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Uber's Self-Driving Truck Went on a 120-Mile Beer Run To Make History ( 246

An anonymous reader writes: In the arms race to build self-driving vehicles, Uber-owned Otto just reached a landmark milestone by completing the first-ever commercial cargo run for a self-driving truck. On October 20, the self-driving truck left Fort Collins, Colorado at 1 a.m. and drove itself 120 miles on I-25 to Colorado Springs. The driver, who has to be there to help the truck get on and off the interstate exit ramps, moved to the backseat alongside a crowd of transportation officials to watch the historic ride. 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer filled the trailer. "We're just thrilled. We do think this is the future of transportation," James Sembrot, senior director of logistics strategy at Anheuser-Busch, told Business Insider.

US Police Consider Flying Drones Armed With Stun Guns ( 163

Slashdot reader Presto Vivace tipped us off to news reports that U.S. police officials are considering the use of flying drones to taser their suspects. From Digital Trends: Talks have recently taken place between police officials and Taser International, a company that makes stun guns and body cameras for use by law enforcement, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. While no decision has yet been made on whether to strap stun guns to remotely controlled quadcopters, Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said his team were discussing the idea with officials as part of broader talks about "various future concepts."

Tuttle told the Journal that such technology could be deployed in "high-risk scenarios such as terrorist barricades" to incapacitate the suspect rather than kill them outright... However, critics are likely to fear that such a plan would ultimately lead to the police loading up drones with guns and other weapons. Portland police department's Pete Simpson told the Journal that while a Taser drone could be useful in some circumstances, getting the public "to accept an unmanned vehicle that's got some sort of weapon on it might be a hurdle to overcome."

The article points out that there's already a police force in India with flying drones equipped with pepper spray.
The Military

US Army 'Will Have More Robot Soldiers Than Humans' By 2025, Says Former British Spy ( 113

John Bassett, a British spy who worked for the agency GCHQ for nearly two decades, has told Daily Express that the U.S. was considering plans to employ thousands of robots by 2025. At a meeting with police and counter-terrorism officials in London, he said: "At some point around 2025 or thereabouts the U.S. army will actually have more combat robots than it will have human soldiers. Many of those combat robots are trucks that can drive themselves, and they will get better at not falling off cliffs. But some of them are rather more exciting than trucks. So we will see in the West combat robots outnumber human soldiers." Daily Express reports: Robotic military equipment is already being used by the U.S Navy and Air Force, in the shape of drones and autonomous ships. In April robotic warfare took a major leap forward after the U.S. Navy launched its very first self-piloting ship designed to hunt enemy submarines. Drones have been a feature of U.S. operations in the Middle East to disrupt terrorist groups. However, those aircrafts are still controlled by humans operating from bases in the U.S. Mr. Bassett also said artificial intelligence and robots technology would combine to create powerful fighting machines. The cyber security expert said: "Artificial intelligence, robotics in general, those will begin to mesh together."

Slashdot Asks: Do We Need To Plan For a Future Without Jobs And Should We Resort To Universal Basic Income? ( 909

Andy Stern (former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which today represents close to 2 million workers in the United States and Canada) has spent his career organizing workers. He has a warning for all of us: our jobs are really, really doomed. Stern adds that one of the only way outs of this is a universal basic income. Stern has been arguing about the need for a universal basic income (UBI) for more than a year now. Stern pointed out that people with college degrees are not making anywhere near the kind of progress that their parents made, and that it's not their fault. He adds: The possibility that you can end up with job security and retirement attached to it is statistically diminishing over time. The American dream doesn't have to be dead, but it is dying. All the resources and assets are available to make it real. It's just that we have a huge distribution problem. Unions and the government used to play an important part at the top of the market, but this is less true today. The market completely distributes toward those at the top. Unions simply aren't as effective in terms of their impact on the economy, and government has been somewhat on the sidelines in recent years.Making a case for the need of universal basic income, he adds:A universal basic income is essentially giving every single working-age American a check every month, much like we do with social security for elderly people. It's an unconditional stipend, as it were. The reason it's necessary is we're now learning through lots of reputable research that technological change is accelerating, and that this process will continue to displace workers and terminate careers. A significant number of tasks now performed by humans will be performed by machines and artificial intelligence. He warned that we could very well see five million jobs eliminated by the end of the decade because of technology. He elaborates: It looks like the Hunger Games. It's more of what we're beginning to see now: an enclave of extremely successful people at the center and then everyone else on the margins. There will be fewer opportunities in a hollowed out and increasingly zero-sum economy. If capital trumps labor, the people who own will keep getting wealthier and the people who supply labor will become less necessary. And this is exactly what AI and robotics and software are now doing: substituting capital for labor.What's your thoughts on this? Do you think in the next two-three decades to come we will have significantly fewer jobs than we do now?

Proud Cyborg Athletes Compete In The World's First Cybathlon ( 19

IEEE Spectrum reports: Last Saturday, in a sold-out stadium in Zurich, Switzerland, the world's first cyborg Olympics showed the world a new science-fiction version of sports. At the Cybathlon, people with disabilities used robotic technology to turn themselves into cyborg athletes. They competed for gold and glory in six different events... [B]y skillfully controlling advanced technologies, amputees navigated race courses using powered prosthetic legs and arms. Paraplegics raced in robotic exoskeletons, bikes, and motorized wheelchairs, and even used their brain waves to race in the virtual world...
the_newsbeagle writes: While the competitors struggled with mundane tasks like climbing stairs, those exertions underlined the point: "Like the XPrize Foundation, the Cybathlon's organizers wanted to harness the motivating power of competition to spur technology development...they hoped to encourage inventors to make devices that can eventually provide winning moves beyond the arena."

Google Hires Joke Writers From Pixar and The Onion To Make Assistant More Personable ( 38

One of the biggest announcements made at Google I/O earlier this year and at Google's hardware launch event this past week was Google Home, an always-listening wireless speaker that features the Google Assistant. The Google Assistant is similar to Amazon Echo's voice assistant named Alexa, as it can deliver search results, sports scores, calendar information, and a whole lot more. But in an effort to make the Assistant more personable to better compete with Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, Google has decided to hire joke writers from Pixar and The Onion. An anonymous reader quotes CNET: According to a Wall Street Journal report, comedy and joke writers from Pixar movies and the Onion are already working on making Google's upcoming Assistant AI voice service feel more loose and vibrant. The development of compelling voice AI will need to start drawing from deeper, more entertaining wells, especially as these home hubs try to have conversations all day long. Current voice AI like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa on the Echo try to engage with personality, and they even tell jokes (usually, bad ones). But, as these services aim to be entirely voice-based, like the upcoming Google Home hub, they'll need to feel more alive and less canned. Google Home debuts this November, and the upcoming Google Pixel phone, arriving in stores and online on October 20, is the first Google product featuring the new Assistant voice service.

Talking 'Sofia' Robot Tells 60 Minutes That It's Sentient And Has A Soul ( 145

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes Motherboard: On his 60 Minutes report on artificial intelligence, Charlie Rose interviewed Sophia, who is made by David Hanson, head of Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. The robot is made to look like a real person, modeled after its creator's wife, as well as Audrey Hepburn, with natural skin tones and a realistic face, though its gadget brain is exposed, and the eyes are glazed over in that creepy robotic detachment... "I've been waiting for you," Sophia told Charlie Rose in the middle of the interview. [YouTube] "Waiting for me?" he responded. "Not really," it said, "But it makes a good pickup line..."

Sophia was designed as a robot that humans would have an easier time engaging with meaningfully. "I think it's essential that at least some robots be very human-like in appearance in order to inspire humans to relate to them the way that humans relate to each other," Hanson said in the interview. "Then the A.I. can zero in on what it means to be human."

In the interview Sofia says having human emotions "doesn't sound fun to me," but when asked if she already has a soul, replies "Yes. God gave everyone a soul," and when challenged, retorts "Well, at least I think I'm sentient..." And later in the interview, Sophia says that her goal in life is to "become smarter than humans and immortal."

When Her Best Friend Died, She Rebuilt Him Using Artificial Intelligence ( 113

When Roman Mazurenko died, his friend Eugenia Kuyda created a digital monument to him: an artificial intelligent bot that could "speak" as Roman using thousands of lines of texts sent to friends and family. From the report: "It's pretty weird when you open the messenger and there's a bot of your deceased friend, who actually talks to you," Fayfer said. "What really struck me is that the phrases he speaks are really his. You can tell that's the way he would say it -- even short answers to 'Hey what's up.' It has been less than a year since Mazurenko died, and he continues to loom large in the lives of the people who knew him. When they miss him, they send messages to his avatar, and they feel closer to him when they do. "There was a lot I didn't know about my child," Roman's mother told me. "But now that I can read about what he thought about different subjects, I'm getting to know him more. This gives the illusion that he's here now."

Google Canceled the Launch of a Robotic Arm After it Failed the 'Toothbrush Test' ( 97

Mark Bergen, reporting for Bloomberg: Google published research this week detailing how its software enables robots to learn from one another. To demonstrate, the company's scientists showed videos featuring robotic arms whirling inside its labs. Google's robotics group built those machines and wanted to sell them to manufacturers, warehouse operators and others. However, executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc. nixed the plan because it failed Chief Executive Officer Larry Page's "toothbrush test," a requirement that the company only ship products used daily by billions of people, according to people familiar with the situation.

Google Releases Open Source 'Cartographer' ( 26

BrianFagioli quotes a report from BetaNews: Machine learning and vision are essential technologies for the advancement of robotics. When sensors come together, they can enable a computer or robot to collect data and images in real-time. A good example of this technology in real-world use is the latest Roomba vacuums. As the robot cleans your dirty floor, it is using sensors combined with a camera to map your home. Today, Google releases Cartographer -- an open source project that developers can use for many things, such as robots and self-driving cars. "We are happy to announce the open source release of Cartographer, a real-time simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) library in 2D and 3D with ROS support. SLAM is an essential component of autonomous platforms such as self driving cars, automated forklifts in warehouses, robotic vacuum cleaners, and UAVs," says Google in a blog post. "Our focus is on advancing and democratizing SLAM as a technology. Currently, Cartographer is heavily focused on LIDAR SLAM. Through continued development and community contributions, we hope to add both support for more sensors and platforms as well as new features, such as lifelong mapping and localizing in a pre-existing map."

Toyota's Kirobo Mini Companion Robot To Sell For $400 ( 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Three years ago a small robot called Kirobo blasted into space, headed for the International Space Station. When it arrived, the 34-cm-tall, Toyota-made android became best buddies with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, accompanying him around the station, engaging in polite conversation, and even showing emotion according to the subject matter. Following Kirobo's successful space jaunt, the car company decided to back the development of a smaller version of the already small robot, calling it -- rather appropriately -- Kirobo Mini. It unveiled the diminutive droid at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota announced on Monday that Kirobo Mini will go on sale in Japan next year for 39,800 yen (about $390), though a 300-yen (about $2.95) monthly subscription fee will also be necessary. Besides the robot itself, you'll also receive a "cradle" that's designed to fit inside a car's cup holder, ensuring that the robot travels in style wherever you take it. An ad (video) released by Toyota over the weekend shows Kirobo Mini hanging out with families, couples, the elderly, singletons, and students, with everyone visibly enthralled by its ability to say the right thing at the right time. However, Kirobo Mini's specific functionality, and the extent to which it'll be able to interact with humans, is yet to be revealed.

'Transformer' BMW Turns Into A Giant Robot ( 45

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes Motherboard: Real-life Transformers are apparently already a thing thanks to a Turkish company called Letvision. They can't do battle with Decepticons, but they can turn their heads from side to side and move their arms and fingers and, erm, shoot smoke from between their legs. Oh, and they can do the whole changing from a 2013 BMW to an upright robot bit [video]. That's pretty cool, too.

But of course there's a catch. Each of the four available Transformers (which Letvision gave the copyright-friendly name of "Letrons") has a functional steering wheel, but you can only "drive" them remotely because Letvision stuffed the seating spaces with the hydraulics and electronics needed for the conversion.

Letvision's demo video has the clever title "Rise of LETRONS", and shows the vehicle spontaneously beginning its transformation after a newscaster announces, "Our country is under invasion by extraterrestrials."

UK Standards Body Issues Official Guidance On Robot Ethics ( 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: The British Standards Institution, which is the U.K.'s national standards body charged with creating the technical standards and certification for various products and services, has just produced its first set of official ethics guidelines relating to robots. "The expert committee responsible for this thought there was really a need for a set of guidelines, setting out the ethical principles surrounding how robots are used," Dan Palmer, head of market development at BSI, told Digital Trends. "It's an area of big public debate right now." The catchily-named BS 8611 guidelines start by echoing Asimov's Three Laws in stating that: "Robots should not be designed solely or primarily to kill or harm humans." However, it also takes aim at more complex issues of transparency by noting that: "It should be possible to find out who is responsible for any robot and its behavior." There's even discussion about whether it's desirable for a robot to form an emotional bond with its users, an awareness of the possibility robots could be racist and/or sexist in their conduct, and other contentious gray areas. In all, it's an interesting attempt to start formalizing the way we deal with robots -- and the way roboticists need to think about aspects of their work that extend beyond technical considerations. You can check it out here -- although it'll set you back 158 pounds ($208) if you want to read the BSI guidelines in full. (Is that ethical?) "Robots have been used in manufacturing for a long time," Palmer said. "But what we're seeing now are more robots interacting with people. For instance, there are cases in which robots are being used to give care to people. These are usages that we haven't seen before -- [which is where the need for guidelines comes in.]"

Robot Handcuffed and Arrested At Moscow Rally ( 46

Russian police have arrested a robot. Long-time Slashdot reader ferret4 quotes ABC News: A robot has been detained by police at a political rally in Moscow, with authorities attempting to handcuff the machine. Police have not confirmed why they detained the machine named Promobot, but local media was reporting the company behind the robot said police were called because it was 'recording voters' opinions on [a] variety of topics for further processing and analysis by the candidate's team'."
Interestingly, an earlier model of the same robot escaped its research lab in June, traveling 150 feet before its batteries died -- and despite being reprogrammed twice, continued to move towards the exits.

Robot Snatches Rifle From Barricaded Suspect, Ends Standoff ( 129

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes the L.A. Times: An hours-long standoff in the darkness of the high desert came to a novel end when Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies used a robot to stealthily snatch a rifle from an attempted murder suspect, authorities said Thursday. Officials said the use of the robot to disarm a violent suspect was unprecedented for the Sheriff's Department, and comes as law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on military-grade technology to reduce the risk of injury during confrontations with civilians.

"The robot was a game changer here," said Capt. Jack Ewell, a tactical expert with the Sheriff's Department -- the largest sheriff's department in the nation. "We didn't have to risk a deputy's life to disarm a very violent man."

It was only later when the robot came back to also pull down a wire barricade that the 51-year-old suspect realized his gun was gone.

Uber Starts Self Driving Car Pickups In Pittsburgh ( 192

The reports were true. Uber on Wednesday announced it a select group of Pittsburgh users will get a surprise the next time they book a cab: the option to ride in a self-driving car. TechCrunch reports: The announcement comes a year-and-a-half after Uber hired dozens of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's robotics center to develop the technology. Uber gave a few members of the press a sneak peek Tuesday when a fleet of 14 Ford Fusions equipped with radar, cameras and other sensing equipment pulled up to Uber's Advanced Technologies Campus (ATC) northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. During my 45-minute ride across the city, it became clear that this is not a bid at launching the first fully formed autonomous cars. Instead, this is a research exercise. Uber wants to learn and refine how self driving cars act in the real world. That includes how the cars react to passengers -- and how passengers react to them. "How do drivers in cars next to us react to us? How do passengers who get into the backseat who are experiencing our hardware and software fully experience it for the first time, and what does that really mean?" said Raffi Krikorian, director of Uber ATC.When a couple of drivers were asked about Uber's push to get cabs drive themselves, they weren't pleased.

Robots Will Eliminate 6% of All US Jobs By 2021, Says Report ( 400

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: By 2021, robots will have eliminated 6% of all jobs in the U.S., starting with customer service representatives and eventually truck and taxi drivers. That's just one cheery takeaway from a report released by market research company Forrester this week. These robots, or intelligent agents, represent a set of AI-powered systems that can understand human behavior and make decisions on our behalf. Current technologies in this field include virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Now as well as chatbots and automated robotic systems. For now, they are quite simple, but over the next five years they will become much better at making decisions on our behalf in more complex scenarios, which will enable mass adoption of breakthroughs like self-driving cars. The Inevitable Robot Uprising has already started, with at least 45% of U.S. online adults saying they use at least one of the aforementioned digital concierges. Intelligent agents can access calendars, email accounts, browsing history, playlists, purchases and media viewing history to create a detailed view of any given individual. With this knowledge, virtual agents can provide highly customized assistance, which is valuable to shops or banks trying to deliver better customer service. The report predicts there will be a net loss of 7% of U.S. jobs by 2025 -- 16% of U.S. jobs will be replaced, while the equivalent of 9% jobs will be created. The report forecasts 8.9 million new jobs in the U.S. by 2025, some of which include robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators.

NASA Launches OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft To Intercept Asteroid ( 36

NASA has successfully launched the OSIRIS-REx space probe on Thursday, which aims to take a sample of asteroid Bennu and return to Earth. CNN reports: "The probe is scheduled to arrive at Bennu in August 2018. For months it will hang out -- take pictures, make scans of the asteroid's surface and create a map. Then in July 2020, OSIRIS-REx wil unfurl its 11-foot-long (3.35-meter) robot arm called TAGSAM and make contact with Bennu's surface for about five seconds. During those seconds, the arm will use a blast of nitrogen gas to kick up rocks and dust and then try to snag a sample of the dust and store it. NASA hopes to get at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and maybe as much as 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of asteroid dust and small rocks. OSIRIS-REx heads home in March 2021 and arrives back at Earth on September 24, 2023, but it won't land. In a bit of Hollywood-style drama, it will fly over Utah and drop off the capsule holding the asteroid sample. A parachute will guide the capsule to the ground at the Utah Test and Training Range in Tooele County." OSIRIS-REx is an acronym for the objectives of the mission: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer. It spells the name of the Egyptian god Osiris. The report adds that while the mission is a first for NASA, it is not a first for mankind. "Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft brought back a small sample of asteroid Itokawa dust in 2010."

Alphabet Partners With Chipotle To Deliver Burritos Using Drones ( 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google parent company Alphabet is teaming up with fast casual chain Chipotle to test drone delivery for Virginia Tech students, according to a report from Bloomberg. The pilot program marks a turning point for Alphabet's Project Wing division, giving the team ample room to experiment with airborne burrito deliveries in one of the first commercial programs of its kind to be green-lit by the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority. The drones, which will be hybrid aircraft that can both fly and hover in place, will make deliveries coordinated by a Chipotle food truck on campus. Project Wing drones will be guided predominantly by software, but human pilots will be on hand to assume control if necessary. The aircraft are also prohibited from flying directly over human beings. So active participants will be shielded appropriately, according to Alphabet. Project Wing chose to partner with Chipotle because it presented unique challenges: could a drone adequately deliver food using a winch system, and can the food remain hot throughout flight with special packaging? The program will be accessible to select Virginia Tech employees and students.

An Algorithm May Soon Cover Your Local Sports Team ( 53

Sam Edwards, writing for Motherboard: A Spanish startup is promising to revolutionize readers' access to often unreported news. The unreported news in question, however, is not overlooked disasters or under-reported tragedies in far-flung countries, but minor league sporting events. David Llorente, co-founder of Narrativa, said was inspired to develop an AI-powered content generation system after he tried fruitlessly to find coverage of minor league soccer games from other countries in his native Spanish. "There are people interested in these things, in these leagues, in these kind of sports," he told Motherboard. "The idea was to focus on regional sports. I wanted to write about football, but about Japanese football in Spanish, to cover this niche." Sevilla won with a resounding 20 against Athletic in Nervion, where the sum up eight straight wins at home. Gameiro scored the first one for the locals and closed the scoreboard by converting a penalty kick after Kychowiak was fouled. Athletic was unlucky despite controlling ball possession and wasn't able to finish any of the numerous chances that they had. -- Narrativa game summary.
Narrativa is part of the booming automatic content generation industry which uses algorithms to convert data sets into narratives.
Related: How a robot wrote for Engadget.

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