AI: Will the Machines Ever Rise Up?

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From Ex Machina to Terminator Genisys, ‘synths’ and robots have invaded our popular culture. But how real is the reel depiction of artificial intelligence?

 writes: The harried parents in one family in the Channel 4 drama Humans are divided about having a robot called Anita.

The father is delighted with the extra help; the mother unnerved and threatened. The teenage daughter, bright and hardworking, gives up at school after wondering why she would spend seven years to become a doctor, when a “Synth” could upload the skills in as many seconds. The teenage son, of course, is preoccupied with the sexual possibilities.

The thriller has become the biggest home-made drama on Channel 4 for more than two decades, according to viewing figures published this week, and is the latest to explore what has been described as perhaps the greatest existential threat the human race has ever faced, artificial intelligence: the idea that computers will start thinking for themselves and not much like what they see when they cast their eyes on their creators.

The humanoid robots in Humans are not portrayed as good or evil but are dropped into suburbia, where the crises they cause are domestic: disrupting relationships, employment aspirations, and feelings of freedom.

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

It is a theme that has increasingly attracted screenwriters. In the 2013 film, Her, Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his computer’s intelligent operating system. In Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a young coder must administer the Turing test to an AI robot called Ava with deadly results. There is also the release of Terminator Genisys the fifth instalment of the series, in which humans are forever trying to prevent a future world destroyed by the machines.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

“We didn’t want to make a judgement on this world, but offer up the pros and cons in a world where synths exist and let our audience decide: is it good or bad?” Jonathan Brackley, one of the writers of Humans, told the Guardian. Co-writer, Sam Vincent, who worked with Brackley on Spooks, adds: “At the heart of the show is the question, does something have to be human for someone to have human feelings about it? The answer to us is no.”

The fictional Persona Synthetics shop selling ‘synths’. Channel 4 drama, Humans, creates a future where families buy human-like robots - synths, that help them with a variety of tasks from household chores to doing homework. Photograph: Persona Synthetics/Channel 4

The fictional Persona Synthetics shop selling ‘synths’. Channel 4 drama, Humans, creates a future where families buy human-like robots – synths, that help them with a variety of tasks from household chores to doing homework. Photograph: Persona Synthetics/Channel 4

The series plays out the consequences of human-like artificial intelligence in the humdrum reality of modern life, but Vincent and Brackley see parallels with our increasing attachment to electronic devices. “Technology used to be just for work. But we use it more than ever now to conduct every aspect of our lives. We are more intimate with it, and it understands us more, even as we understand it less,” says Vincent.

“There’s this very speculative human-like AI side to the series, and a completely real side of what our technology is doing to our emotional lives, our relationships, and society at large,” he adds.

Apocalyptic pronouncements from scientists and entrepreneurs have driven the surge in interest. It was the inventor Elon Musk who last year said artificial intelligence might be the greatest existential threat that humans faced. Stephen Hawking joined in the chorus, warning that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. The same year, the Oxford scientist Nick Bostrom, published the thoughtful book Superintelligence, in which he made similarly gloomy predictions.

Concerns about the consequences of creating an intelligence that matches, or far exceeds, our own are not entirely new. Read the rest of this entry »


Humanoid Robots as Models: Julie Watai’s Manga & Otaku-Inspired Photography

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Japanese photographer Julie Watai creates manga and otaku-inspired photography, often using humanoid robots as models. Watch TheCreatorsProject‘s exclusive video on her here.

TheCreatorsProject


Answer to Question ‘Are You a Robot?’

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Sacré bleu! French Invent Robots to Replace Border Police

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French company Thales promises robots to replace immigration officers

French electrical systems company Thales premiered its new equipment designed to speed up passage through airports.

In their vision of the future, passengers will no longer deal with check-in desks — an innovation already making inroads in many airports.

A woman tests the new technology. Photo: AFP

A woman tests the new technology. Photo: AFP

To take that even further, Thales has designed a machine that not only scans passports and prints boarding passes, but also records an image of the passenger’s face and iris, which are then shared with computers around the airport.

The images are already in the system when the passenger arrives at the immigration desk, allowing a tall, white robot to
frenchmanautomatically confirm the person’s identity without the need for human border staff.

“You would only need one agent for every four or five machines,” said Pascal Zenoni, a Thales manager presenting the equipment at the air show.

“These systems can free up staff for the police and create more space in the airport,” he added.

The passenger’s face is also printed in encrypted form on the boarding pass so that it can be scanned by staff at the gate for a final identity check.

Thales hopes to build on its expertise as the maker of biometric passports and ID cards for 25 countries, including France.

Perhaps robots will be drafted in at French airports where the border police have been criticized for not being polite enough.

(A woman tests the new technology. Photo: AFP)

(A woman tests the new technology. Photo: AFP)

Last week the French foreign minister unveiled a new campaign aimed at making France more polite for visitors. It includes one measure that will force border police to say “Hello, “thank you” and “goodbye” to every passenger as they check their passport.

Meanwhile, in another air show stand, competitors Safran discussed their new systems for coping with the giant amount of data being collected on passengers. Read the rest of this entry »


Jobs That Humans Will Never Do Again, As Long As We Have Robots

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 writes: Robots are entering the workforce. Some will work alongside you. Others, sadly, will put you out of work. The question is, which jobs are actually on the chopping block?

The answer to that has been bathed in media hype, but we talked to experts who gave us some realistic answers about which human careers might be endangered — and why.

Warehouse and factory workers

Robots are already working in distribution centres. This kind of setting is fertile ground for robot takeover, because bots are good at repetitive tasks that don’t require them to adapt to new situations on the fly. Adjusting to dynamic environments, improvising reactions, and nuancing your behaviour based on the changing situation are still very human things to do. Robot developers have a hard time perfecting those behaviours in robots, which is why we don’t see a Rosie the tidying, talking, wisecracking housemaid bot yet.

But in factories, robots can be programmed to do one thing, in one place, over and over again. It’s called “narrow AI.” A robot can be stationed in one spot on the distribution warehouse floor, lifting palettes that are all the same shape and size, and placing them on a conveyor belt whose location never changes. In fact, this is already happening in shipping centres like United Parcel Service in the US, where 7,000 packages are sorted every minute.

Chauffeurs, cab drivers, etc.

Add professional car drivers to the vulnerable list. We’re already in the midst of this transition. “I think cars, especially cars for hire, will probably be autonomous,” says Richard Alan Peters, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University and CTO at Universal Robotics.

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Obviously, companies like Google have some crash-related kinks to iron out of their self-driving experiments. Plus a nightmarish morass of legislation awaits this industry of automatic magic cars that cruise busy streets without a human at the helm. But it’s happening: Look at Carnegie Mellon University, where Uber has a whole lab set up solely for self-driving cars.

Security Guards

“Especially [security guards] that are out observing the perimeter after hours. Checking doors and halls will be automated,” Peters says. Basically, any job that’s super repetitive could be a target for robot replacement. To compound that, any repetitive job that the robot can do better than a human is especiallyvulnerable.

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Robo security guards already kind of exist. Microsoft announced last year that they have toyed with Dalek-shaped sentries roaming their Silicon Valley campus. These five-foot tall, lidar-equipped bots scan intruders, recognise licence plates, and comb social media activity for any hints of danger in the area. The makers of these robots say the intention is not to replace human security guards. We’ll see about that, though, as the tech continues to advance.

Large-Scale Custodians

Here, we’re talking about facility cleaning that doesn’t require fine motor skills. So folks who might come to your office and power blast your cafeteria floor, for example, could be replaced by robots. Polishing, vacuuming, scrubbing… that’s what robots will be doing (and already are doing in many homes with Roombas). However, not all custodians need worry (yet).

“The history of robotics shows that most tasks — e.g., tidying a room — are much harder for robots than one might think,” says Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT. Tasks like cleaning an apparatus that’s a bit more complex — say a toilet or sink — will still require humans who have articulated manipulators and nimble fingers covered with sensor-packed skin.

[Read the full text here, at Gizmodo Australia]

Lloyd is “pretty sceptical” about robots taking over jobs. He quips that based on how some people talk so grandly about robots in the workforce, that although “robots still won’t be able to tidy a room,” we will have “robotic teenagers able to mess up rooms in new and creative ways.”

Construction Workers

“A lot of research is going into cooperative assembly by robots,” Peters explains. He says that assembly of huge objects like ships and planes will be largely automated soon. Again, the main reason is a lot of manual labour is involved: pick up that piece of drywall, hold something in place, screw something in. Read the rest of this entry »


Navy to Accelerate Artificial Intelligence Development for Warfighting, Support Roles

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 reports: The Navy wants to integrate robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) into more of its workload, from warfighting missions to non-combat support roles, and is seeking fleet input on what types of AI research are worth investing in.

“Traditionally in the Department of the Navy the focus is on the warfighting mission, and rightfully so, but maybe not so much on the support side. So how does artificial intelligence and robotics fit into some of the operational support functions or even management?”

— Bob Kozloski, deputy director of Task Force Innovation and deputy chief of the Office of Strategy and Innovation

The service already has, in varying stages of completion, its Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) in the air, a Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) under the sea and the Swarmboat unmanned vehicle on the surface. The warfighting value for these platforms is clear, the service said.

“The private sector is investing heavily in AI and robotics automation for decision-making and physical implementation tasks. ”

“Traditionally in the Department of the Navy the focus is on the warfighting mission, and rightfully so, but maybe not so much on the support side,” Bob Kozloski, deputy director of Task Force Innovation and deputy chief of the Office of Strategy and Innovation, told USNI News on Wednesday. “So how does artificial intelligence and robotics fit into some of the operational support functions or even management?”

“The DON could benefit from considering how to adapt recent private sector advances in fields such as machine learning, natural language processing, ontological engineering, and automated planning for naval applications.”

— From the memo

Kozloski’s office released a memo on June 5 outlining the path forward in identifying opportunities to integrate robotics and AI into Navy operations and for leveraging commercial development.

“The private sector is investing heavily in AI and robotics automation for decision-making and physical implementation tasks,” according to the memo. “The DON could benefit from considering how to adapt recent private sector advances in fields such as machine learning, natural language processing, ontological engineering, and automated planning for naval applications.” Read the rest of this entry »


China’s Troubling Robot Revolution

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China is now shifting its appetite to robots, a transition that will have significant consequences for China’s economy — and the world’s

Martin Ford writes: Over the last decade, China has become, in the eyes of much of the world, a job-eating monster, consuming entire industries with its seemingly limitless supply of low-wage workers. But the reality is that China is now shifting its appetite to robots, a transition that will have significant consequences for China’s economy — and the world’s.

In 2014, Chinese factories accounted for about a quarter of the global ranks of industrial robots — a 54 percent increase over 2013. According to the International Federation of Robotics, it will have more installed manufacturing robots than any other country by 2017.

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Midea, a leading manufacturer of home appliances in the heavily industrialized province of Guangdong, plans to replace 6,000 workers in its residential air-conditioning division, about a fifth of the work force, with automation by the end of the year. Foxconn, which makes consumer electronics for Apple and other companies, plans to automate about 70 percent of factory work within three years, and already has a fully robotic factory in Chengdu.

[Check out Martin Ford’s book “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” at Amazon.com]

Chinese factory jobs may thus be poised to evaporate at an even faster pace than has been the case in the United States and other developed countries. That may make it significantly more difficult for China to address one of its paramount economic challenges: the need to rebalance its economy so that domestic consumption plays a far more significant role than is currently the case.

China’s economic growth has been driven not just by manufacturing exports, but also by fixed investment in things like housing, factories and infrastructure — in fact, in recent years investment has made up nearly half of its gross domestic product. Meanwhile, domestic consumer spending represents only about a third of the economic pie, or roughly half the level in the United States.

This is clearly unsustainable. After all, there eventually has to be a return on all those investments. Factories have to produce goods that are profitably sold. Homes have to be occupied, and rent has to be paid. Generating those returns will require Chinese households to step up and play a larger role: They will have to spend far more, not just on the goods produced in China’s factories, but increasingly in the service sector.

[Read the full text here, at NYTimes.com]

Making that happen will be an extraordinary challenge. Indeed, the Chinese leadership has been talking about it for years, but virtually no progress has been made. One problem is that even in the wake of recent wage increases, average Chinese households simply have too little income relative to the size of the economy. Read the rest of this entry »


Ray Kurzweil: Humans will be hybrids by 2030

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That’s the prediction of Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, who spoke Wednesday at the Exponential Finance conference in New York.

“We’re going to gradually merge and enhance ourselves. In my view, that’s the nature of being human — we transcend our limitations.”

Kurzweil predicts that humans will become hybrids in the 2030s. That means our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where there will be thousands of computers, and those computers will augment our existing intelligence. He said the brain will connect via nanobots — tiny robots made from DNA strands.

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“As I wrote starting 20 years ago, technology is a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm and cooked our food but also burnt down our houses. Every technology has had its promise and peril.”

“Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking,” he said.

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The bigger and more complex the cloud, the more advanced our thinking. By the time we get to the late 2030s or the early 2040s, Kurzweil believes our thinking will be predominately non-biological.

We’ll also be able to fully back up our brains. Read the rest of this entry »


James R. Hagerty: Meet the New Generation of Robots for Manufacturing

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They are nimbler, lighter and work better with humans. They might even help bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

James R. Hagerty writes: A new generation of robots is on the way—smarter, more mobile, more collaborative and more adaptable. They promise to bring major changes to the factory floor, as well as potentially to the global competitive landscape.

Robots deployed in manufacturing today tend to be large, dangerous to anyone who strays too close to their whirling arms, and limited to one task, like welding, painting or hoisting heavy parts.

“Robots are going to change the economic calculus for manufacturing. People will spend less time chasing low-cost labor.”

— Hal Sirkin, a Chicago-based senior partner of Boston Consulting Group

The latest models entering factories and being developed in labs are a different breed. They can work alongside humans without endangering them and help assemble all sorts of objects, as large as aircraft engines and as small and delicate as smartphones. Soon, some should be easy enough to program and deploy that they no longer will need expert overseers.

“Researchers hope robots will become so easy to set up and move around that they can reduce the need for companies to make heavy investments in tools and structures that are bolted to the floor.”

That will change not only the way an increasing number of products are made. It could also mean an upheaval in the competition between companies and nations. As robots become less costly and more accessible, they should help smaller manufacturers go toe to toe with giants. By reducing labor costs, they also may allow the U.S. and other high-wage countries to get back into some of the processes that have been ceded to China, Mexico and other countries with vast armies of lower-paid workers.

“That would allow manufacturers to make shorter runs of niche or custom products without having to spend lots of time and money reconfiguring factories.”

Some of the latest robots are designed specifically for the tricky job of assembling consumer-electronics items, now mostly done by hand in Asia. At least one company promises its robots eventually will be sewing garments in the U.S., taking over one of the ultimate sweatshop tasks.

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“Robots are going to change the economic calculus for manufacturing,” says Hal Sirkin, a Chicago-based senior partner of Boston Consulting Group. “People will spend less time chasing low-cost labor.”

The changing face

Today, industrial robots are most common in auto plants—which have long been the biggest users of robot technology—and they do jobs that don’t take much delicacy: heavy lifting, welding, applying glue and painting. People still do most of the final assembly of cars, especially when it involves small parts or wiring that needs to be guided into place.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Now robots are taking on some jobs that require more agility. At a Renault SA plant in Cleon, France, robots made by Universal Robots AS of Denmark drive screws into engines, especially those that go into places people find hard to get at. The robots employ a reach of more than 50 inches and six rotating joints to do the work. They also verify that parts are properly fastened and check to make sure the correct part is being used.

At a Renault car plant, robots drive screws into engines—a sign of their progress in handling small parts. Photo: Renault

At a Renault car plant, robots drive screws into engines—a sign of their progress in handling small parts. Photo: Renault

The Renault effort demonstrates a couple of trends that are drastically changing how robots are made. For one, they’re getting much lighter. The Renault units weigh only about 64 pounds, so “we can easily remove them and reinstall them in another place,” says Dominique Graille, a manager at Renault, which is using 15 robots from Universal now and plans to double that by year-end. Read the rest of this entry »


Professor Yuval Noah Harari: Humans ‘Will Become God-Like Cyborgs Within 200 Years’

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 writes: Wealthy humans are likely become cyborgs within 200 years as they gradually merge with technology like computers and smart phones, a historian has claimed.

“I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic.”

Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the amalgamation of man and machine will be the ‘biggest evolution in biology’ since the emergence of life four billion years ago.

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“It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking. But we will be as different from today’s humans as chimps are now from us.”

Prof Harari, who has written a landmark book charting the history of humanity, said mankind would evolve to become like gods with the power over death, and be as different from humans of today as we are from chimpanzees.

Yuval Noah Harari holds a homo sapiens skull

Yuval Noah Harari holds a homo sapiens skull

“What enables humans to cooperate flexibly, and exist in large societies is our imagination. With religion it’s easy to understand. You can’t convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana with the promise it will get 20 more bananas in chimpanzee heaven. It won’t do it. But humans will.”

sapiens-bookHe argued that humans as a race were driven by dissatisfaction and that we would not be able to resist the temptation to ‘upgrade’ ourselves, whether by genetic engineering or technology.

[Order Professor Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” from Amazon.com]

“We are programmed to be dissatisfied, “ said Prof Harari. “Even when humans gain pleasure and achievements it is not enough. They want more and more.”

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“Most legal systems are based on human rights but it is all in our imagination. Money is the most successful story ever. You have the master storytellers, the bankers, the finance ministers telling you that money is worth something. It isn’t. Try giving money to a chimp. It’s worthless.”

“I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic.”

“God is extremely important because without religious myth you can’t create society. Religion is the most important invention of humans.”

— Yuval Noah Harari

“It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking. But we will be as different from today’s humans as chimps are now from us.”

[Read the full text here, at the Telegraph]

However he warned that the ‘cyborg’ technology would be restricted to the wealthiest in society, widening the gap between rich and poor in society. In the future the rich may be able to live forever while the poor would die out. Read the rest of this entry »


Clinton emails silent on deadly danger facing Americans in Benghazi

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a round table discussion at Smuttynose Brewery, Friday, May 22, 2015, in Hampton, NH. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Byron York writes: The newly released Hillary Clinton Benghazi emails do not contain any communications relating to security from the critical last month before the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. facility in Libya. During that period, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who along with three other Americans would die in the attack, warned Clinton and other State Department officials of a growing danger, indeed a security emergency, in Libya. Stevens specifically noted that the possibility of an attack on Americans was growing, and, if such an attack occurred, the U.S. contingent did not have the strength to repel it. But to judge from the emails made public Friday, Clinton gave not a thought to the matter.

Go back to August 2012. On the 15th of that month, U.S. security officers in Libya held an “emergency” meeting to address the very real possibility that growing violence in the area could soon target Americans. The next day, Aug. 16, Stevens sent a cable to Clinton concluding that the Americans in Libya could not defend U.S. facilities “in the event of a coordinated attack, due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound.” Read the rest of this entry »


Martin Ford: Attention White-collar Workers: #Robots Are Coming for Your Jobs

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Interview: Martin Ford, Author Of ‘Rise Of The Robots’ 

From the self-checkout aisle of the grocery store to the sports section of the newspaper, robots and computer software are increasingly taking the place of humans in the workforce. Silicon Valley executive Martin Ford says that robots, once thought of as a threat to only manufacturing jobs, are poised to replace humans as teachers, journalists, lawyers and others in the service sector.

“As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate. So I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”

“There’s already a hardware store [in California] that has a customer service robot that, for example, is capable of leading customers to the proper place on the shelves in order to find an item,” Ford tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies.

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In his new book, Rise of the Robots, Ford considers the social and economic disruption that is likely to result when educated rise-of-robotsworkers can no longer find employment.

[Check out Martin Ford’s book “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” at Amazon.com]

“As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate,” Ford says. “So I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”

Any jobs that are truly repetitive or rote — doing the same thing again and again — in advanced economies like the United States or Germany, those jobs are long gone. They’ve already been replaced by robots years and years ago.

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So what we’ve seen in manufacturing is that the jobs that are actually left for people to do tend to be the ones that require more flexibility or require visual perception and dexterity. Very often these jobs kind of fill in the gaps between machines.

[Read the full text here, at NPR]

For example, feeding parts into the next part of the production process or very often they’re at the end of the process — perhaps loading and unloading trucks and moving raw materials and finished products around, those types of things. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] The Future of Remote Work Is Telerobotics

Students at The University of Pennsylvania have created DORA, a robot that both mimics the movements of and sends visual information to a virtual reality headset. Their goal is to give users the experience of actually inhabiting the robot’s body, even if it’s halfway around the world. WSJ‘s Christopher Mims reports.

 


Does Artificial Intelligence Pose a Threat?

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A panel of experts discusses the prospect of machines capable of autonomous reasoning

Ted Greenwald writes: After decades as a sci-fi staple, artificial intelligence has leapt into the mainstream. Between Apple ’s Siri and Amazon ’s Alexa, IBM ’s Watson and Google Brain, machines that understand the world and respond productively suddenly seem imminent.

The combination of immense Internet-connected networks and machine-learning algorithms has yielded dramatic advances in machines’ ability to understand spoken and visual communications, capabilities that fall under the heading “narrow” artificial intelligence. Can machines capable of autonomous reasoning—so-called general AI—be far behind? And at that point, what’s to keep them from improving themselves until they have no need for humanity?

Meka's M1 robot is one of the systems that has been acquired by Google

The prospect has unleashed a wave of anxiety. “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC. Tesla founder Elon Musk called AI “our biggest existential threat.” Former Microsoft Chief Executive Bill Gates has voiced his agreement.

How realistic are such concerns? And how urgent? We assembled a panel of experts from industry, research and policy-making to consider the dangers—if any—that lie ahead. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Toshiba’s Communication Robot Chihira Aico’s Debut as a Receptionist Impresses Department Store Customers

“Humanoid robot capable of expressing various feeling.”

According to RocketNews24, Toshiba has plans to expand its robotics business outside of customer service and into healthcare, especially as companions for Japan’s aging population. Read the rest of this entry »


Norwegian Cartoonist and Illustrator Kristian Hammerstad: ‘Rise of the Robots’

Illustration by Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator, Kristian Hammerstad, from “Rise of the Robots,” a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, May 11, 2015.

Illustration by Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator, Kristian Hammerstad, from “Rise of the Robots,” a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, May 11, 2015.

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China Preparing for Drone Warfare

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 reports: China’s military plans to produce nearly 42,000 land-based and sea-based unmanned weapons and sensor platforms as part of its continuing, large-scale military buildup, the Pentagon’s annual report on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) disclosed Friday.

“Together with the increased mobility and survivability of the new generation of missiles, these technologies and training enhancements strengthen China’s nuclear force and bolster its strategic strike capabilities.”

China currently operates several armed and unarmed drone aircraft and is developing long-range range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for both intelligence gathering and bombing attacks.lijianUAV

“The acquisition and development of longer-range UAVs will increase China’s ability to conduct long-range reconnaissance and strike operations,” the report said.

China’s ability to use drones is increasing and the report said China “plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023.”

“The Lijian, which first flew on Nov. 21, 2013, is China’s first stealthy flying wing UAV.”

Four UAVs under development include the Xianglong, Yilong, Sky Saber, and Lijian, with the latter three drones configured to fire precision-strike weapons.

“The Lijian, which first flew on Nov. 21, 2013, is China’s first stealthy flying wing UAV,” the report said.

The drone buildup is part of what the Pentagon identified as a decades-long military buildup that last year produced new multi-warhead missiles and a large number of submarines and ships.

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“China will likely continue to invest considerable resources to maintain a limited, but survivable, nuclear force to ensure the PLA can deliver a damaging responsive nuclear strike.”

Additionally, the Pentagon for the first time confirmed China’s development of an ultra-high speed maneuvering strike vehicle as part of its growing strategic nuclear arsenal.

“China is working on a range of technologies to attempt to counter U.S. and other countries’ ballistic missile defense systems, including maneuverable reentry vehicles (MaRV), [multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles], decoys, chaff, jamming, and thermal shielding,” the report, made public Friday, states.

“The United States and China acknowledge that the Chinese tested a hypersonic glide vehicle in 2014,” the report noted.

It was the first time the Pentagon confirmed the existence of what is known as the Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle, a strike weapon that travels at the edge of space at nearly 10 times the speed of sound.

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The Wu-14, designed to deliver nuclear weapons through U.S. missile defenses, was first disclosed by the Washington Free Beacon, which reported on three tests conducted in 2014.

“Together with the increased mobility and survivability of the new generation of missiles, these technologies and training enhancements strengthen China’s nuclear force and bolster its strategic strike capabilities,” the report said. Read the rest of this entry »


The New Bookkeeper Is a Robot

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Vipal Monga writes: Five years ago, 80 clerks and salespeople at Pilot Travel Centers LLC spent a combined 3,200 hours a week tracking and paying for orders for thousands of goods, ranging from candy bars to diesel fuel.

“Today, a computer ‘robot’—basically software—automates these tasks…software sends out payments and records every transaction. As a result, the company needs just 10 clerks working a weekly total of 400 hours to pay suppliers.”

They typed the orders into an accounts-payable database, and printed out thousands of checks to pay suppliers. After slipping them into envelopes and adding postage, they put the checks in the mail.

Illustration by Randall Enos

Illustration by Randall Enos

“Automation is threatening to replace swaths of white-collar workers, much as mechanical robots have displaced blue-collar workers on assembly lines.”

“It was just awful,” said David Clothier, treasurer of the Knoxville, Tenn., company, which operates more than 500 Pilot Flying J truck stops nationwide. “There were humans everywhere.”

Today, a computer “robot”—basically software—automates these tasks. Suppliers send their invoices to Pilot Travel electronically. Its software sends out payments and records every transaction. As a result, the company needs just 10 clerks working a weekly total of 400 hours to pay suppliers.

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Robots are taking over corporate finance departments, performing work that often required whole teams of people. Big companies such as Pilot Travel, New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. and GameStop Corp., of Grapevine, Texas, are among those using software to automate many corporate bookkeeping and accounting tasks.

Businesses use these programs to save time and staffing costs. Since 2004, the median number of full-time employees in the finance department at big companies has declined 40% to about 71 people for every $1 billion of revenue, down from 119, according to Hackett Group, a consulting firm. Read the rest of this entry »


SPACE: Progress Failure Puts Burden on Upcoming Resupply Missions

scott_kelly_5.4.15-879x485

jeff_foust_4c-90x90WASHINGTON — Jeff Foust writes: The failure of a Russian Progress spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station is unlikely to have a significant near-term effect on station operations, but will place a greater burden on upcoming resupply missions and could alter the cargo those missions carry.

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrying the Progress M-27M spacecraft lifted off on schedule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:09 a.m. Eastern time April 28. The launch appeared to take place normally, putting the spacecraft on track to dock with the ISS about six hours later.

However, shortly after the Progress reached orbit, controllers reported that two antennas used as part of the spacecraft’s docking system failed to deploy properly. NASA initially announced that the docking would be delayed until early April 30 to give engineers time to resolve the antenna problem.

“Roscosmos announced that the Progress will not be docking and will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere here some days in the future.”

— NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, April 29, 2015

Within hours, though, it was clear the problem with the Soyuz was more serious than a faulty antenna. The spacecraft entered a roll, and Russian controllers reported problems maintaining communications with the spacecraft. NASA announced later April 28 that it had called off an attempted April 30 docking.

The U.S. Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center, tracking the Progress, said in an April 28 statement that the spacecraft was rotating “at a rate of 360 degrees every five seconds,” or 12 RPM. The Air Force also reported tracking 44 pieces of debris in the vicinity of the Progress and its Soyuz upper stage, but could not determine from which object the debris originated.

NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos ruled out any attempt to dock the Progress with the ISS on April 29. “Roscosmos announced that the Progress will not be docking and will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere here some days in the future,” NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, currently on the station, said in an interview on NASA Television April 29.

The cause of the Progress failure, including whether it is a flaw with the spacecraft or its launch vehicle, is unclear. Roscosmos, in an April 29 statement, said telemetry from the Progress was interrupted 1.5 seconds before the Progress was scheduled to separate from the Soyuz upper stage. When contact was restored after separation, the spacecraft was in a spin.

With no ability to control the spacecraft, the Progress’s orbit will decay and the spacecraft will reenter some time in early May. Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office, said April 30 that he estimated the Progress would reenter on May 9, with a margin of error of two days.

Most of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere. “However, we cannot exclude the chance that some portion of its structure, for example the heavy docking mechanism or tanks and thrusters, could survive reentry to reach the surface,” Krog said. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Robotic Spacecraft MESSENGER Is Out of Fuel, Doomed to Crash Into Mercury This Afternoon at More Than 8,750 MPH

The robotic spacecraft MESSENGER has run out of fuel. With no way to make major adjustments to its orbit around the planet Mercury, the probe will smash into the surface at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second). The impact will add a new crater to the planet’s scarred face that engineers estimate will be as wide as 52 feet (16 meters).


Robot with $100 Bitcoin Buys Drugs, Gets Arrested

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The robot’s purchases included a Hungarian passport, Ecstasy pills, fake Diesel jeans, a Sprite can with a hole cut out in order to stash cash, Nikes, a baseball cap with a hidden camera, cigarettes and the ‘Lord of the Rings‘ e-book collection

Arjun Kharpal reports: This is the curious story of how a robot armed with a weekly budget of $100 in bitcoin managed to buy Ecstasy, a Hungarian passport and a baseball cap with a built-in camera—before getting arrested.

The “automated online shopping bot” was set up in October last year by Swiss art group, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, as an art installation to explore the “dark web”—the hidden, un-indexed part of the Internet.

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Each week, the robot was given $100 worth of Bitcoin— the major hard-to-trace cryptocurrency—and programmed to randomly purchase one item from Agora, an online marketplace on the dark web where shoppers can buy drugs and other illegal items. The items were automatically delivered to a Swiss art gallery called Kunst Halle St Gallen to form an exhibition.

“This is a great day for the ‘bot, for us and for freedom of art!”

—  !Mediengruppe Bitnik, in a blog post

The robot was christened “Random Darknet Shopper” and its purchases included a Hungarian passport, Ecstasy pills, fake Diesel jeans, a Sprite can with a hole cut out in order to stash cash, Nike trainers, a baseball cap with a hidden camera, cigarettes and the “Lord of the Rings” e-book collection.

Robot-smokes

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the robot and his artistic creators had a run in with the law. In January 2015, the Swiss police confiscated the robot and its illegal purchases.

However, three months later, the Random Darknet Shopper was returned to the artists, along with all its purchases except the Ecstasy (also known as MDMA) tablets, which were destroyed by the Swiss authorities.

The artists behind the robot escaped without any charges. Read the rest of this entry »


Chinese Government to Put 3D Printers in All 400,000 Elementary Schools by Next Year

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 reports: Education is probably one of the areas that will benefit the most from 3D printers in the long run. The problem though is getting the machines into the schools in the first place. With prices generally ranging from $400 to $3,000 for typical desktop 3D printers, they are not cheap, and with budgets c3within many school districts running dry, both in the United States and overseas, the unfortunate fact is that many schools simply can’t afford them, not to mention the materials and time it takes to train teachers to use them.

Speaking with former MakerBot CEO, Jenny Lawton, at CES this year, she told me that 3D printing will become mainstream and really begin to explode as far as adoption rates go, when a full cycle of education has been exposed to the technology. Just like many of us who were exposed in school to desktop computing back in the ’80s and ’90s can’t envision not having access to a computers now, the children of today may one day think the same about 3D printers.

The United States clearly understands the importance of this technology, particularly President Obama. In addition to investing heavily to bring manufacturing back to US soil, he has mentioned the importance of 3D c41printing on several occasions, visiting manufacturing facilities that are using 3D printers, and even going as far speaking about the technology in one of his State of the Union Addresses.

With that said, news coming out of Tapei, Taiwan today, from Simon Shen, the CEO of Kinpo Group (parent company of XYZprinting), suggests that China is about to one-up the United States in a big way.

According to Shen, the Chinese government has a new policy to install a 3D printer in each of its approximately 400,000 elementary schools over the next two years. This number caught me totally off guard for two reason. First of all, that’s a lot of elementary schools. For instance, in the United States we have approximately 70,000 elementary schools, and approximately 100,000 total public schools. As a nation we could easily match China’s ambitions. Read the rest of this entry »


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