners to develop creative, and low cost solutions to these issues. Ensuring these systems are safe, and operate in an ethically sound manner, is something that is a significant challenge to the research and industrial communities developing this technology and will need to be addressed, as the technology progresses.

From a social perspective, the introduction of such technology might have a profound effect. The acceptance of the technology, in some areas, will be challenging. For example, there are already concerns with such automation replacing jobs, what might be the effect of higher degrees of automation for driving, or in agriculture. However, such technology will create new opportunities for people, new types of jobs, new training opportunities for people to undertake. Fully automated cars may well ease congestion, freeing up time, and reducing stress on drivers and reducing pollution.

Finally, from an economic perspective, there are new opportunities for new companies to move into the development and provision of such technologies. To draw on the autonomous cars, reduced travel time is a real possibility, combined with people being able to undertake aspects of work on the way to the office, this could lead to a potential growth in productivity. Automation in the bio-economy could lead again to increased productivity, driving new businesses growth and job creation.

There is a great deal of hype around such automation and AI, so one has to be careful what to claim. I have been amazed at the level of progress this past five years or so in the areas of robotics and AI, to go from where we were with driverless technology to where we are now is truly remarkable. That pace of development shows no sign of slowing down. As a region, we need to be prepared for this development and be well placed to capitalize on its potential. From the bio-economy, to traffic reduction, to getting your food delivered, there could be significant change in our lifestyles over the next ten years, supported by safe and ethically sound robotic systems that serve the community and promote economic growth and not hold it back.”

Did you find this think piece interesting? We’ve got some questions you might find interesting too.