What people talked about in March 2017:
Robots and work
In a flood of online articles and reactions, the topic of how robots will affect work rose to prominence.
- 60 Second Statistics pointed out that for manufacturing and retail companies, using automated robots is cheaper than actual slave labor would be: With maintenance and control included and spread over the cost of several dozen of these robots, it may cost around $4,000/year to maintain on the extreme high end. On the other hand, if institutionalized slavery still existed, factories would be looking at around $7,500 in annual costs for housing, food and healthcare per “worker”.
- This is in itself perhaps not surprising, but it comes at a time of a global move away from social services and towards the political right, with the result that the weakest in society will probably be those that will suffer most. Wired reports: Cutting Social Services Only Makes the Robotic Takeover Worse. The GOP’s actions ignore the fact that a strong safety net is vital to helping workers weather upcoming labor market disruptions from automation in transportation and other sectors.
- Inequality is not only a problem within one country, but also globally. Futurism.com reports that according to the UN, Robots Will Replace Two-Thirds of All Workers in the Developing World. Not only will 75% of jobs go to automation, the developing world may also see swaths of companies leaving their shores and returning to developed nations, as labor will be less of a factor for industry.
- Beginning with the new proposal for EU-wide guidelines for autonomous robots, a discussion about taxation for robot workers developed. John Naughton in The Guardian wrote under the headline: “If the robots are coming for our jobs, make sure they pay their taxes.” In a Quartz piece (actually from mid-February), Bill Gates argued for the taxation of robots. In the end, the European Parliament rejected the robot tax idea (see also a Reuters article here), and there was some backlash against Bill Gates’ call for a robot tax, primarily from governments that are afraid to stifle innovation (and force businesses out) by introducing such a robot tax. Of course, in the long run, robot taxation in some form will be inevitable.
Uber car traffic accident and liability laws in UK
- On March 25, one of Uber’s self-driving cars crashed in Arizona, adding to the troubles of the company (accusations of a sexist company culture and a dispute about possibly stolen technology from Waymo). According to Bloomberg, Uber suspended its self-driving program in Arizona as a reaction to the accident. Only two days later, Uber resumed their self-driving car program.
- In a related development, the UK government proposed that self-driving cars should be liable for accidents, not the passengers. Ars Technica comments: Electric charging points at all major motorway services and petrol stations, and the occupants of a self-driving car aren’t liable in the case of an accident—those are two of the measures proposed by a new law that the UK government hopes will let us reap the rewards of improved transport technology over the next few years.
Intel’s struggle with the AI market
- On February 25th, The Economist reported that Intel is in danger of losing the new AI market. With the success of NVIDIA as a platform for deep networks, and the rise of cloud computing, which often employs custom chips developed by Google, Facebook, and other companies, Intel’s orientation towards the desktop does not seem to point to a bright future.
- But only three weeks later, Wired reported that Intel would pay 15.3 billion USD to acquire Mobileye, “an Israeli company that makes chips and cameras for cars and trucks, including the self-driving variety.”
Robot doctors perform better than humans
- There has been an ongoing discussion about robots in medicine. In January already, Wired had reported: “If You Look at X-Rays or Moles for a Living, AI Is Coming for Your Job”: For every 10 lesions surgically biopsied, only one melanoma gets discovered. That’s a lot of unnecessary knifing. So doctors are now turning to artificial intelligence to tell the difference between innocuous and potentially fatal blotches.
- Now, the International Business Times reports that Google’s Deep Learning AI project diagnoses cancer faster than pathologists.
- In a related piece of news, Wired reports of a new surgical robot that can very precisely drill into the skull, in a way that is impossible to do manually: A Robot Ear Surgeon Drills Into the Future of Medicine: This thing should also make surgeons nervous. I mean, not this robot per se, but the vanguard it’s a part of. Because while surgeons are in total control of the cochlear bot, more machines are coming that will automate much of medicine. And that future will make for a potential regulatory — and public relations — mess.
DeepMind in talks to optimise electricity grid
- For those who have always anticipated the imminent Skynet takeover, March brought good news. DeepMind is in talks with National Grid to reduce UK energy use by 10% (Ars Technica) and Google Wants to Use AI to Cut the UK’s Electric Bill by 10 Percent (Popular Mechanics): Using Deepmind’s AI, the company could optimize the entire country’s energy infrastructure to cut costs and reduce emissions.
Robotic delivery in the grocery industry
- And finally, VentureBeat has an article about How robotic delivery will disrupt the grocery industry.
Thanks for reading, and a good April to all!
— Andy@moral-robots.com, http://moral-robots.com