Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spot the Dog, and Other Robot Stories

  • Last week, Pew Research Center's “Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation” report said, “From self-driving vehicles and semi-autonomous robots to intelligent algorithms and predictive analytic toolsmachines are increasingly capable of performing a wide range of jobs that have long been human domains … The ultimate extent to which robots and algorithms intrude on the human workforce will depend on a host of factors, but many Americans expect that this shift will become reality over the next half century.”
  • Comments from the Georgia Institute of Technology on its “In Emergencies, Should You Trust a Robot?’ research include: senior research engineer Alan Wagner - “People seem to believe that these robotic systems know more about the world than they really do, and that they would never make mistakes or have any kind of fault … In our studies, test subjects followed the robot’s directions even to the point where it might have put them in danger had this been a real emergency.”  Professor Ayanna Howard -  “We need to ensure that our robots, when placed in situations that evoke trust, are also designed to mitigate that trust when trust is detrimental to the human.”  
  • Separately, Google announced it was selling Boston Dynamics, a robotics firm known for its impressive (and perhaps creepyvideos that demonstrated some of the capabilities of Spot, a robot dog and Atlas, a human scale robot. 

MY TAKE
  • Regarding comments from Pew Research –  As an alternative to some dystopian views of robots, its research suggests a more pragmatic and perhaps positive view of the impact of technology innovation.
  • Regarding comments from Georgia Tech – its research suggests that 1) some humans are poor at assessing the quality of robotic guidance - at least in emergency situations and 2) robot designers must consider a broad set of use cases and user types.
  • Regarding the Boston Dynamics’ sale – Its impressive, and sometimes controversial, technology seems to be a victim of management conflictspoor strategic fit, and a lack of revenue growth. The loss of backing by the U.S. Marines, because its systems were too noisy, highlights the challenges of developing robotic solutions.

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