- The Transformation of the Workplace Through Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Automation — fascinating legal questions about the rise of the automated workforce. . Is an employer required to bargain if it wishes to acquire robots to do work previously performed by unionized employees working under a collective bargaining agreement? does the collective bargaining agreement control the use of robots to perform this work? A unionized employer seeking to add robots to its business process must consider these questions. (via Robotenomics)
- The Invasive Valley of Personalization (Maria Anderson) — there is a fine line between useful personalization and creepy personalization. It reminded me of the “uncanny valley” in human robotics. So I plotted the same kind of curves on two axes: Access to Data as the horizontal axis, and Perceived Helpfulness on the vertical axis. For technology to get vast access to data AND make it past the invasive valley, it would have to be perceived as very high on the perceived helpfulness scale.
- Coffee and Feature Creep — fantastic story of how a chat system became a bank. (via BoingBoing)
- The Rise and Fall of PCs — use this slide of market share over time by device whenever you need to talk about the “post-PC age”. (via dataisugly subreddit)
A humanist approach to automation.
Editor’s note: At some point, we’ve all read the accounts in newspapers or on blogs that “human error” was responsible for a Twitter outage, or worse, a horrible accident. Automation is often hailed as the heroic answer, poised to eliminate the specter of human error. This guest post from Steven Shorrock, who will be delivering a keynote speech at Velocity in Barcelona, exposes human error as dangerous shorthand. The more nuanced way through involves systems thinking, marrying the complex fabric of humans and the machines we work with every day.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian novel ‘Player Piano’, automation has replaced most human labour. Anything that can be automated, is automated. Ordinary people have been robbed of their work, and with it purpose, meaning and satisfaction, leaving the managers, scientists and engineers to run the show. Dr Paul Proteus is a top manager-engineer at the head of the Ilium Works. But Proteus, aware of the unfairness of the situation for the people on the other side of the river, becomes disillusioned with society and has a moral awakening. In the penultimate chapter, Paul and his best friend Finnerty, a brilliant young engineer turned rogue-rebel, reminisce sardonically: “If only it weren’t for the people, the goddamned people,” said Finnerty, “always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, earth would be an engineer’s paradise.”
Buildings are ready to be smart — we just need to collect and monitor the data.
Buildings, like people, can benefit from lessons built up over time. Just as Amazon.com recommends books based on purchasing patterns or doctors recommend behavior change based on what they’ve learned by tracking thousands of people, a service such as Clockworks from KGS Buildings can figure out that a boiler is about to fail based on patterns built up through decades of data.
I had the chance to be enlightened about intelligent buildings through a conversation with Nicholas Gayeski, cofounder of KGS Buildings, and Mark Pacelle, an engineer with experience in building controls who has written for O’Reilly about the Internet of Things. Read more…
A suitable network topology for building automation.
Editor’s note: this article is part of a series exploring the role of networking in the Internet of Things.
Today we are going to consider the attributes of wireless mesh networking, particularly in the context of our building monitoring and energy application.
A host of new mesh networking technologies came upon the scene in the mid-2000s through start-up ventures such as Millennial Net, Ember, Dust Networks, and others. The mesh network topology is ideally suited to provide broad area coverage for low-power, low-data rate applications found in application areas like industrial automation, home and commercial building automation, medical monitoring, and agriculture.
The bid for widespread home use may drive technical improvements.
For some people, it’s too early to plan mass consumerization of the Internet of Things. Developers are contentedly tinkering with Arduinos and clip cables, demonstrating cool one-off applications. We know that home automation can save energy, keep the elderly and disabled independent, and make life better for a lot of people. But no one seems sure how to realize this goal, outside of security systems and a few high-end items for luxury markets (like the Nest devices, now being integrated into Google’s grand plan).
But what if the willful creation of a mass consumer market could make the technology even better? Perhaps the Internet of Things needs a consumer focus to achieve its potential. This view was illuminated for me through a couple recent talks with Mike Harris, CEO of the home automation software platform Zonoff.
Jim Stogdill, Jon Bruner and Jenn Webb discuss James Burke, ninja homes, IoT standards and robots.
What happens if emerging technology and automation result in a world of abundance, where anyone at anytime can produce anything they need and there’s no need for jobs? In his recent Strata keynote, James Burke warned that society is not prepared for scarcity (and the value it brings) to be a thing of the past — an eventuality Burke predicts will occur in the next 40 years or so. This topic kicks off a discussion between Jim Stogdill, Jon Bruner and myself that we recorded while at Strata.
Link fodder from our chat includes:
- James Burke.
- Roundtable with James Burke, which Alistair Croll aptly described as the “best coffee break ever.”
- Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano.
- Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use Of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society
- Ninja homes.
- Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built.
- Why Solid, why now?
- Solid: Local in Boston — and upcoming in San Francisco.
- MarkForged carbon fiber 3D printer.
- Rethink Robotics.
- Ryan Cunningham’s Strata session
If you liked this article, you might be interested in a new report, “Building a Solid World,” that explores the key trends and developments that are accelerating the growth of a software-enhanced, networked physical world. (Download the free report.)
Doug Hill, James Bessen and Jim Stogdill continue discussing the impact of automation.
Editor’s note: Doug Hill and I recently had a conversation here on Radar about the impact of automation on jobs. In one of our exchanges, Doug mentioned a piece by James Bessen. James reached out to me and was kind enough to provide a response. What follows is their exchange.
JAMES BESSEN: I agree, Doug, that we cannot dismiss the concerns that technology might cause massive unemployment just because technology did not do this in the past. However, in the past, people also predicted that machines would cause mass unemployment. It might be helpful to understand why this didn’t happen in the past and to ask if anything today is fundamentally different.
Many people make a simple argument: 1) they observe that machines can perform job tasks and 2) they conclude that therefore humans will lose their jobs. I argued that this logic is too simple. During the 19th century, machines took more than 98% of the labor needed to weave a yard of cloth. But the number of weavers actually grew because the lower price of cloth increased demand. This is why, contrary to Marx, machines did not create mass unemployment. Read more…
Will automation beget a jobless wasteland or more stimulating, creative employment? That's up for debate.
Editor’s note: We’re trying something new here. I read this back-and-forth exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons, and decided we should give it a try. Or, more accurately, since we’re already having plenty of back-and-forth email exchanges like that, we just need to start publishing them. My friend Doug Hill, author of Not So Fast: Thinking Twice About Technology, agreed to be a guinea pig and chat with me about a subject that’s on both of our minds (and a lot of other people’s): technology and the jobless recovery. We’ll be diving into this topic again next week in a debate hosted at Strata. This post was lightly edited on 2/6/14 for clarity.
STOGDILL: I saw this Tweet over the holidays while I was reading your book. I mean, I literally got distracted by this tweet while I was reading your book:
— Ari Gesher (@alephbass) January 3, 2014
It felt like a natural moment of irony that I had to share with you. In the article Ari Gesher references in his Tweet, Vivek Whadwa obviously has an optimistic point of view, and Gesher was right to call out the inconsistency of his claims with our jobless recovery. I also recently read George Packer’s The Unwinding, his enlightening and disturbing look at the human stories behind our current malaise, and frankly it seems to better reflect the truth on the ground, at least if you get outside of the big five metro areas. But I suspect not a lot of techno optimists are spending time in places that won’t get 4G LTE for another year or two. Read more…
Rosie the Robot may feel more comfortable talking to Siri than to you
Recently, Glenn Martin wrote an article describing how robotics in moving out of the factory and into the house. And while Glenn restricted himself mainly to the type of robots that pop into your head when someone says the word (either the anthropomorphic variety or the industrial flavor), the reality is that there are a lot of robots already in the hands of consumers, although it might take a moment to recognize them as such.
I’m speaking of drones, and especially quadcopters, which are proliferating at an enormous rate, and are being used to do everything from documenting a cool skateboard move to creating a breathtaking overflight of a horrific disaster site.
Maintaining a desired behavior
In two previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2) we introduced the idea of feedback control. The basic idea is that we can keep a system (any system!) on track, by constantly monitoring its actual behavior, so that we can apply corrective actions to the system’s input, to “nudge” it back on target, if it ever begins to go astray.
This begs the question: Why should we, as programmers, software engineers, and system administrator care? What’s in it for us?