Robotics

Bankers Publicly Embracing Robots Are Privately Fearing Job Cuts (bloomberg.com) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Within the upper echelons of many financial firms, there's a lot of soul searching as executives prepare to roll out a new generation of technology. Publicly, they're upbeat, predicting machines will perform almost all repetitive tasks, freeing humans to focus on more valuable pursuits. Privately, many confide to peers, consultants and sometimes journalists that they're worried about what will happen to their staffs -- and what to tell them. There's also uncertainty. Maybe it's all overblown, executives say, because the tech will be hard to implement and humans will find new roles. Or perhaps it's the beginning of the end for legions of professionals in one of the world's most lucrative fields. Can jobs held by office-dwelling millionaires disappear like those on factory floors? The result, is that employees aren't getting a clear message on what's to come.

For a rosy scenario, look to McKinsey & Co. In July, the consulting firm published a report estimating machines are ready to assume roughly a third of the work now performed by banks' rank and file. The authors framed it as positive: People will have more time to tend to clients, conduct research or brainstorm ideas. So far, it noted, firms at the forefront aren't slashing jobs. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of the most tech-savvy banks, Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon predicted in June that his workforce will more likely grow than shrink over the next 20 years. Technology may displace workers, he's said, but it also creates opportunities. Yet in interviews, about a dozen Wall Street executives and consultants responsible for deploying technologies -- and steeped in their capabilities -- were more bearish on humans. Machines will take over task after task, they said, and banks simply won't need nearly as many people.

Transportation

Dubai Police Get Hoverbikes (mashable.com) 118

An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: The Dubai police, which already has luxury patrol cars, self-driving pursuit drones, and a robot officer, just announced it will soon have officers buzzing around on hoverbikes, which look like an early version of the speeder bikes used by the scout troopers on Endor in Return of the Jedi. The force (see what I did there?) unveiled its new Hoversurf Scorpion craft at the Gitex Technology Week conference, according to UAE English language publication Gulf News. The police force will use the hoverbike for emergency response scenarios, giving officers the ability to zoom over congested traffic conditions by taking to the air... The Scorpion can also fly autonomously for almost four miles at a time for other emergencies.
The fully-electric hoverbike stays aloft for about 25 minutes per charge at a top speed around 43 mph.

Gulf News also reported that Dubai police "unveiled robotic vehicles which will be equipped with biometric software to scan for wanted criminals and undesirable elements."
Sci-Fi

'Blade Runner 2049' Isn't the Movie Denis Villeneuve Wanted to Make (vice.com) 264

Readers share a Motherboard article: There are seemingly two inescapable realities for big-budget filmmakers in 2017: you have to use existing intellectual property and you must provide spectacle that can lure massive domestic and foreign audiences to the the theater. It seemed that Denis Villeneuve chose wisely when he selected the IP that he would ride into the mainstream. [...] There is much to admire, but as a whole, Blade Runner 2049 works best as a case for why filmmakers like Villeneuve should be given big budgets to try out new concepts rather than retread what's come before them. Just like Arrival was at its best when we saw the elegance of how the space ship and the aliens within it actually functioned, this version of Blade Runner shines when we get to watch how Villeneuve's dystopia operates. Moments of technical brilliance small and large are at the soul of this film. Whether you're watching the creation of robot memories, the execution of an air strike from an effortless, detached distance, or even something as simple as a stroll through a hall of records, the mechanics of this world are jaw-dropping. Ryan Gosling (K) wisely opts for a muted, brooding performance, allowing the world to steal the show while still illustrating the burden of living in it. Even with all of this technical brilliance on display (the costumes, sound, and special effects are brilliant), the baggage of the original film's mythology weighs down Blade Runner 2049. The most burdensome baggage for Villeneuve to carry, sadly, is the Blade Runner story itself.
Transportation

US Consumer Groups Warn 'Robot Car Bill' Threatens Safety (consumerreports.org) 139

"If you don't place a Capable Engineering crew to oversee a project that involves lives, you're asking for trouble," writes Slashdot reader Neuronwelder. Consumer Reports writes: Congress is moving ahead with plans to let self-driving cars be tested on U.S. roads without having to comply with the same safety rules as regular vehicles... The House passed its version of the legislation earlier this month with little opposition. The Senate is expected to vote on its bill in the coming weeks... "Federal law shouldn't leave consumers as guinea pigs," said William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union. "We were hopeful that this bill would include much stronger measures to protect consumers against known emerging safety risks. Unfortunately, in the bill's current form, it doesn't."

The legislation, which would take effect in 18 months, would allow the deployment of up to 50,000 self-driving vehicles per company in the first year of its application, rising to 100,000 vehicles annually by the third year, exempt from essential federal safety standards... Automakers might be able to go beyond the limits by getting exemptions for more than one model. The bill also creates a means to go beyond 100,000 cars for each company, by allowing automakers to petition the NHTSA after five years for more vehicles.

"The bill pre-empts any state safety standards," argues the group Consumer Watchdog, "but there are none yet in place at the national level."
AI

Are Companies Overhyping AI? (hackaday.com) 179

When it comes to artificial intelligence, "companies have been overselling the concept and otherwise normal people are taking the bait," writes Hackaday: Not to pick on Amazon, but all of the home assistants like Alexa and Google Now tout themselves as AI. By the most classic definition, that's true. AI techniques include matching natural language to predefined templates. That's really all these devices are doing today. Granted the neural nets that allow for great speech recognition and reproduction are impressive. But they aren't true intelligence nor are they even necessarily direct analogs of a human brain... The danger is that people are now getting spun up that the robot revolution is right around the corner...

[N]othing in the state of the art of AI today is going to wake up and decide to kill the human masters. Despite appearances, the computers are not thinking. You might argue that neural networks could become big enough to emulate a brain. Maybe, but keep in mind that the brain has about 100 billion neurons and almost 10 to the 15th power interconnections. Worse still, there isn't a clear consensus that the neural net made up of the cells in your brain is actually what is responsible for conscious thought. There's some thought that the neurons are just control systems and the real thinking happens in a biological quantum computer... Besides, it seems to me if you build an electronic brain that works like a human brain, it is going to have all the problems a human brain has (years of teaching, distraction, mental illness, and a propensity for error).

Citing the dire predictions of Elon Musk and Bill Gates, the article argues that "We are a relatively small group of people who have a disproportionate influence on what our friends, families, and co-workers think... We need to spread some sense into the conversation."
Books

Inside Amazon's Warehouses: Thousands of Senior Citizens and the Occasional Robot Mishap (wired.com) 147

Amazon aggressively recruited thousands of retirees living in mobile homes to migrate to Amazon's warehouses for seasonal work, according to a story shared by nightcats. Wired reports:From a hiring perspective, the RVers were a dream labor force. They showed up on demand and dispersed just before Christmas in what the company cheerfully called a "taillight parade." They asked for little in the way of benefits or protections. And though warehouse jobs were physically taxing -- not an obvious fit for older bodies -- recruiters came to see CamperForce workers' maturity as an asset. These were diligent, responsible employees. Their attendance rates were excellent. "We've had folks in their eighties who do a phenomenal job for us," noted Kelly Calmes, a CamperForce representative, in one online recruiting seminar... In a company presentation, one slide read, "Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four workampers in the United States will have worked for Amazon."
The article is adapted from a new book called "Nomadland," which also describes seniors in mobile homes being recruited for sugar beet harvesting and jobs at an Iowa amusement park, as well as work as campground hsots at various national parks. Many of them "could no longer afford traditional housing," especially after the financial downturn of 2008.

But at least they got to hear stories from their trainers at Amazon about the occasional "unruly" shelf-toting "Kiva" robot: They told us how one robot had tried to drag a worker's stepladder away. Occasionally, I was told, two Kivas -- each carrying a tower of merchandise -- collided like drunken European soccer fans bumping chests. And in April of that year, the Haslet fire department responded to an accident at the warehouse involving a can of "bear repellent" (basically industrial-grade pepper spray). According to fire department records, the can of repellent was run over by a Kiva and the warehouse had to be evacuated.
Robotics

Scientists Create World's First 'Molecular Robot' Capable of Building Molecules (scienmag.com) 86

New submitter re385 shares a report from Science Magazine: Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world's first "molecular robot" that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks. In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines. The research will be published in Nature on Thursday 21st September. "All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules," explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University's School of Chemistry. "Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks. The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientist. It is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level."
Businesses

Silicon Valley Bosses Are Globalists, Not Libertarians (economist.com) 308

From a report via The Economist: In a recently published survey of 600 entrepreneurs and executives in Silicon Valley, conducted by David Broockman and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University and Gregory Ferenstein, a journalist, three-quarters of respondents said they supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. But although technology-firm leaders hold views that in general hew much closer to Democratic positions than Republican ones, they are far from reliable partisan ideologues. As you might expect from captains of industry, Silicon Valley executives are much more likely to support free trade and to oppose government regulation of businesses than your average Democrat is. For example, just 30% of tech bosses believe that ride-hailing companies need to be regulated like the taxi industry, compared with 60% of Democrats.

Given their combination of socially liberal attitudes and a preference for free markets, you might call Silicon Valley executives libertarians. However, libertarians generally advocate shrinking the state as a share of the economy, which technology bosses resolutely do not. When asked if they "would like to live in a society where government does nothing except provide national defense and police protection, so that people could be left alone to earn whatever they could," just 24% agreed. In contrast, 68% of Republican donors concurred with that statement. Moreover, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are just as likely to favor redistributive economic policies, such as universal health care and higher taxes on the rich, as an average Democrat is. The outlook of our new robot-building overlords is far more communitarian than, say, the doctrines of Ayn Rand.

Japan

Japan Trials Driverless Cars In Bid To Keep Rural Elderly On the Move (reuters.com) 59

According to Reuters, Japan is starting to experiment with self-driving buses in rural communities such as Nishikata, 71 miles (115 km) north of the capital, Tokyo, where elderly residents struggle with fewer bus and taxi services as the population ages and shrinks. From the report: The swift advance of autonomous driving technology is prompting cities such as Paris and Singapore to experiment with such services, which could prove crucial in Japan, where populations are not only greying, but declining, in rural areas.Japan could launch self-driving services for remote communities by 2020, if the trials begun this month prove successful. The government plans to turn highway rest stops into hubs from which to ferry the elderly to medical, retail and banking services. In the initial trials of the firm's driverless six-seater Robot Shuttle, elderly residents of Nishikata, in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, were transferred between a service area and a municipal complex delivering healthcare services. The test also checked the vehicle's operational safety in road conditions ranging from puddles to fallen debris, and if those crossing its path would react to the warning it emits.
The Almighty Buck

Chatbot Lets You Sue Equifax For Up To $25,000 Without a Lawyer (theverge.com) 111

Shannon Liao reports via The Verge: If you're one of the millions affected by the Equifax breach, a chatbot can now help you sue Equifax in small claims court, potentially letting you avoid hiring a lawyer for advice. Even if you want to be part of the class action lawsuit against Equifax, you can still sue Equifax for negligence in small claims court using the DoNotPay bot and demand maximum damages. Maximum damages range between $2,500 in states like Rhode Island and Kentucky to $25,000 in Tennessee. The bot, which launched in all 50 states in July, is mainly known for helping with parking tickets. But with this new update, its creator, Joshua Browder, who was one of the 143 million affected by the breach, is tackling a much bigger target, with larger aspirations to match. He says, "I hope that my product will replace lawyers, and, with enough success, bankrupt Equifax."

Not that the bot helps you do anything you can't already do yourself, which is filling out a bunch of forms -- you still have to serve them yourself. Unfortunately, the chatbot can't show up in court a few weeks later to argue your case for you either. To add to the headache, small claims court rules differ from state to state. For instance, in California, a person needs to demand payment from Equifax or explain why they haven't demanded payment before filing the form.

Robotics

As Robots Move Into Amazon's Warehouses, What's Happening To Its Human Workers? (brisbanetimes.com.au) 237

An anonymous reader writes: A 21-year-old Amazon warehouse worker has been replaced by "a giant, bright yellow mechanical arm" that stacks 25-pound bins. "Her new job at Amazon is to baby-sit several robots at a time," reports the New York Times, "troubleshooting them when necessary and making sure they have bins to load... [T]he company's eye-popping growth has turned it into a hiring machine, with an unquenchable need for entry-level warehouse workers to satisfy customer orders." Even though Amazon now has over 100,000 robots, they still plan to create 50,000 new jobs when they open their second headquarters. "It's certainly true that Amazon would not be able to operate at the costs they have and the costs they provide customers without this automation," said Martin Ford, author of the futurist book Rise of the Robots. "Maybe we wouldn't be getting two-day shipping."

Amazon's top operations executive says they're saving less-tedious jobs for the humans who work as "pickers" and "stowers" for the robots. "It's a new item each time," Mr. Clark said. "You're finding something, you're inspecting things, you're engaging your mind in a way that I think is important." The Times reports that the robots "also cut down on the walking required of workers, making Amazon pickers more efficient and less tired. The robots also allow Amazon to pack shelves together like cars in rush-hour traffic, because they no longer need aisle space for humans, [meaning] more inventory under one roof, which means better selection for customers."

"When Amazon installed the robots, some people who had stacked bins before took courses at the company to become robot operators. Many others moved to receiving stations, where they manually sort big boxes of merchandise into bins. No people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon found new roles for the displaced workers, Clark said... The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?"

Robotics

Swarms Of Flying Robot Bees Could Monitor Weather, Collect Data (venturebeat.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes VentureBeat: Native honeybees, one of the most prolific pollinators in the animal kingdom, are dying off at an unprecedented rate from Colony Collapse Disorder and threatening an ecosystem service worth about $15 billion. Supported by the National Science Foundation, the RoboBees project looks to minimize the loss of this critical resource with new microbots that can mimic the pollinating role of a honeybee... In a remarkable display of biomimicry, scientists have developed a flight-capable robot that's just half the size of a paperclip and weighs in at one tenth of a gram... The RoboBees project pushes the boundaries of research in a variety of fields, from micromanufacturing to energy storage and even the computer algorithms that control the robots by the swarm...

While the effect of a single robot might be miniscule, a coordinated group of hundreds, thousands, or millions of RoboBees could perform a host of unprecedented tasks. Aside from pollinating plants for agricultural purposes, the RoboBees could coordinate to digitally map terrain, monitor weather conditions, and even assist in relief efforts after a disaster, through data collection. While RoboBees are only intended as a stopgap measure for honeybee loss, the potential applications of the technology have the world holding its breath for the next breakthrough.

Businesses

Only 13 Percent of Americans Are Scared Robots Will Take Their Jobs, Gallup Poll Shows (cnbc.com) 267

According to the results of a Gallup poll released mid-August, most employed U.S. adults aren't too worried about technology eliminating their jobs. Only 13 percent of Americans are fearful that tech will eradicate their work opportunities in the near future, according to the poll. Workers are relatively more concerned about immediate issues like wages and benefits. CNBC reports: This corresponds with another recent Gallup survey finding that about one in eight workers, or 13 percent of Americans, also believe it's likely they will lose their jobs due to new technology, automation, robots or AI in the next five years. While the survey reflects a generally confident American workforce, Monster career expert Vicki Salemi tells CNBC Make It that people should not become complacent.

"Employees need to think of themselves as replaceable in a way that propels them into action," Salemi says, "so they can focus on continuously learning and sharpening their skills." In the meantime, Americans can look to what the tech giants are saying. On the contrary, Salemi emphasizes that Americans shouldn't be paranoid and lose sleep every night. Rather, they should think about AI "from a place of power." "If your job does start to get automated, you'll already have a game plan and solid skill set to back you up for your next career move," she says. If you find yourself in the 13 percent of Americans worried about losing their jobs to robots, Salemi says you can "robot-proof" your job through networking. "Always be on top of your game, she says. "If your industry is becoming more digitally focused, get schooled on specific skills. Instead of being lax about your career, always stay ahead of the curve, keep your resume in circulation, ask yourself where the industry is headed and most importantly where you and your skills fit in."

Businesses

Workers: Fear Not the Robot Apocalypse (wsj.com) 236

An anonymous reader shares a report: For retailers, the robot apocalypse isn't a science-fiction movie. As digital giants swallow a growing share of shoppers' spending, thousands of stores have closed and tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. The brick-and-mortar retail swoon has been accompanied by a less headline-grabbing e-commerce boom that has created more jobs in the U.S. than traditional stores have cut. Those jobs, in turn, pay better, because its workers are so much more productive. This demonstrates something routinely overlooked in the anxiety about the job-destroying potential of robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation. Throughout history, automation commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys. The reason: Companies don't use automation simply to produce the same thing more cheaply. Instead, they find ways to offer entirely new, improved products. As customers flock to these new offerings, companies have to hire more people.
Robotics

New T-Shirt Sewing Robot Can Make As Many Shirts Per Hour As 17 Factory Workers (qz.com) 409

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: In 2015, after years of research, SoftWear Automation introduced LOWRY, a sewing robot, or sewbot, that uses machine vision to spot and adjust to distortions in the fabric. Though initially only able to make simple products, such as bath mats, the technology is now advanced enough to make whole t-shirts and much of a pair of jeans. According to the company, it also does it far faster than a human sewing line. SoftWear Automation's big selling point is that one of its robotic sewing lines can replace a conventional line of 10 workers and produce about 1,142 t-shirts in an eight-hour period, compared to just 669 for the human sewing line. Another way to look at it is that the robot, working under the guidance of a single human handler, can make as many shirts per hour as about 17 humans. The company has emerged as a leader among those trying to automate sewing, drawing the interest of businesses that make home goods and of course clothing manufacturers, including Tianyuan Garments Company, a Chinese firm that produces for brands such as Adidas and Armani. Tianyuan Garments has invested $20 million in a 100,000-square foot factory in Little Rock, Arkansas, planned to open in 2018. The factory will be staffed with 21 robotic production lines supplied by SoftWear Automation, and will be capable of making 1.2 million t-shirts a year.
Robotics

South Korea Moves Towards The World's First 'Robot Tax' (zdnet.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: It's being called the world's first robot tax. If it goes into effect, South Korea will be the first country to change its tax laws in recognition of the coming burden of mass robotic automation on low and middle-skill workers. The change proposed by the Moon Jae-in administration isn't a direct tax on robots. Rather, policymakers have proposed limiting tax incentives on investments in automation... Under existing law, South Korean companies that buy automation equipment, such as warehouse and factory robots, can deduct between three and seven percent of their investment. The current proposal, which seems likely to advance, is to reduce the deduction rate by up to two percentage points.

The move is evidently not an attempt to staunch companies from adopting automation technology. Rather, it is a kind of formal acknowledgment that unemployment is coming on a big enough scale to eat into South Korea's tax revenue. Policymakers are hoping that reducing the deduction incentives by a couple percentage points will offset the lost income tax and help keep the country's social services and welfare coffers filled.

The Korea Times, which broke the story, reminds readers that former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers has called robot taxes "profoundly misguided... A sufficiently high tax on robots would prevent them from being produced."
Robotics

Bricklaying Robots and Exoskeletons Are the Future of the Construction Industry (vice.com) 228

David Silverberg reports via Motherboard: One of the most staid and digitally conservative industries is on the verge of a robotic makeover. The global construction space isn't known for ushering new tech into their workforce, but a painful labour shortage, calls for increased worker safety and more low-cost housing, and the need to catch up to other tech-savvy sectors is giving upstarts in robotics and exoskeletons their big moment. The construction industry isn't immune to this phenomenon, but robots and humans may increasingly work hand-in-hand in industrial sectors, according to Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America. This is especially true when the construction industry en masse uses exoskeleton vests, which aim to assist workers with heavy loads and thus reduce their risk of injury.

The Hadrian X is a bricklaying robot courtesy Australia's Fastbrick Robotics, which uses its 30-meter metal arm to lay bricks at a rate of 1,000 bricks per hour, compared to a human worker's average of 1,000 a day. Due for release in late 2017, Hadrian X can read a 3D CAD model of the house and then it follows those instructions precisely, working day and night. New York-based Construction Robotics has also developed its take on a bricklaying robot. SAM can lay 3,000 bricks a day, and the company said it's about time this industry got a whiff of the change almost every other market has been seeing.

AI

Elon Musk Backs Call For A Global Ban On Killer Robots (cnn.com) 214

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Tesla boss Elon Musk is among a group of 116 founders of robotics and artificial intelligence companies who are calling on the United Nations to ban autonomous weapons. "Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the experts warn in an open letter released Monday...

"Unlike other potential manifestations of AI, which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability," said Ryan Gariepy, the founder of Clearpath Robotics and the first person to sign the letter. More than a dozen countries -- including the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain -- are currently developing autonomous weapons systems, according to Human Rights Watch.

AI

Why AI Won't Take Over The Earth (ssrn.com) 298

Law professor Ryan Calo -- sometimes called a robot-law scholar -- hosted the first White House workshop on AI policy, and has organized AI workshops for the National Science Foundation (as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the National Academy of Sciences). Now an anonymous reader shares a new 30-page essay where Calo "explains what policymakers should be worried about with respect to artificial intelligence. Includes a takedown of doomsayers like Musk and Gates." Professor Calo summarizes his sense of the current consensus on many issues, including the dangers of an existential threat from superintelligent AI:

Claims of a pending AI apocalypse come almost exclusively from the ranks of individuals such as Musk, Hawking, and Bostrom who possess no formal training in the field... A number of prominent voices in artificial intelligence have convincingly challenged Superintelligence's thesis along several lines. First, they argue that there is simply no path toward machine intelligence that rivals our own across all contexts or domains... even if we were able eventually to create a superintelligence, there is no reason to believe it would be bent on world domination, unless this were for some reason programmed into the system. As Yann LeCun, deep learning pioneer and head of AI at Facebook colorfully puts it, computers don't have testosterone.... At best, investment in the study of AI's existential threat diverts millions of dollars (and billions of neurons) away from research on serious questions... "The problem is not that artificial intelligence will get too smart and take over the world," computer scientist Pedro Domingos writes, "the problem is that it's too stupid and already has."
A footnote also finds a paradox in the arguments of Nick Bostrom, who has warned of that dangers superintelligent AI -- but also of the possibility that we're living in a computer simulation. "If AI kills everyone in the future, then we cannot be living in a computer simulation created by our decedents. And if we are living in a computer simulation created by our decedents, then AI didn't kill everyone. I think it a fair deduction that Professor Bostrom is wrong about something."
Robotics

AI Factory Boss Will Tell Workers and Robots How To Work Together (fastcompany.com) 54

tedlistens writes from a report via Fast Company: Robots are consistent, indefatigable workers, but they don't improvise well. Changes on the assembly line require painstaking reprogramming by humans, making it hard to switch up what a factory produces. Now researchers at German industrial giant Siemens say they have a solution: a factory that uses AI to orchestrate the factory of the future, by both programming factory robots and handing out assignments to the humans working alongside them. The program, called a "reasoner," figures out the steps required to make a product, such as a chair; then it divides the assignments among machines based their capabilities, like how far a robotic arm can reach or how much weight it can lift. The team has proved the technology can work on a small scale with a test system that uses just a few robots to make five types of furniture (like stools and tables), with four kinds of leg configurations, six color options, and three types of floor-protector pads, for a total of 360 possible products.

Siemens's originally gave its automated factory project the badass Teutonic moniker "UberManufacturing." They weren't thinking of the German word connoting "superior," however, but rather of the on-demand car service. Part of their vision is that automated factories can generate bids for specialty, limited-run manufacturing projects and compete for customers in an online marketplace. "You could say, 'I want to build this stool,' and whoever has machines that can do that can hand in a quote, and that was our analogy to Uber," says Florian Michahelles, who heads the research group.

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