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Businesses

Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs (nytimes.com) 371

Who is winning the race for jobs between robots and humans? Last year, two leading economists described a future in which humans come out ahead. But now they've declared a different winner: the robots. From a report on the New York Times: The industry most affected by automation is manufacturing. For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent, according to a new paper by the economists, Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University. It appears to be the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots. The paper is all the more significant because the researchers, whose work is highly regarded in their field, had been more sanguine about the effect of technology on jobs. In a paper last year, they said it was likely that increased automation would create new, better jobs, so employment and wages would eventually return to their previous levels. Just as cranes replaced dockworkers but created related jobs for engineers and financiers, the theory goes, new technology has created new jobs for software developers and data analysts. From a report on The Verge, which looks at another finding in the study: They found that each new robot added to the workforce meant the loss of between 3 and 5.6 jobs in the local commuting area. Meanwhile, for each new robot added per 1,000 workers, wages in the surrounding area would fall between 0.25 and 0.5 percent.
Robotics

US Workers Face A Higher Risk Of Being Replaced By Robots (cnn.com) 275

There's a surprising prediction for the next 15 years from the world's second largest professional services firm. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Millions of workers around the world are at risk of losing their jobs to robots -- but Americans should be particularly worried. Thirty-eight percent of jobs in the U.S. are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, according to a new report by PwC. Meanwhile, only 30% of jobs in the U.K. are similarly endangered. The same level of risk applies to only 21% of positions in Japan.
61% of America's financial service jobs "are at a high risk of being replaced by robots," according to the article, vs. just 32% of the finance jobs in the U.K. (Those U.S. finance jobs tend to be "domestic retail operations" like small-town bank tellers, whereas U.K. finance jobs concentrate more in international finance and investment banking.) The firm's chief economist sees a world where new jobs are more likely to go to higher-skilled workers, and he ultimately predicts "a restructuring of the jobs market... The gap between rich and poor could get even wider."
Cloud

Steve Wozniak Invests In Robot-Powered Paper-Digitizing Startup (businessinsider.com) 54

Steve Wozniak -- along with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer -- have invested in an automated paper-digitization company named Ripcord, which formally launched on Thursday. An anonymous reader quotes VentureBeat: Based in Hayward, California, Ripcord has machines that can scan, index, and categorize paper records to make them searchable through companies' existing systems, via the cloud... Upon receipt, Ripcord unboxes the files and passes them to its machines, which scan, upload, and convert the content into searchable PDFs. Ripcord says that the conversion and classification process is around 80 percent automated and covers handling, the removal of fasteners (e.g. staples), and scanning.
"It sounds silly at first, but a really big part of the reason why this has never been done before are staples," explains Business Insider. "Existing scanner systems require humans to pull staples, separate three-ring binders, unclip paper clips, and occasionally even unstrip duct tape before they can go through the system -- otherwise they jam up the works."

"Our robots work their magic," explains Ripcord's web site. They're charging .004 cents per page -- for every month that it's stored in the cloud.
AI

Who's Liable For Decisions AI and Robotics Make? (betanews.com) 180

An anonymous reader shares a BetaNews article: Reuters news agency reported on February 16 that "European lawmakers called [...] for EU-wide legislation to regulate the rise of robots, including an ethical framework for their development and deployment and the establishment of liability for the actions of robots including self-driving cars." The question of determining "liability" for decision making achieved by robots or artificial intelligence is an interesting and important subject as the implementation of this technology increases in industry, and starts to more directly impact our day to day lives. Indeed, as application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology grows, we are likely to witness how it changes the nature of work, businesses, industries and society. And yet, although it has the power to disrupt and drive greater efficiencies, AI has its obstacles: the issue of "who is liable when something goes awry" being one of them. Like many protagonists in industry, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are trying to tackle this liability question. Many of them are calling for new laws on artificial intelligence and robotics to address the legal and insurance liability issues. They also want researchers to adopt some common ethical standards in order to "respect human dignity."
Botnet

Bruce Schneier Calls for IoT Legislation, Argues The Internet Is Becoming One Giant Robot (linux.com) 85

"We're building a world-size robot, and we don't even realize it," security expert Bruce Schneier warned the Open Source Leadership Summit. As mobile computing and always-on devices combine with the various network-connected sensors, actuators, and cloud-based AI processing, "We are building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts." An anonymous reader quotes Linux.com: You can think of it, he says, as an Internet that affects the world in a direct physical manner. This means Internet security becomes everything security. And, as the Internet physically affects our world, the threats become greater. "It's the same computers, it could be the same operating systems, the same apps, the same vulnerability, but there's a fundamental difference between when your spreadsheet crashes, and you lose your data, and when your car crashes and you lose your life," Schneier said...

"I have 20 IoT-security best-practices documents from various organizations. But the primary barriers here are economic; these low-cost devices just don't have the dedicated security teams and patching/upgrade paths that our phones and computers do. This is why we also need regulation to force IoT companies to take security seriously from the beginning. I know regulation is a dirty word in our industry, but when people start dying, governments will take action. I see it as a choice not between government regulation and no government regulation, but between smart government regulation and stupid government regulation."

Robotics

BMW Says Self-Driving Car To Be Level 5 Capable In Five Years (reuters.com) 149

German carmaker BMW is on track to deliver a self-driving car by 2021, the company's senior vice president for Autonomous Driving, Elmar Frickenstein, said on Thursday. From a report: "We are on the way to deliver a car in 2021 with level 3, 4 and 5," Frickenstein told a panel discussion in Berlin, explaining the vehicle will have different levels of autonomy, depending on how and where it is used. A level 5 vehicle is capable of navigating roads without any driver input, while a level 3 car still needs a steering wheel and a driver who can take over if the car encounters a problem.
Robotics

America May Miss Out On the Next Industrial Revolution (theverge.com) 297

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Robots are inevitably going to automate millions of jobs in the U.S. and around the world, but there's an even more complex scenario on the horizon, said roboticist Matt Rendall. In a talk Tuesday at SXSW, Rendall painted a picture of the future of robotic job displacement that focused less on automation and more on the realistic ways in which the robotics industry will reshape global manufacturing. The takeaway was that America, which has outsourced much of its manufacturing and lacks serious investment in industrial robotics, may miss out on the world's next radical shift in how goods are produced. That's because the robot makers -- as in, the robots that make the robots -- could play a key role in determining how automation expands across the globe. As the CEO of manufacturing robotics company Otto Motors, Rendall focuses on building fleets of warehouse bots that could eventually replace the many fulfillment workers who are hired by companies like Amazon. "The robots are coming," Rendall said. "After the Great Recession, there was a fundamental change in people's interest in automation. People started feeling the pain of high-cost labor and there's an appetite for automation that we haven't seen before." While Rendall described himself as one of the optimists, who believes automation will, in the long-term, improve society and help humans live better lives, he said there are changes afoot in the global manufacturing scene that could leave American industries in the dust. "China is tracking to be the No. 1 user in robots used in industrial manufacturing," he said, adding that the country is driving "an overwhelming amount" of growth. The difference, he added, is how China is responding to automation, which is by embracing it instead of shying away from it. This is in stark contrast to industrial advances of the previous century, like Ford's assembly line, that helped transform American industries into the most powerful on the planet.
Robotics

If American Robots Had Their Own Economy, It'd Be Bigger Than Switzerland (fastcompany.com) 54

From a report: The total value of all the robots in the United States, from Roombas to auto-manufacturing plants to those that fold laundry, and everything in between, is $732 billion, a number that, according to a study released today by researchers at CEBR and Redwood Software, is larger than that of the economy of Switzerland. Other findings in the study suggest that American investment in robotics has doubled since 2009, and went up 30 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Robotics

A Rogue Robot Is Blamed For a Human Colleague's Gruesome Death (qz.com) 407

A new lawsuit has emerged claiming a robot is responsible for killing a human colleague, reports Quartz. It all started in July 2015, when Wanda Holbrook, "a maintenance technician performing routine duties on an assembly line" at an auto-parts maker in Ionia, Michigan, called Ventra Ionia Main, "was 'trapped by robotic machinery' and crushed to death." From the report: On March 7, her husband, William Holbrook, filed a wrongful death complaint (pdf) in Michigan federal court, naming five North American robotics companies involved in engineering and integrating the machines and parts used at the plant: Prodomax, Flex-N-Gate, FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric. Holbrook's job involved keeping robots in working order. She routinely inspected and adjusted processes on the assembly line at Ventra, which makes bumpers and trailer hitches. One day, Holbrook was performing her regular duties when a machine acted very irregularly, according to the lawsuit reported in Courthouse News. Holbrook was in the plant's six-cell "100 section" when a robot unexpectedly activated, taking her by surprise. The cells are separated by safety doors and the robot should not have been able to move. But it somehow reached Holbrook, and was intent on loading a trailer-hitch assembly part right where she stood over a similar part in another cell. The machine loaded the hardware onto Holbrook's head. She was unable to escape, and her skull was crushed. Co-workers who eventually noticed that something seemed amiss found Holbrook dead. William Holbrook seeks an unspecified amount of damages, arguing that before her gruesome death, his wife "suffered tremendous fright, shock and conscious pain and suffering." He also names three of the defendants -- FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric -- in two additional claims of product liability and breach of implied warranty. He argues that the robots, tools, controllers, and associated parts were not properly designed, manufactured or tested, and not fit for use. "The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly. A failure of one or more of defendants' safety systems or devices had taken place, causing Wanda's death," the lawsuit alleges.
Earth

Boaty McBoatface To Go On Its First Antarctic Mission (theguardian.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A small yellow robot submarine, called Boaty McBoatface after a competition to name a new polar research ship backfired, is being sent on its first Antarctic mission. Boaty, which has arguably one of the most famous names in recent maritime history, is a new type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which will be able to travel under ice, reach depths of 6,000 meters, and transmit the data it collects to researchers via a radio link. Its mission will be to investigate water flow and turbulence in the dark depths of the Orkney Passage, a 3.5km deep region of the Southern Ocean. The data it collects will help scientists understand how the ocean is responding to global warming. Boaty will travel with the DynOPO (Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow) expedition on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research ship James Clark Ross, departing from Punta Arenas in Chile on 17 March. The craft will be sent back and forth through a cold abyssal current that forms an important part of the global circulation of ocean water. In 2019 Boaty McBoatface will be fitted with acoustic and chemical sensors and sent into the North Sea to "sniff out" signals associated with the artificial release of gas beneath the seabed. A future aim for Boaty will be to attempt the first-ever crossing of the Arctic Ocean under ice, which has the potential to deliver a significant change in scientists' ability to observe change in this vital region.
AI

Backlash Builds Against Bill Gates' Call For A Robot Tax (cbsnews.com) 392

Bill Gates argued governments should tax companies that use replace humans with robots, which "provoked enough negative feedback to fry a motherboard," according to CBS News. Here's how they summarized some of the reactions:
  • "Why pick on robots?" former Treasury Secretary Summers asked in a Washington Post opinion piece, which called Gates "profoundly misguided." The economist argued that progress, however messy and disruptive sometimes, ultimately benefits society overall.
  • Mike Shedlock, a financial adviser with Sitka Pacific Capital Management in Edmonds, Washington, wrote on his blog that robot owners, who likely would pay the tax, would simply pass it along by jacking up prices.
  • The European Union's parliament in February rejected a measure to impose a tax on robots, using much the same reasoning as Gates' critics.

But even while acknowledging that technology can complement humans rather than replacing them, a Bloomberg columnist argues that "Gates is right to say that we should start thinking ahead of time about how to use policy to mitigate the disruptions of automation." So if we're not going to tax robots, then how should society handle the next great wave of automated labor?


Social Networks

Report: Up To 15% Of Twitter Accounts Are Bots (cbsnews.com) 50

A team of researchers claim they can identify Twitter account activity that's posted by bots through their new web portal -- "Bot or Not?" -- leveraging "more than a thousand features extracted from public data and meta-data." And it turns out there are a lot of bots. An anonymous reader writes: "A study released by the University of Southern California reports that roughly nine to 15 percent of Twitter accounts...are so-called bots controlled by software instead of humans," according to CBS News. "Twitter boasts 319 monthly active users meaning that this recent revelation equates to nearly 48 million bot accounts, according the university's high-end figure." CNBC adds that "The research could be troubling news for Twitter, which has struggled to grow its user base in the face of growing competition from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others." In a 2014 SEC filing Twitter admitted that between 5 and 8% of their users were bots.
Twitter's response to this new report? "Many bot accounts are extremely beneficial, like those that automatically alert people of natural disasters ... or from customer service points of view."
Google

Google's reCAPTCHA Turns 'Invisible,' Will Separate Bots From People Without Challenges (arstechnica.com) 160

Google is making CAPTCHAs invisible using "a combination of machine learning and advanced risk analysis that adapts to new and emerging threats." Ars Technica reports: The old reCAPTCHA system was pretty easy -- just a simple "I'm not a robot" checkbox would get people through your sign-up page. The new version is even simpler, and it doesn't use a challenge or checkbox. It works invisibly in the background, somehow, to identify bots from humans. Google doesn't go into much detail on how it works, only saying that the system uses "a combination of machine learning and advanced risk analysis that adapts to new and emerging threats." More detailed information on how the system works would probably also help bot-makers crack it, so don't expect details to pop up any time soon. When sites switch over to the invisible CAPTCHA system, most users won't see CAPTCHAs at all, not even the "I'm not a robot" checkbox. If you are flagged as "suspicious" by the system, then it will display the usual challenges.
Canada

Chatbot that Overturned 160,000 Parking Fines Now Helping Refugees Claim Asylum (theguardian.com) 90

Elena Cresci, writing for The Guardian: The creator of a chatbot which overturned more than 160,000 parking fines and helped vulnerable people apply for emergency housing is now turning the bot to helping refugees claim asylum. The original DoNotPay, created by Stanford student Joshua Browder, describes itself as "the world's first robot lawyer", giving free legal aid to users through a simple-to-use chat interface. The chatbot, using Facebook Messenger, can now help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada. For those in the UK, it helps them apply for asylum support. The London-born developer worked with lawyers in each country, as well as speaking to asylum seekers whose applications have been successful. Browder says this new functionality for his robot lawyer is "long overdue". He told the Guardian: "I've been trying to launch this for about six months -- I initially wanted to do it in the summer. But I wanted to make sure I got it right because it's such a complicated issue. I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I'd go back and tweak it.
Robotics

Robots in Warehouses To Jump 15X Over Next 4 Years (techrepublic.com) 125

The worldwide warehouse and logistics robot unit shipments will increase from 40,000 robots in 2016 to 620,000 robots annually by 2021, according to highly reliable numbers from Tractica, which adds that the $1.9 billion market in 2016 is expected to jump a staggering tenfold to an annual $22.4 billion by the end of 2021. From a report on TechRepublic: As a measure of global market value, Tractica also expects the robotic shipments to reach $22.4 billion by the end of 2021, up from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2016. The report, which highlights market drivers and challenges, profiles 75 "emerging industry players," and is divided into sections based on robot type. According to the report, "warehousing and logistics industries are looking for robotics solutions, more than ever before, to remain globally competitive," which will "lead to widespread acceptance and presence of robots in warehouses and logistics operations." To allay fears about lost jobs due to automation, the report authors said they expect that the increase in robots will likely yield new jobs and opportunities for businesses. "The next 5 years will be a period of significant innovation in the space, bringing significant opportunities for established industry players and startups alike," said Manoj Sahi, a research analyst, in the report.
Robotics

What Happens When Robots Can Deliver Your Groceries? (venturebeat.com) 136

"What if you could get groceries in less than two minutes without even leaving your apartment?" asks VentureBeat. "Another beer...? Think guacamole would go extremely well with those Doritos you just opened?" Several grocery-delivery startups are already working to make this a reality. Slashdot reader moglito summarizes their vision of autonomous indoor-delivery robots from automated refrigerators servicing high-rise apartment buildings. Coupled with AI algorithms for learning what residents like to consume, and algorithms for automatically restocking those items via a network of suppliers or logistics companies, this "bot-mart" could make grocery shopping a boring and time-consuming thing of the past... Will robots similarly reduce the need for a kitchen next?
Yes, the article also describes cooking robots (which can already prepare burgers, pizza, and sandwiches), as well as new automated delivery vehicles restaurants. "Perhaps the only question remaining is whether there is a business case for this," they point out -- though under some scenarios, it could actually prove cheaper than driving to the grocery store yourself. "Consumers will find it ever easier to get what they want, when they want it, where they want it."
Robotics

More Fast Food Restaurants Are Now Automating (qz.com) 440

An anonymous reader writes: Wendy's is adding self-service ordering kiosks "to at least 1,000 restaurants, or about 15% of its stores," reports the Los Angeles Times, while McDonald's and Panera Bread are now planning to add kiosks to every restaurant. "Lots of restaurants, not just fast-food chains, are really trying to mitigate the costs of higher wages," says one market research firm, while also citing a survey which found 40% of millennials willing to use kiosks (compared to 30% of restaurant-goers overall).

But in some cases this means more work for human employees. Quartz points out that McDonalds doesn't plan to reduce its workforce after installing kiosks, and Panera Bread "has said that at some locations where it has ordering kiosks, it has actually increased human hours to help the kitchen keep up with the higher number of orders that come in through the more efficient ordering system."

Robotics

Virginia Becomes First State To Legalize Delivery Robots (recode.net) 38

According to Recode, Virginia is the first state to pass legislation allowing delivery robots to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks across the state. The law (HB 2016) was signed by the governor last Friday and will go into effect on July 1. Recode reports: The two Virginia lawmakers who sponsored the bill, Ron Villanueva and Bill DeSteph, teamed up with Starship Technologies, an Estonian-based ground delivery robotics company, to draft the legislation. Robots operating under the new law won't be able to exceed 10 miles per hour or weigh over 50 pounds, but they will be allowed to rove autonomously. The law doesn't require robots to stay within line of sight of a person in control, but a person is required to at least remotely monitor the robot and take over if it goes awry. Robots are only allowed on streets in a crosswalk. Municipalities in the state are allowed to regulate how robots will operate locally, like if a city council wants to impose a stricter speed limit or keep them out entirely.
AI

AI Scientists Gather to Plot Doomsday Scenarios (bloomberg.com) 126

Dina Bass, reporting for Bloomberg: Artificial intelligence boosters predict a brave new world of flying cars and cancer cures. Detractors worry about a future where humans are enslaved to an evil race of robot overlords. Veteran AI scientist Eric Horvitz and Doomsday Clock guru Lawrence Krauss, seeking a middle ground, gathered a group of experts in the Arizona desert to discuss the worst that could possibly happen -- and how to stop it. Their workshop took place last weekend at Arizona State University with funding from Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn. Officially dubbed "Envisioning and Addressing Adverse AI Outcomes," it was a kind of AI doomsday games that organized some 40 scientists, cyber-security experts and policy wonks into groups of attackers -- the red team -- and defenders -- blue team -- playing out AI-gone-very-wrong scenarios, ranging from stock-market manipulation to global warfare.
Robotics

Skin deep? Robots To Wear Real Human Tissue (thememo.com) 77

Scientists are already growing muscles, bones, and mini-organs in the lab. But these tissues are generally small and simple. That's why two scientists from Oxford University are proposing that we use humanoid robots to grow engineered tissues instead. From a report: Robots dressed in human flesh would benefit people who need tissue transplants, Oxford University researchers have said this week. At present human cells are grown in stationary environments, but moving humanoids could help them develop in a far more healthier way. Robots could "wear" tissue grafts before transplantation, researchers Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and Andrew Carr propose in the latest issue of Science Robotics. Today sheets of cells are grown in stagnant tanks, but these "fail to mimic the real mechanical environment for cells," say the scientists. The resulting tissues aren't used to moving, stretching and straining, which make them problematic for use by patients.

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