Businesses

Silicon Valley Bosses Are Globalists, Not Libertarians (economist.com) 307

From a report via The Economist: In a recently published survey of 600 entrepreneurs and executives in Silicon Valley, conducted by David Broockman and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University and Gregory Ferenstein, a journalist, three-quarters of respondents said they supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. But although technology-firm leaders hold views that in general hew much closer to Democratic positions than Republican ones, they are far from reliable partisan ideologues. As you might expect from captains of industry, Silicon Valley executives are much more likely to support free trade and to oppose government regulation of businesses than your average Democrat is. For example, just 30% of tech bosses believe that ride-hailing companies need to be regulated like the taxi industry, compared with 60% of Democrats.

Given their combination of socially liberal attitudes and a preference for free markets, you might call Silicon Valley executives libertarians. However, libertarians generally advocate shrinking the state as a share of the economy, which technology bosses resolutely do not. When asked if they "would like to live in a society where government does nothing except provide national defense and police protection, so that people could be left alone to earn whatever they could," just 24% agreed. In contrast, 68% of Republican donors concurred with that statement. Moreover, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are just as likely to favor redistributive economic policies, such as universal health care and higher taxes on the rich, as an average Democrat is. The outlook of our new robot-building overlords is far more communitarian than, say, the doctrines of Ayn Rand.

Japan

Japan Trials Driverless Cars In Bid To Keep Rural Elderly On the Move (reuters.com) 59

According to Reuters, Japan is starting to experiment with self-driving buses in rural communities such as Nishikata, 71 miles (115 km) north of the capital, Tokyo, where elderly residents struggle with fewer bus and taxi services as the population ages and shrinks. From the report: The swift advance of autonomous driving technology is prompting cities such as Paris and Singapore to experiment with such services, which could prove crucial in Japan, where populations are not only greying, but declining, in rural areas.Japan could launch self-driving services for remote communities by 2020, if the trials begun this month prove successful. The government plans to turn highway rest stops into hubs from which to ferry the elderly to medical, retail and banking services. In the initial trials of the firm's driverless six-seater Robot Shuttle, elderly residents of Nishikata, in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, were transferred between a service area and a municipal complex delivering healthcare services. The test also checked the vehicle's operational safety in road conditions ranging from puddles to fallen debris, and if those crossing its path would react to the warning it emits.
The Almighty Buck

Chatbot Lets You Sue Equifax For Up To $25,000 Without a Lawyer (theverge.com) 111

Shannon Liao reports via The Verge: If you're one of the millions affected by the Equifax breach, a chatbot can now help you sue Equifax in small claims court, potentially letting you avoid hiring a lawyer for advice. Even if you want to be part of the class action lawsuit against Equifax, you can still sue Equifax for negligence in small claims court using the DoNotPay bot and demand maximum damages. Maximum damages range between $2,500 in states like Rhode Island and Kentucky to $25,000 in Tennessee. The bot, which launched in all 50 states in July, is mainly known for helping with parking tickets. But with this new update, its creator, Joshua Browder, who was one of the 143 million affected by the breach, is tackling a much bigger target, with larger aspirations to match. He says, "I hope that my product will replace lawyers, and, with enough success, bankrupt Equifax."

Not that the bot helps you do anything you can't already do yourself, which is filling out a bunch of forms -- you still have to serve them yourself. Unfortunately, the chatbot can't show up in court a few weeks later to argue your case for you either. To add to the headache, small claims court rules differ from state to state. For instance, in California, a person needs to demand payment from Equifax or explain why they haven't demanded payment before filing the form.

Robotics

As Robots Move Into Amazon's Warehouses, What's Happening To Its Human Workers? (brisbanetimes.com.au) 237

An anonymous reader writes: A 21-year-old Amazon warehouse worker has been replaced by "a giant, bright yellow mechanical arm" that stacks 25-pound bins. "Her new job at Amazon is to baby-sit several robots at a time," reports the New York Times, "troubleshooting them when necessary and making sure they have bins to load... [T]he company's eye-popping growth has turned it into a hiring machine, with an unquenchable need for entry-level warehouse workers to satisfy customer orders." Even though Amazon now has over 100,000 robots, they still plan to create 50,000 new jobs when they open their second headquarters. "It's certainly true that Amazon would not be able to operate at the costs they have and the costs they provide customers without this automation," said Martin Ford, author of the futurist book Rise of the Robots. "Maybe we wouldn't be getting two-day shipping."

Amazon's top operations executive says they're saving less-tedious jobs for the humans who work as "pickers" and "stowers" for the robots. "It's a new item each time," Mr. Clark said. "You're finding something, you're inspecting things, you're engaging your mind in a way that I think is important." The Times reports that the robots "also cut down on the walking required of workers, making Amazon pickers more efficient and less tired. The robots also allow Amazon to pack shelves together like cars in rush-hour traffic, because they no longer need aisle space for humans, [meaning] more inventory under one roof, which means better selection for customers."

"When Amazon installed the robots, some people who had stacked bins before took courses at the company to become robot operators. Many others moved to receiving stations, where they manually sort big boxes of merchandise into bins. No people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon found new roles for the displaced workers, Clark said... The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?"

Robotics

Swarms Of Flying Robot Bees Could Monitor Weather, Collect Data (venturebeat.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes VentureBeat: Native honeybees, one of the most prolific pollinators in the animal kingdom, are dying off at an unprecedented rate from Colony Collapse Disorder and threatening an ecosystem service worth about $15 billion. Supported by the National Science Foundation, the RoboBees project looks to minimize the loss of this critical resource with new microbots that can mimic the pollinating role of a honeybee... In a remarkable display of biomimicry, scientists have developed a flight-capable robot that's just half the size of a paperclip and weighs in at one tenth of a gram... The RoboBees project pushes the boundaries of research in a variety of fields, from micromanufacturing to energy storage and even the computer algorithms that control the robots by the swarm...

While the effect of a single robot might be miniscule, a coordinated group of hundreds, thousands, or millions of RoboBees could perform a host of unprecedented tasks. Aside from pollinating plants for agricultural purposes, the RoboBees could coordinate to digitally map terrain, monitor weather conditions, and even assist in relief efforts after a disaster, through data collection. While RoboBees are only intended as a stopgap measure for honeybee loss, the potential applications of the technology have the world holding its breath for the next breakthrough.

Businesses

Only 13 Percent of Americans Are Scared Robots Will Take Their Jobs, Gallup Poll Shows (cnbc.com) 267

According to the results of a Gallup poll released mid-August, most employed U.S. adults aren't too worried about technology eliminating their jobs. Only 13 percent of Americans are fearful that tech will eradicate their work opportunities in the near future, according to the poll. Workers are relatively more concerned about immediate issues like wages and benefits. CNBC reports: This corresponds with another recent Gallup survey finding that about one in eight workers, or 13 percent of Americans, also believe it's likely they will lose their jobs due to new technology, automation, robots or AI in the next five years. While the survey reflects a generally confident American workforce, Monster career expert Vicki Salemi tells CNBC Make It that people should not become complacent.

"Employees need to think of themselves as replaceable in a way that propels them into action," Salemi says, "so they can focus on continuously learning and sharpening their skills." In the meantime, Americans can look to what the tech giants are saying. On the contrary, Salemi emphasizes that Americans shouldn't be paranoid and lose sleep every night. Rather, they should think about AI "from a place of power." "If your job does start to get automated, you'll already have a game plan and solid skill set to back you up for your next career move," she says. If you find yourself in the 13 percent of Americans worried about losing their jobs to robots, Salemi says you can "robot-proof" your job through networking. "Always be on top of your game, she says. "If your industry is becoming more digitally focused, get schooled on specific skills. Instead of being lax about your career, always stay ahead of the curve, keep your resume in circulation, ask yourself where the industry is headed and most importantly where you and your skills fit in."

Businesses

Workers: Fear Not the Robot Apocalypse (wsj.com) 236

An anonymous reader shares a report: For retailers, the robot apocalypse isn't a science-fiction movie. As digital giants swallow a growing share of shoppers' spending, thousands of stores have closed and tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. The brick-and-mortar retail swoon has been accompanied by a less headline-grabbing e-commerce boom that has created more jobs in the U.S. than traditional stores have cut. Those jobs, in turn, pay better, because its workers are so much more productive. This demonstrates something routinely overlooked in the anxiety about the job-destroying potential of robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation. Throughout history, automation commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys. The reason: Companies don't use automation simply to produce the same thing more cheaply. Instead, they find ways to offer entirely new, improved products. As customers flock to these new offerings, companies have to hire more people.
Robotics

New T-Shirt Sewing Robot Can Make As Many Shirts Per Hour As 17 Factory Workers (qz.com) 409

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: In 2015, after years of research, SoftWear Automation introduced LOWRY, a sewing robot, or sewbot, that uses machine vision to spot and adjust to distortions in the fabric. Though initially only able to make simple products, such as bath mats, the technology is now advanced enough to make whole t-shirts and much of a pair of jeans. According to the company, it also does it far faster than a human sewing line. SoftWear Automation's big selling point is that one of its robotic sewing lines can replace a conventional line of 10 workers and produce about 1,142 t-shirts in an eight-hour period, compared to just 669 for the human sewing line. Another way to look at it is that the robot, working under the guidance of a single human handler, can make as many shirts per hour as about 17 humans. The company has emerged as a leader among those trying to automate sewing, drawing the interest of businesses that make home goods and of course clothing manufacturers, including Tianyuan Garments Company, a Chinese firm that produces for brands such as Adidas and Armani. Tianyuan Garments has invested $20 million in a 100,000-square foot factory in Little Rock, Arkansas, planned to open in 2018. The factory will be staffed with 21 robotic production lines supplied by SoftWear Automation, and will be capable of making 1.2 million t-shirts a year.
Robotics

South Korea Moves Towards The World's First 'Robot Tax' (zdnet.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: It's being called the world's first robot tax. If it goes into effect, South Korea will be the first country to change its tax laws in recognition of the coming burden of mass robotic automation on low and middle-skill workers. The change proposed by the Moon Jae-in administration isn't a direct tax on robots. Rather, policymakers have proposed limiting tax incentives on investments in automation... Under existing law, South Korean companies that buy automation equipment, such as warehouse and factory robots, can deduct between three and seven percent of their investment. The current proposal, which seems likely to advance, is to reduce the deduction rate by up to two percentage points.

The move is evidently not an attempt to staunch companies from adopting automation technology. Rather, it is a kind of formal acknowledgment that unemployment is coming on a big enough scale to eat into South Korea's tax revenue. Policymakers are hoping that reducing the deduction incentives by a couple percentage points will offset the lost income tax and help keep the country's social services and welfare coffers filled.

The Korea Times, which broke the story, reminds readers that former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers has called robot taxes "profoundly misguided... A sufficiently high tax on robots would prevent them from being produced."
Robotics

Bricklaying Robots and Exoskeletons Are the Future of the Construction Industry (vice.com) 228

David Silverberg reports via Motherboard: One of the most staid and digitally conservative industries is on the verge of a robotic makeover. The global construction space isn't known for ushering new tech into their workforce, but a painful labour shortage, calls for increased worker safety and more low-cost housing, and the need to catch up to other tech-savvy sectors is giving upstarts in robotics and exoskeletons their big moment. The construction industry isn't immune to this phenomenon, but robots and humans may increasingly work hand-in-hand in industrial sectors, according to Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America. This is especially true when the construction industry en masse uses exoskeleton vests, which aim to assist workers with heavy loads and thus reduce their risk of injury.

The Hadrian X is a bricklaying robot courtesy Australia's Fastbrick Robotics, which uses its 30-meter metal arm to lay bricks at a rate of 1,000 bricks per hour, compared to a human worker's average of 1,000 a day. Due for release in late 2017, Hadrian X can read a 3D CAD model of the house and then it follows those instructions precisely, working day and night. New York-based Construction Robotics has also developed its take on a bricklaying robot. SAM can lay 3,000 bricks a day, and the company said it's about time this industry got a whiff of the change almost every other market has been seeing.

AI

Elon Musk Backs Call For A Global Ban On Killer Robots (cnn.com) 214

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Tesla boss Elon Musk is among a group of 116 founders of robotics and artificial intelligence companies who are calling on the United Nations to ban autonomous weapons. "Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the experts warn in an open letter released Monday...

"Unlike other potential manifestations of AI, which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability," said Ryan Gariepy, the founder of Clearpath Robotics and the first person to sign the letter. More than a dozen countries -- including the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain -- are currently developing autonomous weapons systems, according to Human Rights Watch.

AI

Why AI Won't Take Over The Earth (ssrn.com) 298

Law professor Ryan Calo -- sometimes called a robot-law scholar -- hosted the first White House workshop on AI policy, and has organized AI workshops for the National Science Foundation (as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the National Academy of Sciences). Now an anonymous reader shares a new 30-page essay where Calo "explains what policymakers should be worried about with respect to artificial intelligence. Includes a takedown of doomsayers like Musk and Gates." Professor Calo summarizes his sense of the current consensus on many issues, including the dangers of an existential threat from superintelligent AI:

Claims of a pending AI apocalypse come almost exclusively from the ranks of individuals such as Musk, Hawking, and Bostrom who possess no formal training in the field... A number of prominent voices in artificial intelligence have convincingly challenged Superintelligence's thesis along several lines. First, they argue that there is simply no path toward machine intelligence that rivals our own across all contexts or domains... even if we were able eventually to create a superintelligence, there is no reason to believe it would be bent on world domination, unless this were for some reason programmed into the system. As Yann LeCun, deep learning pioneer and head of AI at Facebook colorfully puts it, computers don't have testosterone.... At best, investment in the study of AI's existential threat diverts millions of dollars (and billions of neurons) away from research on serious questions... "The problem is not that artificial intelligence will get too smart and take over the world," computer scientist Pedro Domingos writes, "the problem is that it's too stupid and already has."
A footnote also finds a paradox in the arguments of Nick Bostrom, who has warned of that dangers superintelligent AI -- but also of the possibility that we're living in a computer simulation. "If AI kills everyone in the future, then we cannot be living in a computer simulation created by our decedents. And if we are living in a computer simulation created by our decedents, then AI didn't kill everyone. I think it a fair deduction that Professor Bostrom is wrong about something."
Robotics

AI Factory Boss Will Tell Workers and Robots How To Work Together (fastcompany.com) 54

tedlistens writes from a report via Fast Company: Robots are consistent, indefatigable workers, but they don't improvise well. Changes on the assembly line require painstaking reprogramming by humans, making it hard to switch up what a factory produces. Now researchers at German industrial giant Siemens say they have a solution: a factory that uses AI to orchestrate the factory of the future, by both programming factory robots and handing out assignments to the humans working alongside them. The program, called a "reasoner," figures out the steps required to make a product, such as a chair; then it divides the assignments among machines based their capabilities, like how far a robotic arm can reach or how much weight it can lift. The team has proved the technology can work on a small scale with a test system that uses just a few robots to make five types of furniture (like stools and tables), with four kinds of leg configurations, six color options, and three types of floor-protector pads, for a total of 360 possible products.

Siemens's originally gave its automated factory project the badass Teutonic moniker "UberManufacturing." They weren't thinking of the German word connoting "superior," however, but rather of the on-demand car service. Part of their vision is that automated factories can generate bids for specialty, limited-run manufacturing projects and compete for customers in an online marketplace. "You could say, 'I want to build this stool,' and whoever has machines that can do that can hand in a quote, and that was our analogy to Uber," says Florian Michahelles, who heads the research group.

Robotics

MegaBots Is Finally Going To Take On Japan In the World's First Giant Robot Duel (qz.com) 38

A company called MegaBots released a video two years ago challenging a Japanese collective to a giant robot fight. About a week later, the Japanese group, Suidobashi Heavy Industry, agreed. Now, according to MegaBots co-founderes, Matt Oehrlein and Gui Cavalcanti, the battle is set to take place in September. Quartz reports: The battle would have happened a bit sooner, but apparently there have been "logistical issues at the originally-chosen venue," according to a release shared with Quartz by MegaBots. Unfortunately for fans hoping to see the battle in action -- presumably including those who backed the Kickstarter project to the tune of $550,000 to bring this robot to life -- the event will be closed to the public and recorded, for fears over the teams' ability to keep spectators safe. (One of the earliest conversations MegaBots had with Suidobashi was trying to figure out how the human pilots inside the robots would themselves "figure out how to not die.") Fans will be able to watch the fight on MegaBots' Facebook and YouTube sites, but it's not clear whether the fight will be live.
Japan

Football-Playing Robots Compete At RoboCup 2017 (phys.org) 38

An anonymous reader quotes Phys.org: With steely focus, player number 3 scored a stunning opening goal in the first few minutes of the high-stakes football match between a dominant Bordeaux and their plucky Chinese opponents. But as the crowds cheered, the pint-sized player, known as Arya, showed none of the customary swagger of triumphant strikers. In fact, robot number 3 and its teammates showed no emotion at all as they continued to exterminate their rivals' hopes of victory at RoboCup 2017 in Japan. The game, which Bordeaux won 4-0, was one of the gripping final matches in a four-day event that saw about 3,000 researchers and engineering students from 40 countries displaying the prowess of their latest robotic inventions on the football pitch.

Ranging in design from humanoids with human faces to more skeletal contraptions, the robots were programmed to be self-directed and played strategically without being given instructions. The robots "see" using a camera installed in their heads, while installed with artificial intelligence to recognise the spacing and objects in the sight... [A]bility to play as a team was the "winning factor" in Bordeaux University's triumph, according to associate professor Olivier Ly, who acted as coach and positioned his team's players. "We developed lots of features on the team play... The robots play together, try to do some passes," he said.

Robot teamwork "was a completely unresearched area for computer engineers" when the competition started 20 years ago, according to the president of the RoboCup Federation.
Robotics

A Robot At DEFCON Cracked A Safe Within 30 Minutes (bbc.com) 128

schwit1 shared an article from the BBC: Using a cheap robot, a team of hackers has cracked open a leading-brand combination safe, live on stage in Las Vegas. The team from SparkFun Electronics was able to open a SentrySafe safe in around 30 minutes... After the robot discovered the combination was 51.36.93, the safe popped open -- to rapturous applause from the audience of several hundred... The robot, which cost around $200 to put together, makes use of 3D-printed parts that can be easily replaced to fit different brands of combination safe. It cannot crack a digital lock -- although vulnerabilities in those systems have been exposed by other hacking teams in the past.
Though the safe had a million possible combinations using three two-digit numbers, the last number had slightly larger indents on the dial -- reducing the possible combinations to just 10,000. And in addition, "the team also discovered that the safe's design allows for a margin of error to compensate for humans getting their combination slightly wrong" -- which meant that the robot only had to check every third number. "Using this method, they could cut down the number of possible combinations to around 1,000."

"Some SentrySafe models come with an additional lock and key, but the team was able to unlock it by using a Bic pen."
Security

Roomba Is No Spy: CEO Says iRobot Will Never Sell Your Data (zdnet.com) 86

It's been a challenging week for iRobot, the company behind the popular Roomba robotic vacuums. From a report: It started with an interview in Reuters, in which the company's chief executive Colin Angle gave the clear impression that iRobot was selling consumers' home mapping data (Editor's note: the chief executive said the company intended to explore the opportunity). Last night, Angle and iRobot got back to me on this issue. They provided the following response to the concerns I and others shared. "First things first, iRobot will never sell your data. Our mission is to help you keep a cleaner home and, in time, to help the smart home and the devices in it work better. There's no doubt that a robot can help your home be smarter. It's the data it collects to do its job, and the trusted relationship between you, your robot and iRobot, that is critical for that to happen. Information that is shared needs to be controlled by the customer and not as a data asset of a corporation to exploit. That is how data is handled by iRobot today. Customers have control over sharing it. I want to make very clear that this is how data will be handled in the future."
Businesses

The Inside Story of the Lily Drone's Collapse (wired.com) 141

New submitter mirandakatz writes: Lily Robotics had everything: Two charismatic young founders; millions in funding; and a product that promised to change the world -- or, at the very least, transform photography. But over 60,000 customers are still waiting for their Lily Drones, and the company is now being sued by the San Francisco District Attorney's office for false advertising. As it turns out, Lily Robotics never actually had the right tools to create the product it was selling -- and it all came crashing down. At Backchannel, Jessica Pishko has the untold story of how such a promising company went so wrong.

From the report: "The magic of the Lily Drone was in its concept: It was a product you could unpack and throw -- so easy, Antoine Balaresque, the cofounder and CEO of Lily Robotics, wrote in emails, that even an old person could do it. But translating that idea into a tangible product proved difficult, and the storytelling that made the Lily Drone so tantalizing to consumers ultimately factored into its downfall. In one of his presentations, Balaresque presented a PowerPoint slide with the sentence, 'Humans have a fundamental need to put themselves in the center of stories.' It appeared to be a quote he made up, but the idea that human nature needs stories is fundamental. Stories are how we make sense of our lives. But while a good story can get you funding and acclaim, ultimately it isn't enough."

The Military

Top US General Warns Against Rogue Killer Robots (thehill.com) 164

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro quotes The Hill: The second-highest-ranking general in the U.S. military last Tuesday warned lawmakers against equipping the armed forces with autonomous weapons systems... Gen. Paul Selva warned lawmakers that the military should keep "the ethical rules of war in place lest we unleash on humanity a set of robots that we don't know how to control. I don't think it's reasonable for us to put robots in charge of whether or not we take a human life," Selva told the committee.
There's already a Defense Department directive that requires humans in the decision-making process for lethal autonomous weapons systems. But it expires later this year...
Government

Y Combinator Announces Funding For UBI-Supporting Political Candidates (latimes.com) 195

Most people "feel like they have great potential that is being wasted," argues Y Combinator president Sam Altman -- a Stanford dropout whose company's investments are now worth $65 billion, including Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox. Now an anonymous reader quote the Los Angeles Times: A wealthy young Silicon Valley venture capitalist hopes to recruit statewide and congressional candidates and launch an affordable-housing ballot measure in 2018 because he says California's leaders are failing to address flaws in the state's governance that are killing opportunities for future generations. Sam Altman, 32, will roll out an effort to enlist candidates around a shared set of policy priorities -- including tackling how automation is going to affect the economy and the cost of housing in California -- and is willing to put his own money behind the effort. "I think we have a fundamental breakdown of the American social contract and it's desperately important that we fix it," he said. "Even if we had a very well-functioning government, it would be a challenge, and our current government functions so badly it is an extra challenge..."

Altman lays out 10 principles including lowering the cost of housing, creating single-payer healthcare, increasing clean energy use, improving education, reforming taxes and rebuilding infrastructure. He has few specific policy edicts, and floats proposals that will generate controversy, such as creating a universal basic income for all Americans in an effort to equalize opportunity, public funding for the media and increasing taxes on property that is owned by foreigners, is unoccupied or has been "flipped" by investors seeking a quick return on an investment.

Altman argues that he wants to "ensure that everyone benefits from the coming changes," and specifically highlights the idea of a Universal Basic Income. Altman writes that "If it turns out to be a good policy, I could imagine passing a law that puts it into effect when the GDP per capita doubles. This could help cushion the transition to a post-automation world."

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