SPEECH TO THE ARC CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR ROBOTIC VISION LAUNCH: A ROBOTICS ROADMAP FOR AUSTRALIA.
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 18 JUNE 2018
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The launch today of the Robotics Roadmap for Australia is a timely contribution to public policy debate in this country.
Can I just say that I have long been a strong support of the Centers of Excellence program, it really does bring together some of the best research that this country has to offer. It is highly competitive and does concentrate on that concept of excellence in research.
Media reporting of robotics, automation and the Internet of Things have made these terms bogey words to many people.
We must resist that.
The much-cited prediction in the 2013 paper by Michael Osborne and Car Frey – that 47per cent of existing jobs are at risk from computerisation – has since been abandoned by Osborne himself.
More importantly, however, we need to remember that the application of robotics in the modern workplace depends on the choices that people make.
The choice we face is not whether to accept or reject robotic systems, but how to introduce and adapt new technologies in ways that enhance human potential.
Or to put it another way: machines don’t make sweatshops, only people do.
As the International Federation of Robotics has argued, in the industries of the future robots will complement and augment human labour.
The federation expects automation to lead to job re-allocation, not job destruction.
Robots will perform routine or dangerous tasks while raising the demand for higher-skilled forms of human labour.
And new lower-skilled jobs may be created through spill-over effects in other sectors.
In the European Union, governments argue that job opportunities can expand under what is being called industry 4.0 – the enhanced automation brought about by digitalisation and interactive machines in manufacturing and other sectors of the economy and society
But that means not letting the market rip. There has to be a public policy framework that uses the flexibility of the smart factory to spur innovation.
Devising the right policies will be the key to overcoming the anxiety that many people feel when faced with automation.
An anxiety that has spawned alienation in all industrialised democracies.
It has led to disengagement from the political processes, where more and more people feel that the economic and political systems do not serve them.
The EU has set a target: that by 2020, they want 20per cent of total economic value to come from manufacturing.
That is a 25per cent increase on present levels. This is not rosy-eyed optimism.
The EU planners accept that there are difficult problems to be overcome.
Such as deciding the amount of investment that will be required, and resolving questions about legal liabilities, intellectual property and the harmonisation of standards.
Above all, there are questions about the transfer of skills, including questions about how people at the bottom end of the labour market can be reskilled. These are fundamentally political questions.
But even with these acknowledged difficulties, EU policymakers are still talking to the public about opportunities.
The future of robotics will not be determined by marketing-driven sectional spin, nor by the hype about start-ups, but by realpolitik and the responsibility to ensure that the public’s interests are met.
In Europe, over the past 10 years, they have introduced the concept of RRI - responsible research and innovation.
This is an approach to innovation that explains the benefits of new technologies and improves public accountability, helping to build social licence.
This is the approach that we were attracted to in government and took in relation to nanotechnologies. And it has broader applications in building public support for our research programs. We can do that here too, and the production of this Roadmap will help in beginning the conversation.
I congratulate Dr Sue Keay, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and all involved, and I commend your work to Australian people.