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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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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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Aibo, Sony’s Failed Robot Dog, Is Returning as a Smart Home Device
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When Sony released its robotic dog Aibo in 1999, marketing it as “Man’s Best Friend for the 21st Century,” sales were impressive. But the public fascination didn’t last forever. Even though it was low-maintenance and allergy-free, most dog-lovers still preferred the pets they had to clean up after and feed. Aibo was discontinued seven years later.

Now, Mashable reports that Aibo is making a comeback, and it’s been given a few updates to make it a better fit for the current decade. When the robot companion returns to shelves in spring of 2018, it will double as a smart home device. That’s a big step up from the early Aibos, which couldn’t do much beyond playing fetch, wagging their tails, and singing the occasional song.

Sony’s original Aibo team, which was redistributed throughout the company in 2006, has reformed to tackle the project. Instead of trying to replace your flesh-and-blood Fido at home, they’ve designed a robot that can compete with other AI home speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The new dog can connect to the internet, so owners will be able to command it to do things like look up the weather as well as sit and fetch. Aibo will run on an open source software, which means that third party developers will be able to program new features that Sony doesn’t include in the initial release.

While Aibo is often remembered as a turn-of-the-millennium failure, it's still beloved in some communities. In 2015 The New York Times published a short documentary profiling owners in Japan who struggle to care for their robots as parts become scarce. When the pets break down for good, some of them even hold Aibo funerals. It will soon became clear if the 2018 models inspire a cult following of their own.

[h/t Mashable]

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