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No robot will ever...

Today's XKCD strip, Reassuring, wittily illustrates Kevin Kelly's Seven Stages of Robot Replacement, which start with "1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do" and heads toward "5. OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do."

Be sure you go to the original for the tooltip punchline.

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Reality check on the 3D printing hype-cycle

Carl Bass, president and CEO of Autodesk, has a very good post on the limits and opportunities of 3D printing. Because 3D printing is constrained by the immutable fact of cubic volume, which means that making things larger costs exponentially more, the major opportunities aren't in printing big stuff. Rather, it's in printing detailed things, complicated things, one-off things -- and in making printers that don't rely on a razor/razorblade business model and charge a fortune for new feedstock to a captive audience.

I think two important areas to watch here are printing electronics — i.e., not just objects but logic and function — and the burgeoning field of bioprinting. The latter represents some of the most exciting work employing 3-D printers. For example, Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University has pioneered work that includes the successful printing and implantation of human urethras. San Diego-based Organovo prints functional human tissue that can be used for medical research and therapeutic applications. And companies like Craig Venter’s as well as Cambrian Genomics (which I have a small personal investment in) are printing DNA — yes, DNA! — one base pair at a time.

One thing I think he misses is "slow printing" -- 3D printers that use material from the environment (maybe sand blown over a collector for a solar-powered printer on a beach) to print out, over the course of years or decades, very large numbers of small components, or even very large components.

An Insider’s View of the Myths and Truths of the 3-D Printing ‘Phenomenon’ [Carl Bass/Wired]

Will robots take all the jobs?

In a fascinating installment of the IEEE Techwise podcast [MP3], Rice University Computational Engineering prof Moshe Vardi discusses the possibility that robots will obviate human labor faster than new jobs are created, leaving us with no jobs. This needn't be a bad thing -- it might mean finally realizing the age of leisure we've been promised since the first glimmers of the industrial revolution -- but if market economies can't figure out how to equitably distribute the fruits of automation, it might end up with an even bigger, even more hopeless underclass.

I think the issue of machine intelligence and jobs deserves some serious discussion. I don’t know that we will reach a definite conclusion, and it’s not clear how easy it will be to agree on desired actions, but I think the topic is important enough that it deserves discussion. And right now I would say it’s mostly being discussed by economists, by labor economists. It has to also be discussed by the people that produce the technology, because one of the questions we could ask is, you know, there is a concept that, for example, that people have started talking about, which is that we are using, we are creating technology that has no friction, okay? Creating many things that are just too easy to do.

Many of these ideas came up in this Boing Boing post from January, which also touches on Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, a book that Vardi mentions in his interview.

The Job Market of 2045 (via /.)