Automation – The Savior – Not The Destroyer

There is a lot of doom and gloom about the future, technology, automation and employment.

Previously, I have written about sweat shops and the coming automation in the making of clothing. Automation faces many hurdles.

One of those hurdles is that the costs have to offer a return on investment compared to traditional manufacturing technologies.

Even if that technology is centuries old. Using people to manufacture clothing – in the present era (starting at least 100 years ago) is the sweat shop. In this recent article it is reported that workers earned £3 an hour to manufacture clothing for high end retailers.

That dress you are wearing – and paid $200 for? The person making it took less than an hour and was paid like $4 for their entire hour.

So, who is making the money? Well, the retailers are making the money – and they apply pressure to the manufacturers to provide the lowest prices.

So, automation. It is going to take jobs. Some jobs need to go away. The sweat shop needs to go away. Ironically, since they pay so little it will take longer before automation penetrates in to this market.

People will not have health care to make that dress.

People will not have enough money to survive to make those jeans.

People will work in dangerous environments with high risk of fire – to make those undies.

It needs to stop.

Oh, and just a side note. There is a reason we have regulations and laws. It is because businesses cannot be trusted to behave in an ethical manner. You can complain about the costs to businesses because of all these regulations, but the fact of the matter is that businesses as a whole will reduce costs to the lowest they can regardless of industry and will break rules, behave unethically and endanger the lives of their customers and employees simply to maximize profits.

So, the ship where we have low number of regulations and laws and people are treated well – that ship has sailed. The ship we are on now, where you have to document workers hours, how much you paid them, and are forced to treat them properly – because you have to (not because you choose to – that is the ship we are on now.

The Morality of Humans is Highly Questionable

Recently, Scientific American had an article titled: Why Robots Must Learn to Tell Us “No

Unfortunately, you have to pay to have access to the article, but the point of the article seems obvious to any moral person. Except, it isn’t.

So, I bought the digital subscription. I don’t need any more physical objects added to my already near hoarder level home.

Reading the article it takes an unfortunately narrow view of the bad things humans can order robots to do. The research carried out is on humans ordering a robot to destroy a physical object that it just built, but not ordering a robot to harm another human.

It is still a good article. I definitely recommend reading it. It includes discussion about Asimov’s laws of robotics and how they implemented something like it with ‘felicity conditions’.

The morality of humans is highly questionable. Anyone who has read some articles on this site know I have read and researched dozens if not hundreds of instances of humanity gone wrong. Humanity going wrong may be more the normal circumstance than the exception.

Asimov wrote a book about human that lived on a planet called Solaria. They took their human bodies and altered them. Then, in Isaac Asimov’s story, they defined human as only humans that have been altered as they were. Normal humans could easily be killed by these robots.

Consider that situation and perhaps the coders defining humanity by the color of a person’s skin or the color of their eyes and you can see the deep potential for robots doing harm to some or all of humanity.

Here is a thought experiment:

  1. In the present or near future a company creates drones equipped with squirt guns. It is great fun. The company does well and starts a research and development group.
  2. This group’s research and development comes up with drones that can fire based on facial recognition. These, too are great fun.
  3. Kids get teams of drones and water guns and play during the summer outside and this is recognized as one of the coolest things ever.
  4. The technology propagates out of the United States and western nations.
  5. A man that was turned down by a woman puts acid in the storage chamber and inputs her picture in to the device. It attacks her, burning her face off.

So, the robot – or drone in this case – was just following orders. Drone (or R/C aircraft) technology is widely available today and certainly a squirt gun equipped model could be built – even if the amount of water it can carry is limited.

The above sequence of events is certainly possible. So, what can we do to not have this happen in the future?

The drone must be able to say no. How can the drone say no?

Well, it requires planning and knowing the basic lack of morality of humans. A sensor would be required in the storage tank of the water gun drones. If the substance comes up as not water – the drone may not fire the water gun. In addition, if the acid attack is carried out by drone – prosecution is hard enough in crimes of this type – what about when there is little or no evidence and the perpetrator left the area long before the drone begins the attack?

The problem is that we have already put drones to work in the dirty business of war. We have already set the precedent that drones or “robot” technology can be used in the business of war – the business of killing people.

We will most likely have two sets of rules – military and civilian – for drones and robots.

But wait, there’s more.

Everyone is pursuing different ‘morals’ around the world. Murder isn’t murder if it is….

Honor killing. Except that no, honor killings are just murder. Murder of a family member because that member did something that you don’t like.

Large portions of the population in Islamic countries believe that honor killings are moral. Will they request (and get?) robots or drones with modified rules that allow for honor killings, acid attacks, and more?

If companies don’t create these alternate ‘Islamic’ moral rules robots, won’t the Islamic people create their own?

And More.

In any part of the world rape is a problem. Will there be rapists with robots to hold women down? Robots must be able to say no. Robots will need to understand the situation they are placed. Robots will need to understand what harm is. And programmers will have to have standards as to what constitutes harm.

What ‘moral’ actions will AI robots be applied to in the future? When women survive their husbands in India will the home robot ‘assist’ in removing her from the home – so the son can inherit from the father and the mother be put into a life of destitution begging for food and potentially prostitution?

Will drones and AI robots assist the sale of women for dowry?

But Maybe?

If we can code and ensure that while we humans in general are not moral – that our robots are moral there can be much good for humanity. If the costs of creating AI robots falls fast enough perhaps the drudgery that causes women to be sold for dowry in to slavery can be prevented – if the AI robots take care of these tasks. If there are sex robots perhaps rape can be prevented by having a place for rape to occur, just not to humans. Ethical problems may still arise, but, perhaps if an entity is designed to not be bothered by rape this ethical issues can disappear.

The potential that we have to work toward are moral AI robots – and for the ubiquitous to an extent that it prevents the above horrors. Intelligence may need to be built in to many devices. Autonomous cars will need to know if their sensors have been disabled by an unscrupulous human to commit murder by car. Moral AI robots will have limitations – but it needs to start with a basis of defining harm – and start with the worst forms of harm so that the good of placing moral AI robots in to existence will more than balance the harm that humans may attempt to make them perform.

However

It is troubling with how immoral humanity is that such power and based on the contents of my blog – we do such horrible things to each other. Perhaps, there is a chance that our children (AI robots, codops, etc) can help make humanity a more moral species.

The Future of Clothing

The future of clothing is more than just the future of clothing. There is social impact of who makes the clothing, under what conditions, how much money do they make, and what happens to the makers of clothing.

In 1911 in my local home area of New York City there was a fire that killed 146 people. It was at a garment factory – two are known to have been 14-year-old girls. This was a culture changing event – inflaming needs for unions, worker safety, and city, state and federal standards for safety in the work place.

It seems, though, that lessons of garment workers, fires, standards, wages, and safety are not worldwide. Defying all rules for the dispersal of information and geography, in 2012 in Bangladesh killed 117 people and over 200 people injured.  The company produced clothes for lots of different organizations that United States consumers purchase.

Once again, in order to avoid the flames people jumped from the building rather than burn to death.

On 24 April 2013 a building housing multiple clothing manufacturers collapsed killing 1100 workers and injuring 2000 others.

The garment making market has been known for ages for “sweatshops” oriented toward clothing manufacture. Associated with horrible working conditions, low pay, no benefits, and easily threatened workers by management – this practice has not disappeared over time. In fact, as demand for goods (and low prices) has continued the practice has simply become more widespread.

Technology is the answer. This article indicates that 3D printing may offer clothing. It shows a few examples. However; based on the sheer manufacturing output 3D printing would have to vastly improve before it would replace much of the garment manufacturing throughput. Still, it is out there. It is happening. It has created real clothing. Perhaps one day it will be part of the answer to poor labor conditions in the garment industry.

There is automation in the garment manufacture industry. These robots might also be part of the answer. Still, though, the reason people are still making clothing is because clothing is tough to deal with – floppy, with lots of curves cut in to it – and it is hard to cut cloth without some tension. This technology solves the floppy unpredictable nature of clothing by making the cloth stiff.

There is some concern about job losses due to automation, but in this case, let the jobs go. No one needs to be treated like cogs in a machine, with no healthcare, and no future.

So, the future of clothing, involves not just the future of clothes and their manufacture, but the jobs, how people are treated and hopefully the end of the “sweatshop”.

Children Left in Hot Cars to Die

Sadly, there has been yet another child left in a hot car death.

These are preventable deaths – and not the whole blame the parent issue.

Yes, the parent is to blame; however, in agile project management placing blame is not the focus. Recognizing problems and coming up with solutions is the focus in agile project management.

What are the factors that lead up to a parent leaving a child in a car to die?

  1. Societal – parents forced to work crazy hours
  2. Parents get little sleep and little break when they have children
  3. Cars are not equipped to keep their interior cool when left unattended
  4. Cars are not equipped to understand if there are still occupants in the car after they have been locked

There are complex and expensive ways to address some of these problems and there are not so expensive and simple ways to address some of these problems.

Potential solutions:

  1. Societal changes recognizing that parents are the protectors of the next generation of our country. When a parent loses a child, the country loses a piece of the future. It could have been an important piece – we will never know. Since the future is in the hands of the parents – aids should be made available to parents to make them not be exhausted and severely pressured every day of their lives.
  2. In this case (and in many cases like this) the parents are both working and one parent needed to take the child to day care on the way to work. The cheap solution is that day care facilities track who comes to them every day. And when they don’t arrive (say 1 hour after start time) they call the parents to find out if the child is coming to day care.
  3. It is not technically difficult for many cars to be modified to automatically lower windows a little bit and open sun roof a little to ease the heat build-up in a car. Other more expensive options could be entertained in car design so that cars will never reach the high human killing temperatures that they reach now.
  4. Cars already have sensors due to airbags to determine if there is a person present or not. When people have children an option should be equipped to beep the horn when the doors are locked and sensors indicate there is a human present (by weight) in the seats.

Since hot car deaths of children do not happen frequently, any of the four above – and #2 in specific would reduce the number significantly. With a little thought other options could be thought of….

Such as:

  1. Infant car seats that connect to the car. Cars monitor for the presence of children only in the car seats.
  2. Cars equipped with infrared sensors to check for occupancy after the car is turned off.
  3. A simple wire connecting the child seat to a switch – the logic is the car checks the switch AND checks if the car is off. If both are true, all windows are placed in to their lowered position. This would get the attention of the parent leaving the car. They could go back and remove the child, remove the connector, close up the car and do what they need to do.

Instead of blaming the parent(s) – lets figure out how to make these kind of fatalities never happen ever again.