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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

NYU plans to make Abu Dhabi global robotics hub

From engineering to ethical considerations, new centre to develop crucial new technology

Robots are becoming increasingly commonplace - and more sophisticated
Robots are becoming increasingly commonplace - and more sophisticated

Who should be held responsible if a robot commits a crime? How can we prevent androids from being hacked by criminals? And what is the best appearance for a service humanoid?

These are some of the questions researchers will tackle in a planned new robotics centre expected to open at New York University Abu Dhabi in 2019.

Professor Mohamad Eid, member of the scientific and organising committee of the third Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics hosted at NYUAD on Monday, said hiring is already underway for the robotics centre, which will foster multi-disciplinary studies of artificial intelligent systems and their impact on society.

“The idea is that New York University Abu Dhabi will be one of the hubs in robotics in general, including social robotics,” Prof Eid, who teaches electrical and computer engineering at the university, said at the symposium.

“We will have faculty affiliated in security, in social sciences, arts, humanities, in sciences and engineering, so all of these people will come together and try to look at the programme of robotics from all these different angles.”

Dr Eid said faculty submitted the proposal for the robotics centre to the university’s administration and are awaiting final approval.

“We were told in a year we may have the physical space and then we could start acquiring technologies and platforms,” he said.

“The plan is 2019 would be a point where we will have things in place up and ready.”

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The centre will be unlike any other existing robotics institutes in the region, as it will go beyond simply investigating the mechanics of building and operating a robot, said Prof Eid.

“For example, we have ethical issues related to building robots, we have legal issues, we have economic consequences that we have to discuss, we have social aspects, so we have all these things that we want to bring to the table,” said Prof Eid.

“Robotics are very multidisciplinary, particularly in the current wave of robotics, which is social robots, or robots that can interact with humans.”

The issues that arise from the intersection of humans and humanoids or androids have been the focus of the social robotics symposium this week hosted at NYUAD and UAEU. One recurring theme was the issue of jobs and how they might be affected by future AI systems.

“The UAE is one of the leading countries in the GCC to adopt the latest technologies in terms of the internet of things, robotics, wearables, 3D printing,” said Mona El-Sholkamy, a Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) researcher who presented findings of research about the future of work in the UAE.

“The threat that’s posing itself here is to what extent will these technologies shift or change how the labour market looks like and to what extent will some jobs disappear and others will just begin to mushroom? There is a dire need for the skills in the market to change and for the employees to adapt to what the labour market is looking for.”

Prof Massimiliano Lorenzo Cappuccio, director of UAE University’s cognitive science lab, said more than a threat, the introduction of robots offers an opportunity to countries like the UAE, where the Government is already leading the way with its support of artificial intelligence.

“There are only 10,000 experts of artificial intelligence in the world who really know how to put their hands in this kind of work and create real artificial intelligence,” said Prof Cappuccio. “There is such a demand. It’s difficult to find really competent people, so you need to create the kind of ecosystem that attracts this kind of talent to share their knowledge and train and share their capacity here.”

With the right strategic plan, Dr Cappuccio said it wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest that the UAE could be home to the next Silicon Valley.

“One area where the UAE is excellent is smart government, e-government, smart services and generally the idea of building a smart city, so that already exists, and we are very strong in that,” said Dr Cappuccio. “It’s a land of very surprising entrepreneurship and dreams that become true, so it’s possible. They have already surprised the world many times, many ways, but they need to design a strategic plan to make it possible.”