Such growth, and the way it is representing an ever-increasing proportion of institutions’ Nature Index output, shows how this pervasive technology is crossing disciplinary boundaries as researchers seek ways to use its advantages. In this supplement, we take a closer look how AI and robotics are making advancement possible, from environmental science to the humanities, as well as having immediate real-world impact in areas such as clinical medicine. We also look at how interdisciplinary approaches are prompting researchers to rethink AI and robotics itself, particularly by drawing inspiration from the natural world.

But controversy lurks when dealing with emerging technologies, in part owing to concerns about the role being played by commercial organizations. Despite the huge influence wielded by tech firms, and their ability to attract top talent from academia, their footprint in the Index is still modest. It is bound to raise concerns about whether there is enough openness about the AI tools and techniques that are transforming society.

There are also continuing concerns about whether cutting-edge developments in AI and robotics are benefiting people from all walks of life; we speak to one researcher drawing attention to how rural communities risk being left out of AI advancements.