Friday, November 27, 2015

November 27 2015. Robotics—both a nightmare scenario and an unprecedented opportunity.




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I have read many reports about the likely impact of automation—and have been interested in this area since I researched Artificial Intelligence (AI) for my first book back in 1986.

AI was all the rage in the media for a while, and then it stopped being written about much. One article I read said it had been massively over-hyped, and was falling short of expectations.

While that was partially true (where some aspects were concerned), the reality was the AI had progressed into being used so extensively that it wasn’t really newsworthy any more. Nonetheless, quietly, it was becoming more and more sophisticated to the point where it is now clear that automation, based upon AI, is likely to replace a truly significant number of jobs.

This is something that many corporations—who make use of automation—prefer not to talk about. Under the current American Business Model, people have become disposable commodities. There is no social concern.

What percentage? Most of the figures I have read estimate 40-50 percent.

That is mind-boggling! But, it is going to happen. It has already started to happen.

You might think that we should be preparing for this by coming up with appropriate policies. In practice, we seem to be doing nothing of the sort. Instead, the savings being obtained from automation are largely flowing to the ultra-rich—and the earnings of the rest of us are being squeezed to the point where social unrest—including violence—seems inevitable.

When people are desperate, they do desperate things—because they have little choice in the matter. And violence breeds violence. Terrorism is rarely mindless. It might be wrong, in itself, but it exists for a reason (and frequently a valid one)..

In fact, there are all kinds of policies we could come up with to cope with such dramatic changes in our lives—including a minimum income for everybody, shorter working weeks, longer vacation times—and so on. But we certainly won’t cope if the ultra-rich are allowed to gain all the marbles.

The positive side of all this is that automation in its various forms should lead to us being able to do all sorts of things we couldn’t do previously—and to our solving a whole series of intractable problems. For instance, it should allow the costs of government to be cut dramatically, manufacturing costs to be lowered substantially, healthcare to be improved beyond recognition—and so on. But, the benefits won’t accrue to the average person unless we have the right policies in place.

As matters stand, we haven’t even determined what they should be. We are still working as if the concept of being an employee working roughly 40 hours a week was set in stone.

It isn’t—and we are behaving like a bunch of ostriches—heads buried in the sand.

One could well take the view that humans are so inadequate it is just as well that robots seem destined to take over! And one good thing about robots is that they are not innately greedy. Humans—certainly those who hold the reins of power—certainly are.

Robotic rule could be an improvement!

Here is John Robb’s piece.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Revolution in Robotics

There are two parts to the revolution in robotics we are seeing.  

The first revolution in robotics is based on tech trends already underway. 

The inflection point for this revolution occurred in 2001, when the standard computer chip exceeded the intelligence of an insect.

With chips like this, robots quickly became inexpensive, accessible, and powerful.  For example, an autopilot system that cost ten thousands of dollars a decade ago is now available for $30 and can run on a small amount of power.

Here's an example of what is possible with this revolution:

While this revolution is fairly dramatic, don't expect too much. 

The capabilities of these robots won't advance any faster than the ability of human beings to write code, design and build hardware, and build successful businesses to support than activity. 

This reliance on human design and development also means that progress in navigating, interacting with, and making sense of complex, dynamic environments will be slow and hardwon.  

The second revolution in robotics is different.  It will be much more dramatic in its impact.  It is based on exponential improvements in machine learning.

These advances make it possible for machines to learn behaviors that make it possible for robots accomplish tasks that only humans can do today -- like driving cars safely in urban traffic to providing physical assistance and medical support to homebound elderly.   

Further, these cognitive machines will learn in days what it takes human developers months to accomplish (if they can do it all). 

In contrast to the previous revolution, this one will be amazing and traumatic at the same time.  

For example, this revolution in synthetic cognition has the potential to remake the modern economy as completely as industrial machinery and computation changed the agrarian economy of the 1700's. 

I've spent the last year thinking about how this machine learning revolution will change the way we fight wars and provide security. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Robb

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