Archives for posts with tag: Singularity

We are currently undergoing a revolution in the way we manufacture our goods. The unreal devices we see in science fiction shows like Star Trek are appearing in our real world at an accelerating rate.

In Southampton, engineers have used 3D printers to  successfully create a fully functional miniature plane with a two meter wingspan that can hit a top speed of 100 miles per hour. Operating much like the Replicator in Star Trek, this achievement is proof of the radical changes underway in the way complicated machines are built, as the Southampton team explains:

“This technology allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months.”

Over in China the manufacturing giant Foxconn, a major producer of electronic goods which includes Apple products, is planning on adding a million robots to its factories over the next three years.

The company, notorious owners of the Chinese ‘suicide factory’, are increasing it’s automated workforce up from its current level of 10,000 robots. Naturally, there are growing fears that the ten fold increase will cause many human workers to lose their jobs.

The fear of massive redundancy due to automation in the manufacturing sector is sharpened by the high unemployment rate induced by the poor state of the world markets - and with no clear signs of the economy getting better anytime soon, what are all the jobless humans to do?

Of course, there is no way that the robotic factory takeover will ever be prevented. Why employ five expensive humans when you can buy one robot who never calls in sick? Why hire an office cleaner when you can just buy a robot vacuum cleaners for a couple of hundred pounds?

So the question is – how do we face this revolution? According to Seth Godin, we should see it as an opportunity:

“Protectionism isn’t going to fix this problem. Neither is stimulus of old factories or yelling in frustration and anger. No, the only useful response is to view this as an opportunity. To poorly paraphrase Clay Shirky, every revolution destroys the last thing before it turns a profit on a new thing.

The networked revolution is creating huge profits, significant opportunities and a lot of change. What it’s not doing is providing millions of brain-dead, corner office, follow-the-manual middle class jobs. And it’s not going to.”

So it’s a good thing, right? Who really wants to clean meat at a slaughterhouse or work in a Foxconn factory where your colleagues regularly throw themselves out of windows?

But can these redundant workers really take any solace in the idea that there will be significant opportunities and huge profits when the robotic age truly sets in?

If history has taught us anything it is that these benefits will go straight into the pockets of those people that own these robots – and leave millions out of work.

Whilst the utopian view of a future society of leisure and freedom from mundane jobs is appealing, far more convincing is the prospect that the unemployed will begin to resent these machines and begin a struggle against them – something foretold in countless science fiction stories.

Do these science fiction stories have a solution? In the words of the greatest, Issac Asimov:

Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.”

In such a short space of time, technology and the internet has spread into previously unimaginable areas. But where next?

I found this list over at the TED conversation page from a guy called Christophe Cop.

* Social control networks
* Community to virtual countries with parallel tax and income systems
* verbal interaction with pc
* A complete documented systems of virtual layers worldwide, with virtual objects &c.
* Deep democracy systems
* Open data (& visualisation) everywhere
* Brain connections with the cloud
* Rewiring and re-shaping of the real-world with those tools
* Meeting places where groups of people go online together (instead of individuals coming together online)
* AI- life coach
* Biomonitoring
* More sensors connected to the cloud
* (free), open and smart integrating and commutating systems for everybody to use according to personal needs and demands.
* more Alternate reality games (like Urgent Evoke, but improved)
* personal virtual aura’s

Watson, the computer built by IBM that managed to beat the human Jeopardy champions in February, has set its processing superbrain on medicine.

The idea is that patients will tell Watson their symptoms, and the computer will try to deduce what the patient is saying using natural language processing algorithyms. It will then provide a diagnosis based on the information from 200 million documents stored on its 90 servers.

Computer aided diagnosis is becoming increasingly important as more medical knowledge is created. 10,000 medical papers are created each year, and even the most skilled doctor isn’t able to store all the information in their head.

And if Dr Watson becomes a staple in all hospitals, then the quality of diagnosis will increase significantly – Watson wouldn’t give a wrong diagnosis because it is tired or lazy! Also,  It could also cause major improvements to the healthcare of the poor (who often suffer inferior quality diagnosis from over worked staff).

There are criticisms of Watson being given a stethoscope. According to some physicians, only a trained surgeon can understand medicine – and medical knowledge is in a completely different ballpark to Jeopardy.

However, even if Watson isn’t fit to serve this purpose, I can’t imagine it would be long until a new computer came along to fill its surgical gloves.

The arrival of the world wide web has enabled humanity to move forward in leaps and bounds. It has destabilized old forms of power, fundamentally altered the  media landscape and connected people all over the world. We are only at the early stages of the digital revolution and we expect further life-changing developments  to come.

But what if robots could benefit from the internet in the same way? That is the question posed by the Roboearth project, a venture funded by the EU which intends to start building the world wide web for robots.

The idea behind RoboEarth is simple. Thousands of robots exist behind closed doors, but we never see them because they are usually programmed for very specific functions in very specific environments. Roboearth aims to change that by building a network where robots can upload their programming and connect with other robotic programmes.

The idea is that they will learn from one another and, according to the website, pave the way for “rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction”.In an interview with the BBC, Markus Waibel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, described it as a Wikipedia for robots.

Obviously, all the worries about robots becoming our ‘overlords‘ have been bounding around the internet, and not without good cause. After all, this is the start of a worldwide robotic communication network that could exist independent of human input (kind of like Terminator’s SkyNet).

But I don’t think we need to worry quite yet. The ability for robots to share both environmental knowledge, object recognition and action databases will likely be the first step in robots stepping out of the factory and more into our daily lives.

Microsoft’s new motion sensor controller Kinect doesn’t look very impressive if you only look at what it can do on the Xbox 360. What is more impressive is what the open source community is doing with the device. It is here where we can see some of the products enormous potential.

The Kinect was hacked three hours after it was released by a guy called Hector Martin, who was awarded a $3000 prize. Now programmers around the world are discovering innovative new ways to explore and exploit the devices potential.

Below are 3 videos showing the power of the device. The first shows how Kinect acts as an ‘eye’ for a robot (the technological mash-up uses an iRobot – a robot that costs around £400). The second shows how Kinect can see in 3d. And the third shows how the machine can learn visually.

These videos show why Kinect really matters. It seems that a robot that can truly see, can learn the name of objects and is able to perfectly navigate around the house is just around the corner.

Going from these videos it won’t be long until robots become a part of the home. Will they become as ubiquitous as computers are nowadays?

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