FedEx Embraces More Robots Without Firing Humans ( 89

An anonymous reader shares a report: As soon as the first robot arrived at a FedEx shipping hub in the heart of North Carolina tobacco country early last year, talk of pink slips was in the air. Workers had been driving the "tuggers" that navigated large and irregular items across the vast concrete floor of the 630,000-square-foot freight depot since it opened in 2011. Their initial robotic colleague drew a three-dimensional digital map of the place as it tugged freight around. A few months later, three other robots -- nicknamed Lucky, Dusty and Ned in a nod to the movie "iThree Amigos!" -- arrived, using the digital map to get around on their own. By March, they were joined by two others, Jefe and El Guapo. Horns honking and warning lights flashing, the autonomous vehicles snaked through the hub, next to about 20 tuggers that still needed humans behind the wheel. [...] But what has happened at the FedEx hub may be a surprise to people who fear that they are about to be replaced by a smart machine: a robot might take your role, but not necessarily your job. Yes, the robots replaced a few jobs right away. And in time, they will replace about 25 jobs in a facility that employs about 1,300 people. But the hub creates about 100 new jobs every year -- and a robot work force still seems like the distant future.

A Chatbot Can Now Offer You Protection Against Volatile Airline Prices ( 24

The same bot, DoNotPay, that helped users overturn parking tickets and sue Equifax for small sums of money is now offering you protection against volatile airline prices. The Verge reports: Joshua Browder, a junior at Stanford University, designed the new service on the bot in a few months, after experiencing rapidly fluctuating airline prices when flying to California during the wildfires last year. "It annoyed me that every single flight, I could be paying sometimes double or even triple the person next to me in the same type of seat," he told The Verge. Browder first used the service himself and then tested it among his friends in a closed beta. He claims that the average amount saved among the beta testers is $450 a year, though it's not clear how many flights were booked and how much they cost. The service is available to the public starting today. To use it, log in with a Google account, input your phone number, birthday, and credit card information through Stripe. (Browder swears the credit card information won't be stored.) Then the chatbot tells you you're all set. Now, every time you buy airline tickets, whether from an airline's site or a third party, the chatbot will help make sure you pay the lowest price for your class and seat.

'Flippy,' the Fast Food Robot, Turned Off For Being Too Slow ( 126

He was supposed to revolutionize a California fast food kitchen, churning out 150 burgers per hour without requiring a paycheck or benefits. But after a single day of working as a cook at a Caliburger location in Pasadena this week, Flippy the burger-flipping robot has stopped flipping. From a report: In some ways, Flippy was a victim of his own success. Inundated with customers eager to see the machine in action this week, Cali Group, which runs the fast food chain, quickly realized the robot couldn't keep up with the demand. They decided instead to retrain the restaurant staff to work more efficiently alongside Flippy, according to USA Today. Temporarily decommissioned, patrons encountered a sign Thursday noting that Flippy would be "cooking soon," the paper reported. "Mostly it's the timing," Anthony Lomelino, the Chief Technology Officer for Cali Group told the paper. "When you're in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it."

Why Humans Learn Faster Than AI ( 98

What is it about human learning that allows us to perform so well with relatively little experience? MIT Technology Review: Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Rachit Dubey and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. They have studied the way humans interact with video games to find out what kind of prior knowledge we rely on to make sense of them. It turns out that humans use a wealth of background knowledge whenever we take on a new game. And this makes the games significantly easier to play. But faced with games that make no use of this knowledge, humans flounder, whereas machines plod along in exactly the same way. Take a look at the computer game shown here. This game is based on a classic called Montezuma's Revenge, originally released for the Atari 8-bit computer in 1984. There is no manual and no instructions; you aren't even told which "sprite" you control. And you get feedback only if you successfully finish the game.

Would you be able to do so? How long would it take? You can try it at this website. In all likelihood, the game will take you about a minute, and in the process you'll probably make about 3,000 keyboard actions. That's what Dubey and co found when they gave the game to 40 workers from Amazon's crowdsourcing site Mechanical Turk, who were offered $1 to finish it. "This is not overly surprising as one could easily guess that the game's goal is to move the robot sprite towards the princess by stepping on the brick-like objects and using ladders to reach the higher platforms while avoiding the angry pink and the fire objects," the researchers say. By contrast, the game is hard for machines: many standard deep-learning algorithms couldn't solve it at all, because there is no way for an algorithm to evaluate progress inside the game when feedback comes only from finishing.


Self-Driving Cars Are Being Attacked By Angry Californians ( 351

According to incident reports collected by the California department of motor vehicles, some Californians are purposely colliding with self-driving cars. The Guardian reports: On January 10, a pedestrian in San Francisco's Mission District ran across the street to confront a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle that was waiting for people to cross the road, according to an incident report filed by the car company. The pedestrian was "shouting," the report states, and "struck the left side of the Cruise AV's rear bumper and hatch with his entire body." No injuries occurred, but the car's left tail light was damaged. In a separate incident just a few blocks away on January 28, a taxi driver in San Francisco got out of his car, approached a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle and "slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch." The police were not called in either case.

Flippy the Robot Takes Over Burger Duties At California Restaurant ( 226

Chain eatery CaliBurger announced today that its location in Pasadena is the first to employ Flippy, a burger-flipping robot developed by Miso Robotics. The robot is able to take over the cooking duties after a human puts the patties on the grill. KTLA reports: "The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miso Robotics. Flippy uses thermal imaging, 3D and camera vision to sense when to flip -- and when to remove. "It detects the temperature of the patty, the size of the patty and the temperature of the grill surface," explained Zito. The device also learns through artificial intelligence -- basically, the more burgers that Flippy flips, the smarter it gets. Right now, cheese and toppings are added by a co-worker. CaliBurger CEO John Miller says the robot can cut down on costs as it will work a position that has a high turnover rate. "It's not a fun job -- it's hot, it's greasy, it's dirty," said Miller about the grill cook position. Less turnover means less time training new grill cooks. Flippy costs about $60,000 minimum and is expected to be used at other CaliBurger locations soon.

Levi Strauss Replaces Human Sanding With Automated Lasers ( 237

_Sharp'r_ writes: Stressing jeans used to require 300 to 400 workers with sandpaper all day. Now Levi Strauss does a better job by shooting their new jeans with computer-guided lasers in intricate patterns generated in CAD systems. Along the way, they save water and "will cut the number of chemicals it uses to produce jeans from 1,000 to a few dozen," reports Bloomberg.

IBM's Watson Is Going To Space ( 59

Yesterday, IBM announced it would be providing the AI brain for a robot being built by Airbus to accompany astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). "The robot, which looks like a flying volleyball with a low-resolution face, is being deployed with Germany astronaut Alexander Gerst in June for a six month mission," reports The Next Web. "It's called CIMON, an acronym for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and it's headed to space to do science stuff." From the report: It'll help crew members conduct medical experiments, study crystals, and play with a Rubix cube. Best of all, just like "Wilson," the other volleyball with a face and Tom Hanks' costar in the movie Castaway, CIMON can be the astronauts' friend. According to an IBM blog post: "CIMON's digital face, voice and use of artificial intelligence make it a 'colleague' to the crew members. This collegial 'working relationship' facilitates how astronauts work through their prescribed checklists of experiments, now entering into a genuine dialogue with their interactive assistant."

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' ( 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.


Boston Dynamics Is Teaching Its Robot Dog To Fight Back Against Humans ( 146

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: Boston Dynamics' well-mannered four-legged machine SpotMini has already proved that it can easily open a door and walk through unchallenged, but now the former Google turned SoftBank robotics firm is teaching its robo-canines to fight back. A newly released video shows SpotMini approaching the door as before, but this time it's joined by a pesky human with an ice hockey stick. Unperturbed by his distractions, SpotMini continues to grab the handle and turn it even after its creepy fifth arm with a claw on the front is pushed away. If that assault wasn't enough, the human's robot bullying continues, shutting the door on Spot, which counterbalances and fights back against the pressure. In a last-ditch effort to stop the robot dog breaching the threshold, the human grabs at a leash attached to the back of the SpotMini and yanks. Boston Dynamics describes the video as "a test of SpotMini's ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door" because "the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot." The firm helpfully notes that, despite a back piece flying off, "this testing does not irritate or harm the robot." But teaching robots to fight back against humans may might end up harming us.

Countries that Are Most Highly Invested in Automation ( 57

A report by the International Federation of Robotics looks at the countries that are most highly invested in manufacturing automation. The countries with the ten highest densities of robots are, in order: South Korea (631 per 10,000 workers), Singapore (488), Germany (309), Japan (303), Sweden (223), Denmark (211), United States (189), Italy (185), Belgium (184), and Taiwan (177). Overall, the automation of production is accelerating around the world: 74 robot units per 10,000 employees (up from 66 in 2015) is the new average of global robot density in the manufacturing industries.

AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear ( 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.


Japan Wants To Increase Acceptance of Technology That Could Help Fill the Gap in the Nursing Workforce ( 57

With Japan's ageing society facing a predicted shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025, the government wants to increase community acceptance of technology that could help fill the gap in the nursing workforce. From a report: Developers have focused their efforts on producing simple robotic devices that help frail residents get out of their bed and into a wheelchair, or that can ease senior citizens into bathtubs. But the government sees a wider range of potential applications and recently revised its list of priorities to include robots that can predict when patients might need to use the toilet. Dr Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of robot innovation research at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said the aims included easing the burden on nursing staff and boosting the autonomy of people still living at home. "Robotics cannot solve all of these issues; however, robotics will be able to make a contribution to some of these difficulties," he said. Hirukawa said lifting robotics had so far been deployed in only about 8% of nursing homes in Japan, partly because of the cost and partly because of the "the mindset by the people on the frontline of caregiving that after all it must be human beings who provide this kind of care."

Robot Delivery Vans Are Arriving Before Self-Driving Cars ( 116

The future of driverless driving looks like a giant toaster with a funny hat. From a report: That's an approximation of a new autonomous vehicle unveiled Tuesday by Nuro, a Silicon Valley startup that's been cryptic about its business plan since it launched about 18 months ago. Nuro's shiny, minimalist appliance on wheels doesn't have doors or windows to speak of, because it will be carrying packages -- not people. As every major automaker and dozens of tech companies race to replace drivers in Uber cars and taxi fleets, Nuro is ignoring humans altogether and steering for, United Parcel Service and any retailer looking to build its e-commerce business.

The Next Time You Order Room Service, It May Come by Robot ( 93

Hotels across the country are rushing to introduce robots with the promise of enhancing the guest experience and increasing efficiency. From a report: The automated companions can do everything from make and pick up deliveries to help guests find their way around. Aloft Cupertino in the Silicon Valley (rates from $150) was the first hotel in the United States to debut Savioke's Relay robot in 2014. The three foot tall autonomous robot, nicknamed Botlr, weighs 90 pounds and makes deliveries throughout the hotel using multiple sensors, 3D cameras and Wi-Fi to operate the elevators. Marriott has since begun mobile robot service at four other Aloft properties. Other hotels are following suit. H Hotel Los Angeles's Relay robot, named Hannah, made 610 front desk deliveries and 42 room service deliveries, traveling a total of 50 miles, in the first three months since the hotel opened last October (rates from $249).

Bill Gates Thinks AI Taking Everyone's Jobs Could be a Good Thing ( 314

Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, thinks that artificial intelligence will take over a lot of jobs and ultimately will be a good thing. From a report: In an interview, Gates said that robots taking over our jobs will make us more efficient, and lead to more free time. "Well, certainly we can look forward to the idea that vacations will be longer at some point," Gates told Fox Business. "If we can actually produce twice as much as we make today with less labor, the purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things, you know?"

Ford Has An Idea For An Autonomous Police Car That Could Find A Hiding Spot ( 115

Ford has submitted a patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for an autonomous police car that could function "in lieu of or in addition to human police officers." From a report: Now, companies always file patents for technology that may never get made, but an autonomous police cruiser seems like the logical conclusion to the development self-driving cars. But damn is it weird to read about. The patent, describes how the hypothetical car would rely on artificial intelligence and use "on-board speed detection equipment, cameras, and [it would] communicate with other devices in the area such as stationary speed cameras."

French Train Engineering Giant Alstom Testing Automated Freight Train ( 65

French train engineering giant Alstom is to test automated freight trains in the Netherlands this year. From a report: The automated train prototype can travel for about 100km (60 miles) without driver intervention. Automation will free the train driver to focus on supervising the train's progress. The test's purpose is to provide a live demonstration that the train and the signal system can communicate effectively to drive the train. Alstom signed an agreement with the the Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail and Rotterdam Rail Feeding (RRF) to carry out the tests along the Betuweroute -- a 150km double track freight railway line connecting Rotterdam to Germany.

The Mystery of the Cars Abandoned in a Robot Car Park ( 147

The mystery of why a handful of cars were abandoned in a derelict car park in Edinburgh, Capital of Scotland, may have been solved. From a report on BBC: The $7m Autosafe SkyPark used robots to stack cars and was dubbed the "car park of the future" -- but went into receivership in 2003. After lying empty for more than a decade, the building in Morrison Street is now being demolished. And the work has uncovered eight cars which were left behind when the doors were closed. Images of the abandoned vehicles has sparked a number of theories about why they were never removed. But a former employee has said they could be old vehicles which were bought by the car park's former operators to test out the robot equipment. A spokesperson said: "We can confirm that there are eight cars present at the car park on the Capital Square site, which have been there since the car park closed in 2003. The owners of the cars are unknown and they are now the property of the demolition company who will remove the cars once work begins on the levels on which they are located."

We All Nearly Missed the Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Recorded ( 41

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: She was flying home from a holiday in Samoa when she saw it through the airplane window: a "peculiar large mass" floating on the ocean, hundreds of kilometres off the north coast of New Zealand. The Kiwi passenger emailed photos of the strange ocean slick to scientists, who realised what it was -- a raft of floating rock spewed from an underwater volcano, produced in the largest eruption of its kind ever recorded.

"We knew it was a large-scale eruption, approximately equivalent to the biggest eruption we've seen on land in the 20th Century," says volcanologist Rebecca Carey from the University of Tasmania, who's co-led the first close-up investigation of the historic 2012 eruption. The incident, produced by a submarine volcano called the Havre Seamount, initially went unnoticed by scientists, but the floating rock platform it generated was harder to miss. Back in 2012, the raft -- composed of pumice rock -- covered some 400 square kilometres (154 square miles) of the south-west Pacific Ocean, but months later satellites recorded it dispersing over an area twice the size of New Zealand itself... for a sense of scale, think roughly 1.5 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens -- or 10 times the size of the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland.

When an underwater robot first sent back detailed maps, one volcanologist remembers that "I thought the vehicle's sonar was acting up... We saw all these bumps on the seafloor... It turned out that each bump was a giant block of pumice, some of them the size of a van."

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