As Amazon tests unmanned delivery drones, could the technology prove transformative?


We’re intrigued that Amazon is considering the use of unmanned aircraft for aerial delivery services. It would be a major step forward in the development, regulation and routine use of unmanned aircraft in a commercial role, with significant potential implications. The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry has already foreseen the widespread use of unmanned freighters by the likes of FedEx, UPS and DHL in moving large volumes of packages from one hub to another. But Amazon would add a new consumer delivery perspective. Domino Pizzas and Yo-Sushi have gained press in a similar light, and with Amazon added to the list of potential operators, it is a very exciting time. The UAS industry is interested in the safe, professional and regulated introduction of these services. Unfortunately, the technology isn’t as advanced as the thinking yet, and it may therefore be some time before this science fiction becomes reality. Gary Clayton is chairman of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association.


Drones are exciting, but they represent just one of the ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming our world, and the rate of transformation will only get faster. From mobile apps identifying cancerous moles to algorithms that outperform humans in financial markets, AI techniques learn from and apply the floods of information now available to us. AI is also driving robotics forward – from Google’s self-driving cars, to robots in factories that can “learn” new tasks. Computerisation and AI will fundamentally reshape our society. A recent paper by our group showed that nearly 50 per cent of jobs could be threatened by computerisation within 20 years – although AI will also drive the creation of new types of jobs. Further, AI may surpass humans in problem-solving intelligence. This could be the greatest innovation – and potentially the greatest technological risk – in human history. Sean O’Heigeartaigh is academic projects manager at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology.