Georgetown startup incubator Halcyon, in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), hosted a VIP event Thursday, September 28th to celebrate and discuss innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence.
The event, led by industry experts, congressional leaders, technology companies, policymakers and media weighed in on the opportunities that this new technology will provide in the near future.
Speakers at the event included Axios Science Editor Alison Snyder, The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, AAAS CEO Dr. Rush Holt, former White House CTO Megan Smith, Roomba inventor Helen Greiner, Microsoft’s Fred Humphries, and Congressman Will Hurd.
Also notable, Hitachi’s EMIEW3 robot made it’s U.S. debut at the discussion, accompanied by newly-crowned Miss America, Cara Mund.
— Hitachi U.S.A (@Hitachi_US) September 28, 2017
Emerging Robotics Technology: Living with Robots
In the first panel of the Halcyon Dialogue Robotics Showcase, “Emerging Robotics Technology: Living with Robots,” Axios Science Editor Alison Snyder dove into current robotics technology and exciting future trends.
“We’re going to soon have fully autonomous vehicles, package delivery drones, robot caregivers,” Snyder said launching into the first panel discussion. “And so the question I think is: there’s rapid progress in artificial intelligence and robotics that makes it sort of easy to imagine in this world where they’re amongst us and interacting among us every day. But how close are we to that vision?… And are we fully ready to relinquish that control?”
The panel also featured iRobot Corporation’s co-founder and CTO of CyPhy Works Helen Greiner, a revolutionary robotics entrepreneur who has been on the cutting edge of robotics and AI since she was 11 years old.
Greiner discussed how the robotics industry and development were breaking into the mainstream American economy affecting millions of people every day, along with the critical funding and investments that allow for future development starting to really step into this arena.
“We’ve come a huge way. There’s lots of robots out there. But we’re not R2-D2 yet… There’s so much more that robots and drones can do and I’m inspired to be part of the next ones as well,” Greiner explained. “It does surprise me there aren’t many more. It’s driven by not just the technology and other fields… but it also is coming from the investment, having… a successful acquisition drives investment. Now you see… billions of dollars going into robot startups, which is another signal how we’re going to get through those technological and regulatory and policy hurdles.”
Also on stage in the second panel, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, who is currently CEO and founder of the startup shift7.
“The thing that i also love is it’s the beginning of these tools democratizing. So the ability for anyone… to get ahold of some of these tools and actually make their own stuff is also really promising,” Smith said. “To Dr. Kuno’s creativity, the more we have more of us engaged in making and creating, this technology is better. Because we don’t want just one group of people making all the stuff for everybody else. We want everyone thinking about what they’re passionate about solving in the world and how might they apply whatever tools are available including robotics and AI to solve that problem.”
Policy Opportunities in the Robotics Age
The second discussion, titled “Policy Opportunities in the Robotics Age,” discussed ethical and policy implications of this emerging and evolving field, as well as the many ways that developments in these areas influence developments in robotics, whether federal and state regulations would help nurture the future of robotics or build barriers to success.
Moderated by Washington editor-at-large at The Atlantic Steve Clemons, top experts on robotics and AI policy discussed ways to achieve public trust and legislative action without stifling innovation.
Clemons started out talking about the challenges between public policy advocates and technology development thinking and working on completely different levels of thought.
“I was at a dinner with Larry Page from Google and a bunch of other high tech other types,” Clemons said. “And the topic of conversation was the end of death. They’re trying to end death as we know it. And a couple Washington people said ‘oh my gosh, what would happen to entitlements? It would go through the roof.’”
Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX), a former undercover CIA officer and senior cybersecurity advisor, discussed some of the challenges with robotics in public policy. Hurd emphasized his thoughts that government’s role largely should be to allow the industry to thrive, innovate and grow smartly.
“Ultimately,” said Hurd, “our role is to stay out of the way of innovation and don’t stifle it. The technological change we’re going to see in the next 20 years is going to make the last 20 years look really insignificant. And one of the problems you have when you look at legislators or regulators not understanding where technology is going, …people are afraid of change. We have to embrace it. And I think where Congress should be having this conversation is how do you facility industry having a conversation on a code of ethics when it comes to artificial intelligence? What are some of the elements in the federal government that could benefit from artificial intelligence?… Congress can play a role in our oversight function in making sure our various agencies are integrating that technology in the way that it should.”
Rounding out the second panel was Fred Humphres, corporate vice president for U.S. government affairs at Microsoft, who talked about the corporate responsibility of technology firms to educate, inform public policy makers understand where robotics and AI development is heading, and help them integrate these developments into our public lives smartly, without stifling innovation.
“We have a responsibility to make sure we’re getting up there and educating Members [of Congress] on the different issues. Because it’s complex,” Humphres agreed. “[T]here are some challenges up on Capitol Hill… learning this complex area. So we have a responsibility as companies, we need to get up there and be honest brokers in advocacy and not spinning and not just positioning for our products. Because when you think of AI, it’s complex. Robotics, it’s complex. It’s not black and white, it’s very nuanced. And there’s a lot of anxiety about it.”
Throughout the event, several robot demonstrations were on display, including Hitachi’s U.S. debut of their EMIEW3 robot, showing how it can offer services in a variety of scenarios.
— Hitachi U.S.A (@Hitachi_US) September 27, 2017
Additionally, a display from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab offered videos and artifacts from their robotics / AI lab. Senior robotics engineer Dr. Edward W. Tunstel of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, discussed how those working in both technological development and public policy are optimistic about the future.
“Robotics has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people,” Tunstel said. “You’ve got a segment of our society that is in some ways afraid, apprehensive. We’ve certainly got a number of movies that might inject some of those thoughts. In many cases one will find through dialogs like this that it’s not that scary at all.”
Microsoft provided access to their Perceptive Pixel (PPI) 55” Touch Device, also known as the Magic Wall. Participants and guests alike were all welcomed and encouraged to answer questions on robotics to be shared with the public.
— Tammy Haddad (@haddadmedia) September 28, 2017
The event was held at Halcyon’s headquarters in Washington, DC and was hosted alongside partners Axios, Science Robotics (AAAS) and Washington Ideas. Sponsors for the discussion included Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Microsoft, Honeywell, X, and Daikin.