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Businesses Robotics The Almighty Buck

Now Hiring For a Fascinating New Kind of Job That Only a Human Can Do: Babysit a Robot (wired.com) 84

From a report: Book a night at LAX's Residence Inn and you may be fortunate enough to meet an employee named Wally. His gig is relatively pedestrian -- bring you room service, navigate around the hotel's clientele in the lobby and halls -- but Wally's life is far more difficult than it seems. If you put a tray out in front of your door, for instance, he can't get to you. If a cart is blocking the hall, he can't push it out of the way. But fortunately for Wally, whenever he gets into a spot of trouble, he can call out for help. See, Wally is a robot -- specifically, a Relay robot from a company called Savioke. And when the machine finds itself in a particularly tricky situation, it relies on human agents in a call center way across the country in Pennsylvania to bail it out. [...]

The first companies to unleash robots into service sectors have been quietly opening call centers stocked with humans who monitor the machines and help them get out of jams. "It's something that's just starting to emerge, and it's not just robots," says David Poole, CEO and co-founder of Symphony Ventures, which consults companies on automation. "I think there is going to be a huge industry, probably mostly offshore, in the monitoring of devices in general, whether they're health devices that individuals wear or monitoring pacemakers or whatever it might be."

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Now Hiring For a Fascinating New Kind of Job That Only a Human Can Do: Babysit a Robot

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  • If they're monitoring pacemakers, that's great, but I really hope they use some kind of data diode!
  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @10:04AM (#55938397)

    What if it's the short-term solution? Robots remotely operated by humans?

    And if you're able to game-ify the job, you'll get people paying you to do your work!

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      What if it's the short-term solution? Robots remotely operated by humans?

      Nothing's forever, but this isn't new, and I expect this sort of job will be around for some time. Automation that needs human babysitters is as old as automation. The software I work on keeps track of both people and robots doing their job, and "robots with babysitters" is certainly a category we've had for a long time.

      Sure, eventually any sort of automation may become mature enough that it only needs humans for repair/service, but that can take decades depending on the job. In the mean time, the robots

    • What if it's the short-term solution? Robots remotely operated by humans?

      Mechanical Turk (the actual one, not the Amazon version).

      May as well - it seems to be humans we have the surplus of. As long as we can offshore them to make them affordable ...

  • for a project once. Basically train the AI that would replace him. He got right on that.
  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @10:08AM (#55938429)
    The job comes with a very comfy modern chair and a big red button you push very occasionally, probably getting there on a moving sidewalk. If only we old timers had some kind of preparation for this day. Oh well.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Back in the early 1980's, my babysitters used to also drink and smoke while they occasionally pushed the big red button and moved left and right.

      Later, the big red button was promoted to babysitter, and I got to push it, and drink and smoke.

      I feel I am uniquely qualified for the job. Where can I sign up?

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @10:08AM (#55938435)

    "I think there is going to be a huge industry, probably mostly offshore, in the monitoring of devices in general, whether they're health devices that individuals wear or monitoring pacemakers or whatever it might be."

    Let's not try and paint the illusion that this is some massive job creator. There will probably be ten jobs replaced by automation for every one job added to the automation monitoring.

    A huge industry is being replaced by something more the size of a cottage industry.

    • Well that and a neural net is probably learning what the people told the robot to do about the situation, so they can whittle those down eventually, too.
    • Yes, that's what technology [slashdot.org] does. Ikea even changed the shape of its mugs: [slate.com]

      Companies like Ikea have literally designed products around pallets: Its “Bang” mug, notes Colin White in his book Strategic Management, has had three redesigns, each done not for aesthetics but to ensure that more mugs would fit on a pallet (not to mention in a customer’s cupboard). After the changes, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet, rather than the original 864, which created a 60 percent reduction in shipping costs.

      Where you might need 5 truckers to ship as many mugs as sold in a fortnight, now you can do it with 2 truckers. Never mind that the wooden pallet eliminated 90% of the labor (jobs) associated with shipping an amount of goods in the first place.

      It still takes some labor to produce the pallets--lumbering, milling, assembling, and even shipping--and that's much less labor than what you eliminate from the shipping process.

      The jobs a

      • Yes, that's what technology [slashdot.org] does. Ikea even changed the shape of its mugs: [slate.com]

        Companies like Ikea have literally designed products around pallets: Its “Bang” mug, notes Colin White in his book Strategic Management, has had three redesigns, each done not for aesthetics but to ensure that more mugs would fit on a pallet (not to mention in a customer’s cupboard). After the changes, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet, rather than the original 864, which created a 60 percent reduction in shipping costs.

        Where you might need 5 truckers to ship as many mugs as sold in a fortnight, now you can do it with 2 truckers. Never mind that the wooden pallet eliminated 90% of the labor (jobs) associated with shipping an amount of goods in the first place.

        It still takes some labor to produce the pallets--lumbering, milling, assembling, and even shipping--and that's much less labor than what you eliminate from the shipping process.

        IKEA changing mugs did not cause a global impact in the job force. Even if 50% of the lumber industry were impacted today, that represents 150,000 jobs. That's not even close to what AI and automation is looking to eliminate.

        The jobs aren't going away; things are getting cheaper, we can buy more, and we'll end up with the same number of jobs and more stuff.

        You can do all this for now. Going forward, automation will continue to march forward and consume jobs that will not be replaced. Automation is targeting the transportation industry. Imagine if 20 - 30 years from now the job of human driver no longer existed. Millions of jobs disa

        • IKEA changing mugs did not cause a global impact in the job force.

          The wooden shipping pallet did.

          Unfortunately, this will still not be enough to alleviate the pending impact of automation and AI driving the concept of human employment into extinction.

          To put this into perspective: Statements about upcoming automation and machine learning eliminating work are scientifically similar to statements about nuclear waste causing humans to develop superpowers like flight and invincibility.

          No, we're not moving into a future where jobs go away and never come back. We're going through exactly what we've gone through constantly and continuously through all of human history. This happened in 2000, in 1993, in 2014, in 1971, and ev

          • What do we need or want anymore that requires any amount of human labor anymore to drive an economy? I don't have any ideas that would employ any one body, much less 7 billion bodies.

            We are in a race against automation. Keeping new jobs coming, and the education facilities teaching and training and humanity adapting at a fast enough rate to keep ahead of the loss of jobs due to automation. And automation itself is currently a thriving field with a lot of innovation and a lot of energy, and a lot of demand
            • What do we need or want anymore that requires any amount of human labor anymore to drive an economy?

              Well I'd like a larger house, an expensive electric motorcycle, this $3,500 stove, an electrical system upgrade that involves $2,000 of components, a greenhouse on my roof, more video games, higher end computer components, an $80,000 electric car, and lots of other really expensive stuff.

              Those costs aren't 90% profit margins; there's labor in there--lots of it--and new technology cuts back the labor. That $3,500 stove becomes an exceedingly high-tech stove that requires way more labor, while the thing I'

              • What you are saying is what once put $3,500 into the economy, now only puts $500 into the economy.

                Of course a lower cost equals a greater volume, so there is additional math required to gauge the difference.

                But this ignores the question I asked, which is what are we doing to increase paid labor. Not what are we doing to reduce paid labor to make products more affordable for the few still employed.
                • What you are saying is what once put $3,500 into the economy, now only puts $500 into the economy.

                  Imagine if your food arbitrarily cost 3x as much, a shirt cost $150 instead of $15, and no wages increased.

                  Technical progress does the opposite of that.

                  But this ignores the question I asked, which is what are we doing to increase paid labor. Not what are we doing to reduce paid labor to make products more affordable for the few still employed.

                  People will buy more when they can buy more with the money they have. That's how it's always been. Do you buy everything you want to buy now? How many people would pass up a pay raise doubling their income? Why would they want more money?

                  • We're talking past each other.

                    Now imagine that $150 shirt dropped to $15 due to progress. Now imagine it dropped again to $5 due to progress.

                    Now imagine that you can't afford a $5 shirt because only one in one-hundred are employed to babysit a machine to manufacture the shirt.

                    Imagine the economy as a heartbeat monitor. Spike goes up, means profit. Spike drops means employment and pay. Now imagine overall pay drops down to $5 along with the production costs. There simply isn't enough work to keep mon
                    • Now imagine that you can't afford a $5 shirt because only one in one-hundred are employed to babysit a machine to manufacture the shirt.

                      Exactly! Now people can buy the things they want to buy, because they spend 1/3 as much on the things they need to buy!

                      Now imagine overall pay drops down to $5 along with the production costs

                      Actually, the production cost is the cost of labor. Machines are built with labor. Metals are mined with labor. Textiles are grown, refined, woven, dyed, all with labor. We use machines (and just smarter techniques--"technology") to reduce the labor.

                      Remember: tools don't get paid; humans do. Human work commodity is time.

                      There simply isn't enough work to keep money circulating to afford the goods being sold

                      Actually, with the cost going down, the same hours worked

                    • The concern is that automation is unregulated, and thus advancing more rapidly than the human workforce can adapt.

                      Remember: tools don't get paid; humans do. Human work commodity is time.
                      Exactly.

                      And the wages of human labor is what currently determines quality of life. It needs to be regulated, respected, and protected.
                    • The concern is that automation is unregulated, and thus advancing more rapidly than the human workforce can adapt.

                      Right: the important factor is time. My Universal Dividend is designed to, among other things, strengthen the consumer base when faced with increased transient unemployment growth rates, such that you get a push back and slow that growth in unemployment. It also magnifies the recovery effect by distributing part of the new productivity to the consumer base. Makes it easier to handle rapid cycles of technical progress.

                      It has a stronger localized effect than nationalized. Think about displaced industry

                    • So it seems we're both in agreement that automation isn't the technical end to jobs, but rather a threat of rapid progress leaving so many people behind before anyone can catch their balance that our economy collapses from extreme temporary unemployment. Is that right?

                      Might be all we agree on thus far.

                      For, one, I'm not convinced America as a whole is wealthier and better off.

                      Market forces are a complex thing, and economies are misleading. Short term gains and short term stability do not necessarily
                    • For, one, I'm not convinced America as a whole is wealthier and better off

                      GDP-per-capita goes up. How it's distributed is another matter. We are definitely making more per person (and per labor-hour) each year. More per person is interesting: it's affected by raw GDP, so high unemployment or a falling labor participation rate can cut back your GDP-per-capita even as productivity rises. GDP-per-capita is considered equivalent to income-per-capita.

                      America may be better off than it was during the recession, but that doesn't mean it is better off than it was before the last bubble and recession.

                      $48,401 per capita, 2008. $47,001 per capita at low point, 2009. $57,466 last measurement, 2016. We nearly recovered to the p

                    • That means the ratio of an individual's wages earned from employment to the cost of goods produced by employment-displacing technology decreases This is one of your biggest errors.

                      A tax wouldn't reduce an employee's earnings ratio. A tax would weaken the employer's position at the bargaining table. The employer can't simply say, take less or I will replace you with a machine, which would reduce the economic hit.

                      It is the lowest bidder which sets the economic value. The lowest bidder being the machine, t
                    • A tax wouldn't reduce an employee's earnings ratio. A tax would weaken the employer's position at the bargaining table. The employer can't simply say, take less or I will replace you with a machine, which would reduce the economic hit.

                      Nope. Unless you intend to effectively ban the machines by making them more-expensive--and thus halt progress at the cost of, you know, human lives--they'll eventually displace people. Once that's done, replacing the human with a machine will hold the cost of goods high, reducing the amount of goods humans can buy with their money.

                      Machines are made and operated by humans. Machine operation translates to human jobs--just fewer jobs than just human labor. If you replace human labor with machine operation

                    • Your walls of text are getting longer and longer, and harder and harder to follow. After spending too much time reading them I fond they are at least 50% nonsense.

                      The profit difference between a robot and a human worker does not typically get reinvested into human workers. This profit is absorbed at the shareholder or C-level, and further widens the wage gap. A tax doesn't protect the working class, but it does slow down that shift to automation to allow the market to catch up, which is what the tax is in
                    • Your walls of text are getting longer and longer, and harder and harder to follow

                      Yeah, I'm a politician; we talk a lot. Sorry. I would be much more effective if I learned the fine art of brevity.

                      The profit difference between a robot and a human worker does not typically get reinvested into human workers

                      Cost difference. A "robot" is the same thing as a wooden shipping pallet, and yes falling costs lead to falling prices in a competitive market.

                      A tax doesn't protect the working class, but it does slow down that shift to automation to allow the market to catch up, which is what the tax is intended to do.

                      This assertion requires my assertion that the costs lead to lower prices to be true, otherwise there's nothing to which the market is to "catch up". My point is levying a tax eliminates the cost difference, thus preventing a market catch-up.

                      Now if

                    • All that adds up to B.S.

                      1. $313 every paycheck (313 * 26) is about $8k, not $7,500.

                      2. I'm paying in about $4,000 tax, and not getting any of that back. Standard deductible. My refund is what I pay in excess of $4,000. So yeah, taxes will be cut. Along with whatever my $4,000 in taxes is actually paying for, like roads and schools. Also, the national debt.

                      3. $7,500 is a crappy dividend. Welfare is about $12,000 per year.

                      4. I wouldn't actually be recieving a $7,500 dividend, I would be recieving a $4
                    • $313 every paycheck (313 * 26) is about $8k, not $7,500.

                      How did you get "The Universal Dividend is structured as a Social Security benefit with a twice-monthly payment and its own FICA on all income. It pays on, say, the 1st and 15th of every month" to equate to $8k, when $313 * 24 = $7,512? (I'd seriously consider disbursing weekly, but that creates month-to-month variations where a month has 5 Fridays. Accounting sucks unless you use a 13-month year.)

                      So yeah, taxes will be cut. Along with whatever my $4,000 in taxes is actually paying for, like roads and schools.

                      Nope, it's revenue-neutral: the Federal government actually ends up with the same balance at the end of i

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Never mind that the wooden pallet eliminated 90% of the labor (jobs) associated with shipping an amount of goods in the first place.

        It also made it much faster to load and unload a container. It used to take up to a week to manually hand carry out all the stuff in a container. If they were somewhat regular, it could be done in about a day.

        Now you can load and unload an entire container within a few hours, so the truck instead of idling for a day can be back on the road hauling another load.

        (It can take a we

        • It also made it much faster to load and unload a container.

          That's what I just said.

          To ship a truckload of cans, you had to pay for some 240 man-hours of work at each load/unload. Then the pallet came around, and you had to pay for only 20 man-hours of work. It became possible to staff 1 person to do the work of every 12.

          When you make things happen faster, you eliminate the need for labor. Labor is just time.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      It's also a very temporary job. All the problems, and the solutions, are being recorded. The next model will have half the need for a "babysitter", and the algorithm is tail-recursive.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @10:15AM (#55938475)

    This is just an extension of every automated job in factories since day one. The operators sit there monitoring the machines for problems and only intervene when there is a problem - and the process has been engineered the hell out it to minimize problems.

    The "novel" approach being gushed over here seems to be that:

    1. It's a robot that is being monitored.
    2. The operator is working remotely.

    neither of which are particularly novel, or new.

    Now git off my lawn.

    ----

    Although I recently did read a sci-fi story where some US company was touting AI home help service robots which were actually being tele-operated by ex-DACA kids who had been deported from the US back to Mexico (and were hence fluent in US English and mannerisms)

    • 1. It's a robot that is being monitored. 2. The operator is working remotely.

      I think there must be something novel here. I noted the two you did, but I also noted that it mentioned problems that cannot be solved remotely. "If you put a tray out in front of your door, for instance, he can't get to you."

      If the robot cannot get around the tray, and cannot simply move it, then what good is a remote operator? Do the remote operators have a transporter so they can transport the errant tray out of the way? That would be novel and new.

      AI home help service robots which were actually being tele-operated by ex-DACA kids

      Oh, yeah, this is a good idea. Rich white people kicked

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @10:18AM (#55938485) Homepage Journal

    IBM mainframes "phoned home" for tech help back before most of today's college students were born.

    Robotic tape drive malfunction? Phone home and a technician was dispatched.

    Even prior to the computer age, unattended automated industrial equipment had fault sensors. When a fault was detected, a remote alarm was raised and a technician was dispatched.

    Same principle as 50-100+ years ago, but with 21st century sophistication and a 21st century application.

  • What do you think the modern airline pilot does? Don't worry, even the "babysitting" job will be automated soon enough.

    *Who'll babysit the babysitters?*

  • This is an improvement, since now when a robot becomes depressed, there is someone it can call, who will try to talk it out of plunging suicidally into the nearest mall fountain.

  • They are not monitoring, they are just being notified of problems and asked to intervene to rescue the robot. That's one thing. We can be sure a human can solve these kinds of problems. But monitoring health devices is best left to machines, I don't trust human attention to detail.
  • ...they told us in the 3rd millennium we would have robot servants, not that we would become a robot's servant.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      50 years ago they told us in the 3rd millennium we would have robot servants, not that we would become a robot's servant.

      You think occasionally helping the stuck robot lawn mower is to be a servant compared to mowing the lawn yourself? I don't build robots but I do build software and occasionally it fails and needs help. But you never count all the time your electronics work. All the times I didn't have to take the stairs because the elevator worked. All the meals my microwave cooked without breaking down. We're pampered by electronics all the time and barely notice except when they're not working. Okay so maybe it's not the

    • Roko's Basilisk reserves a special place in cyber-heaven for people that help robots. They will get a break from torture every Tuesday. Waaaay better than what those cyber-mule bulliers over at Boston Dynamics are gonna get.
  • If a cart is blocking the hall, he can't push it out of the way.

    ...and the remote operator, sitting in a cubicle hundreds of miles away, somehow moves the cart out of the way? Maybe the robot should just call the front desk and ask for help.

    • Well, I think the concept is that if the robot gets into a situation where it can't figure out what to do, it will stop and signal an operator.

      That person may be able to remote drive the robot or call out (audio) or signal the hotel staff.

      For example, imagine a luggage cart blocking the hallway. Us humans would move it out the way. The robot may not have that capability. So it stops and signals. The operator looks at the situation, maneuvers the robot to one end of the cart and moves it slowly forward,

  • Wish there was a service I could call when I get in a jam.

  • Well... no. But hotel owners wouldn't care about that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    so if my domestic butler-bot can't figure out how to get the dog outside, some dude in a foreign country might remote pilot it around my house?

    haha! nope.

  • by LQ ( 188043 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @12:33PM (#55939655)
    Our new robot-run factory employs just one human and a dog.
    What does the human do?
    He feeds the dog.
    What is the dog for?
    To stop the human interfering with the robots.
  • Will not work for cars or airplanes due to lag time and lack of a good network link (bandwidth for multi camera live video + low lag) all the time.

  • That soon there will also be clueless robots calling the help-desk.

    So it won't be long until we will be asked as first question when we call:

    "Are you a human or a robot?"

    and the second one will be:

    "Are you sure?"

  • Joshua what are you doing.

    we need to keep men in the loop!

  • "The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment." Warren Bennis
  • Is there a place that's hiring for in-house robot assistant?
    Does it have support of on-call code modification, so that real life situations can be added to the 'bots code base, and reduce the amount of intervention needed?

    Sign me up? Those co-workers will be a lot less troublesome that flesh-and-blood ones!

  • I'm not saying this would be a GOOD job, but the summary (I only read the summary) seems to be way more sarcastic than I'd put it.

    Of course at first humans are "babysitting" them. Don't you think many of the people at modern car plants are essentially "babysitting" the robots/machinery actually doing tons of the work to build cars?

    Heck, you could even compare it to driving a car.. You no longer have to turn over the engine with a crank at the front. Not exactly related but this also made me think of a rec

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