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7 New Robots Designed to Do Human Jobs

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Will robots take all of the jobs? A new report from Pew Research reveals that experts are divided on this topic: some think robots will displace vast numbers of workers by 2025. Others think that yes, robots will indeed take some of our jobs, but we’ll be smart enough to create new forms of work to make up for the losses. Only time will tell exactly what long term impact artificial intelligence will have on the workforce, but already, robots are being designed to do jobs only humans could before.

1. Bellhops

Starting August 20, the Aloft hotel in Cupertino, California will have a new employee. “Boltr” the robotic bellhop will independently roam the hotel’s hallways at a top speed of four mph, delivering items to customers in under three minutes. Starwood insists its robotic room service isn’t meant to replace any human employees. Instead, it is “an enhancement to our customer service,” Brian McGuinness, Starwood Hotels’ senior vice president for its Specialty Select brands, told the New York Times.

2. Tour guides

The Tate Britain museum is letting members of the public enjoy nighttime tours of the artworks without leaving the comfort of their living rooms. From their computer screens, people online can take control one of four robots that will walk around the museum and show off the galleries. Using keyboard buttons, tour members can make the robot move around or look in different directions. Art lovers, fear not: the robots are fitted with sensors that forbid them from getting too close to an artwork.

3. Fast food workers

Would you trust a robot to prepare your burger? A company called Momentum Machines is working on a machine that “does everything employees can do except better.” It is its own assembly line: slicing vegetables, cooking meat, and producing one “gourmet” burger every 10 seconds, all while providing additional sanitation and food safety. The company knows the robot will put line cooks out of work; in fact, this seems to be the goal. “The labor savings allow a restaurant to spend twice as much on high quality ingredients,” the company’s website says. To help displaced employees, Momentum Machines wants to offer them “discounted technical training” to essentially help them become technicians that maintain the robots that just took their jobs.

4. Government job screeners

If you want to work for the government, your first step may soon be enduring a long list of questions from a computer-generated interviewer. To speed the process of handing out security clearances, the National Center for Credibility Assessment is developing an avatar that would interview applicants about their past (drug use, health issues, etc). The goal of outsourcing this stuff to a machine is to save the government time and money, and an initial study found that the robots made interviewees more likely to open up about their history. The robots could also help solve a problem of gender and cultural bias in government jobs.

5. Farmers

An EU project called “Crops” is creating smart robots for crop and forestry management. Developed so far: a sweet pepper-picking robot, an apple harvesting robot, and crop-spraying robots. And for the livestock? A farm in Massachusetts uses a robot to milk its dairy cows. 

6. Librarians

Sydney’s University of Technology has a vast underground library where 325,000 books are stored. When a student wants a book, robots find it for them. The librarians actually seem quite pleased with the innovation, which they’ve dubbed the “bookBot.” The books selected for underground storage were the library’s least-read and were gathering dust and taking up valuable shelf real estate. Now they’re stored in clean galvanised steel bins, safe and secure and available with the touch of a button.

7. Pharmacists

Two hospitals at the University of California, San Francisco no longer have humans manning their pharmacies. Instead, robots receive medication orders and retrieve and package the doses. Nervous about letting a machine dole out powerful pills? At launch in 2011, the university boasted that the robots had prepared more than 350,000 doses so far without a single problem.

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Driverless Cars Could Be Hacked With Stickers on Traffic Signs, Study Suggests
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Image

As driverless cars inch toward becoming regular sights on our streets, experts have started to warn that the connected cars could be vulnerable to hackers who can take control of the vehicles from a distance. Though most of these warnings are related to hacking into the internet-connected computer on board, there’s an analog way to disrupt the workings of a driverless car, too, as Autoblog reports. Researchers from across the U.S. recently figured out how to trick a driverless car with a set of stickers, as they detail in a paper posted on arXiv.org.

They examined how fiddling with the appearance of stop signs could redirect a driverless car, tricking its sensors and cameras into thinking that a stop sign is actually a speed limit sign for a 45 mile-per-hour zone, for instance.

They found that by creating a mask to cover the sign that looks almost identical to the sign itself (so a human wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference), they could fool a road-sign classifier like those used by driverless cars into misreading the sign 100 percent of the time.

Five different views of a stop sign with black and white block-shaped stickers seen from various angles and distances.

Evtimov et al., arXiv.org

In a test of a right-turn sign, a mask that filled in the arrow on the sign resulted in a 100 percent misclassification rate. In two thirds of the trials, the right-turn was misclassified as a stop sign, and in one third, it was misclassified as an added lane sign. Graffiti-like stickers that read “love” and “hate” confused the classifier into reading a stop sign as a speed limit sign the majority of the time, as did an abstract design where just a few block-shaped stickers were placed over the sign.

“We hypothesize that given the similar appearance of warning signs, small perturbations are sufficient to confuse the classifier,” they write.

The study suggests that hackers wouldn’t need much equipment to wreak havoc on a driverless car. If they knew the algorithm of the car’s visual system, they would just need a printer or some stickers to fool the car.

However, the attacks could be foiled if the cars have fail-safes like multiple sensors and take context (like whether the car is driving in a city or on a highway) into account while reading signs, as Autoblog notes.

[h/t Autoblog]

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MIT Media Lab
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MIT Develops Robot Jewelry That Crawls Over Your Body
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MIT Media Lab

A wearable can do more than track your heart rate or notify you when you get a text message. Researchers at the MIT Media Lab are working on a new type of wearable that could revolutionize the way we think about fashion. As TechCrunch reports, Project Kino [PDF] is “living jewelry” that interacts with the wearer’s outfit.

The concept was inspired by the bejeweled beetles worn as ornamentation in certain cultures. With their creepy-crawly movements, the jewelry robots are definitely bug-like, and the researchers don’t want the device’s resemblance to living things to stop there.

“With the addition of kinetic capabilities, traditionally static jewelry and accessories will start displaying life-like qualities, learning, shifting, and reconfiguring to the needs and preferences of the wearer, also assisting in fluid presentation of self,” the project description reads.

The invention’s primary function is aesthetic. As they scoot along the body, robots can change the shapes and patterns of a clothing item. There’s also potential for more practical applications, like pulling down a hood in reaction to the weather or bringing a receiver to the wearer's mouth when they want to answer a phone call.

Down the road, researchers hope to develop a product that’s self-charging and small enough to seamlessly blend into a garment. You can watch their current prototype at work below.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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