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Automating the Achievement of SDGs: Robotics Enabling & Inhibiting the Accomplishment of the SDGs

Sustainable AI, Data & Robotics

MAY 2022

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The role of robotics is rapidly growing in importance in the particular non-industrial application domains, affecting society, economy and the environment. Robot systems are typically developed to address a specific technical, service-type or economical need, but often their broader impact is insufficiently investigated, if at all. For robots to play a beneficial role at society-level in the future, it is important to identify the mainstream directions in the field that enable the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and encourage their development. Similarly, it is required to understand the negative impacts some applications can have on the achievement of the SDGs, and to ensure societies have the ability to prevent or mitigate them. Inspired by an exploration of the role of artificial intelligence in achieving the SDGs, this paper presents a preliminary version of a consensus-based expert elicitation process on the role of robots – as enabler or inhibitor – for a more sustainable future. For every SDG, the authors were able to identify potential positive and negative impacts of robotics. It remains difficult, though, to sketch a simple and comprehensive overview of the different ways in which robotic applications can unfold (direct or indirect) impact. Existing projects and studies are not intuitively comparable because they take many different directions and are not at the same level of abstraction, technological readiness, or implementation. Derived from the findings, recommendations on future policy developments are considered.

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Bram VanderborghtCarl Mörch

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