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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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environment
The Roomba's Creator Invented an Underwater Vacuum That Sucks Up Invasive Lionfish
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Invasive fish can be a major issue for waterways, since they can devastate native species and take a toll on environmental diversity. The red shiner, for instance, is a hardy fish that can survive basically anywhere, and in the process, outcompete and kill native fish species. Invasive species can travel far and wide, hopping across continents with human help (whether on purpose or by accident).

Colin Angle, who co-founded iRobot, the company that invented the Roomba, has an answer. It’s kind of like a robot vacuum, but for invasive fish, according to Fast Company. The Guardian, developed by Angle’s nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment, is an underwater robot designed to stun lionfish, suck them up, and bring them to the surface.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are considered an invasive species in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, where they have few predators and huge appetites for both crustaceans and other fish. The fish can eat up to 20 other fish in half an hour, lay up to 40,000 eggs every few days, and live up to 30 years, making them a formidable foe for environmentalists. They may have been introduced in the mid-1980s by personal aquarium owners in Florida releasing pets that got too big for their tanks.

As part of the effort to rid Atlantic waterways of lionfish, the U.S. government has tried to encourage people to catch and eat them. If other species can be overfished, couldn’t lionfish?

The Guardian isn’t the only robot with a mission to eradicate invasive fish. Queensland University of Technology’s COTSbot is designed to kill crown of thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike COTSbot, though, The Guardian isn’t autonomous. Someone above the water has to control it remotely, directing it toward fish to suck up using a camera feed.

That’s by design, though. The idea is that like the Roomba, the Guardian will be affordable enough for fishermen to use so they can hunt the fish and sell them in restaurants. (One unit currently costs about $1000.) The Guardian's ability to reach depths of up to 400 feet will aid fishermen in waters and reefs that can't be easily accessed.

Each Guardian can bring up about 10 live lionfish at a time. And while one robot cannot eradicate lionfish from the ocean alone, a huge number of them could make a dent.

The Guardian is currently in testing in Bermuda.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Space
The New ISS Mascot: This Incredibly Cute Camera Drone
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JAXA/NASA

There's a new resident of the International Space Station, and it's definitely the cutest one there. The JEM Internal Ball Camera, or Int-Ball, is a spherical autonomous drone designed to act as the space station's roving photographer. The Japanese space agency JAXA released the first pictures of it on the station on July 14, as Engadget reports.

Int-Ball was delivered to Japan's Kibo module on ISS as part of a payload launched on June 4. It records both video and photos while moving through the microgravity of the space station. More importantly, it can both work autonomously or be controlled from Earth. The imagery can be seen in close to real-time on the Earth, so ground control can see what's happening on the station from the astronauts' point of view, offering guidance and help should anything go wrong.

The 3D-printed ball, which measures just 6 inches in diameter, has two "eyes" surrounding its camera so the astronauts can tell exactly what it's recording. (Not to mention adding to its cuteness factor.) It's propelled by 12 fans and navigates through the station using special pink targets mounted to walls and doors as reference points.

Astronauts spend about 10 percent of their workday photographing what's happening on the ISS, according to JAXA, but the drone camera could significantly reduce that time. The goal is to eliminate the task from astronauts' job descriptions entirely. Instead of documenting their work themselves, astronauts could focus on their research while the Int-Ball does the documenting for them.

[h/t Engadget]

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