United States

Is Russia Conducting A Social Media War On America? (time.com) 441

An anonymous reader writes: Time magazine ran a cover story about "a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces" -- social media. "Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it's becoming easier every day," says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology." The article cites current and former FBI and CIA officials who now believe Russia's phishing emails against politicians were "just the most visible battle in an ongoing information war against global democracy." They cite, for example, a March report by U.S. counterintelligence which found "Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department." Each message contained links tailored to the interests of the recipient, but "When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow's hackers to take control of the victim's phone or computer -- and Twitter account...

"In 2016, Russia had used thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. Now counterintelligence officials wondered: What chaos could Moscow unleash with thousands of Twitter handles that spoke in real time with the authority of the armed forces of the United States?" The article also notes how algorithms now can identify hot-button issues and people susceptible to suggestion, so "Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior. That is what Moscow is doing, more than a dozen senior intelligence officials and others investigating Russia's influence operations tell Time."

The article describes a Russian soldier in the Ukraine pretending to be a 42-year-old American housewife. Meanwhile, this week Time's cover shows America's White House halfway-covered with Kremlin-esque spires -- drawing a complaint from the humorists at Mad magazine, who say Time copied the cover of Mad's December issue.
Robotics

Robots Could Wipe Out Another 6 Million Retail Jobs (cnn.com) 271

According to a new study this week from financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group, between 6 million and 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk of being replaced over the course of the next 10 years by some form of automation. "That represents at least 38% of the current retail work force, which consists of 16 million workers," reports CNN. "Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study." From the report: That doesn't mean that robots will be roving the aisles of your local department store chatting with customers. Instead, expect to see more automated checkout lines instead of cashiers. This shift alone will likely eliminate millions of jobs. "Cashiers are considered one of the most easily automatable jobs in the economy," said the report. And these job losses will hit women particularly hard, since about 73% of cashiers are women. There will also be fewer sales jobs, as more and more consumers use in-store smartphones and touchscreen computers to find what they need, said John Wilson, head of research at Cornerstone. There will still be some sales people on the floor, but just not as many of them. Rising wages are also helping to drive automation, as state and city governments hike their minimum wages. Additionally, several major retailers including Walmart, the nation's largest employer, have increased wages in order to find and retain the workers they need. The increased competition from e-commerce is also a factor, since it requires retailers to be as efficient as possible in order to compete.
Robotics

A Lowe's Hardware Store Is Trialling Exoskeletons To Give Workers a Helping Hand (theverge.com) 48

slew writes: Okay, this isn't Aliens 2, but hardware chain Lowe's is "outfitting employees with a simple exoskeleton to help them on the job," reports The Verge. "The company has partnered with Virginia Tech to develop the technology, which makes lifting and moving heavy objects easier. The non-motorized exoskeletons are worn like a harness, with carbon fiber rods acting as artificial tendons -- bending when the wearer squats, and springing back when they stand up. Lowe's has issued four of the custom-built suits to employees at a store in Christiansburg, Virginia. The equipment has been in use for over a month and the company says early feedback is extremely positive. '[Employees] wear it all day, it's very comfortable, and it makes their job easier,' says Kyle Nel, the director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, adding that Lowe's is working with scientists from Virginia Tech to conduct a proper survey of the technology's usefulness. 'It's early days, but we're doing some major studies,' he says."
Robotics

WSJ Columnist: Robots Aren't Destroying Enough Jobs (foxbusiness.com) 382

An anonymous reader writes: Will millions be unemployed after a job-destroying robot apocalypse? That's "starkly at odds with the evidence," argues a Wall Street Journal columnist, who says the real problem is robots aren't destroying enough jobs. "Too many sectors, such as health care or personal services, are so resistant to automation that they are holding back the entire country's standard of living." Noting that "churn relative to total employment" is the lowest it's ever been, he writes that "The pessimism would be more plausible if the evidence weren't moving in exactly the opposite direction...

"In April, nonfarm private employment rose for the 86th straight month, the longest such streak on record. Monthly job creation has averaged 185,000 this year, more than double what the U.S. can sustain given its demographics. This has driven unemployment down to 4.4%, a 10-year low and below most estimates of 'full employment.' Growing labor shortages have boosted the typical worker's annual wage gain to more than 3% now from 2% in 2012, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Instead of worrying about robots destroying jobs, business leaders need to figure out how to use them more, especially in low-productivity sectors... The alternative is a tightening labor market that forces companies to pay ever higher wages that must be passed on as inflation, which usually ends with recession.

"That is a more imminent threat than an army of androids."

Government

San Francisco Politician Jane Kim Is Exploring a Tax On Robots (businessinsider.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In San Francisco, where robots already run food deliveries for Yelp's Eat24 and make lattes at a mall coffee kiosk, one politician is working to ensure the city stays ahead of the curve. Supervisor Jane Kim is exploring a tax on robots as one solution to offset the economic devastation a robot-powered workforce might bring. Companies that use robots to perform tasks previously done by humans would pay the city. Those public funds might be used to help retrain workers who lose their jobs to robots or to finance a basic income initiative. Kim, one of 11 city supervisors in San Francisco, has been interviewing tech leaders, labor groups, and public policy experts in the hopes of creating a task force that will explore how a "robot tax" might be implemented. San Francisco would become the first city to create such a tax, after European lawmakers rejected a similar proposal in February. Kim learned the concept of a robot tax when Bill Gates called for one in an interview with Quartz. It struck a chord with the San Francisco politician, who represents some of the poorest and wealthiest residents across the Tenderloin, South of Market, Civic Center, Treasure Island, and several other neighborhoods. She hears of robots cropping up in hotels, hospitals, and even her local bar, and worries about how automation might deepen the income gap.
Robotics

Credit Suisse Deploys 20 Robots Within Bank (reuters.com) 38

Credit Suisse has deployed 20 robots within the bank, some of which are helping employees answer basic compliance questions, the Swiss bank's global markets chief executive, Brian Chin, said on Monday. From a report: Chin, speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, said the technology may help reduce the number of calls coming into the bank's compliance call center by as much as 50 percent. The technology works like Amazon's Alexa voice system. While Chin called them robots, it was not clear if they had a physical presence or how exactly employees interacted with them.
AI

VC Founder Predicts AI Will Take 50% Of All Human Jobs Within 10 Years (cnbc.com) 451

An anonymous reader quotes CNBC: Robots are likely to replace 50 percent of all jobs in the next decade, according to Kai-Fu Lee, founder of venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures and a top voice on tech in China. Artificial intelligence is the wave of the future, the influential technologist told CNBC, calling it the "singular thing that will be larger than all of human tech revolutions added together, including electricity, [the] industrial revolution, internet, mobile internet -- because AI is pervasive"...

For example, he said, companies in which his firm has invested can accomplish feats such as recognizing 3 million faces at the same time, or dispersing loans in eight seconds. "These are things that are superhuman, and we think this will be in every industry, will probably replace 50% of human jobs, create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty," Lee said, later adding that he expected that displacement to occur in the next 10 years.

Robotics

Humans Are Already Harassing Security Robots (cnn.com) 184

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: As robots begin to appear on sidewalks and streets, they're being hazed and bullied. Last week, a drunken man allegedly tipped over a 300-pound security robot in Mountain View, California... Knightscope, which makes the robot that was targeted in Mountain View, said it's had three bullying incidents since launching its first prototype robot three years ago. In 2014, a person attempted to tackle a Knightscope robot. Last year in Los Angeles, people attempted to spray paint a Knightscope robot. The robot sensed the paint and sounded an alarm, alerting local security and the company's engineers... the robot's cameras filmed the pranksters' license plate, making it easy to track them down.
The company's security robots are deployed with 17 clients in five states, according to the article, which notes that at best the robots' cameras allow them to "rat out the bullies." But with delivery robots now also hitting the streets in San Francisco and Washington D.C., "the makers of these machines will have to figure out how to protect them from ill-intentioned humans."
AI

Wired Founding Editor Now Challenges 'The Myth of A Superhuman AI' (backchannel.com) 284

Wired's founding executive editor Kevin Kelly wrote a 5,000-word takedown on "the myth of a superhuman AI," challenging dire warnings from Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk about the potential extinction of humanity at the hands of a superintelligent constructs. Slashdot reader mirandakatz calls it an "impeccably argued debunking of this pervasive myth." Kelly writes: Buried in this scenario of a takeover of superhuman artificial intelligence are five assumptions which, when examined closely, are not based on any evidence... 1.) Artificial intelligence is already getting smarter than us, at an exponential rate. 2.) We'll make AIs into a general purpose intelligence, like our own. 3.) We can make human intelligence in silicon. 4.) Intelligence can be expanded without limit. 5.) Once we have exploding superintelligence it can solve most of our problems... If the expectation of a superhuman AI takeover is built on five key assumptions that have no basis in evidence, then this idea is more akin to a religious belief -- a myth
Kelly proposes "five heresies" which he says have more evidence to support them -- including the prediction that emulating human intelligence "will be constrained by cost" -- and he likens artificial intelligence to the physical powers of machines. "[W]hile all machines as a class can beat the physical achievements of an individual human...there is no one machine that can beat an average human in everything he or she does."
Robotics

MIT Creates 3D-Printing Robot That Can Construct a Home Off-Grid In 14 Hours (mit.edu) 62

Kristine Lofgren writes: Home building hasn't changed much over the years, but leave it to MIT to take things to the next level. A new technology built at MIT can construct a simple dome structure in 14 hours and it's powered by solar panels, so you can take it to remote areas. MIT's 3D-printing robot can construct the entire basic structure of a building and can be customized to fit the local terrain in ways that traditional methods can't do. It even has a built-in scoop so it can prepare the building site and gather its own construction materials. You can watch a video of the 3D-printing robot in action here.
Robotics

Washington State Orchard Owners Look To Robots As Labor Shortage Worsens (seattletimes.com) 137

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Seattle Times: Harvesting Washington state's vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market. The robotic pickers don't get tired and can work 24 hours a day. FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, California, are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years. Members of the $7.5 billion annual Washington agriculture industry have long grappled with labor shortages, and depend on workers coming up from Mexico each year to harvest many crops. While financial details are not available, the builders say the robotic pickers should pay for themselves in two years. That puts the likely cost of the machines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each. FFRobotics is developing a machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. The machine would have between four and 12 robotic arms, and can pick up to 10,000 apples an hour, Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics, said. One machine would be able to harvest a variety of crops, taking 85 to 90 percent of the crop off the trees, Kober said. Humans could pick the rest. Abundant Robotics is working on a picker that uses suction to vacuum apples off trees.
AI

Billionaire Jack Ma Says CEOs Could Be Robots in 30 Years, Warns of Decades of 'Pain' From AI (cnbc.com) 287

Self-made billionaire, Alibaba chairman Jack Ma warned on Monday that society could see decades of pain thanks to disruption caused by the internet and new technologies to different areas of the economy. From a report: In a speech at a China Entrepreneur Club event, the billionaire urged governments to bring in education reform and outlined how humans need to work with machines. "In the coming 30 years, the world's pain will be much more than happiness, because there are many more problems that we have come across," Ma said in Chinese, speaking about potential job disruptions caused by technology. [...] Ma also spoke about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) and said that this technology will be needed to process the large amount of data being generated today, something that a human brain can't do. But machines shouldn't replace what humans can do, Ma said, but instead the technology community needs to look at making machines do what humans cannot. This would make the machine a "human partner" rather than an opponent.
China

Chinese Warehouse Cut Labor Costs In Half With a Fleet of Tiny Robots (qz.com) 130

Many people around the world fear their job will eventually be replaced by a machine, including many Slashdotters. But workers in China may be the most fearful as Asia produces more robots than the rest of the world combined. Last week, a Chinese shipping company, called Shentong Express, showed off a mildly-dystopian automated warehouse that reportedly cut its labor costs in half using a fleet of tiny robots, according to the South China Morning Post. Quartz reports: In a video, tiny orange robots made by Hikvision ferry packages around an eastern China warehouse, taking each parcel from a human worker, driving under a scanner, and then dumping the package down a specific chute for it to be shipped. The human's main job in the video appears to be picking up packages and placing them label-up on top of the robot, a task modern robotics is only just starting to put into warehouse production. A spokesperson told the Post that Shentong is using the robot in two of its warehouses, and hopes to expand use to the rest of the country.
AI

Russia Wants To Send A Gun-Shooting Robot To The ISS (mashable.com) 141

"Just in time for the rise in global military tensions, Russian officials have released video that's sure to calm fears all around: a death dealing humanoid robot that shoots handguns." An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: Posted to Twitter on Friday by Russia's deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, the video shows the country's space robot FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) accurately shooting twin pistols in a scene chillingly similar to images from The Terminator. But rather than being displayed as a not-so-subtle warning to the entire human population of the planet, Rogozin instead claims via Facebook that it's just a demonstration of the robot's dexterity and use of algorithms to execute tasks.
CNET quotes Russia's deputy prime minister as saying "We are not creating a Terminator, but artificial intelligence that will be of great practical significance in a lot of spheres." Russia plans to deploy the robot on the International Space Station by 2021, Mashable reports, adding "Hopefully, the robot's arrival on the ISS will come sans life-snuffing weaponry, which is pretty much the opposite of the intent behind creating a peaceful international space station shared by the world's super powers in the first place."
Robotics

A New Survey Shows Consumers Are Not That Freaked Out By Tech (fastcompany.com) 52

Lippincott, a global creative consultancy, asked 2,000 "leading edge" consumers in the U.S. whether they were excited to welcome our robot overlords or terrified of them. A report on FastCompany adds: Some of their findings go against conventional wisdom, like the belief that consumers are scared about the future. Turns out 80 percent said they are excited about changes in technology. Some 78 percent feel more powerful and in control of their lives thanks to the support from smart machines, artificial intelligence, and robotics. There is some anxiety about the incursion of tech into our lives, with over 40 percent reporting that they are scared about changes to the economy, society, culture, and the government. Despite that, 64 percent of them still expect that the world will be better in 10 years than it is today.
AI

AI Programs Exhibit Racial and Gender Biases, Research Reveals (theguardian.com) 384

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: An artificial intelligence tool that has revolutionized the ability of computers to interpret everyday language has been shown to exhibit striking gender and racial biases. The findings raise the specter of existing social inequalities and prejudices being reinforced in new and unpredictable ways as an increasing number of decisions affecting our everyday lives are ceded to automatons. In the past few years, the ability of programs such as Google Translate to interpret language has improved dramatically. These gains have been thanks to new machine learning techniques and the availability of vast amounts of online text data, on which the algorithms can be trained. However, as machines are getting closer to acquiring human-like language abilities, they are also absorbing the deeply ingrained biases concealed within the patterns of language use, the latest research reveals. Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath and a co-author, warned that AI has the potential to reinforce existing biases because, unlike humans, algorithms may be unequipped to consciously counteract learned biases. The research, published in the journal Science, focuses on a machine learning tool known as "word embedding," which is already transforming the way computers interpret speech and text.
Robotics

Japan Automakers Look To Robots To Keep Elderly On the Move (reuters.com) 40

Japanese automakers are looking beyond the industry trend to develop self-driving cars and turning their attention to robots to help keep the country's rapidly graying society on the move. From a report: Toyota said it saw the possibility of becoming a mass producer of robots to help the elderly in a country whose population is ageing faster than the rest of the world as the birthrate decreases. The country's changing demographics place its automakers in a unique situation. Along with the issues usually associated with falling populations such as labor shortages and pension squeezes, Japan also faces dwindling domestic demand for cars. Toyota, the world's second largest automaker, made its first foray into commercializing rehabilitation robots on Wednesday, launching a rental service for its walk assist system, which helps patients to learn how to walk again after suffering strokes and other conditions.
Robotics

RightHand Robotics Automates a New Type of Warehouse Work: Recognizing, Picking Up Items From Boxes (qz.com) 56

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A startup called RightHand robotics recently began piloting technology that automates a task robots have previously struggled to master: recognizing and picking up items from boxes. RightHand can't say which companies are part of its pilot project and Amazon didn't reply to a request for comment. But the new technology could help the ecommerce giant with a problem that has long vexed it. Like robots elsewhere, Amazon's robots retrieve entire shelves and transport them to humans who pick out items from them. They can find and move a shelf that holds a box of shirts, but they aren't capable of removing the single shirt from that box to be packed into an order. In order to pick items from boxes, robots need to master the more complex task of identifying a wide range of objects and adjusting their grips accordingly. RightHand robotics, which was started by a team of researchers from Harvard Biorobotics Lab, the Yale Grab Lab, and MIT, built a solution called RightPick that, according to co-founder Leif Jentoft, can pick items at a rate of 500 to 600 per hour -- a speed on par with a human worker. It uses a machine learning background and a sensitized robot hand to recognize and handle thousands of items.
Robotics

GM Hooking 30,000 Robots To Internet To Keep Factories Humming (bloomberg.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: General Motors has connected about a quarter of its 30,000 factory robots to the internet, and the largest U.S. automaker already is reaping the benefits of less down time. In the last two years, GM has avoided 100 potential failures of vehicle-assembling robots by analyzing data they sent to external servers in the cloud, Mark Franks, director of global automation, said at a conference in Chicago on Monday. Connectivity is preventing assembly line interruptions and robot replacements that can take as long as eight hours. Internet monitoring allows GM to order parts when it detects they're wearing out instead of having to store them at the factory. That reduces inventory and saves money, Franks said. Hooking robots to the internet for preventive maintenance is just the start of a spurt of new robotics technology, Franks said. GM is using robots that can work safely alongside humans in the factory that produces the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, he said.
Robotics

Can Robots Help Children With Autism? (go.com) 52

An anonymous reader writes: Sunday is World Autism Awareness Day, and landmarks around the world will "light it up blue" as a show of support, including New York's Rockefeller Center and the White House. "Autism spectrum disorders affect an estimated one out of every 68 children in America," President Trump posted Friday, and autistic characters have now even been added to the new Power Rangers movie and on Sesame Street.

But technology could also play a role in improving the live of people with autism spectrum disorders. Reuters is reporting on a robot specifically designed to help teach communication and interaction skills to autistic children, while Vanderbilt University has 20 studies exploring more ways that robotics and technology could help, according to Zachary Warren, an associate professor of pediatrics. "A child may not respond to their mother calling their name but may automatically respond to a robot action or a piece of technology," Warren says after one program which showed improvement in five out of six participants. "If we can use that technology to shift how that child responds, then we may have a very valuable system to that child, that family and maybe for autism intervention."

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