Category Archives: Robotics

Using a Bomb Robot to Kill a Suspect Is an Unprecedented Shift in Policing

Jason Koebler and Brian Anderson write for VICE Motherboard:

[…] The sort of ground robots used in those scenarios—and now the one that played out in Dallas—are not autonomous, and are usually used strictly for bomb disposal. These devices have been weaponized, however, as seen with US military bomb bots fitted with machine guns. (The military says the guns are for shooting suspected explosive devices.) In the United States, Remotec bomb disposal robots used by law enforcement have been outfitted with guns that are designed to detonate bombs in a controlled manner.

Peter W. Singer, an expert in military technology and robot warfare at the New America Foundation, tweeted that this is the first known incident of a domestic police force using a robot to kill a suspect. Singer tweeted that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers have strapped claymore mines to the $8,000 MARCbot using duct tape to turn them into jury-rigged killing devices. Singer says all indications are that the Dallas Police Department did something similar in this case—it improvised to turn a surveillance robot into a killing machine.

Improvised device or not, the concerns here mirror a debate that’s been going on for a few years now: Should law enforcement have access to armed drones, or, for that matter, weaponized robots? In 2013 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul staged a 13-hour filibuster that was focused entirely on concerns about the use of armed drones on US soil. Last year, North Dakota became the first state to legalize nonlethal, weaponized drones for its police officers.

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Google’s Big Bet: Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence Will Be Its Secret Sauce, Winning Formula

Larry Dignan writes for ZDNet:

google-entities.jpgBuilt-in search, artificial intelligence, machine learning and a knowledge graph connecting billions of entities is how Google plans to ultimately compete and win in many markets where it isn’t first today.

It’s easy to note the me-too items outlined at Google I/O. Android N has a few new features, but doesn’t advance the ball that much. Mobile platforms have hit the service pack, incremental update mode. Google Home is Google’s answer to Amazon’s Echo. Google’s Assistant, Duo and Allo are all catch-up efforts. Android Wear 2.0 is gunning for Apple’s Watch OS. Virtual reality for Google is setting up for a Facebook showdown. Instant Apps were an interesting advance, but overall there wasn’t a lot of wow developments at Google I/O’s first day.

So the story is done right? Google is playing from behind and isn’t advancing the ball much.

Not so fast.

The glue for all of these play-from-behind items is artificial intelligence, context, personalization and sheer computing power.

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Driverless Trucks Could Leapfrog Driverless Cars as Alphabet Breakaway Otto Gathers Steam

Rafi Faber reports for 24/7 Wall Street:

[…] In the case truck drivers, some of whom have to traverse the length of the continental United States over and over again, their services of holding down the gas pedal and staying awake for hours on end without getting into a fatal accident are quite necessary, and the skills involved in staying sane and alert through the monotony command a high price. A rookie salary of $40,000 a year is nothing to sneeze at for the skills of staying awake and keeping your mind nimble through the drag.

But this is the 21st century, so there must be a better way to transport goods cross country without spending so much just to find someone who can stay awake while holding down the gas. That’s why former Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) executives have broken off to form a new startup called Otto, seeking to equip existing trucks with driverless technology, but only for highway rather than urban driving. While Google is busy testing the intricacies of urban driverless tech requiring complex and flawless execution in order to avoid accidents within cities, this new breakaway team from Alphabet is after something much simpler that could significantly reduce transportation costs across the country.

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RoboCop is Real – and Could Be Patrolling a Mall Near You

Nicky Woolf reports for The Guardian:

[…] The idea of a robot security guard was born after the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Stacy Dean Stephens, a former Dallas police officer who sits on the board of the not-for-profit International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), found out in a board meeting that if the police had reached the scene just 60 seconds earlier they could have saved at least 12 more lives than they were able to.

“That was a problem we felt was definitely worth solving,” he said. Analysing the situation, he decided the problem was one of intelligence. “And the only way to gain accurate intelligence is through eyes and ears,” he said. “So, we started looking at different ways to deploy eyes and ears into situations like that.”

He co-founded Knightscope, the company that leases out the robots as a security aid. They are completely autonomous, navigating like self-driving cars. They have high-definition infra-red cameras; microphones that allow the robot to either interact with people or listen for sounds such as breaking glass, and even detection systems that can intercept the pings of mobile phone devices, and license-plate reading software that can process 300 license plates every minute.

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When Robots Take Our Jobs, Should Everyone Still Get a Paycheck?

Randy Rieland writes for Smithsonian.com:

connie the concierge2.jpgThere’s nothing new about worrying that machines will take our jobs. More than 200 years ago, Luddites started taking sledgehammers to weaving machines.

But tech anxiety got a fresh jolt last month when the White House sent out a Council of Economic Advisers report including a projection that people making less than $20 an hour have an 83 percent chance of eventually losing their jobs to a robot. The odds for those earning up to $40 an hour are more than 30 percent.

Not that most Americans would find that very surprising. According to a Pew Internet Survey released last week, more than two-thirds of Americans think that within 50 years, most jobs will be done by robots or computers—although the vast majority conveniently thought that won’t happen with their own jobs.

No matter how this plays out, it’s pretty clear that machines will be handling more and more work, particularly now that increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence is enabling them to take on mental tasks too. And that is raising a big question:  When machines dominate the work world, what are all the people they replace going to do for money?

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Roman Yampolskiy on the Rise of the Machines

The age of super smart machines is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The reality of their arrival is presenting both great opportunities and profound challenges across a wide swath of our lives. Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert Roman Yampolskiy discusses the emergence of smart machines and their impact on human pursuits, work and the economy. Scott Kimel and Jenny Wu join the discussion for a broader perspective on the effects and implications of this new era. (Idea Festival)

BBC’s 2015 in Science

Autonomous Weaponized Robots: Not Just Science Fiction

Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics and AI writes for The Wall Street Journal:

Robots have been keeping police officers safe for years by disposing of bombs and assisting in hostage situations, but a rapid increase in technology could trigger a robot revolution over the next decade.

Robots are already being weaponized: In 2014, a South African company started selling drones that could shoot 80 pepper balls per second, and police in North Dakota have been cleared to use a type of drone that is armed with tear gas and Tasers. Police use of Tasers—they’re designed to be nonlethal but can trigger cardiac arrest—killed 540 Americans from 2001 to 2013, according to Amnesty International. Right now, this technology requires an operator to remotely control the robots and the weapons. But autonomous weaponized robots are already being used by the Israeli military to patrol that nation’s borders, and a Texas company has created a drone to hover over private property and, without human instruction, fire a Taser dart to keep a potential intruder under shock until the authorities arrive. Imagine a convergence in technology that also gives these robots facial-recognition capability. Given the right circumstances, such as a terrorist threat, these robots could be rolled out in large numbers to protect citizens.

Connected to the cloud in order to work in tandem with other robots, they would be the perfect tools to ID and track large numbers of people from afar and from the air. The threat of future attacks would make these robots hard to put away again. And don’t forget the problems with all computerized devices: They can be hacked and used against the authorities or innocent victims. They can be spoofed about their location and crash into buildings. And they have already been used to commit crimes like theft, snooping anddrug smuggling. We shouldn’t stifle the onset of new technologies that could help humanity, but we need a bill of human technological rights to ensure our individual freedoms. Otherwise, I am predicting a gradual erosion of human rights such as freedom of movement, privacy and even life.

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San Francisco To New York In Driverless Car

Your next family member may be… a robot

Cadie Thompson reports for CNBC:

Jibo robotRobots are about to get a lot more personal.

Whether in the home or the workplace, social robots are going to become a lot more commonplace in the next few years. Or at least that is what the companies bringing these personalized machines to market are hoping.’

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Japan Announces Plans for the First Hotel Run by Robots

Natasha Geiling reports for Smithsonian:

[…] The two-story, 72-room Henn-na Hotel, which is slated to open July 17, will be staffed by ten robots that will greet guests, carry their luggage and clean their rooms. According to The Telegraph, the robots, created by robotics company Kokoro, will be an especially humanoid model known as an “actroid.” Actroid robots are generally based on young Japanese women, and they can speak fluent Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English, as well as mimic body language and human behaviors such as blinking and hand gestures. Three actroids will staff the front desk, dealing with customers as they check in to the hotel. Four will act as porters, carrying guests’ luggage, while another group will focus on cleaning the hotel. The hotel itself will also feature some high-tech amenities, such as facial recognition software that will allow guests to enter locked rooms without a key, and room temperatures monitored by a panel that detects a guest’s body heat.’

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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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