Category Archives: Robotics

The Camera Panopticon

Aral Balkan writes:

Leader image‘We live in a world where our new everyday things—our phones, computers, social networks—are owned and controlled by a handful of corporations that make their money by selling people not products.

This is a predatory model where you are the prey and consumer products are the bait.

Once a Spyware 2.0 company like Google has convinced you to use their products, they proceed to watch everything you do. Their goal is to learn as much about you as they can.

You are the lab rat.

They study you because the insight they gain about you is the value they sell to their customers.

Selling people is not an entirely new business model. There was once a very financially-rewarding global business built on selling people’s bodies.

We called it slavery.

Today, we frown upon that particular practice in polite company. It’s about time to ask ourselves, however, what are we to call the business of selling everything about a person that makes them who they are apart from their body?

If the question makes you feel uncomfortable, good.

If just thinking about it makes you feel uncomfortable, imagine how living within a system where this business model is a monopoly will make you feel. Then imagine what a society shaped by its ramifications will look like. Imagine its effects on equality, human rights, and democracy.

You don’t have to try too hard to imagine any of this because we are already living in the early days of just such a world today.

And yet it’s still early enough that I’m hopeful we can challenge the unfettered progress of this Silicon Valley model that is toxic to our human rights and threatens the very pillars of democracy itself.’

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Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”

Amazon’s Army Of 15,000 Robots

Alistair Charlton reports for the International Business Times:

Amazon warehouse robot‘An army of 15,000 robots swarming across million-square-feet warehouses is helping Amazon deliver millions of items every day in the run-up to Christmas.

Working alongside staff, the robots glide through Amazon’s massive warehouses, moving shelves stacked high with containers full of products, and with their help a single warehouse will soon up its daily shipping volume from 700,000 items to 1.5 million.

The robots were born out of Amazon’s $775 million (£493m/€621m) acquisition in 2012 of Kiva Systems, a startup which built warehouse robots and the software used to automate simple stock-moving tasks.’

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Nestlé employs fleet of robots to sell coffee machines in Japan

AFP reports:

SoftBank Corp.'s humanoid robot Pepper is displayed at a high-tech gadget exhibition in Tokyo in June. Food giant Nestle said on Wednesday its Japan unit plans to put 1,000 of the robots to work as sales clerks at stores across the country. | AFP-JIJI‘[…] The 120cm-tall robot has a human-like face perched on top of a white plastic body, with rollers and what looks like a tablet computer on its chest.

The gimmick will eventually see 1,000 stores across Japan with their own Pepper, which makers say can understand up to 80% of conversations.

The robots will “help us discover consumer needs through conversations between our customers and Pepper,” said a joint statement from Nestlé and SoftBank, whose French arm Aldebaran developed the technology.’

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Ag-tech: High-tech farming poised to change the way the world eats

Heather Somerville reports for the Contra Costa Times:

‘Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming — the world’s oldest industry — with an audacious and ambitious agenda: to make sure there is enough food for the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2100, do it without destroying the planet and make a pretty penny along the way.

Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app.

“The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.”‘

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How the Pentagon’s Skynet Would Automate War

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Motherboard:

‘Pentagon officials are worried that the US military is losing its edge compared to competitors like China, and are willing to explore almost anything to stay on top—including creating watered-down versions of the Terminator.

Due to technological revolutions outside its control, the Department of Defense (DoD) anticipates the dawn of a bold new era of automated war within just 15 years. By then, they believe, wars could be fought entirely using intelligent robotic systems armed with advanced weapons.

Last week, US defense secretary Chuck Hagel ann​ounced the ‘Defense Innovation Initiative’—a sweeping plan to identify and develop cutting edge technology breakthroughs “over the next three to five years and beyond” to maintain global US “mili​tary-technological superiority.” Areas to be covered by the DoD programme include robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, Big Data and advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing.

But just how far down the rabbit hole Hagel’s initiative could go—whether driven by desperation, fantasy or hubris—is revealed by an overlooked Pentagon-funded study, published quietly in mid-September by the DoD National Defense University’s (NDU) Center for Technology and National Security Policy in Washington DC.’

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Robot Revolution: How Will It Impact Jobs?

Crime-Fighting Robots Go On Patrol In Silicon Valley

Defense Secretary: U.S. needs “game-changing” military technologies to offset more muscular Russia and China

Robert Burns reports for the Associated Press:

[…] In a memo to Pentagon leaders in which be outlined the initiative, Hagel said the U.S. must not lose its commanding edge in military technology.

“While we have been engaged in two large land-mass wars over the last 13 years, potential adversaries have been modernizing their militaries, developing and proliferating disruptive capabilities across the spectrum of conflict. This represents a clear and growing challenge to our military power,” he wrote.

Speaking just a short walk from Reagan’s tomb, Hagel invoked the late president’s legacy as a rebuilder of U.S. military strength in the 1980s and cited Reagan’s famous call for the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall, which epitomized a divided Europe and a world at risk of a new global war.’

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Robots Could Eliminate 11 Million UK Jobs By 2034

Michael Rundle reports for The Huffington Post:

‘Robots and automated computers could replace one in three British jobs within 20 years, according to a major new study.

The prospect of widespread industrial disruption by automated systems has been known for some time – the Oxford Martin School reported last year that up to 50% of all jobs could be at risk.

But the new report makes clear for the first time how the UK specifically could be affected. And it’s not good news. Around 10.8 million jobs – one in three of the UK workforce – could be at risk, according to Deloitte and the Oxford Martin school.

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Robots replacing human workers may leave millions out of jobs

Will You Lose Your Job to a Robot? Silicon Valley Is Split

‘There is little disagreement that machines are outworking humans. They have progressed from displacing factory workers to personal assistants and even lawyers, and much of our lives will be digitized or augmented even more in a decade. The question for Silicon Valley is whether we’re heading toward a robot-led coup or a leisure-filled utopia. The Pew Research Center published a report Wednesday based on interviews with 2,551 people who make, research and analyze new technology. Most agreed that robotics and artificial intelligence would transform daily life by 2025, but respondents were almost evenly split about what that might mean for the economy and employment.

On one side were the techno-optimists. They believe that even though machines will displace many jobs in a decade, technology and human ingenuity will produce many more, as happened after the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The meaning of “job” might change, too, if people find themselves with hours of free time because the mundane tasks that fill our days are automated. The other half agree that some jobs will disappear, but they are not convinced that new ones will take their place, even for some highly skilled workers. They fear a future of widespread unemployment, deep inequality and violent uprisings — particularly if policy makers and educational institutions don’t step in.’

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‘They can’t get sick or ask for vacation’: Chinese restaurant unveils robot waiters and cooks

AFP reports:

A robot carrying food to customers in a restaurant in Kunshan, China. [AFP]‘The restaurant, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, follows in the tracks of another robotic eatery which opened in the northeastern city of Harbin in 2012. Rising labor costs in China have encouraged manufacturers to turn to automation, and the country last year surpassed Japan to become the world’s biggest consumer of industrial robots.

The cooking robots — which have a fixed repertoire — exhibit limited artificial intelligence, and are loaded with ingredients by human staff, who also help to make some dishes. But customers at the restaurant who tucked into fried tomatoes with egg, soup, and rice were thrilled with the experience.’

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Origami Robot Builds Itself

The five biggest threats to human existence

Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute writes for The Conversation:

A nuclear bomb blast‘In the daily hubbub of current “crises” facing humanity, we forget about the many generations we hope are yet to come. Not those who will live 200 years from now, but 1,000 or 10,000 years from now. I use the word “hope” because we face risks, called existential risks, that threaten to wipe out humanity. These risks are not just for big disasters, but for the disasters that could end history.

These risks remain understudied. There is a sense of powerlessness and fatalism about them. People have been talking apocalypses for millennia, but few have tried to prevent them. Humans are also bad at doing anything about problems that have not occurred yet (partially because of the availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the probability of events we know examples of, and underestimate events we cannot readily recall).

If humanity becomes extinct, at the very least the loss is equivalent to the loss of all living individuals and the frustration of their goals. But the loss would probably be far greater than that. Human extinction means the loss of meaning generated by past generations, the lives of all future generations (and there could be an astronomical number of future lives) and all the value they might have been able to create. If consciousness or intelligence are lost, it might mean that value itself becomes absent from the universe. This is a huge moral reason to work hard to prevent existential threats from becoming reality. And we must not fail even once in this pursuit.

With that in mind, I have selected what I consider the five biggest threats to humanity’s existence. But there are caveats that must be kept in mind, for this list is not final.’

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DARPA spent over $1 billion trying to build Skynet in the 1980s

Matt Novak reports for Paleofuture:

DARPA Tried to Build Skynet in the 1980s

‘From 1983 to 1993 DARPA spent over $1 billion on a program called the Strategic Computing Initiative. The agency’s goal was to push the boundaries of computers, artificial intelligence, and robotics to build something that, in hindsight, looks strikingly similar to the dystopian future of the Terminator movies. They wanted to build Skynet.

Much like Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program, the idea behind Strategic Computing proved too futuristic for its time. But with the stunning advancements we’re witnessing today in military AI and autonomous robots, it’s worth revisiting this nearly forgotten program, and asking ourselves if we’re ready for a world of hyperconnected killing machines. And perhaps a more futile question: Even if we wanted to stop it, is it too late?’

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Will robots fight Israel’s future wars?

Inbal Orpaz reports for Haaretz:

‘Just as advanced technology is changing the household, it’s also changing the battlefield. Some envision a day when robots will take over from all-too-vulnerable flesh and blood soldiers. While that day hasn’t arrived, and the army is silent about what it’s using now, the robots are out there: Israel, outmanned on the ground, is becoming a global expert on unmanned vehicles for land, sea and air.

…The Israeli army has long used robots in routine security missions. They can stay in the field. They don’t need lunch breaks. In short, the army’s goal is to replace grunts with gears as much as possible. Not only will soldiers’ lives be spared, points out robotics expert Isabelle Okashi, of the Israel Aerospace Industries robotics division: Machines don’t get bored and don’t cavil at messy missions. She believes that within five years, robots will be a routine part of the ground forces. She does not, however, buy “Terminator”-esque apocalyptic visions of wars being relegated to machine versus machine.’

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We’re heading into a jobless future, no matter what the government does

Vivek Wadhwa writes for The Washington Post:

‘In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers revived a debate I’d had with futurist Ray Kurzweil in 2012 about the jobless future.

He echoed the words of Peter Diamandis, who says that we are moving from a history of scarcity to an era of abundance. Then he noted that the technologies that make such abundance possible are allowing production of far more output using far fewer people.

On all this, Summers is right. Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores.

There won’t be much work for human beings…’

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Child Sex Robots Could Be Used to Treat Paedophiles

Mary-Ann Russon reports for the International Business Times:

Kodomoroid, a robot news presenter that resembles a human child‘Robotics experts at a recent robot ethics panel held at Berkeley, University of California have suggested that child sex robots could be introduced to help rehabilitate paedophiles.

Pop culture has long theorised that robots could be used for a variety of purposes, such as being a home butler like Rosie in The Jetsons or Andrew in Bicentennial Man; a perfect robot woman like Valerie 23 in The Outer Limits; or even a robot child for people who cannot have children of their own like David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

The concept of robot sex workers has been bandied about for a while, and a recent poll found that one in six people in the UK would have sex with a robot, but a child sex robot doesn’t yet exist.’

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Robotic ‘cows’ and drone vehicles are patrolling jungles with Marines

Dan Lamothe reports for The Washington Post:

‘More than a 1,000 U.S. Marines are participating in the Rim of the Pacific military exercises in and around Hawaii this month as 49 ships and six submarines from 23 countries test a variety of equipment and work to integrate it. It’s the robot on shore, however, that is getting an inordinate amount of buzz because of its funny looks and potential utility to U.S. troops pulling foot patrols.

Meet the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3. Developed by Boston Dynamics — which was bought out by Google late last year — it can carry as much as 400 pounds of equipment and enough fuel to walk 20 miles over 24 hours, the company says. It began a two-year testing phase in 2012 and is getting some serious work at RIMPAC under the supervision of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.’

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Associated Press replaces reporters with automated system to produce company results

Roy Greenslade writes for the Guardian:

Associated Press to Deploy "Robot Reporters"‘America’s leading news agency, the Associated Press, has announced that most of its stories about the quarterly results for US companies will be produced in future through the use of automation technology. Calling the move “a leap forward,”

[…] It will therefore free journalists to spend more time on reporting and talking to their sources. At the same time, AP believes it will increase “by a factor of more than 10″ the volume of earnings reports for its customers.’

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We Will End Disability by Becoming Cyborgs

Eliza Strickland writes for IEEE Spectrum:

Aimee Mullins Hugh Herr‘[…] The MIT scientists are part of a movement aimed at ushering medicine into a cyborg age. All over the world, engineers are building electronics-based systems that communicate directly with the human nervous system, promising radically new treatments for a variety of ailments and conditions, both physical and mental. While Herr’s team focuses on giving people better control of their prosthetic limbs, other researchers are trying to give patients better control of their emotions. One promising experiment targets depression with deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which electrodes implanted in the brain send steady pulses of electricity to certain problematic neural areas. Others are developing gear to compensate for intellectual deficits, such as a California project to build a memory-augmenting prosthetic.

In all of these projects, researchers started with the notion that a surprising range of afflictions can be most effectively treated by learning the electrical language that the brain uses to govern our movements, moods, and memories. By 2064, it’s entirely possible that neural engineers may be fluent enough to mimic those instructions, allowing them to repair a human being’s faulty systems by rewiring them.’

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The Mathematics Of Murder: Should A Robot Sacrifice Your Life To Save Two?

Erik Sofge writes for Popular Science:

Image: U.S. DOT‘It happens quickly—more quickly than you, being human, can fully process. A front tire blows, and your autonomous SUV swerves. But rather than veering left, into the opposing lane of traffic, the robotic vehicle steers right. Brakes engage, the system tries to correct itself, but there’s too much momentum. Like a cornball stunt in a bad action movie, you are over the cliff, in free fall.

Your robot, the one you paid good money for, has chosen to kill you. Better that, its collision-response algorithms decided, than a high-speed, head-on collision with a smaller, non-robotic compact. There were two people in that car, to your one. The math couldn’t be simpler.

This, roughly speaking, is the problem presented by Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University. In a recent opinion piece for Wired, Lin explored one of the most disturbing questions in robot ethics: If a crash is unavoidable, should an autonomous car choose who it slams into?”

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Now The Military Is Going To Build Robots That Have Morals

Patrick Tucker writes for Defense One:

Image by Sarah Holmlund via Shutterstock‘Are robots capable of moral or ethical reasoning? It’s no longer just a question for tenured philosophy professors or Hollywood directors. This week, it’s a question being put to the United Nations. The Office of Naval Research will award $7.5 million in grant money over five years to university researchers from Tufts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Brown, Yale and Georgetown to explore how to build a sense of right and wrong and moral consequence into autonomous robotic systems.

“Even though today’s unmanned systems are ‘dumb’ in comparison to a human counterpart, strides are being made quickly to incorporate more automation at a faster pace than we’ve seen before,” Paul Bello, director of the cognitive science program at the Office of Naval Research told Defense One. “For example, Google’s self-driving cars are legal and in-use in several states at this point. As researchers, we are playing catch-up trying to figure out the ethical and legal implications. We do not want to be caught similarly flat-footed in any kind of military domain where lives are at stake.”’

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UN Debates the Future of Killer Robots

Samuel Oakford writes for VICE News:

‘The arms race is going sci-fi, and humans are playing catch-up. United Nations diplomats convened today in Geneva for a week-long meeting of experts on killer robots. Lethal Automated Weapon Systems (LAWS) — their more technical term — would be able to track and engage targets on their own, without human intervention. They don’t yet exist, but several countries are close. Though armed robots conjure images of Terminator-like humanoids, they would likely first come from the sky, the evolved offspring of drones used by the CIA.

…Drones as we know them — the ones buzzing over tribal lands in Pakistan and attacking convoys (and weddings) in Yemen — are not considered autonomous since operators control them, albeit with a joystick, thousands of miles away. However, US defense contractor Northrop Grumman has developed the X-47b, an autonomous drone aircraft capable of flying itself, and, with a few tweaks, it could eventually fire a weapon on its own. The UK and Israel are also working on autonomous armed drones.

South Korea already has robot sentries, Samsung-built surveillance robots armed with 5.56 mm machine guns and grenade launchers that watch over the demilitarized zone separating north from south. For now, the machines — like drones — are overseen by soldiers, but they retain the capacity of autonomously targeting and firing using infrared detectors. Human rights groups hope to use the meeting as a step towards eventually banning cyborgs under the 1980 “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW),” the international agreement that today outlaws the likes of white phosphorus, napalm, booby traps and mines.’

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UK defence expert: Robots will replace soldiers on the battlefield

Caline Malek reports for The National:

‘Robot soldiers, laser guns and ultrasonic weapons that use sound to stun at a distance. This is the battlefield of the future and it is only years away, according to a top UK defence expert. But increasing connectivity brings more risks and military technology will become more accessible to terrorists by 2045, warned Simon Cole of the UK’s ministry of defence.

“We will see more unmanned systems as they are becoming more capable,” said Dr Cole, the assistant head at the ministry’s development, concepts and doctrine centre. “They won’t just be confined to the air environment and some experts reckon that, in the next ten years, robots are likely to replace infantry soldiers. That may seem slightly far-fetched, but one thing technology does is rise quickly.”

Human beings, however, will still play a role. “It will be people who decide to go to war,” he said at an Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research talk in the capital on Tuesday. “But for richer, technologically-advanced countries, it will probably be less likely for them to use people to fight in war. Humans will slowly be removed from the battlefield.”’

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MorpHex: A Hexapod Robot That Transforms Into a Ball

New DARPA Office Merges Biology And Technology

Elena Malykhina reports for Information Week:

bioThe Defense Advance Research Program Agency (DARPA) has created a division that merges biology, engineering, and computer science to advance technologies for national security.

The goal of the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) is to develop next-generation systems that are inspired by the life sciences. Biology is among the core sciences that represent the future of defense technology, DARPA said. The BTO will expand on the work already carried out by DARPA’s Defense Sciences (DSO) and Microsystems Technology (MTO) Offices, particularly in disciplines such as neuroscience, sensor design, and microsystems.

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More News Is Being Written By Robots Than You Think

Jason Dorrier writes for Singularity Hub:

robot-scribe-pens-gutenberg-bible (1)

Software is writing news stories with increasing frequency. In a recent example, an LA Times writer-bot wrote and posted a snippet about an earthquake three minutes after the event. The LA Times claims they were first to publish anything on the quake, and outside the USGS, they probably were.

The LA Times example isn’t special because it’s the first algorithm to write a story on a major news site. With the help of Chicago startup and robot writing firm, Narrative Science, algorithms have basically been passing the Turing test online for the last few years.

This is possible because some kinds of reporting are formulaic. You take a publicly available source, crunch it down to the highlights, and translate it for readers using a few boiler plate connectors. Hopefully, this makes it more digestible.

Indeed, Kristian Hammond, cofounder and CTO of Narrative Science, thinks some 90% of the news could be written by computers by 2030.

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Controversy Brews Over Role Of ‘Killer Robots’ In Theater of War

Cameron Scott writes for Singularity Hub:

MAARS-robot

Technology promises to improve people’s quality of life, and what could be a better example of that than sending robots instead of humans into dangerous situations? Robots can help conduct research in deep oceans and harsh climates, or deliver food and medical supplies to disaster areas.

As the science advances, it’s becoming increasingly possible to dispatch robots into war zones alongside or instead of human soldiers. Several military powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and China, are already using partially autonomous weapons in combat and are almost certainly pursuing other advances in private, according to experts.

The idea of a killer robot, as a coalition of international human rights groups has dubbed the autonomous machines, conjures a humanoid Terminator-style robot. The humanoid robots Google recently bought are neat, but most machines being used or tested by national militaries are, for now, more like robotic weapons than robotic soldiers. Still, the line between useful weapons with some automated features and robot soldiers ready to kill can be disturbingly blurry.

Whatever else they do, robots that kill raise moral questions far more complicated than those posed by probes or delivery vehicles. Their use in war would likely save lives in the short run, but many worry that they would also result in more armed conflicts and erode the rules of war — and that’s not even considering what would happen if the robots malfunctioned or were hacked.

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