The Military

'Don't Fear the Robopocalypse': the Case for Autonomous Weapons (thebulletin.org) 136

Lasrick shares "Don't fear the robopocalypse," an interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the U.S. Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War). Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, "a cloud of air and ground robotic systems"). But he also argues that "In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don't know."

So does that mean he thinks we'll eventually see the deployment of fully autonomous weapons in combat? I think it's very hard to imagine a world where you physically take the capacity out of the hands of rogue regimes... The technology is so ubiquitous that a reasonably competent programmer could build a crude autonomous weapon in their garage. The idea of putting some kind of nonproliferation regime in place that actually keeps the underlying technology out of the hands of people -- it just seems really naive and not very realistic. I think in that kind of world, you have to anticipate that there are, at a minimum, going to be uses by terrorists and rogue regimes. I think it's more of an open question whether we cross the threshold into a world where nation-states are using them on a large scale.

And if so, I think it's worth asking, what do we mean by"them"? What degree of autonomy? There are automated defensive systems that I would characterize as human-supervised autonomous weapons -- where a human is on the loop and supervising its operation -- in use by at least 30 countries today. They've been in use for decades and really seem to have not brought about the robopocalypse or anything. I'm not sure that those [systems] are particularly problematic. In fact, one could see them as being even more beneficial and valuable in an age when things like robot swarming and cooperative autonomy become more possible.

AI

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI (bbc.com) 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"
It's funny.  Laugh.

Apparently, People Say 'Thank You' To Self-Driving Pizza Delivery Vehicles (technologyreview.com) 259

An anonymous reader shares a report: Last summer, Ford worked with Domino's Pizza on a test in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it delivered pizza to randomly chosen customers in a self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid. An operator was inside the car, and a regular human-driven car trailed behind, videotaping the drive. Customers had to approach the car and enter a number on a touch screen on the side of the vehicle to get their pizza. Speaking at CES, the annual consumer electronics show, in Las Vegas this week, Jim Farley, Fordâ(TM)s executive vice president, acknowledged that the idea sounds silly, "but we learned so freaking much," he said. Apparently, most people say "thank you" to the car after getting their pizza.
Transportation

Senior Citizens Will Lead the Self-Driving Revolution (theverge.com) 137

The Villages in Florida -- home to 125,000 residents, over 54,000 homes, 32 square miles, 750 miles of road, and three distinct downtowns -- will soon get a fleet of robot taxis. "Voyage, a startup that has been operating a handful of self-driving cars in the San Jose, California-based retirement community also called The Villages, announced today that later this year it will expand to the much-larger Villages north of Orlando," reports The Verge. "This is thanks to a successful Series A fundraising round that raked in $20 million in 2017." From the report: It's an indication that, strangely enough, many of the first people to fully experience the possibilities presented by self-driving cars will be over the age of 55. Most experts agree that robot cars will first roll out as fleets of self-driving taxis in controlled environments -- college campuses, business parks, dedicated freeway lanes, city centers, or retirement communities. Self-driving startups get to boast about providing a real service for people in need, while seniors get to lord over their grandchildren about being early adopters of a bold new technology. They're also getting something a little more valuable: Voyage is giving the owners of The Villages and the smaller San Jose development equity stakes of 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively, according to The Information. Voyage's self-driving cars aren't fully driverless. Safety drivers will remain behind the wheel just in case there's a need to intervene. And to compliment its digital mapping capabilities, the startup says it will partner with Carmera, a 3D mapmaker for autonomous vehicles. This type of partnership is necessary for what Voyage believes is "the largest deployment (by area size) of self-driving cars in the world."
Businesses

Jack In the Box CEO Says 'It Just Makes Sense' To Replace Workers With Robots (grubstreet.com) 1007

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Grub Street: Per Business Insider, Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma told an industry crowd that "it just makes sense" to swap cashiers for inanimate machines in the year 2018. Not because he thinks 2018 will be the year that fast food gets technologized so much as it's the year that Jack in the Box's home state of California increases the minimum wage to $11. In fact, wage bumps hit 18 states this year, with California on pace to become the first $15-wage state in coming years -- a prospect that terrifies industry executives. Jack in the Box has flirted with the idea of installing automated kiosks before. As early as 2009, it tested them out, and apparently found that they increase store efficiency and average check totals -- not bad at all if money's your bottom line. But according to Comma, the chain's executives balked because the upfront cost of converting from people to machines was still too great. What a difference a dollar an hour apparently makes: He told the crowd that with "the rising costs of labor," it's time to start thinking about automating restaurants.
Businesses

Ford is Giving Its Factory Workers Robot Exo-suits To Ease To Burden of Building Cars (qz.com) 49

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz: Ford's cars are getting closer to driving themselves, but they still need humans to build them. And because people aren't quite as durable as robots, it's trying to make those jobs easier by developing a suit with Ekso Bionics that takes the stress out of working long hours on a car assembly floor. Ekes, founded in 2005 in California, builds exoskeletons, essentially robotic assistive systems that people strap into to make walking, lifting, and standing easier. It's worked with the US military to build suits for soldiers. The system Ekso developed with Ford, called the EksoVest, doesn't use any motors to make working on factory lines less stressful, and it's nothing like what you see in movies, as it simply uses hydraulics to redistribute weight so that workers can comfortably raise their arms above their heads for extended periods of time. The suit can be worn by anyone from 5 ft to 6 ft 4 inches tall, and can provide lift assistance up to 15 pounds per arm. Some assembly-line workers at the average Ford plant lift their arms 4,600 times a day -- or about 1 million times a year, the company said.
NASA

NASA Advances Missions To Land a Flying Robot on Titan or Snatch a Piece of a Comet (washingtonpost.com) 49

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post: NASA's newest mission will either land a quadcopter-like spacecraft on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan or collect a sample from the nucleus of a comet. (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source.) The two proposals were selected from a group of 12 submitted to the New Frontiers program, which supports mid-level planetary science missions. The first, called Dragonfly, would be an unprecedented project to send a flying robot to an alien moon. Equipped with instruments capable of identifying large organic molecules, the quadcopter would be able to fly to multiple locations hundreds of miles apart to study the landscape on Titan. This large, cold moon of Saturn features a thick atmosphere and lakes and rivers of liquid methane, and scientists believe that a watery ocean may lurk beneath its frozen crust. [...] The Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return, or CAESAR, mission would circle back to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft from 2014 to 2016. After rendezvousing with the Mount Fuji-size space rock, CAESAR would suck up a sample from its surface and send it back to Earth, where it would arrive in November 2038 (mark your calendars!).
Television

What's The Best TV Show About Working in Tech? (gizmodo.com) 197

An anonymous reader writes: Recently Gizmodo hailed "the best show ever made about Silicon Valley", asking its readers one question: why didn't you watch it? They're talking about AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, which their Senior Reviews Editor says "discovered the fascinating, frustrating human side to the soulless monsters who built Silicon Valley." Unfortunately, "nobody watched it. The show never cracked a million live viewers after the pilot episode. It sat firmly on the bubble every season, getting greenlit only by the grace of AMC."

Today Netflix is making that show's fourth (and final) season available -- but is it the best show about working in tech? What about Mr. Robot, Silicon Valley, or The IT Crowd -- or that short-lived X-Files spin-off, The Lone Gunmen?

Has there ever been a good show about geeks -- besides those various PBS documentaries? Leave your own answers in the comments.

What's the best TV show about working in tech?
Mozilla

Mozilla Slipped a 'Mr. Robot'-Promo Plugin Into Firefox and Users Are Pissed (gizmodo.com) 307

MarcAuslander shares a report from Gizmodo: Mozilla sneaked a browser plugin that promotes Mr. Robot into Firefox -- and managed to piss off a bunch of its privacy-conscious users in the process. The extension, called Looking Glass, is intended to promote an augmented reality game to "further your immersion into the Mr. Robot universe," according to Mozilla. It was automatically added to Firefox users' browsers this week with no explanation except the cryptic message, "MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS," prompting users to worry on Reddit that they'd been hit with spyware. Without an explanation included with the extension, users were left digging around in the code for Looking Glass to find answers. Looking Glass was updated for some users today with a description that explains the connection to Mr. Robot and lets users know that the extension won't activate without explicit opt-in.

Mozilla justified its decision to include the extension because Mr. Robot promotes user privacy. "The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security," the company said in an explanation of the mysterious extension. "One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla's mission is that individuals' security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy."

Robotics

Robots Are Being Used To Shoo Away Homeless People In San Francisco (qz.com) 422

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: San Francisco's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8. The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn't set up camps outside of the nonprofit's office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office. San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

Security

Old Crypto Vulnerability Hits Major Tech Firms (securityweek.com) 32

wiredmikey writes: A team of researchers has revived an old crypto vulnerability and determined that it affects the products of several major vendors and a significant number of the world's top websites. The attack/exploit method against a Transport Layer Security (TLS) vulnerability now has a name, a logo and a website. It has been dubbed ROBOT (Return Of Bleichenbacher's Oracle Threat) and, as the name suggests, it's related to an attack method discovered by Daniel Bleichenbacher back in 1998. ROBOT allows an attacker to obtain the RSA key necessary to decrypt TLS traffic under certain conditions. While proof-of-concept (PoC) code will only be made available after affected organizations have had a chance to patch their systems, the researchers have published some additional details. Researchers have made available an online tool that can be used to test public HTTPS servers. An analysis showed that at least 27 of the top 100 Alexa websites, including Facebook and PayPal, were affected.
Robotics

After Automating Order-Taking, Fast Food Chains Had to Hire More Workers (theatlantic.com) 234

An anonymous reader quotes the Atlantic: Blaine Hurst, the CEO and president of Panera, told me that because of its new [self-service] kiosks, and an app that allows online ordering, the chain is now processing more orders overall, which means it needs more total workers to fulfill customer demand. Starbucks patrons who use the chain's app return more frequently than those who don't, the company has said, and the greater efficiency that online ordering allows has boosted sales at busy stores during peak hours. Starbucks employed 8 percent more people in the U.S. in 2016 than it did in 2015, the year it launched the app...

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University School of Law, found that as the number of ATMs in America increased fivefold from 1990 to 2010, the number of bank tellers also grew. Bessen believes that ATMs drove demand for consumer banking: No longer constrained by a branch's limited hours, consumers used banking services more frequently, and people who were unbanked opened accounts to take advantage of the new technology. Although each branch employed fewer tellers, banks added more branches, so the number of tellers grew overall. And as machines took over many basic cash-handling tasks, the nature of the tellers' job changed. They were now tasked with talking to customers about products -- a certificate of deposit, an auto loan -- which in turn made them more valuable to their employers. "It's not clear that automation in the restaurant industry will lead to job losses," Bessen told me.

United States

San Francisco To Restrict Goods Delivery Robots (bbc.com) 114

San Francisco officials have voted to restrict where delivery robots can go in the city, in a blow for the burgeoning industry. From a report: Start-ups will have to get permits to use such bots, which will be restricted to less crowded urban areas. Opponents are concerned about the safety of pedestrians, particularly elderly people and children. Walk San Francisco, a group that campaigns for pedestrian safety, wanted a complete ban. A range of companies have begun trialling small robots that can deliver food and other goods. They use sensors and lasers in a similar way to self-driving cars in order to navigate their routes. Robotics company Marble - which describes its machines as "friendly, neighbourhood robots" - began testing in San Francisco earlier this year.
The Almighty Buck

'We Could Fund a Universal Basic Income With the Data We Give Away To Facebook and Google' (thenextweb.com) 588

Tristan Greene reports via The Next Web: A universal basic income (UBI), wherein government provides a monthly stipend so citizens can afford a home and basic necessities, is something experts believe would directly address the issue of unemployment and poverty, and possibly even eliminate hundreds of other welfare programs. It may also be the only real solution to the impending automation bonanza. According to AI expert Steve Fuller, the problem is, giving people money when they lose jobs won't fix the issue, it's a temporary solution and we need permanent ones. Sounds fair, and he even has some ideas on how to accomplish this end: "We could hold Google and Facebook and all those big multinationals accountable; we could make sure that people, like those who are currently 'voluntarily' contributing their data to pump up companies' profits, are given something that is adequate to support their livelihoods in exchange."

It's an interesting idea, but difficult to imagine it's implementation. If the government isn't assigning a specific stipend value, we'll have to be compensated individually by companies. One way to do this, is by emulating the old coal mining company scrip scams of early last century. Employees working for companies would be paid in currency only redeemable at the company store. This basically created a system where a company could tax its own workers for profit. Google, for example, could use a system like that and say "opt-in for $10 worth of Google Play music for free," if they wanted to. Which doesn't help pay the bills when machines replace you at work, but at least you'll be able to voice search for your favorite songs. Another idea is to charge companies an automation tax, but again there's concerns as to how this would be implemented. A solution that combines government oversight with a tax on AI companies -- a UBI funded by the dividends of our data -- may be the best option. To be blunt: we should make Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other such AI companies pay for it with a simple data tax.

Robotics

Russia Says It Will Ignore Any UN Ban of Killer Robots (ibtimes.com) 132

According a report from Defense One, a United Nations meeting in Geneva earlier this month on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was derailed when Russia said they would not adhere to any prohibitions on killer robots. "The U.N. meeting appeared to be undermined both by Russia's disinterest in it and the framework of the meeting itself," reports International Business Times. "Member nations attempted to come in and define what LAWS' systems would be, and what restrictions could be developed around autonomous war machines, but no progress was made." From the report: In a statement, Russia said that the lack of already developed war machines makes coming up with prohibitions on such machines difficult. "According to the Russian Federation, the lack of working samples of such weapons systems remains the main problem in the discussion on LAWS... this can hardly be considered as an argument for taking preventive prohibitive or restrictive measures against LAWS being a by far more complex and wide class of weapons of which the current understanding of humankind is rather approximate," read the statement.
Robotics

375 Million Jobs May Be Automated By 2030, Study Suggests (cnn.com) 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: The McKinsey Global Institute cautions that as many as 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories by 2030 due to automation. The work most at risk of automation includes physical jobs in predictable environments, such as operating machinery or preparing fast food. Data collection and processing is also in the crosshairs, with implications for mortgage origination, paralegals, accounts and back-office processing. To remain viable, workers must embrace retraining in different fields. But governments and companies will need to help smooth what could be a rocky transition.

Despite the looming challenges, the report revealed how workers can move forward. While the introduction of the personal computer in the 1980s eliminated some jobs, it created many more roles. Workers who are willing to develop new skills should be able to find new jobs. The authors don't expect automation will displace jobs involving managing people, social interactions or applying expertise. Gardeners, plumbers, child and elder-care workers are among those facing less risk from automation.
The report says that 39 million to 73 million jobs in the U.S. could be destroyed, but about 20 million of those displaced workers can be shifted fairly easily into similar occupations. Globally, up to 800 million workers could be displaced.
Robotics

Scientists Have Built Robot Muscles That Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Own Weight (qz.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) announced today (Nov. 27) that they've created robotic "muscles" that can lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. The simple objects are constructed out of metal or plastic "skeletons" that are covered in either a liquid or air, and then sealed in plastic or fabric "skins." The muscle pulls taught when a vacuum is created inside the skin, and goes slack when the vacuum is released. By folding the skeletons in different ways, the vacuum can pull the muscle in different directions. "Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body," Daniel Vogt, a research engineer at the Wyss Institute, said in a release.

These new structures are also surprisingly cheap. As they don't require anything other than water or air to move them, the researchers told Harvard that a single muscle can be built in about 10 minutes, for less than $1. (Obviously, there'd still be a cost for the vacuum or whatever is being used to change the pressure of the muscles.)

Robotics

Famous Robot from 1956 Movie Auctioned For $5.3 Million (newatlas.com) 64

schwit1 tells us that "Robby the Robot" -- a prop from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet -- has just been auctioned for $5.3 million, making it the second most-expensive movie prop in history. New Atlas reports: The complete Robby suit, control panel, his jeep, numerous spares, alternate original "claw" hands, and the original wooden stage shipping crates, were sold Tuesday by Bonhams in New York for US $5,375,000 including buyers premium. The only purpose-built movie prop to have ever sold for more is Marilyn Monroe's "subway dress" from The Seven Year Itch (1955) which was sold by Profiles in History for $5,520,000 (including buyers premium) in 2011.
After Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot reappeared in a movie called The Invisible Boy, and later had a climactic showdown with the robot from Lost in Space. He also made appearances on other TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, Mork & Mindy, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. And he even appeared in commercials, including one warning about the dangers of depleting the ozone layer -- plus a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue.
Robotics

Is Sharp's Robot Vacuum Cleaner Vulnerable To Remote Take-over? (jvn.jp) 42

Slashdot reader AmiMoJo reports: Sharp's COCOROBO (heart-bot) vacuum cleaners can not just clean your house. They have cameras that can be viewed from a smart phone, and automatically take pictures of things they find under your sofa. They have microphones and voice recognition, and are able to ask how your day was when you get home from work. You can even activate their speakers and talk to your pets from the office. Unfortunately, so can anyone else if you don't install critical firmware updates.
JPCERT's warning says that the attacker must be on the same LAN to impersonate you, though "as a result, there is a possibility that an arbitrary operation may be conducted."
Google

Google's Eric Schmidt Says People Want Dish-Washing Robots To Clean Up the Kitchen More Than Any Other Kind (cnbc.com) 277

There is nothing that people want robots to be able to do more than to wash the dishes, according to Alphabet Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. From a report: "When you ask a person what they would like a robot to do, the thing that they would like more than anyone else, is clean up the dishes in the kitchen," the billionaire Google executive says speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum. "That is literally the number one request. And I say this having done this exhaustively," he says. Though you may dream of a robot dishwasher, don't hold your breath for it to happen in the immediate future. "That turns out to be an extraordinarily difficult problem," says Schmidt.

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