Robotics

Robots Are Being Used To Shoo Away Homeless People In San Francisco (qz.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: San Francisco's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8. The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn't set up camps outside of the nonprofit's office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office. San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

Security

Old Crypto Vulnerability Hits Major Tech Firms (securityweek.com) 30

wiredmikey writes: A team of researchers has revived an old crypto vulnerability and determined that it affects the products of several major vendors and a significant number of the world's top websites. The attack/exploit method against a Transport Layer Security (TLS) vulnerability now has a name, a logo and a website. It has been dubbed ROBOT (Return Of Bleichenbacher's Oracle Threat) and, as the name suggests, it's related to an attack method discovered by Daniel Bleichenbacher back in 1998. ROBOT allows an attacker to obtain the RSA key necessary to decrypt TLS traffic under certain conditions. While proof-of-concept (PoC) code will only be made available after affected organizations have had a chance to patch their systems, the researchers have published some additional details. Researchers have made available an online tool that can be used to test public HTTPS servers. An analysis showed that at least 27 of the top 100 Alexa websites, including Facebook and PayPal, were affected.
Robotics

After Automating Order-Taking, Fast Food Chains Had to Hire More Workers (theatlantic.com) 234

An anonymous reader quotes the Atlantic: Blaine Hurst, the CEO and president of Panera, told me that because of its new [self-service] kiosks, and an app that allows online ordering, the chain is now processing more orders overall, which means it needs more total workers to fulfill customer demand. Starbucks patrons who use the chain's app return more frequently than those who don't, the company has said, and the greater efficiency that online ordering allows has boosted sales at busy stores during peak hours. Starbucks employed 8 percent more people in the U.S. in 2016 than it did in 2015, the year it launched the app...

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University School of Law, found that as the number of ATMs in America increased fivefold from 1990 to 2010, the number of bank tellers also grew. Bessen believes that ATMs drove demand for consumer banking: No longer constrained by a branch's limited hours, consumers used banking services more frequently, and people who were unbanked opened accounts to take advantage of the new technology. Although each branch employed fewer tellers, banks added more branches, so the number of tellers grew overall. And as machines took over many basic cash-handling tasks, the nature of the tellers' job changed. They were now tasked with talking to customers about products -- a certificate of deposit, an auto loan -- which in turn made them more valuable to their employers. "It's not clear that automation in the restaurant industry will lead to job losses," Bessen told me.

United States

San Francisco To Restrict Goods Delivery Robots (bbc.com) 114

San Francisco officials have voted to restrict where delivery robots can go in the city, in a blow for the burgeoning industry. From a report: Start-ups will have to get permits to use such bots, which will be restricted to less crowded urban areas. Opponents are concerned about the safety of pedestrians, particularly elderly people and children. Walk San Francisco, a group that campaigns for pedestrian safety, wanted a complete ban. A range of companies have begun trialling small robots that can deliver food and other goods. They use sensors and lasers in a similar way to self-driving cars in order to navigate their routes. Robotics company Marble - which describes its machines as "friendly, neighbourhood robots" - began testing in San Francisco earlier this year.
The Almighty Buck

'We Could Fund a Universal Basic Income With the Data We Give Away To Facebook and Google' (thenextweb.com) 583

Tristan Greene reports via The Next Web: A universal basic income (UBI), wherein government provides a monthly stipend so citizens can afford a home and basic necessities, is something experts believe would directly address the issue of unemployment and poverty, and possibly even eliminate hundreds of other welfare programs. It may also be the only real solution to the impending automation bonanza. According to AI expert Steve Fuller, the problem is, giving people money when they lose jobs won't fix the issue, it's a temporary solution and we need permanent ones. Sounds fair, and he even has some ideas on how to accomplish this end: "We could hold Google and Facebook and all those big multinationals accountable; we could make sure that people, like those who are currently 'voluntarily' contributing their data to pump up companies' profits, are given something that is adequate to support their livelihoods in exchange."

It's an interesting idea, but difficult to imagine it's implementation. If the government isn't assigning a specific stipend value, we'll have to be compensated individually by companies. One way to do this, is by emulating the old coal mining company scrip scams of early last century. Employees working for companies would be paid in currency only redeemable at the company store. This basically created a system where a company could tax its own workers for profit. Google, for example, could use a system like that and say "opt-in for $10 worth of Google Play music for free," if they wanted to. Which doesn't help pay the bills when machines replace you at work, but at least you'll be able to voice search for your favorite songs. Another idea is to charge companies an automation tax, but again there's concerns as to how this would be implemented. A solution that combines government oversight with a tax on AI companies -- a UBI funded by the dividends of our data -- may be the best option. To be blunt: we should make Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other such AI companies pay for it with a simple data tax.

Robotics

Russia Says It Will Ignore Any UN Ban of Killer Robots (ibtimes.com) 132

According a report from Defense One, a United Nations meeting in Geneva earlier this month on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was derailed when Russia said they would not adhere to any prohibitions on killer robots. "The U.N. meeting appeared to be undermined both by Russia's disinterest in it and the framework of the meeting itself," reports International Business Times. "Member nations attempted to come in and define what LAWS' systems would be, and what restrictions could be developed around autonomous war machines, but no progress was made." From the report: In a statement, Russia said that the lack of already developed war machines makes coming up with prohibitions on such machines difficult. "According to the Russian Federation, the lack of working samples of such weapons systems remains the main problem in the discussion on LAWS... this can hardly be considered as an argument for taking preventive prohibitive or restrictive measures against LAWS being a by far more complex and wide class of weapons of which the current understanding of humankind is rather approximate," read the statement.
Robotics

375 Million Jobs May Be Automated By 2030, Study Suggests (cnn.com) 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: The McKinsey Global Institute cautions that as many as 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories by 2030 due to automation. The work most at risk of automation includes physical jobs in predictable environments, such as operating machinery or preparing fast food. Data collection and processing is also in the crosshairs, with implications for mortgage origination, paralegals, accounts and back-office processing. To remain viable, workers must embrace retraining in different fields. But governments and companies will need to help smooth what could be a rocky transition.

Despite the looming challenges, the report revealed how workers can move forward. While the introduction of the personal computer in the 1980s eliminated some jobs, it created many more roles. Workers who are willing to develop new skills should be able to find new jobs. The authors don't expect automation will displace jobs involving managing people, social interactions or applying expertise. Gardeners, plumbers, child and elder-care workers are among those facing less risk from automation.
The report says that 39 million to 73 million jobs in the U.S. could be destroyed, but about 20 million of those displaced workers can be shifted fairly easily into similar occupations. Globally, up to 800 million workers could be displaced.
Robotics

Scientists Have Built Robot Muscles That Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Own Weight (qz.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) announced today (Nov. 27) that they've created robotic "muscles" that can lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. The simple objects are constructed out of metal or plastic "skeletons" that are covered in either a liquid or air, and then sealed in plastic or fabric "skins." The muscle pulls taught when a vacuum is created inside the skin, and goes slack when the vacuum is released. By folding the skeletons in different ways, the vacuum can pull the muscle in different directions. "Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body," Daniel Vogt, a research engineer at the Wyss Institute, said in a release.

These new structures are also surprisingly cheap. As they don't require anything other than water or air to move them, the researchers told Harvard that a single muscle can be built in about 10 minutes, for less than $1. (Obviously, there'd still be a cost for the vacuum or whatever is being used to change the pressure of the muscles.)

Robotics

Famous Robot from 1956 Movie Auctioned For $5.3 Million (newatlas.com) 64

schwit1 tells us that "Robby the Robot" -- a prop from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet -- has just been auctioned for $5.3 million, making it the second most-expensive movie prop in history. New Atlas reports: The complete Robby suit, control panel, his jeep, numerous spares, alternate original "claw" hands, and the original wooden stage shipping crates, were sold Tuesday by Bonhams in New York for US $5,375,000 including buyers premium. The only purpose-built movie prop to have ever sold for more is Marilyn Monroe's "subway dress" from The Seven Year Itch (1955) which was sold by Profiles in History for $5,520,000 (including buyers premium) in 2011.
After Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot reappeared in a movie called The Invisible Boy, and later had a climactic showdown with the robot from Lost in Space. He also made appearances on other TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, Mork & Mindy, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. And he even appeared in commercials, including one warning about the dangers of depleting the ozone layer -- plus a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue.
Robotics

Is Sharp's Robot Vacuum Cleaner Vulnerable To Remote Take-over? (jvn.jp) 42

Slashdot reader AmiMoJo reports: Sharp's COCOROBO (heart-bot) vacuum cleaners can not just clean your house. They have cameras that can be viewed from a smart phone, and automatically take pictures of things they find under your sofa. They have microphones and voice recognition, and are able to ask how your day was when you get home from work. You can even activate their speakers and talk to your pets from the office. Unfortunately, so can anyone else if you don't install critical firmware updates.
JPCERT's warning says that the attacker must be on the same LAN to impersonate you, though "as a result, there is a possibility that an arbitrary operation may be conducted."
Google

Google's Eric Schmidt Says People Want Dish-Washing Robots To Clean Up the Kitchen More Than Any Other Kind (cnbc.com) 277

There is nothing that people want robots to be able to do more than to wash the dishes, according to Alphabet Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. From a report: "When you ask a person what they would like a robot to do, the thing that they would like more than anyone else, is clean up the dishes in the kitchen," the billionaire Google executive says speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum. "That is literally the number one request. And I say this having done this exhaustively," he says. Though you may dream of a robot dishwasher, don't hold your breath for it to happen in the immediate future. "That turns out to be an extraordinarily difficult problem," says Schmidt.
Japan

Six Years After Fukushima, Robots Finally Find Its Reactors' Melted Uranium Fuel (gizmodo.com) 220

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: Earlier this year, remotely piloted robots transmitted what officials believe was a direct view of melted radioactive fuel inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's destroyed reactors [YouTube] -- a major discovery, but one that took a long and painful six years to achieve... Japanese officials are now hoping that they can convince a skeptical public that the worst of the disaster is over, the New York Times reported, but it's not clear whether it's too late despite the deployment of 7,000 workers and massive resources to return the region to something approaching normal.

Per the Times, officials admit the recovery plan -- involving the complete destruction of the plant, rather than simply building a concrete sarcophagus around it as the Russians did in Chernobyl -- will take decades and tens of billions of dollars. Currently, Tepco plans to begin removing waste from one of the three contaminated reactors at the plant by 2021, "though they have yet to choose which one"... Currently, radiation levels are so high in the ruined facility that it fries robots sent in within a matter of hours, which will necessitate developing a new generation of droids with even higher radiation tolerances.

Friday a group of Japanese businesses and doctors sued General Electric of behalf of 150,000 Japanese citizens, saying their designs for the Fukushima reactors were reckless and negligent.
AI

Musk-Backed 'Slaughterbots' Video Will Warn the UN About Killer Microdrones (space.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: A graphic new video posits a very scary future in which swarms of killer microdrones are dispatched to kill political activists and U.S. lawmakers. Armed with explosive charges, the palm-sized quadcopters use real-time data mining and artificial intelligence to find and kill their targets. The makers of the seven-minute film titled Slaughterbots are hoping the startling dramatization will draw attention to what they view as a looming crisis -- the development of lethal, autonomous weapons, that select and fire on human targets without human guidance.

The Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mitigating existential risks posed by advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, commissioned the film. Founded by a group of scientists and business leaders, the institute is backed by AI-skeptics Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, among others. The institute is also behind the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of non-governmental organizations which have banded together to call for a preemptive ban on lethal autonomous weapons... The film will be screened this week at the United Nations in Geneva during a meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons... The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is hosting a series of meetings at this year's event to propose a worldwide ban on lethal autonomous weapons, which could potentially be developed as flying drones, self-driving tanks, or automated sentry guns.

"This short film is more than just speculation," says Stuart Russell, a U.C. Berkeley considered an expert in artificial intelligence.

"It shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies we already have."
Robotics

'Robots Are Not Taking Over,' Says Head of UN Body of Autonomous Weapons (theguardian.com) 77

An anonymous reader writes: Robots are not taking over the world," the diplomat leading the first official talks on autonomous weapons assured on Friday, seeking to head off criticism over slow progress towards restricting the use of so-called "killer robots." The United Nations was wrapping up an initial five days of discussions on weapons systems that can identify and destroy targets without human control, which experts say will soon be battle ready. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: the robots are not taking over the world. Humans are still in charge," said India's disarmament ambassador, Amandeep Gill, who chaired the CCW meeting. "I think we have to be careful in not emotionalizing or dramatizing this issue," he told reporters in response to criticism about the speed of the conference's work. Twenty-two countries, mostly those with smaller military budgets and lesser technical knowhow, have called for an outright ban, arguing that automated weapons are by definition illegal as every individual decision to launch a strike must be made by a human. Gill underscored that banning killer robots, or even agreement on rules, remained a distant prospect.
Communications

Investigation Finds Security Flaws In 'Connected' Toys (theguardian.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A consumer group is urging major retailers to withdraw a number of "connected" or "intelligent" toys likely to be popular at Christmas, after finding security failures that it warns could put children's safety at risk. Tests carried out by Which? with the German consumer group Stiftung Warentest, and other security research experts, found flaws in Bluetooth and wifi-enabled toys that could enable a stranger to talk to a child. The investigation found that four out of seven of the tested toys could be used to communicate with the children playing with them. Security failures were discovered in the Furby Connect, i-Que Intelligent Robot, Toy-Fi Teddy and CloudPets. With each of these toys, the Bluetooth connection had not been secured, meaning the researcher did not need a password, pin or any other authentication to gain access. Little technical knowhow was needed to hack into the toys to start sharing messages with a child.
Android

OnePlus Phones Come Preinstalled With a Factory App That Can Root Devices (bleepingcomputer.com) 73

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Some OnePlus devices, if not all, come preinstalled with an application named EngineerMode that can be used to root the device and may be converted into a fully-fledged backdoor by clever attackers. The app was discovered by a mobile security researcher who goes online by the pseudonym of Elliot Alderson -- the name of the main character in the Mr. Robot TV series. Speaking to Bleeping Computer, the researcher said he started investigating OnePlus devices after a story he saw online last month detailing a hidden stream of telemetry data sent by OnePlus devices to the company's servers.
AI

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive (theregister.co.uk) 44

"Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations," reports the Register, in an article shared by schwit1: In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the U.S. from 2003 to 2015. Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined... But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics... The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But instead the paper's author suggest that fully realizing the benefits of AI "will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."
Robotics

Ford Pilots a New Exoskeleton To Lessen Worker Fatigue (futurism.com) 48

Ford is partnering with California-based exoskeleton maker Ekso Bionics to trial a non-powered upper body exoskeletal tool called EksoVest in two of the carmaker's U.S. plants. The goal is to lessen the fatigue factory workers experience in Ford's car manufacturing plants. Futurism reports: Designed to fit workers from five feet to six feet four inches tall, the EksoVest adds some 3 to 6 kilograms (5 to 15 pounds) of adjustable lift assistance to each arm. This exoskeleton is also comfortable enough to wear while providing free arm movement thanks to its lightweight construction. "Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers," Ekso Bionics co-founder and CTO Russ Angold said in a Ford press release. "The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker's body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day -- increasing both productivity and morale." The U.S. trial, made possible with the help of the United Automobile Workers, has already demonstrated the wonders that the exoskeleton can offer in reducing fatigue from high-frequency tasks. As such, Ford plans to expand their EksoVest pilot program to other regions, which include Europe and South America.
AI

Andrew Ng Wants a New 'New Deal' To Combat Job Automation (technologyreview.com) 160

Andrew Ng, formerly the head of AI for Chinese search giant Baidu and, before that, creator of Google's deep-learning Brain project, knows as well as anyone that artificial intelligence is coming for plenty of jobs. Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Ng said he would like to see a "new New Deal" that pays people displaced by technology to study, offering an incentive to learn new skills and reenter the workforce. From a report: Speaking at MIT Technology Review's annual EmTech MIT conference in Cambridge, MA, on Tuesday, Ng said he's visited call centers and spoken to workers, knowing that his teams of software engineers will then write software that will automate aspects of their work. "There are many professions in the crosshairs of AI teams across the world," he said. Ng, who's currently working on a startup called Deeplearning.ai that helps train people on deep-learning technology, has some ideas for helping those in jobs he thinks will be automated, from call-center workers to radiologists, truck drivers, and the like. His suggestion is for an updated version of the New Deal -- the Depression-era economic programs that invested in, among other things, getting unemployed Americans back to work -- that pays displaced workers to learn new job skills.
AI

Rise of the Machines Must Be Monitored, Say Global Finance Regulators (reuters.com) 53

A reader shares a report: Replacing bank and insurance workers with machines risks creating a dependency on outside technology companies beyond the reach of regulators, the global Financial Stability Board (FSB) said on Wednesday. The FSB, which coordinates financial regulation across the Group of 20 Economies (G20), said in its first report on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that the risks they pose need monitoring. AI and machine learning refer to technology that is replacing traditional methods to assess the creditworthiness of customers, to crunch data, price insurance contracts and spot profitable trades across markets. There are no international regulatory standards for AI and machine learning, but the FSB left open whether new rules are needed.

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