Monday, July 09, 2012

Better person-like robot stealing a job near you.

Curse that seventh joint!

Adding-in the extra joint from standard robots (i.e. from six to seven) allows for more human like activities when doing hazardous research. But it's not all good news. This company, Nikkyo Technos, has a nice virtual set-up system that cuts down significantly on programming this new robot.
When work precision in genetic amplification trials was compared between Mahoro and people, Mahoro’s precision was better than that of veteran technicians. Mahoro also did the work in half the time. “Mahoro’s arm has seven joints. Factory automation robots only have up to six. In factories, a hand can usually be positioned freely using six joints. But with a seventh axis, elbow motion can be reproduced. That enables the robot to move like this.”[1]
It's easy to sell robotic implementation for hazardous activities as a safe way of keeping humans from harm's way, but it's a less easy sell when implementations are applied to simpler tasks, like sorting the burgers or frying the nuggets and fries at a local fast food restaurant. Some of this is already happening. Take McDonald's as a study here. It already uses robotic software drink dispensing at some of its restaurants (e.g. this video). But sometimes, the robots don't strike us as robots, because they look like activities that we already do in other areas, but they still have the same effect -- replacing a low-skill job, and offering big profit advantages to a company. Last year, for instance, Stuart Sumner reported that
McDonald's is to install touch-screen technology across its 7,000 restaurants in Europe in an attempt to make the process of ordering food fast and more convenient. Speaking to the Financial Times, Steve Easterbrook, president of McDonald's Europe, said that the technology would improve efficiency, with transactions expected to be up to four seconds shorter per customer. The change will also provide the fast food giant with a wealth of information on customer ordering habits.[2]
Such an easy-to-use touchscreen makes this passive robot and it's convenient data mining opportunities too good to pass-up. (Here a video of one in action in Melbourne, Victoria.) As when one cashier in a U.S. Walmart grocery store can run several check-out stands, so too fewer workers are required to fill orders at McDonald's.

This worry of robotics replacing standard-fare human jobs is an issue I'm seeing more and more as I move around the mediascape. A couple of months ago, PBS ran an excellent segment called "Man vs. Machine: Will Human Workers Become Obsolete?" which captures many of the issues involved. At first glance, the replacement robots for workers would look to be merely a matter of cost. But if low-skill workers en mass start seeing their jobs too quickly replaced by these kinds of machines, there could be a social back-lash against the company. But I can't see companies moving too slow on all this, because the advantages to the bottom line are just too tempting. So I don't know if it will be done as subtly as possible, where it doesn't get noticed until after the fact; or, if there will be some big tipping point where it all happens suddenly. Maybe robots will bring about some sort of human utopia, but probably not before there is noteable social unrest beforehand.


[1] "Two-Armed Android Robot Takes on Risky Lab Work" Daily Disruption (July 7th, 2012).

[2] "McDonald's to implement touch-screen ordering" (May 18th, 2011).

Monday, July 02, 2012

Continually raising Hell keeps people in line

Support your local hard-core fundamentalists today!

From the study:
"Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative ‘prosocial’ behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior. Here, we investigate these effects at the societal level, showing that the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates. These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality. Expanding on laboratory research on religious prosociality, this is the first study to tie religious beliefs to large-scale cross-national trends in pro- and anti-social behavior."


[image] adapted from article:

Shariff AF, Rhemtulla M (2012) Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39048. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039048