back to article Get a grip, literally: Clumsy robots can't nab humans' jobs just yet

Artificially intelligent software can drive robots to perform the most menial tasks, such as reaching out and gripping objects. However, there's one thing they can't, er, grasp easily. And that's dealing with things that move unexpectedly, which right now rules them out of a lot of real-world labor. However, it does make them …

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83 to 88% success rate in gripping things - so about as dextrous as a 1-year old, then?

Not to be sniffed at, mind you, picking up things seems trivial to us because we've had a few million years of evolution to fine-tune the hardware and years of experience to train the software. training - it's very far from trivial.

Just pointing out that for all the progress made there is a LOOOONG way to go.

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about as dextrous as a 1-year old, then?

Yes, but with the added benefit that having picked something up it doesn't then either put it in its mouth or try to stick it up the dogs nose.

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But it may poop itself.

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Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"“This has benefits for industry – from warehouses for online shopping and sorting, through to fruit picking. It could also be applied in the home, as more intelligent robots are developed to not just vacuum or mop a floor, but also to pick items up and put them away," Leitner concluded."

So that's lots of warehouse people, fruit pickers and cleaners out of work then.

I was in town the other day, walking to the shops for lunch and spotted the bin man walking the street as he does each day or every other day I see him. He parks his truck further down the road, walks through the shop parade and empties all the bins into his large bin. Before emptying that into the truck. Made me think about a droid doing it. Then knowing surely, unless there is a MASSIVE leap in tech, this won't happen in our life time. It would be just to expensive. The locations of the bins would have to be either changed or have markers put on them so the droid knows where they are. Then it has to navigate the crowd. Then on Wednesday is market day which stalls all over the place. The finally we have the local chavs. No doubt they start being dicks to the thing. Purposely getting in its way or simply attempting to smash it. Oh and the cost. Currently it's surely got to be cheap just employing a person.

I still think the only way all this automation can work is if we live in a world like Star Trek. Where there is no poverty or money anymore. All the boring jobs are automated and people just enjoy life. That isn't going to happen any time soon.

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"That" has been happening for centuries now.

For a trivial example, not that long a banks or big companies would have a row of accountants, one would do the books, pass them to the following accountant who check all the math, and pass them to the following one, who would redo it all over again.

All those jobs, gone.

One of my great-grandmothers used to be a washerwoman, cleaning the clothing of rich people at the river, then washing maschines were invented and all those jobs evaporated.

And there used to be people who would copy books by hand but then some chap called Gutenberg destroyed those jobs.

But, somehow, the destruction of all those jobs hasn't been so bad, has it?

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

I do believe there will be one point where humans will have next to nothing to do anymore, because we will have made robots capable of doing it all.

At that point, we're going to have to get to grips with what kind of economy we'll have, because nobody working means no salaries on company budgets, but it also means no money to buy goods.

While I will admit that our current money-for-work economy is screwy and biased and must be controlled, it is still something that provides for the majority in one way or the other.

What will be the rules in an economy where all manufacturing is done by robots ? Al all repairs and maintenance as well ? You cannot put a price on goods nobody has any money to buy them with. And is there any sense to put a price on stuff made by robots anyway ? Oh, of course, today's billionaires will obviously say yes to that, but today's economy is not based on robots, it's based on men with families to support.

The robot economy will be a world where you work if you want to, but you'll still need to eat, drink and be appropriately dressed for the weather. Today, money is what gives us the ability to do all that, money in exchange for our work.

But tomorrow, when robots do everything, we're going to need an entirely different set of rules. What they will be, I have no idea.

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

So that's lots of warehouse people, fruit pickers and cleaners out of work then.

Sure, but the cold hard reality of life is that if we worried about which jobs would be next to be replaced by technology, we'd all still be riding horses, and men would earn a living mostly based on age and muscle mass. Those days are gone, and they're never coming back.

I still think the only way all this automation can work is if we live in a world like Star Trek. Where there is no poverty or money anymore. All the boring jobs are automated and people just enjoy life. That isn't going to happen any time soon.

I sure hope not - the transition from an effort based capitalist society to a post capitalism work free world is going to be very bloody indeed. There's going to be no big bang - the transition will take a generation or more, and for most of those people without the financial resources to survive independent of a state (which will collapse well before private wealth / beans and shotguns run out), only misery and dirty poor subsistence await. I certainly don't want to be around when that happens - my personal guess is that fewer than 10% of those alive at the start of the transition will live to see it through (it'd take decades so you'd lose half the people along the way before the adversity tally).

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

Made me think about a droid doing it. Then knowing surely, unless there is a MASSIVE leap in tech, this won't happen in our life time.

If you want to replace a human by a robot, and still do the job the same way the human did it, then that is true for many jobs. However often, you want to do the job a different way in the process of automating it, a way more suited to automation.

With reference to your bin man example, the solution might be an automated vacuum refuse collection system, such as already exists in many places; no bin men, no bin lorries, different way of solving the problem.

So just because humans do a job in a way that is tricky for automation to copy, doesn't mean that job can't be automated.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"[...] fruit pickers and cleaners out of work then."

In many areas of the UK those jobs seem to be mainly done by immigrant EU labour - which is starting to become less available.

Robotic strawberry picking is under development and will get a boost if the farmers want to keep their farms in the UK.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"For a trivial example, not that long a banks or big companies would have a row of accountants, [...]"

There used to be a large office in London where clerks resolved the proportioning of sold tickets' prices for the multiple railway companies the journeys involved. The Railway Clearing House had a workforce of over 2,500 clerks in its central office in 1914.

In the 1920/30s Junior Technical Schools were being created to address the shortages of craft workers. They taught intelligent 13 year olds the basics of trades like plumbers, carpenters etc. Their pupils found it easy to get jobs afterwards.

The more prestigious Grammar Schools had a large surplus of 16 year old leavers - over-qualified in academic subjects. They often found it difficult to get a job in the gradually shrinking market for menial clerical workers.

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"If you want to replace a human by a robot, and still do the job the same way the human did it, then that is true for many jobs. However often, you want to do the job a different way in the process of automating it, a way more suited to automation."

But sometimes there is no alternative but the meatbag way, usually for reasons of ergonomics. The most prominent example being harvesting of delicate fruits for direct sale to market (instead of processing). Since consumers can be finicky about the textural qualities of the product, for-sale produce usually can't be toughened for machine handling, and they usually don't grow in easy-for-machines-to-reach locations. Plus getting them off safely usually requires a dextrous touch at the same time, giving a double-whammy to the machine (as arbitrary--as opposed to fixed--fine motor control is one of the tougher challenges of machines).

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

Yes, similar to the invention of the tractor.

Less work for humans means smaller percentage of your life wasted working. You spending power per hour worked increase. What's wrong with that?

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Horses for courses

From what I've seen automated fruit picking is done by the simple expedient of vigorously shaking the tree. For heavier fruit though you probably can't afford to let it fall so you have to find a way to hold it. But holding it and twisting it off? Not necessarily. A human has only two arms. A robot can have as many arms (and thus hold as many tools) as it needs. I wouldn't be particularly confident that the human way is the best way in more than a very small number of cases. Except of course that making a tool to do it is the human way.

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

Quote

Robotic strawberry picking is under development and will get a boost if the farmers want to keep their farms in the UK.

And as a plus point to all the economic voodoo artists out there. that will mean that productivity per person will increase too.

Which leads to the final point of automation......... when will it spread to the upper layers of manglement?

I mean that gotta be easy.

Profits down... fire 10% of the work force

Profits up : increase manglement bonus

Share price down : Launch buy back scheme

Possible insider trading scam : sell all personal shares and resign

Criminal charges relating to misuse of company pension funds : jump off company boat while moored off the Azores

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

A bigger mess is the robots themselves and the products they produce. Once factories, farms, etc. are all robot run, where will innovation for new products come from? Not the robots. So things will stagnate will the robots just churn along producing the same thing over and over again.

Humans will be or should be required and then there's the motivation factor. In this perfect world of infinite leisure, what would motivate someone to do such "work"? Would we end up with a world where thinkers, dreamers, and doers would be culled? Or perhaps moved to colonies to allow them to think, dream, and do while the rest of the world lived their lives without ever thinking, or doing?

There's been some science fiction along this line but for the most part, the basic issues aren't addressed. And I see nothing addressing this in the real world. It's all about the owners making profits.

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"There's been some science fiction along this line but for the most part, the basic issues aren't addressed"

One that comes to mind is Asimov's foundation, where machines became so reliable that they would last multiple lifetimes, but when they finally broke there weren't any humans alive who knew how they worked

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Childcatcher

Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

I do believe there will be one point where humans will have next to nothing to do anymore, because we will have made robots capable of doing it all.

I think this is the point where human nature pushes us in a different direction. Eventually boredom will trump greed and laziness. Not for everyone, but for many. While I am sure that some bored souls will become destructive (based on plenty of historical data), I am equally sure that the need to find a meaningful existence will push some of us and our descendants to figure something out. By that point, the solution to this might simply be to ask our robot overlords/serfs for a worthwhile activity.

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Re: Screw the people this will put out of work then.

"One that comes to mind is Asimov's foundation, where machines became so reliable that they would last multiple lifetimes, but when they finally broke there weren't any humans alive who knew how they worked"

Didn't they have machines to take care of that, including each other if necessary?

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Re: Horses for courses

"From what I've seen automated fruit picking is done by the simple expedient of vigorously shaking the tree."

You probably saw a nut harvester, then. And yes, thanks to their shells and quantities, this is generally the most expedient way to harvest them. But you wouldn't see the same approach taken with, say, drupes, because you'll bruise the fruit, making it unsalable at market.

"But holding it and twisting it off? Not necessarily. A human has only two arms."

But who says there can only be ONE human at the tree? And unlike the robot their dexterity allows them to maneuver all around the tree canopy, plus their sense of touch gives them a better ability to handle the fruit just enough to harvest it without dropping it too far or squeezing it too hard. As mentioned previously, machines have difficulty with the soft touch, especially when the object in question is naturally irregular in shape.

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Never mind picking things up...

it will be a long, long time before a robot can detect a spherical object travelling through the air towards it, calculate the trajectory, take into account wind, friction, spin and all the other factors, and move itself or place its end-effector in the right place to intercept and capture the object.

Or catch a ball, as any five year-old can do.

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Re: Never mind picking things up...

Not necessarily. How many times does the five-year-old MISS because they lack the capacity to take certain factors into consideration? Hell, even grown-ups don't always get it right. Isn't that the beauty of a top-quality cricket bowler or baseball pitcher?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Never mind picking things up...

"Isn't that the beauty of a top-quality cricket bowler or baseball pitcher?"

There was a story, possibly apocryphal, that a cricket fielder saw two objects coming towards him very fast. He caught both of them - one in each hand. The batsman was "out" - and the small bird was released unharmed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Never mind picking things up...

I think the story is apocryphal as I heard a similar story about a baseball fielder. Same story, two things coming at him at once. Caught both, made the out, released the bird.

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That's odd

I'm a bit older than five and I've never learnt how to catch a ball. It's just not something I can do. Meanwhile, we have drones that can build a bridge.

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Re: That's odd

I'm a bit older than five and I've never learnt how to catch a ball.

Tell you what, I'll change my statement to read "most five year olds" how's that?

And the point is, that robotics and AI are nowhere near achieving even the basic building blocks of the systems which would be necessary to enable a robot to catch a ball.

Boston Dynamics Atlas robot has just about mastered the basics of walking, running and jumping without falling over, But it's not autonomous, it has no reasoning, and cannot even identify if a ball is thrown at it, never mind catch it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Never mind picking things up...

Playing Catch and Juggling with a Humanoid Robot

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Re: That's odd

I think you'll find that teaching someone to catch a ball is tricky if they've never seen a ball before. That's about where the robots are at this point, as unlike kids they're not exposed in their formative years to witnessing the action of catching a ball and learning from it.

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