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Category Archives: Robotics

Things I get to hear about Alexa and Google Home!

Sure, you often hear of fancy ‘life hacks’ about people who program their smart speaker to turn on a coffee maker or help with math homework. But the stories I get to hear from young people on the experimental edge of the home-based Internet-of-Things (IOT) phenomenon range from the hilarious to the unsettling.

I’ve been writing about IOT for some time now. What gets me is how quickly people appear to want to hand off simple tasks like opening one’s window blinds, or turning on an appliance

“Alexa, turn on the bedroom fan!”

And then there’s the not-so-funny side to having an app for everything. Just take a look at the recent lawsuits and missteps by tech companies.

The baby monitor story is scary. A mother discovered to her horror that the baby monitor “was slowly panning over across the room to where our bed was and stopped.” That’s just one of the ‘things” we want our smart homes connected to.

How about door locks? You can’t make this stuff up: A man wearing a Batman T-shirt was  locked out of his home in September last year when his Yale lock, combined with his Nest security system thought he was an intruder. The man was in a Batman T-shirt. The ‘smart’ doorbell identified the cartoon character and tried to be too smart for the man’s liking. Sound a lot like the command, “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Poor Dave was locked out with, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that!”

A side note on Facebook sneaky habit. As explained at Endgadget, “Privacy International study has determined that ‘at least’ 20 out of 34 popular Android apps are transmitting sensitive information to Facebook without asking permission, including Kayak, MyFitnessPal, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor. I don’t trust Mark Zuckerberg anymore. Neither his recent statement, nor his other numerous apologies. (Check last year’s apology!)  Which is another reason why I quit FB earlier this month.

 
 

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What the Mars Rover Opportunity taught us

15 years, covering 28 miles on Mars, the Mars Rover Opportunity came to the end of its mission this week. Basically it lost contact with Earth last June; NASA had to finally call it Mission Accomplished. The gutsy little Rover was part of a tag team (Opportunity landed on Jan. 24, 2004, Spirit had arrived a few weeks earlier.)

Gutsy doesn’t even start to describe the robot that refused to quit. Here’s how Jet propulsion Lab described it in a few bullet points.

  • Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
  • Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
  • Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
  • Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
  • Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.

Opportunity and it’s cohorts explored the theory that Mars could be (or support) a “habitable environment” Its longevity, and ability to literally dust off its problems showed future explorers that this is possible. It’s very landing inspired future landing innovations to distant planets, while its photographing of blueberry-like rocks gave researchers back on Earth an idea of what hematite means to us.

This spunky robot also has a delightful design. For a few years I would borrow a wheel of (a replica of) its sister bot, Spirit, from the Mars lab at ASU, and display it in my class. It definitely inspired me to take robotics more seriously.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2019 in Education, Robotics, STEM, Technology

 

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Automation’s great – When you’re the manager, not the person turning the widget

This article, with a Phoenix, Arizona dateline sums up much of the issue we have with technology, robotics and automation.

As I teach students about the pioneers of tech, from Edison to Jobs, from Babbage to Berners-Lee, I have to temper it with discussion on what computers in general (and algorithms / automation in particular) are doing for us. Or will do for them when they enter the workforce.

The article states that Some economists have concluded that “the use of robots explains the decline in the share of national income going into workers’ paychecks over the last three decades.”

In a state where autonomous cars are quite common –at least the Waymo variety being test-driven in the Chandler & Mesa area, algorithms and jobs are on top of our minds!

 

 

 

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Robots that could run farms? Should bots do that?

Have you seen this concept video? Robots that perform farming. It’s disturbing to say the least, to think that the field of robotics is being applied to areas we never used to anticipate. No longer ‘programmed’ robots, these are machines that learn and apply what we now call machine learning, to the environment they are placed in. For instance could a robot learn about —and work in consort with — other devices on the so-called farm. (It’s actually a greenhouse.).

To put it in context, if robots could shuttle between products on a shelves in an Amazon warehouse, this is just an extension of that – an industrial application. We are at the starting blocks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so these upheavals – technological, economic, environmental, social etc— are just beginning to show up. I’ve been critical of the rush to apply AI into everything, holding out some optimism that these players and industries might still need some humans, while replacing others.

It has been featured in Wired, and CNBC.

Also there’s another video worth watching.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2018 in Disruptive, Robotics, STEM, Technology

 

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Could MIT reinvent itself with an ‘ethical’ approach to AI?

Just in time, as the field of AI ramps up. (Also by some coincidence, a week after the cover story in LMD.)

MIT has just announced it will add a new college, the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, dedicated to world-changing breakthroughs in AI, and their ethical application. The college will “reorient MIT” to add 50 new faculty positions, and give  students in every discipline an opportunity to develop and apply AI and computing technologies.

The term ‘ethical’ keeps popping up these days in relation to Artificial Intelligence. MIT expands on this, saying it will “examine the anticipated outcomes of advances in AI and machine learning, and to shape policies around the ethics of AI.” As I have mentioned elsewhere, most experts (from Elon Musk, to Bill Gates to Berners-Lee aside) agree that we are just at the tadpole stage of the life-cycle of AI.

However, some, such as sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov and even Stephen Hawking have had concerns. Hawking, for instance remarked that “we all have a role to play in ensuring that we and the next generation have the determination to engage with science … and create a better world for the whole human race.” MIT seems to be the first large institution to take up this mantle, and in the process, redefine and re-invent its role in education.

 
 

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AI is here – should we prepare or panic? – LMD cover story

Linked from the Futureoflife Institute

A few weeks back I featured an ominous exercise, conducted seven years ago by the Navy Research Lab.Today Artificial Intelligence is taking us into a new machine age, with devices, and not just robots, being able to grow ‘intelligent’ with data they glean from other machines we use.

Big players are developing capabilities in AI –from PwC and IBM, to Tesla and Alibaba!

For the October issue of LMD I was commissioned to write the cover story on AI. You can access it here

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2018 in Ed-Tech, Robotics, Technology

 

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When humans shut down Robots

I found this demo quite creepy, but intriguing. It was a video created by a team at the Navy Research Lab in 2011 but is relevant today. A test to figure out how AI could be used to improve “sensor-based” activity between humans and robots.

It’s a plot twist with echoes of “2001 Space Odyssey” in which ‘HAL’ turns off the human life support system, and the human later returns the favor by shutting off the mainframe.

The human here shuts down the robots, Octavia and George – just in case the robot rebellion is pending! The robot uses what is called a ‘multi bio-metrics classifier’ for facial recognition. Maybe I’ve been reading too much of Isaac Asimov lately, so this is quite chilling.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Education, Robotics, STEM, Technology

 

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