I, RobotA number of people have written and sent this link for a new domestic robot called the NS-5. According to the site, the purpose of the NS-5 is to, "Provide Freedom.... With the NS-5 at your side 24/7 you'll have more free time for hobbies, recreation, friends and most importantly family." Among other things, the NS-5 knows 80 languages and can mow the grass, walk the dog, shop for groceries and do the laundry. The NS-5 will even handle your personal finances and file your taxes for you.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the NS-5 is currently science fiction. The web site, along with a movie trailer that looks exactly like an ad for a real robot, are part of an elaborate marketing campaign for the movie "I, Robot" which will debut in July 2004. The book "I, Robot" is a collection of short stories written by Issac Asimov.
|In Asimov's short story called "Escape!", a thinking robot called "The Brain" is asked to design a hyperatomic space-warp engine. According to the story "There are no known limits to The Brain's capacity." The Brain has emotions, a personality, a moral code (the three laws), a sense of judgement and amazing computing powers. It has vision, language and so on. Pretty sophisticated stuff. When asked to design the first warp engine, The Brain says,|
Robots like The Brain are not that far away. With robots able to invent, design, build and pilot space ships (and by extrapolation absolutely everything else), how does the economy work? How do people earn a living? The only way for an economy to work when robots are this capable is for the the economy to be completely different from the one we have in place in the U.S. today. The notion of "working for a living" -- the foundation of today's economy -- is meaningless when robots do all the work.
Domestic assistants like the NS-5 will be here in 30 years or so, mowing the lawn, walking the dog and filing taxes. What Asimov misses is that robots like the NS-5 will take 50% or more of the jobs in the U.S. As stated in the article Robotic Freedom:
- At least 50 percent of the people working in the American job market today are working in people-powered industries like fast-food restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, etc.), retail stores (Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, Toys "R" Us, etc.), delivery companies (the post office, Fedex, UPS, etc.), construction, airlines, amusement parks, hotels and motels, warehousing and so on. All of these jobs are prime targets for robotic replacement.
- Even if you assume that the economy reconfigures rapidly and creates new jobs for all of these displaced workers, it will not do so instantaneously. There will be a year or more of turmoil for each employee as the economy invents the job and the employee retrains to fill it.
More likely, the economy will not be able to absorb all of these displaced workers. The economy has been creating millions and millions of low-paying, no-benefits, service-sector jobs for the last 40 years. These jobs are perfect for robotic replacement. There is no reason to expect that the economy will suddenly figure out a way to create high-paying, exciting, fulfilling jobs for these tens of millions of people displaced by robots. If the economy could do that, it would be doing it now.
Robotic Naval ShipsNews about Naval Forces
From the article:
- The U.S. Navy's experimental Spartan Scout class USV (unmanned sea going vehicle) has been sent to the Persian Gulf aboard the cruiser USS Gettysburg. The 23 foot long Spartan has received nothing but praise so far. The USV was meant for use in restricted waters, like the Persian Gulf. The Spartan controllers on the Gettysburg send the USV off to patrol close to the coast. The Spartan is equipped with 'electro-optical/infrared surveillance turret, surface search radar, digital imagery transmission suite, and an unmanned command and control suite.' In plain English, that means the USV has a day/night camera, a radar, radio gear that allows it to broadcast video and radar images back to the Gettysburg, and software that allows the USV to think for itself and stay out of trouble if the controllers on the Gettysburg lose contact with it. The USV can be equipped with Hellfire or Javelin missiles, and these would be used to attack hostile patrol boats (or boats packed with explosives for a suicide run at American ships) before they got too close to American ships. It's not known if the USV will be equipped with missiles for tests while it is in the Persian Gulf. The navy is eager to work out any bugs in the Spartan and get it into general service as soon as possible. Al Qaeda is known to be interested in making more suicide boat attacks on American warships and the Spartan Scout USV is an excellent way to stop that sort of thing.
Segway Robotic PlatformHumanoid robots like ASIMO are the holy grail, but bipedal motion is still complicated and expensive. The humanoid chassis will not be a commodity item for several years. In the meantime, a new robotic platform is emerging that is small, fast and inexpensive. As discussed in these articles, the platform is based on the Segway:
- What's Next: A Robotic Assistant in Need of Legs Gets Some Wheels
- CNN.com - Will Segways become battlefield bots?
- Segway robot opens doors
- It is available today as a plug-and-play system.
- It has relatively long range and long battery life.
- It has a small footprint -- not quite as small as a human, but close.
- It can carry 200 pounds.
[See also Bots, humans play together]
Other Unemployment PressuresBusiness Week: Corporate America's Silent Partner: India
From the article:
- The shift of skilled work to India is becoming one of Corporate America's worst-kept secrets. Almost daily, India's newspapers carry items on new plans by U.S. software, finance, or pharmaceutical companies to open or expand call centers and research labs. Officials from Bombay to Bangalore point to splashy new office parks that are soon to house major facilities by companies like Morgan Stanley, General Motors, or Dell. Tour a busy call center run by an Indian outsourcing specialist at midnight, and you'll likely see hundreds of staffers fielding calls for clients like American Express, MetLife, J.P. Morgan Chase, or Citigroup.
- Corporate America won't be able to stay silent forever, though. Globalization of white-collar work is an irreversible mega-trend that's only starting to hit full force. The massive facilities being built in India under the radar screen will soon be blindingly obvious. More important, the economic payoff of off-shoring business processes and a portion of R&D can be so enormous that even reluctant corporations will have little choice but to follow suit to stay competitive. If a major info-tech, insurance, telecom, or banking company doesn't disclose any back-office center in India, Wall Street will soon start asking, 'Why not?'
There is also this article: CNN - The real boom
From the article:
- But it's also worth noting what is not at record levels -- job creation. In the last two years U.S. manufacturers have eliminated about two million jobs. While there were signs in October of a revival in job growth, it was not at a high enough pace to significantly reduce the nation's high unemployment rate.
This is scary, in the face of such robust overall growth, but it's not inconsistent with my interpretation that the boom is driven largely by technological progress. One unfortunate side effect of techno-efficiency is that it reduces the need for people to do things machines can do.
To keep your job in this new world, you'd better be doing something that benefits from a digitized economy. And to compound the problem, as Intel CEO Craig Barrett has lately been pointing out -- we emerge from this recession with several billion more people having entered the global economy. Many of these people are willing to work hard for much less than the typical American. And much of today's work, as we've discussed here repeatedly, can be outsourced abroad over the wire.
- Another estimate by Forester Research goes into more specifics. Forrester estimates that by 2015, some 3.3 million service-sector jobs will be shipped overseas or rendered obsolete by technology. Forester analyst John McCarthy says jobs that are most at risk require fewer skills, are automated or are highly portable.
Those include computer programming and software engineer jobs, that have long been leaving the country. By 2015, 26 percent of those jobs will be gone, says McCarthy.
Clerical jobs, like accounts receivable and payable, financial research, data-entry and various administrative services also are vulnerable since their tasks are either becoming automated or can be performed by less-expensive workers somewhere else.
In Robotic Nation I discuss the fact that robotic replacement of workers will not be the only form of unemployment pressure. It combines with this "irreversible mega-trend" of off-shoring. And it combines, as discussed in Manna, with the Wal-Martization of wages (e.g. - California grocery store strikes), to create a gigantic minimum-wage working class in the United States. This minimum wage class becomes massively unemployed with the arrival of service sector robots starting in 2015.
ASIMO came to Raleigh. Here's a short video to show the capabilities of this robot today.
ASIMO represents the state of the art in 2003, and it is spookily anthropomorphic when you see it with your own eyes. It is configured so much like a human being, and moves in such a human way, that your brain automatically ascribes human qualities to it. Note how the announcer in the video says, "Way to go ASIMO!", and note how the robot leaves the stage with its arms raised and the audience cheering.
10 years ago a humanoid robot like this was impossible. Think about the capabilities ASIMO will have 10 years from now. In 20 or 30 years, when ASIMO merges with a computer that has CPU power approaching that of the human brain, we will have created a second intelligent species. The economic ramifications of this new species will be remarkable, and we should start planning for it now.
[Postscript: On December 18, Sony announced that its QRIO humanoid robot can now run and jump. Click here and here for details. Photos and movies here.]
Robots replacing people
The rise of the machines
From the article:
- She's young, beautiful, and fluent in several languages.
Sakura Sanae, one of the newest entrants to the Japanese diplomatic corps, and Tokyo's goodwill ambassador to the ASEAN nations, is also entirely computer generated.
"Virtual attractiveness" is a fascinating article on the kind of people that human beings find attractive. For example, the article points out that this photograph is not of a real person, yet most folks find her attractive:
Images of synthetic, perfect people are showing up more and more in the media. The article's main point is this: "Being surrounded by so much perfected beauty, it is not surprising that so many people are frustrated by their own appearance or that of their partners."
Off-the-shelf software packages like Facial Studio make it easier than ever to create realistic synthetic people.
Expect this trend toward synthetic people to accelerate rapidly and replace most human on-air talent. News anchors, reporters, weatherpeople, announcers, and eventually actors and actresses. We see the leading edge of it now. Extremely popular movies can be created without any human on-screen talent. Think about Toy Story, Shrek, Monsters Inc. and Nemo. The new movie Polar Express contains computer-generated people who look very realistic. In 10 years, synthetic people will be indistinguishable from real ones, and much more attractive.
[Related: On the cover of the January issue of Wired magazine is the blurb "How software killed the Hollywood stuntman". The article will be available online on January 7.]
An Overwhelming number of robotsTechnology News: Japan's Robot Developers Go Linux
From the article:
- "The stakes are high. Carmaker Honda believes that robots will become its most important business. If Honda and other proponents are correct, the size of the robotics industry could end up overtaking the PC industry.
Japan has suffered from the longest economic slump ever, but this has not stopped the country's industrial giants from investing millions in developing consumer robots. "
Over time, the economy may adjust to this new reality. But short-term, it is going to mean a lot of unemployment in every imaginable profession. Everyone from checkout clerks and customer service reps to teachers, doctors, nurses and construction workers will be out of their jobs and on the streets. See Robotic Nation for details.
Robots increasing unemploymentStill slow to hire here
From the article:
- Yet, even if the quotes turn into deals that erase a 25 percent sales decline that took hold in 2001, Thiss doesn't expect to hire workers anytime soon. The firm's investment in robotics and other new technology will allow his existing 90 employees to handle the increase.
No wonder the Labor Department's national jobs report Friday failed to impress.
Despite a drop in the U.S. jobless rate to an eight-month low of 5.9 percent, the nation's economy churned out a net gain of just 57,000 jobs in November — about a third of what some had expected.... Even as companies talk about better times ahead, few expect to add a lot of workers even as the good times roll. Some remain skeptical that better times will last. Others, like S&W Plastics, are counting on increased productivity to allow them to grow sales with growing payroll.
The stock market fell immediately on the news. The reason: investors realize that if the economy rebounds, but employment doesn't match the growth, we have a problem -- fewer consumers.
This problem -- known as "the jobless recovery" and exemplified by the article quoted above -- is exactly what you would expect in a robotic nation. Robots and other rapidly accelerating technologies take jobs faster than new jobs can be created. So employment stagnates -- that is what we are seeing today. Eventually unemployment will increase even as the economy grows. For example, there will be a day when robotic checkout lines, robotic sweeping machines, robotic shelf-stocking machines and so on allow Wal-Mart and every other retailer to lay off millions of workers all at approximately the same time. At that point, unemployment will increase significantly. At the same time, wealth will be concentrating significantly.
The question then becomes, what happens to this mass of unemployed workers? Because of the concentration of wealth, the alignment of the political process with wealth and the rise of robotic security forces, it is unlikely that the unemplyed masses will have any say in the outcome. Terrafoam housing, as described in Manna, seems like one increasingly probable path unless we begin taking action now to correct the imbalance.
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