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.

Wu-Tang Was Right

Cash does rules everything around us. 💰

There seems to be a trend amongst Chinese tech companies to deflect when asked about what societal implications their tech could have by shrugging and talking dollar signs. 💲💲💲

Exhibit A:

“We’re not really thinking very far ahead, you know, whether we’re having some conflicts with humans, those kinds of things,” [SenseTime co-founder Tang Xiao’ou] said. “We’re just trying to make money.”

Src: Bloomberg

Exhibit B: (Outerplaces)

According to Haung Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix: “You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity. Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

Src: Outer Places

Exhibit C:

“We don’t support the government,” [Su Qingfeng, the head of ZTE’s Venezuela unit,] said. “We are just developing our market.”

Src: Reuters

I find it interesting that state supported companies in a Communist country keep using Capitalism as a shield. 🛡️


SenseTime is Watching 👀

Computer vision is the engine behind China’s Panopticon, and SenseTime is the engine behind many of these computer vision capabilities. And a lot of what they have developed has a dystopian feel to it with hidden cameras scanning faces and more and triggering the appropriate actions via AI. 📹

“That’s really how they see future interactions,” says Jean-François Gagné, who runs Canadian startup Element AI Inc. “You don’t need to log in to your computer, you don’t need to get a boarding pass, you don’t need to do anything anywhere. You’re just recognized.”

Not gonna lie, that does sound pretty cool. No more remembering passwords or tickets, no panicked pocket checking. But that glosses over the tyrannical implications of the tech as well, like freezing a dissident out of everything based on their face. 👤

Src: Bloomberg

They’re Making a List, And Checking it Lots 📇

Oh yay, China is exporting its panopticon. 🤐

First up? Venezuela. The land of oil, soaring inflation, an imploding economy, and a leader that’s super into overt political intimidation. 🔨

It can’t be that bad, right? 🤷

“What we saw in China changed everything,” said the member of the Venezuelan delegation, technical advisor Anthony Daquin. His initial amazement, he said, gradually turned to fear that such a system could lead to abuses of privacy by Venezuela’s government. “They were looking to have citizen control.”

Uh, maybe it can. 😟

This holiday season’s must have gift? A build-your-own-authoritarian-regmie kit. 🎁

Src: Reuters

Listen Up : Digital Immortality ♾️

What do you do if you and your loved one want to be together forever? You work on recreating yourselves as robot clones that aren’t subject to these finicky flesh bags we call bodies. This podcast doesn’t focus on the tech end of this story, but it includes some interesting interactions with and overviews of the work. 🤖

I have been curious about what the future will look like as realistic voice technologies continue to improve since they could conceivably be trained on someone’s social media body of work. Can we create digital twins of ourselves with which we can converse? Will we free ourselves from death not through life extension but through self digitization? Will we consider these digital clones to be a version of us, a human analog? 🤔

Src: This Is Love podcast

Pair with the LifeAfter podcast, a sci-fi story based on people being able to interact with deceased loved ones through the social media history they left behind.

Just a quick note, I am not anti-death. I don’t long for a radically increased life span. I worry about what impact “freeing ourselves from mortality” would have on our humanity and life in general.

The Autonomous Vehicle Economy

I’ve been toying with the economic consequences of the impending autonomous vehicle revolution for a while now and this recent IKEA thought exercise got me thinking about it again. 🔁

For now, a brain dump in bullet point format. Maybe I’ll expand on/gussy up these thoughts in the future. 🤷

  • Drie-thrus will die and be reborn. Fast food restaurants will struggle as their convenience factor will be eroded once hands do not need to be on steering wheels. Connected and networked cars will allow for safely ordering ahead and cars will become dining cars with expansive, outsourced kitchens. Any restaurant that desires could be a drivethru or grab-and-go establishment. A Ruth’s Chris at every interchange sliding surf and turf specials through windows to be eaten on the go. 🥩
  • Horizon lines are decluttered as billboards disappear. Why pay to mass advertise on a floating wall when you can deliver targeted messaging inside your dream customers vehicle on a heads up, digital dashboard product with dynamic creative tailored on the fly using input from onboard sensors and information and the targets data portfolio from the web. Or a subscription allows riders to opt out of all advertising and cruise in peace as the admire the landscape. 🏞️
  • The roadside motel/hotel/travelodge industry dwindles as cars assume the duty of sleeper car, transporting their charge as they sleep. Why stop and extend travel time if you can careen towards your destination while unconscious? 🛌
  • Roadside assistance and emergency response becomes a rare occurrence one vehicles form a networked hive mind that eradicates traffic and accidents and vehicles can predict, plan, and schedule all necessary maintenance. 🚨

Src: MIT Tech Review

Will Robots Understand Value? 💹

A while back I wrote about how I didn’t think robots would become the new consumers in capitalism. Turns out I’m not the only one. 👬

This piece scratches my economics itch in a lot of ways, but I think the heart of it is the fact that we typically believe the economy/market/capitalism operates like a rational machine and not an organism reacting to the wants and desires of a collection of irrational flesh bags. 👥

But the threat is not real for the simple reason that the efficiency of production is not the problem that economy tries to solve. The actual problem is the use of scarce means to produce want satisfaction. Both means and ends are valued subjectively. Robots do not value.

This, once again, gets to the core of my AI belief system, that we shouldn’t try to recreate human brains in silicon or assume that AGI or superintelligence will mimic humanity’s actions and desires. It just seems like egoism disguised as science. ⚗️

I want to include two quotes pertaining to value that I really liked in this piece. I think they are often forgotten or misunderstood. 💱

The natural resource it the same, but the economic resource – the value of it – was born with the inventions. Indeed, oil became useful in engines, because those engines satisfy consumers’ wants. The value in oil is not its molecular structure, but how it is being used to satisfy wants.

A good, sold in a market, is not its physical appearance, but the service it provides consumers in their attempts to satisfy wants. In other words, a good provides use value. And value is always in the eyes of the user. The value of any means derives from its contribution to a valuable economic good.

For further reading that provides another angle on why I don’t think robots and AIs will just slip into the existing capitalism and perpetuate it check out this piece by Umair Haque.

Src: Mises Institute

China’s Social Submission, er…Scoring System

There is a lot of focus on the China vs. USA space race happening in AI right now (at least in my world there is, I’m very interested in the topic). Most of it revolves around spending, governmental support, talent, etc. But maybe the most important aspect is what the implications of either country winning would be, if there truly can be only one winner in this field. 🏎️

China’s social scoring system, still in its infancy, is terrifying. Of course that is an opinion from a different way of live and cultural experience. But still, it has dystopian sci-fi future written all over it. 😈

A network of 220 million cameras outfitted with facial rec, body scanning, and geo tracking. And this insane info net will be paired with every citizen’s digital footprint. Everything is compiled to create a social credit score of sorts that is updated in real time and determines how easily you can interact with society and live your life. Piss the government off and become an outcast with no options. Dear China, Phillip K Dick called, he’d like his dystopia back. 📚

It’s no guarantee that this form of digital dictatorship will be exported on a mass scale (you know it’ll be exported at some scale) if China were to win the race, but it’s a chilling possibility. A lot of ink is spilled talking about the potential for a robot uprising and AI taking over, but the misuse of AI by human actors is far more relevant and just as fraught. We’ve been our own biggest enemy for centuries, why would that suddenly change now? 🤔

Src: ABC News Australia

The Bot Economy 💵

A recent issue of the Inside AI newsletter included the prediction that eventually we will sell things to AIs. The inflection point is said to be when population growth levels off and capitalism foresees its downfall and doom. 📉

First, I think modern capitalism’s growth requirement is a bug, not a feature. Focusing on growth and appeasing shareholders can lead to a lot of bad decisions. I think we are better served by rethinking this aspect of capitalism, whether that means tweaking what we mean by that term or creating some kind of post-capitalism. But this has nothing to do with AI, I don’t think. 🤔

Back on track, I don’t see the true trigger to create a bot economy. Why would AIs suddenly want to buy things? Why will AIs compete in the same exact way people and corporations do? This idea seems to be to be an anthropomorphizaton of AI by projecting capitalistic human characteristics in to them. 📽

Once AIs are competing with each other for work – by reputation, by differentiation, etc, they will need ways to distinguish themselves.  In other words, they will have the same issues humans have – they want to appear better/different than others.

I just don’t understand how we get from our current version of AI to algorithms competing with each other and doing so via an open market. Also, I’m pretty sure toasters don’t aspire to buy things. 🤷‍♂️

Src: Inside AI

Smart Toasters 🍞

First off, I love Janelle’s blog AI Weirdness. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s hilarious. 😂

Second, I agree with her belief that the future of AI is a bunch of specialized systems, not mechanical humans. Or, toasters not C3PO. 👾

We don’t (currently) have any models that generalize well. To my knowledge, no one is close on this either. Even transfer learning destroys the previous ability. 💥

Could this all change? Of course, predicting the future of tech is essentially sci-fi. We’ve shown a pretty bad ability to truly predict what is possible or what the future will look like. But I think planning for a future of AI toasters is a much better bet than waiting for iRobot to walk through your door and make everything magic. 🔮

Src: Aeon