Self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs), have become a reality that is already transforming technology and car-making industries. By 2030, it is possible that the majority of cars on the road will be driverless.
Experts project that self-driving cars have the potential to increase productivity, make more space for housing and business in cities, create and destroy jobs, and dramatically undermine the case for car ownership as ride and car sharing becomes more common. Self-driving cars could add as much $7 trillion to the global economy and $2 trillion to the US economy alone by 2050. However, much of this money will go to car manufacturers such as GM as Volkswagen, as well as ride-sharing applications like Uber and Lyft. Technology companies such as Google are also poised to become major players in the self-driving car market, potentially disrupting the auto industry. Where currently car manufacturers’ dominate the auto industry, technology startups and ride-sharing applications are too competing in self-driving vehicle creation.
What will happen to the auto industry when leading car manufacturers’ no longer dominate and technology startups/ ridesharing applications become larger players? How can self-driving cars benefit society and spur economic growth? What impact might this have on global trade?
April 23rd, 2018
Ten years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle and established the appeal of reading on a digital device. Four years ago, Jeff Bezos and company rolled out the Echo, prompting millions of people to start talking to a computer.
Now Amazon.com Inc. is working on another big bet: robots for the home.
The retail and cloud computing giant has embarked on an ambitious, top-secret plan to build a domestic robot, according to people familiar with the plans. Codenamed “Vesta,” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.
The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like “Software Engineer, Robotics” and “Principle Sensors Engineer.” People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees’ homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.
April 24th, 2018
Leading scientists have drawn up plans for a vast multinational European institute devoted to world-class artificial intelligence (AI) research in a desperate bid to nurture and retain top talent in Europe.
The new institute would be set up for similar reasons as Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, which was created after the second world war to rebuild European physics and reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best scientists to the US.
Named the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems, or Ellis, the proposed AI institute would have major centres in a handful of countries, the UK included, with each employing hundreds of computer engineers, mathematicians and other scientists with the express aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of AI research.
Queensland farmers launch commercial farming robots
FIONA SHEEAN, The Weekly Times
ANDREW and Jocie Bates know robotic technology is the future of farming and they are excited to be holding the key.
The Bates are just a few months away from rolling out robots to commercial farmers, driving a whole new wave of technology and efficiency in all types of agriculture.
The central Queensland grain growers founded SwarmFarm Robotics at Gindie, south of Emerald, eight years ago when they realised that many traditional farming methods were no longer effective or sustainable long term.
“We’ve been farming here since the late 1970s — we had zero till, controlled traffic and we were fairly efficient at what we were doing but we thought where to next?” Andrew said.
“The mining industry here meant we struggled with permanent staff and everyone was buying bigger and bigger machinery and equipment, yet the equipment was so big it wasn’t as effective — and herbicide resistance was becoming a huge problem.”
Andrew thought robots were the answer to using herbicides more effectively and started looking into the technology.
“Driverless cars weren’t even being talked about yet but there were some driverless dump trucks in the WA mines,” Andrew said.
The Bateses learnt some valuable information and lessons through the university sector and developed a clear vision of where they wanted to go.
“To meet the needs of a rapidly growing human population, we need to grow more food than ever before,” Andrew said.
“Bigger machines are not the answer, smarter machines are.”
THE Bateses wanted to create a small, simple machine that did simple tasks very well.
The initial concept began as an autonomous golf buggy, which later progressed to the base robot they have now.
It is an open interface robot, a platform to potentially carry any type of farm equipment, making it suitable for all types of agriculture, ranging from broadacre cropping to horticulture and turf farms.
“The base platform opens the innovation to anybody at a grassroots level,” Andrew said.
“It can have a fertiliser spreader attached, a sprayer or a mower, and in years to come there will even be a robot for deep ripping.”
SwarmFarm has a team of permanent staff working to refine the technology.
Jocie said they had raised about $4 million in seed funding over three years to get to this point.
“Sometimes it feels slow but it’s technology that we have to get right,” she said.
“We are creating software and hardware so when you have elements ranging from radio communications to bits of steel and tyres, hydraulic drive systems, GPS and safety, it’s very complex.”
A large part of developing the technology was to ensure the robots were easily fixed.
“We want farmers to be empowered to be able to fix their machines again rather than having to get technicians in because there is an error code,” Jocie said.
“We envision local swapnostics centres or spare parts cupboards where farmers can have access to kit without waiting weeks for parts to turn up — time is money.”
The on-farm potential for robots is endless, according to Andrew.
“It’s not about automation, it’s about new farming systems — that is the true benefit of the technology,” he said.
For example, the robots can identify weeds in the paddock and spot spray, reducing the amount of chemicals used and costs. Spot spraying can also break the weed cycle and prevent reinfestation.
Weed-detection cameras have been around for years, but the uptake by farmers has been slow.
“Robots go slowly so the booms are more stable — they are consistent and really good at doing those boring jobs,” Andrew said.
RISE OF THE MACHINES
SWARMFARM has recently partnered with Bosch in Victoria where its engineering and design teams are building the robots.
“We’ve gone past prototyping and the robots have proven themselves in the field but now the commercial rollout needs to happen,” Andrew said.
“SwarmFarm needs to grow quickly and our first six machines are already committed to go out.”
It currently takes eight weeks to build a robot.
The first customers have been hand-picked to take the technology on to ensure quality control as the rollout takes place.
“We’ve kept marketing to a minimum because the last thing we wanted was to get people all excited before the technology was ready,” Jocie said.
“But we will take orders now for those who want to be early adopters.”
The price of the robots is undisclosed. They will be under a monthly operating lease that includes servicing fees.
Andrew said Australia was leading the world in robotic technology and would set the stage for how the technology was adopted around the world.
“Some companies are now too big to innovate,” he said.
“We are now in the process of raising investment capital to grow the business and are one of the only companies in the world that has robots commercially working on farms.
“We are real people and these robots have real dents and scratches in the side of them from working in the field. You can’t build anything robust until you are in the field.”
Andrew said SwarmFarm was a team effort. “We are building this technology for the world and we are focusing on things that make a difference,” he said. “We are extremely proud of that.”
How the Rise of Machines Will Impact Business Process Outsourcing
Reg Dutton, of EvaluAgent, discusses the influence that developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are set to have on Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).
Over the last few years, we have all witnessed the dramatic rise in the implementation of a vast array of new digital services across the contact centre sector.
To start with, there were the automated services such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR), SMS updates, online customer reviews and robotic process automation. More recently we have seen the emergence of chatbots, whereby computers behave increasingly like humans.
There’s little doubt that machines are getting smarter by the day, and thousands of organisations across the world are now looking to leverage both automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
But BPOs beware. This almost obsessive focus on digital CX has some serious and potentially long-term repercussions.
Where digital CX fails to deliver
While automation and AI will deliver a series of short-term gains, they will quickly be followed by the realisation that technology simply doesn’t hold all the answers.
To start with, digital channels aided by the rise of the smartphone, actually drives a lot of calls. (According to the Harvard Business Review, 57% of inbound calls come from customers who went to the website first).
Furthermore, while technology will undoubtedly make contact centres more productive by taking over the more simplistic, mundane tasks; but when it fails or is unable to answer the more complex issues, it will be left to human agents to pick up the pieces and repair the customer relationship.
What this serves to demonstrate is that ultimately organisations will depend more on human creativity; the key element that will continue to form the backbone of a superior CX and a differentiated competitive advantage.
A positive caller experience wins customers over, increases conversions and customer acquisition rates, while promoting customer loyalty. By placing too much emphasis on cost-cutting digital CX, many BPOs could be missing the point; a far better measure of success is improving the key customer satisfaction metric, CSAT.
Now you’re really talking. Provide your clients’ customers with a great experience and not only will they love the organisation or brand, it will go a long way to making all their friends and family love it too.
BPOs, commoditisation and the purple cow effect
Even if a digital CX programme is successfully implemented, it will only serve to deliver standardisation across the sector. With most competitive advantages within the industry already commoditised, it should come as no surprise that delivering a superior customer experience is now regarded as the only way that an organisation can truly set itself apart from the competition.
How can your BPO possibly deliver your clients the competitive advantage based on a first-rate CX, when they all look and respond the same way as their competitors?
If you are in any doubt as to the validity of this argument, you only have to look to the retail sector to see how commoditisation led to a competitive difference based on price. The only companies that are now flourishing are those that have built a brand that offers a superior customer experience, such as Amazon, John Lewis or Waitrose.
How any self-respecting BPO can promote actions that lead to commoditisation is beyond reason, especially as they aren’t selling a product, they’re selling a service.
Many of you may also be familiar with the purple cow effect. You’re driving in the countryside, seeing normal cow after normal cow; then you see a purple cow. Suddenly you’re alert, you’re intrigued, and you’re more than likely going to investigate.
In the case of the contact centre, this purple cow will be human agents and human interaction; with its accompanying intuition, people skills, creativity, and complex problem-solving abilities.
Not only will consumers notice the difference, they are even willing to pay extra for such a service. A poll of over 2,000 adults by Harris found that 70% said they would be willing to pay more for a brand with a good customer service reputation. While 86% said, they would very likely switch brands after a bad customer service experience.
Use contact centre technology to enhance, not replace, the role of human agents
By focussing too much attention and investment on automation and AI, once again contact centres will fail their employees.
The sector has been employing technology with increasing fervour since the beginning of the millennium, mostly in the form of performance metrics and Workforce Optimisation. But instead of empowering agents, it has simply become a large numeric stick with which to beat them.
With disengagement now at epidemic levels, it is essential that technology is used to enhance the role of agents, not simply to replace them.
Accenture, one of the world’s leading BPOs, has thrown its considerable weight behind the need to invest in people with a far-reaching white paper: Harnessing Revolution: Creating the future workforce. To quote from the introduction:
The good news: Leaders can build on a workforce that’s already highly engaged with digital and reshape their organizations to allow workers to flourish in a future augmented by new technologies in a way that drives real business value: productivity, talent acquisition and retention, as well as innovation and creativity.
The bad news: The clock is ticking. CEOs need to put people as the priority or risk leaving scores of workers, and their company’s competitive strength, behind.”
The best way to offer a differentiated and superior CX is to use new technologies to engage employees and help them to progress. The question remains; how do you go about attracting and inspiring the next generation of super agents who will deliver the level of CX demanded by customers?
With Workforce Optimisation increasingly failing, the answer to a brighter, more productive, more differentiated future lies ahead in the form of Workforce Engagement Management.
Workforce Engagement Management is about creating the right workplace conditions so that agents can give their best every day; committed to their organisation’s goals & values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, while enjoying an enhanced sense of well-being.
Through Workforce Engagement Management, contact centres can now introduce the management and motivational tools that will nurture a new generation of agent; engaged, informed, enthused and capable of delivering a first-class customer experience.
Race to the top, not to the bottom
Gartner has predicted that within the next few years, 89% of businesses will compete primarily on CX.
As a result, forward-thinking BPOs that want to lead the market and command a higher price need to start demonstrating that CX should be measured not in efficiency metrics, but in the increase in first contact resolution (FCR) and customer satisfaction (CSAT).
Organisations look to BPOs not for a product, but for long-term solutions and differentiation in order to gain the competitive advantage. By focusing too heavily on automation and AI, it will simply lead to a race to the bottom with the commoditization of the sector; the only comparison between BPOs being the price.
There’s no King Canute in this scenario. Not only are the machines here to stay, they will grow in number, with new ideas and advances increasingly encroaching on what were previously exclusively human-centric roles.
But by ignoring much-needed investment in people, BPOs are simply entering a race to the bottom. And they need to watch their step, because it’s a very long way down.
This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of EvaluAgent – View the original post
To find out more about EvaluAgent, visit their website.
Herald View: We need to be prepared for the rise of the robots
THE spectre of robots playing an integral part in society has long moved on from science-fiction to a situation where it must be considered a realistic subject for debate. It’s a debate we keep putting off, considering it “futuristic”.
But that future is creeping up on us fast, according to leading expert Dr Ian Pearson, who predicts robots will outnumber humans by 2048. In tandem with his prediction, new research conducted by NOW TV, who commissioned the research to celebrate the return of Westworld on Monday night, revealed two thirds of Scots fear the rise of the machines, not least because of the possible impact on jobs.
Already, we’re used to their presence in manufacturing: spraying cars, packing boxes and loading lorries. But their future CVs could feature a far wider skill-set, including construction, farming, the military, administration, surgery, sales, finance and catering. In education, they might assist teachers in the classroom and do janitorial work, so our children would soon get used to them, a prospect that also worries Scottish parents.
Perhaps we are being overly pessimistic. After all, robots can carry out jobs that are dull, dirty or dangerous. They could increase output and national wealth. And, while mass manufacturing would be done by machines, more craft-based, idiosyncratic production by humans might prosper.
Still, the prospect of mass unemployment remains real. Increased wealth produced by robots might finance a universal basic income (particularly if companies are taxed on robot use, as suggested by Bill Gates). But, while “robot” comes from the Czech for forced labour, humans are not (yet) cut out for forced leisure. Most need to work, to be productive.
Robots are about to become a serious social and industrial issue, and this isn’t something we can leave to scientists. It’s not scientists’ job to run the country. It’s the job of government and, here in Scotland as much as in any other country, we have to begin planning for this development. That means considering questions of retraining, redundancy legislation, taxation (where we have the power), welfare provisions, even rewards for “voluntary” work.
It will also require thinking out of the box at which, for now, we have the advantage over the robots.
Rise of the Robots: Jobs Machines Can Do Better Than You
The robots are coming, and this time it’s for your job. They’re bypassing the interview process and heading straight for your desk, not to mention the desks of your co-workers. And it looks like they’re here to stay.
With technology advancing and the labor market evolving, the encroachment of robots is more widespread than you ever dreamed of. You’ll soon find them in your doctor’s office, behind the wheel of your car, and checking you in at your hotel.
Jerry ((((((Kaplan)))))), author of Humans Need Not Apply, says that their presence won’t always be noticeable. Some—like the ones greeting you at the bank or the department store—will look vaguely human. Others will basically be invisible.
“When they say the robots are coming, it doesn’t mean they’re going to look like people,” ((((((Kaplan)))))) says. “They’ll come in the form of distributed systems capable of performing a job better than humans can, or storing information better than humans can, or perceiving different patterns in cyber space that humans can’t readily analyze.”
((((((Kaplan)))))) attributes the rise of the robots to two breakthroughs in artificial intelligence: machine learning, which feeds off large quantities of data being inputted into computer programs; and sensory perception, which allows robots to take in information about their environment and react accordingly.
Robots have patiently waited in the unemployment line for the following jobs—all of which they’re now capable of taking on.
With advancements in artificial intelligence, there’s a possibility that robots will fill jobs in the medical field that require high skill and intellect, says Hod Lipson, professor of engineering at Columbia University.
How is that possible? While a doctor can see 10 to 20 patients a day, Lipson expects that artificial intelligence could allow thousands of patients to be treated in that same time frame, and for a fraction of the cost.
“It’s both exciting and alarming,” Lipson says. “Lots of lives will be saved with robotic doctors, but a lot of jobs will be lost. There are pros and cons to this.”
Robots are already working away in hospital operating rooms. If you’re getting knee-replacement surgery, for example, a robotic arm may help with the procedure.
Sanjay K. Gupta, medical director of the joint replacement program at Connecticut’s Danbury Hospital, says the device uses 3-D visualization of the entire pelvis to assist surgeons.
“It guides the surgeon to put the socket exactly in the way it’s intended to be put in,” Gupta says. “That makes the surgery very precise and very reproducible.”
Narrative Science, a Chicago company that specializes in machine-generated articles, is teaming up with media outlets to provide sports stories and earnings reports. For run-of-the mill coverage, it’s less expensive to go this route than to hire reporters.
How does it work? When scorekeepers email post-game data to Narrative Science, a software program called Quill whips up a pretty accurate story in a matter of minutes.
The same holds true for business stories. Even big publications like Forbes are getting in on the act, using the technology to summarize earnings reports.
When it comes to most articles, you won’t even know a human didn’t write them.
“The truth is that machines are much better at analyzing that kind of data than people are,” says Stuart ((((((Frankel)))))), CEO of Narrative Science. “Technology like Quill emerged to automate a task people are spending a lot of time doing.”
It’s expensive to rent out a helicopter to get some great aerial shots, but with drones, you can capture all the footage you need for comparatively little money. They’re also becoming indispensible for special events, weddings, and even exotic vacations.
Drones have become so popular that the Federal Aviation Administration is cracking down on unauthorized flights. Earlier this month, it announced a $1.9 million fine for a company that operated drones in restricted airspace over New York and Chicago.
But even with these restrictions, the use of drones continues to skyrocket, and startups have been quick to take advantage of the growing industry. Queen B Robotics, based out of WeWork Berkeley, develops software that allows a fleet of drones to communicate with one another, while FreeSkies, a member of WeWork Golden Gate, was founded to make drone photography even easier.
“Photographers and cinematographers will need hybrid autonomous drones that assist without limiting creativity,” says Jay Mulakala, co-founder of FreeSkies. “Drones are the next visual domain that is set to transform film from the skies.”
By now, you’ve surely heard of the Google Self-Driving Car. The Google X project is already forcing the government to consider down-the-line legal ramifications, and the Department of Transportation has given four states and Washington, D.C. the power to draft rules governing how these self-driving cars are tested and sold.
Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are wary of these changes. Soon, they’ll face the interesting dilemma of whether they should also deploy self-driving cars to keep pace with the latest technology.
But it’s not just cars that will be speeding down the highway without drivers; soon, commercial vehicles will also be operated remotely.
“The technology being developed will eliminate cars and trucks altogether,” ((((((Kaplan)))))) says. “There’s a likelihood that the role of cab drivers will be greatly reduced in the future. But the first to go will be long-haul truck driving because it’s the simplest thing to automate.”
Say bye to baby-sitters. Chinese company AvatarMind created the iPal to give kids a fun and interactive friend to play with while their parents are away at work. The cartoon-like robot on wheels made an appearance at a recent RoboBusiness conference in San Jose, California, where attendees had a chance to interact with it and admire its many talents. It can sing, dance, play, talk, and read with children, and has an LCD display and sensors that help provide therapy for kids with special needs.
Parents can use AvatarMind to monitor their loved ones remotely via smartphone, and even initiate a video call that uses a screen on the robot’s chest, says John Ostrem, the company’s co-founder.
Customer service rep
When you walk into a hotel lobby, imagine someone behind the desk handing you a refreshing cup of water and striking up a conversation. You’ll do a double take when you realize you’re talking to a robot.
That’s right: robots are taking the customer service sector by storm. They’re programmed to answer tons of tough questions that their human counterparts might not always know the answer to. And you’ll never see them calling their managers over.
The famous example is Pepper, a Japanese humanoid robot that has the ability to read emotions, react to its environment, and spark interactions with customers. Behind the design of these intelligent, wheeled robots—which, among other things, can recognize and remember your tastes and preferences—are Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank Mobile.
Magali Cubier, global marketing and communications director at Aldebaran, says Pepper can actually increase traffic and engage customers.
“Pepper is not supposed to eliminate jobs,” Magali says, “but act more like another layer on top of in-store professionals to provide customers the best experience possible.”
[Your name here]
Someday, robots just might replace your physical presence while you’re away on vacation or on a business trip.
Double, a teleconferencing tool created by California-based Double Robotics, sits in on business meetings when you’re not there. A web-based platform and iOS app allow you to have a virtual presence through video chat. If you really wanted to, you could grab a seat at the lunch table, have a one-on-one meeting, or just roam around the office saying hello to co-workers.
Another way to roll is via Beam, a robot created by WeWork South Station member Suitable Technologies. Barack Obama used Beam this past summer during a reception at the White House. For the workplace, the upside of having Beam show up to your meetings is that it’s always ready to go. It doesn’t need a coffee or lunch break. Instead, Beam has a battery dock on its feet, which keeps you juiced up throughout the day.
Amid the rising tide of robots, there’s nothing for entrepreneurs to be worried about—so far, at least. “Robots don’t start companies,” says ((((((Kaplan)))))). If anything, they’re taking on work that requires the ability to retain a great deal of information or perform repetitive tasks. In doing so, they’re helping us focus on creating jobs we’re truly passionate about and actively pursuing them with a higher purpose.