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February 25 2014

February 05 2014

Trope or fact? Technology creates more jobs than it destroys

Editor’s note: We’re trying something new here. I read this back-and-forth exchange and decided we should give it a try. Or, more accurately, since we’re already having plenty of back-and-forth email exchanges like that, we just need to start publishing them. My friend Doug Hill agreed to be a guinea pig and chat with me about a subject that’s on both of our minds and publish it here.

Stogdill: I got this tweet over the holidays while I was reading your book. I mean, I literally got distracted by this tweet while I was reading your book:

It felt like a natural moment of irony that I had to share with you. The author obviously has an optimistic point of view, and his claims seem non-obvious in light of our jobless recovery. I also recently read George Packer’s The Unwinding, and frankly it seems to better reflect the truth on the ground, at least if you get outside of the big five metro areas. But I suspect not a lot of techno optimists are spending time in places that won’t get 4G LTE for another year or two.

I’m not going to ask you what you think of the article because I think I already know the answer. I do have a few things on my mind, though. Is our jobless recovery a new structural reality brought about by more and more pervasive automation? Are Norbert Wiener’s predictions from the late 1940s finally coming true? Or is creative destruction still working, but just taking some time to adjust this time around? And, if one is skeptical of technology, is it like being skeptical of tectonics? You can’t change it, so bolt your house down?

Hill: Your timing is good. The day your email arrived the lead story in the news was the latest federal jobs report, which told us that the jobless “recovery” continues apace. Jobless, that is.

The national conversation about the impact of automation on employment continues apace, too. Thomas Friedman devoted his New York Times column a couple of days ago to The Second Machine Age, the new book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. They’re the professors from MIT whose previous book, Race Against the Machine, helped start that national conversation, in part because it demonstrated both an appreciation of automation’s advantages and an awareness that lots of workers could be left behind.

I’ll try to briefly answer your questions, Jim, and then note a couple points that strike me as somewhat incongruous in the current discussion.

Is our jobless economy a new structural reality brought about by more and more pervasive automation?

Yes. Traditional economic theory holds that advances in technology create jobs rather than eliminate them. Even if that maxim were true in the past (and it’s not universally accepted), many economists believe the pace of innovation in automation today is overturning it. This puts automation’s most fervent boosters in the odd position of arguing that technological advance will disrupt pretty much everything except traditional economic theory.

Are Norbert Wiener’s predictions from the late 1940s finally coming true? Or is creative destruction still working, but just taking some time to adjust this time around?

Yes to both. Wiener’s predictions that automation would be used to undermine labor are coming true, and creative destruction is still at work. The problem is that we won’t necessarily like what the destruction creates.

Now, about those incongruous points that bug me:

  1. First, a quibble over semantics. It’s convenient in our discussions about automation to use the word “robots,” but also misleading. Much, if not most, of the jobs displacement we’re seeing now is coming from systems and techniques that are facilitated by computers but less mechanical than the robots we typically envision assembling parts in factories. I don’t doubt that actual robots will be an ever-more-important force in the future, but they’ll be adding momentum to methods that corporations have been using for quite awhile now to increase productivity, even as they’re reducing payrolls.
  2. It’s commonly said that the answer to joblessness is education. Our employment problems will be solved by training people to do the sorts of jobs that the economy of the future will require. But wait a minute. If it’s true that the economy of the future will increasingly depend on automation, won’t we simply be educating people to do the sorts of jobs that eliminate more jobs?
  3. Techno optimists argue that our current employment problems are merely manifestations of a transition period on the way to a glorious future. “Let the robots take the jobs,” says Kevin Kelly, ”and let them help us dream up new work that matters.”

    Even on his own terms, the future Kelly envisions seems more nightmarish than dreamlike. Everyone agrees automation is going to grow consistently more capable. As it does, Kelly says, robots will take over every job, including whatever new jobs we dream up to replace the previous jobs we lost to robots. If he’s right, we won’t be dreaming up new work that matters because we want to, but because we’ll have no choice. It will indeed be a race against the machines, and machines don’t get tired.

One more thing. You asked if being skeptical of technology is like being skeptical of tectonics. My first thought was to wonder whether anybody is really skeptical of tectonics, but given the polls on global warming, I guess anything is possible — more possible, I think, than a reversal of the robot revolution. So yeah, go ahead and bolt the house down.

Stogdill: Let me think where to start. My problem in this conversation is that I find myself arguing both sides of the question in my head, which makes it hard to present a coherent argument to you.

First, let me just say that I enter this discussion with some natural inclination toward a Schumpeterian point of view. In 1996, I visited a Ford electronics plant in Pennsylvania that was going through its own automation transformation. They had recently equipped the plant with then-new surface mount soldiering robots and redesigned the electronic modules that they produced there to take advantage of the tech. The remaining workers each tended two robots instead of placing parts on the boards themselves.

Except for this one guy. For some reason I’ve long forgotten, one of the boards they manufactured still required a single through-board capacitor, and a worker at that station placed capacitors in holes all day. Every 10 seconds for eight hours, a board would arrive in front of him, he would drop a capacitor’s legs through two little holes, push it over a bit to make sure it was all the way through, and then it was off to the next station to be soldiered. It was like watching Lucy in the Chocolate Factory.

I was horrified — but when I talked to him, he was bound and determined to keep that job from being automated. I simply couldn’t understand it. Why wouldn’t he want to upgrade his skills and run one of the more complex machines? Even now, when I’m more sympathetic to his plight, I’m still mystified that he could stand to continue doing that job when something else might have been available.

Yet, these days I find myself losing patience with the reflexive trope “of course technology creates more jobs than it destroys; it always has. What are you, a Luddite?” The Earth will keep rotating around the sun, too; it always has, right up until the sun supernovas, and then it won’t.

Which isn’t to say that the robots are about to supernova, but that arguments that depend on the past perpetuating into the future are not arguments — they’re wishes. (See also, China’s economy will always keep growing at a torrid rate despite over-reliance on investment at the expense of consumption because it always has). And I just can’t really take anyone seriously who makes an argument like that if they can’t explain the mechanisms that will continue to make it true.

So, to my thinking, this boils down to a few key questions. Was that argument even really true in the past, at least the recent past? If it was, is the present enough like the past that we can assume that, with re-training, we’ll find work for the people being displaced by this round of automation? Or, is it possible that something structurally different is happening now? And, even if we still believe in the creative part of creative destruction, what destructive pace can our society absorb and are there policies that we should be enacting to manage and ease the transition?

This article does a nice job of explaining what I think might be different this time with its description of the “cognitive elite.” As automation takes the next layer of jobs at the current bottom, we humans are asked to do more and more complex stuff, higher up the value hierarchy. But what if we can’t? Or, if not enough of us can? What if it’s not a matter of just retraining — what if we’re just not talented enough? The result would surely be a supply/demand mismatch at the high end of the cognitive scale, and we’d expect a dumbbell shape to develop in our income distribution curve. Or, in other words, we’d expect new Stanford grads going to Google to make $100K and everyone else to work at Walmart. And more and more, that seems like it’s happening.

Anyway, right now I’m all question, no answer. Others are suggesting that this jobless recovery has nothing to do with automation. It’s the (lack of) unions, stupid. I really don’t know, but I think we — meaning we technologists and engineers — need to be willing to ask the question “is something different this go-round?” and not just roll out the old history-is-future tropes.

We’re trying to create that conversation at least a bit by holding an Oxford-style debate at our next Strata conference. The statement we’ll be debating is: “Technology creates more jobs than it destroys,” and I’ll be doing my best to moderate in an even-handed way.

By the way, your point that it’s “not just robots” is well taken. I was talking to someone recently who works in the business process automation space, and they’ve begun to refer to those processes as “robots,” too — even though they have no physical manifestation. I was using the term in that broad sense, too.

Hill: In your last email you made two points in passing that I’d like to agree with right off the bat.

One is your comment that, when it comes to predicting what impact automation will have on employment, you find yourself “arguing both sides of the question.” Technology always has and always will cut both ways, so we can be reasonably certain that, whatever happens, both sides of the question are going to come into play. That’s about the only certainty we have, really, which is why I also liked it when you said, “I’m all question, no answer.” That’s true of all of us, whether we admit it or not.

We are obligated, nonetheless, to take what Norbert Wiener called “the imaginative forward glance.” For what it’s worth then, my answer to your question, “Is something different this go-round?” — by which you meant, even if it was once true that technological advancement created more rather than fewer jobs, that may no longer be true, given the pace, scale, and scope of the advances in automation we’re witnessing today — is yes and no.

That is, yes, I do think the scope and scale of technological change we’re seeing today presents us with challenges of a different order of magnitude than what we’ve faced previously. At the same time, I think it’s also true that we can look to the past to gain some sense of where automation might be taking us in the future.

In the articles on this issue you and I have traded back and forth over the past several weeks, I notice that two of the most optimistic, as far as our automated future is concerned, ran in the Washington Post. I want to go on record as denying any suspicion that Jeff Bezos had anything to do with that.

Still, the most recent of those articles, James Bessen’s piece on the lessons to be learned from the experience of America’s first industrial-scale textile factories (“Will robots steal our jobs? The humble loom suggests not”) was so confidently upbeat that I’m sure Bezos would have approved. It may be useful, for that reason, to take a closer look at some of Bessen’s claims.

To hear him tell it, the early mills in Waltham and Lowell, Massachusetts, were 19th-century precursors of the cushy working conditions enjoyed in Silicon Valley today. The mill owners recruited educated, middle-class young women from surrounding farm communities and supplied them with places to live, houses of worship, a lecture hall, a library, a savings bank, and a hospital.

“Lowell marked a bold social experiment,” Bessen says, “for a society where, not so long before, the activity of young, unmarried women had been circumscribed by the Puritan establishment.”

The suggestion that the Lowell mills were somehow responsible for liberating young women from the clutches of Puritanism is questionable — the power of the Puritan church had been dissipating for all sorts of reasons for more than a century before factories appeared on the banks of the Merrimack — but let that go.

It is true that, in the beginning, the mills offered young women from middle-class families an unprecedented opportunity for a taste of freedom before they married and settled down. Because their parents were relatively secure financially, they could afford to leave them temporarily behind without leaving them destitute. That’s a long way from saying that the mills represented some beneficent “social experiment” in which management took a special interest in cultivating the well-being of the women they employed.

Thomas Dublin’s Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 tells a different story. Women were recruited to staff the mills, Dublin says, because they were an available source of labor (men were working the farms or employed in smaller-scale factories in the cities) and because they could be paid less than men. All supervisory positions in the mills were held by men. Also contrary to Bessen’s contention, the women weren’t hired because they were smart enough to learn specialized skills. Women tended the machines; they didn’t run them. “To the extent that jobs did not require special training, strength or endurance, or expose operatives to the risk of injury,” Dublin says, “women were employed.”

How much time they had to enjoy the amenities supposedly provided by management is another question. According to Dublin, mill workers put in 12 hours a day, six days a week, with only three regular holidays a year. As the number of mills increased, so did the pressure to make laborers more productive. Speedups and stretch-outs were imposed. A speedup meant the pace of the machinery was increased, a stretch-out meant that each employee was required to tend additional pieces of machinery. Periodic cuts in piece wages were another fact of mill life.

Because of their middle-class backgrounds, and because they were accustomed to pre-industrial standards of propriety, the first generation of women felt empowered enough to protest these conditions, to little avail. Management offered few concessions, and many women left. The generation of women who replaced them were less likely to protest. Most had fled the Irish famine and had no middle-class homes to return to.

I go into this in some detail, Jim, because it’s important to acknowledge what automation’s fundamental purpose has always been: to increase management profits. Bold social experiments to benefit workers haven’t figured prominently in the equation.

It’s true that factory jobs have, in the long run, raised the standard of living for millions of workers (the guy you met in the Ford electronics plant comes to mind), but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that they’ve necessarily been pleasant, fulfilling ways to make a living. Nor should we kid ourselves that management won’t use automation to eliminate jobs in the future, if automation offers opportunities to increase profits.

We also need to consider whether basing our economy on the production and sale of ever-higher piles of consumables, however they’re manufactured, is a model the planet can sustain any longer. That’s the essential dilemma we face, I think. We must have jobs, but they have to be directed toward some other purpose.

I realize I haven’t addressed, at least directly, any of the questions posed in your email. Sorry about that — the Bessen article got under my skin.

Stogdill: That Bessen article did get under your skin, didn’t it? Well, anger in the face of ill-considered certainty is reasonable as far as I’m concerned. Unearned certainty strikes me as the disease of our age.

Reading your response, I had a whole swirl of things running through my head. Starting with, “Does human dignity require meaningful employment?” I mean, separate from the economic considerations, what if we’re just wired to be happier when we grow or hunt for our own food? — and will the abstractions necessary to thrive in an automation economy satisfy those needs?

Also, with regard to your comments about how much stuff do we need — does that question even really matter? Is perpetual sustainability on a planet where the Second Law of Thermodynamics holds sway even possible? Anyway, that diversion can wait for another day.

Let me just close this exchange by focusing for just one moment on your point that productivity gains have always been about increasing management profits. Of course they have. I don’t think that has ever been in question. Productivity gains are where every increase in wealth ever has come from (except for that first moment when someone stumbled on something useful bubbling out of the ground), and profit is how is how we incent investment in productivity. The question is how widely gains will be shared.

Historically, that argument has been about the mechanisms (and politics) to appropriately distribute productivity gains between capital and labor. That was the fundamental argument of the 20th century, and we fought and died over it — and for maybe 30 years, reached maybe a reasonable answer.

But what if we are automating to a point where there will be no meaningful link between labor and capital? There will still be labor, of course, but it will be doing these abstract “high value” things that have nothing whatsoever to do with the bottom three layers of Maslov’s hierarchy. In a world without labor directly tied to capital and its productivity gains, can we expect the mechanisms of the 20th century to have any impact at all? Can we even imagine a mechanism that flows the value produced by robots to the humans they sidelined? Can unemployed people join a union?

We didn’t answer these questions, but thanks for exploring them with me.

Four short links: 6 February 2014

  1. What Machines Can’t Do (NY Times) — In the 1950s, the bureaucracy was the computer. People were organized into technocratic systems in order to perform routinized information processing. But now the computer is the computer. The role of the human is not to be dispassionate, depersonalized or neutral. It is precisely the emotive traits that are rewarded: the voracious lust for understanding, the enthusiasm for work, the ability to grasp the gist, the empathetic sensitivity to what will attract attention and linger in the mind. Cf the fantastic The Most Human Human. (via Jim Stogdill)
  2. The Technium: A Conversation with Kevin Kelly (Edge) — If we were sent back with a time machine, even 20 years, and reported to people what we have right now and describe what we were going to get in this device in our pocket—we’d have this free encyclopedia, and we’d have street maps to most of the cities of the world, and we’d have box scores in real time and stock quotes and weather reports, PDFs for every manual in the world—we’d make this very, very, very long list of things that we would say we would have and we get on this device in our pocket, and then we would tell them that most of this content was free. You would simply be declared insane. They would say there is no economic model to make this. What is the economics of this? It doesn’t make any sense, and it seems far-fetched and nearly impossible. But the next twenty years are going to make this last twenty years just pale. (via Sara Winge)
  3. Applying Machine Learning to Network Security Monitoring (Slideshare) — interesting deck on big data + machine learning as applied to netsec. See also their ML Sec Project. (via Anton Chuvakin)
  4. Medieval Unicode Font Initiative — code points for medieval markup. I would have put money on Ogonek being a fantasy warrior race. Go figure.

January 27 2014

Four short links: 27 January 2014

  1. Druid — open source clustered data store (not key-value store) for real-time exploratory analytics on large datasets.
  2. It’s Time to Engineer Some Filter Failure (Jon Udell) — Our filters have become so successful that we fail to notice: We don’t control them, They have agendas, and They distort our connections to people and ideas. That idea that algorithms have agendas is worth emphasising. Reality doesn’t have an agenda, but the deployer of a similarity metric has decided what features to look for, what metric they’re optimising, and what to do with the similarity data. These are all choices with an agenda.
  3. Capstone — open source multi-architecture disassembly engine.
  4. The Future of Employment (PDF) — We note that this prediction implies a truncation in the current trend towards labour market polarization, with growing employment in high and low-wage occupations, accompanied by a hollowing-out of middle-income jobs. Rather than reducing the demand for middle-income occupations, which has been the pattern over the past decades, our model predicts that computerisation will mainly substitute for low-skill and low-wage jobs in the near future. By contrast, high-skill and high-wage occupations are the least susceptible to computer capital. (via The Atlantic)

January 21 2014

Four short links: 21 January 2014

  1. On Being a Senior Engineer (Etsy) — Mature engineers know that no matter how complete, elegant, or superior their designs are, it won’t matter if no one wants to work alongside them because they are assholes.
  2. Control Theory (Coursera) — Learn about how to make mobile robots move in effective, safe, predictable, and collaborative ways using modern control theory. (via DIY Drones)
  3. US Moves Towards Open Access (WaPo) — Congress passed a budget that will make about half of taxpayer-funded research available to the public.
  4. NHS Patient Data Available for Companies to Buy (The Guardian) — Once live, organisations such as university research departments – but also insurers and drug companies – will be able to apply to the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to gain access to the database, called care.data. If an application is approved then firms will have to pay to extract this information, which will be scrubbed of some personal identifiers but not enough to make the information completely anonymous – a process known as “pseudonymisation”. Recipe for disaster as it has been repeatedly shown that it’s easy to identify individuals, given enough scrubbed data. Can’t see why the NHS just doesn’t make it an app in Facebook. “Nat’s Prostate status: it’s complicated.”

January 09 2014

Four short links: 9 January 2014

  1. Artificial Labour and Ubiquitous Interactive Machine Learning (Greg Borenstein) — in which design fiction, actual machine learning, legal discovery, and comics meet. One of the major themes to emerge in the 2H2K project is something we’ve taken to calling “artificial labor”. While we’re skeptical of the claims of artificial intelligence, we do imagine ever-more sophisticated forms of automation transforming the landscape of work and economics. Or, as John puts it, robots are Marxist.
  2. Clear Flexible Circuit on a Contact Lens (Smithsonian) — ends up about 1/60th as thick as a human hair, and is as flexible.
  3. Confide (GigaOm) — Enterprise SnapChat. A Sarbanes-Oxley Litigation Printer. It’s the Internet of Undiscoverable Things. Looking forward to Enterprise Omegle.
  4. FLIR One — thermal imaging in phone form factor, another sensor for your panopticon. (via DIY Drones)

December 24 2013

Four short links: 24 December 2013

  1. Arduino Robot — for all your hacking needs.
  2. LIDAR for Smartphones (DIYdrones) — The device attaches to the back of a smartphone and combines a built-in laser range finder, 3D compass and Bluetooth chip with the phone’s camera and GPS.
  3. Bridge Inspection Robot Equipping Magnets — 7.8 inches/second, magnets, can scuttle up walls and along ceilings.
  4. OpenEmu — nice-looking emulator framework for OS X. Make your Christmas present a trip back in time.

December 23 2013

Four short links: 23 December 2013

  1. DelFly Explorer — 20 grams, 9 minutes of autonomous flight, via barometer and new stereo vision system. (via Wayne Radinsky)
  2. Banning Autonomous Killing Machines (Tech Republic) — While no autonomous weapons have been built yet, it’s not a theoretical concern, either. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) released its policy around how autonomous weapons should be used if they were to be deployed in the battlefield. The policy limits how they should operate, but definitely doesn’t ban them. (via Slashdot)
  3. Scientific Data Lost at Alarming Rate — says scientific paper PUBLISHED BEHIND A PAYWALL.
  4. Security of Browser Extension Password Managers (PDF) — This research shows that the examined password managers made design decisions that greatly increase the chance of users unknowingly exposing their passwords through application-level flaws. Many of the flaws relate to the browser-integrated password managers that don’t follow the same-origin policy that is crucial to browser security. In the case of password managers, this means that passwords could be filled into unintended credential forms, making password theft easier.

December 13 2013

Four short links: 13 December 2013

  1. Bunnie Huang Live (YouTube) — talk given at the Make:Live Stage at Maker Faire NYC, covering his experiences and advice for getting hardware made. (via Makezine)
  2. Bill Gates’s Best Books of 2013 — interesting list!
  3. The Robots are Here (Tyler Cowan) — a bleak view of the future in which jobs that can be done by robots are done by robots, and concomitant power spiral towards the rich. I let this one sit for a while before posting, and I still think it’s wildly important.
  4. Philips Hue Lightbulb — awesome widely-available commercial ambient display.

December 10 2013

Four short links: 10 December 2013

  1. ArangoDBopen-source database with a flexible data model for documents, graphs, and key-values. Build high performance applications using a convenient sql-like query language or JavaScript extensions.
  2. Google’s Seven Robotics Companies (IEEE) — The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot. Mr. Rubin said he was pursuing additional acquisitions. Rundown of those seven companies.
  3. Hebel (Github) — GPU-Accelerated Deep Learning Library in Python.
  4. What We Learned Open Sourcing — my eye was caught by the way they offered APIs to closed source code, found and solved performance problems, then open sourced the fixed code.

November 20 2013

Four short links: 20 November 2013

  1. Innovation and the Coming Shape of Social Transformation (Techonomy) — great interview with Tim O’Reilly and Max Levchin. in electronics and in our devices, we’re getting more and more a sense of how to fix things, where they break. And yet as a culture, what we have chosen to do is to make those devices more disposable, not last forever. And why do you think it will be different with people? To me one of the real risks is, yes, we get this technology of life extension, and it’s reserved for a very few, very rich people, and everybody else becomes more disposable.
  2. Attending a Conference via a Telepresence Robot (IEEE) — interesting idea, and I look forward to giving it a try. The mark of success for the idea, alas, is two bots facing each other having a conversation.
  3. Drone Imagery for OpenStreetMap — 100 acres of 4cm/pixel imagery, in less than an hour.
  4. LG Smart TV Phones Home with Shows and Played Files — welcome to the Internet of Manufacturer Malware.

November 14 2013

November 06 2013

Four short links: 6 November 2013

  1. Apple Transparency Report (PDF) — contains a warrant canary, the statement Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge an order if served on us which will of course be removed if one of the secret orders is received. Bravo, Apple, for implementing a clever hack to route around excessive secrecy. (via Boing Boing)
  2. You’re Probably Polluting Your Statistics More Than You Think — it is insanely easy to find phantom correlations in random data without obviously being foolish. Anyone who thinks it’s possible to draw truthful conclusions from data analysis without really learning statistics needs to read this. (via Stijn Debrouwere)
  3. CyPhy Funded (Quartz) — the second act of iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, maker of the famed Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. She terrified ETech long ago—the audience were expecting Roomba cuteness and got a keynote about military deathbots. It would appear she’s still in the deathbot niche, not so much with the cute. Remember this when you build your OpenCV-powered recoil-resistant load-bearing-hoverbot and think it’ll only ever be used for the intended purpose of launching fertiliser pellets into third world hemp farms.
  4. User-Agent String History — a light-hearted illustration of why the formal semantic value of free-text fields is driven to zero in the face of actual use.

October 31 2013

Four short links: 31 October 2013

  1. Insect-Inspired Collision-Resistant Robot — clever hack to make it stable despite bouncing off things.
  2. The Battle for Power on the Internet (Bruce Schneier) — the state of cyberspace. [M]ost of the time, a new technology benefits the nimble first. [...] In other words, there will be an increasing time period during which nimble distributed powers can make use of new technologies before slow institutional powers can make better use of those technologies.
  3. Cisco’s H.264 Good News (Brendan Eich) — Cisco is paying the license fees for a particular implementation of H.264 to be used in open source software, enabling it to be the basis of web streaming video across all browsers (even the open source ones). It’s not as ideal a solution as it might sound.
  4. Principal Component Analysis for DummiesThis post will give a very broad overview of PCA, describing eigenvectors and eigenvalues (which you need to know about to understand it) and showing how you can reduce the dimensions of data using PCA. As I said it’s a neat tool to use in information theory, and even though the maths is a bit complicated, you only need to get a broad idea of what’s going on to be able to use it effectively.

October 23 2013

Four short links: 23 October 2013

  1. Expecting Better — an economist runs the numbers on the actual consequences of various lifestyle choices during pregnancy. (via sciblogs)
  2. Business as Usual in the Innovation Industry — the only thing worse than business plan contests for startups is innovation wankfests for small arts groups. [T]he vast majority of small and mid-sized arts organizations are not broken so much as they are in a constant state of precarity that could largely be addressed by reliable funding streams to support general operations and less onerous grant application processes that would allow them to focus more on delivering services and less on raising money. Hear! (via Courtney Johnston)
  3. Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think (MIT Technology Review) — nice roundup of potential benefits. experiments involving modified road vehicles conducted by Volvo and others in 2011 suggest that having vehicles travel in high-speed automated “platoons,” thereby reducing aerodynamic drag, could lower fuel consumption by 20 percent. And an engineering study published last year concluded that automation could theoretically allow nearly four times as many cars to travel on a given stretch of highway.
  4. Portraits of Robots at Work and Play (The Atlantic) — photo-essay that is full of boggle. (via BoingBoing)

September 17 2013

The secret financial market only robots can see – Quartz

The secret financial market only #robots can see – Quartz
http://qz.com/124721/the-secret-financial-market-only-robots-can-see

In a new paper called “Abrupt rise of new machine ecology beyond human response time,” researchers found a new trading ecosystem that humans don’t even notice.

http://qzprod.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/srep02627-f1.jpg?w=600&h=494

People can’t really respond to stimuli much faster than in one second. The benchmark comes from cognitive scientists who find that it takes 650 milliseconds for a chess grandmaster to realize that a king has been put in check after a move. Below that time period, you can find “ultrafast extreme events,” or UEEs, in which trading algorithms cause prices to change by 0.08% or more before returning to human-time market prices. This appears to be the case when many simple algorithms, operating on limited information, pile into a single trade.

#temps #finance #trading_hf

August 26 2013

Four short links: 26 August 2013

  1. Peruvian Archaeologists Use Drones (Guardian) — Small drones have been helping a growing number of researchers produce three-dimensional models of Peruvian sites instead of the usual flat maps – and in days and weeks instead of months and years.
  2. Drone Crashes Into Crowd at Great Bull Run (WTVR) — just what it says. (via DIY Drones)
  3. jsPDF — create PDF in Javascript on the client.
  4. Let’s Make Robots: BoB — instructions on building a bipedal robot. (via Makezine)

August 20 2013

Four short links: 21 August 2013

  1. blinkdbThe current version of BlinkDB supports a slightly constrained set of SQL-style declarative queries and provides approximate results for standard SQL aggregate queries, specifically queries involving COUNT, AVG, SUM and PERCENTILE and is being extended to support any User-Defined Functions (UDFs). Queries involving these operations can be annotated with either an error bound, or a time constraint, based on which the system selects an appropriate sample to operate on.
  2. sheetsee.js (github) — Javascript library that makes it easy to use a Google Spreadsheet as the database feeding the tables, charts and maps on a website. Once set up, any changes to the spreadsheet will auto-saved by Google and be live on your site when a visitor refreshes the page. (via Tom Armitage)
  3. China Plans to Become a Leader in Robotics (Quartz) — The ODCCC too funds high risk research initiatives through the Thousand Talent Project (TTP), a three-year term project with possible extension. The goal of the TTP is to recruit thousands of foreign researchers with strong expertise in hardware and software to help develop innovation in China. There are already more than 100 foreign researchers working in China since 2008, the year TTP started.
  4. AppScale (GitHub) — open source implementation of Google App Engine.

August 14 2013

Paparazzi Bots, Ken Rinaldo, 2009 (USA) | antiAtlas des frontières

Paparazzi Bots, Ken Rinaldo, 2009 (USA) | antiAtlas des frontières

http://antiatlas.net/blog/2013/08/14/paparazzi-bots-ken-rinaldo-2009-usa

http://antiatlas.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Mod-1024x733.jpg

Les Paparazzi Bots sont une série de cinq robots autonomes à taille humaine. Composés de plusieurs caméras, de capteurs et d’actionneurs robotiques sur une plate-forme à roulement, ils se déplacent à la vitesse de marche d’un être humain, en évitant les murs et les obstacles grâce à des capteurs infrarouges. Ils cherchent une seule chose, prendre des photos de personnes et rendre ces images publiques. Chaque robot prend de façon autonome la décision de photographier certaines personnes, tout en en ignorant d’autres. Les technologies de surveillance reposent sur un équilibre délicat dans notre culture contemporaine entre protection et intrusion, où nous sommes tous photographiés à notre insu par les téléphones cellulaires, les caméras cachées.

#contrôle #robots #surveillance #bigbrother #robotique

June 12 2013

Four short links: 12 June 2013

  1. geogit — opengeo project exploring the use of distributed management of spatial data. [...] adapts [git's] core concepts to handle versioning of geospatial data. Shapefiles, PostGIS or SpatiaLite data stored in a change-tracking repository, with all the fun gut features for branching history, merging, remote/local repos, etc. BSD-licensed. First sound attempt at open source data management.
  2. Introducing Loupe — Etsy’s monitoring stack. It consists of two parts: Skyline and Oculus. We first use Skyline to detect anomalous metrics. Then, we search for that metric in Oculus, to see if any other metrics look similar. At that point, we can make an informed diagnosis and hopefully fix the problem.
  3. Bluetooth-Controlled Robotic Cockroach (Kickstarter) — ’nuff said. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Nature Sounds of New Zealand — if all the surveillance roboroach anomaly detection drone printing stories get to you, put this on headphones and recharge. (caution: contains nature)
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