Robots in Japanese Tourism, Entertainment Sector

London-Have you ever met Chihira Junco, the receptionist of a mall in Tokyo? She stands in her blue jacket and penciled skirt in the Aqua City Odaiba Mall to provide visitors with directions and tips on sites and local stores in Tokyo in the Japanese, Chinese and English languages.

Yet, Miss Junco is not a human being; it is a member of the first series of robots that have appeared in public places in Japan.Toshiba Company has developed Junco in cooperation with a number of technology labs in many Japanese universities. The cost of this robot along with four others has reached around USD93,000; Junco has been the first robot to operate in public while the four others are still under manufacture.

The company has revealed its intention to develop 1,000 robots by 2017, and 10,000 by 2020.

People in the Japanese Acqua City can ask the robot Junco many questions by pressing one button. The female robot can express herself through its arm motions and eye sparkles; when speaking, it looks like a woman who is chewing gum. However, for people who prefer to deal with humans, two other human receptionists stand in another reception area at the same center.

The Brave New World of Robots and Lost Jobs

A robot paints brake drums at Webb Wheel Products in Cullman, Ala. (Dave Martin/Associated Press)

Job insecurity is a central theme of the 2016 campaign, fueling popular anger about trade deals and immigration. But economists warn that much bigger job losses are ahead in the United States — driven not by foreign competition but by advancing technology.

A look at the numbers suggests that the country is having the wrong economic debate this year. Employment security won’t come from renegotiating trade deals, as Donald Trump said in a speech Monday in Detroit, or rebuilding infrastructure, as Hillary Clinton argued in Warren, Mich., on Thursday. These are palliatives.

The deeper problem facing the United States is how to provide meaningful work and good wages for the tens of millions of truck drivers, accountants, factory workers and office clerks whose jobs will disappear in coming years because of robots, driverless vehicles and “machine learning” systems.

The political debate needs to engage the taboo topic of guaranteeing economic security to families — through a universal basic income, or a greatly expanded earned-income tax credit, or a 1930s-style plan for public-works employment. Ranting about bad trade deals won’t begin to address the problem.

The “automation bomb” could destroy 45 percent of the work activities currently performed in the United States, representing about $2 trillion in annual wages, according to a study last year by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. We’ve seen only the beginning of this change, they warned. Currently, only 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated, but 60 percent of occupations could soon see machines doing 30 percent or more of the work.

The McKinsey analysts sharpened their argument in a paper released last month. Their estimates, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data covering more than 800 occupations, draw a shocking picture of the future. In manufacturing, 59 percent of activities could be automated, and that includes “90 percent of what welders, cutters, solderers and brazers do.” In food service and accommodations, 73 percent of the work could be performed by machines. In retailing, 53 percent of current jobs could be lost.

White-collar workers may imagine that they’re safe, but that’s wishful thinking. If computers can be programmed to understand speech as well as humans do, 66 percent of jobs in finance and insurance could be replaced, the most recent report says.

Robots are replacing workers around the world. The density of robots per 10,000 workers is actually higher in Japan and Germany than in the United States, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers. In the “Economic Report of the President,” released in February, they cited research noting that “middle-skill” employees, such as bookkeepers, clerks and assembly-line workers, have been replaced first, but that “big data and machine learning will make it possible to automate many tasks that were difficult to automate in the past.”

Workers are already reeling from the job implosion we’ve seen so far. A study released last week by Bruce Stokes of the Pew Research Center found that 89 percent of Americans surveyed thought that “the loss of U.S. jobs to China” was a serious issue. That anxiety translates into growing skepticism about free trade. As of March, 51 percent of Americans still thought free trade deals were a good thing, but that was down from 59 percent two years ago.

Pew data show that the people most likely to oppose trade deals are older white men, the people whose former job security has probably been most affected by the modern, global economy. Free trade agreements are supported by 54 percent of women; 55 percent of blacks; 67 percent of young adults between 18 and 29; and 72 percent of Hispanics. Young, diverse Americans seem to accept the disruptions that are part of the global, high-tech economy.

This campaign has distilled the populist rage at elites who are seen to have benefited from globalization while some blue-collar workers have suffered. This anti-elitism is only likely to grow as vast new sectors of the economy are transformed by the Silicon Valley technologies that have created a new class of American billionaires. People shouldn’t hate the future, or the technologists who are building it, but this anger could become a polarizing fixture of the national mood.

Politicians need to begin thinking boldly, now, about a world in which driverless vehicles replace most truck drivers’ jobs, and where factories are populated by robots, not human beings. The best way to cushion this future is to start planning for how Americans will be able to take care of their families — and find meaningful work — in a world where most traditional jobs have vanished.

(The Washington Post)

Artificial Intelligence Swarms Silicon Valley on Wings and Wheels

A Bossa Nova robot gliding through a store aisle to check inventory.

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — For more than a decade, Silicon Valley’s technology investors and entrepreneurs obsessed over social media and mobile apps that helped people do things like find new friends, fetch a ride home or crowdsource a review of a product or a movie.

Now Silicon Valley has found its next shiny new thing. And it does not have a “Like” button.

The new era in Silicon Valley centers on artificial intelligence and robots, a transformation that many believe will have a payoff on the scale of the personal computing industry or the commercial internet, two previous generations that spread computing globally. Computers have begun to speak, listen and see, as well as sprout legs, wings and wheels to move unfettered in the world.

The shift was evident in a Lowe’s home improvement store here this month, when a prototype inventory checker developed by Bossa Nova Robotics silently glided through the aisles using computer vision to automatically perform a task that humans have done manually for centuries.

The robot, which was skilled enough to autonomously move out of the way of shoppers and avoid unexpected obstacles in the aisles, alerted people to its presence with soft birdsong chirps. Gliding down the middle of an aisle at a leisurely pace, it can recognize bar codes on shelves, and it uses a laser to detect which items are out of stock.

Silicon Valley’s financiers and entrepreneurs are digging into artificial intelligence with remarkable exuberance. The region now has at least 19 companies designing self-driving cars and trucks, up from a handful five years ago. There are also more than a half-dozen types of mobile robots, including robotic bellhops and aerial drones, being commercialized.

“We saw a slow trickle in investments in robotics, and suddenly, boom — there seem to be a dozen companies securing large investment rounds focusing on specific robotic niches,” said Martin Hitch, chief executive of Bossa Nova, which has a base in San Francisco.

Funding in A.I. start-ups has increased more than fourfold to $681 million in 2015, from $145 million in 2011, according to the market research firm CB Insights. The firm estimates that new investments will reach $1.2 billion this year, up 76 percent from last year.

“Whenever there is a new idea, the valley swarms it,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of Nvidia, a chip maker that was founded to make graphic processors for the video game business but that has turned decisively toward artificial intelligence applications in the last year. “But you have to wait for a good idea, and good ideas don’t happen every day.”

By contrast, funding for social media start-ups peaked in 2011 before plunging. That year, venture capital firms made 66 social media deals and pumped in $2.4 billion. So far this year, there have been just 10 social media investments, totaling $6.9 million, according to CB Insights. Last month, the professional social networking site LinkedIn was sold to Microsoft for $26.2 billion, underscoring that social media has become a mature market sector.

Even Silicon Valley’s biggest social media companies are now getting into artificial intelligence, as are other tech behemoths. Facebook is using A.I. to improve its products. Google will soon compete with Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri, which are based on A.I., with a device that listens in the home, answers questions and places e-commerce orders. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, recently appeared at the Aspen Ideas Conference and called for a partnership between humans and artificial intelligence systems in which machines are designed to augment humans.

The auto industry has also set up camp in the valley to learn how to make cars that can do the driving for you. Both technology and car companies are making claims that increasingly powerful sensors and A.I. software will enable cars to drive themselves with the push of a button as soon as the end of this decade — despite recent Tesla crashes that have raised the question of how quickly human drivers will be completely replaced by the technology.

Silicon Valley’s new A.I. era underscores the region’s ability to opportunistically reinvent itself and quickly follow the latest tech trend.

“This is at the heart of the region’s culture that goes all the way back to the Gold Rush,” said Paul Saffo, a longtime technology forecaster and a faculty member at Singularity University. “The valley is built on the idea that there is always a way to start over and find a new beginning.”

The change spurred a rush for talent in A.I. that has become intense.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Richard Socher, chief scientist at the software maker Salesforce, who teaches a course at Stanford on a machine intelligence technique known as deep learning. “The number of people trying to get the students to drop out of the class halfway through because now they know a little bit of this stuff is crazy.”

The valley’s tendency toward reinvention dates back to the region’s initial emergence from the ashes of a deep aerospace industry recession as a consumer-electronics manufacturing center producing memory chips, video games and digital watches in the mid-1970s. A malaise in the personal computing market in the early 1990s was followed by the World Wide Web and the global expansion of the consumer internet.

A decade later, in 2007, just as innovation in mobile phones seemed to be on the verge of moving away from Silicon Valley to Europe and Asia, Apple introduced the first iPhone, resetting the mobile communications marketplace and ensuring that the valley would — for at least another generation — remain the world’s innovation center.

In the most recent shift, the A.I. idea emerged first in Canada in the work of cognitive scientists and computer scientists like Geoffrey Hinton, Yoshua Bengio and Yann LeCun during the previous decade. The three helped pioneer a new approach to deep learning, a machine learning method that is highly effective for pattern recognition challenges like vision and speech. Modeled on a general understanding of how the human brain works, it has helped technologists make rapid progress in a wide range of A.I. fields.

How far the A.I. boom will go is hotly debated. For some technologists, today’s technical advances are laying the groundwork for truly brilliant machines that will soon have human-level intelligence.

Yet Silicon Valley has faced false starts with A.I. before. During the 1980s, an earlier generation of entrepreneurs also believed that artificial intelligence was the wave of the future, leading to a flurry of start-ups. Their products offered little business value at the time, and so the commercial enthusiasm ended in disappointment, leading to a period now referred to as the “A.I. Winter.”

The current resurgence will not fall short this time, said several investors, who believe that the economic potential in terms of new efficiency and new applications is strong.

“There is no chance of a new winter,” said Shivon Zilis, an investor at Bloomberg Beta who specializes in machine intelligence start-ups.

John Shoch, a veteran venture capitalist at Alloy Ventures in Palo Alto, Calif., said deep learning has made a difference to the potential success of A.I. companies. “You get a new set of tools that let you attack a new set of problems, which let you push the boundary out,” he said.

For others, like Jerry Kaplan, who helped found two A.I. companies in the 1980s — Symantec, which became a security company, and Teknowledge, which ultimately shut down — the Valley’s new enthusiasm is troubling because it suggests an unfounded optimism similar to earlier eras in which the field overpromised and underdelivered.

“Sometimes when I hang around with A.I. enthusiasts here in the valley, I feel like an atheist at a convention of evangelicals,” he said.

(The New York times)

Robots to Vie for Space in Surgical Operations


Chicago – Surgical robots are expected to dominate a place in operating rooms around the world soon.

fWithin five years, one in three U.S. surgeries – more than double current levels – is expected to be performed with robotic systems, with surgeons sitting at computer consoles guiding mechanical arms. Companies developing new robots also plan to expand their use in India, China and other emerging markets.

Intuitive Surgical Inc, which has more than 3,600 of its da Vinci machines in hospitals worldwide said last week the number of procedures that used them jumped by 16 percent in the second quarter compared to a year earlier.

The anticipated future growth – and perceived weaknesses of the current generation of robots – is attracting deep-pocketed rivals, including Medtronic Inc and a startup backed by Johnson & Johnson and Google. Developers of the next wave aim to make the robots less expensive, more nimble and capable of performing more types of procedures, company executives and surgeons told Reuters.

Surgical robots are used in hernia repair, bariatric surgery, hysterectomies and the vast majority of prostate removals in the United States, according to Intuitive Surgical data.

Doctors say they reduce fatigue and give them greater precision. But robot-assisted surgery can take more of the surgeon’s time than traditional procedures, reducing the number of operations doctors can perform.

Dr. Dmitry Oleynikov, who heads a robotics task force for the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons says to gain an edge, new robots will need to outperform laparoscopic surgery.

Surgeons told Reuters they want robots to provide a way to feel the body’s tissue remotely, called haptic sensing, and better camera image quality

Human-like Robot May One Day Care for Dementia Patients

Nadine, a humanoid created by Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Professor Nadia Thalmann and her team, reacts to the presence of people during an interview with Reuters at their campus in Singapore March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Nadine, a humanoid created by Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Professor Nadia Thalmann and her team, reacts to the presence of people during an interview with Reuters at their campus in Singapore March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Nadine has short brown hair, soft skin and an expressive face. Nadine is not a woman; she is a new brand of human-like robot. Scientists are c that scientists are hoping that, one day, she will be used as a personal assistant or care provider for the elderly.

The 1.7-metre tall Nadine was created in the likeness of its maker, Nadia Thalmann, a visiting professor and director of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Institute of Media Innovation who has spent three decades researching into virtual humans.

Nadine enjoys software that allows it to express a variety of emotions and remember a previous conversation. Nadine is not commercially available, but Thalmann foresaw robots used as companions for people living with dementia one day.

“If you leave these people alone they will be going down very quickly. So these people need to always be in interaction,” Thalmann said, adding Nadine could provide conversation, tell a story or play a simple game.

Professor Thalmann said that the humanoid has her own personality and is capable of demonstrating positive and negative moods and emotions.

In a video of the robot in action, Nadia answers questions from her creator in a pseudo-emotional computerised Scottish accent.

‘You are a beautiful and attractive social robot,’ says Professor Thalmann.

To which Nadine replies: ‘Thank you. You look attractive too.’

The android can also react appropriately to negative sentiments.

For example, when Professor Thalmann says ‘I hate you’, Nadine replies excitedly: ‘Tell me more about that’.

Thalmann and her team are also working on emotive robots that can play with children. The project is still in the early development stage and no prototype is available yet.

According to Thalmann, the child robot would be able to respond to questions, display emotions and recognize people. The child robot can be a social companion while simultaneously supervising unattended children and informing a parent or nanny if something went wrong,

There are plans to program the child robot to speak different languages so that it can serve as an educational tool for children, she said.

“A child has toys but they are usually passive. This robot will be an active toy which interacts with the child,” said Thalmann. “It will be able to remember what the child likes.”

“Over the past four years, our team at NTU have been fostering cross-disciplinary research in social robotics technologies -involving engineering, computer science, linguistics, psychology and other fields – to transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans,” Professor Thulmann added.

She added: “This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening.

“So in future, these socially intelligent robots could be like C-3PO, the iconic golden droid from Star Wars, with knowledge of language and etiquette.”