Social robots vast capabilities call for human-centred, ethical design and development
Social robots, those that interact and communicate with humans, where at the centre of discussions on the second day of JRC science for policy conference “What future for European robotics?". Participants covered the social impact of AI and robotics, state-of-the-art developments on human-robot interaction and the latest research on social robots and education.
Commissioner Gabriel Keynote on Social Impact of Robotics
Debate started with the Keynote “The impact of robots on society” by Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. Well aware of the evolution of this technology, as former European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Gabriel underlined the need to take the human factor into the equation early and ensure that the design of robotics and AI systems incorporate European values. Ms Gabriel reminded Horizon EU has 30% more resources than the previous programme, what shows EU determination to support R&D and technological sectors. She advocated for evidence-based policies to better understand the impact of robot interventions on human behaviour, highlighting in this respect JRC research on child-robot interaction with a focus on collaborative learning.
Panel Discussion: Assessing the social impact of AI and robotics
The first discussion of the day followed. Emilia Gomez, JRC researcher on AI and human behaviour, chaired a panel formed by Susanne Bieller, from International Federation of Robotics, Raja Chatila, professor emeritus at Sorbonne University, and Aimee van Wynsberghe, Alexander von Humboldt Professor at Bonn University. Bieller underlined that the AI technology can help decision-making which does not mean less responsibility for the organizations developing such systems. In order to build trust in robots companies should address existing market problems, and suggested investing on education as the best way to assure positive and safe interactions with robots & AI systems.
Professor Chatila emphasized how important it is the embodiment of AI systems to be able to perceive the complexity of the human environment, and our responsibility in the identity we project on robots. He stated that any plan to deploy robots is a political plan, as it impacts the whole society, and we need to consider it a policy making process.
Professor van Wynsberghe reflected on AI frameworks being shaped around the world, each country looking at different risks depending on values prioritized in their culture. She made a compelling call to embed liberal democratic values and respect of human rights into robots: if if we want robots to be ethical, we need to make sure that organisations developing these systems are ethical.
Carme Torras Keynote on Social Robotics
The next Keynote Speech was on the topic of Social Robotics by Carme Torras. Dr. Torras has led 16 European projects in the field of robotics, latest being an ERC Advanced Grant on Cloth manipulation learning from demonstrations. She highlighted some of the win-win applications in assistive robotics, such as feeding impaired people, who feel more autonomous by using and controlling robots as if it were cutlery, while carers can provide support of more human value. Robots could have played an important role in hospitals during the pandemic manipulating textiles and preventing excessive exposure of health carers.
Panel discussion: Human-Robot Interaction and Robotics in Education
European Commission Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027, aims to foster the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem for Europe. The second panel of the day, chaired by Vicky Charisi, researcher scientist on AI and Human Behaviour at the JRC, set off to discuss current research strands. It offered an overview of the research on Human-Robot Interaction focusing on its potential role in children education.
Professor Tony Belpaeme, from Ghent University, noted the strong impact social robots are likely to have on children and young people, especially through entertainment and education. He backed conscious design of human-robot interactions and supported legislation to protect children’s needs. From MIT’s Media Lab, research scientist Hae Won Park, valued the benefits of social robots when engaging with young learners. She covered the potential of using socio-emotive AI to cater for each individual learner’s need, and shared evidence on the relational bonding and working alliance that form between robots and children over time and its influence to help retention and achieving long-term goals. Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, from OECD, said that digitalisation of education will continue and probably accelerate after the pandemic and Robots are part of the many smart technologies currently being developed with potential to support and improve education and learning. One of the challenges is to ensure these will benefit all children, not only those being able to afford access to these new technologies.
Closing by Carme Artigas
Spanish Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence, Carme Artigas delivered the closing remarks of the day. She strengthened the pertinence of the Conference highlighting that Spain’s recovery and resilience plan is dedicating 33% of investments to digital transformation, beyond the 20% required. Artigas detailed Spain’s National AI strategy, which foresees public investment of 600 million euros between 2021-2023 to promote human-centred and inclusive AI that contributes to economic and social development.
The last leg of the conference involves the key services of the European Commission in charge of related policies.
JRC Research on the topic
- Publication date
- 29 January 2021