Don’t be afraid of Artificial Intelligence, says head of UK’s new robotics centre | Science & Tech News

The head of the UK’s largest and most advanced robotics centre has said that society needs to prepare for the increased integration of robots but shouldn’t fear the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).

Stewart Miller, the chief executive of the National Robotarium, which opens today in Edinburgh, told Sky News that “Inevitably there will be more robots in everybody’s life. They’ll be helping you at home, when you go out shopping, when you go to a hotel, they’ll be involved in hospitality, when you go to a theatre, everything. And in your working life.”

Internationally, some scientists have expressed concerns over rapid progress in the field of artificial intelligence. A new survey of researchers from the New York University Centre for Data Science found that more than a third (36%) of respondents that had published recent papers in the field thought that AI could produce catastrophic outcomes in this century, “on the level of all-out nuclear war”.

Mr Miller said that “the thing to remembers is that we, the humans, are in control. We decide how far it goes and doesn’t go”.

He added: “A lot of people already working on making sure the software sitting behind AI has safeguards built into it, to make sure that, particularly when it’s running on a robotic platform, it can’t do any harm or at least we make sure it does as minimal harm as we possibly can. So those kind of safeguards will be built in by the engineers.

“We will have to put safeguards in place and make sure we have good controls around it, because it [artificial intelligence] is a very powerful technology. But I think it has more to bring that will be good, than we have to worry about.”

Asked if people should fear AI, he said: “No, I don’t think they should.”

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When it officially opens today, the National Robotarium will aim to be a world-leading centre for robotics and artificial intelligence. It’s hosted by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh and received £21 million in funding from the UK government as well as £1.4 million from the Scottish government.

Researchers at the site have already developed a pioneering smart helmet, which uses Artificial Intelligence to help firefighters find victims in smoke-filled rooms.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service firefighter wearing an experimental AI-enabled smart helmet
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service firefighter wearing an experimental AI-enabled smart helmet
'Spot' is being developed to work in hazardous environments
‘Spot’ is being developed to work in hazardous environments

The helmet, which is currently being trialled by firefighters at a training centre in Newbridge near Edinburgh, is equipped with a radar, thermal camera and inertial sensors.

It relays data and a video feed to another team-member outside the fire who, using a remote device, can guide their colleagues to a casualty.

Group Commander Andy Galloway of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “Time is critical in these situations. Currently our firefighters are very highly trained in carrying out search and rescue techniques, but that does take time in hazardous environments.

“This piece of equipment would allow them to send a live feed outside and early recognition of casualties would allow us to make better decisions from the outside – quicker decisions.

“The feedback has been very positive from the crews that have used it so far. As time goes on I’m sure the kit will become smaller and easier to manage, but ultimately positive reviews so far.”

Stewart Miller, CEO National Robotarium
Stewart Miller, CEO National Robotarium

Other projects under way at the National Robotarium include the development of robotic dogs to work in hazardous environments, underwater robots to inspect offshore wind farms and others to help in researching diseases.

The centre will specialise in developing robotics for fields including healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture and assisted living, and says it aims to make Edinburgh the “data capital of Europe”.