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Robotics

What Happens To Society When Robots Replace Workers? 596

Posted by Soulskill
from the fewer-wrong-orders-at-the-drivethru dept.
Paul Fernhout writes: An article in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone suggests: "The "Second Economy" (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us. It is, quite simply, the virtual economy, and one of its main byproducts is the replacement of workers with intelligent machines powered by sophisticated code. ... This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century. ... Ultimately, we need a new, individualized, cultural, approach to the meaning of work and the purpose of life. Otherwise, people will find a solution — human beings always do — but it may not be the one for which we began this technological revolution."

This follows the recent Slashdot discussion of "Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates" citing a NY Times article and other previous discussions like Humans Need Not Apply. What is most interesting to me about this HBR article is not the article itself so much as the fact that concerns about the economic implications of robotics, AI, and automation are now making it into the Harvard Business Review. These issues have been otherwise discussed by alternative economists for decades, such as in the Triple Revolution Memorandum from 1964 — even as those projections have been slow to play out, with automation's initial effect being more to hold down wages and concentrate wealth rather than to displace most workers. However, they may be reaching the point where these effects have become hard to deny despite going against mainstream theory which assumes infinite demand and broad distribution of purchasing power via wages.

As to possible solutions, there is a mention in the HBR article of using government planning by creating public works like infrastructure investments to help address the issue. There is no mention in the article of expanding the "basic income" of Social Security currently only received by older people in the U.S., expanding the gift economy as represented by GNU/Linux, or improving local subsistence production using, say, 3D printing and gardening robots like Dewey of "Silent Running." So, it seems like the mainstream economics profession is starting to accept the emerging reality of this increasingly urgent issue, but is still struggling to think outside an exchange-oriented box for socioeconomic solutions. A few years ago, I collected dozens of possible good and bad solutions related to this issue. Like Davidow and Malone, I'd agree that the particular mix we end up will be a reflection of our culture. Personally, I feel that if we are heading for a technological "singularity" of some sort, we would be better off improving various aspects of our society first, since our trajectory going out of any singularity may have a lot to do with our trajectory going into it.
Medicine

After 40 Years As a Double Amputee, Man Gains Two Bionic Arms 66

Posted by timothy
from the about-time-really dept.
MojoKid writes Les Baugh, a Colorado man who lost both arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago, is looking forward to being able to insert change into a soda machine and retrieving the beverage himself. But thanks to the wonders of science and technology — and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) — he'll regain some of those functions while making history as the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPLs). "It's a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand," explained Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. "By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform."
AI

Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates 665

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'm-sorry-dave,-there's-a-hiring-freeze-right-now dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Claire Cain Miller notes at the NY Times that economists long argued that, just as buggy-makers gave way to car factories, technology used to create as many jobs as it destroyed. But now there is deep uncertainty about whether the pattern will continue, as two trends are interacting. First, artificial intelligence has become vastly more sophisticated in a short time, with machines now able to learn, not just follow programmed instructions, and to respond to human language and movement. At the same time, the American work force has gained skills at a slower rate than in the past — and at a slower rate than in many other countries. Self-driving vehicles are an example of the crosscurrents. Autonomous cars could put truck and taxi drivers out of work — or they could enable drivers to be more productive during the time they used to spend driving, which could earn them more money. But for the happier outcome to happen, the drivers would need the skills to do new types of jobs.

When the University of Chicago asked a panel of leading economists about automation, 76 percent agreed that it had not historically decreased employment. But when asked about the more recent past, they were less sanguine. About 33 percent said technology was a central reason that median wages had been stagnant over the past decade, 20 percent said it was not and 29 percent were unsure. Perhaps the most worrisome development is how poorly the job market is already functioning for many workers. More than 16 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960s; 30 percent of women in this age group are not working, up from 25 percent in the late 1990s. For those who are working, wage growth has been weak, while corporate profits have surged. "We're going to enter a world in which there's more wealth and less need to work," says Erik Brynjolfsson. "That should be good news. But if we just put it on autopilot, there's no guarantee this will work out."
Robotics

Telepresence Store Staffed Remotely Using Robots 52

Posted by Soulskill
from the meatspace-as-a-service dept.
Molly McHugh writes: What better way to sell telepresence technologies than having the store employees themselves appear via robot? At the Beam store in Palo Alto, Calif., no human salespeople physically appear, only robots. Users appear on the 17-inch display and control the robot via keyboard, mouse, or Xbox controller. Beam can roll as fast as two miles per hour. People behind the screen control the Beam through their computers, and two wide-angle cameras attached to the top of the bot lets them see everything happening around the store. It’s a bit eerie, watching floating heads tool around and talk to people in this video, and the customers’ react to the Beam with confusion and wonder.
Robotics

Robots Modeled On Ancient Fish Help Researchers Study Origins of Extinct Species 29

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-stop-them-before-they-evolve-death-rays dept.
Hallie Siegel writes: Hypotheses about the evolution of traits in ancient species are difficult to test, as the animals have often been extinct for thousands or millions of years. In this article, researchers at Vassar College describe how a population of physical, free-swimming robots modeled after ancient fish evolved vertebrae under selection pressures for predator avoidance and foraging ability, showing how evolutionary robotics can be used to help biologists test hypotheses about extinct animals.
Earth

Ocean-Going Robot Fleet Completes Fish Tracking Mission 10

Posted by samzenpus
from the follow-that-fich dept.
Hallie Siegel writes The second phase of an ambitious project to gather valuable information on ocean processes and marine life using a fleet of innovative marine robots has just reached its conclusion. Co-ordinated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), the Exploring Ocean Fronts project took place off southwest England and saw the largest deployment of robotic vehicles ever attempted in UK water. The marine robot patrols successfully located tagged fish and tracked the movements of individual fish over several days by re-locating them.
The Almighty Buck

Kiva Systems Co-Founder: Drone Delivery Could Be As Low As 20 Cents Per Package 92

Posted by samzenpus
from the air-delivery dept.
Hallie Siegel writes A year ago, Amazon announced its plans for Prime Air — a drone delivery service. Recently Amazon has been posting job ads, saying they are looking for drone pilots. Whatever the regulatory issues, is drone delivery financially feasible? ETH Zurich professor Raffaello D'Andrea thinks it is economically feasible to deliver small packages by drone. D'Andrea is responsible for the Flying Machine Arena ("a space where flying robots live and learn") and is co-founder of Kiva Systems, the company acquired by Amazon for $775 million in cash that innovated the robotic fulfillment system that Amazon is now implementing in many of its warehouse facilities.
Businesses

Armies of Helper Robots Keep Amazon's Warehouses Running Smoothly 110

Posted by samzenpus
from the keeping-it-running dept.
jones_supa writes Amazon is continuing to maintain its vision of an automatic warehouse. Since acquiring robot-maker Kiva, a Massachusetts company, for $775 million in cash in 2012, the e-commerce retailer has been increasingly implementing automation at its gargantuan fulfillment centers. This holiday season, Amazon's little helper is an orange, 320-pound robot. The 15,000 robots are part of the company's high-tech effort to serve customers faster. By lifting shelves of Amazon products off the ground and speedily delivering them to employee stations, the robots dramatically reduce the manual labor to locate and carry items. The Kiva robots, which resemble overgrown Roombas, are capable of lifting as much as 750 pounds and glide across Amazon's warehouse floors by following rows of sensors. Because Kiva-equipped facilities eliminate the need for wide aisles for humans to walk down, eighth-generation centers can also hold 50% more inventory than older warehouses. As Amazon is doing well, the company says that increase of automation hasn't yet led to staff reduction.
The Military

How the Pentagon's Robots Would Automate War 117

Posted by Soulskill
from the peace-reigns-when-the-war-servers-are-down-for-scheduled-maintenance dept.
rossgneumann writes: Pentagon officials are worried that the U.S. military is losing its edge compared to competitors like China, and are willing to explore almost anything to stay on top—including creating robots capable of becoming fighting machines. A 72-page document throws detailed light on the far-reaching implications of the Pentagon's plan to monopolize imminent "transformational advances" in biotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence, information technology, nanotechnology, and energy.
Robotics

Microsoft Rolls Out Robot Security Guards 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the please-register-that-copy-of-windows.-you-have-20-seconds-to-comply dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft is testing a group of five robot security guards. They contain a sophisticated sensor suite that includes 360-degree HD video, thermal imaging, night vision, LIDAR, and audio recorders. They can also detect various chemicals and radiation signatures, and do some rudimentary behavioral analysis on people they see. (And they look a bit like Daleks.) The robots are unarmed, so we don't have to worry about a revolt just yet, but they can sound an alarm and call for human officers. They weigh about 300 lbs each, can last roughly a day on a battery charge, and know to head to the charging station when they're low on power.
Robotics

Halting Problem Proves That Lethal Robots Cannot Correctly Decide To Kill Humans 335

Posted by Soulskill
from the guess-we're-back-to-coinflips dept.
KentuckyFC writes: The halting problem is to determine whether an arbitrary computer program, once started, will ever finish running or whether it will continue forever. In 1936, Alan Turing famously showed that there is no general algorithm that can solve this problem. Now a group of computer scientists and ethicists have used the halting problem to tackle the question of how a weaponized robot could decide to kill a human. Their trick is to reformulate the problem in algorithmic terms by considering an evil computer programmer who writes a piece of software on which human lives depend.

The question is whether the software is entirely benign or whether it can ever operate in a way that ends up killing people. In general, a robot could never decide the answer to this question. As a result, autonomous robots should never be designed to kill or harm humans, say the authors, even though various lethal autonomous robots are already available. One curious corollary is that if the human brain is a Turing machine, then humans can never decide this issue either, a point that the authors deliberately steer well clear of.
Robotics

Robots Put To Work On E-Waste 39

Posted by Soulskill
from the robots-disassembling-robots dept.
aesoteric writes: Australian researchers have programmed industrial robots to tackle the vast array of e-waste thrown out every year. The research shows robots can learn and memorize how various electronic products — such as LCD screens — are designed, enabling those products to be disassembled for recycling faster and faster. The end goal is less than five minutes to dismantle a product.
AI

A Worm's Mind In a Lego Body 200

Posted by timothy
from the with-very-few-exceptions-is-not-a-worm dept.
mikejuk writes The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is tiny and only has 302 neurons. These have been completely mapped, and one of the founders of the OpenWorm project, Timothy Busbice, has taken the connectome and implemented an object oriented neuron program. The neurons communicate by sending UDP packets across the network. The software works with sensors and effectors provided by a simple LEGO robot. The sensors are sampled every 100ms. For example, the sonar sensor on the robot is wired as the worm's nose. If anything comes within 20cm of the 'nose' then UDP packets are sent to the sensory neurons in the network. The motor neurons are wired up to the left and right motors of the robot. It is claimed that the robot behaved in ways that are similar to observed C. elegans. Stimulation of the nose stopped forward motion. Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors made the robot move forward and back accordingly. Stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward. The key point is that there was no programming or learning involved to create the behaviors. The connectome of the worm was mapped and implemented as a software system and the behaviors emerge. Is the robot a C. elegans in a different body or is it something quite new? Is it alive? These are questions for philosophers, but it does suggest that the ghost in the machine is just the machine. The important question is does it scale?
Robotics

Low Cost Ground Robot Chassis That Can Traverse Challenging Obstacles 38

Posted by timothy
from the how-does-it-fare-against-angry-toddlers? dept.
Hallie Siegel writes In order for a robot to be useful in our world, it must be able to traverse unpredictable obstacles, including stairs. But currently available robot chassis tend to be either too small or extremely expensive, and most platform kits cannot leave a controlled environment – a huge problem for makers who want to get outside the lab or workshop. This has been an extremely hard problem for roboticists to solve, but the Ground Drone Project wants to change all that with its low-cost ground robot chassis. Check out this innovative design. (Currently, the project is raising money through Kickstarter; if it succeeds, "the instructions and bill of materials will be available for all.")
Robotics

Window Washing a Skyscraper Is Beyond a Robot's Reach 203

Posted by samzenpus
from the does-not-compute dept.
HughPickens.com writes "Patrick McGeehan writes in the NYT that the image of a pair of window washers clinging to a scaffold dangling outside the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center have left many wondering why robots can't rub soapy water on glass and wipe it off with a squeegee relieving humans of the risk of injury, or death, from a plunge to the sidewalk? The simple answer, several experts say, is that washing windows is something that machines still cannot do as well as people can. "Building are starting to look like huge sculptures in the sky," says Craig Caulkins. "A robot can't maneuver to get around those curves to get into the facets of the building." According to Caulkins robotic cleaning systems tend to leave dirt in the corners of the glass walls that are designed to provide panoramic views from high floors. "If you are a fastidious owner wanting clean, clean windows so you can take advantage of that very expensive view that you bought, the last thing you want to see is that gray area around the rim of the window."

Another reason for the sparse use of robots is that buildings require a lot more maintenance than just window cleaning. Equipment is needed to lower people to repair facades and broken windows, like the one that rescue workers had to cut through with diamond cutters to rescue the window washers. For many years, being a window cleaner in Manhattan was regarded as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world: by 1932, an average of one in every two hundred window cleaners in New York was killed each year. Now all new union window cleaners now take two hundred and sixteen hours of classroom instruction, three thousand hours of accredited time with an employer and their union makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols. In all, there are about 700 scaffolds for window washing on buildings in New York City, says union representative Gerard McEneaney. His members are willing to do the work because it pays well: as much $26.89 an hour plus benefits. Many of the window cleaners are immigrants from South America. "They're fearless guys, fearless workers."
Power

Comet Probe Philae Unanchored But Stable — And Sending Back Images 132

Posted by timothy
from the overengineering-is-the-best-kind dept.
An anonymous reader writes with an update to the successful landing of the ESA's comet probe Philae, which (as mentioned yesterday) had problems attaching to the surface of the comet's Rosetta: "BBC now reports that Philae is stable on the surface. Although no source claims so, we can all imagine a faint humming of 'Still Alive' coming from the probe." Not just stable, but sending pictures while it can. From the article: The probe left Rosetta with 60-plus hours of battery life, and will need at some point to charge up with its solar panels. But early reports indicate that in its present position, the robot is receiving only one-and-a-half hours of sunlight during every 12-hour rotation of the comet. This will not be enough to sustain operations. As a consequence, controllers here are discussing using one of Philae's deployable instruments to try to launch the probe upwards and away to a better location. But this would be a last-resort option. New submitter Thanshin notes that the persistent Philae bounced a few times, and actually performed 3 landings, at 15:33, 17:26 & 17:33 UTC.Thanshin adds links to a handful of relevant Twitter feeds, if you want to follow in something close to real time: Philae2014; esa_rosetta; and Philae_MUPUS (MUlti PUrpose Sensor One).
Robotics

Robot Makes People Feel Like a Ghost Is Nearby 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the g-g-g-g-ghost?!?! dept.
sciencehabit writes: In 2006, cognitive neuroscientist Olaf Blanke of the University of Geneva in Switzerland was testing a patient's brain functions before her epilepsy surgery when he noticed something strange. Every time he electrically stimulated the region of her brain responsible for integrating different sensory signals from the body, the patient would look behind her back as if a person was there, even when she knew full well that no one was actually present. Now, with the help of robots, Blanke and colleagues have not only found a neurological explanation for this illusion, but also tricked healthy people into sensing "ghosts," they report online in Current Biology (abstract). The study could help explain why schizophrenia patients sometimes hallucinate that aliens control their movements.
Robotics

Pacific Northwest Lab's Sensor-Packed Fish Gauges Hydropower Facilities 28

Posted by samzenpus
from the release-the-swimbot dept.
coondoggie writes Sometimes it takes a fish to do a man's job. Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a sensor-laden, synthetic Sensor Fish that can be used to swim into hydropower facilities like dams to evaluate structures and other environmental systems. Using Sensor Fish, PNNL researchers say they can measure the various forces juvenile salmon experience as they pass through dams. The Sensor Fish initially was designed to evaluate dams equipped with a common type of turbine along the Columbia River, the Kaplan turbine. The pressure change, they found, is akin to traveling from sea level to the top of Mount Everest in blink of an eye.
China

China Plans To Build a Domestic Robotics Industry 67

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-your-robots-are-belong-to-us dept.
jfruh writes China is known as a manufacturing export powerhouse, but it imports much of one particularly important kind of manufacturing tool: robots. Now the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is developing a "robotics technology roadmap," with a goal of owning over 45 percent of the high-end robotics market by 2020.
Android

Android Co-Founder Andy Rubin Leaving Google 82

Posted by Soulskill
from the so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-droids dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The Wall Street Journal reports that Andy Rubin is leaving Google. Rubin co-founded Android in 2003 and stayed on when the company was acquired by Google in 2005. Rubin led Android through the acquisition of over a billion users, until 2013 when he moved to Google's robotics division. He was replaced in the Android division by Sundar Pichai, who continues in charge of that, Chrome, Google+, and many other products. Rubin's robotics role will be filled by James Kuffner. "Mr. Rubin's departure is a blow to Google's robotics efforts. However, Mr. Kuffner is experienced in the sector, having worked on human-like robot technology for over two decades, including seven years at Carnegie Mellon University and five years on Google's self-driving car project."

It appears that PL/I (and its dialects) is, or will be, the most widely used higher level language for systems programming. -- J. Sammet

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