Competitive book-sorting event pits New York library workers against Washington State's

Big library systems struggling with the task of sorting interbranch requests for distribution on the library's delivery vehicles can buy a $2 million Lyngsoe Systems Compact Cross Belt Sorter, whose conveyor takes precisely hand-placed materials down a line of bins, scanning each item and tipping it into a bin destined for the right branch. Read the rest

Robots! A fantastic catalog of new species

IEEE Spectrum editor Erico Guizzo and colleagues have blown out their original Robots app into a fantastic catalog of 200 of today's fantastic species of robots. They're cleverly organized into fun categories like "Robots You Can Hug," "Robots That Can Dance," "Space Robots," and "Factory Workers." If they keep it updated, it'll be very helpful for the robot uprising. After all, you can't tell the players without a program!

Robots: Your Guide to the World of Robotics (IEEE Spectrum)

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How trade unions are addressing automation

The first wave of computerized automation caught trade unions flat-footed; already reeling from the Reagan-era attacks on labor, union leadership failed completely to come up with a coherent response to the automation of manufacturing industries (a notable exception was the longshoremans' union, which ensured that containerization led to massive pay raises and generous retirements for the workers whose work was largely eliminated by better shipping techniques). Read the rest

PayPal threatens to sue a cancer victim for dying, a "breach" of its rules

PayPal sent a legal threat to a woman who died of cancer, telling her that her death breached its rules and warning her of court action to come.

Lindsay Durdle died on 31 May aged 37. She had been first diagnosed with breast cancer about a year-and-a-half earlier. The disease had later spread to her lungs and brain. PayPal was informed of Mrs Durdle's death three weeks ago by her husband Howard Durdle.

He has now received a letter ... It said that Mrs Durdle owed the company about £3,200 and went on to say: "You are in breach of condition 15.4(c) of your agreement with PayPal Credit as we have received notice that you are deceased... this breach is not capable of remedy."

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Check out Disney's robot acrobat

This is "Stickman," a robot acrobat that Disney Research scientists presented at this week's IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. From the abstract of their technical paper:

Human performers have developed impressive acrobatic techniques over thousands of years of practicing the gymnastic arts. At the same time, robots have started to become more mobile and autonomous and can begin to imitate these stunts in dramatic and informative ways. We present a simple two degree of freedom robot that uses a gravity-driven pendulum launch and produces a variety of somersaulting stunts. The robot uses an IMU and a laser range-finder to estimate its state mid-flight and actuates to change its motion both on and off the pendulum.

"Stickman: Towards a Human Scale Acrobatic Robot" Read the rest

New AI-enabled tractors target weeds, using 90% less herbicide

Farming is undergoing a quiet but radical transformation as machine learning and automation innovations reduce waste. One especially promising new technology targets individual weeds. Read the rest

Chinese law professor: AI will end capitalism

Feng Xiang is a prominent Chinese legal scholar with an appointment at Tsinghua University; in a new Washington Post editorial adapted from his recent speech at the Berggruen Institute’s China Center workshop on artificial intelligence in Beijing, he argues that capitalism is incompatible with AI. Read the rest

Report: 66 million people will lose their jobs to robots

According a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 66 million people are at risk of having their livelihoods taken away by robots.

From The Guardian:

The OECD said 14% of jobs in developed countries were highly automatable, while a further 32% of jobs were likely to experience significant changes to the way they were carried out.

And of course, the people most likely to get screwed by this impending robot employment uprising are those who can least afford it: The poor. According to the OECD, young people, unskilled laborers and those employed in agriculture, manufacturing and the service sector are at the greatest risk of losing their jobs once robots become intelligent and versatile enough to replace them.

As abysmal as all of this is, there is some good news here. The OECD's research isn't as dire as this study, published back in 2013, which suggested that upwards of 47% of all jobs in the United States were at risk of being phased out in favor of letting robots take over their gigs. Instead, the OECD estimates that only 13 million people will be kicked to the curb.

So much better!

One of the biggest problems we'll face in the future, you know, aside from fascist governments, a global shortage of potable water and the growing threat of nuclear war, is what can be done with the millions of people who will lose their vocations as the level of automation in the workplace makes their presence at work redundant. Read the rest

MAD magazine exclusive: "The Future of Job Automation"

Writer Kenny Keil and award-winning artist John Martz have an all-new satirical comic timeline in the upcoming issue of MAD #550, titled "The Future of Job Automation." It takes a jab at robots' success in taking over human jobs in the future - even if they don't always get it right. The upcoming issue will be available on digital this Friday, 2/9 and on newsstands 2/20. Click here to embiggen the image. Read the rest

Warehouse with automated vertical storage shelves

Static shelves with bins holding small parts take up a lot of space. It's interesting to see this case study of how a traditional warehouse was able to use wasted air space to reduce storage area by 94%. Read the rest

David Byrne: The secret appeal of technology is that it takes away the need to talk to people

Writing in MIT Tech Review, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne points out the secret and, in retrospect, obvious driving force behind tech: it reduces the often awkward and unreliable process of dealing with people, so you can buy music without asking friends for recommendations, take a cab without talking to a dispatcher, buy your groceries without speaking with a clerk, and get your money out of the bank without seeing a teller. Read the rest

This clumsy worker robot is having a very bad day

This snazzy looking bipedal robot is off to a good start, but things go haywire in short order. It has trouble setting a package on a cart. Then it knocks things off the shelf, drops the package on the floor, knocks over the cart, and falls down. As one Reddit user said, "I would watch Gordon Ramsay yelling at a group of these things for hours."

He's trying his best ok from Unexpected

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French aquaculturist sets up 24/7 live oyster vending machine

Tony Berthelot is an oyster farmer on Ile de Re, an island off France's west coast; rather than task his family-members to staffing a roadside stand, he's invested in a refrigerated live-oyster vending machine that dispenses fresh bivalves 24/7. Read the rest

What happens on the tarmac when there's a shortage of baggage handlers

Whether or not the car in the background means this is a United flight, I bet this happens fairly often on many airlines.

(via /r/gifs)

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American wages are so low, the robots don't want your job

The American "productivity paradox": technology keeps marching, but the amount of profit generated by the average worker's average hour is stagnant. Read the rest

Watch soothing omnidirectional conveyor belts in action

These days, a conveyor belt can be so much more than a belt. Omnidirectional belts are programmable, allowing items to be rotated, aligned, and even transferred to other belts as they zip along. Read the rest

Robots and humans, working together in harmony?

Rather than worry about robots overtaking us, it's more interesting (and realistic) to consider how we might collaborate with our machines. At Institute for the Future where I'm a researcher, we have forecasted how the real power of automation will come from "humans plus machines." BB pal Ken Goldberg, director of UC Berkeley's People and Robots Initiative, and his colleagues are making that real through their pioneering work on cloud robotics and human-centered automation. Forget the Singularity, Ken says. It's all about the "Multiplicity." From Ken's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

Most computer scientists agree that predictions about robots stealing jobs are greatly exaggerated. Rather than worrying about an impending Singularity, consider instead what we might call Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together to solve problems.

Multiplicity is not science fiction. A combination of machine learning, the wisdom of crowds, and cloud computing already underlies tasks Americans perform every day: searching for documents, filtering spam emails, translating between languages, finding news and movies, navigating maps, and organizing photos and videos...

While scientists still don’t understand Multiplicity very well, they are discovering clear benefits to machine diversity. Researchers have developed a family of techniques known as “ensemble learning,” in which a set of specialized algorithms work together to produce a single result. One variant, known as “random forests,” was developed by Leo Breiman and Adele Cutler at the University of California, Berkeley. They proved that in complex problems with noisy data, a group of “decision trees” will always outperform a single tree—so long as the trees are sufficiently diverse.

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