Category Archives: Robotics

Kurt Vonnegut’s Dystopian Future Has Come to Pass

Ed O’Loughlin writes for The Irish Times:

Image result for player piano vonnegut[…] The degenerate autocracy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World runs on soft power – sex and drugs and suggestion. George Orwell foresaw an inhuman future controlled by the stark yet artful lies of a brutal surveillance state. But Vonnegut, who had worked at General Electric just after the second World War, saw a future where engineers and managers would sincerely do their best to improve the world by building ever more efficient machines to do all the work for us. The result: a new form of dystopia.

In Player Piano’s future America, the old professions and trades have been automated, one by one, until only the oligarchs, engineers and senior managers still have real jobs – and even they are beginning to automate themselves out of existence. Everyone else of working age has been drafted to the army (but without loaded guns, for fear that they’ll mutiny) or assigned to a catch-all, make-work programme called the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps – “Reeks and Wrecks”.

Doctors and lawyers, but not dentists or barbers, are already obsolete. Theoretical science faculties in the surviving universities, being of little practical use, have been amalgamated with the remnants of the schools of liberal arts, their old facilities taken over for yet more schools of engineering. A few writers are still tolerated, but they have to conform to one of 12 practical, sure-sale genres, such as dog story of the month, or else go into public relations.

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Google, Not the Government, Is Building the Future

Farhad Manjoo writes for The New York Times:

One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news — most recently the one selling a $700 juicer — and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.

But don’t be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn’t just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren’t just funding big things — they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.

At the same time, the American government’s appetite for funding big things — for scientific research and out-of-this-world technology and infrastructure programs — keeps falling, and it may decline further under President Trump.

This sets up a looming complication: Technology giants, not the government, are building the artificially intelligent future. And unless the government vastly increases how much it spends on research into such technologies, it is the corporations that will decide how to deploy them.

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The Robot Economy: Ready or Not, Here It Comes

JP Sottile writes for Truthout:

Duc Tran, an automation engineer, observes the fully autonomous robotic truck loader during a test at the Wynright Robotics facility in Arlington, Texas, July 18, 2012. (Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux / The New York Times) September 17th changed everything.

On that day in 2013, Oxford University published an innocuously titled academic paper by two mostly unknown economists. But “The Future of Employment” wasn’t just another number-crunching exercise in opacity by a couple of dreary scientists. No, their bombshell report portended a coming robot apocalypse that could change the nature of human civilization, and perhaps even human beings themselves.

Thankfully, the forthcoming carnage described by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne isn’t a doomsday scenario where Skynet systematically wipes out humankind, or a darkly lit near-future where attractive Replicants violently struggle to make sense of their emerging emotions in a perpetually damp Los Angeles.

Instead, the economists previewed an all-too-real world where the second-richest man on the planet — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — gleefully parades around like Sigourney Weaver in a massive robotic exoskeleton built by Hankook Mirae Technology.

They presaged the impending doom from robots like Handle, the Michael Jordan-esque robot built by Boston Dynamics. Handle can leap like a superhero, can run a marathon in under three hours and, if Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son is right, will probably be smarter than you in just a few decades.

They foresaw a future with the likes of Gordon, the “first robotic barista in the U.S.” Gordon can serve “about 120 coffees in an hour.” They also predicted the likes of Otto, the self-driving big-rig designated by Uber to deliver truckloads of beer to thirsty consumers. And then there’s Pepper, the empathic, “day-to-day” companion that is not just working in airports and banks, but being “adopted” into Japanese homes … and even “enrolling” in school.

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Bullshit Jobs with David Graeber

David Graeber talks about bullshit jobs and the concept of work under capitalism. (The Real News/RSA)

America’s Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Replaced by Robots

Vincent Del Giudice and Wei Lu report for Bloomberg:

Image result for America’s Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Replaced by RobotsAmerica’s working class is falling further behind.

The rich-poor gap — the difference in annual income between households in the top 20 percent and those in the bottom 20 percent — ballooned by $29,200 to $189,600 between 2010 and 2015, based on Bloomberg calculations using U.S. Census Bureau data.

Computers and robots are taking over many types of tasks, shoving aside some workers while boosting the productivity of specialized employees, contributing to the gap.

“Technological developments have increasingly replaced low- and mid-skilled jobs while complementing higher-skilled jobs,” said Chad Sparber, an associate professor and chair of the economic department at Colgate University.

This shift is predicted to continue. About 38 percent of U.S. jobs could be at high risk of automation by the early 2030s, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The “most-exposed” industries include retail and wholesale trade, transportation and storage, and manufacturing, with less-educated workers facing the biggest challenges.

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Mini-Nukes and Mosquito-like Robot Weapons Being Primed for Future Warfare

Jeff Daniel reports for CNBC:

A mosquito used for Zika research.Several countries are developing nanoweapons that could unleash attacks using mini-nuclear bombs and insect-like lethal robots.

While it may be the stuff of science fiction today, the advancement of nanotechnology in the coming years will make it a bigger threat to humanity than conventional nuclear weapons, according to an expert. The U.S., Russia and China are believed to be investing billions on nanoweapons research.

“Nanobots are the real concern about wiping out humanity because they can be weapons of mass destruction,” said Louis Del Monte, a Minnesota-based physicist and futurist. He’s the author of a just released book entitled “Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat To Humanity.”

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Experts Predict Human-Robot Marriage Will Be Legal By 2050

Olivia Goldhill reports for Quartz:

Image result for human-robot marriageIn the face of AI exerts repeatedly predicting the rise of sex robots, it’s increasingly difficult to insist that such machines strictly belong to a far-off, dystopian future. But some robotics experts predict we’ll soon be doing far more than having sexual intercourse with machines. Instead, we’ll be making love to them—with all the accompanying romantic feelings.

At this week’s “Love and Sex with Robots” conference at Goldsmith University in London, David Levy, author of a book on human-robot love, predicted that human-robot marriages would be legal by 2050. Adrian Cheok, computing professor at City University London and director of the Mixed Reality Lab in Singapore, says the prediction is not so farfetched.

“That might seem outrageous because it’s only 35 years away. But 35 years ago people thought homosexual marriage was outrageous,” says Cheok, who also spoke at the conference. “Until the 1970s, some states didn’t allow white and black people to marry each other. Society does progress and change very rapidly.”

And though human-robot marriage might not be legal until 2050, Cheok believes humans will be living with robot partners long before then.

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Google Patent: Driverless Cars Would Detect Police Lights, Pull Over

Levi Sumagaysay reports for Silicon Beat:

Image result for pulled over by policeMost drivers know to pull over to the side of the road when a cop car’s lights are flashing, or when an ambulance is rushing to the scene of an emergency. But let’s face it, some drivers don’t have a clue.

Google’s driverless cars to the rescue?

A recent patent filing by the tech giant describes how its self-driving cars could detect flashing lights, determine the type of emergency vehicle based on the color of the lights and the order in which they’re flashing and then pull over if needed.

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The Future of Automation and Your Job

Wayne T. Price writes for Florida Today:

TechJobs4Imagine it’s 2030, and it’s nearing time to eat dinner.

You text a grocery store where your order is taken for a pound of ground beef, a box of Hamburger Helper and maybe some lettuce and tomatoes for a salad. Possibly you want to fancy it up with a bottle of cabernet. The beef was butchered and packaged by a machine. Robots picked and processed the grapes, which where then bottled and shipped to a market by automation.

A driverless car, or possibly a drone aircraft, delivers the goods to your front door. You never see a person from the text-to-your-doorstep process.

There are maybe four or five jobs currently associated with that scene: From the grocery store clerk, to the produce person to the butcher who packaged the beef and the winery were the grapes were picked.

All those jobs could vanish in the years ahead as technology moves at lightening speed to make our lives easier. It’s hard to imagine one area, maybe motherhood excepted, where humans couldn’t be replaced by automation or at least significantly affected by technologies.

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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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