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A Deep Dive Into How Robotics Can Help Us Achieve Sustainable Development

November 2, 2022

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of targets for achieving a more sustainable world.

Robotics and autonomous systems are increasingly being developed and deployed in various settings. While these technologies hold great promise, some significant risks they bring with them also need to be considered. Some of these threats are pretty direct and really need to be thought about. At the same time, the upside potential is great, so finding the right balance is key.

In this article, we'll take a deep dive into how robotics and autonomous systems can help or hinder the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Threats That Emerged

With as many as 102 experts globally being involved in these development goals, here are the findings regarding robotics and autonomous systems in relation to the UN SDGs.

Here are the threats that could hinder all the improvements made.

Reinforcing inequalities

One of the critical risks associated with robotics and autonomous systems is that they could reinforce existing inequalities.For example, if these technologies are used to automate tasks that low-skilled workers carry out, this could lead to increased unemployment and inequality.

In addition, if these technologies are only accessible to those who can afford them, this could further widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Exacerbating environmental change

Another critical risk is that robotics and autonomous systems could exacerbate existing environmental problems. If these technologies are used to increase agricultural productivity, this could lead to higher levels of deforestation and soil degradation.

Diverting resources from tried-and-tested solutions

A further risk is that robotics and autonomous systems could divert resources from more proven and practical solutions. For example, money spent on agricultural robotics could be better spent on initiatives such as reforestation or more efficient irrigation systems.

Benefits of Sustainable Development

With the above threats in mind, there are also numerous potential benefits that robotics and autonomous systems could bring about regarding sustainable development.

Replacing dangerous activities done by humans

One of the most apparent benefits is that these technologies can be used to replace humans in activities that are dangerous or unhealthy. For example, robots could carry out hazardous tasks such as cleaning up nuclear sites or defusing bombs.

Supporting human activities

Robotics and autonomous systems can also be used to support human activities. For example, they can be used to assist people with physical disabilities or to provide assistance in hazardous environments.

Fostering innovation

Another potential benefit is that robotics and autonomous systems could foster various kinds of innovation. By providing new platforms for research and development, these technologies could create new products and services that could help achieve the SDGs.

Enhancing access

Robotics and autonomous systems could also enhance access to essential goods and services. They could be used to provide healthcare in remote or difficult-to-reach areas. They could also be used to deliver food and other supplies to people in disaster zones.

Monitoring for decision making

Finally, robotics and autonomous systems could be used to monitor environmental conditions and provide data that could be used for decision-making purposes. Tracking data collected by robots could help assess the impact of climate change or monitor air quality. This information could be used to decide how best to protect the environment.

What Does the Future Hold?

As of right now, there is insufficient progress being made on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Robotics and autonomous systems could help close this gap, but only if their development, deployment and governance consider the potential risks and challenges identified in this study. With careful consideration, robotics and autonomous systems could play a transformative role in achieving sustainable development. But without proper planning and oversight, they could also exacerbate existing problems or create new ones.

To sum it all up, we must learn from past mistakes with other technologies and plan for a sustainable future with robotics and autonomous systems. Otherwise, we risk squandering the upsides of such tech and dooming future generations to an even more difficult task of achieving sustainable development.

Photo by Lenin Estrada


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