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The Rise Of Robots In Our Everyday Lives

Robot love, robot work, “killer robots” – we get the latest on robots moving deeper into life.

Kaname Hayashi, a project leader of Humanoid Robots "Pepper," talks with the robot at SoftBank Mobile shop in Tokyo, Friday, June 6, 2014. The cooing, gesturing humanoid on wheels that can decipher emotions has been unveiled in Japan by billionaire Masayoshi Son who says robots should be tender and make people smile. (AP)

Kaname Hayashi, a project leader of Humanoid Robots “Pepper,” talks with the robot at SoftBank Mobile shop in Tokyo, Friday, June 6, 2014. The cooing, gesturing humanoid on wheels that can decipher emotions has been unveiled in Japan by billionaire Masayoshi Son who says robots should be tender and make people smile. (AP)

Human imagination got so far out front, so fast, on robots that robot reality has been vaguely disappointing for a long time.  Isaac Asimov and “WALL-E” and the Terminator put our real robots to shame.  They still do.  But things are changing.  Sensors and chips and AI and mechanics and “the cloud” are coming together to push robot dreams and reality into new terrain.  There is need – we have aging societies that could use the help.  There is risk – talk of jobs lost to robots and “killer robots.”  And there is reality – they’re moving in.  This hour On Point:  the rise of the robots.

– Tom Ashbrook


Oliver Morton, briefings editor at The Economist. (@Eaterofsun)

Ken Goldberg, roboticist and professor of industrial engineering and operations research in robotics, automation and new media at the University of California, Berkeley. Author of “The Robot in the Garden.” (@ken_goldberg)

Howie Choset, professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotic Institute.

Mark Aaron Goldfeder, senior lecturer at Emory University School of Law.

From Tom’s Reading List

BetaBoston: MIT conference looks at robotics breakthroughs — and big challenges ahead — “Odds are good that no one at yesterday’s ‘Computing the Future’ symposium at MIT, organized to mark the 50th anniversary of computer science and artificial intelligence research at the school, imagined they’d be watching a black-and-white video clip of Julia Child deftly slicing potatoes. But Matt Mason of Carnegie Mellon University showed it to make a point: technology is still far behind humans when it comes to perceiving and interacting with the world.”

Computer World: Why haven’t robots yet changed the world? — “A well-known robotics expert acknowledged Wednesday at an MIT symposium that his field has yet to change the world. After Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot, a former MIT robotics professor and co-founder and CTO of Rethink Robotics, first joked that robotics engineers aren’t smart enough, he avowed that building autonomous, useful robots is really hard — far more difficult than experts in the field had once anticipated.”

The Economist: Immigrants from the future – “DARPA made robots a priority because, like many others, it suspects that the technology may be on the cusp of scaling far greater heights than a nine-step aluminium ladder. It is expressing its support in the unusual, quasi-sporting, highly public forum of the DRC because robotics is a technology unlike any other. As machines that sense their environment, analyse it and respond accordingly, robots lend themselves to showmanship, judged as they are by their actions in the world.”

Watch A Boston Dynamics Cheetah Robot

Watch A Robot Fold Clothes

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  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    When robots replace people what will people do? Without jobs how will they earn money to by food, clothing and shelter. As more jobs are done by robots, more people will become disenfranchised. Who will be left with a job to buy or rent robots, or the goods and services they might provide? Confronted by this quandary, how will humans evolve our economic system to support human life as ever greater potions of our populations literally become obsolete? I see no good coming of this revolution in technology. SkyNet lives!!!

    • Matt MC

      We could, you know, just stop working and let the robots do the work. Everyone gets a wage for being a breathing human being, or their own robot slave. That’s what they did in ancient Sparta!

      • 2noame

        You are referring to unconditional basic income, and yes, this is the correct answer to our more automated future.

        • InActionMan

          Sounds good but, idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Be prepared for increases in alcoholism, broken marriages and a society of perpetual teenagers.

          • J__o__h__n

            People could be required to do 40 hours a week of something meaningful in order to qualify for the income. Read, exercise, etc.

          • hennorama

            InActionMan — pray tell how that differs from the present.

          • InActionMan

            In a matter of degree. Crime, drunk driving etc goes up on the weekend because people have leisure time. Some people will use more leisure time to do something productive many more will end up getting into trouble.

          • 2noame

            That’s not what the evidence shows from where this kind of idea has been tried. Alcoholism does not increase. And how is broken marriages an argument? Right now there are a lot of couples that are together because one or both feel they can’t separate in this economy. Couples who shouldn’t be together, being able to separate is a good thing in my opinion. As for a society of perpetual teens, I’m not sure what you mean. If you are suggesting it will somehow keep people back from developing themselves as individuals, that’s also not what the evidence shows. I suggest reading through a summary of the evidence to get a better idea of which claims appear to be myths.

            Summary of Basic Income Programs and Pilots: http://www.thebigpush.net/uploads/2/2/6/8/22682672/basic_income_programs_and_pilots_february_3_2014.pdf

    • Matt MC

      If you can’t compete with an autonomous robot that can work 24 hours a day without a break or sleep, then you are lazy and deserve to lose your job. Go capitalism!

  • Matt MC

    I’m eager for robots that can write and rewrite their own source code.

    • Jeff

      Oh yeah, I think that’s called Skynet.

  • AC
  • AC

    i’m not sure how i feel about this…

    maybe it’s a good thing. better than harming a human…..

  • AC

    Boston Dynamics ‘petman’ robot is more interesting to me than the cheetah – it’s designed to work during chemical warfare – how amazing would that be?
    wait. i should be worried that defense specialists are considering this. i might become paranoid if i think to deeply on it….!

  • creaker

    With all the discussion of income inequality – robots have been carving out not the lowest paying jobs but many of the ones out of the middle class.

    • Jeff

      That frees people up to do jobs that require more education, like building and designing robots.

      • creaker

        If you’re up to doing that – we could also just work to become millionaires and retire next year instead (why don’t we do that?), but I don’t think it’s going to happen for most people.

        • Jeff

          I have an electrical engineering degree…it takes work but just about anyone can do it with a little bit of effort.

          • creaker

            Well, maybe someday you can be freed up to do a job that requires more education.

          • Jeff

            Sounds great, always be learning.

    • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

      Computers and software as well!

  • streetglide

    Repeat after me, “Klatu Barrato Nikto!”

  • Yar

    Maybe Google is divesting themselves of cash as much as they are investing in robotics. Can robotics end slavery? We need a robot that can pick vegetables. Why is it that 70 % of cotton is still picked by hand?

  • creaker

    Surprised that Amazon’s big robot purchases are not here.

  • ThirdWayForward

    I have tuned in late, but let us not confuse “AI”, which traditionally deals with symbolic computations, with robots, which sense the messy material world and act on it. The complete dominance of symbolic AI in technological research from the mid-1960′s to roughly 1990 is why robotics technology is not as advanced as it might have been (for better or worse) — the AI people were always claiming that we can just program in anything that a robot can do, so why deal with all the vague, ill-defined, unpredictable chaos and confusion of the real world?

    Robots can automate work and reduce human toil, but this is not a positive development if hordes of unfortunate humans are thrown out of work and become impoverished as a result. Yes, by all means let’s develop robotic systems, but we also need to solve the socio-politico-economic problems of full employment at the same time — the remaining human work needs to be spread around better.

    In order for robotics (and automation in general) to succeed in advancing human welfare, we need a declining standard work week as less and less work is done by humans. Given our anemic economy, why isn’t a 35 or 32 or 30 hour work week on the table? We should reduce the work week until we have full employment — until every person who wants a job can have one.

    Read Vonnegut’s book Player Piano.

    • twenty_niner

      “Given our anemic economy, why isn’t a 35 or 32 or 30 hour work week on the table?”

      It’s on the table, setting the table, and clearing the table:

  • AC

    haha..the new movie ‘machine’

  • hennorama

    The film Robot & Frank is definitely worth a look.


  • 2noame

    This discussion of ongoing automation of human labor can not be had in full without a parallel discussion of unconditional basic income. As human labor becomes the new horse labor, humans will require an income separate from any work requirements, in order to purchase the goods the machines are making.

    As Alan Watts put better than I ever could…

    “Now what happens then when you introduce technology
    into production? You produce enormous quantities of goods by technological methods but at the same time you put people out of work. You can say, “Oh but it always creates more jobs. There will always be more jobs.” Yes, but lots of them will be futile jobs. They will be jobs making every kind of frippery and unnecessary contraption, and one will also at the same time have to beguile the public into feeling that they need and want these completely unnecessary things that aren’t even beautiful. And therefore an enormous amount of nonsense employment and busy work, bureaucratic and otherwise, has to be created in order to keep people working, because we believe as good Protestants that the devil finds work for idle hands to do. But the basic principle of the whole thing has been completely overlooked, that the purpose of the machine is to make drudgery unnecessary. And if we don’t allow it to achieve its purpose we live in a constant state of self-frustration.

    So then if a given manufacturer automates his plant and dismisses his labor force and they have to operate on a very much diminished income, (say some sort of dole), the manufacturer suddenly finds that the public does not have the wherewithal to buy his products. And therefore he has invested in this expensive automative machinery to no purpose. And therefore obviously the public has to be provided with the means of purchasing what the machines produce.

    People say, “That’s not fair. Where’s the money going
    to come from? Who’s gonna pay for it?” The answer is the machine. The machine pays for it, because the machine works for the manufacturer and for the community. This is not saying you see that a…this is not the statist or communist idea that you expropriate the manufacture and say you can’t own and run this factory anymore, it is owned by the government. It is only saying that the government or the people have to be responsible for issuing to themselves sufficient credit to circulate the goods they are producing and have to balance the measuring standard of money with the gross national product. That means that taxation is obsolete – completely obsolete. It ought to go the other way. Theobald points out that every individual should be assured of a minimum income. Now you see that absolutely horrifies most people. “Say all these wastrels, these people who are out of a job because they’re really lazy see… ah giving them money?” Yeah, because otherwise the machines can’t work.”

    Source text: http://pastebin.com/MDj3LSdV
    Source video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssDY74nLuLg

  • Yar

    What about stuxnet, malware for a robot that destroyed centrifuges.

  • J__o__h__n

    Will robots be able to make political contributions?

    • Jeff

      Sure, if they join unions they will be forced to pay union dues and then they will be making political donations.

      • Ray in VT

        They could always choose to cut their own throats and give to the GOP.

        • Jeff

          C’mon now, the GOP supports robots…look at Romney, he’s the most robotic candidate ever created.

          • Ray in VT

            I don’t know. I think that Steve Forbes would give him a run for his money in a head to head rockem sockem fight.

  • homebuilding

    It is very rare to hear of the people who are accomplished machinists who are building the joints and devices that make robots work. (no, they are not made on a 3 D printer, delivered by a self driving car!)

    There are many people behind the scenes, making every exciting robot ‘breakthrough’ possible. All robots require maintenance, and the more complex and precise the task, the more maintenance and upkeep are needed.

    Yes, more robots are in our future and nearly all of the larger manufacturers are using very large devices to ‘swing in’ and position, and then perhaps weld or bolt in very heavy components, such as large bits of drive train or sheet metal.

    But let’s not use sight of the fact the CNC machining (computerized numerical controls) began in the 1950s and the quality of such mundane things as automotive gear boxes have improved greatly, since. Many of you know of someone who has a car or truck that reached 200,000 miles without substantial maintenance–this is due in large part to the greater precision in manufacturing.

    And the robots are not always visible–they are internal to the operation of fabrication machines.

    The voice of the robot may excite some–I usually get where I want without a GPS receiver, and when I do use one, the voice is off.

    • twenty_niner

      Good point. However, screw machines, which allowed automated machining via cams, have been around since the 19th century. This job killer was one of the original things the Luddites wanted to smash. Of course, like CNC in the 50s, this kind of automation technology allowed geometric gains in productivity and the ability for average consumers to afford extremely complex products.

  • AC

    i <3 robots!!
    ummmm…not enough to marry one though, lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001708537001 Joshua Evans

    Concerning human-robot marriage: I hope I live long enough to see the angry conservative protesters.

  • disqus_63jqNqyFvi

    speaker said “robots will take over boring jobs and humans to do better jobs”…Analogy is today IT companies, executive management say the same to their employees when they decide not to employ full time people and outsource/offshore their jobs.
    It is only to manage the chaos in people’s mind.

    However the reality is is full time jobs are actually lost to the outsourced jobs.

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    The first person who makes a bot that can perfectly fold a fitted sheet will Rule Zee Vorld! Buh-by, Martha.

  • PassinThru

    The first computers fit in large rooms, and were so expensive you essentially had to be a government to own one. Over time, the prices and size have dropped to the point that people have dozens in their home, some not even recognized. The same will happen with robots, especially as their production will be done by those same robots.

    A single individual with a computer can accomplish far more today than 30 years ago. Offices that once required teams of people do more work with far fewer workers. But the work is all information-related. Once robots are as ubiquitous as computers, the individual will be able to accomplish much more physical work by themselves. This will empower the individual enormously.

    We need to adjust our thinking about work – now. The system will change, must change, to incorporate a large non-working population. That population must be allowed to flourish without work. There will be growing pains, without doubt. But the society that emerges will allow people to do what they want to do, not what they have to do.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      ” the society that emerges will allow people to do what they want to do, not what they have to do.” That’s not a real society. Societies work based on a certain level of coercions, and obligations.

Aug 22, 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Florrissant, Mo. (AP)

The National Guard and Eric Holder in Ferguson. ISIS beheads an American journalist. Texas Governor Rick Perry gets a mug shot. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 22, 2014
In this image from video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the ice bucket challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP)

The Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS, viral fundraising and how we give in the age of social media.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

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