Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  This article is a year old, from December 2012.  I posted it last year, but decided to do so again at the start of this new year as this topic is now even more front and center then it was a year ago.  For instance, take Google’s robot initiative for example.  DLH]

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs
By KEVIN KELLY
12.24.12
<http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/12/ff-robots-will-take-our-jobs/all/>

Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?

It’s hard to believe you’d have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that—in slow motion—is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived—appliance repairman, offset printer, food chemist, photographer, web designer—each building on previous automation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.

It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation. Yes, dear reader, even you will have your job taken away by machines. In other words, robot replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.

First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.

All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.

And it has already begun.

[snip]

War Shelters, Short-Lived Yet Living on

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jock Gill.  DLH]

December 31, 2013
War Shelters, Short-Lived Yet Living on
By ALASTAIR GORDON
<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/garden/war-shelters-short-lived-yet-living-on.html>

Camp Evans, a decommissioned Army base in Wall Township, N.J., is frozen in midcentury, its brick administration buildings and boarded-up Quonset huts on hold from World War II. Fred Carl, 59, a former high school science teacher and the unofficial keeper of the site, leads a visitor to other throwbacks from that era: a collection of corrugated metal houses with porthole windows and conical roofs. They look like alien habitations dropped from the sky.

These are the only known surviving examples of the Dymaxion Deployment Units that R. Buckminster Fuller designed as an answer to wartime housing needs. Conceived as low-cost, mass-produced shelters that could comfortably accommodate a family of four, the units, known as D.D.U.s, were manufactured in the early 1940s and distributed to military bases around the world. But the war that inspired them would eventually put them out of production.

For a long time, it seemed that the D.D.U.s had disappeared from the earth, but they are not quite extinct, and Mr. Carl, along with local politicians, preservationists and sympathetic citizens, can be thanked for that. If the Army had had its way with Camp Evans, he said, “this would all have been demolished.”

The idea for the D.D.U.s came to Fuller in November 1940 while he was driving through the Midwest with a friend, the novelist Christopher Morley. The men were on a quixotic hunt for lost letters written by Edgar Allan Poe. En route, Fuller became fascinated with metal grain bins lining the Illinois roadsides. He discovered that they were made by the Butler Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, Mo.

Europe was at war, and the newspapers were filled with stories about Blitz-ravaged London. Fuller began to envision how the utilitarian structures might be converted into emergency housing. His idea was to transform Butler’s galvanized steel containers (“Safe from fire, rats, weather and waste,” their slogan promised) so they could be shipped anywhere in the world and assembled quickly as bombproof shelters.

Their usefulness would not end there. In peacetime, Fuller proposed, they could be sold as low-cost vacation bungalows for civilians. Butler’s early advertising campaign showed a D.D.U. planted in the woods with collapsible lounge chairs near the door; inside, a family gathered around a kidney-shaped coffee table.

By April 1941, the first D.D.U. prototype was off the Butler assembly line, and Fuller was presenting it to the Division of Defense Housing Coordination in Washington. Erected along the Potomac River, the structure was 12 feet high and 20 feet in diameter, with 10 porthole windows and 15 small skylights. Walter Sanders, an architect, agreed to “test dwell” the unit for several days with his wife.

As advertised, the unit cost $1,250 and came complete with lightweight furnishings and appliances from Montgomery Ward, including a kerosene-powered icebox and stove. Inside, the industrial rawness was softened with drapes over the portholes and a fireproof curtain weighted with tire chains designed to divide the interior into four pie-shaped rooms. Air circulated through an adjustable ventilator in the roof, and the floors were made from Masonite one-eighth of an inch thick.

Architectural Forum called the house a “dressed-up adaptation of the lowly grain bin” but praised its reasonable cost and easy assembly (a person could put a unit together in less than a day).

In October 1941, a D.D.U. was installed in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden. “While not proof against a direct hit, its circular corrugated surfaces deflect bomb fragments or flying debris,” stated the news release for the exhibition. The release quoted Fuller’s observation that a round house was easier to camouflage from air attacks: “It coincides with nature-forms such as trees and hillocks,” he said. Less than two months later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered the war.

[snip]

Re: ‘Welcome’ to the Sharing Economy — Also Known as the Collapse of the American Dream

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

From: Steven Schear <steven.schear@googlemail.com>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] ‘Welcome’ to the Sharing Economy — Also Known as the Collapse of the American Dream
Date: December 31, 2013 at 18:45:23 PST
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

Although the wealthy are making all that money they are also paying more than all the income taxes. Counting transfer payments such as foods stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and other government welfare, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis shows the top 40% pay 106% of all taxes (more than all of them). In turn the bottom 60% get money back.

The rich do not pay the most taxes, they pay ALL the taxes <http://www.cnbc.com/id/101264757> CNBC reporter Jane Wells.


‘Welcome’ to the Sharing Economy — Also Known as the Collapse of the American Dream
By Steven Strauss
Dec 29 2013
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-strauss/welcome-to-the-sharing-economy_b_4516707.html>

Court Rules No Suspicion Needed for Laptop Searches at Border

[Note:  This item comes from Dave Farber’s IP List.  DLH]

From: Richard Forno 
Date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Subject: Court Rules No Suspicion Needed for Laptop Searches at Border
To: Infowarrior List <infowarrior@attrition.org>
Cc: Dave Farber <dave@farber.net>


Court Rules No Suspicion Needed for Laptop Searches at Border
<https://www.aclu.org/national-security-technology-and-liberty/court-rules-no-suspicion-needed-laptop-searches-border>

Decision Dismisses ACLU Lawsuit Challenging DHS Search Policy as Unconstitutional

December 31, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

BROOKLYN – A federal court today dismissed a lawsuit arguing that the government should not be able to search and copy people’s laptops, cell phones, and other devices at border checkpoints without reasonable suspicion. An appeal is being considered. Government documents show that thousands of innocent American citizens are searched when they return from trips abroad.

“We’re disappointed in today’s decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing,” said Catherine Crump, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case in July 2011. “Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight.”

The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed the lawsuit in September 2010 against the Department of Homeland Security. DHS asserts the right to look though the contents of a traveler’s electronic devices, and to keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border; the National Press Photographers Association, whose members include television and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of the photojournalism industry; and the NACDL, which has attorney members in 25 countries.

Abidor was travelling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in May 2010 when he had his laptop searched and confiscated by customs officers. Abidor, an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student at McGill University, was questioned, taken off the train in handcuffs, and held in a cell for several hours before being released without charge. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files had been searched, including photos and chats with his girlfriend.

In June, in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, DHS released its December 2011 Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment of its electronics search policy, concluding that suspicionless searches do not violate the First or Fourth Amendments. The report said that a reasonable suspicion standard is inadvisable because it could lead to litigation and the forced divulgence of national security information, and would prevent border officers from acting on inchoate “hunches,” a method that it says has sometimes proved fruitful.

Today’s ruling is available at: <http://aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/abidor_decision.pdf>

In No One We Trust

In No One We Trust
By JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ
Dec 21 2013
<http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/21/in-no-one-we-trust/>

In America today, we are sometimes made to feel that it is naïve to be preoccupied with trust. Our songs advise against it, our TV shows tell stories showing its futility, and incessant reports of financial scandal remind us we’d be fools to give it to our bankers.

That last point may be true, but that doesn’t mean we should stop striving for a bit more trust in our society and our economy. Trust is what makes contracts, plans and everyday transactions possible; it facilitates the democratic process, from voting to law creation, and is necessary for social stability. It is essential for our lives. It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go round.

We do not measure trust in our national income accounts, but investments in trust are no less important than those in human capital or machines.

Unfortunately, however, trust is becoming yet another casualty of our country’s staggering inequality: As the gap between Americans widens, the bonds that hold society together weaken. So, too, as more and more people lose faith in a system that seems inexorably stacked against them, and the 1 percent ascend to ever more distant heights, this vital element of our institutions and our way of life is eroding.

The undervaluing of trust has its roots in our most popular economic traditions. Adam Smith argued forcefully that we would do better to trust in the pursuit of self-interest than in the good intentions of those who pursue the general interest. If everyone looked out for just himself, we would reach an equilibrium that was not just comfortable but also productive, in which the economy was fully efficient. To the morally uninspired, it’s an appealing idea: selfishness as the ultimate form of selflessness. (Elsewhere, in particular in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Smith took a much more balanced view, though most of his latter-day adherents have not followed suit.)

But events — and economic research — over the past 30 years have shown not only that we cannot rely on self-interest, but also that no economy, not even a modern, market-based economy like America’s, can function well without a modicum of trust — and that unmitigated selfishness inevitably diminishes trust.

Take banking, the industry that spawned the crisis that has cost us dearly.

That industry in particular had long been based on trust. You put your money into the bank, trusting that when you wanted to take it out in the future, it would be there. This is not to say that bankers never tried to deceive one another or their clients. But a vast majority of their business was conducted on the basis of assumed mutual accountability, sufficient levels of transparency, and a sense of responsibility. At their best, banks were stalwart community institutions that made judicious loans to promising small businesses and prospective homeowners.

In the years leading up to the crisis, though, our traditional bankers changed drastically, aggressively branching out into other activities, including those historically associated with investment banking. Trust went out the window. Commercial lenders hard-sold mortgages to families who couldn’t afford them, using false assurances. They could comfort themselves with the idea that no matter how much they exploited their customers and how much risk they had undertaken, new “insurance” products — derivatives and other chicanery — insulated their banks from the consequences. If any of them thought about the social implications of their activities, whether it was predatory lending, abusive credit card practices, or market manipulation, they might have taken comfort that, in accordance with Adam Smith’s dictum, their swelling bank accounts implied that they must be boosting social welfare.

[snip]

New America’s Open Technology Institute Releases Commotion 1.0 Mesh Networking Toolkit

[Note:  This item comes from friend Sascha Meinrath.  DLH]

New America’s Open Technology Institute Releases Commotion 1.0 Mesh Networking Toolkit
Dec 30 2013
<http://www.newamerica.org/node/99668>

WASHINGTON DC – The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute(OTI) announced today that it has completed Beta testing and upgrades of its groundbreaking mesh networking toolkit, and is launching Commotion 1.0 in time for the new year. The launch represents the first full iteration of the technology, which makes it possible for communities to build and own their communications infrastructure using “mesh” networking. In mesh networks, users connect their devices to each other without having to route through traditional major infrastructure. A fact sheet on how Commotion works is attached in PDF format.

Commotion 1.0 is an open-source toolkit that provides users software and training materials to adapt mobile phones, computers, and other wireless devices to create decentralized mesh networks so they can connect and share local services. A mesh network can function locally as an Intranet, but when one user connects to the Internet, all users will have access to it as well.

“The technology behind Commotion is designed with the users in mind, specifically to enable them to connect with one another, access information they may not otherwise have access to, and take existing community social networks into the 21st century,” said Thomas Gideon, Director of OTI’s Technology Team. “The release of Commotion1.0 is exciting for us not only because of the technology itself, but because of the great things communities will be able to do with it as they are able to provide access to broadband where it may not otherwise exist, where it may be cost-prohibitive, or where it may be blocked. This opens up tremendous opportunities. Whether a community loses traditional infrastructure because of a natural disaster or as the result of a repressive regime, Commotion provides a locally-owned alternative for diverse communities in the United States and around the world.”

The launch follows extensive testing through previous developer releases that allowed technologists at OTI to run Commotion in a variety of settings and under a wide range of scenarios. OTI has deployed beta versions of Commotion with local partners in the United States in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Washington, DC, and around the world in Dharamshala, India, and Dahanu, India; in Somaliland; in Berlin, Germany; and in Sayada, Tunisia. These collaborations generated countless improvements, including new user interfaces, more flexible configurations, and support for more types of devices to run Commotion.

“A mesh network is stronger when more people participate, so we designed Commotion and the Commotion Construction Kit so an entire town or neighborhood can take part in designing, building and using the network. It’s family friendly technology,” said Joshua Breitbart, OTI’s Director of Field Operations. “In turn, each participant in our trial networks has taught us critical lessons, whether it was a student in Sayada suggesting uses for the local network, a technologist from Maharashtra testing an early version of the software, or an elder from Detroit sharing wisdom about community organizing. All of that knowledge is encoded in Commotion 1.0.”

[snip]

More about the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations Unit

[Note:  I’m posting this blog item from Schneier as he includes a lot of links to source material that goes beyond the original two Def Spiegel articles, which I’ve already posted.  DLH]

More about the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations Unit
Dec 31 2013
<https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/12/more_about_the.html>

Der Spiegel has a good article on the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit: basically, its hackers.

“Getting the ungettable” is the NSA’s own description of its duties. “It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important,” one former TAO chief wrote, describing her work in a document. The paper seen by SPIEGEL quotes the former unit head stating that TAO has contributed “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.” The unit, it goes on, has “access to our very hardest targets.”

Defining the future of her unit at the time, she wrote that TAO “needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations,” and that it must “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations.” To succeed in this, she wrote, TAO would have to acquire “pervasive, persistent access on the global network.” An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

[…]

Certainly, few if any other divisions within the agency are growing as quickly as TAO. There are now TAO units in Wahiawa, Hawaii; Fort Gordon, Georgia; at the NSA’s outpost at Buckley Air Force Base, near Denver, Colorado; at its headquarters in Fort Meade; and, of course, in San Antonio.

The article also has more details on how QUANTUM — particularly, QUANTUMINSERT — works.

Until just a few years ago, NSA agents relied on the same methods employed by cyber criminals to conduct these implants on computers. They sent targeted attack emails disguised as spam containing links directing users to virus-infected websites. With sufficient knowledge of an Internet browser’s security holes — Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, for example, is especially popular with the NSA hackers — all that is needed to plant NSA malware on a person’s computer is for that individual to open a website that has been specially crafted to compromise the user’s computer. Spamming has one key drawback though: It doesn’t work very often.

Nevertheless, TAO has dramatically improved the tools at its disposal. It maintains a sophisticated toolbox known internally by the name “QUANTUMTHEORY.” “Certain QUANTUM missions have a success rate of as high as 80%, where spam is less than 1%,” one internal NSA presentation states.

A comprehensive internal presentation titled “QUANTUM CAPABILITIES,” which SPIEGEL has viewed, lists virtually every popular Internet service provider as a target, including Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and YouTube. “NSA QUANTUM has the greatest success against Yahoo, Facebook and static IP addresses,” it states. The presentation also notes that the NSA has been unable to employ this method to target users of Google services. Apparently, that can only be done by Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service, which has acquired QUANTUM tools from the NSA.

A favored tool of intelligence service hackers is “QUANTUMINSERT.”

[…]

Once TAO teams have gathered sufficient data on their targets’ habits, they can shift into attack mode, programming the QUANTUM systems to perform this work in a largely automated way. If a data packet featuring the email address or cookie of a target passes through a cable or router monitored by the NSA, the system sounds the alarm. It determines what website the target person is trying to access and then activates one of the intelligence service’s covert servers, known by the codename FOXACID.

This NSA server coerces the user into connecting to NSA covert systems rather than the intended sites. In the case of Belgacom engineers, instead of reaching the LinkedIn page they were actually trying to visit, they were also directed to FOXACID servers housed on NSA networks. Undetected by the user, the manipulated page transferred malware already custom tailored to match security holes on the target person’s computer.

[snip]