(See my other posts on Robots) – Walmart has been impacted by online sales from Amazon and other sources. As part of their cost-cutting efforts to stay competitive and improve the customer experience, they have begun deploying robots within their stores.
Walmart recently announced on their Blog (“#SquadGoals: How Automated Assistants are Helping Us Work Smarter“) that they would be deploying 1,500 new “Auto-C” autonomous floor cleaners, 300 “Auto-S” shelf scanners, and an additional 1,200 “FAST” unloaders to scan and sort items as they come off delivery trucks. To expedite online orders, Walmart will add 900 “Pickup Towers”. These will let customers order something on the company’s website and just pick up it up from a vending machine at a nearby Walmart. ”
Walmart’s stated intention with the effort is to use “pioneering new technologies to minimize the time an associate spends on the more mundane and repetitive tasks like cleaning floors or checking inventory on a shelf. This gives associates more of an opportunity to do what they’re uniquely qualified for: serve customers face-to-face on the sales floor.“.
For now, the new robots and human employees will be working side-by-side.
Robots – This week, actually it started yesterday, celebrates robotics in the US. Per the National Robotics Week website:
National Robotics Week (RoboWeek) is a series of grassroots events and activities during the month of April aimed at increasing public awareness of the strength and importance of the U.S. robotics industry and of the tremendous social and cultural impact that robotics will have on the future. Activities come in all shapes and sizes from a robot block party, university open house, or a robotics competition. The mission of RoboWeek is simple — to inspire students in STEM-related fields and to share the excitement of robotics with audiences of all ages. Celebrate RoboWeek by hosting an event in your community, sponsoring or attending a local event, or spreading the word on social media.
National Robotics Week was first celebrated in 2010 after university and industry leaders appealed to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics to create a “national roadmap” for robotics technology. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week.
(See all of my Robots posts) – Most of us think of the biped or quadruped robots when we hear of Boston Dynamics. The ‘Handle‘ is a much more immediately useful robot.
Per the Boston Dynamics website the ‘Handle’ is:
Handle is a robot that combines the rough-terrain capability of legs with the efficiency of wheels. It uses many of the same principles for dynamics, balance, and mobile manipulation found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are fast and efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle has the best of both worlds.
Handle can pick up heavy loads while occupying a small footprint, allowing it to maneuver in tight spaces. All of Handle’s joints are coordinated to deliver high-performance mobile manipulation.
The all-electric ‘Handle’ can pick up items weighing up to 100 lbs (45 kg). The robot itself weighs just over 230 lbs (105 kg). With the grasping attachment shown in the video above, 11 lb (5 kg) boxes are being manipulated. Boxes up to 33 lbs (15 kg) can be accommodated.
These are much more likely the kind of robots we will first see working beside humans.
Robots – Articles appear all the time touting how ‘intelligent’ a new system is. But are they really as smart as claimed? The article “How intelligent is artificial intelligence?” raises the point that we should look harder at how these systems have reached their conclusions.
This article is based on work done by researchers from TU Berlin, Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Among the points raised in the article:
- Some seemingly successful AI systems employ flaky or even “cheating” problem solving strategies
- Some AI systems sometimes use so-called ‘Clever Hans Strategies’ 
- It is quite conceivable that about half of the AI systems currently in use implicitly or explicitly rely on such ‘Clever Hans’ strategies.
The researchers used a technology developed earlier by TU Berlin and Fraunhofer HHI, the so-called Layer-wise Relevance Propagation (LRP) algorithm. This algorithm allows visualizing which input variables an AI system uses to make their decisions
- Clever Hans was a horse that could supposedly count and was considered a scientific sensation during the 1900s. As it was discovered later, Hans did not master math but in about 90 percent of the cases, he was able to derive the correct answer from the questioner’s reaction.
Robots – We will have another Olympic event coming up next year in Tokyo, Japan. Part of that event will be the “Tokyo 2020 Robot Project.” That project plans to have many different robots doing “useful things” for attendees.
The two robots that have been identified as helpers at the games are the Toyota’s Human Support Robot (HSR) and the Delivery Support Robot (DSR). Plans are for these two robots to work together to assist disabled visitors. They will direct visitors to their seats and will fetch food or other items visitors order through a tablet interface. Current plans include up to 16 HSR robots and 10 DSR robots for the games.
Clearly, with these numbers, the use of these robots at the games will still be more in the realm of research. The goal is to develop robots that can help take care of people. As the population ages, it is hoped that robots like these can provide assistance when no human helpers are available.
Robots – There have been many reports as to how robots and automation may impact human jobs. In “Your new most annoying overachieving coworker is a robot” studies are mentioned that show that humans who are performing a dull, repetitive work task alongside a robot may suffer declines in productivity and self-esteem.
The ‘real-world’ impact of this problem is already being seen at Amazon fulfillment centers. Last December were pushing to unionize saying “We are not robots. We are human beings. We cannot come into work after only four hours of sleep and be expected to be fully energized and ready to work. That’s impossible.”
This research points to a more immediate concern than job loss – How robots in the workspace may impact the productivity and emotional well-being of the humans they work beside.
Robots – There has been a lot in the press as to how machines and robots will impact humans. I read the article “How AI Will Rewire Us” today that suggests there will be yet another kind of impact – how we interact socially with other humans. Among the issues identified in the article:
- our interactions with AI could affect how we humans interact with one another
- adding artificial intelligence to our midst could be very disruptive with regards to
our interactions with one another
- where people and robots interact socially—the right kind of AI can improve the way humans relate to one another
- adding AI to our social environment can also make us behave less productively and less ethically
- children who grow up relating to AI in lieu of people might not acquire “the equipment for empathic connection”
- if we grow more comfortable talking intimately to our devices, what happens to our human marriages and friendships?
- as AI permeates our lives, we must confront the possibility that it will stunt our emotions and inhibit deep human connections
- a diverse group of researchers and practitioners—computer scientists, engineers, zoologists, and social scientists, among others—is coming together to develop the field of “machine behavior”
- sees robots and AI as a new class of social actors
I thought that this article made many good points and should make us all more aware of how AI is going to impact our society. Robots are not only going to impact our careers, but they may also make significant changes to humans as to how they interact.
Robots – As I have posted before, there is great debate over whether or not Automation and Robotics will cost jobs. I read “The Great Myth of the AI Skills Gap” today and it is in the camp that Automation will create rather than cost jobs. Some of the points that the article brings out:
- workers most likely to be displaced by technology lack the skills needed to do the new jobs created by that technology
- the most common worry is that new technology will cause systematic permanent unemployment
- there is concern that those who get training will stay employed at high paying jobs while those without training will be unemployed
- new technology does eliminate low-skilled, low-paying jobs
- the author’s position is that everyone should be able to do a job just a little harder than they are doing now – i.e. everyone level up a bit as automation is deployed
- 200 years of economic history supports this
- every fifty years, we lose about half of all jobs, and this has been pretty steady since 1800
- wages can continue to rise because technology has always increased worker productivity
- the nature of technology has always been to create high-skilled jobs and increase worker productivity
While all that is said here makes some sense, I am concerned that the imapact of Robots and Automation will be deeper and more wide spread than prior disruptions caused by technology. While I agree that technology will create new jobs, I fear that they will be too few in number and require too much education/training to absorb those being displaced.
As with so many things the best advice is to plan for the worse and hope for the best.
Robots – I read the article “New study shows what your community needs to do to survive the impact of automation” a couple of days ago and it has some interesting ideas on how to approach the impact of automation. The article addressed the report “America at Work: A National Mosaic and Roadmap for Tomorrow” recently published by Walmart.
You might think this is an odd report coming from Walmat, but Walmat is the largest employer in the US with 1.5 million employees. They have already taken an active role in providing employees trainging opportunities.
This report looks at more than 3,000 counties across the US, analyzing their economic, demographic, and educational attainment data. The counties are then assigned into one of eight archetypes. Each archetype has its own set of recommended actions.
Some of the findings:
- automation isn’t going to completely wipe out most jobs
- people will need to learn new skills in order to work side by side with machines
- without retraining workers will be left behind financially and isolated socially
- few, if any, places will be immune to the impact of automation
- successful preparation for automation will require communities to take an integrated approach with cooperation across a range of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders
If you are interested in this topic you may want to download the 44-page PDF of the Walmart report and read it all.
Robots – Offering a Basic Income is one of the ways that many suggest aiding those displaced in the work place by robots.
Finland just finished a two-year Basic Income Trial (see “Finland’s Basic Income Trial Boosts Happiness, but Not Employment“). Their results:
A basic income made recipients happier than they were on unemployment benefits . . . But it did not, as proponents had hoped, make them more likely to work.
While this trial is not the last word on Basic Income, it does not give a lot of home for it being the answer to job loss due to automation.