Robots and Us

Robots and Us

Yesterday, Alfonso Molina, Scientific Director of the Fondazione Mondo Digitale  and Personal Chair in Technology Strategy at the University of Edinburgh, participated in the presentation of “I robot e noi” (Il Mulino, 2017), the new book by professor and MP Maria Chiara Carrozza.


The event was promoted by the Rome Università Campus Bio-Medico as a prologue to RomeCup 2018 which will be held at the university (April 18-20, 2018) [see news: Robots and Us at UCBM].


Here is Alfonso Molina’s address:


This is a very important book that I really enjoyed; particularly, for its rich narrative, filled with information on the evolution of robotics, from the industrial sphere to all other facets of society, up to ourselves, with service robotics, social robotics and wearable robotics, both inside and outside of our bodies.


This narrative from a member of parliament is crucial to elevate the level of awareness and understanding of our political leadership, and of all of society, on the historical significance of what is beginning to take place in the world of robotics with the convergence of artificial intelligence, the cloud, 5G, Big Data and other exponential developments in sensors and the continuous increase in computational power. From the Internet of Things to the Internet of Everything; Industry 4.0 and the fourth industrial revolution; and collaborative, social and wearable robots, during the next decade, Italy is going to decide its industrial and economic future, as well as its scientific and educational future at the international level.


The book clearly presents the great challenges that await us:


Italy must become a protagonist in this challenge and historical opportunity, and to do so it must begin a profound debate, not just amongst scientists, but in every interested sector of society: politicians, entrepreneurs and citizens. This will need to be followed by long-term, stable, but flexible projects and programmes. In this context, I would like to remind you of an experience lead by the Fondazione Mondo Digitale: the creation of a Multi-Sector Network for Educational Robotics. Between 2012 and 2014, at the RomeCup, we proposed the creation of a multi-sector network that would bring together actors ranging from elementary school to industry, including poly-techs, universities, vocational schools, secondary schools, museums, etc. It was a “historical challenge” for robotics in Italy. On the one hand, there were vast robotic capabilities in Italy; on the other, the growth of a service and personal robotics market and its possible penetration into all aspects of society. Over 70 organisations have joined the Network Agreement.


Prepare industry for a change that will have a positive social impact. Here, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with a context of unemployment and precarious work conditions, the growth of boundary-less careers and the gig economy, in which rights are extremely weak. The Industry 4.0 Programme is a fundamental step forward and I hope that the new government, which we will have next year, will nurture it; although, I also fear that we are about to enter a prolonged period of political instability.


Reforming education is essential to prepare young men and women and the new generations to work and live in a context of extremely rapid technological change, the so called Great Acceleration, but we must also address the low number of graduates and the high rate of school dropouts and NEETs. A crucial part of this transformation of education is an anti-disciplinary approach. We must overcome the fragmentation of knowledge through the fusion of different subjects to nurture the creation and diffusion of robotics in society. This is a great cultural challenge that brings to mind similar proposals on the need for the unity of knowledge by Edgar Morin and Edward Wilson. This is based on the concept of “consilience”, which is fundamental to face the challenges of our century.


Ensure the ethical behaviour, the morality of social robots that will interact and live with us. Here, Asimov’s Laws, which are now 75 years old, provide a good starting point. However, I believe that what is more worrying is the ethics of humans. First of all, because robots will receive their ethics from us. It will be our ethics and that we employ in the sectors that will control scientific and technological changes and define the use and development of the enormous power of wearable robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as other developments as in the field of genetics, that will make a difference. Think about “killer robots” or “completely autonomous weapons,” for example. There are campaigns to halt their development on ethical grounds. This year, over 130 founders and directors of more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence companies in 28 countries signed an open letter to stop the development of this type of weapons. Another letter, launched in 2015, was signed by over 20,000 people, including 3000 robotics and AI researchers. This drove the United Nations to create a Group of Governmental Experts on Automatic Lethal Weapons Systems; unfortunately, the first meeting was cancelled for financial reasons (various member states have not paid their UN fees). A second issue concerns “human enhancement.”


Last, but not least, two fundamental questions emerge from this brief overview:

  1. Will Italy rise to the historical challenge?
  2. Will the future be a utopia or a dystopia?


Rome, November 9, 2017