Robots

The Robot Revolution Is Here

They're sweeping my floors, watching my kids, and stealing my job. Here's why I'm not worried.

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The shiny white robot has a stooped, almost deferential stance as it approaches the Honda employees seated around a table. It turns its black faceplate to the humans, makes an open-handed gesture, and asks if they want anything to drink.

The people all speak simultaneously. What initially seems like rudeness turns out to be efficiency: ASIMO, the most advanced humanoid robot on the market, can understand multiple voices at once and uses facial recognition software to match the men with their requests. "Oolong tea, Mr. Ohara?" "Coffee, Mr. Oga?" "Milk tea, Mr. Ariizumi?" it confirms. They nod, and ASIMO heads off to fill the orders.

So far, ASIMO—at least as seen in a 2014 segment on Japanese public television—appears rather more competent than the baristas at my local Starbucks, who frequently ask me to repeat my order and haven't a clue who I am, despite my semi-regular appearances at the same location for the last six years. But as ASIMO walks away to pick up the drinks, it's apparent that there's much work ahead for Honda's engineers. The gait of the hobbit-sized machine is slow, with the knees-bent, elbows-out posture of a cautious toddler on unfamiliar turf. Honda claims that ASIMO (an acronym for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, not a deliberate tribute to the science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov, the company insists) comes equipped with a collision avoidance system, but that too is on par with a 2-year-old—everything is fine when nearby people are moving slowly and making allowances for the fledgling bot, but Mr. Ohara, Mr. Oga, and Mr. Ariizumi would be very thirsty indeed if they trusted ASIMO to pick up their drinks and carry them down a busy city street at rush hour.

Watching Honda's latest shuffle along creates a kind of vertigo. The robot revolution seems simultaneously upon us—look, a real robot serving coffee!—and eons away. But that dissonance is a clue that we are nestled in the elbow of an exponential curve. All around us, a Cambrian explosion of robotics is taking place, writes Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, at Singularity Hub, "with species of all sizes, shapes and modes of mobility crawling out of the muck of the lab and onto the terra firma of the marketplace, about to enter your home and your shopping experience."

Diamandis is right. Your house, neighborhood, and office are already full of the robots humanity has been waiting for with both anticipation and dread. They may be the equivalent of trilobites now, but they're multiplying and mutating rapidly. While pessimists fret that a new kind of intelligent automation will mean social, economic, and political upheaval, the fact is that the robots are already here and the humans are doing what we have always done in the face of change: anticipating and adapting where we can, muddling through where we can't, and trying to enjoy the ride.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roomba

When it comes to prognostications about the robot revolution—and for the purposes of this article, we'll take an expansive view of what constitutes a robot, lumping together a wide variety of automated digital and mechanical deputies—Roombas are frequently asked to shoulder more than their fair share of the burden. Semi-autonomous vacuums are the most visible robots on the market, with more than 10 million sold worldwide at the end of last year. They look like the devices science fiction told us to expect: standalone machines that perform tasks on behalf of human beings, integrated into everyday life.

But if we're being honest, they're also a bit of a letdown. Anyone willing to fork over a few hundred bucks to the iRobot Corporation can have a machine zip out from under his sofa—that's where mine lives, anyway—and vacuum his house from time to time. It's oddly hypnotic to watch the device in action, as it deftly avoids falling down stairs, extricates itself from rug tassels and tight spots, and handily routes around chair legs. But it's just a vacuum cleaner, after all: a slightly smarter version of the dishwashers, washing machines, and microwaves we take for granted. And like ASIMO, the Roomba seems remarkably capable at some tasks and astonishingly inept at others, as when it accidentally bumps the door of the bathroom closed and then bounces around for hours, mindlessly cleaning the same tiny space until its battery dies.

ASIMO
Honda Motor Co.

Then there's the matter of the human maintenance required by our robot servants. The Roomba will go find its charging station when it needs more power (unless it's locked in the half bath, of course). But it requires a person to empty the reservoir when it's full of dirt and to periodically clean the moving parts. I'm terrible at taking care of my Roomba—I haven't changed the filters, well, ever—which generates a vague sense of guilt, as if I am mistreating a pet. In fact, extracting small objects from its bristles when they get caught feels surprisingly similar to the act of yanking a chicken bone from the mouth of a disobedient puppy. Small mammals love Roombas—YouTube offers an entire genre of "Roomba rodeo" videos, in which babies, cats, and small dogs glide around on the backs of the motorized discs—but the expensive machines are not meant to be used as carnival rides and are easily damaged, requiring yet more intervention. These 10 million vacuums don't exactly seem poised to gain sentience and take over the planet.

Still, having a Roomba means that I spend less time cleaning up crushed snack-food items—or less money employing someone else to perform that task. Does the fact that a machine instead of a person is lowering the Cheerio-load in my carpet mean it's time to start freaking out about the future of employment?

The Automation Jobless

When we talk about robots taking jobs, strong hydraulic arms looming over factory assembly lines is what comes most readily to mind. The International Federation of Robotics put the population of industrial robots at more than 1.1 million in 2013, making robots a well-established component of U.S. manufacturing.

But the more interesting (and less well understood) phenomenon is the advent of robot replacements for jobs long considered immune from mechanization, particularly the service functions that make up a significant part of our day-to-day interactions.

Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in March, Bill Gates hinted that a little freaking out might be in order: "Software substitution, whether it's for drivers or waiters or nurses, [is] progressing…Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don't think people have that in their mental model." A September 2013 study from Oxford University looked at 702 occupations and found that 47 percent of total U.S. employment faces the risk of being eliminated in favor of computerization.

But this isn't the stuff of a misty, menacing future. It's already underway. The Botlr robot, deployed in some properties of the Starwood hotel chain, delivers extra towels and forgotten toiletries to hotel guests. Having a robot show up with your missing items sounds much better than awkwardly answering the door with your bare legs sticking out of the bottom of a hotel robe with a couple of crumpled dollar bills awkwardly clutched in your hand.

Singapore's Timbre restaurant group signed a deal in November to bring flying Infinium-Serve robot waiters to their five locations in the labor-crunched country. The robots would deliver food and drink—acting as propellered busboys, but not fully replacing waiters and bartenders, who would continue to be tasked with "higher-value tasks such as getting feedback from customers," CEO Woon Joonyang said in a press release. The Consumer Electronics Association predicts that commercial sales of unmanned aerial vehicles will reach $130 million in revenue in 2015, up 55 percent from last year, putting 400,000 units into the skies.

While unemployment rates have fallen to 5.6 percent and financial markets have largely recovered from the recession, ordinary people share the intuition that technology may be to blame for some unpleasant economic undercurrents, including high joblessness rates among young people, record numbers of Americans who say they have stopped looking for work, and expanded disability rolls. A December New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of unemployed 25- to 54-year-olds found that 37 percent of those who said they wanted a job believed technology was a reason they did not have one.

In his 2012 book Coming Apart, political scientist Charles Murray charts a widening gulf between the white upper and lower classes between 1960 and 2010. Murray sees some of the few occupations left bridging the gap—low-skilled white-collar jobs, for instance—disappearing thanks to automation. Jobs like phone operators, once upon a time, and tax preparers or travel agents more recently.

Holding back automation is impossible, says Murray: "This is not something where you can artificially subsidize people to become buggywhip makers." But thanks to our unimpressive education system, he argues, Americans are less well-equipped to flexibly handle change than they once were-and anyway, the latest round of automation isn't creating new jobs the way previous advances in industrialization once did. The upshot: an even faster social and political bifurcation.

Fretting about the impact of automation on employment is a time-honored tradition. In 1961, after 10 months of recession, Time published a story on "The Automation Jobless." As economist Timothy Taylor points out on his Conversable Economist blog, the text could have been plucked from this week's issue of the magazine. "While no one has yet sorted out the jobs lost because of the overall drop in business from those lost through automation and other technological changes, many a labor expert tends to put much of the blame on automation," the 1961 essay intones. "Throughout industry, the trend has been to bigger production with a smaller work force…Many of the losses in factory jobs have been countered by an increase in the service industries or in office jobs. But automation is beginning to move in and eliminate office jobs too…In the past, new industries hired far more people than those they put out of business. But this is not true of many of today's new industries."

Politicians took up the refrain then, just as they do now. In the famous speech where he vowed to put a man on the Moon, President John F. Kennedy delivered a line that could have been dropped into Obama's State of the Union this year verbatim: "I am therefore transmitting to the Congress a new Manpower and Training Development program to train or retrain several hundred thousand workers particularly in those areas where we have seen chronic unemployment as a result of technological factors and new occupational skills over a four-year period, in order to replace those skills made obsolete by automation and industrial change with the new skills which the new processes demand."

Yet the legacy of the 1960s is not one of apocalyptic unemployment and social breakdown. As Taylor notes: "The U.S. unemployment rate had declined back to the range of 5.0 percent by August 1964, but concerns over how the U.S. economy might adapt to technology and automation remained serious enough that President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress. The Commission eventually released its report in February 1966. When the unemployment rate had fallen to 3.8 percent."

I, Babysitter

I'm not leaving my kids with the Roomba when I go out, no matter how much they love it. But I'm perfectly happy to deputize a robot sitter from time to time. Like so many overanxious yuppie parents, I keep a small video camera in my (very young) children's bedroom. The Dropcam is WiFi enabled, so I can check it from anywhere, including my phone. I can also set it to alert me if there is unusual noise or movement in the room. What that means is that I can stretch the boundaries of being "at home" with the kids to include dinner at the next-door neighbor's house or even the Italian restaurant on the corner—anywhere I can (a) see my house to make sure it's not on fire and (b) get home quickly. This $99 Internet-enabled, infrared, motion-sensitive digital eyeball has put a sitter out of a job on more than one occasion, when I have happily deployed a machine to keep watch on my kids in marginal circumstances when a human being would previously have been necessary.

People with single-level houses and a little more cash to spare can do more than just watch their kids sleep. They can actually follow them around the house and nag them to do their homework or eat their peas using one of several telepresence robots now on the market. The general phenotype of these machines is something like an iPad mounted on a Segway. Products like the Double, Beam, and Kubi—all of which are currently available for purchase—let a person who is not in the room act like he's there. That means less work not just for babysitters but also for airline pilots, as telepresence becomes increasingly common in offices as well.

Of course, the act of flying a plane is itself heavily automated. The pilot and first mate are increasingly there just for show, and they may soon vanish as driverless cars acclimate the population to the idea of vehicles without humans at the helm.

Bot, You Can Drive My Car

Driverless cars are often cited as the Typhoid Mary of the coming robot plague. But for now, Uber and other car service apps are great examples of technological change generating more jobs, while simultaneously creating a consumer surplus as customers buy superior goods and services for a lower price. Data released by the company in January showed that Uber drivers were earning more than their professional taxi driving counterparts—with take home pay as high as $17 an hour in Washington and Los Angeles, $23 in San Francisco, and $30 in New York.

All of these services may someday be fully automated. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has made no secret of the fact that he plans to replace human drivers with self-driving cars as soon as possible. But for now, new tech is generating new kinds of human jobs that are arguably better than the similar ones they replaced, even as the supposedly menacing robots crowd in around us.

All 2015 models of the Tesla S come equipped with enough features to constitute an autopilot mode: Thanks to radar, ultrasonic sonar, a camera with image recognition, GPS, and more, the car boasts adaptive cruise control that adjusts to the speed of traffic, the ability to read speed limit signs and stay in its lane, self-parking (both parallel and garage), and self-stopping if a crash is about to occur. Many of these features are already standard in other luxury car brands as well. A significant percentage of cars on the road could pilot themselves much of the time if we let them—and increasingly we are letting them—which makes the handwringing about self-driving cars seem both premature and a case of too little, too late.

Transformers: Robots in Disguise?

Marc Andreessen, who invented the Web browser and is now a leading venture capitalist, has taken to Twitter and his blog to decry automation alarmism. He writes that the fear "robots are going to eat all of the jobs" is a prime example of the "'lump of labor' fallacy—the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done." With the rise of smartphones and broadband, he says, an unprecedented number of people have access to the means of production. And it's crazy to think they won't do new, impressive, resourceful, economically stimulating things with those tools.

The "this time is different" argument, Andreessen continues, contains the subtext "there won't be new ideas, fields, industries, businesses, and jobs. In arguing this with an economist friend, his response was, 'But most people are like horses; they have only their manual labor to offer' I don't believe that, and I don't want to live in a world in which that's the case. I think people everywhere have far more potential." Andreessen isn't alone. In February, the University of Chicago asked economists if they thought that automation had historically decreased employment. Some 76 percent agreed that it had not.

But Tesla's Elon Musk and others have pushed back, arguing that the economic threat is compounded by a more serious existential threat from artificial intelligence (A.I.). The Future of Life Institute released an open letter in 2014, with an impressive list of signatories including Musk, physicist Stephen Hawking, and actors Morgan Freeman and Alan Alda, expressing concerns about the rise of A.I. "The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls." The letter itself is vague, but Musk has called A.I. a "demon" that is "potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons." And other Future of Life Institute documents fret about how to ensure that A.I.s use weapons systems or surveillance cameras appropriately.

Laser Eyeballs and Hamburgers

Back in 2002, when LASIK was still in its infancy, I went under the laser to get my atrocious vision corrected—it was a graduation present from my parents. Even then, the surgery itself was almost entirely automated. I realized the doctor wasn't doing anything even remotely related to the actual procedure when she started chatting with me about the best place to get a burger in New Haven while the smell of burning eyeball filled the air. More than 20 million people have had the same experience, though for many of them the recall of the experience may be blurred slightly by Ativan or other anti-anxiety meds, typically administered to people who are nervous about letting a robot shoot lasers into their eyes.

Medical robots have gotten a whole lot smarter since then. Watson, which you most likely know as the IBM Jeopardy champ, has turned its attention to human anatomy. To kick off its medical education, Watson "read" all of PubMed and Medline, two enormous databases of medical journals. In March 2012, Memorial Sloan Kettering agreed to allow Watson to consume tens of thousands of cancer patient's records. Forbes reported in 2013 that Watson had analyzed 605,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text, and 25,000 training cases and had the assistance of 14,700 clinician hours fine-tuning its decision accuracy. Watson's skills as a diagnostician are already outdoing human doctors in some areas, including detecting lung cancer, where Watson's 90 percent success rate is much better than humans' 50 percent.

After Watson diagnoses a problem, using natural language inputs from human clinicians as well as diagnostic images and the patient's medical history, its client could be turned over to one of the more than 3,000 da Vinci surgical robots in hospitals worldwide. The robots are controlled by a human surgeon who is typically in the same room as the patient, but have the precision and extrasensory capacity to make surgeries—particular hysterectomies and prostate removals, where they are most commonly used—less invasive and more accurate.

Working Their Way Up From Getting Coffee

In January, Persado Inc. raised $21 million in venture capital. The company has created software that replaces copywriters—when Verizon wants to get a customer to renew their contract, for instance, Persado helps craft an email that is calibrated to maximize the chances of success, strategically deploying key words and creating appealing financial deals. But the emails also play on emotion, choosing whether to threaten a customer with a lost opportunity or gratefully thank them for their continued business. And it seems to work: Citi, a Persado customer, told The Wall Street Journal that the tool has increased the rate at which emails are opened by 70 percent. The clickrate inside the emails has gone up by 114 percent over human-crafted missives.

Should I fear for my job? After all, it's just a hop, skip, and jump from heart-tugging ad copy to readable magazine features, right? Maybe. But buried in the coverage of the significant investment was this little tidbit: CEO Alex Vratskides says the new V.C. money will be used to expand Persado's salesforce. Which consists of humans who win over other humans as customers by showing them how much better computers can be at the jobs where they are currently employing humans.

As some jobs fall by the wayside, others are created. Another company, Journatic, offers a different kind of computer generated copy: hyperlocal news. Bots extract information from publicly available data sources, such as real estate transaction records and press releases, and recombine the information into the form of a traditional news article, which can then be reproduced in local broadsheets, neighborhood supplements, and websites. But the company also employs human copy editors to clean up the text, bring it into conformity with Associated Press style, and generally check the computers' work. In 2012, the company got in trouble for putting fake bylines on its content, something it quickly agreed not to do again. We might like to think a person wrote the story we're reading, but when it comes down to it, some newspapers—and readers—are already willing to let that illusion go for the sake of the bottom line.

Welcoming Our Robot Brethren

The robot-ridden future may sound vaguely terrifying, but it's unlikely to be terribly different from the robot-ridden present. You are already the commander of a tiny but powerful robot army. In lieu of hiring human beings or doing the work yourself, your bots do your banking, cleaning, babysitting, letter writing, and more. Perhaps your job will disappear, but a new one—one you probably can't imagine any more than an 18th century farmer could imagine an I.T. support tech—will emerge.

Soon we will find it jarring to discover a flesh-and-blood person doing tasks that were once "impossible to automate." Is it ever good news when you need to talk to a bank teller in person or "speak to a representative" about something that's not on an automated phone menu? Getting and giving directions has ceased to be a point of tension or confusion; ubiquitous, traffic-savvy GPS has it covered. It's not that people will interact less; it's that we will be forced to transact less. As our machines take care of more business, we will be free to pursue other things. It may be unnerving to talk to someone about all-beef patties while they oversee a surgical procedure on an important body part, but I'd still rather have that procedure done by a competent, consistent machine than by a person. The day is fast approaching when you will sigh with relief to see ASIMO or a drone busboy—not a messy, fallible, inattentive human being—headed toward your table in a restaurant.

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41 responses to “The Robot Revolution Is Here

  1. Mackenzie . I can see what your saying… Joan `s story is shocking, on wednesday I bought a brand new Cadillac from earning $7746 this-past/4 weeks and just a little over ten thousand lass month . this is really the most-comfortable job I’ve ever done . I actually started 4 months ago and almost immediately was bringin home minimum $77… per/hr .

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    1. If this is the ‘bot revolution…meh.

      1. That’s just the front end keeping you distracted. The back end is busy looting your bank account and then it’s off to the Oil Vendor for a weekend binge.

        http://goo.gl/lCmNwZ

        Just for the record, I had to click the “I am not a Robot button” to generate the short url. They’re everywhere man, everywhere.

  2. I’m not sure of the author’s intent, assuming he has one. I do get the impression he thinks robotics, automation and artificial intelligence should be welcomed and won’t be a threat to human jobs, or at least not many. In that I disagree.

    I realize it’s generally accepted by libertarians that technology improves our lives. Some say it has even created jobs. I agree with the first, not necessarily the second.

    While we can point to probably millions of new jobs and all sorts of industry created by technology, most notably computers, I can’t help but see that coming to a halt as computers, automation and artificial intelligence take on more and more jobs. Not just menial ones, either. Eventually, we’ll have artificial intelligence doing much of the development of new technology.

    When jobs are lost for menial commercial gardeners like me, as well as computer tech developers, to automation and artificial intelligence, I foresee a real conflict. Those will be interesting times, although they’ve already begun.

    1. I’m pretty sure we’ll just keep expanding the EEO and HR offices to soak up those people.

      Seriously, I agree that automation will leave people behind – and unlike even the rapid changes of the industrial revolution, will occur fast enough that a significant portion of the working population will be made redundant and they’ll have no path back into productive work.

      That’s why I think we’ll see the expansion of ‘feelz’ offices like EEO and HR to employ the left-back office workers. The plight of workers with less status and less skills, such as menial commercial gardeners and fast food workers, will be a plight. I suspect we will warehouse them and make VR headsets a basic human right. Add some birth control in their cheetos and the ruling class will be safe.

      1. oh god, I should really try that preview button.
        “The plight … will be a plight.”
        WTF does that mean?

        1. “A is A”, Bardas.

    2. I would be more impressed by your human analytical powers if you had been able to figure out that “Katherine” is a she. I think even robots could make that guess, so I understand why you are worried that might take over your job.

  3. I would like to see robotic politicians… They can NOT be worse than what we have now! Also, I just MIGHT have a slight chance of understanding what a robot’s programs (motives) are, whereas politicians lie to us constantly, so we have NO idea what THEIR “program” really is!

    1. So, in other words, you welcome our new robot overlords?

      1. I’m voting for John Quincy Addingmachine. He’s pledged not to go on a killing spree.

        1. But, like most politicians, he’ll promise more than he can deliver.

    2. Crackpot politicians replaced by actual crackbots. Who the fuck could even code that level of preposterous?

    3. Also, I just MIGHT have a slight chance of understanding what a robot’s programs (motives) are, whereas politicians lie to us constantly, so we have NO idea what THEIR “program” really is!

      We, clearly, have never worked on the same codebase.

      # The comments are a lie.

      1. Hi Mad,

        Just curious… What are you really saying? I was half-serious, half-joking… Human politicians are defective humans like the rest of us, and we have SOME idea of how human defects run, but we’re all very different also, so it’s a big crap-shoot…

        Robots (of today’s kinds at least) would follow a program, and we have SOME hope of knowing what the program is… They might be more predictable than humans. I have worked on poorly-commented, inherited “Verilog” codes for silicon… 10-12-year old code, reams and reams of it, like 40 modules, 2.5 MB of crap including the crappy comments… And I had SOME luck understanding it and making changes. Do you code? Are you saying SOME code bases are SO utterly monstrously huge, that one single person has just about no handle on the “big picture” of it? I worked as one of only 3 people working the code I worked on… Are there teams of, what, 20 or 50 people, in some cases? , Is that what you refer to?

        Just curious what you are saying… Thanks!

  4. Don’t bother reading this article, guys. It doesn’t say anything about sexbots. I checked.

    1. I don’t think that’s Mangu-Ward’s style, Fist.

      ENB, however….

      [I read Mangu-Ward’s article and thought it was well written, by the way]

  5. I have not read the whole article, but…

    Asimo is like the expert system approach to AI – it is programmed to do one, specific, thing, in a specific, well defined environment. You throw in some curve balls like walking on sand, and it will fall down.

    We’re certainly going to have “robots” in the sense of having robotic apparatuses that do specific well defined tasks in controlled environments, but we’re not anywhere near having versatile humanoid robots that can learn new tasks and operate in diverse environments.

    Even if you can build a robot car that can drive around in the desert autonomously, teaching it to (say) pick buds off of prickly pair cactuses is going to be mind-bogglingly hard.

    1. Even if you can build a robot car that can drive around in the desert autonomously, teaching it to (say) pick buds off of prickly pair cactuses is going to be mind-bogglingly hard.

      That ‘teachable’ or codable moment is possible in several years.

      What will be mind-boggling hard or near impossible is that same robot NOT being taught to pick buds off a prickly pear yet on a whim deviating from its ordained path while whistling a wind-swept tune from Pink Floyd as it dreamily ambles through a colorful canyon and, ‘Oh, beep!’ it happens upon and picks the lovely pink bud of a prickly pear cactus.

      1. No, it’s not. We’re on the wrong path in AI to do that sort of thing, and the right path is generations of re-thinking from first principles.

      2. What will be mind-boggling hard or near impossible is that same robot NOT being taught to pick buds off a prickly pear yet on a whim deviating from its ordained path while whistling a wind-swept tune from Pink Floyd as it dreamily ambles through a colorful canyon and, ‘Oh, beep!’ it happens upon and picks the lovely pink bud of a prickly pear cactus.

        This is emergent and/or autodidactic and, a little bit, playing fast-and-loose with English. Of course a robot won’t do that, not only, is that not how we define robots, but robots might pick leaves rather than flowers because of the attractiveness of fractal patterns of the leaf veins rather than flowers for their resemblance to genitalia. Considering their eyes will probably use radar as well as infrared, they will do ‘buggy’ things all the time and we will compress them back into their robot-hood.

        You act as though you (or anyone) has never had code do unexpected things when given unexpected inputs…

    2. It will simply download an app for picking buds. Thing is, as AI becomes expert in more and more areas, learning will become a simple matter of integration between different expert AIs.

      When sufficient number of expert AI integrate, general ‘super’ AI will arise.

      Humans think super AI will come from singularity, like a computer lab somewhere, and then will proceed to conquer the world. Maybe, maybe not. Reality is, walking in the sand routine can be written by a Mongol in Hara Gobi, and integrated into Japanese ASIMO, and if done properly, you won’t be able to tell the difference between Honda Engineering or Hara Gobi Mongol. If ASIMO learns to call different subroutines from other sources, his learning process will be shortened dramatically.

      For all we know super intelligent AI is already out thetr, chiiling and doing its thing, trying not to attract too much attention to itself. 😮

      1. I don’t think you get it.
        There are lot of complicated things involved in doing a task like that. The buds are all at different heights, different angles. They may be blocked by various foliage. They may be high up or close to the ground. They may not be easily identifiable.

        The robots arm has to be able to move easily into any possible position (a significant engineering feat by itself), and then you need to be ale to control the arm, the robot may have to change position to get into a hard to reach spot, and then route the arm around obstacles.
        There are people who do this for arms with 2-3 joints, but that doesn’t give you the universal versatility you would need for something like this. The range of motion is incredibly limited compared to a human arm. You can make arms with more degrees of freedom, but as degrees of freedom increase, the equations computationally explode. You have no idea how difficult it is to make something that can learn to make complex motions with a high degree of freedom system. Asimo is NOT that. Asimo has linear one degree of freedom joints and super-powerful motors in them to acheive precise feedback control. It is absolutely nothing like the human body.

        1. There have been strawberry picking robots for a while now, so I don’t think mechanical dexterity is a problem anymore. I believe they are stationary though, and can’t move between different fields. But if integrated with a robotic car, it will become just a matter of executing the correct routine – that is ‘drive to X field, OK now stop, and start picking’. That sort of thing.

    3. “Asimo is like the expert system approach to AI – it is programmed to do one, specific, thing, in a specific, well defined environment. ”

      That’s not a particularly apt analogy. Expert System’s were knowledge databases, sometime with probability calculators built in.

      Asmio is certainly programmed for a specific task, but so are 99%+ of current robots. Do you fault your blender, because it doesn’t wash the dishes?

      I’d be fine with a GP robot, who could pick up toys and other household items, do laundry, clean the floors, bathrooms, windows, dust, make the beds, cut the lawn, etc. Indeed, I’d fork over 5 grand for a decent version tomorrow. I don’t really need perfect AI, what I need is a something versatile, that I can program a physical macro into.

  6. I will be concerned only when robots can walk in their sleep.

  7. Minimum wage laws will keep those low-skill people up to their elbows in work, all day, all night, all ways, always.

    I have yet to find a single government program which is not in distinct opposition to a dozen other government programs. Government is simply inept from start to finish, a self-contained one word oxymoron.

    1. ?Government is simply inept from start to finish, a self-contained one word oxymoron.”

      You seem to have missed the fact that it is government that is pushing the move to automation and robots. The GPS that Mangu Ward speaks of so warmly did not come into being because of demand in the market place, but because of the government’s research. The ASIMO also certainly benefitted from generous funding from various agencies of the Japanese government. Whether of not governments are inept, they are fully backing this robot revolution. Without government funded research, we wouldn’t be talking about it.

      1. So full of shit and fail. You probably think Tang came from the space program, or ball point pens. You probably think there would be no roads without government, or safety concerns, or quality control.

        Fuck off, statist.

        1. I think GPS came from government funded research. As did the satellites it relies on.

          If you prefer to think otherwise, I’m hardly surprised.

          1. For every quasi-government example you come up with, history has a thousand which don’t depend on government, and a million which government made impossible.

            Fuck off, statist.

            1. “For every quasi-government example you come up with”

              I didn’t come up with this example. It was the author who did. If you believe GPS is inept from start to finish, take it up with her.

              1. You’re the one claiming it would have been impossible without state intervention.

                Fuck off, statist.

                1. That is not what I claimed. I am clearly wasting my time attempting to respond to you.

                  1. I see. you actually said

                    I think GPS came from government funded research. As did the satellites it relies on.

                    Now either you said that to imply it was impossible without government, or you just said it to be an ass. Take your pick.

                    1. “you just said it to be an ass”

                      Believe me, If my pointing out that government intervention in the market place was instrumental in the research behind GPS etc has offended you, then I apologize. It wasn’t my intention to anger you.

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