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Tag: robotics

@HumanVsMachine

Monday, 13 February, 2017 0 Comments

Hardly a week goes by without some “expert” or other predicting that by, say, 2020, millions and millions of jobs will be lost in developed economies due to robotics, AI, cloud computing, 3D printing, machine learning and related technologies. Hardest hit will be people doing office and factory work, but other sectors, from trucking to healthcare, will be affected “going forward,” as lovers of business cliché love to say.

The Twitter feed @HumanVSMachine features images showing the increasing automation of work. The footage of people doing a job side-by-side with videos of robots doing the same thing suggests a sombre future of post-human work.

Philippe Chabot from Montreal is the human behind @HumanVSMachine. He was a graphic artist in the video industry and he had plenty of work, once upon a time. But companies began outsourcing their artwork and Chabot found himself competing a globalized market where rivals can create a logo for $5 and software automatically designs avatars. Today, Philippe Chabot works in a restaurant kitchen and he feeds @HumanVSMachine in his free time.

Note: This image of “Robot Baby Feeder; Robot, baby bottle, crib, toy” by Philipp Schmitt is included in the “Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine” exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein in Germany.

Raising robot


Man vs. Machine

Saturday, 21 January, 2017 0 Comments

“A good receptionist should have certain characteristics: helpful, friendly, organized. But do they need to be human?” That was the question posed in Davos, where the future of work was debated with an increasing intensity during the past few days. The elites will do fine in the robotic revolution but they could still lose their sinecures, and more, if those dispossessed of jobs and dignity rise up against their new overlords.

Michael Marczewski is a motion designer based in London and working at ManvsMachine. His “Vicious Cycle” clip, which features a group of autonomous robots performing a range of repetitive functions, is fitting for this post-Davos moment because it ponders what might happen if the demands become unbearable for the robots. The music is by Marcus Olsson, one half of Kungen & Hertigen, a sound team based in Stockholm and Eksjö. The other half is Staffan Gustafsson.


Talkin’ Industry 4.0

Saturday, 5 November, 2016 0 Comments

Today, at the 29th IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference in Munich, I’ll be talking about the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its seven key components: Industry 4.0, IoT, Big Data, cloud computing, robotics, AI and cybersecurity.

As with the three preceding Industrial Revolutions, which were powered, respectively, by steam, electricity and transistors, the cyber-physical systems now driving this fourth upheaval will transform manufacturing and replace William Blake’s vision of dark Satanic sweatshops with that of a better, cleaner, cleverer place — the smart factory.

“And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?”

Jerusalem by William Blake (1757 — 1827)


Teledildonics

Tuesday, 25 October, 2016 0 Comments

Note the dates: 19 and 20 December. That’s when attendees at The International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots will explore “robot emotions, personalities, humanoid robots, intelligent electronic sex hardware and entertainment robots.” The event is taking place in Goldsmiths, University of London, after it was was banned in Malaysia. Sessions will address Robot Emotions, Teledildonics, Robot Personalities, Intelligent Electronic Sex Hardware and related issues.

David Levy, conference general chair, chess champion and author of Love and Sex with Robots says: “I believe that loving sex robots will be a great boon to society.There are millions of people out there who, for one reason or another, cannot establish good relationships.” It should be noted, however, that a group of scientists called for a ban on sex robots last year and created the Campaign Against Sex Robots.

This is the 21st century, after all.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sunday, 2 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully,” is the popular variant of a famous quote by Dr Johnson. And the prospect of making a presentation on the topic of the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in early November means this blog will be focusing on all things i4.0 in the coming weeks. So let’s get going with some basic terminology:

  • The First Industrial Revolution: The steam engine freed people from relying on their own muscular strength or that of animals for manufacturing and transport.
  • The Second Industrial Revolution: Electricity powered spectacular improvements in productivity, innovation, comfort and well-being.
  • The Third Industrial Revolution: The microprocessor, the computer and the internet led to dramatic developments in efficiency, commerce and creativity.
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution: The smartphone, the Internet of Things, 5G, genetic engineering, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, robotics, nanotechnology, machine learning… will affect how we live and work for the remainder of this century.

“Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick’s skull.” — Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work


Future sex with gynoids and guynoids

Wednesday, 3 August, 2016 0 Comments

The word “gynoid” was used by Gwyneth Jones in her 1985 novel Divine Endurance to describe a female robot slave character in a futuristic China. Does this mean, then, that the male equivalent is a “guynoid”? Not quite. Gynoid is created from the Ancient Greek prefix gyno– (of or pertaining to women or the female reproductive system) + android, a Greek word used to refer to robotic humanoids regardless of gender. However, the Greek prefix “andr-” means man in the masculine sense and because of this android is used to describe male-styled robots. Given the established etymology, it’s going to be a battle to replace androids with guynoids.

All this is by way of saying that sex with robots is very much in the news. Let’s take three of today’s headlines, starting with The New Scientist. “Could sex robots and virtual reality treat paedophilia?The Daily Mirror is more of a mass-market publication: “Expert to publish ‘how to build your own sex robot’ handbook after Scarlett Johansson lookalike success,” while The South China Morning Post brings us back to the gynoid world of Gwyneth Jones: “Sex and robots: How mechanical dolls may press all the right buttons for lonesome guys.”

Actually, that last headline is quite topical in light of the work being done by Kathleen Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester. Last September, she published a position paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots.” Snippet:

“Following in the footsteps of ethical robot campaigns, I propose to launch a campaign against sex robots, so that issues in prostitution can be discussed more widely in the field of robotics. I have to tried to show how human lifeworlds of gender and sexuality are inflected in making of sex robots, and that these robots will contribute to gendered inequalities found in the sex industry.”

The debate about the gendering of robots and the sexualized personification of machines is on.

Ex Machina


The Robolution federator

Tuesday, 2 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s upgrading of English vocabulary is a regular theme here and the prospect of public presentations on the subject in October and November is concentrating the mind, to paraphrase Dr Johnson. We’ve had some gems recently and more are to come. Central to the revolutionary stuff going on right now is robotics.

Definition: “Robotics is the branch of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, as well as the computer systems for their control, feedback and data processing.”

If you create an €80 million private equity fund dedicated to robotics, you’re going to need a name for the venture; one that combines the essence of the business with its revolutionary role in 21st-century industry, ideally. Robolution The result is… Robolution. Or, more precisely, Robolution Capital. But there’s something slightly unmelodious about the word “Robolution,” with its hints of ablution and absolution. Sure, it’s an attempt to capture an element of “revolution,” but the “robo” bit at the front doesn’t quite make a harmonius unit, does it? Perhaps it sounds better in French because Robolution Capital is based in Paris.

Along with robotics, Robolution Capital is focussing on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), two very hot areas right now, and this is why it defines itself as a facilitator, an accelerator and “a federator at the heart of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs, corporates, public organizations, universities and research centers.” What’s a federator? The usually indefatigable Wiktionary does not have an entry for the word and Techopedia offers “Federation” from the world of enterprise architecture that allows interoperability. The word, however, is a version of fédérateur, the French noun that means “unifier.” And with its philosophy and its focus on robotics, AI and the IoT, Robolution is true federator.

News: 360 Capital Partners, an early-stage VC business based in Milan and Paris has just done a deal with Orkos Capital, also based in Paris, to manage Robolution Capital.


When will the e-people be allowed to vote?

Monday, 27 June, 2016 0 Comments

On the surface, at least, the world was still in order on 31 May. Yes, it was World No Tobacco Day, but it’s been that since 1987 and smoking remains popular in many parts of the world. Change comes dropping slow, as the poet said. But quiet can be deceptive; it can lull us into a false sense of security and that’s why very few noticed a draft motion “with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics” (PDF) drawn up by the European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs that was discussed on 31 May in Brussels. People should have paid more attention, however, because it is revolutionary.

No taxation without representation! That slogan led to violent change 250 years ago and what the European Parliament is asking the European Commission to do is equally radical. According to the draft motion, the commission should consider “that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations, including that of making good any damage they may cause, and applying electronic personality to cases where robots make smart autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently.” The motion also says organizations should have to declare any savings they make in social security contributions by using robotics instead of people, for tax purposes.

Robots voting On the face of it, then, while Europe’s robot workers would be classed as “electronic persons,” with rights and obligations, they would still be regarded as property (slaves?) and their owners subjected to additional taxes for having the initiative (temerity?) to deploy them. The realities of a new industrial revolution suggest that different thinking and terminology is needed.

Today, robots are being used in ever-greater numbers in factories and they are also taking on tasks such as personal care and cardiac surgery. The result is that all kinds of fears about unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation are being raised. The growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy of robots demands a debate involving citizens, lawyers, accountants, ethicists and legislators. In the end, e-votes by e-people might play a decisive role in any referendum on these tectonic changes.


AlphaGo was yesterday, Boston Dynamics is today

Friday, 18 March, 2016 0 Comments

How fickle these times are. How quickly glory fades and how rapidly doubt steps into its shoes. For example: Google was being deluged with praise last week after AlphaGo won the DeepMind Challenge against the champion Lee Sedol. Suddenly, the scary concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was, well, less scary and Google got lots of love. How short our attention span is, however.

Yesterday, Bloomberg rattled the rosy future with the headline, “Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat.” The talk on the street was of the inability of Boston Dynamics to produce marketable robots anytime soon. Hence the reported “For Sale” sign. But there’s another aspect to the story, one which relates to the scary AI scenario. Boston Dynamics posted a humanoid robotics video on YouTube last month that made many people uneasy and the mother company, Alphabet, sensing another Google Glass moment, perhaps, began to count the negative publicity cost. Bloomberg quoted from e-mails published on an internal online forum that were visible to all Google employees:

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X. Hohne asked her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

After the match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, the scoreline read: Machines, 4, Humanity, 1. With Google’s retreat from robots, some would says it’s now Machines, 4, Humanity, 2. But that will probably change next week. This is a fast-paced game and the job-eating robots are advancing, despite the headlines.


Watching Watson emote with redundant robots

Saturday, 27 February, 2016 0 Comments

Hollywood has become rather fond of depicting robots and artificial intelligence as threats to humanity and that’s not good for the image of the computing industry. Too much dystopia and people might begin to fear the machines. Time, then, for a spot of conviviality where people interact with the technology that will soon be bossing business, and that’s why IBM will present two ads starring its Watson cognitive computing system during the Academy Awards show.

In this clip we see Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher leading a support group for outmoded robots upset at being replaced by newer technology. She invites Watson to help them confront their anxieties and he tells them he’s a computing system that works with humans. But the “traditional” robots say they’re not interested in working with people and opt for a coffee break instead. Humour is not an easy thing to do at the best of times and it’s especially difficult for humans to make robots funny.

#OscarsSoRobotic: The bots in the Watson clip will be live-tweeting during the Oscars.


Chariot of Fire, Cloud of Data

Wednesday, 24 February, 2016 0 Comments

Now that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, one wonders how/if contemporary artists will rise to the challenge of depicting the great changes that are coming. These changes might lead to the ending of drudgery or to the ending of privacy; they might lead to the printing of human organs or to mass production of sexbots… The threats and opportunities are bewildering and what makes the concept of Industry 4.0 so exciting is that where we’re going doesn’t have roads yet.

The First Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century saw the development of new manufacturing techniques, including steam power, and this had a huge impact on employment, output and living standards. But it was hugely disruptive and the English artist William Blake portrayed the downside in his poem Jerusalem:

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

As smoke and ash belched across hill and dale, the Romantic poets railed against what they say as the ruin of Eden, but the same William Blake, who memorably pictured the “dark Satanic mills”, also said: “Nature without man is barren.” In other words, we are responsible for this world and we must embrace change:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!

Blake ended his poem on a defiant note. Let’s see if our modern poets can craft anything as inspiring as Jerusalem while the Cloud unfolds:

I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

Two hundred years ago, William Blake urged people to join the fight to build a better world. To arm himself and his readers for the spiritual revolution within the Industrial Revolution, he called for bow, arrow, spear, chariot of fire, passion and imagination. These were the tools for the task. Despite the smoke and flames from the mills, nature could be preserved, he said, but only if people had the will and the wit to save it. Today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution promises great benefits, but its agents, robotics and artificial intelligence, could trigger mass unemployment and social chaos. Do we have the will and wit to cope with that?