As Robots Take Over We Will Need More Innovators


The Hadrian X robot is made by Fastbrick Robotics from Australia. It can lay 1000 house bricks in an hour (video below). The average bricklayer lays around 500 bricks a day. We will soon see robots doing much of the standard work in building assembly with a small number of skilled craftsmen supervising them, applying finishing touches or completing tricky tasks. McDonald’s is trialing a “Create Your Taste” kiosk – an automatic system that lets customers order and collect their own configuration of burger meal with no assistant needed.

But it is not just manual labour which will be affected by the inexorable roll out of robots, automation and artificial intelligence. The impact will be felt widely across skilled middle class jobs including lawyers, accountants, analysts and technicians. In many financial trading centres traders have already been replaced by algorithms. The world’s first ‘robot lawyer’ is now available in 50 states.

The World Economic Forum predicts that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than 5m jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020. Many think the numbers will be much higher. A report by the consultancy firm PWC found that 30% of jobs were potentially under threat from breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. In some sectors half the jobs could go.

The rise of the robots will lead to an increase in the demand for those with the skills to program, maintain and supervise the machines. Most companies will have a Chief Robotics Officer and a department dedicated to automation. However, the human jobs created will be small fraction of the jobs which the robots will replace.

Any job that involves the use of knowledge, analysis and systematic decision making is at risk. Robots can not only absorb a large body of knowledge and rules. They can also adapt and learn on the job.

Where does that leave the displaced humans? The standard answer is education. Policy makers advise that people should retrain into higher skilled professions. The problem is most training simply provides more knowledge and skills which can also be replaced by automation.

“So what jobs can robots not do? Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ It is in the application of imagination that humans have the clear advantage.”

Here are some things which robots do not do well:
1.Ask searching questions.
2.Challenge assumptions about how things are done.
3.Conceive new business models and approaches.
4.Understand and appeal to people’s feelings and emotions
5.Design humorous, provocative or eye-catching marketing campaigns.
6.Deliberately break the rules.
7.Inspire and motivate people.
8.Set a novel strategy or direction.
9.Do anything spontaneous, entertaining or unexpected.
10.Anticipate future trends and needs.
11.Approach problems from entirely new directions
12.Imagine a better future.

Let’s leave the routine knowledge jobs to the robots and focus on developing our creative skills. The most successful organisations will be those that combine automation efficiency with ingenious and appealing new initiatives. We will need more imaginative theorists, more lateral thinkers, more people who can question and challenge. We will need more innovators.


Innovation Through Crowdsourcing and AI

Young business woman with ipad

If artificial intelligence (AI) is the future, the future is now, and it’s all around us. Despite what science fiction and futuristic fantasy may have you believe, AI isn’t all about recreating human consciousness. Rather, it’s a practical, efficient way to help business technology get smarter as a product gains traction. AI allows companies to use insights from a large community of users to continually improve upon their products.

However, AI isn’t all games and robots. It takes a cross-sectional skill set to successfully implement good AI, and in order to do so, companies need to both understand their consumers’ motivations and capitalize on them using the right tools.

AI and Crowdsourcing: Better Together
Plenty of businesses rely on data from the usual suspects — business analytics, internal data, information gathered by employees — but few understand how to actively manage data contributed by users. Alexa and Siri are prime examples of how AI can leverage this crowdsourced information to improve the customer-company relationship.

Using crowdsourcing to gather human-contributed information and funneling that information through AI technology is the simplest path toward more meaningful insights. This method allows business owners to stop hunting down insights one at a time and to instead receive targeted data to inform smarter business decisions. This collaboration produces results that are greater than the sum of the parts.

The value lies in asking the right questions at the right time using AI and reporting the findings to the people who could benefit from the information. Collectively, crowdsourcing and AI produce truly intelligent market research.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Companies must integrate crowdsourcing and AI to produce a scalable, intelligent model capable of handling their needs indefinitely. Many implement AI without really identifying how it can help them. Other, more tech-focused companies often find themselves trying to lay crowdsourcing on top of existing technology without properly understanding how to motivate their crowds.

Crowdsourcing matches people to questions that the community needs answered. Those with information to share can provide feedback on their fields of expertise according to the needs of those searching for that information. Meanwhile, AI technology filters out the answers and extracts meaningful intelligence from them, creating a powerful advantage over companies that fail to combine these tools to their full potential. What advantages, you ask? Here are a few:

1. A streamlined end-user experience. Alexa, Siri, Waze, and Skype Translator are all embodiments of the improved end-user experience thanks to crowdsourced AI insights. In the early stages, using these tools can be frustrating as they continue to gather data.

Waze took traffic navigation — something very few people like — and improved it with real-time updates, personalized vocal guides, and other features.

A wealth of information is the foundation. AI and crowdsourcing can build on that base to create a valuable, magical experience.

2. It brings outsiders into the fold. Waze began by gathering information on the patterns of power commuters eventually building up enough data via crowdsourcing and expert consultations to create optimal route maps for its users. Thanks to the app, people new to an area can have the same driving experience as someone who has lived there for 10 years.

The powerful crowdsourcing-AI combination has the capability to bring any outsider into any inner circle. The more comfortable a user is with the information — especially if he provides it — the more likely he is to become a repeat visitor.

3. Lots of intelligence, all in one spot. Currently, business leaders must track down information in silos. For example, only a specific department can answer specific questions, and help is often stalled while a department waits for approval from another division.

When done properly, this streamlining of processes even allows leaders to see connections they otherwise might have overlooked.

While some technologies introduce only complications to established processes, the power of combining crowdsourcing with AI is worth the disruption. If your company is looking for better insights and new advantages, consider the benefits of this powerful merger.


Dubai prepares for mid-year launch of Ehang’s crazy taxi drone

With its jet-propelled firefighters, million-dollar drone races and plans for its very own Hyperloop, Dubai ain’t a bad place to see advanced technologies in action. In the latest example of the city’s early-adoption mindset, the local transport authority has revealed that it has been testing Ehang’s personal taxi drone, with plans to launch real operations this July.
We first laid eyes on the Ehang 184 passenger drone at CES last year. As far as drones go, it’s actually much less drone and more automated helicopter, using onboard navigation systems to carry passengers to their desired location without the need for a pilot. It can be ordered via a smartphone application, fly for 30 minutes at a time and take passengers as far as 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 mi) away with a payload capacity of up to 100 kg (220 lb).
This might all sound pretty out-there, but the Chinese company has already signed an agreement with the State of Nevada to conduct flight testing and also teamed up with a biotechnology firm to use its pilotless choppers to deliver artificial organs.

But it looks like both efforts might be beaten to the punch by the UAE, with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority announcing the plans at the World Government Summit today. It revealed that it has already carried out a test run and has earmarked July 2017 as the launch date for full operations. If anyone seems capable of pulling it off …

Source: Government of Dubai (Facebook)

Solar Paper turns the page on portable solar chargers


While there’s a healthy selection of compact solar panels to keep our mobile gadgets charged up – light permitting – the vast majority of these are either too small to be effective or too bulky for carting around. The creators of Solar Paper are looking to buck this trend with a portable solar charger that generates up to 10 W of power, yet is lighter than an iPhone 6 Plus and only slightly wider and longer.

So called because its panels are thing enough to slot between the pages of a notebook, and touted as the “world’s thinnest and lightest solar charger” by its creators, Yolk, Solar Paper measures 9 x 19 x 1.1 cm (3.5 x 7.5 x 0.4 in) and weighs 120 g (4.2 oz), while the actual solar panels are only 1.5 mm thick.

But Solar Paper has more going for it than just its form factor. Unlike most solar chargers on the market, it features modular panels that connect via embedded magnets. If you want more power, you can connect up to four panels together. Each individual panel generates a maximum of 2.5 W of power, so four will provide up to 10 W via USB. On a sunny day, that’s just as good as a 5V/2A wall charger.

Solar Paper also has some built-in smarts to help users get the most out of it. To avoid the hassle of manual restarting when the available light drops, as is the case with most competing solar chargers, Solar Paper has been programmed to automatically resume charging when it detects sufficient sunlight. So when that cloud passes overhead, you won’t have to intervene.

There’s also a built-in LCD screen that displays the current being delivered to a connected device. This is useful to understand how weather, angle of inclination, and orientation to the sun affect the charge rate, so you can easily set it up in the best position.

Add in water resistance and grommet holes for utility/attachment options, and it’s easy to understand why so many have pledged their support to the device’s Kickstarter campaign, with it shooting past its US$50,000 goal in just the first two days. If all goes as planned, the project creators anticipate the first batch will ship in September 2015, with the second batch following in either October or November. Pledges range from $69 for a 5 W Solar Paper, all the way to $450 for a set of four 10 W Solar Paper.

The team’s video pitch can be viewed below.

Source: Yolk

How To Turn Your Smartphone Into Your Personal Therapist

Could the technology that causes so much of our stress and anxiety also be the cure?

Last spring, Paul Ford was sick of the self-sabotaging, disparaging voice in his head, so he decided to do something about it. He’d been living with anxiety all his life, but it was getting in the way of his professional career. So Ford, a longtime tech tinkerer, decided to turn his anxiety into a bot that he named AnxietyBox.

Ten times a day, at random he’d receive an email from his Anxiety with subject lines like: “Ask yourself, do you always want to be exhausting to know and undesirable?” The messages were nasty and uncannily channeled that negative voice in his head. “Dear Paul,” one email read. “I heard you when you talked about how you wanted to exercise. Where would you put your chances for success? Zero percent? Greater?”

Psychologists call these negative voices “cognitive distortions”—moments when your thinking goes awry and your anxiety gets the best of you.

Ford was just trying out a silly experiment, yet with a little distance between that negative voice and himself (about as much space as you give yourself from your email inbox), he could see just how disparaging and mean so many of his anxious thoughts were. Suddenly they didn’t have as much power over him. “My thing sends you emails that tell you you’re garbage,” he says. “You start to laugh at how bad your anxiety is.”

When Ford talked about AnxietyBox on the podcast Reply All in January, and the story was rebroadcast on This American Life, he struck a cord with listeners. Clinical psychologists have reached out to him, and more than 7,000 people have signed up for AnxietyBox, a volume that’s currently too big for Ford and his bot to accommodate.

The Anxiety Epidemic

There’s a zeitgeist of self-betterment through technology that our culture is embracing these days. And for good cause. If we were anxious before smartphones, we might be even more anxious with them. Studies have looked at the link between tech use and elevated levels of stress and anxiety. A 2015 research study demonstrated a measurable connection between negative psychological and physiological outcomes and iPhone separation.

But there’s also a growing interest in how technology can actually treat our anxiety. The list of relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation apps is long and growing. With 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety, and the mental health care industry raking in $200 billion in the U.S. alone, it’s no wonder the tech world is scrambling to find a way to digitize the therapy process.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Online therapy programs have been around for years, and they’re becoming increasingly sophisticated and refined in order to work more effectively for users. There are many programs out there claiming to offer relief from anxiety, but their effectiveness isn’t entirely clear. Research out of Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands has shown that when used properly, online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people detect negative thoughts or patterns and learn to redirect them, can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people detect negative thoughts or patterns and learn to redirect them, can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.

A recent New York Times Opinionator piece outlined some of the effective CBT treatments being used, like MoodGYM out of Australia and Beating the Blues, which teach cognitive behavioral therapy skills to help people cope with and prevent anxiety and depression.

A Therapist In Your Pocket


Pacifica App

More recently, developers have been trying to find ways to merge effective online treatment with user-friendly mobile interfaces. In January, for example, the app Pacifica launched, attempting to offer more than just relaxation tools, but actual ways to use CBT to help treat anxiety. “The mind has a tendency to play tricks on us,” says psychologist Ross Nelson, who serves as a health consultant and adviser to Pacifica. “When we are experiencing anxiety, it’s a series of mind tricks.” The features on Pacific are offered as tools to “untwist the tricks” of the mind, says Nelson.

The app, designed by 28-year-old Chris Goette, who says he’s “white-knuckled” his way through much of his life as an anxiety sufferer, includes a mood tracker, a feature that lets you record your voice and listen back for cognitive distortions, relaxation tools, and a community space where users can connect anonymously. Goette, who’s tried every form of treatment he could over the years, from dietary changes to therapy to meditation, says CBT worked best in treating his anxiety, which is why he wanted to create an app that mirrored its effects using your smartphone.

Pacifica offers a free version with rotating features and a $4 monthly subscription that gives users access to all the app features. Since its launch, the app has signed up 230,000 registered users.

Using Your Camera Phone to Measure Stress Levels

Other app developers are trying to take a less traditional approach, incorporating technology in more unusual ways. A new app called Mentally claims to transform your phone’s camera into a biomedical sensor that can look into your bloodstream when you cover the lens with your finger, offering a stress assessment and five-minute breathing regimen personalized to your own stress level. Whether this kind of thing has any science behind it isn’t entirely clear, but what’s certain is we’ll be seeing increasingly inventive and sophisticated ways in which tech entrepreneurs are attempting to break into the mental health industry.

With so many options available at the swipe of your phone screen, there’s ample room to experiment, see what works best for you, and at the very least, start to isolate that anxious voice. “A lot of people have great intentions in trying to improve upon their anxiety and aren’t really sure how to do it,” says Nelson. With a smartphone at your disposal, you’ve got more options than you imagined.


Can Wearable Tech Measure Our Stress And Calm Us Down?

A growing number of devices are trying to gauge when we’re freaking out. But as the latest entry into the market shows, that’s a harder task than we think.

Part of the premise behind a new wearable called WellBe is pretty depressing: Many of us are so continuously stressed out—or so disconnected from our feelings—that we can’t actually tell which parts of our day are making us most anxious.

So the WellBe, now on Indiegogo, was designed to make those feelings a little more obvious. In theory, if you slap on the new wristband and sync it up with your calendar, it will tell you who and what is stressing you out most each day. Then it gives a series of simple meditations and exercises to help you better deal with those situations.

“We believe that when you know the triggers and have the solution, this is how you really reduce stress,” says Doron Libshtein, chairman and co-founder of WellBe.

One problem, however, is that it’s not yet clear that the wearable can accurately measure stress. The WellBe is designed to track heart rate variability, which can correlate with how upset you are, and it uses a custom algorithm to analyze changes in heart rhythm. But heart rate variability is notoriously difficult to measure—especially through a gadget like a simple wristband.

“If you’re off by milliseconds then that’s problematic,” says Erica Simon, a researcher in respiratory psychophysiology at the National Center for PTSD. “It can really be thrown off by things like movement.”

The WellBe only works when someone is sitting down, as an attempt to improve accuracy. (That in itself is a drawback—as someone who walks and bikes, I’m pretty sure some of the most stressful parts of my day are when I’m trying to avoid being run over by cars). But even small movements can ruin data.


“Movement isn’t just somebody walking,” says Simon. “Movement means I moved my wrist because I’m typing, or I went to take a drink from my coffee, or I’m talking on my phone…even gesturing. Any of those things can completely reduce the accuracy.”

An algorithm that works for one person might not work for another, she adds. And even if the device can accurately track heart rate variability, that doesn’t automatically mean that it knows how you feel—someone who’s excited and happy, for example, might have similar patterns to someone who’s freaking out about a missed deadline.

“It’s really tough to use heart rate variability as a measure of stress, because you can’t really disentangle the different emotions,” says Simon. It’s also not the case that people are typically either “stressed” or “relaxed”—instead, our bodies are usually in complex state of both at the same time, making stress even harder to measure.


Other wearable startups try to measure stress in different ways, like Spire, a gadget that tracks breathing patterns instead of your heart or the Neumitra, which measures electrical properties of the skin as a proxy for brain health. These methods, too, can be prone to error. For example, the temperature and humidity of the room and the medication someone is taking could skew the Neumitra’s results.

Though WellBe plans to do an independent study, it’s not clear yet that their algorithm can solve the device’s challenges. It also only gathers data for three minutes each hour, so it isn’t clear how it can necessarily catch each stress trigger. It’s possible that the app might work better if it just asked people to rate their own stress—and then offered the same relaxation techniques. Still, the rest of the app seems like it could be useful: The company offers a library of over 1,000 different meditations and other relaxation techniques, and the app tries to quickly learn which methods work best for each person.

“Our passion is to bring it to more and more people,” says Libshtein. “Especially people who never meditate, who never took the time to reduce their stress, and to help them start this kind of practice. What we’re telling them is that we can help them choose the right method for them. It’s not one mantra, or just sitting and trying not to think. There are easy ways to reduce stress.”

The lesson is that there’s no one magical way to measure stress, though it may be more possible with more streams of data. Anyway, for some people, it may not even be desirable. Stress is often a side effect of actual work getting done.