The research vision
Although the emergence of robotics is commonly acknowledged as one of the main disruptive changes that will have substantial socioeconomic impact in upcoming decades, many essential ingredients for robotics systems in the real world are not yet technologically ready for deployment. For instance, robots lack the security protocols required to prevent malicious agents from taking control and do not come with interfaces that are intuitive enough to explain their increasingly complex behaviors to a wide variety of users and operators.
Recent research has demonstrated the security and explainability benefits of combining autonomous robots with cryptographic methods such as blockchain-based technology. With this combination, robots are used as nodes in a blockchain network, and their interactions are encapsulated in cryptographic transactions. However, an unexpected outcome of this combination is that robots can now have access to economic resources without the need to be incorporated in traditional business entities.
Previous literature has overlooked systems where the robots themselves directly “bear” the risks of the services they provide (i.e., running out of funds) but also “invest” the rewards (e.g., recharging batteries, paying for repairs, and eventually investing in self-upgrades) to reach a self-sustaining service. Historically, robots are seen as pure labor (e.g., in factories, assembly lines), but with new decentralized tools such as blockchain-based smart contracts, robots can also take part in other aspects of our economic environment, redefining their role as not mere tools but potential peers.
This research is the first time that economic autonomy has been shown with a real robot. It opens a debate not only about the concept of robot labor and financial autonomy but also whether these systems could become a new cornerstone of future economic activity, for example, funding a new type of universal basic income for humans through taxation of robot entrepreneurial activity.