Archives for posts with tag: Robots

These kind of posts are always a bit of a gamble. This time next year I could either be revered as a technological oracle or shamed as a false prophet. So with this in mind I will avoid predicting the Rise of the Robots and have a look at what other people are saying before sticking my neck out.

Google+

Whereas the size of your Facebook network is probably in excessive of 100 people, Tim Bajarin predicts that 2012 will see the rise of social networking tools that allow us to interact with smaller groups of friends.

Perfectly located to embrace this trend of intimate social networking is the Circles feature of Google+. You can easily organize your contacts into friends/colleagues/groups etc and interact with each circle in a unique way. For a brand – this could involve organizing your fans and advocates, or for a company this could be different departments.

I expect 2012 to see major gains for the infant social network. According to one report Google+ already has 650,000 members – and at current growth rate is set to hit the 300 million mark by the end of 2012.  I don’t think 2012 will be the year that Google+ explodes (I think Google are playing the long game) but it will certainly see itself seeping into new areas and opening up new possibilities for social networking.

Integration with other Google services such as Mail, Android and the ever-improving Google Apps Office suite will all offer an incentive for businesses to sign up. American manufacturing giant General Motors have reportedly signed a deal for access to Google App’s for it’s 100,000 strong workforce – I’m sure that the features of Google+ will find an abundance of uses in huge corporations like this.

However, the most important factor of Google+ that will see it grow through 2012 is how the network will effect normal search functions. Google+ brand pages will soon be placed on the first page of Google search results and articles that people in your network ‘+1’ will be given weighting in any search query you find yourself making through Google.

This relationship between search and social will make it an important battleground for the 2012 US presidential elections. A Google search for ‘healthcare’ will present pages that people in your Google+ network have shared – so it is crucial for any political campaign to penetrate peoples Google network.

Facebook

Whilst Google+ will find itself a home, it won’t come close to the king of social networks. Valued at $100 billion, pretty much everyone agrees that Facebook will continue to ascend. Frictionless sharing (when anything you read, watch or listen to on the web is posted to Facebook automatically) will continue to grow – yet it will need to be significantly tweaked as people realize that they don’t want everything posted to the world.

Having acquired location check-in service Gowalla this year it is likely we will see a growth of Facebook location updates. Marketers still don’t know how to deal with check-ins, but 2012 will see that change. One hotel has already offered a discount to people that match a real life check-in with a Facebook one.

My main prediction about Facebook is a change of public consciousness about the network. I think that in 2012 people will realize the implications of a world where every location they check in, every song they listen to, every news article they share and every comment they make is recorded and displayed as part of their Facebook Timeline.

People will realise that the Timeline will be something they can look back at in 40 years time – a complete record of their own life – and this will have a profound effect on our relationships to social networks. The effects of this are impossible to guess.

The Media

Newspaper print revenues will inevitably continue to plummet, but new models will begin to rise. News organizations will begin creating Facebook apps to follow the success of the Guardian and NY Times.

Citizen journalism will continue to soar as new tools allow for better organisation of contributions and developments of a news story. These new tools are also creating a new breed of journalist – the curator. Content curation, categorization and dissemination will become more crucial  as journalism moves into a ‘decentralized, real-time, collaborative, and curated future‘.

TV 2.0

The humble television set is due an upgrade. Using my Virgin Media box seems archaic when compared to the potential of the internet. Apple will release an astronomically priced TV and create a buzz and then towards the end of the year, Google will release their fair priced version just in time for Christmas.

‘The Battle for the Living Room’ will start in earnest, but games consoles are far better situated than most to win. Having browsed through YouTube on my TV using voice commands and hand gestures with my Kinect (yes, like minority report) – I don’t feel much need to change. And as Matt Roseff says ‘any company who hopes to compete with the Xbox by selling an add-on box that DOESN’T play games is in a deep state of denial’

Opensource social network

The main problem with Facebook is that it is ran for profit. 2012 will see more adverts crammed into the website – and they have just announced a daily sponsored advert that will be placed in your news feed. For people that care about these things, liberation could be in sight!

Joe Brockmeier predicts that Mozilla, the guys behind FireFox, will release an open source, privacy enabled version of Facebook (without adverts). Whilst I hope this is true, and I will certainly be signing up, I doubt that this David and Goliath fight will be won by the little guy.

Digital Identification

The era of the fingerprint is over, suggests Amy Webb. Police forces around the world are using iris scanning iPhone app’s and biometric cameras (which can scan 46,000 data points on a face) to query government databases. The latest update to Google’s mobile Android operating system uses facial recognition to unlock a handset – and I imagine this technology will soon be used to pay for goods. Will we see frictionless check-ins based on face recognition cameras in 2012…

Finally – The Rise of the Robots

I knew I said I wouldn’t talk about robots, but I reckon this year we will see the early stages of the new Robotic Age.  Robotics will take over jobs ranging from the menial to the educational and medical. The sex industry will begin selling shed loads of pleasure robots, voice recognition will become almost perfect and humans will become more cyborg-like as we begin to implant computer chips into our body.

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We are currently undergoing a revolution in the way we manufacture our goods. The unreal devices we see in science fiction shows like Star Trek are appearing in our real world at an accelerating rate.

In Southampton, engineers have used 3D printers to  successfully create a fully functional miniature plane with a two meter wingspan that can hit a top speed of 100 miles per hour. Operating much like the Replicator in Star Trek, this achievement is proof of the radical changes underway in the way complicated machines are built, as the Southampton team explains:

“This technology allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months.”

Over in China the manufacturing giant Foxconn, a major producer of electronic goods which includes Apple products, is planning on adding a million robots to its factories over the next three years.

The company, notorious owners of the Chinese ‘suicide factory’, are increasing it’s automated workforce up from its current level of 10,000 robots. Naturally, there are growing fears that the ten fold increase will cause many human workers to lose their jobs.

The fear of massive redundancy due to automation in the manufacturing sector is sharpened by the high unemployment rate induced by the poor state of the world markets – and with no clear signs of the economy getting better anytime soon, what are all the jobless humans to do?

Of course, there is no way that the robotic factory takeover will ever be prevented. Why employ five expensive humans when you can buy one robot who never calls in sick? Why hire an office cleaner when you can just buy a robot vacuum cleaners for a couple of hundred pounds?

So the question is – how do we face this revolution? According to Seth Godin, we should see it as an opportunity:

“Protectionism isn’t going to fix this problem. Neither is stimulus of old factories or yelling in frustration and anger. No, the only useful response is to view this as an opportunity. To poorly paraphrase Clay Shirky, every revolution destroys the last thing before it turns a profit on a new thing.

The networked revolution is creating huge profits, significant opportunities and a lot of change. What it’s not doing is providing millions of brain-dead, corner office, follow-the-manual middle class jobs. And it’s not going to.”

So it’s a good thing, right? Who really wants to clean meat at a slaughterhouse or work in a Foxconn factory where your colleagues regularly throw themselves out of windows?

But can these redundant workers really take any solace in the idea that there will be significant opportunities and huge profits when the robotic age truly sets in?

If history has taught us anything it is that these benefits will go straight into the pockets of those people that own these robots – and leave millions out of work.

Whilst the utopian view of a future society of leisure and freedom from mundane jobs is appealing, far more convincing is the prospect that the unemployed will begin to resent these machines and begin a struggle against them – something foretold in countless science fiction stories.

Do these science fiction stories have a solution? In the words of the greatest, Issac Asimov:

Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.”

The problem with robots is that they only do what they are told to do by us humans. We invent programing languages, give them instructions, and they usually go off and do exactly what we tell them.

Not for much longer. A team in Australia has taught robots, called LingoDroids, how to use and invent spoken language. These LingoDroids move about on three wheels and map their surrounding area. After they discover a new area, they use a range of syllables to give it a name. They then go around finding other LingoDroids and, using their microphone and speakers, tell each other about the area they have mapped.

Pretty basic stuff, but a landmark event nonetheless. Language remains one of humanities deepest mysteries, and the question of where humans get the ability to acquire language is a subject that provokes massive debate.

The researchers hope that it will not be long before the robots are able to communicate with humans

Check out these two videos – the first shows the amazing manoeuvres of the Quadrotor and the second shows how it can use Kinect to ‘see’ its environment. It can’t be much longer until these are used for military purposes and surveillance.

Geminoid is by far the most human looking android I have seen. From a still image it is pretty much impossible to tell that this is actually a robot. In the video below it becomes easier to identify this as a robot, but it could equally be an actor performing a robot. Amazing.

Big dog is a joint project involving DARPA, NASA and Harvard University. It is an all terrain robot that can walk through snow, balance on ice and even avoid toppling over when kicked. Amazing!

Also, as the Berg Blog points out, the part of the video when Big Dog gets kicked provokes the same kind of negative emotions we would feel if seeing a real dog kicked. Is this a glimpse of something much larger – human machine empathy?

The arrival of the world wide web has enabled humanity to move forward in leaps and bounds. It has destabilized old forms of power, fundamentally altered the  media landscape and connected people all over the world. We are only at the early stages of the digital revolution and we expect further life-changing developments  to come.

But what if robots could benefit from the internet in the same way? That is the question posed by the Roboearth project, a venture funded by the EU which intends to start building the world wide web for robots.

The idea behind RoboEarth is simple. Thousands of robots exist behind closed doors, but we never see them because they are usually programmed for very specific functions in very specific environments. Roboearth aims to change that by building a network where robots can upload their programming and connect with other robotic programmes.

The idea is that they will learn from one another and, according to the website, pave the way for “rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction”.In an interview with the BBC, Markus Waibel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, described it as a Wikipedia for robots.

Obviously, all the worries about robots becoming our ‘overlords‘ have been bounding around the internet, and not without good cause. After all, this is the start of a worldwide robotic communication network that could exist independent of human input (kind of like Terminator’s SkyNet).

But I don’t think we need to worry quite yet. The ability for robots to share both environmental knowledge, object recognition and action databases will likely be the first step in robots stepping out of the factory and more into our daily lives.