Based on latest research, the Council on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence has prioritised several fields of action in a detailed discussion. These priorities are meant to serve as a basis for the development of an Austrian Strategy for Robotics an AI. We see an urgent need for action in the following four areas:
In order for Austria to remain competitive and fit for the future, a framework is needed that allows companies to be successful in global competition. In order to be able to compete on the international market, companies in the high-wage country of Austria must occupy creative niches and further develop existing strengths.
In the future, it is to be expected that robotics and AI technologies in various forms will find their way into almost all areas of life.
Significant growth rates are predicted in all robot application areas, with “social robots” in particular expected to achieve very strong growth rates. However, this is also associated with a number of dangers. v
The Council therefore recommends targeted public investment and measures to promote innovation in robotics and AI technologies and to secure the infrastructure needed to use these technologies. The question of the use of data collected by public authorities – such as health data that is made accessible for research purposes – should also be discussed and a suitable strategy should be developed that protects the interests of citizens.
The Council recommends that key areas of application, relevant fields of technology and future R&D priorities be identified as quickly as possible, whilst ensuring that investments permit rapid implementation and realisation of robotics and AI potentials and enable rapid learning processes.
Robots and AI systems are increasingly capable of performing complex cognitive activities that have previously been reserved for humans. The intensified interconnectedness and fusion of virtual and physical processes at all levels – i.e. man, machine, company, society and state – change life and work situations and require new ways of thinking, working methods, cooperation skills and qualifications.
This begins with the corresponding basic skills of the general population in dealing with digital technologies and extends to specific expertise in the development, use and optimisation of intelligent machines for the respective purpose.
In addition, innovation and creativity, logic and an understanding of correlations, as opposed to pure factual knowledge, will become increasingly important. Empathy, social competence, cultural understanding and communication skills play an increasingly important role, especially at the interface between man and machine and in the evaluation, selection and communication of results produced by digital assistance systems.
The core question is how to address the positive potentials for the labour market, working conditions of employees, work organisation and income development.
It is still unclear what concrete effects robotics and AI will have on the future of work. In any case, it can be assumed that simple physical tasks in particular, which can be well reproduced with robotics and AI, will be taken over by technical systems within the economic and legal framework.
For well-trained people, robotics and AI will create jobs for which analytical skills, creative intelligence and social skills will be required. At the same time, a large number of workplaces that involve simple manual tasks for which automation is not viable will develop.
It will be necessary to develop policies in the field of work to cope with these changes.
From a social perspective, the increasing use of robots and AI systems is associated with both opportunities and risks. Opportunities could lie, for example, in the use of such systems as supporting tools – for example, to take over mechanically-repetitive activities such as cleaning; or to facilitate strenuous physical work through exoskeletons; to enable people with disabilities or at an advanced age to lead independent lives – for example, through autonomous cars or service robots; or to counteract adverse effects of social isolation.
Risks lie, among other things, in uncertainties in dealing with autonomously deciding or acting machines, in new forms of psychological stress in highly automated work environments, in one-sided emotional ties to machines or in the threat to self-esteem in view of the takeover of personal competences by robots and AI systems.
In addition to fears of “being replaced” and the substitution of “human” competences by technology, there are also reservations about dependence on machines.
The aforementioned risks must be prevented or mitigated by appropriate measures. To this end, it is also necessary to evaluate existing and new developments in robotics and AI with regard to psychological, social and socio-cultural implications for Austrians and to assess the associated opportunities and risks.
The question of the legal personality of robots will also have to be pursued further. For the time being, however, it is more important to formulate regulations and standards for the use of robots in order to determine liability issues.
Robotics and AI are topics that people have been dealing with for a long time. A high level of awareness was achieved especially through the narratives of science fiction. Many people have no detailed knowledge of these technologies and are therefore unable to distinguish between reality and fiction. The incomprehensibility, paired with science fiction information from the past and little factual information in the media, offers a lot of room for uncertainty and fear in the population. It is therefore not surprising that the intensity of the discussion on possible negative effects on our future life often exceeds that of the discourse on future opportunities.
In order to be able to shape the future constructively with these technologies, it is an urgent necessity to provide people with serious and comprehensive information.
Within the framework of citizen participation, measures should be developed as quickly as possible that are suitable for bringing people in contact with robotics and AI technologies and inform them not only about their potential, but also their dangers. The first measures would be to provide Austrian kindergartens and schools with access to corresponding research facilities in the form of excursions. For this purpose, universities and research institutions must be provided with appropriate resources. In addition, further formats must be developed to enable all stakeholders to be considered and involved at an early stage.