The Most Automated Catch, Part 1

I was watching an old episode of Deadliest Catch recently and one of the captains said he’d staff the boat with robots and run it from Seattle if he could. Naturally, that got me thinking…

First, could robots crab fish? Most of the process could be automated pretty easily, it’s a lot of repetitive actions. But, they are complicated by rolling seas and winter storms. So first order of business, the robots would need to be able to carry out their tasks on a shifting surface that isn’t always level. Or dry.

The two other tasks that, while repetitive, require some form of human cognition are throwing the hook and sorting the crab.

Throwing the hook could potentially be done by a pneumatic launcher that reels the line back in. Or by a specially designed robot. Or something else. But the tool will need to judge the distance to the line to be hooked. Launching the same distance every time seems inefficient and carries the common issue of a “standard” distance needing to be chosen, what happens when an outlier crops up? The entire system will need to be able to adapt and handle missed throws that may require turning around. Crab fishing isn’t just an assembly line on the ocean.

These seem like minor quibbles though, and it’s the crab sorting that interests me most.

Crabs must be of a certain size, gender, and type. A crab is plucked from a pile and checked to make sure it is a) the right species, b) male, and c) at least the minimum size or larger. If the crab meets all three criteria it is kept, if it doesn’t it is returned to the ocean. Sounds like a problem for computer vision! A system could be trained on pictures of different crab species and genders and then set look for only males of the species being fished. Then the crab could be measured for size and compared to the minimum allowable as the final yes/no criteria. You could even develop different systems for each species since only one species is fished at once.

So, yeah, I think it’s feasible that we could have robot crab fishers one day.

The Arms Race Begins 🔫

China is developing autonomous AI-powered attack submarines. So this should be fun. Here are a couple totally not terrifying things about them. 🙁

“The AI has no soul. It is perfect for this kind of job,” said Lin Yang, Chief Scientist on the project. “[An AI sub] can be instructed to take down a nuclear-powered submarine or other high-value targets. It can even perform a kamikaze strike.”

Yup, not scary at all. 😨

It’s the decision-making that will cause the most concern as the AI is being designed not to seek input during the course of a mission.

Totally not terrifying. 😰

Src: AI News

Centaurs Wear Ties 👔

I’m firmly in the Augmented Intelligence camp when it comes to where I think the real benefits lie when it comes to AI. Turns out the biggest benefit for business comes from pairing humans with machines, not replacing. 👤+🤖=❤️

In our research involving 1,500 companies, we found that firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together.

Surprise, surprise, humans and machines are good at different things! Shocker, I know. But that means that, if done properly, they can be combined to achieve better results than either could individually. The dream and promise of centaurs. 🙌

According to this study there are 3 rolls humans need to fill with their machine counterparts 👤:

They must train machines to perform certain tasks; explain the outcomes of those tasks, especially when the results are counterintuitive or controversial; and sustain the responsible use of machines (by, for example, preventing robots from harming humans).

And in a nice but of symmetry, the rule of threes applies to the machines as well 🤖:

They can amplify our cognitive strengths; interact with customers and employees to free us for higher-level tasks; and embody human skills to extend our physical capabilities.

That second one, interact, is the hot button topic right now, as evidenced by Google’s Duplex and the reaction it garnered. 🖲
Src: Harvard Business Review

A Cautionary Tale ⚠️

Automation can be a wonderful thing. It can also turn a small human error and snowball it out of control, like this story illustrates. Systems need fail safes and other checks so that humans can intervene if/when needed. Technology is supposed to help us, not control us. 🚥

This is one of the reasons why I am in the centaur and Intelligence Augmentation camp versus the replace all humans with machines camp. ⛺

We have a wonderful opportunity in front of us, we need to make sure we don’t squander it through laziness, ignorance, or both. ↔️

Recommended Read: Src: Idiallo

BurgerBot 🍔

This video from TechCrunch is a really cool glimpse of one the many possible AI futures. Not because they built a robot with some AI capabilities to make you an obsessively engineered burger all by itself, but because of the business model Alex, the creator and owner of Creator, lays out at the end. 💱

This is an example of how automated systems can improve people’s jobs and work experience instead of replacing them and causing a jobpocalypse. Remember, centaurs are the future. 🔮

What I’m most interested in is whether or not this model can scale. I’m sure plenty of people will say that this model will never work and the economics don’t make sense and it’ll be a niche player and not a global behemoth. But why not? Ultimately we dictate what the future can be, so it’s just a matter of working towards what we want versus what we fear. 💫

Src: TechCrunch

Alexa, Update 🖲

Tech Fest season continues! Amazon announced some cool updates to Alexa via blog and conference appearance. 🎊

These updates will make interacting with Alexa feel more like interacting with a human. Not because she (it?) is getting and smarter necessarily, but because the interface is improving. Amazon is continuing to put the customer experience at the forefront, which is why they are taking over. 🌎

As these updates rollout, Alexas in the US will soon be able to automatically search, activate, and use skills based on queries you ask, answering your question without you having to deal with the infrastructure to make it happen. The devices will have an enhanced ability to understand context, moving beyond needing pronouns to follow the conversation (this is the most human-imitative of the updates). Finally, she’ll get a better memory, not sure if there is a specific purpose to this or it’s just so Amazon can understand you better and Alexa can become an augmented brain for users. 🧠

Src: CNET

The Whole Will Be Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

I’m incredibly optimistic about the potential of human-machine teams, or centaurs. And not just because the name for them is cool and mythical. I think they make AI more immediately useful as the human can handle the intangible “soft skills” we’ve yet to figure out how to recreate in code and the machine can handle the crazy computation and pattern recognition that make them special.

This post lays out the potential nicely in the context of jobs and the economy. Are we in for some changes? Yes. Are we all going to be out of work in 5 years? I highly doubt it.

Src: Irving Wladawsky-Berger’s blog