By Andrew Borene
Best Defense office of non-human resources
In the coming decade we face an economic choice. If America buys robots from the world, America saves millions of dollars and nets some efficiency gain. If we make and sell robots to the world, America creates millions of jobs in a technology revolution.
Let's exert some national energy on developing a U.S. strategy for global leadership in robotics. Like computer science in the 1980's, today's robotics technologies are becoming an important piece of our economic infrastructure -- if we ignore this trend it will be a great lost opportunity for our nation.
The time is now to secure America's place in the supply-side of the global robotics economic curve. America's leadership needs to start thinking about how we can design, build, and service robots in the U.S., and sell them around the world.
Global demand for robotics is surging. In our lifetime, all developed countries will be forced into positions as net robotics consumers or net robotics producers. All will benefit, but the robotics producers will be on the receiving end of millions of high-paying jobs to be created in the coming decades.
Europe, Japan, and South Korea are well aware of these 21st
century opportunities. The South Koreans have already committed government
investment on the order of $750 million into the very broad mission of becoming
the world's #1 robot exporter. This year, the U.S. is looking at about $70
million in a narrowly-focused president's National Robotics Initiative.
Predator drones have increasingly grabbed international headlines, but the urgent need for government action in robotics is not on military frontlines -- it's on American assembly lines.
The Economist magazine's recent quarterly technology report included a breakout section on robotics in war and the important considerations about using deadly force and international humanitarian law. The documented rapid proliferation of military robotic systems raises important policy and ethical considerations as these technologies become larger parts of military, security and police force structures around the world.
Yet a narrow focus on military robotics will distract us from the enormous benefits robots and robot-assisted solutions already also provide in agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, and other industries around the world. Soon robots will also move into U.S. civilian transportation arenas, whether by air (as a result of the recent FAA bill which opens civilian U.S. airspace to drones) or on the ground (with self-park technologies embedded in automobiles and Google's driverless cars).
American leadership should be focused on developing more stories like the headline, "From Rust Belt to Drone Belt" in the Atlantic magazine, which highlights one Midwestern community college's efforts to train workers for the robotic economy of the future.
What's needed now is action to establish the United States as a strong leader in the robotics industry. Improved science education, forward-looking industrial development, and partnerships that bring international elements from the private sector together with government and scientific community leaders are well advised.
Andrew Borene is an executive at ReconRobotics, Inc. in Edina, Minnesota and adjunct professor of political science at Macalester College. He is the Executive Director of RoboticsAlley.org
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.