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TOPIC: robots


Beware: Robot Police Dogs May Be Coming To Your City, Training Still Required

Numerous cities have acquired dog-like robots for policing. Researchers say the lack of transparency and other practical and ethical questions are worrying.

In late May, after months of debate, the Los Angeles City Council approved the donation of a four-legged, doglike robot to the nation’s third-largest police department. The approval was granted at a public meeting that was interrupted at times by shouting, applause, banners such as “No Robot Dogs,” and the ejection of disruptive protesters, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In the end, the council voted 8 to 4 to accept the nearly $280,000 in-kind gift from the Los Angeles Police Foundation of the robot manufactured by Boston Dynamics, a Massachusetts-based robotics firm that is the global leader in developing quadruped robots for policing and surveillance.

The Boston Dynamics model given to the LAPD — named "Spot" by its manufacturer — is roughly the size of a golden retriever, weighing about 70 pounds and standing about 2 feet tall when walking. The robot is designed to be either remote controlled or fully autonomous. It can climb stairs and open doors. The robot can be customized to detect hazardous substances like carbon monoxide or some combustible gases. The various payloads available include sensors, cameras, and microphones, and can be customized with thermal imaging, among other features.

The Los Angeles City Council’s move to accept the donation will require quarterly reports on the deployment and use of the robot. Its sign-off was necessary as a result of a recent state law — Assembly Bill 481 — that requires police departments to seek approval and outline use policies before acquiring military-grade hardware.

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Deadly Russian Fire, Youth Climate Case Victory, Barbie’s Algeria Ban

👋 Здравейте*

Welcome to Tuesday, where a petrol station explosion in the Russian region of Dagestan kills at least 30, young climate activists in the U.S. state of Montana score a major court victory and Algeria bans the Barbie movie for “Western deviances.” For our special Summer Reads edition of Worldcrunch Today, we feature an article by Benoît Georges in French daily Les Echos — and three other stories from around the world on technology and AI.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

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Boston Dynamics: Lord Of The Robots Has A New Target To Conquer

On two or four legs, the robots from this MIT spin-off are among the most advanced in the world. And while their videos have conquered YouTube, their new playground is less spectacular, but just as strategic: logistics warehouses.

WALTHAM — The latest viral Boston Dynamics YouTube video, posted in mid-January, already boasts over 6 million views. In a setting reminiscent of a construction site, the humanoid robot Atlas places a plank of wood on a scaffold, grabs a bag filled with tools, climbs four steps, runs up the plank, throws the bag to a human, jumps to its feet and then completes its journey with a spectacular somersault.

The scene is worthy of a science-fiction film — but it was produced without any special effects, by the Boston Dynamics robotics company.

Founded in 1992 by MIT professor Marc Raibert, the company, based in the Boston suburb of Waltham, has been developing cutting-edge bipedal and quadrupedal robots for three decades. They are often under contract to DARPA, the U.S. military's advanced project research agency. Internet users were introduced to Boston Dynamics in 2008, with a video showcasing BigDog, an imposing quadruped robot designed to carry American infantry soldiers' equipment on all kinds of terrain — forest, snow, ice or rubble.

Boston Dynamics then became part of Google, at a time when the search engine's founders were looking to invent the robots of the future, and then part of Masayoshi Son's Japanese group SoftBank, which was pursuing the same dream. Since 2021, its majority shareholder has been the Korean Hyundai group, and while videos of its robots still set YouTube alight, its new mission is far less spectacular: to automate logistics warehouses.

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ChatGPT v. Luddites: How AI Has Triggered A New Wave Of Technophobia

Fear of technology is contagious, linked to the rapid evolution of breakthroughs and their impact. So what exactly is technophobia in our AI age... and can it be cured?


MADRID — Several days before Elon Musk unveiled his latest creation, Optimus, the humanoid robot that he intends to bring en masse into homes around the world — the wealthy ones as its price will be around $20,000 — the internet began to fill with critical comments about the entrepreneur’s new idea.

In theory, Optimus will perform simple household tasks such as watering plants, but its early haters were already talking about the prototype as a new Terminator.

“Just because we can, we must?” wondered an article in the U.S. press reflecting on — in their view — Musk’s irresponsible drive to continually challenge the limits of innovation without regard for its potential consequences.

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Robert Donoghue and Tiago Vieira*

When Your Boss Is Really An Algorithm

Hard questions amid the increasing use of software algorithms to take on managerial functions, such as hiring, firing and evaluating employees.

The 1999 cult classic film Office Space depicts Peter’s dreary life as a cubicle-dwelling software engineer. Every Friday, Peter tries to avoid his boss and the dreaded words: “I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow.”

This scene is still popular on the internet nearly 25 years later because it captures troubling aspects of the employment relationship – the helplessness Peter feels, the fake sympathy his boss intones when issuing this directive, the never-ending demand for greater productivity.

There is no shortage of pop culture depictions of horrible bosses. There is even a film with that title. But things could be about to get worse. What is to be made of the new bosses settling into workplaces across all sectors: the algorithm managers?

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Anne Sophie Goninet

Robots, A Not-So-Secret Weapon Against COVID-19

There are many reasons robots can help — for starters, they can't catch it.

We've been hearing for years how robots, for better or worse, were going to change our lives. Now in the battle against the highly contagious COVID-19, we're seeing them in a whole new light. Of course it all begins with the fact that, no, robots can't get infected. Winks aside, these artificially-intelligent machines are allowing people to avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing, easing the burden on health providers, helping police officers to implement lockdowns, and allowing people to better face life under quarantine.

  • Health: The most urgent need robots are filling is as healthcare assistants. In Italy, hospitals are turning to robots to replace doctors and nurses and keep them safe from the virus. A child-size robot named Tommy allows care providers to avoid direct contact with patients and limit the use of masks, able to monitor the equipment's parameters in a room and record messages from patients, to transfer them to the staff.

  • Law & Order: The interior ministry in Tunisia has deployed a police robot in the country's capital Tunis to make sure its inhabitants are observing the coronavirus lockdown, reports Jeune Afrique. The four-wheeled robot is equipped with a camera and controlled remotely by officers, in order to check pedestrian's ID or other papers. Drones have also been used in several countries to reinforce patrolling of certains areas. According to Le Monde, in France for instance, police officers used drones to scan beaches where people were still taking walks despite the lockdown, or to broadcast social distancing guidelines.

  • Being there: Robots have also undertaken unexpected social roles during the crisis, allowing people to be present at big life events. With the help of "Newme" avatar robots, the Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo, Japan, was able to hold a virtual graduation ceremony. The remotely controlled robots were equipped with a tablet that used video-conferencing tool Zoom and were dressed in graduation caps and gowns. This allowed students to experience the celebration of walking on the stage to accept their diplomas. In the United States, a father who was in quarantine in California after travelling on the Grand Princess cruise ship, was able to attend his daughter's wedding in Arizona with a help of a "telepresence robot" the family nicknamed the "Papabot", Voice of America reports.

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Olivier Babeau

Don't Fight The Robots: The False Choice Of Worker V. Machine

Mechanization is bound to destroy jobs, which not surprisingly provokes fear. But trying to delay the inevitable only makes matters worse and prepares neither society nor laborer for the future.

PARIS — To comply with the ban on working on Sunday, the Casino superstore in Angers replaced its employees on Sundays with machines, and reduced security staff to outsourced temporary workers. The first Sunday it did that, unions staged vigorous protests that included sporadic violence. It was a perfect metaphor for the antagonistic view of the relationship between workers on the one hand, and technology and consumers on the other. This would-be confrontation must change, and fast.

Many consider, wrongly, that work is a kind of cake to be divvied up. That inevitably generates a zero-sum vision of the need for workers, wherein every new machine means one less position for a person. It overlooks the philosopher Joseph Schumpeter's principle of creative destruction, which insists on new needs and job opportunities emerging as others are met or automated. It is useless to oppose this process. Karl Marx himself once wrote that "technology will always be stronger than legal and political technostructures."

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Joachim Becker

A Parallel Challenge: Teaching Self-Driving Cars To Park

Germany's Bosch and Daimler are teaming up to achieve a high level of success in autonomous parking, becoming the first to have a marketable system far from Silicon Valley.


MUNICHMoon-bound rockets and driverless cars have plenty in common. For example, in the 1950s, American road cruisers looked like spaceships on wheels. Steep tailfins and stylized jet engines made the drivers dream of a better, accident-free future. The vision for a vehicle which can steer, brake and accelerate on its own fits in well with this optimistic view of the future. But it turned out that the design elements made for aviation are not quite right for cars. Ultimately it was easier to find a parking space on the Moon than to park autonomously in front of the local supermarket.

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Natalie Malek

How Five Countries Are Integrating Robots Into Daily Life

People in Asia already trust robots enough to let them take care of their loved ones and deliver the evening news. Meanwhile, a hitchhiking robot's world tour successfully passed through Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, but the American leg of the journey was cut short when it was decapitated and beaten to death in Philadelphia.

Yes, we humans are an unpredictable and diverse lot. And inevitably, different regions of the world are bound to perceive artificial intelligence in different ways. Here is how five countries are incorporating robotics into their cultures... On their own terms.

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Yann Rousseau

The Giant Japanese Robot Company You've Never Heard Of

FANUC churns out 6,000 industrial robots per month, double that of its closest competitor. For a company on the cutting edge, it's surprisingly conservative.

PARIS — Earlier in the decade, when Elon Musk was looking to equip his Tesla factory in Fremont, California, he naturally approached FANUC, the Japanese industrial-robotics giant, for machine parts. Price was not an issue, but the US entrepreneur did have one requirement. He wanted the robots that would assemble his futuristic sedans to be bright red — to impress both investors and the media.

At FANUC's corporate headquarters in Oshino, a village at the foot of Mount Fuji, management politely replied that they would be happy to provide Musk with the proper gear, but that their robots had always been yellow and would remain that way. In the end, Tesla got its red robots, albeit from another supplier: the KUKA group of Germany.

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Joel Wille

The Eros And Ethics Of Sex Robots

Imagine if machines could do the job of strippers — or prostitutes. Where would it lead us?

BERLIN — She gently slides her hands along the metal bar. The guests are hypnotized by her beautiful breasts. Her hips move to the rhythm of the music, with perfect mechanical precision. The "woman" dancing is a robot.

At the 2018 edition of the CES consumer technology show in Las Vegas, humanoid strippers caused a sensation, alongside the giant TV "The Wall" and self-driving cars from Nvidia. This tweeted video showing the metal creature getting down with a pole dance went viral.

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Andrea Daniele Signorelli

How AI Can Make The Internet Itself Run Better

TURIN — From vacuum-cleaner robots that clean your house all by themselves to virtual assistants that can keep track of every appointment in your work agenda to self-driving cars that will soon be circulating on the streets of our cities: One of the most important applications of Artificial Intelligence is the ability to make our technological devices ever more autonomous, able to understand on their own how to accomplish a task. Yet it is curious that while many such devices connected to the internet are learning to run on their own, the system that supports this transformation — network infrastructure (routers, hubs, servers, etc.) — continues to largely be operated manually.

Recently, though, the situation has begun to change thanks to the efforts of two leading companies in the industry: Cisco and Juniper. The first launched its Intent-Based Network a few months ago, introducing a new generation of networks capable of independently learning how to handle the flow of data; the second responded with the Self Driving Network project, which takes inspiration from autonomous cars in its aim to completely transform the operation of networks. "Our goal is not to make some part of the network autonomous, but to make it so that it's able to handle it entirely on its own," Kireeti Kompella, Senior Vice President and CTO of Juniper, told La Stampa. The company, which has reached $5 billion in annual turnover, includes among its customers the world's top 10 telephone providers.

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