Robotics

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' (qz.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.

AI

Elon Musk Steps Down From AI Safety Group To Avoid Conflict of Interest With Tesla 31

New submitter the gmr writes: According to an announcement on the OpenAI blog, Elon Musk has stepped down from the board of directors of the nonprofit AI safety group, which he co-founded in 2015, due potential conflict of interest with his company Tesla. As explained in a post on Futurism, the move away from OpenAI may indicate that Tesla may be moving forward with more AI projects than most people may realize. Musk's departure may mean that Tesla is closer to delivering vehicles capable of Level 5 autonomy, "fully self-driving" vehicles that more than 35,000 Tesla customers paid for even though the technology does not yet exist. "Elon Musk will depart the OpenAI Board but will continue to donate and advise the organization," the announcement reads. "As Tesla continues to become more focused on AI, this will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon." The OpenAI board of directors now consists of Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, Holden Karnofsky, and Sam Altman, with whom Musk co-founded the venture. The company reportedly plans to not only fill Musk's seat but expand their team as well.

"Open AI has also been a prominent voice in the conversation concerning the limitations, challenges, and potential dangers of artificial intelligence," reports Futurism. "Just this week, the company co-released a report with a number of other global AI experts that outlines the potential 'malicious' uses of the technology and how to prevent them."
Businesses

Venezuela Says Its Cryptocurrency Raised $735 Million -- But It's a Farce (arstechnica.com) 86

Earlier this week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed that a new state-sponsored cryptocurrency called the petro raised $735 million on the first day of its sale. ArsTechnica dives deep on the matter to suggest that it's all a farce. From the report: The government hasn't provided any way to independently verify that $735 million figure. And there's reason to doubt almost everything the Venezuelan government has said about the project. Moreover, there's little reason to believe that the petro will maintain its value over time. The Venezuelan government has portrayed petro tokens as backed by Venezuela's vast oil reserves, but they're not. The government is merely promising to accept tax payments in petros at a government-determined exchange rate linked to oil prices. Given the Venezuelan government's history of manipulating exchange rates, experts say investors should be wary of this arrangement. Moreover, the petro scheme has been opposed by opposition legislators in Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature. They say that the Maduro government is essentially issuing oil-backed debt, and legally that can't be done without approval from the legislature. If Maduro falls from power in the future, his successor might refuse to honor petro redemptions.
Businesses

Disney Loses in Redbox Copyright Row (bbc.com) 153

Disney has lost a bid to stop movie rental company Redbox from reselling download codes for its films. From a report: Redbox bought Disney movies on DVD to offer for rental in its kiosks. The DVDs were often bundled with a code to download a copy of the film. Disney requested an injunction to stop the practice, saying that Redbox had no business arrangement with it. A California federal judge accused Disney of "copyright misuse." Redbox rents and sells movies via tens of thousands of automated kiosks that dispense DVD and Blu-ray discs.
Businesses

Uber Will 'Invest Aggressively' In India And Southeast Asia, CEO Says (buzzfeed.com) 21

Pranav Dixit, writing for BuzzFeed News: Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's CEO of six months, said on Thursday that the ride-hailing service would continue to invest aggressively in both Southeast Asia and India, where the company is losing money and faces strong competition from local players like Grab and Ola. Uber has been slow to expand its presence in India and Southeast Asia, allowing competitors to quickly gain ground. Singapore's Grab, for instance, claimed to have 95% of the country's ride-hailing market share last year. And Ola, Uber's Indian rival, currently operates in 110 cities against Uber's 29 cities. Ola does 1 billion rides annually, compared to Uber, which announced in mid-2017 that it completed 500 million total rides in the country in its first four years of operations. "We expect to lose money in Southeast Asia and expect to invest aggressively in terms of marketing, subsidies, etc.," Khosrowshahi told reporters in India, which is Uber's fastest-growing market outside the United States, and where he is currently on his first official tour. While Uber's India operation is not yet profitable, it does account for 10% of Uber's rides globally.
Businesses

Amazon May Open Up To Six More Automated Stores This Year (engadget.com) 82

Amazon may have opened its automated convenience store a year late, but it looks like it's been a pretty big success. From a report: Recode learned that the company plans on opening six more of its Amazon Go stores in 2018. It's not clear where these stores will be located, though Recode reports that more locations are likely in Seattle, and Amazon is in talks with the developer of The Grove in Los Angeles. Amazon Go is billed as the convenience store of the future. There are no checkout lines; you can simply walk in, grab what you want, and leave. You scan in with a smartphone app, and then an AI tracks what you take from the shelves and automatically charges you for them.
Businesses

Uber Launches 'Express Pool' To Get More Riders To Share Rides (recode.net) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Uber is beginning to roll out a cheaper version of its ride-sharing UberPool service, called Express Pool. The service, which was being tested in Boston and San Francisco, is now available in Los Angeles, San Diego and Denver, and will launch in Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., tomorrow. The idea is that Express Pool, which requires riders to walk a little to meet their driver -- and then again to their destination after being dropped off -- will make shared rides more efficient. If it works, it should both increase the number of rides that drivers can give and also make those shared trips faster for passengers. The new service tests a thesis Uber has long had: Lower prices means higher utilization, and higher utilization means more money -- both for drivers and for Uber. Also that road congestion is bad and the solution is to share more rides. Those are the same theories that sparked the creation of the original UberPool service, which requires a little less walking. But the hope is that this will make it easier to match more passengers and therefore lose less money on each shared ride.
ISS

Bigelow Launching New Company To Sell Private Space Stations (popularmechanics.com) 55

hyperclocker shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The future of spacecraft in lower Earth orbit (LEO) looks to be an increasingly commercial affair. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that builds livable space habitats, has now created a spinoff company known as Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). BSO will market and operate any space habitats that Bigelow sells. The creation of BSO signals that Bigelow is preparing for a future of commercial space living. Recently leaked NASA documents show that the Trump Administration wants to convert the International Space Station into a commercial venture, and BSO is betting that businesses including private scientific ventures and hotels will be interested in creating a profit above the Earth. A prototype Bigelow habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been connected to the ISS since 2016. It's proven such a successful addition that last year NASA extended its contract for an additional three years. But Bigelow is thinking past the BEAM. In its press release announcing BSO, it highlights its planned launches of the B330-1 and B330-2, spacecraft with 6-person capacity, in 2021.
Network

Game Industry Pushes Back Against Efforts To Restore Gameplay Servers (arstechnica.com) 220

Kyle Orland reports via Ars Technica: A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play." Both sides are arguing their case to the U.S. Copyright Office right now, submitting lengthy comments on the subject as part of the Copyright Register's triennial review of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate.
Businesses

Apple In Talks To Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners (bloomberg.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom. The iPhone maker is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries. The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries are sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatening to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones. Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer. Its first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were more than a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.
Transportation

New Lawsuit Accuses Tesla of Knowingly Selling Defective Vehicles (theverge.com) 62

A new lawsuit from a former Tesla employee claims the company knowingly sold defective cars, and that the employee was demoted and eventually fired after reporting the practice to his superiors. The lawsuit was filed in late January in New Jersey Superior Court under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). The Verge reports: The former employee, Adam Williams, worked for Tesla as a regional manager in New Jersey dating back to late 2011. While there, he says he watched the company fail "to disclose to consumers high-dollar, pre-delivery damage repairs" before delivering its vehicles, according to the complaint. Instead, he says the company sold these cars as "used," or labeled as "demo/loaner" vehicles. "There's no merit to this lawsuit. Mr. Williams' description of how Tesla sells used or loaner vehicles is totally false and not how we do things at Tesla," a representative for the company said in response to the lawsuit. "It's also at odds with the fact that we rank highest in customer satisfaction of any car brand, with more owners saying they'd buy a Tesla again than any other manufacturer. Mr. Williams was terminated at Tesla for performance reasons, not for any other reason." The lawyer for the plaintiff could not be reached in time for publish.

Williams says in the court filing that he reported this behavior in late 2016 and early 2017 to his supervisor, as well as Lenny Peake, Tesla's East Coast Regional Manager, and Jerome Guillen, a company vice president. Shortly after that, he claims, he was demoted to service manager of the Springfield, New Jersey Tesla store. He then says he was demoted again later in the year to a "mobile manager" position and was ultimately fired in September 2017. In the lawsuit, Williams argues that he was terminated for reporting the alleged lawbreaking practices, and he should therefore be covered by CEPA's whistleblower protection.

Government

Instead of Slowing Down Innovation To Protect Few People, Policymakers Should Focus On Helping Displaced Workers Transition Into New Jobs, ITIF Suggests (itif.org) 153

A recently published report by Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) argues that rather than slow down change to protect a small number of workers at the expense of the vast majority, policymakers should focus on doing significantly more to help workers transition easily into new jobs and new occupations [PDF]. From a report: There has been growing speculation that a coming wave of innovation -- indeed, a tsunami -- powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, will disrupt labor markets, generate mass unemployment, and shift the few jobs that remain into the insecure "gig economy." Kneejerk "solutions" from such technology Cassandras include ideas like taxing "robots" and implementing universal basic income for everyone, employed or not. The first would slow needed productivity growth, employed or not; the second would reduce worker opportunity.

The truth is these technologies will provide a desperately needed boost to productivity and wages, but that does not mean no one will be hurt. There are always winners and losers in major economic transitions. But rather than slow down change to protect a modest number of workers at the expense of the vast majority, policymakers should focus on doing significantly more to help those who are dislocated transition easily into new jobs and new occupations. Improving policies to help workers navigate what is likely to be a more turbulent labor market is not something that should be done just out of fairness, although it is certainly fair to help workers who are either hurt by change or at risk of being hurt. But absent better labor market transition policies, there is a real risk that public and elite sentiment will turn staunchly against technological change, seeing it as fundamentally destructive and unfair.

Bitcoin

Poland's Central Bank Accused of Paying YouTubers To Make Videos That Attack the Legitimacy of Cryptocurrencies (businessinsider.com) 74

Poland's central bank has been accused of hiring YouTubers to "start a smear campaign" against cryptocurrencies in the country, Business Insider reports. From the story: According to Business Insider Poland, the Narodowy Bank Polski spent around 91,000 zloty ($27,300) on a marketing campaign designed to attack the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies. The money was spent on platforms including Google and Facebook, but was also used to pay a Polish Youtube partner network called Gamellon. The Gamellon network reportedly represents many of Poland's top YouTubers, including popular prankster Marcin Dubiel. In December, Dubiel published a video titled "STRACILEM WSZYSTKIE PIENIADZE?!" -- which loosely translates as "I LOST ALL MY MONEY?!" In the satirical video, Dubiel invests all his money in a fake cryptocurrency called Dubielcoin, gets rich, but then sees its value plunge and loses everything. It has racked up over 500,000 views.
Businesses

Slashdot Asks: What Do People Misunderstand or Underappreciate About Apple? (fastcompany.com) 457

In an interview with Fast Company, Apple CEO Tim Cook says people who have not used his company's products miss "how different Apple is versus other technology companies." A person who is just looking at the company's revenues and profits, says Cook, might think that Apple "is good at making money." But he says "that's not who we are. In Cook's view, Apple is: We're a group of people who are trying to change the world for the better, that's who we are. For us, technology is a background thing.

We don't want people to have to focus on bits and bytes and feeds and speeds. We don't want people to have to go to multiple [systems] or live with a device that's not integrated. We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system. We do that in such a way that we infuse humanity into it. We take our values very seriously, and we want to make sure all of our products reflect those values. There are things like making sure that we're running our [U.S.] operations on 100% renewable energy, because we don't want to leave the earth worse than we found it. We make sure that we treat well all the people who are in our supply chain. We have incredible diversity, not as good as we want, but great diversity, and it's that diversity that yields products like this.
What do you think?
Businesses

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'I've Only Had Good Years' (businessinsider.com) 83

Business Insider: Under CEO Tim Cook's watch, Apple has sold hundreds of millions of iPhones, booked hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, and launched new products like AirPods and Apple Watch. In fact, Cook says, he's never had a bad year as CEO of Apple. "I've only had good years. No, seriously," he said in an interview with Fast Company. "Even when we were idling from a revenue point of view -- it was like $6 billion every year -- those were some incredibly good years because you could begin to feel the pipeline getting better, and you could see it internally. Externally, people couldn't see that," he continued.
AI

'Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won't Destroy Jobs' (technologyreview.com) 337

Kai-Fu Lee, the founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and president of the Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute, believes that we're not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way. He writes for MIT Technology Review: The rise of China as an AI superpower isn't a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind's AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016. It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work.

It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we're not ready for it. Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won't stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it's dangerous to assume this will be the case again.

AI

AI Experts Say Some Advances Should Be Kept Secret (technologyreview.com) 112

AI could reboot industries and make the economy more productive; it's already infusing many of the products we use daily. But a new report [PDF] by more than 20 researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, OpenAI, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation warns that the same technology creates new opportunities for criminals, political operatives, and oppressive governments -- so much so that some AI research may need to be kept secret. From a report: [...] The study is less sure of how to counter such threats. It recommends more research and debate on the risks of AI and suggests that AI researchers need a strong code of ethics. But it also says they should explore ways of restricting potentially dangerous information, in the way that research into other "dual use" technologies with weapons potential is sometimes controlled.
Security

Lawsuits Threaten Infosec Research -- Just When We Need it Most (zdnet.com) 51

This year, two security reporters and one researcher will fight for their professional lives in court. Steve Ragan, senior staff writer at tech news site CSO, and Dan Goodin, security editor at Ars Technica, were last year named defendants in two separate lawsuits. The cases are different, but they have a common theme: they are being sued by the companies covered in articles they wrote. From a report: Although lawsuits targeting reporters, particularly on the security beat, are rare, legal threats are an occupational hazard that reporters are all too aware of -- from companies threatening to call an editor to demand a correction -- or else -- to a full-blown lawsuit. But the inevitable aftermath is a "chilling effect." White-hat hackers and security researchers hesitate to report vulnerabilities and weaknesses to technology firms for fear of facing legal retribution. With nation state attackers targeting elections and critical national security infrastructure on a near-daily basis, security research is needed more than ever.
Businesses

The Car of the Future Will Sell Your Data (bloomberg.com) 236

Picture this: You're driving home from work, contemplating what to make for dinner, and as you idle at a red light near your neighborhood pizzeria, an ad offering $5 off a pepperoni pie pops up on your dashboard screen. Are you annoyed that your car's trying to sell you something, or pleasantly persuaded? From a report: Telenav, a company developing in-car advertising software, is betting you won't mind much. Car companies -- looking to earn some extra money -- hope so, too. Automakers have been installing wireless connections in vehicles and collecting data for decades. But the sheer volume of software and sensors in new vehicles, combined with artificial intelligence that can sift through data at ever-quickening speeds, means new services and revenue streams are quickly emerging. The big question for automakers now is whether they can profit off all the driver data they're capable of collecting without alienating consumers or risking backlash from Washington. "Carmakers recognize they're fighting a war over customer data," said Roger Lanctot, who works with automakers on data monetization as a consultant for Strategy Analytics. "Your driving behavior, location, has monetary value, not unlike your search activity."
Movies

Flixster Video Shuts Down 33

After being purchased by Fandango in 2016, Flixster Video is officially shutting down. The site has been sending users regular emails over the past several months about the shutdown, reports Android Police. Now, the site is no longer operational, and only points people to its mobile app, which can still be used for getting movie reviews and tickets. The Verge reports: Flixster first announced it was closing in 2016, after being acquired by Fandango along with subsidiary Rotten Tomatoes. That year, Fandango also bought video streaming service M-Go, later rebranding it under FandangoNow. Flixster Video, which let people access their UltraViolet movie collection, was not a part of that deal. The shutdown began with the service telling customers it would no longer be able to redeem digital codes on the site for video playback. Over the past few months, emails have been sent out encouraging people to migrate their Flixster accounts to Vudu and Movies Anywhere in order to make sure nothing was lost. The company says it's not too late for users to do so.

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