Switzerland will play host to an extraordinary gathering of robots as the United Nations technology agency organises a conference to explore their potential in realising the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Amid growing skepticism surrounding the feasibility of these goals, the event aims to showcase how robots, including humanoid models, can contribute to the global agenda.

Among the notable attendees is “Nadine,” a social robot renowned for its caregiving skills and ability to simulate emotions. This humanoid companion has already made a positive impact on the lives of retirement home residents. The conference, organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), will span two days and culminate in a groundbreaking press conference where a panel of robots will field questions from journalists—a truly innovative interaction between humans and machines.

Frederic Werner, Head of Strategic Engagement at the ITU Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau, explained that the purpose of the conference is to initiate a global dialogue on harnessing the capabilities of robots for societal good. The event, known as the “AI for Good” gathering, is expected to attract up to 5,000 participants, including representatives from diverse backgrounds.

Werner highlighted the potential for a significant rise in the adoption of robots over the next five years, similar to the mainstream acceptance of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. With advancements in material science, battery life, network connectivity, AI, and machine learning, robotics is poised to become more accessible than ever before.

Various United Nations agencies are already leveraging the power of AI in their efforts. For instance, the World Food Programme’s HungerMap project utilises AI to identify regions at risk of hunger by aggregating data. Additionally, remote-controlled trucks equipped with AI capabilities are being developed to deliver emergency aid in dangerous areas. The World Health Organisation is also focusing on AI by establishing a benchmarking system to ensure the accuracy of disease diagnoses.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU Secretary General, expressed her belief that AI can help rescue the SDGs, which are currently falling short of expectations. The ITU, a global organisation bringing together 193 countries and over 900 organisations, including prominent names like Huawei Technologies and Google, is responsible for allocating global radio spectrum and satellite orbits and plays a crucial role in setting AI standards.

The conference serves as a platform for innovators, policymakers, and industry leaders to explore the immense potential of robotics and AI in addressing global challenges. As the world embarks on this journey towards a sustainable future, the integration of AI and robotics offers new avenues for progress and renewed hope for achieving the SDGs.