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The Occasional Robot Round-Up, Spring 2016 Edition

Time once again to check in with our eventual robot overlords and how they are evolving.

This is prompted by news that Google is hoping to sell off Boston Dynamics, the folks that are building some of the most advanced and scary robots on the planet. Seems that the latest generation have the potential for generating bad press, there are no sellable products in sight, and Google wants to walk away.

Here’s Atlas, one of the more recent human-sized Boston Dynamics creations, walking about, trying to do things, and being abused by technicians. As a commenter pointed out, there will come a time when AI-aware robots will find this video and think about it.


At the other end of the size spectrum, we have micro-robots propelled by flagellated bacteria navigating around obstacles in fluids. Microrobots can also now assemble themselves and create their own tools

New drones canfly up to a building then attach themselves to the wall and climb it.

Computers can be the legal drivers of cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Google likes this, as it will allow them to proceed with cars that have no human controls or intervention other than on and off. They consider humans more susceptible to errors.

Errors like this? Recent studies show that humans will trust a robot in an emergency, even after the robot is proven unreliable.

How about pizza emergencies? Domino’s, in New Zealand, is trying robotic delivery of pizza. If it gets the order wrong, we’ll order from them again (see above).

Don’t try any sudden moves, though. Cashier robots are being taught how to use knives.

Monkeys can now navigate a wheelchair with their thoughts...and a brain implant. (Hook them up to drones and the Wicked Witch can have an army of flying monkeys, that can climb walls.)

They will soon be here. New social robots are able to help the elderly stay in their homes longer.


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not liking the robots

I've never been a fan of cybernetic humans and I doubt I ever will. R2D2 aside, the kinds of robots we're seeing now are going to be the new robot armies... Terminator by the 10,000s, as replaceable as guns and tanks. No, a civilization that hasn't outgrown war should not be mucking about with robots and AI.

But really, this stuff is choice. Cashier robots with knives? Cashier robots period? Where will the human cashiers work when all the retail jobs have been roboticized from the cashiers to the security guards.

And people think a guaranteed income is bad. Even if it did disincentivise us from working, the point would be moot if there aren't any jobs. Soon, even the crummy third worlders who took our jobs ;) will be out of work as automation and robots take over their workplaces too. It could be very interesting trying to keep the old protestant work ethic going as a policy when there's no longer any need for the bulk of human labor.

Or, maybe the dystopian future we imagine won't come to pass. But every year, the robots get better, or worse, depending on your point of view....


compensation for non-work living

I think the issue of a guaranteed minimum income will become essential as jobs drop away.

The whole promise of technology is that is saves us time and effort, and our leisure time should increase. At its logical conclusion, machines do just about all the work and we can devote our time to other activities. It supposed to be a good thing. The problem is how to pay for life's necessities when there is no labor to do.

The wealthy do this already, via investments. Investments are very similar to a guaranteed minimum income. They enable people, when at the correct levels, to not need to go to work anymore. They can devote their time to other matters.

Perhaps we need a national investment portfolio, akin to Social Security, to provide dividends to those displaced in a job-free future. This will include anyone who does something repetitive at a desk or counter, from cashiers to lawyers.


And what do we say to the first business that wants to move here that offers to create 100 robot jobs and 5 real ones? Will that be considered a good business to attract?


Google parent company Alphabet just proved that...


Google parent company Alphabet just proved that it's serious about taking a more measured approach to its "moonshot" projects.

The company is trying to sell Boston Dynamics, the high-profile robotics startup it bought in late 2013 as part of a division known internally as "Replicant," because it isn't likely to produce a marketable product in the next several years, sources told Bloomberg's Brad Stone and Jack Clark earlier this week.

Other members of the robotics division, which got folded into Alphabet's experimental hardware lab, X, in December, are still trying to identify a specific, real-world problem — complete with a road map and a business plan — or they will get reassigned to work on existing projects within the company, a person close to the situation tells Business Insider.

Since Google appointed CFO Ruth Porat and reorganized itself into Alphabet last year, the company has more than ever before espoused a philosophy of disciplined spending and a willingness to kill off moonshots when necessary. ...



I've been enjoying the news of Microsoft's attempts to get an AI bot working on twitter. It's trying to learn to talk to, and in the style of, young people and it learns from what it finds others are doing on the internet.

First time out it worked well for a while, then started tweeting racist messages. It was shut down and worked on.

Now they tried it again, and it soon started talking about smoking drugs in front of the police, then it began spamming everyone with a repeated message about going too fast and needing to slow down.


In better AI news, the game of go has been played successfully by an AI program that was taught the rules, then played itself over and over until it became good enough to beat world champions. It even stunned players by making a non-intuitive but ultimately winning move in one of the games.


Naughty bits

Robots will turn us on:

"Californian researchers have established that an intimate caress of a humanoid robot can produce a physiological response in a human.

They challenged volunteers with a robotic creature less than two feet high that possessed eyes, ears, torso, legs, arms and a voice – and a chat-up line rich in come-hither invitations. “Sometimes I’ll ask you to touch my body and sometimes I’ll ask you to point to my body,” it told volunteers.

It was found that a touch where the robot’s buttocks or genitals would be produced a measurable response of arousal in the volunteer human, the scientists report."


Because you need to know this. : )


underwater drones

Most of the nuclear engineers I know got their start in the Navy, on nuclear subs. Looks like people on subs might be a thing of the past soon. From the Guardian:

"The US military has christened an experimental self-driving warship designed to hunt for enemy submarines, a major advance in robotic warfare at the core of America’s strategy to counter Chinese and Russian naval investments.

The 132ft-long (40m-long) unarmed prototype, dubbed Sea Hunter, is the naval equivalent of Google’s self-driving car, designed to cruise on the ocean’s surface for two or three months at a time – without a crew or anyone controlling it remotely."

They of course plan to put weapons on it someday, after a bit of testing. They are also thrilled at the cost savings by not using humans.

The Defense Secretary says “This is the first time we’ve ever had a totally robotic, trans-oceanic-capable ship.”



planning for hitting you

Google has new patents to help you get hit by driverless cars.

They suggest making the front surface of the car "sticky" upon impact, causing those run over to stick to the hood rather than be propelled through space.

This will be good for pedestrians. If they see a car with more than 3 people stuck to the front, they can step out of the way.


high school robots?

Yesterday an ex-McDonalds CEO said it would be cheaper to replace their workers with robots than to pay humans $15/hr+ wages.

Today the current CEO of McDonalds said humans would always have a place in serving customers. He suggested jobs in the back could be done by robots, but that would allow the restaurant to hire more humans for the front, service-end of the store. Table service with waiters and waitresses might be an option.

(Note to self: invent robot that cleans french fry grease off other robots.)



Seems entirely reasonable to assume clones will populate the near future. "Neo-humans", as Houlebecq calls them, will have transcribed DNA- skipping the embryonic phase- and have their intelligence and persona downloaded into cellular composites in human adult format. He further suggests that our inefficient digestive function is eventually replaced by a kind of photosynthesis.

A sci-fi spin on immortality, that appears to be in some form not-so-fictional given our species' hubris and techno-fetishism.

My question; in these in-between periods before sapien 2.0 is ascendant, will cloned neo-humans eat beside regular people at McDonalds?


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