By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – Dozens of robots, including several humanoid ones, will take centre stage at a conference organised by the U.N. technology agency in Switzerland this week to showcase their potential to help it reach a series of increasingly improbable global goals.

Set in 2015, the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) aim to improve human life and the planet by 2030 but are now widely perceived as a long shot.

Among the robot stars of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) event are those with care-giving skills such as ‘Nadine’, a social robot which simulates emotions and ‘remembers’ people – skills it has already put to use with retirement home residents.

The two-day event will culminate with a panel of robots taking questions from journalists on Friday in the world’s first human-robot press conference.

“The idea is to showcase their capabilities, opportunities and challenges to start a global dialogue on robotics for good,” said Frederic Werner, Head of Strategic Engagement, at the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ahead of the Geneva ‘AI for Good’ event where up to 5,000 people are expected.

Robots may take off in the next five years in the same way that generative artificial intelligence (AI) behind bots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT has hit the mainstream this year, he added.

“You have the inflection point where material science, battery life, network connectivity, AI and machine learning, all these things will converge to basically make robotics more accessible than they are now,” he said.

U.N. agencies are already using AI such as the World Food Programme’s HungerMap project which pools data to identify areas sliding towards hunger. It is also developing remote-controlled trucks to deliver emergency aid in danger zones.

The World Health Organization is working on a benchmarking system to ensure the accuracy of AI disease diagnoses.

“The SDGs, let’s say regrettably, are failing and I do believe that AI can help rescue them before it’s too late,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU Secretary General, ahead of the July 6-7 conference.

The ITU brings together 193 countries and over 900 organisations including universities and companies like Huawei Technologies and Google. It allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits and is involved with setting standards for artificial intelligence.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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