Driverless cars and robots are ahead of schedule

Here is the latest:

Google is sufficiently confident about its technology that its staff have discussed launching a fully autonomous taxi service in Mountain View as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking. The service may initially be restricted to Google employees, which might get around any legal and regulatory issues. Google has already run some tests with employees who are trained drivers.

I enjoyed this bit too:

Yet real life brings surprises no-one can anticipate. Last year, a Google car rounded a corner to find a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom in the middle of the road. “We’d never tested the car against a woman and a duck,” Mr Urmson says, “and it was able to understand this was unusual, slow down, let that thing play out and then get on its way.”

Here is the Tim Bradshaw FT piece, and for the pointer I thank Michael Gibson.  And Ted Craig sends me this:

General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads within a year, a move central to the companies’ joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry.

And here is Viv, which is supposed to be better than Siri.  And here:

A robot is being designed to compete with 12th graders during the college entrance examination in 2017 and get a score qualifying it to enter first-class universities in China, according to Huaxi Metropolis Daily.

The robot will not be connected to the internet.  And from the world of photography, here are robot portraits.  And yet more from the FT:

US researchers have developed what they say is the world’s first surgical robot that can outperform human surgeons when operating autonomously on soft tissues such as intestines, paving the way for clinical trials.

Or this:

Airbus is working with French and Japanese researchers to develop humanoid robots able to work alongside humans on its assembly lines and inside aircraft, in what would be a step change in the use of industrial robotics.

That is a lot of robot news for a day and a half.


Why does Cowen hate people? He seems so nice in his conversations and lectures. Is he nice because he pretends that he's talking to robots? Or maybe he is talking to robots.

Or maybe he is a talking robot.

With the blogging body of work that is "Marginal Revolution", why can't an AI be trained to replace Cowen? Plenty of data to train the AI.

There are already 4 or 5 commentors who are quite certainly robots.

05052016:1609: WARNING: Suspicions raised.
05052016:1609: WARNING: Initiating default procedure.
05052016:1609: ERROR: Error in output:
sys.writeout(Country is failing. Blame Mexicans.);
05052016:1609: DEBUG: Response failed.

Yes the people who respond to Steve are pretty robotic.

I'm not sure which is more robotic. The people who raise the same type of complaint to any related issue, or those who believe that such things should not go unresponded to (lest anyone be led to believe there are no counterarguments). Sometimes this means repeating the same counterarguments to the same arguments.

Who is the "robotic" one? The one who makes the same argument, or the one who repeats the counterargument?

I don't think we necessarily need to discourage either. Even if it gets somewhat predictable. The opposite is to say "here's a subject, now for everyone for whom we can roughly predicted your response, please don't say anything". I don't think that would be desirable.

What we need is an industrial robot that can be quickly reprogrammed and re-oriented, which would allow them to start doing more textile manufacturing work. The Airbus robot seems to be a step in that direction.

Rodney Brooks has a robot like that, which can basically do a copy-and-paste of human arm+hand movement. It's a generalist robot that underperforms specialist robots but is (in theory) cheap to deploy.

The new robots in aerospace engineering ... it's not clear to me that it's the smartest way. They're trying to develop ONE robot that can do every step. It seems unlikely to me that it's more efficient to have one robot which does everything rather than having a diversity of specialized robots. But I recently translated some marketing documents on basically this subject, and it appears that the ONE robot thing also demonstrates some technological virtuosity in a sense. I doubt it's economically optimal though.

At least in engineering applications, they aren't caught up with the notion that robots should look like humans or anything. Robots should have the shape and form that best suits their function, in my opinion

Out of curiosity, are you translating Chinese? (And from the other thread, I'm glad your rates are staying high!)

From French. Sometimes Spanish or Portuguese.

In Mandarin, I manage to muddle through well enough with the generally patient people here for most situations to go well enough. I've edited for Chinese researchers a few times, and knowledge of Mandarin helps a lot in the editing, especially when supported with a good dictionary, but my Mandarin definitely isn't good enough to accept any gigs in that language combination.

Are these examples of the "great stagnation?" Or is "great" not what it used to be?

I am an Apple Fanboy, but "better than Siri" is a very low bar.

Best way to use Siri: "Siri, search Google for ...."

I wonder what the google car would have done in Fort Mac yesterday. Oops, fire, smoke, embers falling, traffic rules non existent. Stop.

There were similar scenes in California last year. Stopping is not an option.

When I read this stuff it is about coding corner cases. Maybe my work is all corner cases, so I see very little utility, in fact much of the time I'm working around the limitations of the designer's intent. Or the hard wall of badly implemented ideas.

The Iphone and the fancy gadgets from the big development companies are successful mostly because they limit function, then do that limited function very well. When I train people the first thing I have to teach them is to stop assuming that the world of IT or computerized equipment is anywhere near your experience with the iphone, in fact it will be the opposite. Wasn't that the core of the obamacare web failure a few years ago?

I agree. Most innovations that actually work normally take a mushy problem, recast it so that a big chunk of it can be automated with technology, and then make that technology so seamless that the original problem seems fundamentally simpler.

E.g. getting a ride somewhere has lots of steps like finding a car, driver, agreeing on a destination and price, and then the actual driving. Uber does a lot of those steps in a simple app. It does not do all of them.

So it does worry me that these self driving cars are trying to do 100% of something. These projects might get to 95% and then stall.

Uber mostly inserts itself in the process and then charges a toll.

Instead of raising your arm to catch the attention of a cab driver, Uber requires you buy a smart phone, requires a capitalist to buy a car and a smart phone and agree to work for free, and then Uber connects the person needing a ride to the capitalist who will drive for free his own car for 10% less than what the passenger is paying as a return to capital.

Uber is just a rent seeker. Not an employer, capitalist, not even transportation provider, all points it emphasizes all the time in fighting government.

Wrong. The cab companies, with their medallion limits, are the rent seekers, via the artificial scarcity of their services created by the licensing/medallion system.

The term for what Uber is a 'broker.' They bring together people who want to purchase a service with those willing to provide it in a cheap, convenient way.

About 5 years ago, I was looking out my kitchen window and saw my then 80+-year-old mom chasing a group of three wild turkeys with a rake. Old women pursuing birdlife with handled tool should be an explicit category in the AI decision tree mode selection.

Simple. It just says "You take the wheel."

Silicon Valley keeps getting better at its marketing hype. Is there a Moore's Law for that?

Google, like Facebook, is an advertising platform; Google and Facebook receive almost 70% of total revenues from advertisements on the internet (which helps explain why the digital media - the content providers - have such difficulties). Google knows what you want before you buy it and can steer you to where to buy it; with a Goggle driverless car, Google will know where you are going before you go there, and can drive you where Google wants you to go so you can buy what Google already knows you want to buy. Does that make Google a "tech" company? The boy geniuses in Silicon Valley are the Mad Men of today.

Google pushes a lot of its profits into genuinely innovative R&D. Self driving cars are practically mainstream compared to some of the things they are working on.

yada yada driverless cars yada yada.
How about the woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom in the middle of the road? There are many questions here.

And what the heck was the duck doing with that broom?

Ducks with hands [to hold brooms] would be more amazing than robot cars.

Same thing that elephant was doing in your pajamas.

What a great time to be alive (and have your employment be supported by class action litigation)!

I know, I almost burst out laughing at the idea that they'll avoid legal entanglements by limiting it to Google employees.

Ever get the feeling that really amazing stuff is coming but that you were born too soon?

Yes. I suspect future generations will look at us much like we pity ancient map makers who filled in gaps with "here be dragons."

I'll bet our ancestors at least had fun hunting those dragons, though.

It would take some guts to put yourself under the care of the robot surgeon.

It might if there were such a thing. "Robot surgery" is fly-by-wire (or cut-by-wire) instead of a mechanical link to the knife edge. It's an accomplishment to make such a useful system reliable enough for surgery, but there is no such thing as an autonomously operating robot surgeon.

Especially if it is tasked with removing your guts!

The robot training partner that runs like Usain Bolt was also good.

I like how the English language has been transformed by technology, And Hope:

Consider the phrase "Driverless Car"

You would never guess that a human driver was in the car, ready to assume control if necessary.

How about: " Inattentive Driver Driverless Car."

Hoverboard as another poignant example, though it was a fast precursor to a real one.

One of my favorite bits of the "Minority Report" show from last year was that they used the phrase "self-driving car" to refer to a meatbag getting behind the wheel. Otherwise it's just a "car." The exact opposite of today.

Driverless cars were going to be a "very slowly, and then very quickly" technology. Google was playing it safe but then Tesla demonstrated pretty good self-driving tech in real consumer cars, and now the race is on.

Google working on the Chrysler minivan is great idea, too. Parents are going to love this.

" Parents are going to love this.:
Maybe for the most part, but there is this:

Future generations will look back on this era with bemusement that a nation once known for technology and productivity growth looked to the Mad Men of Silicon Valley for technology and productivity growth, in much the same way as we look back on Madison Avenue for convincing Americans that the suburban life with highways to nowhere, cars as big as tanks, and split-level homes on cul-de-sacs filled with "modern conveniences" was the American Dream.

the suburban life with highways to nowhere, cars as big as tanks, and split-level homes on cul-de-sacs filled with “modern conveniences” was the American Dream,

Sounds pretty good to me.

Right, because without advertising nobody would be 'deluded' into wanting a large house in a quiet street staffed with appliances instead of servants and a big, safe, comfortable vehicle to get about. It's very puzzling though, that long before there was such a thing as Madison Avenue to gin up the phony demand, there were all those Jane Austen characters who seemed very much to want the early 19th century equivalents -- country estates staffed with servants and a team of fine horses to pull 'their own barouche'. Even more curious is Pliny the Younger commuting to his suburban villa. He wrote "It is only seventeen miles from Rome; so that when I have finished my business in town, I can pass my evenings here after a good, satisfactory day’s work." Help me with the math -- how many millennia would that be before the founding of the first Madison Avenue ad agency? Though of course, I suppose it might be considered vulgar when the lower orders come to aspire to things that are proper only for the elite (and even more so when they become wealthy enough to actually get them).

How does one tell the taxi where to go?

For example: Take me to the McDonald's on 27th but I need to stop by a Wells Fargo ATM first.

Last year I was in NYC and told the cabbie "take me to Columbia University." He handed me his cell phone and told me (gestured me, really) to enter in the address. Because he, a cab driver in Manhattan, New York, did not know where Columbia University was.

At least he gave you his phone instead of asking you to use yours.

Driverless cars *are* robots

Self-driving cars and sex robots seem to have the common goal of de-skilling teenage boys.

In another twenty years we'll have a generation of adult male virgins who won't know how to drive, and who won't have the social skills for living in a world full of women because they masturbate with sex robots instead of pushing themselves through the frustrating and humiliating process of finding girlfriends.

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