The promotion of knowledgeable and reliable reporting was the focus of the first United Nations specialized course on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous robotics, organized in The Hague (The Netherlands) from 23 to 24 March 2016 by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the Clingendael Institute.
Media professionals and representatives of international organizations from nearly 30 countries met renowned AI and robotics experts to deepen their understanding on the potential applications of AI and robotics in a range of environments, as well as to discuss how such advancements pose practical legal, ethical and security challenges.
“We are at a crossroads with robotics and AI. This technology is just beginning to encroach on our lives, doing many jobs in the service industry and elsewhere” explained Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield (UK) and Co-Founder of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. He added: “There are robot systems being designed for care of children, care of the elderly, for surgery and medicine, for policing and the military. We are even beginning to see the use of robots in crime.”
The media and sources of public information are central in ensuring that citizens and institutions have a realistic and balanced understanding of such emerging technologies. While “the popular imagination tends to conjure Terminator-style robots taking over the world” noted Hallie Siegel, former Managing Editor at Robohub.org, “never in the history of robotics and AI has there been a greater need for thoughtful journalism — journalism that explains to us the many technological, economic, demographic, environmental, legal and political forces that are at play in our drive towards increased automation.”
Through the two-day training, media professionals were provided with key information to improve their reporting and to help frame debates around AI and robotics, as well as the various related legal, ethical and security implications. In addition to Noel Sharkey and Hallie Siegel, other featured speakers included Niel Bowerman (University of Oxford), Jonathan Forman (OPCW), Carl N. Mayers (Ministry of Defence, UK), Norbert Stellard (Blikvanboven, NL) and Irakli Beridze (UNICRI).
At the end of the course, doors were opened to the public and the media professionals in attendance were joined by representatives of international organizations, such as the Europol and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and officials from national delegations present in the Hague, for an open public expert debate - “Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: the Future, Today.”
Experts agreed that AI and robotics will help human kind to overcome some of its greatest challenges in the coming years, such as climate change, food production and sustainable development. That being said, “It is important that we get carefully balanced regulation that does not stifle innovation. It is important that we place responsibility on the humans behind the robots and ensure their accountability” concluded Prof. Sharkey.
In this respect, Irakli Beridze, Senior Policy and Strategy Advisor at UNICRI observed "Cultivating a strong sense of community amongst all stakeholders - policy makers, academia, and the private sector - is one of the core goals of UNICRI programme. This course was an important step in the right direction.”