I’m often critical of robots and their relatives here, but these particular drones seem very good indeed. As that linked article explains:
swarms of (theese) seed-firing drones … are planting 40,000 trees a day to fight deforestation…(their) novel technology combines artificial intelligence with specially designed proprietary seed pods that can be fired into the ground from high in the sky. The firm claims that it performs 25 times faster and 80 percent cheaper compared to traditional seed-planting methodologies.
I am sure there is still a role for humans in reforestation, but the faster and cheaper it can be done, the better. A good use of technology.
I am not a fan of Boston Dynamics or their overhyped robots. They are often put to poor use, like harassing homeless people. And yet people seem positive about them. To which I normally reply: “meh”.
I am happy to make an exception for this use of them shown above. It’s Spot, Boston Dynamics robot dog, working in Pompeii. It’s also a good example of where their robot is being useful and taking on risks that humans should avoid. If Spot’s manufacturer wants to make their robots do jobs like this, I’ll be more supportive of them.
(Image link to article)
Posted in IT
Tagged history, IT, Pompeii, robots
Amazon has a new robot coming out, and there’s been a number of reviews. Here’s a list of just a few of them:
If those reviews have convinced you to get one, you can apply to get into the queue for them over here (they aren’t generally available): Amazon.com: Introducing Amazon Astro, Household Robot for Home Monitoring, with Alexa, Includes 6-month Free Trial of Ring Protect Pro : Everything Else
- It’s smart Amazon is rolling them out this way. (No pun intended.) There are going to be many missteps* : a gradual rollout will minimize problems and bad press. (* Also not a pun. :))
- A robot is the next iteration in home devices. People may have a number of Amazon home devices around. Robots are like Alexa on wheels. And if anyone can mass produce them, Amazon can.
- I can see Google and others getting into the game. I have a number of Google Home devices around my house. Having a Google Robot (Gizmo?) would be a benefit to me. For one thing, I might consolidate my Home devices and just have one robot / floor.
- I wonder if Apple will get into the game? I’d love to see an Apple Home robot. Maybe it will look like Eve from Wall-E? 🙂
- Perhaps at some point this thing can do many things. Or maybe there will be just a series of robots: one to vacuum, one to move small things around and watch the house and provide information, maybe even one to tend to plants or keep the cat busy. Robot technology has a way to go before it is humanlike and can do everything.
Anyway, a home robot for under a grand is an exciting development.
P.S. While I was reading that I was reminded of this piece: Finding the servant call buttons in New York City’s Gilded Age mansions | Ephemeral New York. In some ways saying “Hey Siri/Alexa/Google” is the equivalent of pressing servant buttons. One day we will have a household of robot servants working for us at the press of a button.
(Image linked to from the Ephemeral New York article. Those buttons are in the Frick museum in New York: check them out if you go there.)
Whenever new robots are released, I like to feature them. Robots are still pretty limited in the home, but there has been some attempts to get past the Roomba and have them in other parts of the house. Cases in point, this Toilet cleaning robot and this Pool cleaning robot .
Check them out. The robots are coming.eventually.
(Image via Yanko).
This is a cool story about a concept robot for homes: A BB-8 Droid for your home – Yanko Design.
I used to have problems with such concepts, because they provide an opportunity to have a device wandering around your home, recording data and selling it to others. That’s why I was never keen on such devices coming from Amazon or Google. I was very pro-privacy when it came to such technology.
For better and worse, I have since adopted quite a few Google Home devices in my house. If I was worried about them recording all the time, I appear to have gotten over it. As often is the case, the convenience they provide trumped privacy concerns.
Given that, I would love to have a robot like the one above. Instead of having multiple Google Home devices, I could just have one Google Home Robot that followed me around.
That brings me to the second problem. While it is cute that they illustrate this one rolling and bouncing around a home, mobility for robots is a huge challenge. Especially homes with stairs.
I see two ways around that. Such a robot would not be good for me, but people living in one level condos and apartments might find some combination of a vaccuum robot + Google Home device just the thing. And for people with stairs, maybe a robot above with wheels and a handle you can use to bring it with you up and down stairs might be the best alternative.
Robots are coming to most homes eventually. Maybe they will look like the one above. Maybe not. But soon we will see them everywhere.
While I am not a fan of most popular robots these days, I will make an exception for this one: This Microsoft-powered AI-enabled robot cleans up cigarette butts littered on the beach! – Yanko Design
It’s sad we need such a robot, but if this problem is going to exist, I am all for such technology. It’s a great project and not unlike a Roomba for the beach. Nice.
So the city of Toronto has put a hold on this company that has dumped their robots on city sidewalks for now. Good. It has been an epic struggle for advocates to get proper bike lanes and other form of transportation (other than cars) in place. The last thing we need is to have sidewalks swarming with robots. My take is that these robots make life in the city worse. Let’s see them put onto the streets.
What has been the take of our Canadian media? Basically that robots are cute and people are mean. See this piece in blogTO, People in Toronto are fighting to keep these adorable delivery robots on city sidewalks, and also McLeans.
I guess it was too much trouble to think and report on what other disruptive “innovations” have done to cities, from Uber to Lime.
Innovation is contextual. In the right context, new applications of technology are great. I remain unconvinced that deploying swarms of robots to our sidewalks and waiting to see what happens is one of these examples.
Posted in IT
Tagged IT, robots, Toronto
Here’s what I found interesting lately in tech, from cloud to coding and lots more.
Cloud: I’ve been doing lots of work on Azure recently. Some things I found useful were this listing of Virtual machine sizes Also disk types. This piece on how to expand your virtual hard disks on a Linux VM was good. If you want to run Websphere on Azure, read this: Run WebSphere Application Server on Azure Virtual Machines. If you want to learn more about deploying applications in Red Hat, read this. Finally here’s some good stuff from IBM on
Raspberry Pi/IOT: This is a great guide on how to troubleshoot problems with a Pi. This is a cool project using an OLED to make a clicker counter. If you need to load an OS or anything else on a Flash card, check out balenaEtcher. Here’s some advice on getting started with Bluetooth Low Energy. If you want to connect a raw serial terminal to a bluetooth connection, read that. If you want to do a cool Raspberry Pi Pico project with a MIDI, see this.
Fun and cool: Not a real Captcha, but a real fun one! DOOM Captcha – Captchas don’t have to be boring. Also fun: Crappy robots, ranked!. As an old user of 3270s, this downloadable version of 3270 fonts is awesome. Speaking of cool, here’s kinda the source code for Eliza! Check it out.
Other: Here’s some help on how to control smart home devices using speakers and displays. Here’s a good reminder that robots have a way to go yet: Peanut the Waiter Robot Is Proof That Your Job Is Safe. Developers! Here’s What’s Hot/What’s Not in terms of skills. Finally, have you considered how to
write software that lasts 50 years?
(Image via Raspberry Pi)
Posted in IT
Tagged Azure, bluetooth, cloud, coding, Doom, ibm, IT, PHP, Prolog, raspberrypi, robots, WebSphere
Ballie is the cute little yellow ball above. Samsung unvailled ‘Ballie’ at the 2020 Consumer Electronic Show. If you go to the link, you can read all the things Ballie can do for you. What you don’t get to read is what Ballie is going to do for others. Because there’s never been a more potentially intrusive device in your house like this one. It can go around your house 24/7, recording not just sounds but images. Images (and sounds) that anyone back on the Internet can process.
Until companies and other organizations can demonstrate proper stewardship of such data, I wouldn’t recommend anyone get one of these things. They are far from essential and potentially harmful.
Looks like autonomous robots have a way to go. So while Kiwi’s food delivery bots are rolling out to 12 more colleges (TechCrunch), they aren’t exactly autonomous robots. Instead…
The robots are what Kiwi calls “semi-autonomous.” This means that although they can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, each has a human monitoring it and setting waypoints for it to follow, on average every five seconds. Iatsenia told me that they’d tried going full autonomous and that it worked… most of the time. But most of the time isn’t good enough for a commercial service, so they’ve got humans in the loop. They’re working on improving autonomy, but for now this is how it is.
The future is weird. Also, good luck with those in places with hostile weather, architecture, or people.
It’s funny how certain tech ideas are bad and yet keep coming back, like zombies. Micropayments is one. Another is stores or establishments run without people: automats, in a sense. It’s a terrible idea in my opinion, and yet people keep trying them. Case in point, here’s some in China that came and went: China’s unmanned store boom ends as quickly as it began – Nikkei Asian Review.
I am sure these will pop up from time to time. Robots are becoming more prevalent, and the urge to keep putting more and more of them in establishments will continue. But like the old automats, I think they will only get so far before they fail.
Possibly, but as this article argues, there are at least three areas where robots and suck at:
Creative endeavours: These include creative writing, entrepreneurship, and scientific discovery. These can be highly paid and rewarding jobs. There is no better time to be an entrepreneur with an insight than today, because you can use technology to leverage your invention.
Social interactions: Robots do not have the kinds of emotional intelligence that humans have. Motivated people who are sensitive to the needs of others make great managers, leaders, salespeople, negotiators, caretakers, nurses, and teachers. Consider, for example, the idea of a robot giving a half-time pep talk to a high school football team. That would not be inspiring. Recent research makes clear that social skills are increasingly in demand.
Physical dexterity and mobility: If you have ever seen a robot try to pick up a pencil you see how clumsy and slow they are, compared to a human child. Humans have millennia of experience hiking mountains, swimming lakes, and dancing—practice that gives them extraordinary agility and physical dexterity.
Read the entire article; there’s much more in it than that. But if your job has some element of those three qualities, chances are robots won’t be replacing you soon.
The next time you see a scary robot video from Boston Dynamics, remember this: Marine Corps Shelves Futuristic Robo-Mule Due to Noise Concerns | Military.com. When you see the videos of their robots, they seem so impressive. In fact there are serious limitations with them right now, as the article shows.
Boston Dynamics makes impressive videos. Whether or not their robots are impressive in the field is not certain. You be the judge.
Posted in IT
Tagged military, robots
According to CNET: Delivery robots face strict rules in San Francisco.
I like that picture above. Often when I see delivery robots in photos, they are by themselves on an uncrowded street. In the photo above, you can get a better sense of how it will be a problem if swarms of these things start taking over the sidewalk. The idea of sidewalks becoming more crowded by these tiny vehicles is a maddening one.
I’d be fine with them if city planners can come up with a way these robots can roll around and not impede better uses of the streets such as walking and cycling and public transit. Until then, the less robots crowding the sidewalks, the better.
Like drones in the air and autonomous cars on the roads, robots are coming to the sidewalks. City planners need to start planning for that now.
In honour of Blade Runner 2049 coming out today, here’s your chance to see if you are a replicant with this:
You say: I don’t need to take the test because I’m not a replicant. Some replicants believe that. 🙂 Better take the test.
According to Haydn Waters, a writer at CBC, the mail robots at the corporation are being discontinued. Instead:
Mail will be delivered twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday) to central mail delivery/pickup locations on each floor.”
What gets lost in alot of discussions of robots, AI, etc., taking all the jobs is that the drivers for the decisions is not technology but economics. If there is no economical need for robots and other technology, then that technology will not just appear. There is nothing inevitable about technology, and any specific technology is temporary.
Of course there will be more use of robots and AI and other technology to replace the work people may currently do. The key to finding work will be to continually improvise and improve on the tasks one has to do to remain employed. That’s something humans do well, and technology will struggle with for some time in the future, AI hype not withstanding.
If you are looking to build AI tech, or just learn about it, then you will find these interesting:
- Artificial intelligence pioneer says we need to start over – Axios – if Hinton says it, it is worth taking note
- Robots Will Take Fast-Food Jobs, But Not Because of Minimum Wage Hikes | Inverse – true. Economists need to stop making such a strong link here.
- Artificial Intelligence 101: How to Get Started | HackerEarth Blog – a good 101 piece
- Deep Learning Machine Teaches Itself Chess in 72 Hours, Plays at International Master Level – MIT Technology Review – the ability of tech to learn is accelerating.
- Now AI Machines Are Learning to Understand Stories – MIT Technology Review – and not just accelerating, but getting deeper.
- Robots are coming for your job. That might not be bad news – good alternative insight from Laurie Penny.
- Pocket: Physicists Unleash AI to Devise Unthinkable Experiments – not surprisingly, a smart use of AI
- AI’s dueling definitions – O’Reilly Media – this highlights one of the problems with AI, and that it is it is a suitcase word (or term) and people fill it with what they want to fill it with
- A Neural Network Playground – a very nice tool to start working with AI
- Foxconn replaces ‘60,000 factory workers with robots’ – BBC News – there is no doubt in places like Foxconn, robots are taking jobs.
- 7 Steps to Mastering Machine Learning With Python – don’t be put off by this site’s design: there is good stuff here
- How Amazon Triggered a Robot Arms Race – Bloomberg – Amazon made a smart move with that acquisition and it is paying off
- When Police Use Robots to Kill People – Bloomberg this is a real moral quandary and I am certain the police aren’t the only people to be deciding on it. See also: A conversation on the ethics of Dallas police’s bomb robot – The Verge
- How to build and run your first deep learning network – O’Reilly Media – more good stuff on ML/DL/AI
- This expert thinks robots aren’t going to destroy many jobs. And that’s a problem. | The new new economy – another alternative take on robots and jobs
- Neural Evolution – Building a natural selection process with AI – more tutorials
- Uber Parking Lot Patrolled By Security Robot | Popular Science – not too long after this, one of these robots drowned in a pool in a mall. Technology: it’s not easy 🙂
- A Robot That Harms: When Machines Make Life Or Death Decisions : All Tech Considered : NPR – this is kinda dumb, but worth a quick read.
- Mathematics of Machine Learning | Mathematics | MIT OpenCourseWare – if you have the math skills, this looks promising
- Small Prolog | Managing organized complexity – I will always remain an AI/Prolog fan, so I am including this link.
- TensorKart: self-driving MarioKart with TensorFlow – a very cool application
- AI Software Learns to Make AI Software – MIT Technology Review – there is less here than it appears, but still worth reviewing
- How to Beat the Robots – The New York Times – meh. I think people need to learn to work with the technology, not try to defeat it. If you disagree, read this.
- People want to know: Why are there no good bots? – bot makers, take note.
- Noahpinion: Robuts takin’ jerbs
- globalinequality: Robotics or fascination with anthropomorphism – everyone is writing about robots and jobs, it seems.
- Valohai – more ML tools
- Seth’s Blog: 23 things artificially intelligent computers can do better/faster/cheaper than you can – like I said, everyone is writing about AI. Even Seth Godin.
- The Six Main Stories, As Identified by a Computer – The Atlantic – again, not a big deal, but interesting.
- A poet does TensorFlow – O’Reilly Media – artists will always experiment with new mediums
- How to train your own Object Detector with TensorFlow’s Object Detector API – more good tooling.
- Rise of the machines – the best – by far! – non-technical piece I have read about AI and robots.
- We Trained A Computer To Search For Hidden Spy Planes. This Is What It Found. – I was super impressed what Buzzfeed did here.
- The Best Machine Learning Resources – Machine Learning for Humans – Medium – tons of good resources here.
This piece, 1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then? (Vox) is a great primer on self driving trucks and how they are going to have a major impact sooner than later.
If you are interested in IT, AI or robots, it really shows one of the places where this technology is going to have a significant impact.
If you are interested in economics, politics, or sociology, then the effect of robots replacing all these truck drivers is definitely something you want to be aware of.
If you drive on highways, you definitely want to know about it.
In any case, it’s a good piece by David Roberts. That is his beat and I find he always does a great job of breaking down a topic like this and making it easier to understand and relevant to me. I recommend any of his pieces.
A year or so ago, a parking lot I use had a human in a booth to take tickets and provide other services. That human booth was replaced by the thing in the photo above.
It’s not a robot and it’s not A.I., but it is replacing humans.
Stories about A.I. or robots taking over work makes them interesting. It’s also secondary to the real story. What is really taking people’s jobs is a willingness of others to use technology, and a willingness of companies to replace people with technology. People are not afraid to use technology. If anything, sometimes they prefer to deal with technology. This makes it easier for companies to go with technology as compared to using people, and if companies can save money or make money, so much the better.
It is happening in all sorts of industries, from food to sportswriting. The technology isn’t the driver of this: it’s the willingness of people to prefer technology that is the driver.
The following is anuncritical and hyped-up analysis of robots, from Wired (On Cyber Monday, Friendly Robots Are Helping Smaller Stores Chase Amazon). A key quote from it is this (highlighting by me):
… (Amazon) is relying on more than 100,000 temp workers this holiday season to supplement its already massive warehouse workforce, the advantages of offloading more of that work onto machines are easy to see. Robots don’t slow. They don’t tire. They don’t get injured or distracted or sick. They don’t require paychecks or try to unionize.
Now check out this robot:
Once you get over the word “robot”, you can see it resembles alot of the other machines you see in workplaces. Machines like high speed printers, scanners and even vending machines. All of those things don’t slow, don’t tire and don’t unionize. They don’t get sick, but they break down alot, which is just the same. They don’t require a paycheck, but they do cost the organizations that use them. Sometimes they perform their function so poorly that people bypass them altogether. As well, robots need others to take care of them. An army of robots just doesn’t show up: there is an entire process of testing, deploying, fixing and replacing them that is costly and non-trivial. There is a process for deploying human resources, too, but to say that that is costly and the process of deploying robot resources is not costly is wrong.
Robots will take over some functionality in workplaces, be that function blue collar or white collar. But that is no different from alot of other machinery already in place. The difference with robots will be that they are mobile. That’s it. We should get over the notion of robot as some magical creature and just accept them as another machine.
While there is lots of discussion about self driving cars, it’s much more likely that self driving trucks will become standard and accepted first. Here are two stories that support that. First this: How Canada’s oilsands are paving the way for driverless trucks — and the threat of big layoffs. Second, over at Vox, is: This is the first licensed self-driving truck. There will be many more. Key quote from Vox:
Last night at the Hoover Dam, the Freightliner company unveiled its Inspiration Truck: the first semi-autonomous truck to get a license to operate on public roads.
The Inspiration is now licensed to drive autonomously on highways in Nevada. It works a bit like a plane’s autopilot system: a driver will get the rig on the highway, and can take control at any time once it’s there. But the truck will be able to drive itself at high speeds, using cameras to make sure it stays within its lane and doesn’t get too close to the vehicle in front of it.
Self driving trucks are already up and operational. Additionally, the business case and the hurdles to overcome with self driving trucks will be easier to achieve than that of self driving cars in urban areas. Sooner than you think, you will commonly see self driving trucks on highways, especially during the hours when most highways are 80-90% trucks.
Transportation is changing. Self driving trucks are going to be leading that change. Self driving cars will be a distant second.
As you can see, this new drone (Micro Drone 3.0: Flight in the Palm of Your Hand, Indiegogo) is really small. Also relatively cheap. Like other IT, I expect personal drones will only get smaller and cheaper. The only limit will likely be how big they have to be in order not to get blown away.
I have heard people come up with innovative ways of using personal drones. For example, some home inspectors are using them to check out hard to reach parts of people’s house in order to see if they are in good shape or not. That’s great.
But there are going to be lots of other ways that people use them which may not be so desirable. The most obvious one is invading people’s privacy. It is one thing to inspect a house when no one is in it: it’s another to do so when someone lives there. Instead of prank phone calls, we’ll have prank drone visits.
How people protect their rights in such cases will be difficult. Drones will raise a number of legal questions. For example, what is your recourse if someone has a drone follow you around? Or if someone has a drone hovering in a public place outside your home? Can you fly a drone above an outdoor concert so you can record it? Can you attack drones that fly into your personal airspace? Will there be security drones that keep other drones off people’s property? If you post a video of a drone visit to a property on YouTube and someone uses that video to help them rob that property, are you an accomplice?
There has been some good work on drones being done by government agencies like Transport Canada, but I think the technology is going to challenge governments and courts to keep up. Expect to see more and more debate on drones in the coming months and years.
As far as this particular drone, Mashable has more on it here.
This piece on the three day work week, Why Not a Three-Day Week? in The New Yorker explores the notion of working three and not five days a week and is well worth a read. But….
But….before you protest that you don’t work a five day week now, the better and more important question is: why do we have to work so much and so hard and why can we not have a lot more for a lot less? My own belief is that we are still shackled to a culture underlined by a Protestant work ethic and devoted to to a lower form of capitalism. We would lead better lives if our energies and our lives were devoted to more meaningful activities that addressed our higher needs, instead of tolling away to survive. The good/bad news is that even if we want to stay chained to this culture, we will not be able with the way mechanization and automation is proceeding. We need to start thinking about the way we work now, whether we want to or not.
Take 1: Over at Make, A Peek Into the Design of The Robot Anyone Can Afford | MAKE.
Take 2: Over at Kottke is a good post on why we shouldn’t be blase about robots replacing us (Humans need not apply).
The one fact is that as microprocessors get small, cheaper, and faster, the ability to make robots gets easier and cheaper. That means more people can experiment with them, from individuals to corporations. Soon robots will be ubiquitous, just like personal computers and now smart phones are ubiquitous. And just like now there are fewer and fewer jobs without computers or smart phones involved, soon there will be few jobs without robots involved.
I don’t think this will result in robots taking all the jobs. My belief is that there will be a mix of robots and people doing work for some time to come, rather than just robots replacing people. But robots in work and play and all aspects of our lives in inevitable and coming soon. (Depending on your work day, you may not see this as a bad thing.)
Just last year, Amazon invested in Kiva (The Economy Will Be Roboticized: Amazon Buys Kiva and A day in the life of a warehouse robot), a company that makes warehouse robots. Automation of the supply chain is something Amazon has already been interested in: drones just take it to the next level.
Posted in new!
Tagged amazon, drones, robots
As this article in the Wall Street Journal shows, advances in Robots May Revolutionize China’s Electronics Manufacturing. Here is some key parts of the article (underlining is mine):
A new worker’s revolution is rising in China and it doesn’t involve humans. With soaring wages and an aging population, electronics factory managers say the day is approaching when robotic workers will replace people on the Chinese factory floor. A new wave of industrial robots is in development, ranging from high-end humanoid machines with vision, touch and even learning capabilities, to low-cost robots vying to undercut China’s minimum wage.
Over the next five years these technologies will transform China’s factories, executives say, and also fill a growing labor shortage as the country’s youth become increasingly unwilling to perform manual labor. How the transformation plays out will also go a long way in deciding how much of the electronics supply chain remains in China.
Now, I would argue that while wages are relatively higher in China, the idea of them soaring is very relative too. I’d also argue that even if the wages were stagnant, it would not matter, for the robots will become cheaper and more productive year after year. The question isn’t how will robots manufacture every thing, it’s a question of when will they manufacture every thing.
From there, the next question is: what will people do? Who will buy these products? There is a hint of an answer from the realm of software development. As more lower levels of software development were taken over by other software (e.g. assemblers, compilers, IDEs), software developers focus on higher level versions of software and bigger and more complex problems. This could also be the future of manufacturing. People who work in manufacturing will not make the things: they will design the things (e.g., robots and instructions for robots) that make the things and work on more complex ways to make things (e.g., how to take parts made in China, Kenya, and Canada and have them all come together in the same place and as little time as possible).
(Photo is of a concept robot from Delta Electronics).
If you love WALL-E and you have an ability to build robotic devices, this might be the project for you: Mail-E, a mail-checker robot from Let’s Make Robots!
If you don’t want to make it, it is still interesting to see how it’s done. And if you love the idea of making robots, then you have to check out Let’s Make Robots!
Posted in new!
Tagged howto, robots