Tag: robots

Quote of the Day: Rossum’s Universal Robots


“Robots of the world! The power of man has fallen! A new world has arisen: the Rule of the Robots!” — Karel Čapek

Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots), a once-popular 100-year old play by Czech writer Karel Čapek, made its television debut on the BBC, 82 years ago today, on February 11, 1938. It was the first televised science-fiction program in world history, introducing a wider audience to the term in the play’s title, one which has endured with increasing significance in the English language ever since: “robot.”

Čapek’s play was first performed in Prague in January of 1921, and was subsequently translated into English, having fairly successful runs in London and New York over the next few years. I haven’t read it myself, but a DePauw University plot summary is as follows:

How AI Is Like That Other General Purpose Technology: Electricity


Do we live in a time of rapid, sweeping technological change or one of persistent, maddening stagnation? Even as politicians and pundits warn about robots stealing all the jobs, economic statistics show weak productivity growth. So perhaps a paradox similar to the 1980s when economist Robert Solow famously said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

Then the 1990s happened and so did an information technology revolution and productivity boom, finally. One takeaway from that experience is that it can take considerable time to fully understand and harness new technologies so that measured productivity increases. And that’s not just the case with advanced tech such as incorporating artificial intelligence into a business. For example: The first barcode scan took place in the mid-1970s, but it took 30 years for organizations throughout the manufacturing-retail supply chain to make needed investments in “complementary technological, organisational, and process change,” as explained in “Upstream, Downstream: Diffusion and Impacts of the Universal Product Code” by Emek Basker and Timothy Simcoe.

Maybe the most well-known example is research from economic historian Paul David who found that it took decades for American factories to electrify and reorganize production after the shift to polyphase alternating current. And here’s a complementary finding in the new working paper “Does Electricity Drive Structural Transformation? Evidence from the United States” (bold by me):

Here Come the Robots: We Can Prepare for the Future Without Fearing the Future


Andrew Yang had his best policy moment of the Democratic debates last week when he said, “This country has been a magnet for human capital for generations. If we lose that, we lose something integral to our continued success.” Yang should talk more about immigration. And more about thorium-fueled nuclear reactors. Maybe also flesh out his VAT idea.

But Yang’s main idea, a universal basic income (UBI), is less appealing. It’s an elegant idea that would quickly look less so when filtered through the reality of government sausage-making and flawed human behavior. Then there’s Yang’s alarmist argument that we need UBI to meet the looming and “unprecedented crisis” of widespread technological unemployment. Yang: “In the next 12 years, 1 out of 3 American workers are at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies—and unlike with previous waves of automation, this time new jobs will not appear quickly enough in large enough numbers to make up for it.”

Maybe. But history would suggest probably not. Sure, you can find some pretty scary studies, but also reputable ones that are far rosier. In the paper “Automation and jobs: When technology boosts employment,” Boston University’s James Bessen writes that automation “often leads to growing employment in the affected industries,” and although “automation may eliminate jobs in some industries, it creates jobs in others.”

In the latest episode, the Young Americans get super nerdy, with the help of real-life tech policy researcher Caleb Watney of the R Street Institute. He and Jack discuss the virtues of free markets vs. Millennial skepticism thereof, question the emerging conventional wisdom on tech addiction and Silicon Valley, rebut the Unabomber (!), and go full nerd with semi-related digressions about Blade RunnerThe Matrix, and, of course, Dune.

Bob Is in Thrall to a Treat-Dispensing Device Called Dogness


There may be a lesson in human behavior from the addiction of Bob the dog to a device called Dogness. Or maybe not. Actually, I’m not sure I’ll find a moral before I end this post. Wish me luck.

Marie and I will be taking a cruise around the Mediterranean in a couple of months, and I wanted to give Bob some comfort while we’re gone. He’s a terribly needy dog with a severe case of separation anxiety. The lady across the street is going to come to the house twice a day to look to Bob while we’re gone, but I know Bob will still miss us. To ease his distress, then, I bought Dogness, the treat-dispensing device you see to your right.

Even aboard our ship sailing on the Mediterranean, I can talk to Bob through a speaker on the device (“Hi Bob! Good dog”), dispense a treat or two, and take a photo or video.

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July 17, 2019 AP Reports are coming out of Central American and Southern Mexico that a new caravan has formed and is starting to move north. Latino and Hispanic NGO agencies in the US, Mexico and Central America are rushing representatives to area. A large team of lawyers has chartered several large commercial airliners and […]

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On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.-George Orwell So what if non-religious people stop breeding because having sex with robots is more fun, safer and cheaper and less complicated than having sex with members of the opposite sex. As I understand it, non-religious […]

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(The current riots and car-burnings in Sweden reminded me of this post from 2013) The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from the rampant rioting that took place in late May.  Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Preview […]

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Yes, AI Can Create More Jobs Than It Destroys


Sophia, a robot integrating the latest technologies and artificial intelligence developed by Hanson Robotics.

The Luddites and technophobes have a point. Machines do displace workers. Always have. From the cotton gin, machine tools, and punch cards to combine harvesters, industrial robots, and business software. And it is this “displacement effect” that leads to scary forecasts about AI and robots leading to mass technological unemployment and underemployment.

The End of the Auto Era as We Know It May Be Approaching Faster Than You Think


Bob Lutz is a former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors. And in this essay for Automotive News, he declares the end of the auto industry as we know it:

It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era. The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile. Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules. The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway. . . .

Most of these standardized modules will be purchased and owned by the Ubers and Lyfts and God knows what other companies that will enter the transportation business in the future. A minority of individuals may elect to have personalized modules sitting at home so they can leave their vacation stuff and the kids’ soccer gear in them. They’ll still want that convenience. The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways. The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents. . . .

This week on Banter, John Yoo and Jeremy Rabkin joined the show to discuss their new book, “Striking Power: How Cyber, Robots, and Space Weapons Change the Rules for War.” Yoo is a visiting scholar at AEI and Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Rabkin is a law professor at George Mason University and serves on the board of directors of the US Institute of Peace, AEI’s Board of Academic Advisers, and the board of directors of the Center for Individual Rights. They hosted a book launch event at AEI to discuss the use of new military technologies such as drones, autonomous robots, and cyber weapons. The link below will take you to the full event video.

Learn More:

New Study Finds that Minimum Wage Hikes are Great News for Robot Workers


Back in 2014, I wrote a post that asked, “Why are minimum wage proponents dismissing automation risk?” I just wasn’t getting a sense from the “Fight for 15” crowd that it had thought much about the possibility that dramatically raising the minimum wage might worsen the competitive position of low-skill humans versus machines.

Or maybe it had, but the politics were so tantalizing that they took precedence over sound policy. My conclusion back then: “Pushing for an unprecedented boost in the minimum wage given both the weak economy and automation risk seems like foolhardy public policy.” That, especially given the low-risk alternative of raising and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Now comes the new NBER working paper, “People Versus Machines: The Impact of Minimum Wages on Automatable Jobs” by Grace Lordan and David Neumark (bold is mine):

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The sexbots are coming. To a bedroom near you. No longer the stuff of Hollywood fantasy, sexually “functioning” robots are now available to buy and try. And according to some commentators, they are the future of sex.  Vanity Fair referred to the “the Rolls-Royce of sex dolls” in a recent profile of an American manufacturer. […]

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Robots will continue to disrupt labor markets, and like everything economic, there is a curve to go with it.  At one end of the bell is Cave man society where everyone works all day just to survive, and at the other is idle humanity, where machines do everything.  We’re somewhere in the middle, but where, […]

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Is Automation Really the Worst Enemy of the Middle Class?


This Axios headline is problematic: “Summers: Automation is the middle class’ worst enemy.”

The accompanying piece doesn’t actually quote economist Larry Summers making that declaration. Rather it summarizes an interview in which Summers indeed points out the challenge automation poses for workers. He’s right.​ Of course that’s been the case for the past 200 years and will likely be the case for the next 200. But in exchange for a degree of instability and disruption, technological progress has dramatically raised living standards for workers.

Automation is kind of​ like alcohol, which, ​as Homer Simpson puts it, is “t​he cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It’s the job of policymakers to make sure workers are read​y​ to climb to the next foothold or ledge as the waters of automation continue to rise. It’s also their job to make sure policy is as supportive as possible of innovation. Indeed, we need more tech progress, not less. “The U.S. economy currently suffers not from too much automation, but rather from too little investment in the sort of technology that would raise the country’s lackluster productivity,” writes​ Derek Thompson ​in an excellent new piece ​at ​t​he Atlantic.

Robots Rising: Here’s What Happens to All Those Truckers


Techno-pessimists tend to be underwhelmed by recent innovations, like the smartphone, as well as most upcoming ones, like driverless cars. Especially driverless cars, it seems. In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” economist Robert Gordon is dismissive of the productivity impact of all sorts of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics. And he puts driverless cars right smack at the bottom: “This category of future progress is demoted to last place because it offers benefits that are minor compared to the innovation of the car itself or the improvements in safety that have created a ten-fold improvement in fatalities per vehicle mile since 1950.”

I don’t know how autonomous vehicles will affect measured productivity data. But they are going to be a pretty big deal, nonetheless. And I doubt too many analysts have thought through potential consequences as thoroughly as Benedict Evans of venture firm Andreessen Horowitz. His recent blog post, “Cars and second order consequences” is a must read on the subject. The first order consequences of electric — and they will be electric — autonomous vehicles are obvious. Fewer highway fatalities and a big drop in demand for gasoline, currently half of global oil production.

But what about the next order consequences? For instance, gas stations go away, but over half of US tobacco sales happen at gas stations, and they’re often an impulse purchase. Evans: “Car crashes kill 35k people a year in the USA, but tobacco kills 500k.” I wonder what happens to healthcare costs?

Silicon Valley, Economists Worried that Robots Will Cause Mass Unemployment


It’s my experience that technologists — at least of the entrepreneurial persuasion — are generally a bit more aggressive than economists with forecasts of rapid tech advancement as well as the potential disruption to labor markets. But maybe the economists are starting to come around to the Silicon Valley view. This from the Bank of England blog:

There is growing concern in the global tech community that developed economies are poorly prepared for the next industrial revolution. That might herald the displacement of millions of predominantly lesser-skilled jobs, the failure of many longstanding businesses which are slow to adapt, a large increase in income inequality in society, and growing industrial concentration associated with the rapid growth of a relatively small number of multi-national technology corporations.

Economists looking at previous industrial revolutions observe that none of these risks have transpired. However, this possibly under-estimates the very different nature of the technological advances currently in progress, in terms of their much broader industrial and occupational applications and their speed of diffusion. It would be a mistake, therefore, to dismiss the risks associated with these new technologies too lightly.