Robotics

A Study Finds Half of Jobs Are Vulnerable To Automation (economist.com) 62

The Economist reports of a new working paper by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assesses the automatability of each task within a given job, based on a survey of skills in 2015. "Overall, the study finds that 14% of jobs across 32 countries are highly vulnerable, defined as having at least a 70% chance of automation," reports Economist. "A further 32% were slightly less imperiled, with a probability between 50% and 70%. At current employment rates, that puts 210 million jobs at risk across the 32 countries in the study." From the report: The pain will not be shared evenly. The study finds large variation across countries: jobs in Slovakia are twice as vulnerable as those in Norway. In general, workers in rich countries appear less at risk than those in middle-income ones. But wide gaps exist even between countries of similar wealth. Differences in organizational structure and industry mix both play a role, but the former matters more. In South Korea, for example, 30% of jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 22% in Canada. Nonetheless, on average, Korean jobs are harder to automate than Canadian ones are. This may be because Korean employers have found better ways to combine, in the same job, and without reducing productivity, both routine tasks and social and creative ones, which computers or robots cannot do. A gloomier explanation would be "survivor bias": the jobs that remain in Korea appear harder to automate only because Korean firms have already handed most of the easily automatable jobs to machines.
Businesses

Amazon Has a Top-Secret Plan to Build Home Robots (bloomberg.com) 91

After making smart speakers a household product (at least to some), Amazon seems to have found its next big consumer product: robots. Amazon is building smart robots that are equipped with cameras that let them drive around homes, Bloomberg reported Monday. These robots could launch as soon as next year. From the report: Codenamed "Vesta," after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon's Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.

The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like "Software Engineer, Robotics" and "Principle Sensors Engineer." People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees' homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.

Robotics

Apple Has a New iPhone Recycling Robot Named 'Daisy' (techcrunch.com) 39

Apple has unveiled a new robot called Daisy that's designed to recycle nine different versions of the iPhone. The new robot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016. TechCrunch reports: Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam's parts -- a recycling of sorts. The industrial robot is able to disassemble nine different versions of the iPhone, sorting all of their reusable components in the process. In all, Daisy is capable of taking apart a full 200 iPhones in a given hour, proving a solid alternative to traditional methods that can destroy valuable components in the process. Along with Daisy, Apple's also using the occasion to announce GiveBack, an addition to its recycling program. For every device customers turn in or trade from now until April 30, the company will make a donation to Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit. Eligible devices will still qualify for an in-store or gift card credit.
Robotics

Scientists Create Robots That Can Assemble IKEA Furniture For You (sciencemag.org) 125

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Although artificial intelligence systems may be able to beat humans at board games, we still have the upper hand when it comes to complicated manual tasks. But now, scientists have created robots that can do something even most humans struggle with: assemble an IKEA chair. Putting together a chair requires a combination of complex movements that, in turn, depends on such skills as vision, limb coordination, and the ability to control force. Until now, that was too much to ask of even a sophisticated robot. But researchers have finally broken the dexterity barrier by combining commercially available hardware, including 3D cameras and force sensors, to build two chair-building bots. To construct their IKEA masterpiece, the robots first took pictures to identify each part of the chair. An algorithm planned the motions the robots needed to manipulate the objects without causing any collisions; two robotic arms then performed those actions in concert. Feedback from force sensors also helped: When the robot needed to insert a pin into a hole, for example, it would slide the pin over the surface until it felt a change in force. The robots were able to put together the chair in a little over 20 minutes, which includes the 11 minutes and 21 seconds of planning time and 8 minutes and 55 seconds of actual assembly. The findings have been reported today in Science Robotics.
Businesses

Robots Ride To the Rescue Where Workers Can't Be Found (nytimes.com) 82

Fast-growing economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages, so companies are calling in the machines [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: In many major economies, companies are experimenting with replacing factory workers, truck drivers and even lawyers with artificial intelligence, raising the specter of a mass displacement of jobs. But in Eastern Europe, robots are being enlisted as the solution for a shortage of workers. Often they are helping to create new types of jobs as businesses in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland try to stay agile and competitive. Growth in these countries, which became low-cost manufacturing hubs for Europe after the fall of Communism, has averaged 5 percent in recent years, buoyed by the global recovery.

Few are riding higher than the Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota and consumer electronics for Dell, while smaller companies produce specialty goods to sell around the world. A roaring economy has slashed the jobless rate to just 2.4 percent, the lowest in the European Union. The dearth of manpower, however, has limited the ability of Czech companies to expand. Nearly a third of them have started to turn away orders, according to the Czech Confederation of Industry, a trade group.

Robotics

Europe Divided Over Robot 'Personhood' (politico.eu) 246

Politico Europe has an interesting piece which looks at the high-stakes debate between European lawmakers, legal experts and manufacturers over who should bear the ultimate responsibility for the actions by a machine: the machine itself or the humans who made them?. Two excerpts from the piece: The battle goes back to a paragraph of text, buried deep in a European Parliament report from early 2017, which suggests that self-learning robots could be granted "electronic personalities." Such a status could allow robots to be insured individually and be held liable for damages if they go rogue and start hurting people or damaging property.

Those pushing for such a legal change, including some manufacturers and their affiliates, say the proposal is common sense. Legal personhood would not make robots virtual people who can get married and benefit from human rights, they say; it would merely put them on par with corporations, which already have status as "legal persons," and are treated as such by courts around the world.

The Military

Robots Replace Soldiers In First of Its Kind Obstacle-Breaching Exercise (military.com) 23

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: U.S. and British troops have completed a first-of-its-kind exercise using robots for breaching a complex anti-tank/anti-personnel obstacle as part of what was titled the "Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration" at the Grafenwoehr training area in Germany. The exercise included a number of robotic systems, including remotely controlled British Army Terrier engineering vehicles (five cameras, including thermal imaging), UAVs for reconnaissance and chemical agent detection, and the M58 Wolf under remote control and used to provide smoke screens...

British Warrant Officer Robert Kemp stated that breaching enemy obstacles is one of the most dangerous tasks on a battlefield, and that, "Any breach like this will have enemy weapons trained in on the area... Roboticizing breach operations takes away the risk of life and makes clearing enemy obstacles much safer." U.S. Army officer 1st Lt. Felix Derosin said, "As an engineer, this means a lot to me... The casualty rate for a breach is expected to be 50 percent. Being able to take our guys away from that, and have some robots go in there, is a very positive thing for us. In the future, this can save engineers' lives."

The engineer added later that "Being able to see it, eyes on, shows me what the future is going to be like, and it's pretty good."
Robotics

Tesla Relied On Too Many Robots To Build the Model 3, Elon Musk Says (theverge.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla relied on too many robots to build the Model 3, which is partly to blame for the delays in manufacturing the crucial mass-market electric car. In an interview with CBS Good Morning, Musk agreed with Tesla's critics that there was over-reliance on automation and too few human assembly line workers building the Model 3. Earlier this month, Tesla announced that it had officially missed its goal of making 2,500 Model 3 vehicles a week by the end of the first financial quarter of this year. It will start the second quarter making just 2,000 Model 3s per week, but the company says it still believes it can get to a rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week at the midway point of 2018. Previously, Tesla has blamed bottlenecks in the production of the Model 3's batteries at the company's Gigafactory for the delays. But in a wide-ranging (and largely positive) interview with CBS's Gayle King, Musk also admits it was Tesla's over-reliance on robots in the production. Musk then said the company needs more people working in the factory and that automation slowed the Model 3 production process. He alluded to a "crazy, complex network of conveyor belts" the company had previously used and said the company eliminated it after it became clear it wasn't working.
AI

How Will Automation Affect Different US Cities? (northwestern.edu) 98

Casino dealers and fishermen are both likely to be replaced by machines in coming years. So which city will lose more of its human workforce -- Las Vegas, the country's gambling capital, or Boston, a major fishing hub? From a research: People tend to assume that automation will affect every locale in the same, homogeneous way, says Hyejin Youn, an assistant professor of management and organization at Kellogg. "They have never thought of how this is unequally distributed across cities, across regions in the U.S." It is a high-stakes question. The knowledge that certain places will lose more jobs could allow workers and industries to better prepare for the change and could help city leaders ensure their local economies are poised to rebound. In new research, Youn and colleagues seek to understand how machines will disrupt the economies of individual cities. By carefully analyzing the workforces of American metropolitan areas, the team calculated what portion of jobs in each area is likely to be automated in coming decades. You can run your city's name, and also the job position you're curious about here.
Technology

3D-Printed Public Housing Unveiled in France (reuters.com) 82

Researchers have unveiled what they billed as the world's first 3D-printed house to serve as a home in the French city of Nantes, with the first tenants due to move in by June. From a report: Academics at the University of Nantes who led the project said it was the first house built in situ for human habitation using a robot 3D-printer. The robot, known as BatiPrint3D, uses a special polymer material that should keep the building insulated effectively for a century. It took BatiPrint3D around 18 days to complete its part of the work on the house - creating hollow walls that were subsequently filled with concrete for insulation. The 95 square meter (1000 square feet), five-room house will be allocated to a local family which qualifies for social housing, authorities said.
China

US' Proposed China Tariffs Would Target Robotics, Satellites (engadget.com) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The U.S. Trade Representative has published the list of Chinese products that would be subject to its proposed tech tariffs, and there are a few clear themes. The move would hike the costs of about 1,300 products, including industrial robots, communication satellites, spacecraft and a slew of semiconductors.The aim, as before, is to punish China for allegedly goading American companies into transferring their patents and technology to Chinese firms for the sake of claiming economic superiority. The USTR claimed the proposed tariffs would stymie Chinese plans while "minimizing the impact" on the American economy. The tariffs are still subject to a 60-day notice process that would include public comments until May 11th and a public hearing on May 15th.
Transportation

The World's Fastest Delivery Drone Takes Off (technologyreview.com) 44

A couple of years ago, Zipline, a California-based startup, created a national drone delivery system to ship blood and drugs to remote medical centers in Rwanda. Now it has developed what it claims is the world's swiftest commercial delivery drone, with a top speed of 128 kilometers an hour (a hair shy of 80 miles per hour). From a report: Zipline is hoping its new fixed-wing aerial robot, which is both speedier and easier to maintain than its predecessor, will help it win business in an industry that's attracted plenty of big players. They include Amazon, which has been testing its Prime Air drone delivery service for years in the UK and elsewhere, and Project Wing, part of Alphabet's secretive X lab, which is using its drones to deliver pharmaceuticals and burritos in a pilot project in Australia.
AI

Is It Illegal to Trick a Robot? (ssrn.com) 82

An anonymous reader writes: Can you get into trouble under anti-hacking laws for tricking machine learning...? A new paper by security researchers and legal experts asks whether fooling a driverless car into seeing a stop sign as a speed sign, for instance, is the same as hacking into it.
The original submission asks another question -- "Do you have inadequate security if your product is too easy to trick?" But the paper explores the possibility of bad actors who deliberately build a secret blind spot into a learning system, or reconstruct all the private data that was used for training. One of the paper's authors even coded DNA that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of its underlying computer, and the researchers ultimately warn about the dangers of "missing or skewed security incentives" in the status quo.

"Our aim is to introduce the law and policy community within and beyond academia to the ways adversarial machine learning alter the nature of [cracking] and with it the cybersecurity landscape."
Google

Security Experts See Chromebooks as a Closed Ecosystem That Improves Security (cnet.com) 192

The founder of Rendition Security believes his daughter "is more safe on a Chromebook than a Windows laptop," and he's not the only one. CNET's staff reporter argues that Google's push for simplicity, speed, and security "ended up playing off each other." mspohr shared this article: Heading to my first security conference last year, I expected to see a tricked-out laptop running on a virtual machine with a private network and security USB keys sticking out -- perhaps something out of a scene from "Mr. Robot." That's not what I got. Everywhere I went I'd see small groups of people carrying Chromebooks, and they'd tell me that when heading into unknown territory it was their travel device... "If you want prehardened security, then Chromebooks are it," said Kenneth White, director of the Open Crypto Audit Project. "Not because they're Google, but because Chrome OS was developed for years and it explicitly had web security as a core design principle...." Drewry and Liu focused on four key features for the Chromebook that have been available ever since the first iteration in 2010: sandboxing, verified boots, power washing and quick updates. These provided security features that made it much harder for malware to pass through, while providing a quick fix-it button if it ever did.

That's not to say Chrome OS is impervious to malware. Cybercriminals have figured out loopholes through Chrome's extensions, like when 37,000 devices were hit by the fake version of AdBlock Plus. Malicious Android apps have also been able to sneak through the Play Store. But Chrome OS users mostly avoided massive cyberattack campaigns like getting locked up with ransomware or hijacked to become part of a botnet. Major security flaws for Chrome OS, like ones that would give an attacker complete control, are so rare that Google offers rewards up to $200,000 to anyone who can hack the system.

The article argues that "Fewer software choices mean limited options for hackers. Those are some of the benefits that have led security researchers to warm up to the laptops...

"Chrome OS takes an approach to security that's similar to the one Apple takes with iOS and its closed ecosystem."
Transportation

Waymo Starts To Eclipse Uber in Race To Self-Driving Taxis (sfchronicle.com) 67

Uber barreled into autonomous driving out of fear that it could end up as the MySpace or Yahoo of ride-hailing, a company with early gargantuan success that stumbled as times changed. Waymo, the self-driving offshoot of Google parent Alphabet, has pursued its ambitions more cautiously, accumulating long years of research and testing before pursuing a plan to bring its technology to the public. From a report: Now, as Waymo scales up its self-driving taxi service, Uber's fear could be coming to pass. This week, as Uber continued to reel from a fatal self-driving accident in Arizona, Waymo confidently pushed forward -- landing a deal to build 20,000 self-driving luxury SUVs with Jaguar Land Rover on top of its plan for thousands of Chysler hybrid minivans. Within two years, it aims to have thousands of fully autonomous taxis -- with no backup drivers behind the wheel -- on the roads, starting in Phoenix where it is already giving test rides.

The company predicts it will give 1 million robot-taxi rides a day by 2020. Waymo, the industry pioneer, logged millions of autonomous miles as it perfected self-driving technology. But over the years, engineers defected out of frustration that it was not commercializing the technology. Now with former auto executive John Krafcik at the helm, Waymo appears poised to launch a self-driving taxi service that could conceivably dominate that field, at least early on, the way Uber does now with human-driven cars.

AI

Hilarious (and Terrifying?) Ways Algorithms Have Outsmarted Their Creators (popularmechanics.com) 75

"Robot brains will challenge the fundamental assumptions of how we humans do things," argues Popular Mechanics, noting that age-old truism "that computers will always do literally, exactly what you tell them to." A paper recently published to ArXiv highlights just a handful of incredible and slightly terrifying ways that algorithms think... An AI project which pit programs against each other in games of five-in-a-row Tic-Tac-Toe on an infinitely expansive board surfaced the extremely successful method of requesting moves involving extremely long memory addresses which would crash the opponent's computer and award a win by default...

These amusing stories also reflect the potential for evolutionary algorithms or neural networks to stumble upon solutions to problems that are outside-the-box in dangerous ways. They're a funnier version of the classic AI nightmare where computers tasked with creating peace on Earth decide the most efficient solution is to exterminate the human race. The solution, the paper suggests, is not fear but careful experimentation.

The paper (available as a free download) contains 27 anecdotes, which its authors describe as a "crowd-sourced product of researchers in the fields of artificial life and evolutionary computation. Popular Science adds that "the most amusing examples are clearly ones where algorithms abused bugs in their simulations -- essentially glitches in the Matrix that gave them superpowers."
Robotics

Robots Are Trying To Pick Strawberries. So Far, They're Not Very Good At It (npr.org) 131

Robots have taken over many of America's factories. They can explore the depths of the ocean, and other planets. They can play ping-pong. But can they pick a strawberry? From a report: "You kind of learn, when you get into this -- it's really hard to match what humans can do," says Bob Pitzer, an expert on robots and co-founder of a company called Harvest CROO Robotics. (CROO is an acronym. It stands for Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer.) Any 4-year old can pick a strawberry, but machines, for all their artificial intelligence, can't seem to figure it out. Pitzer says the hardest thing for them is just finding the fruit. The berries hide behind leaves in unpredictable places. "You know, I used to work in the semiconductor industry. I was a development engineer for Intel, and it was a lot easier to make semiconductor chips," he says with a laugh.
Robotics

African Manufacturing Jobs Could be Threatened by US Based Robots, Report Says (bbc.com) 90

Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US factories than hire workers in Africa, a new report warns. From the report: Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies. Some analysts say poorer countries could be less impacted by this trend, however the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests otherwise. But its report adds African nations have time to prepare for the change. "African countries must not shy away from manufacturing, but instead prepare by increasing access to internet, investing in technical skills and promoting technological innovation," said Karishma Banga a senior research officer at ODI. "If done well, automation can present important opportunities for African countries by improving labour productivity in manufacturing," she said. It has been suggested that poorer countries will not as be affected by automation because they have less money to invest in it.
Robotics

FedEx Embraces More Robots Without Firing Humans (nytimes.com) 96

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.
Transportation

A Chatbot Can Now Offer You Protection Against Volatile Airline Prices (theverge.com) 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.

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