Robotics and artificial intelligence seem poised to raise us up with intoxicating possibilities, only to drop us suddenly into unfamiliar—and potentially dangerous—territory. From driverless cars and drones to robots in our workplace, hospitals and homes, advances in technology are bringing the future forward at quite a clip.
Few doubt that robotics and AI will create significant benefits, but most experts also believe that these technologies will bring pitfalls around which we’ll need to tread carefully.
Speaking at an MIT aeronautics symposium, SpaceX CEO/CTO and Tesla Motors chief product architect Elon Musk cautioned: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”
Ryan Calo, assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law and an expert in law and emerging technology, doesn’t think AI will come close to human intelligence in the foreseeable future. However, he says, even the technology we have today is creating difficult challenges for government regulators.
One example is private drone use. The FAA issued an “interim policy” in 2005, but there are still no official rules. In 2012, a frustrated Congress passed a law requiring the FAA to devise a “comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace” by September 2015.
The interim policy states that private individuals may fly drones, but only for fun, not for profit. Showing they mean business, the FAA issued subpoenas in July to several New York City realtors who had used drones to shoot aerial photos of their listings.
The FAA says it’s concerned about safety, but the current policy may be holding vital business initiatives back.
“Realtors, farmers and others using drones for business will think carefully about what exposes them to unnecessary business risks or lawsuits,” says Gregory S. McNeal, an associate professor of law at Pepperdine University. “In short, commercial users will be at least as careful as a hobbyist, but the FAA is keeping them grounded. This is completely backwards and it seems that it isn’t about safety, it’s about bureaucrats flexing their muscles as they struggle to deal with new technologies.”
Calo agrees that currently the government lacks the expertise to integrate robotics and AI into society safely and efficiently without hampering innovation. Yet that’s the balancing act that needs to be achieved if these technologies are to reach their full potential and the United States is to stay competitive with other nations.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com