Category Archives: Robotics

Environmental Robotics

Erin Kennedy, a.k.a. RobotGrrl, gives this TedXOttawa talk. Interesting approach to applying robotics and other ideas to simple environmental cleanups.

I met Erin at SF Bay Area Maker Faire in probably 2012. Like me, she’s also a serious head injury survivor(2 in her case) and I have great admiration for all that she has accomplished.

Stop Calling Everything AI, Machine-Learning Pioneer Says – IEEE Spectrum

This is true – with a reminder that even as a brain injured idiot, I am a retired computer engineer and computer scientist:

Artificial-intelligence systems are nowhere near advanced enough to replace humans in many tasks involving reasoning, real-world knowledge, and social interaction. They are showing human-level competence in low-level pattern recognition skills, but at the cognitive level they are merely imitating human intelligence, not engaging deeply and creatively, says Michael I. Jordan, a leading researcher in AI and machine learning.

Source: Stop Calling Everything AI, Machine-Learning Pioneer Says – IEEE Spectrum

Much of our “AI” mimics some human behaviors while much more is sheer computational horsepower enabling us to create models with complex weighted input mappings which we refer to as “machine learning”. This is all good but its not the AI that many people think of when they hear the term.

And this is actually quite cool:

He says he believes that developments in machine learning reflect the emergence of a new field of engineering. He draws parallels to the emergence of chemical engineering in the early 1900s from foundations in chemistry and fluid mechanics, noting that machine learning builds on decades of progress in computer science, statistics, and control theory. Moreover, he says, it is the first engineering field that is humancentric, focused on the interface between people and technology.

Hmmm: Laid off retail workers should “Learn to Code”

Says Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago Mayor, Congressional Representative and former Obama Chief of Staff, said this in this news interview. Laid off workers should “Learn to code”.

He’s likely correct that due to structural changes accelerated by the pandemic, many retail jobs may not return. The U.S. had way too many square feet of business space devoted to retail, as compared to other developed nations before the pandemic.

Now with online ordering and delivery services, much of retail is irrelevant. This was going to happen away – but a variety of events accelerated the trend. $15 minimum wage plus mandated benefits dramatically increases labor costs (a variable cost) just as the cost of automation have plummeted (a mostly fixed cost).

It is sort of a “no brainer” [1] – automation, online ordering, even using an app while sitting at a restaurant table – all of these will reduce the need for lower skilled labor.

Continue reading Hmmm: Laid off retail workers should “Learn to Code”

Miso scores $10 million to bring its hamburger-flipping robot to more restaurants

One of many companies working to automate the restaurant business and reduce labor and benefits costs:

Pasadena-based hardware startup Miso Robotics just got a big vote of confidence from investors, in the form of a $10 million Series B. This latest windfall led by Acacia Research Corporation brings…

Source: Miso scores $10 million to bring its hamburger-flipping robot to more restaurants | TechCrunch

Autonomous self driving cars’ sensor arrays may be used for intensive public surveillance

Autonomous self-driving cars are continuously surveying their surroundings using an array of sensors and recording this to memory.

In the event of an accident of malfunction, this data can be retrieved for analysis.

However, this data could also be retrieved as surveillance data – even when the vehicle itself has not been in an crash.

Consider, a bike versus human driven car crash at an intersection. Two other vehicles at the intersection are autonomous vehicles and they have recorded the entire scenario, in detail, including subject and object positions and travel speeds.

All of this data is available to the police. Police agencies that today operate their own license plate readers and intersection surveillance cameras might choose to contract with autonomous vehicle companies for use as public data collection systems. When your autonomous vehicle is connected to your EV charging station, it might communicate over WiFi to upload collected data to a master database.

This is not particularly difficult or far fetched and police may already have the legal authority to pursue this collection.

Source: Why cops won’t need a warrant to pull the data off your autonomous car | Ars Technica

Within 20 years, a majority of today’s jobs may be automated

Study finds that 2 in 3 jobs in Las Vegas may be automated by 2035. That’s just the headline.

The real story is that 50% or more of jobs in most metro areas at a risk of automation by 2035. Areas in yellow, orange and red indicate where more than 50% of local jobs are at risk of being automated by 2035.

Source: Future job automation to hit hardest in low wage metropolitan areas like Las Vegas, Orlando and Riverside-San Bernardino | ISEA

Studies like these should be viewed as “possible scenarios” and not as absolute predictions for the future.

Automation has been happening for a hundred years. New, low cost technology enables automation to be applied in places where it was previously cost prohibitive or the tasks were too difficult to automate. This change is happening quickly.

Again, as frequently noted on this blog, automation is happening. The rapid increase in minimum wage and benefit requirements is accelerating the trend towards automation, improved work place efficiency and variable cost cutting – and a loss of many types of jobs (not all job losses will be low skilled either).

Major demographic change could lead to more robotics, automation because fewer workers available

This discussion by Charles Schwab & Co highlights that the ratio of workers to non-workers is dropping and may reach 1 to 1 in another 20 years in many parts of the world.

When labor is abundant businesses make less investment in “productivity enhancing technology”. Presumably the opposite is true – as labor supply shrinks, businesses will invest in more automation. This comes at a time when the capabilities of automation are increasing rapidly while the costs are dropping dramatically.

When the global labor supply became more abundant, spending on productivity enhancing technology by businesses became less attractive or necessary. Wages stagnated along with productivity and spare capacity helped keep inflation in check. But as labor becomes more scarce, the opposite should occur: greater investment in productivity enhancing technologies, faster wage growth, and tighter capacity leading to higher—but not runaway—inflation.

Inflation may be kept from a destructive resurgence and social programs for the elderly from becoming overburdened if productivity rebounds with more business investment in productivity-enhancing technologies, including robots and artificial intelligence.

Source: Expecting the Unexpected: Is a Demographic Disaster Looming? | Charles Schwab

As noted repeatedly on this blog, automation is coming anyway – rising minimum wages are not the cause of increasing use of automation. However, rising wages, including mandated higher minimum wages, accelerate the adoption of new tech to eliminate jobs.