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More Warehouse Robots Coming To Market As Softbank Invests $20M In Fetch 38

Hallie Siegel writes: Japanese Softbank just injected $20M in funding to Fetch Robotics, a Silicon Valley company that is developing robotic solutions for warehouse and logistics. This is one of the first warehouse systems that is coming to market since Kiva. Softbank is also invested in Aldebaran Robotics, producing the Pepper robot — a social humanoid robot that is scheduled to make its debut in Nestle stores later this year as a sales and marketing assistant.
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More Warehouse Robots Coming To Market As Softbank Invests $20M In Fetch

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  • Once again, I misread the headline and was disappointed by the real story.

  • Japanese Paradox (Score:5, Interesting)

    by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Thursday June 18, 2015 @06:37AM (#49935635)

    Having recently visiting Japan I find these unskilled human replacement robots quite intriguing. Despite the fact that Japan has terrible demographics resulting in a growing shortage of workers, they have a huge number people doing quite pointless jobs such as the ubiquitous greeter in almost every store, teams of traffic controllers outside construction sites, and more staff at a regional train station than you would find at Oxford Circus during rush hour.

    I discussed this with a Japanese person who commented that there is a shortage of work for unskilled workers, so they basically make up these jobs so that everyone can be employed. The real worker shortage, as everywhere in the world, is among the skilled and highly skilled and even Japan cannot create enough of these workers through its education system.

    That is ultimately the problem I have with how these robots fit into our existing economic system. They are not replacing the skilled jobs that we are desperately short of (which is pushing skilled salaries up) and are simply competing with people who really can't do much else (which will push their salaries down to the marginal cost of a robot - which will be very bad for them once robots can make robots). Now in Japan they have the sort of weird social structure to support made up jobs rather than put people out on the street, but sadly I don't think the same will apply to western workers.

    For us tech workers things will be very good, but having come from a working class background it really troubles me what is going on. The reality is that robotics should mean more prosperity for everyone, but if we stuff it up we will likely just end up with the same class based society that strangled growth in the world for centuries before the oppressed workers of the world ran away to the USA. Unfortunately we've run out of new continents to escape to so we'll have to fix this one among ourselves. I hope tech people start thinking about this stuff. We sadly have a long heritage of creating amazing stuff and then letting a bunch of narcissist use what we've done to feed their own greed. But hey, as long as we have a foosball table in the office right?

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      "For us tech workers things will be very good,"

      I wouldn't bet on that for much longer. The smarter computers get the more likely they'll be able to figure out how to do a task on their own rather than being explicitely told whether it be doing a nightly backup, troubleshooting their own DB or implementing new tasks that previously would have required programming.

      I'm sure in 100 years there'll still be humans doing these sorts of jobs - in the same way you can still find people making horse shoes - but not i

      • The effect on high-skill jobs(tech and others) will presumably also depend fairly heavily on the indirect effects of the displacements elsewhere in the labor market; as well as any direct automation of former jobs.

        Even if, for simplicity, we assume zero replacement of programmers and EEs and such by robots and expert systems, we still have the question of 'what will all the incrementally less skilled workers(and those who would have trained to become their successors) do because robots threaten their job
        • Yes, great analysis.

          I assume the driving of labor "coming from below" and "knocking higher up the food chain" along with more and more labor from anywhere in the world will increasingly drive down labor costs(wages).

          Would that mean that those in IT will have to work harder for less, with more competition?

          The real questions(expertly avoided in the media) are these:
          How will society "deal with"(manage) the millions of unemployed as these changes wrought by robots and expert systems happen?
          How will
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The poor will always be cannon fodder and fortunately poor people do not live as long as rich people. The very poor have a life span of around 35 years and the very rich around 90 years. There are various reason for that, including malnutrition, bad hygiene and expensive medical care.

    • Never visited Japan, but i have some friends who have visited it (either for business or just tourism) and, by what they told me, they confirm your experiance: huge number of people working in jobs that many Westerners may think that exist just as a justification for employing unskilled people who otherwise they will be unemployed, in a "Japanese style strange Socialism". But i can't call those jobs "pointless", because this situation is compatible with the Japanese culture in my opinion. For example: a per
    • My understanding is that Japan's real interest in robotic workers is driven by how top-heavy their age distribution is.

      If you have a relatively low birthrate(and Japan very much does, even by the standards of the developed world generally), you pretty much have the option of learning to like at least one flavor of immigrant from a country you can afford, or building a robot capable of wiping your ass and flipping you over often enough to prevent bedsores; because the day is approaching where you won't be
    • I discussed this with a Japanese person who commented that there is a shortage of work for unskilled workers, so they basically make up these jobs so that everyone can be employed.

      Wow, it's almost like the Japanese understand that if people don't have money to buy stuff, economies don't function. Too bad our fearless leaders here in the USA either don't get it or don't care

      • Too bad our fearless leaders here in the USA either don't get it or don't care

        What the GPP is describing in Japan, is a bottom-up phenomenon, not something driven by "leaders".

        Assuming that the "fearless leaders" in the USA did "get it", what would you have them do? Require employers to create busy-work jobs? Many countries around the world already do that, leading to stagnant economies, and, paradoxically, higher unemployment.

        • What the GPP is describing in Japan, is a bottom-up phenomenon, not something driven by "leaders".

          It can't be, because the people with the money are the ones who can pay the wages, and also the ones who really run nations.

          Assuming that the "fearless leaders" in the USA did "get it", what would you have them do? Require employers to create busy-work jobs?

          Well first, I'd shitcan the H1-B program completely, and fire everyone involved in it. Then I'd start up a new program, and I'd ask labor advocates how to prevent it from becoming a clusterfuck again.

      • If you look at Obamas position on the TPP, you can see who has the most influence over our fearless leaders.
        • If you look at Obamas position on the TPP, you can see who has the most influence over our fearless leaders.

          ITYM "you can see who the real leaders are". Obama's a follower, he does as he's told, like any other President since JFK.

      • Seems like we should start paying kids to break store windows so that more glaziers can be employed, and more repairmen, and so on through the economy.

        • Well, we have three options. We can kill off the people with no jobs, we can institute an MGI, or we can create make-work for them. Since our society has decided that everyone must have a whip cracked over them until some blood has been squeezed out of their turnips, where's the jobs?

          • The problem is that you are assuming that you can have an economy just by shuffling money around, whereas I had always understood it revolved around the creation (not destruction!) of value.

            • The problem is that you are assuming that you can have an economy just by shuffling money around, whereas I had always understood it revolved around the creation (not destruction!) of value.

              It's a nice idea, but it stops working when you don't shuffle the money around, so economics is as much about shuffling money around as it is about anything else. Trickle-down economics doesn't work because money doesn't move; it tends to concentrate. But when it does that, the system reaches a point of stasis; if you don't spend the money, then nobody can use it to do anything. That's why we call it currency. It only works when flowing.

              • If this were true, then you could stimulate the economy by giving everyone a $10 tax break on the condition that they give that money to someone else.

                The only way it works, is if rather than giving the money, they use it to purchase some good or service-- that is, value added to the economy. Simply moving money around doesnt cut it, there has to be something that you're exchanging the money for.

                Otherwise, we would have our ditch diggers use spoons, and have workmen build highrises without the assistance of

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "That is ultimately the problem I have with how these robots fit into our existing economic system"

      Yep that's the crux of it. The money system can't work without scarcity, and it can't work if people don't work, as long as people are expected to be employed or somehow earning money for the right to live. In other words it's incompatible with abundance and efficiency.

      • by michalk ( 750517 )
        I don't completely agree. I just finished "The Lights in The Tunnel", and previously read "Manna." http://www.thelightsinthetunne... [thelightsinthetunnel.com] http://marshallbrain.com/manna... [marshallbrain.com] The problem is how do we maintain consumption of goods and services in a society where working is optional? I would love to be in the ideal society, where I'm given an "allowance", and allowed to create the things that I want to create that bring additional income. I'm Libertarian at heart, but I don't see how capitalism is going to solve t
        • I'm the Anon Coward in the grandparent post. "I'm Libertarian at heart, but I don't see how capitalism is going to solve this problem." I don't think it will, that's what I'm saying. Capitalism is incompatible with the abundance and efficiency that high technology can bring. "I'm too optimistic in my hope that idle people would do good with their spare time." I don't think so. "Without any structure, I bet a huge portion of our population checks out, going to a perpetual drug induced stupor." Based on wh
        • Interesting lecture about this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIFK0NhMVws [youtube.com]
    • I think eventually, the developed world will have to take a good look at redesigning our civil payment models, when low skilled (or just manual work in general) is increasingly being pulled away by much more profitable machine workers. We have welfare, but the stigma attached to it is becoming more and more undue, as more types of work that's being taken away overseas and by robots.
      I know companies want to have their cake and devour it all in the same sitting; paying for amazingly cheap labor while offerin

    • The scenario you're talking about is a short term scenario. Yes, robots are taking over the unskilled labor jobs... mainly because unskilled labor cannot keep up with the manufacturing demand. Look at Foxconn, they can't keep up with the manufacturing of iPhones. They have to automate, much like P&G did for toothpaste and quaker oats. The automation will make the quality issue moot and keep costs & demand manageable.

      As robotic automation gets more refined from this (and it will), that's the time we

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