Robotics-as-a-Service Rises, California Puts Limits on Bots

Up until now, massive conglomerates have dominated robotics, but that’s about to change, as the cost of hardware production plunges (due to globalization) and computing and cloud solutions become cheaper, more powerful and easy to ramp up. That’s given rise to Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) solutions, in which vertical-specific hardware and software are bundled and sold in monthly subscription packages. At the same time, California enacted a new law that would require a bot to reveal its “artificial identity.”

VentureBeat reports that RaaS will “have profound implications, radically transforming markets and at the same time changing the future of work.” It adds that it will have “hit its automation tipping point (ATP) when an RaaS solution is introduced with a unit cost that is less than or equal to the unit cost for humans-in-the-loop to conduct the same task.”

The enterprise-building security market, says the reporter, has “already reached its ATP,” pointing to Cobalt Robotics, which offers a platform that allows companies to “replace a guard, or guards with a 30+ percent cheaper robotic security robot” (pictured above). Cobalt’s RaaS solution also collects all the data, organizes it and makes it “available for building and security optimization.”

Allied Market Research predicts that the RaaS market will grow to almost $34.7 billion worldwide in the next three years. RaaS is likely to disrupt other market sectors including “crop dusting ($70 billion), industrial cleaning ($78 billion), warehouse management ($21 billion), and many more service markets.” Consumer markets will also be impacted, argues VB, and robotics will allow “humanity to focus on more challenging problems, while saving the most physically demanding and sometimes dangerous jobs for robots.”

The New Yorker reports that, “California is the first state to try to reduce the power of bots by requiring that they reveal their ‘artificial identity’ when they are used to sell a product or influence a voter.” The law, which took effect in July 1, will fine violators “under state statutes related to unfair competition.”

“It’s literally taking these high-end technological concepts and bringing them home to basic common-law principles,” said California state senator Robert Hertzberg who authored the new law. “You can’t defraud people. You can’t lie. You can’t cheat them economically. You can’t cheat ’em in elections.” The law will also test “society’s resolve to get our (virtual) house in order after more than two decades of a runaway Internet.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Jamie Lee Williams, who took a close look at the law, however, said it is “a perilous reduction in free-speech rights.” “What scares me a lot is this idea that First Amendment protections are too great and we should whittle it back and relax our standards and allow more government restrictions on speech,” she said. “Giving the government the power to police speech is a dangerous thing.”

Changes in the bill regarding its implementation moved EFF’s position from opposition to neutral, but Williams said it is unlikely that her group would “ever come out in support of rules like this.” Hertzberg’s response to the claim of violating First Amendment rights was to ask if bots have free speech. “People have free speech,” he said. “Bots are not people.”