Fedex RobotsWired News: FedEx Delivers New Tech Lab
Fedex has created a new 90,000 square foot research facility called the FedEx Institute of Technology. From the article:
- Artificial intelligence, for example, might someday replace those pesky live customer service representatives who have basic human needs.
"In the future, customer service agents will literally be there 24-7, and won't need light or health insurance," said Jim Phillips, the institute's director and executive chairman.
Researchers at the new center -- which opens Wednesday, and is a collaboration between FedEx and the University of Memphis -- already are working with computer engineers and psychology experts to develop a "conscious software agent," Phillips said.
Customer service agents aren’t the only ones who might need to look for a new line of work -- pilots might be in trouble, too. Airplanes in FedEx's large fleet already employ AI when they're on autopilot, and researchers at the new center will be working to advance the technology.
The question we should be asking is, "What new jobs will the economy create to absorb all of the pilots, customer service agents and drivers that Fedex will replace with robots/AI over the next 20 to 30 years?" Fedex will be dumping tens of thousands of employees onto the unemployment line, and at the same time every other major company will be doing the same. Right now the economy is not creating high-paying, exciting new jobs at any rate that will accomodate all of the newly unemployed. See Robotic Nation for details.
Consumers and RobotsMore Consumers Reach Out to Touch the Screen
From the article:
- Ms. Ward, 37, pays for gas only at the pump. She shops at Marsh, a supermarket in her neighborhood that has machines that let customers scan, bag and pay for groceries themselves. Her favorite bank teller is her A.T.M.
Dealing with humans in such situations "just slows you down," she says. "This is a lot more convenient."
See Robotic Nation for where this trend takes us.
Robotic SurgeonsRobots invade the operating room
From the article:
- Hundreds of robots have invaded operating rooms across the globe. No, it's not a new horror movie. Surgeons are inviting these robots to be the newest members of their teams. The minimally-invasive machines are ushering in an era of surgical precision and results unmatched by the human hand.
- And as the doctor never touches the patient, the traditional boundaries of the operating room walls are melting away, allowing surgeons to operate da Vinci from across the globe.
Menon thinks the "sky's the limit" for robotics in the operating room. And doctors, like airline pilots, will earn their wings on simulators. So that when a surgeon sits down for their first operation, they will have done it hundreds of times in virtual reality.
The article's comparison of surgeons to pilots is telling. Over the next 10 to 20 years, pilots will be replaced by advanced auto-pilots and eliminated from the cockpit. In the same way, as robotic vision systems advance, it will be possible to create completely robotic surgeons that will displace human surgeons from the operating room. These robotic surgeons will also train on simulators. However, they will be able to train 24 hours a day and they will have none of the problems with fatigue or illness that plague human surgeons. Once robotic surgeons surpass human surgeons, human surgeons will cease to exist. The same thing will happen across the medical profession -- doctors, nurses, technicians, assistants, etc. will all be replaced by robots and out of work.
In the process of eliminating human beings from the medical profession, medical care will improve dramatically. How much will it improve? I saw an ad at the airport last November. The ad was paid for by the AAOS (The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons). This ad shows a patient sitting in a gown on a table. Using a felt-tip marker, the doctor in the ad is signing his name on one of the patient's knees. The point of the ad is to say to patients, "Before the anesthesiologist puts you to sleep, make sure to have your doctor personally sign the part of your body needing surgery so he/she doesn't make a mistake and operate on the wrong thing."
The fact that this ad exists and was running nationwide on billboards in airports tells you that there is a big problem with human error in the operating room. When human error among doctors is that rampant -- so rampant that you start seeing ads in airports -- you know how big the problem is. Who is going to want a human doctor to perform surgery once mistake-free robotic doctors are available? Robotic doctors will be better, they will cost nothing compared to a human doctor, and they won't be taking out your appendix when they are supposed to be operating on your left knee.
The question is: where will all of the people displaced from the medical profession go once they are laid off? See Robotic Nation for details.
Moore's Law ContinuesIntel reports new material to shrink chips
From the Article:
- "Intel researchers have discovered a new material that they say will permit them to overcome one of the most serious obstacles facing chipmakers as they struggle to shrink computer chips to ever-smaller dimensions.
The announcement, made at a technical conference in Japan on Wednesday, could be a crucial step forward because the industry has been increasingly plagued by the problem of preventing electrical current from leaking outside its proper path as each generation of chips has moved closer to fundamental physical limits....
Intel has had a small team working on the problem of a replacement for silicon in its Hillsborough, Oregon, research laboratories for five years in an effort to continue to advance chipmaking technology at the relentless pace of Moore's law. This law predicts that the number of transistors that can packed into the same space should double every 18 months."
Developments like these explain why Moore's Law has been able to stay on course for decades. Each time we seem to bump up against fundamental limits, scientists and engineers develop new technologies to keep Moore's Law on track. See Robotic Nation for details.
Manna arriving in the Workplace
The book Manna describes a workplace where robots take a larger and larger role in managing employees. In Manna's world, every task that an employee undertakes comes at the instruction of a computer, and every aspect of the employee's worklife -- down to the employee's location in the workplace and pace in moving from point A to point B -- is monitored and controlled by computer.
The article entitled Big Employer Is Watching in this week's WSJ describes the incremental steps we are taking in this direction:
- In their drive to squeeze greater efficiency from staffers, a growing number of employers are embracing sophisticated electronic tracking systems to ensure their workers are at their desks and work stations when they are supposed to be. And while many blue-collar workers are used to punching a time clock, many of the new tracking systems are trained on white-collar, salaried employees.
- "At New York law firm Akin & Smith LLC, paralegals, receptionists and clerks clock in by placing a finger on a sensor kept at a secretary's desk."
- "At the Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in Normal, Ill., Andy Whaley, a manager of accounting, can check from his desktop computer how many of the plant's 500 white-collar employees have shown up for work in a given period."
- "Economic Advantages Corp., a mortgage-services company with offices in Woodstock, Vt., and Manhasset, N.Y., installed an attendance-tracking system last month. It requires the company's 35 employees to punch in using a finger-recognition technology. The new system means that, in effect, the company's salaried workers, which mostly are client-services representatives, now get paid by the hour."
- "Illiana Financial Credit Union in Calumet City, Ill., has used a fingerprint-recognition system to track its tellers and loan officers since early 2001."
- "A large computer manufacturer that had used a Kronos system for hourly workers, extended the product to cover 25,000 salaried employees when it upgraded its system in 2001."
- "Tri B Nursery Inc., a Tahlequah, Okla., plant wholesaler, is testing a hand-recognition system to supplant punch-card time clocks to track more than 500 migrant workers across 300 acres during the company's busiest season."
Completely Robotic Factories in JapanIn Japan, as in the U.S., Companies Fear China
From the article:
- From high atop the 52nd floor of the Tokyo Opera City Tower, one of Tokyo's most prestigious corporate addresses, Yamada, a former Mitsui Metal executive, is plotting the next industrial revolution. It begins with a powerful computing system nicknamed Pharaoh, the general of his high-tech tooling company. Every morning, Pharaoh sends tooling orders to engineers who design the digital blueprints that are transmitted to a small factory in Ota City.
There, a barebones crew of part-time technicians reads Pharaoh's instructions and inputs data into a bank of 3-D stereolithography machines that fabricate the prototype parts. The small factory floor is eerily silent as robots glide along, inserting the raw metal into the machines and pulling out the finished product. Since last year, the part-time crew has shrunk to 40 from 200. By the end of the year, the tooling factory will be entirely robotic, Yamada said.
The problem is that, during those same 10 to 20 years, robots will be moving into the service sector as well. Tens of millions of service sector jobs will also be evaporating. See Robots in 2015 for a discussion.
[See also this article on robotic warehouses.]
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