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YouTube / CGP Grey

The Robots are Here

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YouTube / CGP Grey

Excuse me, internet, the robots have arrived. In the video below, C.G.P. Grey lays out a compelling argument that robots are sufficiently advanced and available that they are on the verge of filling a whole bunch of jobs that we have traditionally thought of as very human-reliant. One of his examples is cab drivers. Take a self-driving car, delete the paid driver, and you've just erased a segment of the economy. (We have seen much of this in factories already, so it's not a matter of whether it can happen, it's a matter of when.)

But it just keeps going from there. It's easy to grumble and say, well, surely my job isn't threatened. After all, I use my creative powers to find and pithily describe YouTube videos for the enjoyment of others. No robot could do that! Except the YouTube homepage does a surprisingly "good enough" version of that already—minus, perhaps, the analysis and Simpsons "I welcome our new robot overlords" jokes.

Here's a sample quote from Grey: "We think of technological change as the fancy new expensive stuff, but the real change comes from last decade's stuff getting cheaper and faster. That's what's happening to robots now." As a guy who has worked in technology for more than a decade (with a focus on mobile tech in the last six years or so), I have to say he's right. Ubiquitous, cheap technology is powerful technology.

Now, the video. If you have fifteen minutes on your lunch break, I think you will enjoy this. It may bug you at times, you may think Grey is wrong on the timeline or the details, but even if that's the case—what's our plan if he's right?

For more on this, there's a lengthy Reddit thread on the video; a full transcript (links to sources and further reading); and of course there's my ongoing coverage of IBM's Watson: what makes it different, how it learns, videos of it in action, Ken Jennings trash-talking it, and some very early coverage. For more C.G.P. Grey, dude has a website and an excellent podcast.

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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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