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Robotics

New Kit Turns A Raspberry Pi Into A Robot Arm (raspberrypi.org) 33

An anonymous reader writes: A new kit turns your Raspberry Pi into a robotic arm. It's controlled by an on-board joystick, or even a web browser, and "because it's connected to the Pi you can program it through any of the various programming languages that already run on the Pi," according to its creators. "There's also free software available which lets you program it through a web interface using drag and drop programming environments like Scratch and Blockly or with Python and Javascript for the more experienced."

They explain in a video on Kickstarter that "Our mission is to get children excited about technology through building and programming their own robots," and they've already raised three times their original $12,411 fundraising goal. The Raspberry Pi blog describes it as "a great kit for anyone wanting to step into the world of digital making."

Long-time Slashdot reader bjpirt adds that "It's completely open source and hackable."
Microsoft

Bill Gates: The Robot That Takes Your Job Should Pay Taxes (qz.com) 369

In a recent interview with Quartz, Bill Gates said he believes that governments should tax companies that use robots who are taking human jobs, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment. The money gained from taxing robots could then be used to finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools -- jobs which humans are particularly well suited for. Quartz reports: [Gates] argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes. The idea is not totally theoretical: EU lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robot owners to pay for training for workers who lose their jobs, though on Feb. 16 the legislators ultimately rejected it. "You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed" of automation, Gates argues. That's because the technology and business cases for replacing humans in a wide range of jobs are arriving simultaneously, and it's important to be able to manage that displacement. "You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once," Gates says, citing warehouse work and driving as some of the job categories that in the next 20 years will have robots doing them. You can watch Gates' remarks in a video here, or read the transcript embedded in Quartz' report.
AI

EU Moves To Bring In AI Laws, But Rejects Robot Tax Proposal (newatlas.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: The European Parliament has voted on a resolution to regulate the development of artificial intelligence and robotics across the European Union. Based on a raft of recommendations drafted in a report submitted in January to the legal affairs committee, the proposed rules include establishing ethical standards for the development of artificial intelligence, and introducing an insurance scheme to cover liability for accidents involving driverless cars. Not every element in the broad-ranging report was accepted by the Parliament though, with a recommendation to institute a "robot tax" roundly rejected. The robot tax proposal was designed to create a fund that manages the repercussions and retraining of workers made redundant through the increased deployment of industrial and service robots. But those in the robotics industry were supportive of the Parliamentary rejection, with the International Federation of Robotics suggesting to Reuters a robot tax would have been harmful to the burgeoning industry, stifling innovation and competitiveness. The European Parliament passed the resolution comfortably with 396 votes to 123, with 85 abstentions.
Robotics

Elon Musk: Humans Need To Merge With Machines Else They Will Become Irrelevant in AI Age (cnbc.com) 251

Billionaire Elon Musk is known for his futuristic ideas. So it didn't come as a surprise when on Monday at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he predicted that over time we will see a "closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence." He added, via a CNBC report: "It's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output." Musk explained what he meant by saying that computers can communicate at "a trillion bits per second", while humans, whose main communication method is typing with their fingers via a mobile device, can do about 10 bits per second. In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines, according to Musk. "Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.
Japan

Excessive Radiation Inside Fukushima Fries Clean-Up Robot (gizmodo.com) 307

"A remotely-controlled robot sent to inspect and clean a damaged reactor at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant had to be pulled early when its onboard camera went dark, the result of excess radiation," reports Gizmodo. "The abbreviated mission suggests that radiation levels inside the reactor are even higher than was reported last week -- and that robots are going to have a hell of a time cleaning this mess up." From the report: Last week, Gizmodo reported that radiation levels inside the containment vessel of reactor No. 2 at Fukushima reached a jaw-dropping 530 sieverts per hour, a level high enough to kill a human within seconds. Some Japanese government officials questioned the reading because Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding (TEPCO) calculated it by looking at camera interference on the robot sent in to investigate, rather than measuring it directly with a geiger counter or dosimeter. It now appears that this initial estimate may have been too low. Either that, or TEPCO's robot is getting closer to the melted fuel -- which is very likely. High radiation readings near any of the used fuel are to be expected. Yesterday, that same remotely operated robot had to be pulled when its camera began to fail after just two hours of exposure to the radiation inside the damaged reactor. Accordingly, TEPCO has revised its estimate to about 650 sieverts per hour, which is 120 more sieverts than what was calculated late last month (although the new estimate comes with a 30 percent margin of error). The robot is designed to withstand about 1,000 accumulated sieverts, which given the failure after two hours, jibes well with the camera interference. This likely means that the melted fuel burned through its pressure vessel during the meltdown in March of 2011, and is sitting somewhere nearby.
Businesses

'We Need Robots To Take Our Jobs,' Veteran Tech Reporter John Markoff Explains Why (recode.net) 318

Former New York Times technology reporter John Markoff used to think robots taking jobs was cause for alarm. Then, he found out that the working-age population in China, Japan, Korea and the U.S. was declining. From a report on Recode: "We need the robots for two reasons: On the one side, there are not enough workers," Markoff said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. "The demographic trends are more important than the technological trends, and they happen more quickly. On the other side, there's this thing called the dependency ratio, the ratio between caregivers and people who need care," he added. "For the first time last year, there were more people in the world who are over 65 than under five. First time ever in history. By the middle of the century, the number of people over 80 will double. By the end of the century, it'll be up sevenfold, globally."
Robotics

Are Robots Coming To Take Investor Jobs on Wall Street? (nypost.com) 142

From an article on NYPost: More investors are warming to the cold, steely embrace of the increasingly sophisticated, low-cost automated robo-advisers. The primary reason is to save money on those fees and charges. Nearly one in three investors says these machines are superior at picking stocks and lessen their risk, and almost as many say the machines are better at selecting investments for retirement than human brokers, according to a new study of US investors by market research and consulting firm Spectrem Group.
The Media

A Super Bowl Koan: Does The NFL Wish It Were A Tech Company? (siliconvalley.com) 126

Are tech companies cashing in on the popularity of Super Bowl -- or is the Super Bowl trying to get into the world of tech? An anonymous reader writes: The NFL hosted a startup pitch competition before the game. And they also ran tech-themed "future of football" ads during the game which showcased the robot tackling dummies that provide moving targets for training players. Lady Gaga's halftime show is even expected to feature hundreds of drones.

But Microsoft was also hovering around outside the stadium, pushing the concept of "social autographs" (digital signatures drawn onto images) with their Surface tablets. Intel ran ads during the game touting their 360-degree replay technology. Besides the usual game-day ads for beer, there were also several for videogames -- Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Mobile Strike, and a reality TV show parody suddenly turned into an ad for World of Tanks. So is technology subtly changing the culture of the Super Bowl -- or is the Super Bowl turning into a massive pageant of technology?

Are any Slashdot readers even watching the Super Bowl? All I know is the Bay Area Newsgroup reported that a Silicon Valley engineer ultimately earns more over their lifetime than the average NFL football player.
AI

Are Gates, Musk Being 'Too Aggressive' With AI Concerns? (xconomy.com) 311

gthuang88 reports on a talk titled "Will Robots Eat Your Job?" Bill Gates and Elon Musk are sounding the alarm "too aggressively" over artificial intelligence's potential negative consequences for society, says MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson. The co-author of The Second Machine Age argues it will take at least 30 to 50 years for robots and software to eliminate the need for human laborers. In the meantime, he says, we should be investing in education so that people are prepared for the jobs of the future, and are focused on where they still have an advantage over machines -- creativity, empathy, leadership, and teamwork.
The professor acknowledges "there are some legitimate concerns" about robots taking jobs away from humans, but "I don't think it's a problem we have to face today... It can be counterproductive to overestimate what machines can do right now." Eventually humankind will reach a world where robots do practically everything, the professor believes, but with a universal basic income this could simply leave us humans with more leisure time.
Security

Can The Mayhem AI Automate Bug-Patching? (technologyreview.com) 23

"Now when a machine is compromised it takes days or weeks for someone to notice and then days or weeks -- or never -- until a patch is put out," says Carnegie Mellon professor David Brumley. "Imagine a world where the first time a hacker exploits a vulnerability he can only exploit one machine and then it's patched." An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: Last summer the Pentagon staged a contest in Las Vegas in which high-powered computers spent 12 hours trying to hack one another in pursuit of a $2 million purse. Now Mayhem, the software that won, is beginning to put its hacking skills to work in the real world... Teams entered software that had to patch and protect a collection of server software, while also identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in the programs under the stewardship of its competitors... ForAllSecure, cofounded by Carnegie Mellon professor David Brumley and two of his PhD students, has started adapting Mayhem to be able to automatically find and patch flaws in certain kinds of commercial software, including that of Internet devices such as routers.

Tests are underway with undisclosed partners, including an Internet device manufacturer, to see if Mayhem can help companies identify and fix vulnerabilities in their products more quickly and comprehensively. The focus is on addressing the challenge of companies needing to devote considerable resources to supporting years of past products with security updates... Last year, Brumley published results from feeding almost 2,000 router firmware images through some of the techniques that powered Mayhem. Over 40%, representing 89 different products, had at least one vulnerability. The software found 14 previously undiscovered vulnerabilities affecting 69 different software builds. ForAllSecure is also working with the Department of Defense on ideas for how to put Mayhem to real world use finding and fixing vulnerabilities.

Printer

A Hacker Just Pwned Over 150,000 Printers Exposed Online (bleepingcomputer.com) 75

Last year an attacker forced thousands of unsecured printers to spew racist and anti-semitic messages. But this year's attack is even bigger. An anonymous reader writes: A grey-hat hacker going by the name of Stackoverflowin has pwned over 150,000 printers that have been left accessible online. For the past 24 hours, Stackoverflowin has been running an automated script that searches for open printer ports and sends a rogue print job to the target's device. The script targets IPP (Internet Printing Protocol) ports, LPD (Line Printer Daemon) ports, and port 9100 left open to external connections. From high-end multi-functional printers at corporate headquarters to lowly receipt printers in small town restaurants, all have been affected. The list includes brands such as Afico, Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, Konica Minolta, Oki, and Samsung.

The printed out message included recommendations for printer owners to secure their device. The hacker said that people who reached out were very nice and thanked him.

The printers apparently spew out an ASCII drawing of a robot, along with the words "stackoverflowin the hacker god has returned. your printer is part of a flaming botnet... For the love of God, please close this port." The messages sometimes also include a link to a Twitter feed named LMAOstack.
Google

Leaked Video Shows New 'Nightmare-Inducing' Wheeled Robot From Boston Dynamics (theverge.com) 119

Boston Dynamics has a reputation for building robots which push the boundaries of robotics technology, although with a slightly creepy persona. Its latest robot is no different. From a report on The Verge: The company's new wheeled, upright robot is named Handle ("because it's supposed to handle objects") and looks like a cross between a Segway and the two-legged Atlas bot. Handle hasn't been officially unveiled, but was shown off by company founder Marc Raibert in a presentation to investors. Footage of the presentation was uploaded to YouTube by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson. Raibert describes Handle as an "experiment in combining wheels with legs, with a very dynamic system that is balancing itself all the time and has a lot of knowledge of how to throw its weight around." He adds that using wheels is more efficient than legs, although there's obviously a trade-off in terms of maneuvering over uneven ground. "This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot," says Raibert.
Google

Can A Robot Fool 'I Am Not A Robot' Captchas? (businessinsider.com) 54

Business Insider reports on a new video showing a robotic arm apparently defeating the "I am not a robot" captcha test. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The Captcha the robot fools tracks the user's mouse movements to make sure they're a "real" human. So rather than trying to trick it with software -- a tactic that can often be detected -- it goes down the hardware route. Using a capacitive stylus, the robot physically moves the mouse on the trackpad, as if it were a real human wiggling their finger around. The computer doesn't stand a chance.
So all you need is your own robotic arm -- although even then, it's apparently not that simple. The "I am not a robot" captcha grew out of Google's attempts to fight click fraud, according to a 2014 article in Wired, but it does more than watch mouse movements. It also "examines cues every user unwittingly provides: IP addresses and cookies provide evidence that the user is the same friendly human Google remembers from elsewhere on the Web," as well as some undisclosed variables, to create what Google describes as "a bag of cues."
Robotics

DragonflEye Project Wants To Turn Insects Into Cyborg Drones 78

New submitter robotopia writes: Scientists at a research and development company called Draper are using genetic engineering and optoelectronics to turn dragonflies into cybernetic insects, reports IEEE Spectrum. To control the dragonflies, Draper engineers are genetically modifying the nervous system of the insects so they can respond to pulses of light. The goal of the project, called DragonflEye, is enabling insects to carry scientific payloads or conduct surveillance.
Medicine

Tiny New Robots Perform Eye Surgery (technologyreview.com) 52

A tiny new Robotic Retinal Dissection Device -- nicknamed "R2D2" -- can crawl into an incision in the eye and lift a membrane no more than a hundredth of a millimeter. "The cables that enable the robot to navigate are each 110 microns across, a little over the diameter of a human hair," reports the MIT Technology Review. The robot is controlled by a joystick (while providing a live camera feed to the ophthalmologist). In September an Oxford professor used it to perform the first operation inside the human eye, and since then five more patients have undergone robot-assisted operations at an Oxford hospital. In one procedure, a gene-therapy virus that stops retinal degeneration "was planted on the retina itself, a procedure only made possible by R2D2's unprecedented precision."
Robotic surgery is already happening. The article points out that Da Vinci, an elephant-sized surgical robot that repairs heart valves, "has operated on more than three million patients around the world." But the Oxford professor believes these tiny eye robots "will open the door to new operations for which the human hand does not have the necessary control and precision."
Medicine

Robotic Sleeve Mimics Muscles To Keep a Heart Beating (seeker.com) 41

randomErr writes: 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure each year with about 41 million worldwide. Currently, treatment involves surgically implanting a mechanical pump, called a ventricular assist device (VAD), into the heart. The VAD helps maintains the heart's function. But patients with VADs are at high risk for getting blood clots and having a stroke. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital have created a soft robotic sleeve that doesn't have to be implanted. The robotic sleeve slips around the outside of the heart, squeezing it in sync with the natural rhythm. "This work represents an exciting proof of concept result for this soft robot, demonstrating that it can safely interact with soft tissue and lead to improvements in cardiac function," Conor Walsh, said in a press statement. Seeker reports: "The sleeve they developed is made from thin silicone and attaches to the outside of the heart with a combination of suction devices and sutures. It relies on soft, air-powered actuators that twist and compress in a way that's similar to the outer layer of muscle of a human heart. A gel coating reduces any friction between the sleeve and the organ. Because the sleeve is soft and flexible, it can be customized to fit not just the size and shape of individual hearts, but augment the organ's weaknesses. For example, if a patient's heart is weaker on the left side than the right, the sleeve can be tuned to squeeze with more authority on the left side. As the organ gains strength, the device can be adjusted." The study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
NASA

NASA Is Making New Robots That Can Control Themselves (vice.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: NASA wants humans and robots to work together as teams. To ensure that, the space agency's autonomous robotics group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help. When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of VERVE, a "3D robot user interface," which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots. VERVE has been used with NASA's K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and with the new robot Astrobee (a robot that can fly around the ISS). In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California. Because of time delay, astronauts can't just "joystick a robot," said Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Center. "You need a robot that can operate on its own, complete tasks on its own," she said. "On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy's not quite ready to handle." That's why, according to NASA, human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.
Advertising

Drone Maker Lily Robotics Faked Promotional Video, Gets Sued For False Advertising and Misleading Business Practices (theregister.co.uk) 39

Dotnaught quotes a report from The Register: Lily Robotics says its decision on Thursday to shut down and return pre-order payments for a never-delivered drone, which came on the same day that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon charged the company with false advertising and misleading business practices, was purely coincidental. According to a source familiar with the complaint filed against the company, Lily Robotics has known about the DA's investigation for several months. On the strength of a promotional video on YouTube in May 2015, embedded below, Lily Robotics raised more than $34 million in pre-order sales over the course of that year for a drone called Lily Camera. The flying gadget, when built, would be capable of being launched with a throw, following people, and recording them. But after pushing the delivery date back multiple times, Lily Robotics has yet to ship a single drone to its 60,000 prospective customers, according to the lawsuit filed against the company. In theory, Lily Robotics could face a fine of more than a hundred million dollars, depending upon the outcome of a trial, if it comes to that. The company faces potential fines for at least two business code violations subject to a civil penalty of $2,500 per violation, and there are some 60,000 individuals affected. In practice, however, such fines are usually orders of magnitude less, particularly if both sides agree on a settlement. The complaint against Lily, obtained by The Register, alleges that the company knowingly misled customers by creating a promotional video that purported to show video footage captured with a Lily drone prototype. "In fact, none of the video in the Promotional Video was shot by a Lily Camera," the complaint says. "Most notably, the POV footage used in the promotional video was filmed using a professional camera drone called the DJI Inspire." Among the Lily Camera prototypes present at the video shoot, the complaint says, the ones that could actually record video were able to do so because they had Go-Pro cameras mounted on them.
Robotics

Half the Work People Do Can Be Automated, Says McKinsey (techinasia.com) 409

Half the work people do in their jobs can be automated, according to a study published by McKinsey Global Institute. From a report: Instead of assessing the impact of automation on specific jobs, the study went to a more granular level by looking at the activities involved in various jobs. The logic is that every occupation has a range of activities, each with varying potential for automation. McKinsey found that 49 percent of the activities people are paid to do in the global economy can be automated with "currently demonstrated technology." That involves US$11.9 trillion in wages and touches 1.1 billion people. The study encompassed over 50 countries and 80 percent of the world's workers. China, India, Japan, and the US accounted for half of the total wages and employees. Not surprisingly, the two most populous countries, China and India, could see the largest impact of automation, potentially affecting 600 million workers -- which is twice the population of the US.
EU

Europe Calls For Mandatory 'Kill Switches' On Robots (cnn.com) 173

To combat the robot revolution, the European Parliament's legal affairs committee has proposed that robots be equipped with emergency "kill switches" to prevent them from causing excessive damage. Legislators have also suggested that robots be insured and even be made to pay taxes. "A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics," said Mady Delvaux, the parliamentarian who authored the proposal. "To ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework." CNNMoney reports: The proposal calls for a new charter on robotics that would give engineers guidance on how to design ethical and safe machines. For example, designers should include "kill switches" so that robots can be turned off in emergencies. They must also make sure that robots can be reprogrammed if their software doesn't work as designed. The proposal states that designers, producers and operators of robots should generally be governed by the "laws of robotics" described by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. The proposal also says that robots should always be identifiable as mechanical creations. That will help prevent humans from developing emotional attachments. "You always have to tell people that robot is not a human and a robot will never be a human," said Delvaux. "You must never think that a robot is a human and that he loves you." The report cites the example of care robots, saying that people who are physically dependent on them could develop emotional attachments. The proposal calls for a compulsory insurance scheme -- similar to car insurance -- that would require producers and owners to take out insurance to cover the damage caused by their robots. The proposal explores whether sophisticated autonomous robots should be given the status of "electronic persons." This designation would apply in situations where robots make autonomous decisions or interact with humans independently. It would also saddle robots with certain rights and obligations -- for example, robots would be responsible for any damage they cause. If advanced robots start replacing human workers in large numbers, the report recommends the European Commission force their owners to pay taxes or contribute to social security.

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