Just in time for some weekend motivation, Apple has added a new page to their website promoting Apple Watch’s activity tracking features. The page, titled “Close Your Rings,” details realistic and effective ways that Watch wearers can live a healthier and more active lifestyle by completing one simple goal each day.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Sony Mobile Blog, you will have noticed our recent budgeting post and potentially started managing your finances directly from your Xperia. Great choice. But now does it feel like that cash is burning a hole in your pocket? Sure, you could splash those hard earned savings on a flat white – or – you could launch your empire. You’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street, it’s easy, buy low, sell high, retire at 26.
Okay, it’s not that straightforward, but we’ve tested some of the most downloaded apps that could see that one coffee, turn into two and that’s not a bad place to start.
Before you know it, you’ve got a nice little nest egg to throw into Beanie Babies, Tulip Bulbs or Bitcoin.
Please remember with any investment, your capital is at risk, so please do invest with caution.
This is a pretty simple concept, you want to invest, but you, like us, have no clue about the markets. But you know who does? Billionaire investors with a track record for getting things right. iBillionaire lets you peak over the shoulder of the likes of Warren Buffet, David Einhorn and Carl Icahn. How does it do this? Every quarter, iBillionaire automatically updates your portfolio to replicate billionaires’ filings. If it works for them, it should work for you right?
You’ve got a number of investment options here – you can take the Billionaire route as above, or you could invest in their Bitcoin Fund, their Real Estate Fund or maybe you’ve read up on Bridgewater’s All Weather strategy and think that’s the way to go? Whatever you choose, it starts at $ 1 a month (including four rebalances every year) and there are no additional costs or commissions charged. They claim for as little as $ 5 a week, you could invest like a billionaire.
Acorns and Money Box though created by different developers, have a similar aim – making everyday investing a habit. The cleverest part (in our opinion) is how you can save. The first barrier most people run into is that they don’t have any money to invest in the first place. Where these apps succeed is taking the sting out of investing, by making it gradual. Buying a sandwich for $ 3.75? Your purchase gets rounded up to an even $ 4.00, you notice nothing at the time, but over a couple of months, this rounding up turns into real money.
Depending on whether you’re using Acorns or Money Box, your money will be put into Funds and ISAs, which you can customise to your preferred level of risk. For example, with Money Box, depending on the level of risk you are willing to accept, there are three investment options: Cautious, Balanced and Adventurous
Acorns charges $ 1 a month (accounts investing up to $ 5,000), while Moneybox costs £1 a month and 0.45% of the value of your investments per year (at the time of writing, Moneybox is offering to waive the £1 fee for the first three months).
To be honest, this one isn’t an app you’ll be opening every forty minutes, it’s a slow burner. Nutmeg means business. You put money in it every month and invest it – the app is just a nice way to keep track.
You can get a Lifetime ISA with contributions starting at £100 a month, a Nutmeg ISA or general investment account within initial £500 when you make monthly contributions of £100, or consolidate your pension with a £5,000 investment.
You’ve handed over your money, but what are Nutmeg bringing to the table? Their schemes have been built by investment experts – they’ve created a number of diversified portfolios that limit risk but have options for those of you who want to play it a little more dangerously.
They’ve also got award winning service and it’s really straightforward to use – so if you do happen to get a bit stuck, they’ll get someone on the case for you.
So now you’re an “investor”, you may not be a wolf, but you’re certainly not a sheep. Good luck.
Land Rover and its family of Range Rover vehicles are known for rugged luxury. You can drive through a river in the woods during the day, rinse it off, and drop it with a valet at the opera that night. It appeals to a demographic that's more interest…
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Modern robotics haven’t caught up with science fiction robots … yet.
On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, the team tackles the robot question: When will robots take our jobs? And really, is that even a question we need to be asking? Seismic’s founder and CEO, Rich Mahoney, has been building robots for years, and he says, in short, don’t worry. Robots are here to help us. And if you think your robot is edging over to the dark side, simply unplug it. Today’s battery technology is nowhere near being able to power something like an Iron Man suit.
You can read some of the highlights from the discussion here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.
KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed To Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
LG: It could be anything at all, like whether Kara Swisher is here in studio for this podcast, or if it’s a replicant of Kara Swisher.
KS: I’d like to have a replicant.
LG: Or if Kara Swisher is getting her sons a Boston Dynamics robot for Christmas.
KS: No, they just got a PlayStation 4. Oops, I just said it out loud, anyway. There we have it. Send us your questions, find us on Twitter, tweet them to @Recode, or to myself or to Lauren, with the hashtag #tooembarrassed.
LG: We also have an mail address, although email is probably going to go away soon. If not, robots will be answering them for us. The email is email@example.com. A friendly reminder, there are two Rs and Ss in embarrassed. Do you think that’s true, that robots are going to be answering our emails?
KS: I don’t think we’re going to have emails. I think hopefully we’re not going to have them.
LG: I will speak up in defense of emails.
KS: All right, go ahead, Grammy.
LG: No, you know, let’s not get into it now.
KS: Alright, we’ll do a whole show on it. We’ll do a whole show on it.
LG: We should do a whole … that’s a great idea.
KS: I know.
LG: Would you guys like that? If you would like that, please go to our iTunes page, leave us a review. You can tweet at us. You can go to our Facebook pages.
KS: Why are you making all these suggestions?
LG: Because I like input from the people, Kara.
KS: Not me. Let’s do what we want.
LG: You’re going to make a great mayor.
KS: I’m not going to listen to anyone, I’m going to just fix the city. Anyway, moving along.
LG: We’re back in studio together. It’s great to see you again.
KS: Yes, it’s good to see you.
LG: I missed you.
KS: I know. I was in D.C. I was in LA. I was all over, New York.
LG: Hanging out with podcast people.
KS: Podcast people. I was doing some great podcasts with all women, actually, which was really interesting — Greta Van Susteren, Tina Brown, Christine Brennan — for different podcasts. It was really fun. It was good.
LG: That’s great.
KS: And seeing my kids, who are great.
LG: I was in Detroit.
KS: Yeah, how was that?
LG: I was in Massachusetts a couple times.
KS: Good, well now we’re here together.
LG: It was good. Now we’re here together, at long last. Today on Too Embarrassed to Ask we are delighted to have Rich Mahoney, the founder and CEO of Seismic, in studio with us.
KS: Explain Seismic. Seismic is a wearable robotics company, formerly known as SuperFlex, which is a fantastic name, Rich. Why did you get rid … I love that name.
Rich Mahoney: SuperFlex was a DARPA program, so we want to be a …
KS: I just love that. It feels like a superhero.
Yeah, we can still use it. We’ll find a way to use it still.
KS: I had to endure “Justice League” over Thanksgiving because I have two sons, but thank God for Gal Gadot. She was amazing, but everyone else …
LG: By the way, if you’re going to say that you have to change your company name, it’s pretty cool to say, “Well, that was with DARPA.”
KS: Yeah, I know, that’s fair.
LG: “That was the DARPA project.”
KS: That’s fair.
LG: “So now I have to come up with something else.
KS: I’m going to call it SuperFlex. I’m going to ignore …
KS: SuperFlex, it would be a superhero.
LG: Yeah, it would, Kara, SuperFlex.
KS: What do they do, they flex?
LG: He’s going to tell us about it. Tell us quickly about your background in robotics. You worked in robotics for a long time. At one point you were the director of robotics at SRI.
That’s right. I started out in robotics doing graduate work, like a lot of people. I have a PhD in robotics, but quickly realized that I wanted …
KS: Were you at MIT?
Cambridge, England, is my PhD.
KS: England, okay, all right.
I quickly realized I didn’t want to do research and was more interested in commercialization. Ultimately that led me to the position at SRI where I was running the robotics lab there, and responsible for their DARPA programs but also for … what attracted me there is spinning out technologies and starting companies.
KS: Explain SRI for people.
SRI is formally Stanford Research Institute. I think it’s celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
KS: It is. It’s cool.
It’s really an amazing place. I gave a talk at my kids’ high school two years ago on their technology weekend. Asked how many people knew SRI, and the only two people that raised their hand were my two sons that were sitting in the audience. It’s a shame that people don’t know about it.
KS: Yeah, it’s wonderful.
It’s a nonprofit. It’s essentially a spinoff from Stanford University. They do contract research, so their business is to do research for other people that want to pay them to do research.
KS: I think I saw some surgical robotics there. It was cool. It was such a cool place.
Yeah, that’s right. The surgical … the group at SRI that I was managing was where the da Vinci system was developed and spun out. When the internet, I like to say, was two computers, one of them was SRI. From that starting point they have dozens and dozens of new technologies they developed.
KS: You were working on a robotic warrior suit for DARPA?
KS: DARPA is the … Explain DARPA.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, it is the part of the Department of Defense that funds advanced research. Its main mission is to avert technical surprise. So after Sputnik, the military wanted to promote investment in a way that would allow the U.S. to constantly be out in front in terms to technical innovation. Pretty much every technology that’s surrounding us right now was at some time invested in by DARPA.
KS: We had Regina Dugan onstage many years ago at All Things D. She talked about the mach-whatever 10 airplane or something.
Yeah, it’s amazing. I remember Pat Lincoln when I first went to SRI — he’s running the computer science lab there — saying that to him DARPA is the best use of his tax dollars that he can think of in terms of the impact.
This SuperFlex program that we were running at SRI was our project as part of a DARPA program called Warrior Web, which was a wearable robotics program that was an alternative to exoskeletons — so something that was more lightweight and focused on reducing injuries and fatigue for soldiers carrying heavy backpacks than it was leaping over tall buildings or carrying big heavy loads like you often see in “Aliens” or other science-fiction movies.
KS: Or a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Did you see that movie?
LG: No I didn’t.
KS: What was it called?
LG: I mean, I’ve seen “Iron Man.”
KS: Jean-Claude Van Damme had a movie where he wore an exoskeleton. It was fantastic.
LG: Kara, you look excited.
KS: I’ve seen it 17 times.
LG: Let’s bring it back quickly, because we’re talking about power suits, exoskeletons, all this stuff. And by the way, shameless plug, on the latest episode of Next Level, my Verge video series, we actually talk to Rich and other experts in the exoskeleton field and wearable robotics field, all about exoskeletons. You should go check out that video. But for people who don’t know what an exoskeleton is, talk about that. And then talk about how what you’re doing is a variation on that.
Seismic now is bringing to market something we’re calling powered clothing. It is a form of wearable robotics, like exoskeletons. Exoskeletons are bigger, bulkier. They’re skeleton frames that you wear around your body. There are stronger motors that are helping to carry the body. The early applications — beyond being able to help in construction and lift heavy things — are for people, for instance, with spinal cord injuries, to be able to carry the body and help them be able to have therapy and learn how to walk.
In our case, and what I saw and the reason I ended up leaving SRI to lead this company was, we developed under that DARPA program some more lightweight actuators, electric muscles that we were integrating into clothing. I like to make the point that all of us in this room right now are wearing clothes. None of us are wearing robots.
LG: You can tell them the truth.
LG: None of us are wearing clothes in this room right now.
KS: No, we are, because we find it’s appropriate to dress in the workplace. Thank you. Sorry, no more sexual harassment. Anyway, because a lot of wearable clothes, when you think of powered clothing, you think those idiotic t-shirts that light up and some of the ones that’re going to track you or your sweat or your heartbeat or things like that. This is different.
Yeah. We thought about maybe actuated apparel as a way to describe it, but we thought that, yeah, that was kind of too technical. Powered clothing isn’t really used to describe …
KS: I’d like to keep all your names.
I know. Exoskeleton is cool.
KS: So cool.
It also does create an image of something that’s heavy and non-consumer oriented. I think that’s the other thing we were trying to do is we do want to make something that’s more consumer oriented. So the idea of powered clothing is just to think about, we’re integrating this extra strength — wearable strength is another way we describe it — into clothing. We really are a clothing innovator. We want to add new functionality to clothing.
KS: That’s super clothing.
I actually like super suit, I think.
LG: You really don’t like their name.
How about Seismic suit? That’s something …
KS: I like that.
LG: A Seismic suit?
Yeah, I think I’m okay with people referring to it that way.
KS: Seismic suit is good.
LG: Yeah, but one of the things I noticed when I visited their lab down in Menlo Park not too long ago for this Verge episode we were taping, one of the things I noticed that was very different about your lab versus some of the other exoskeleton companies I’ve seen is that those feel like very industrial workspaces and the product is kind of something you have to attach on. They’re soft goods but they’re also like hard goods and metals against the body.
KS: Very “Terminator.”
LG: Your place looked like a fashion house in the way things were laid out and designed. It’s like seeing racks of clothing around, rather than metal parts.
Right, and that was intentional. Part of it, that came from the DARPA program wanting to create something that was more lightweight. But when we started to put the company together, we realized that, again, going back to clothing is something that people know, we want to innovate around clothing. We really built our team around apparel, fashion, textile, design, and then we come from a robotics lab, so we definitely have hardcore robotics capability.
But our workspace, as you were describing, looks … half of it is apparel development, sewing machines, big white tables, lots of fabrics, materials, mannequins everywhere. The other half is bench shop, electromechanical work stations. And then actually, for me, what’s more exciting about that is not how the space looks but the interaction of the teams … when I talk about powered clothing, to me it’s not just this technology that is our product, it’s a new type of company. It’s a new type … it’s this interaction of this fashion apparel design and this electromechanical design.
KS: Could you give examples of what you use? Again, I’m going to geek out, because a lot of the super … People think of what’s on the suit and what it does for them.
KS: It’s lightweight, right?
LG: Imagine like …
KS: The Flash’s clothes had special …
LG: I’ll let Rich answer because he’s the expert. But imagine if you’re not looking for super powers or to lift 200 pounds during your day to day. But imagine you have a hip problem or a knee problem or something like that, and then you’re like, “I just need a little …”
LG: “I just need a little boost.”
KS: My brother has muscular dystrophy, he would love clothing that would …
Yeah. We actually have a program where we’re working with the group to develop a suit, evaluating it for kids with muscular dystrophy. That makes perfect sense. That’s how to think about it. Wearable strength, we have electromechanical muscles that are integrated into clothing in alignment with your anatomy. There are sensors, inertial measurement units, IMUs, that are the same thing you have in your phone, that are tracking the movement of the body. And then they turn on the muscles as you’re moving to align with your movement.
KS: These are electric muscles.
They’re electric muscles, so it’s all battery powered.
KS: So is it the clothing that moves or the body?
Yeah, so it’s … The clothing has muscles that are harnessed to the body. Think about compression wear, that’s grabbing the body. If you go inside your body and you think about how muscles grab your bones and they contract in order to help you move, our muscles do the same thing. They contract and they’re grabbing the body. As they contract, they’re contracting with your hip muscles to provide extra strength.
Actually, think about a power electric bicycle. When you’re pedaling that you get this extra power. Now think about getting up out of a chair and I have these muscles that are working in my clothes to add extra power assist for me to help get up out of the chair.
KS: Right, what else? What other things?
The product is focused on the core, and so we’re really looking at — and it’s a programmable suit, so initially we’re looking at things like standing support, so people that are on their feet for a long time. We’re focused on the core initially because we do see the senior population as a really strong initial market. But anybody that’s working hard and develops fatigue around their core muscles from standing all day …
KS: So jobs, those kind of jobs.
Yeah, so jobs, anybody, any kind of job, a sales job, someone behind a counter all day. We have a lot of activity in Japan. There are … the average of a construction worker in Japan for instance is 48, and so we’re talking to a lot of companies in Japan about how we can build some powered clothing solutions to support the workers there.
KS: Amazing. Let’s talk broader about things.
LG: Yeah, let’s talk about robotics.
KS: Robotics, in general, where it’s going.
LG: One of the things that we put out a call for questions around was this idea of robotics and how lately they seem to instill a lot of fear in people.
KS: Fear, jobs.
LG: You may have seen the Boston Dynamics back-flipping robot, that people went nuts about on Twitter. In fact, I saw one tweet that went viral, where someone simply said, “We dead,” I saw. It may have been Kara Swisher. Why do you think people … and then of course we’ll get into what this automation and robotics means for jobs.
KS: Job replacement.
LG: Why do you think people have had such a strong reaction to this Boston Dynamics robot?
Yeah. I think there’s already a ton of automation in the world. People don’t really react to that, right? I think it’s because those robots are starting to look like us. People relate to them somehow as being superior, physically at least. And then with all the AI talk as well, that there’s, from an intelligence point of view, that they could be superior to us. That creates fear.
And then on top of that there’s a whole body of science fiction, like the first movies, the first use of the word robot was about a play were robot workers overcame their human masters. So even the origin of the word evokes that kind of fear. I think it’s part of the culture. I don’t think there’s any way to move past it. I do know from working in Japan that that is not part of the culture in Japan.
KS: Because they love robots.
Yeah, they love it. They’re not afraid. When I talk to our Japan staff, they don’t even understand. It takes them a little while to understand, “Oh, so people are afraid of robots.”
KS: Where is it from? One, there’s definitely … I just was visiting the Amazon warehouse and I was like, “Wow.” It was the same to me as bac- flipping robots when I saw those things moving. It was sort of scary and fantastic at the same time. I had both feelings. I think that’s how people felt about that robot, it was like, “Wow,” and, “Whoa.
I think it’s from movies, and “Terminator” probably the most. But there’s a million movies where robots kill us, and there’s just a few where they’re nice to us, essentially.
LG: Yeah, but there’s also that uncanny valley thing, too. Where, as Rich touched on a little bit, that idea that because they’re getting more … I don’t know if you would use the word human-like,, they’re starting … you look at some of the way that their legs are moving and the way things are shifting, and there’s something very fluid about it. You think, “That’s human-like.”
KS: And also with Elon Musk talking about it, he’s always … He did a, “We dead,” around that one, too. He’s always …
Yeah, I think he responded to that one, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
LG: Where do you put the Boston Dynamics robots on the scale of uncanny valley?
KS: Yeah, where is it …
When I saw that video, I was energized by it. I definitely wasn’t afraid of it. I didn’t react to it in the same way. When we were at SRI, when I was at SRI, we actually had another DARPA program where we built a humanoid, so actually what I saw in that … I knew where some of the component innovation was occurring that was allowing them to do that. I was excited that they had reached that point.
But I also, I didn’t just … I went to their website. I wanted to see what the latest was on the website, and actually I was interested in the fact that they actually have specs on it there. That it weighs 75 kilograms, it’s battery powered, it can carry, I think, 11 kilograms. That’s actually what I was really wanting to see, because they were just purchased by SoftBank. Basically you have another organization with a bottomless pit of money, because they were bought from Google, is now owning them, and money is not the issue. It’s really, what are you doing? How are you figuring out how to transition this to something that’s useful?
The big question that I have is just the battery, like how long can the battery last? Because that’s what I tell people, “If you’re worried about robots right now then just unplug them, or just wait till their batteries run out in 15 minutes.” That’s the classic issue that everything has. Until we figure out the arc reactor, that part of the equation, we’re really not going to be able to do … we’re going to be limited in what robots can do.
LG: The humanoid robot that you worked on for DARPA, was that ever deployed?
No. That specifically was to look at this issue of power efficiency. So we built a humanoid that had a human-like gait that could walk for seven hours on a single battery charge. When you look at a robot that can do that, we didn’t invent any new batteries, we actually went back and just looked at all the parts.
Actually, the other thing I saw in what Boston Dynamics has done, and I think what we’re seeing, I think we’re doing this a little bit in our project at Seismic, is that the last 25 years of robotics development has really been about industrial grade robots, and robot technology is trying to be applied outside of those industrial applications. What we’re seeing in some of these new robots that we haven’t seen before is really new kinds of components, robotic components, that are enabling robots that are more able to work safely with people, or able to do different types of activities.
Every industrial robot that you ever see in a factory is plugged in, power is not an issue, the efficiency of power isn’t an issue and no one’s really thought about that before. So Gill Pratt, when he was running DARPA, the robotics work at DARPA, had programs on efficiency of those. Going to things as simple as gears: Can we make gears that are more efficient for these applications? Our gears and our joints are very efficient as humans, there’s almost no friction there, so we’re not losing power to gears. But any kind of industrial robot is very inefficient that way.
KS: I want get to the jobs things in a second. But do you do any … Hire any anthropologists or sociologists to talk about this to? Because that’s one thing that seems left out. I know Google, for example, is working with anthropologists on VR. I think one of the things that you’re seeing now in some of these issues around social media and the weaponization of social media is that they never thought … For some reason these people never thought that there were some societal issues related to it.
LG: Right, it’s like humans were left out of the equation of how to be of service to humans.
KS: Yeah, like, “It’s cool.” And I could see it because I know a lot of the people at MIT and I know lots of robotics people, and they just … the cool part takes over to the point where it’s maybe not so cool to everybody.
Yeah. I think … Our answer to that question is we have to … we have biomechanics experts, so we are looking at how the body moves and how can we integrate our components into clothing in a way that works well with the body. And then, from the anthropological point of view, we’re looking at traditional industrial design, user experience. We have industrial designers. We’re actually recruiting …
KS: They try to make them cute. I’ve seen so many robots that are adorable, they’re fat or …
Yeah. I think that’s part of also … that’s what you need to have successful products.
KS: What’s the “Star Wars” one? The fat “Star Wars” one? The tall skinny one?
C3PO, the original one.
KS: Yeah, C3PO.
LG: Or Pepper, speaking of SoftBank. Their robot Pepper is quite adorable. It’s a retail robot. It’s supposed to greet you and it’s supposed to help you buy things once you’re in the store, but it just looks adorable.
KS: Can I ask a strange question? When I was at MIT many years ago, because they’re all in, robotics is a big deal there. One of the things they were … someone was talking about the eyes, that they had problems with the eyes, always. That was one of the … they were doing a medical one, to talk patients through simple problems, because I guess the top 20 issues in an emergency room are all the same, essentially. It’s very easy to just diagnose and move people out so you can get to the real cases. They said the people had problem with the eyes. That’s why people … [The robots] were better in every way except they didn’t have …
Yeah. When you look at the social interaction between people, the eyes are so important. I think that was definitely overlooked in early robotics work. And then there’s been a lot of work, especially at MIT. Rodney Brooks, Cynthia Breazeal more recently has done that work. There’s actually an approach in robotics where it’s just a screen for the face and you can actually put a human face there or some other kind of eye animation.
KS: You’ve seen that with the rolling-around ones.
Right, right. I think it’s part of this evolution that has to occur, that I don’t think has been solved yet. Robots don’t have to look like people, but the ones that you want to look like people, for them to be accepted …
Yeah, they have to solve those kinds of interpersonal issues. It’s still evolving. I haven’t seen a robot yet that I think would be accepted into everyday life.
LG: Should we talk about jobs?
KS: Jobs. We should, but also, I’m curious if you like the depictions, the media depictions of robots as a person who … Because then we’ll get to jobs because it’s leading into this.
Yeah. I’ve given a number of interviews and a lot of times they’re not video-recorded in real time. It will still give you my reaction but there’s a lot of reporters that will start and they’ll go right to that jobs question. I’ll be like, “Really, that’s your question? That question has been asked forever and it’s been answered a million times. Don’t you have a better question for me than just going back to the old jobs question?” I do think the …
KS: Well you know, people are having their jobs replaced, so that’s why we keep doing it.
Yeah, but I think that’s not necessarily always the fact of what’s happening. But it’s hard to tell the story of what actually is happening. It’s not as easy as saying … You just say “jobs” and people can react to that, where the story of what’s actually happening is a little more complicated, a little bit more …
LG: Yeah, it’s more nuanced in that it’s not just so, introduced robots to market, therefore replacement. This is … we’ve interviewed a lot of people about this.
KS: They all talk about it like that though.
LG: Well yeah, and there tends to be sometimes … You know, from covering Silicon Valley, there’s a little bit of a techno utopia approach, too: “Robots are just going to help us level up.” The problem is not that the jobs are being replaced, the problem is you need to figure out how to level up, because the robots are going to allow you to do something else. I think that’s a hard … that may be true in some ways but it’s a hard pill to swallow for people who maybe feel like they’re getting phased out of the workforce. But the truth is also that automation has existed in factories for a long time now.
KS: With much social unrest attached to it. I’ve had this long-running debate with Marc Andreessen, we just did it on a stage. There’s social unrest that they tend to overlook.
Right, and so part of my answer is that I think people already know that somehow robots will impact the workforce. Most of our thoughts around that are just reacting to it. There’s not good planning from a government point of view, or even an understanding of how things will evolve. I sometimes … This gets really … I don’t have a economics degree but I look at how our democracy was set up 250 years ago, and we created this economic structure that, it was based in technology and understanding 250 years ago. We have technologies now that could let our economy work differently, where we could use those technologies and manage them in a way that let our economy work differently.
I tend to look at robotics as affecting quality of life and the quality of what we’re doing, not jobs. We tend to focus on the people that have jobs, and we tend to focus on our country where jobs drive the quality of your life in general. But the world overall, there’s lots of people that aren’t living a high quality of life. Even two people that have the same dollar in their hand don’t have access to the same quality of health care.
KS: That’s a fair point.
And education and other things like that. I do think robotics can help to create more equality in terms of the standard of living that people have. In some ways it’s already happening in manufacturing. If you accept that the use of robotics in manufacturing has allowed the cost of durable goods to be cheaper, like how car’s are cheaper.
KS: Someone is always benefiting.
Right, so more people are able to buy cars that are of high quality with the same dollar than they would otherwise if we weren’t using automation to maintain quality and reduce cost.
KS: And the fact that some jobs are repetitive and should not be done by human beings. We get that.
Yeah, I think that’s totally … my perspective on jobs is actually, when I was at SRI one of the trends that I was really early, because we were doing DARPA work but we also were doing, again, contract work for companies that wanted to see robotics developed to solve some of their problems. What I was seeing is that they weren’t coming in and saying, “We need to reduce our cost. Let’s get rid of workers.” They were saying, “We can’t get enough workers.”
Manufacturing is experiencing this in China, in the U.S. and other places. There’s huge turnover, there’s lots of safety issues. The new generation, and this happens in every developing economy where manufacturing drives standard of living, that the next generation doesn’t want to go to the factory every day. You end up … what I was seeing is across mining and agriculture, manufacturing, retail, that people were trying to find robotic solutions to fill what I refer to as the labor gap.
KS: Yeah, no, the job loss … It’s interesting. I think the issue is a lot of people, when tech told us social media would be great 100 percent of the time, it’s turned out maybe not to be so much. Or the government was supposed to be paying attention to jobs, and they’re not even paying attention. That’s really the issue, is they’re not even thinking about it.
Right. It’s hard. It’s hard to figure out how to shape the economy around what jobs can offer.
KS: Or what jobs should be.
Or how jobs can evolve from, based on robotics.
KS: It’s a big topic. We’re going to talk about … of course we have tons of great questions from our audience. We’re not giving you a hard time, Rich, we’re just … You know?
Yeah, it’s part of my …
KS: We’re so sick of listening to Silicon Valley people some days.
It’s an occupational hazard for me, so I don’t go out to dinner without having this …
KS: Twitter is going to be great. Really? God, what did Donald Trump do today? Something awful again. In just a minute we’re going to take some questions about the future of robots from our readers and listeners, and Rich is going to answer them. But first we’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsor. Lauren?
KS: All right, that’s good.
LG: I am your robot overlord.
KS: You’re doing like, “Danger, Will Robinson.”
LG: Can you put in an effect on that, that I just said that? Okay, cool.
KS: Is that it, “Danger, Will Robinson”?
LG: What you just heard was my real voice.
KS: I’m dating myself with Will Robinson. We have to think of a new thing besides ka-ching for 2018.
LG: That sounds good.
KS: Let’s put a pin in that. Let’s put a pin in that.
LG: All right.
KS: All right.
LG: Let’s do it.
KS: We’re back with Rich Mahoney, the founder and CEO of the wearable robotics company Seismic, which I like to call SuperFlex. We’re talking about the future of robots, and, no surprise, our audience has a lot of questions about that topic. We got a ton … people love robotics.
LG: So many questions.
KS: Yeah, Lauren, would you read the first questions?
LG: I’d be happy to.
KS: There’s areas. We have areas to talk about.
LG: Yes. The first section is really about robot safety, the uncanny valley. Elon Musk’s comments, because we just can’t seem to get Elon Musk out of our podcast these days.
KS: You know what would be a mind fuck? I bet Elon Musk is a robot, and then he’s doing it to make us hate robots so that he could be the … Anyway, just thinking out loud.
LG: Elon, you’re welcome to come on the show anytime.
LG: Even if you’re a robot.
LG: All right, the first question is from Brianna Wu.
KS: Great, Brianna Wu.
LG: She says — hi Brianna — she says, “Because I’m a Boston resident and I don’t have access to a 40-watt phased plasma rifle, how can I protect myself?” We’re getting right into it.
KS: See, it’s not just us.
LG: How could she protect herself?
KS: Rich, it’s not just us, it’s Brianna Wu.
Today, just wait 15 minutes or unplug the robot. Don’t recharge it. That’s the biggest … There just is not a battery solution that will let robots do … Pick any movie that you want of a robot destroying us, the power supply for those robots …
KS: They’d take over the electric grid secretly. Have you seen “Terminator”?
LG: Yeah, but haven’t you seen “Short Circuit” with Johnny 5, who was no longer alive?
I always say, just unplug them.
KS: That is not good enough. I think everyone should have a 40-watt phased plasma rifle.
LG: There you go. Yeah. That’s really reassuring, actually, when you think about these giant war robots with human-like gears who’s going to destroy us all. Just unplug it.
Yeah, that’s what I would do.
Right, I always say, what’s the battery …
KS: They could go to a laundromat, airports, and plug themselves into …
LG: All right, ask, what’s the battery …
KS: Alright, next question. Pranav, @MrPranavesh: “Everyone says that humans are in control of AI and can turn AI off if something goes wrong, like a kill switch. My question, what happens if AI learns how to disable or override the kill switch? Is it possible?” It’s literally all the “Terminator” people, my people, my base. I have a base.
Apart from going back to “just turn it off,” I think that the other thing to look about, and I think about, I really like looking at how technologies actually really do become adopted and a part of our society. I read a book, “The Age of Edison,” a little while ago. I don’t know if you know it. It was about, from the invention of the light bulb to when the country was fully electrified. It was about 10 years, which is kind of ridiculous.
You think about, we went from having no electricity to having a light bulb, and then all of this technology. But if you follow what happened there, in terms of there was this crazy period of wires being run everywhere and people dying from wires falling on them and non-regulation. And then from that mayhem emerged regulation and reaction to how … So, at some level what Elon is saying will happen. Cars are regulated. Nuclear technology is regulated.
We learn from the technology. It’s not like we’re going to be like, “Why did we suddenly decide not to regulate this technology?” if it was somehow affecting us. And then the other part of it is that if you think about AI, because then there is this view of AI that there’s emergent behaviors, we don’t know what we don’t know about what can happen with AI. I accept that, but at the same time right now it’s not pervasive. It’s not like we all … Like “I, Robot,” the movie, where everybody has this humanoid robot in their house. Yeah, when we get to that day, we better make sure that we have some failsafes there that those robots aren’t taking over. But today we don’t have that, and so there’s a lot of time between now and then for that to happen. Regulation and understanding will emerge during that time.
KS: We’ll see. Until then, 40-watt phased plasma rifle, please. Next one.
LG: This was a good question.
KS: It was. It’s about the humanity.
LG: There was a little video linked, a gif linked to it that you can’t see because you’re listening to a podcast, but I’ll explain it. This is from Ian Fay: “How is it that I am terrified of our upcoming ‘Terminator’ future? Yeah, I feel viscerally horrified when someone kicks a robot like this.” He linked to a video of someone kicking one of the robot dogs. That’s a good sort of psychological or sociological question. Why is it that we feel bad about …
KS: Does a robot dog have a soul?
LG: Right, do robots have a soul?
I don’t know if I can answer the soul question, but I think when you look at, people have a personal relationship with their cars, they have a personal relationship with …
KS: My phone.
Yeah. So it’s part of being human to actually relate to things and to somehow give them human emotions. I think when you have something like this robot that is even more like us, that it’s built into our DNA, how we interact that way. I think that is really natural. I think it’s … I’ve faced this when early in my career people were looking at, how could you use robots as social devices for the senior population, and be like, “Well that’s inhumane, they should have people coming and talking to them.” Well, if people aren’t available, there’s a lot of older people sitting in homes staring at walls. Why isn’t it okay if they get value from some kind of robot or other interaction that’s not real, but still bringing value to them? I think you have to always go back to what’s real that way.
LG: We attach our emotions to things. I had this incident not too long ago, I was taping another video. I was talking to a video of a holocaust survivor. It’s on at USC, at Shoah Foundation, where they’ve captured all these testimonies of genocide survivors. They’ve applied their own natural language processing system to these videos, so that you can have a very natural sounding Q&A. At one point I interrupted the video and I apologized. I was like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And then I was like, “I’m a apologizing to a video because it felt so real to me.”
KS: You should apologize.
If you saw the new “Blade Runner” movie, there’s actually a relationship between a robot and a animated being that is like a visual representation of a being. We can relate to that as people, so it’s not …
KS: Yeah, I think that was very easy. We had a great interview with Jared Leto who played the trillionaire, and how when he killed the replicant because it wasn’t pregnant, I guess, right away everybody was horrified. I was, “How did you think about that?” Because people … it was like a human being. He said, “I just was throwing my iPhone at the wall,” which I thought was a great answer. If you remember how he said that.
LG: That’s interesting.
KS: You were here.
LG: I know I was there, I was just …
KS: You were just staring at Jared Leto. Okay, next … Anyway, it was true. It was like …
LG: Hi Jared.
KS: It’s just like breaking an iPhone, who cares? That was a really great mental leap that he made there, I thought.
This is from Carrie Watkins: “Understanding that robots will quickly be moving into the health care space, how are companies dealing with the uncanny valley? Is it better to get your pills from R2D2 or a robot that looks like a human?” That’s an interesting question. That’s a design question.
Yeah. I think that’s right, it is a design question, it’s a product question. The reality is that just because you make that doesn’t mean that the market will use it. That’s what I’ve learned in working on a lot of early-stage commercialization, is that in the case where using the robot is better, it’s because we built a better robot that people accept and solves a problem in a way that is better than what’s happening now. There’s lots of low-quality care and experiences in health care, so I think there’s a low bar at some level in terms of sometimes what we’re trying to accomplish for people. But I think in the end it’s a product, and how good is the product development that was done?
KS: All right, this next question …
LG: There are lots of questions about Elon Musk.
KS: People got tired of talking about his jacket.
LG: So after this new video of the back-flipping robot came out, Elon tweeted, “This is nothing. In a few years that bot will move so fast you’ll need a strobe light to see it. Sweet dreams …” Which is as ominous sounding as you could possibly be.
KS: He’s always fucking with us.
LG: He’s like, “Hi, I’m Tony Stark.” People on Twitter, including Sally Kuchar from Curbed who works with us here in the office, and a bunch of other people wrote to us when we said we were doing this episode. They were like, “What’s he talking about this? Is this is a reality? Are these things going to be exponentially faster in just a few years?”
KS: We’ve had Elon onstage talk about this quite a bit. He threw everyone into a tizzy when he talked about the fact that we were in a simulation. That went forever. So he’s always doing this. This is an Elon special, it’s a trademark, TM, peak Elon. But you know, he’s doing it a lot around AI, around robots, around … You must all be like, “Bad Elon, stop it.”
Yeah. It doesn’t affect my day to day, for the reason I was saying, we have to make a product, I have to make payroll, I have to raise money for the company, I have to find customers. But in terms of robotics in general, I’ve talked a little bit about it, that there’s a natural progression that’s going to occur. It’s not like we’re going to wake up tomorrow and everyone opens their front door and there’s a robot standing there.
But there’s also — going back to what I said before about Boston Dynamics — it’s that there’s a ground truth about what technology can do now. If this robot is going to move at those speeds then there needs to be a motor that’s moving it. There needs to be a power source that’s controlling it. There’s some technology that was shown from MIT recently for gripping and this really lightweight gripper, and then he talked about needing air. They’re using air pressure to control it. Well, the compressor is part of that equation. So we have to remember that it’s not just that gripper, there’s all this other technology that’s behind it.
I think the AI question is … I actually would make the case that AI is already regulated. The FDA, for instance, regulates all medical devices. If you’re saying you’re using AI somehow to solve a medical problem, that’s any kind of computer code, any kind of electronics that is part of a medical device, is regulated by the FDA. So there’s already processes for this, so it’s already there, yeah. Robots themselves are already regulated. The robotics industry is regulated. So it’s not like this isn’t there already, it’s just that it will evolve in a way that’s responsive to what the technology can actually do.
KS: We’re going to move to other things, but let me just say to all those people, there’s always liquid nitrogen. Remember, just get yourself a liquid nitrogen tank and point it at that robot that’s running fast, and you’ll be — probably — be okay.
LG: You sound like such a prepper. Are you saying this from your bunker?
KS: No, that’s from “Terminator,” like, 10. Thank you. I’m obsessed with “Terminator.”
But he’ll also control who gets to go into space, so I think you shouldn’t have robots on those spaceships. So people should just be able to go places where there aren’t robots, so if they’re really worried about them …
KS: There’s got to be robots in space. You’ve got to bring them on, come on. Who’s going to go out and get the milk?
LG: I’m going to start doing pull-ups like Sarah Connor did, just to be ready.
KS: Next question. Jane Thurber. This is about home care and elder care. “Okay, as boomers age, how long until robots can help us stay independent at home? Guide us on walks, monitor health biometrics?” She needs this in 10 to 15 years, so get on it.
LG: Yeah, we got a lot of questions about this.
KS: Get on it.
LG: You know, for the sake of time I’ll just … All of these were very similar. We had one from Liz NASTY Weeks: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the possible efficiency and quality of life gains for home service care of robots?” Paul Page: “Can the tech in these robots be used to replace or advance wheelchairs, walkers, other devices that help the disabled?” Tony Fratto says, “When I’m old, I hope there will be a robot to help me around the house, pour drinks, pick me up if I fall down. If it can do back flips too, I guess that would be cool.”
KS: Talk about the care thing, because it is an interesting area. You were talking about also helping … these robots, you wear them. Dean Kamen, I remember, had that seat that helped people get downstairs in New York who were in wheelchairs, a new kind of wheelchair.
Most of my career before SRI, I worked in developing rehabilitation uses of robotics.
KS: Right, new arm and the grabbing.
I’ve done some working using robots for stroke rehabilitation. I actually understand that area. What I would say is that I’d left probably one of the best jobs in robotics, running the lab at SRI, to do this company, to solve the problems that they’re talking about in that question. We want this suit to be … our initial focus is a wellness focus. We want it to solve that problem. We want it to be available to people who are starting to lose strength because they’re aging, and being able to be more independent, live in their homes longer, using this super suit, Seismic suit tech.
It cuts both ways when you look at, now going to what other kinds of robots, like a robot waiter or maid in your home. Having a … The Boston Dynamics technology that you’re seeing is the precursor to those kinds of robots that can do more. I think the thing that’s missing in that robot and the thing … What Boston Dynamics is really known for is walking robots.
KS: Walking robots, yeah. It’s hard to do.
Yeah. What they’ve done — and they are the best at it bar none — but what you’re not seeing is arms and dexterous hands. That’s really one of the last horizons. So, the Amazon challenge … If you’re aware of what … What Amazon is interested in now they have all these mobile robots that they bought with Kiva, but they want hands at the end of those robots that can reach into bins and pick out one …
KS: Which people are now doing.
Right, which people are now doing. Again we have issues with having enough people to do it and it’s not a great job.
KS: Yeah, it’s a really interesting …
I actually think the arms … there’s a company called Moley Robotics, which is touting a set of arms that are a kitchen device, basically an appliance that you can have over your stove and they can make and prepare food for you. They look like two human arms with dexterous hands at the end. I think that kind of solution … I know it’s difficult to build something that’s consumer grade right now. We’re getting closer and closer, but even …
KS: What’s the timing? Kiva’s one of the most important acquisitions Amazon made. People don’t talk about that.
Think about this 10-year window that I just described. Even the iPhones that we all have, the smartphones, they took 10 years to become pervasive and also to create the kinds of applications that we’re now seeing, and even still there’s innovation. So if we say that within the next five to 10 years we can see that tech … which I think we’re right there.
Actually I’ve made this statement before, that I don’t think there’s a technology hurdle there. I think it’s a people hurdle. People ask me what was the key to our success at SRI. It wasn’t the technology, it was the people. It’s always the people. You know this when you’re interviewing about companies here, it’s really about the individuals that had the insight and that were able to apply the technology the right way.
KS: But in terms of technology, is this woman going to have to have HurryCane when she’s 10 to 15 years older, or is she going to have a HurryRobot?
LG: What do you mean by hurricane?
KS: HurryCane is a cane that old people use. It’s a very innovative cane. The HurryCane.
LG: Right. It sounds like what he’s saying is that when it comes to home care, the dexterity of robot hands is really going to matter.
KS: And movement, I think movement is one of those …
I think within 10 to 15 years we will see the first of those products emerging, and that will be useful.
KS: What about advanced wheelchairs and things like that?
People have been working on that for a long time. I don’t know why we haven’t been able to do better, so …
KS: I know, wheelchairs, they still regular wheelchairs. They work pretty well, like a book.
I’ve seen better design. But look at the technology we now are applying to cars. Why can’t you get in a wheelchair and have it move you around? They are a form of robot, in some regard, if you think about a mobile robot, and someone’s sitting in this mobile robot. But we haven’t quite figured out how to integrate the technology.
KS: The “X-Men” one was cool.
Yeah, it is.
KS: It just looked, like, bad … They look terrible.
Yeah, and so that comes back to a lot of … If I look at what I’m doing, I’m just in a startup trying to get … Like, how do you get it funded? How do you get your first … That process of getting the resources together, the team together, is part of the challenge in robotics to have this.
KS: Wheelchairs are mechanical. They’re not digital. I guess they just work.
You look at Google taking a shot at it, you’ve got Toyota putting a ton of money, you now have SoftBank putting a ton money. It’s not the money, it’s some combination of technology platform and people that know how to transfer it out.
KS: We have even more questions from our readers and listeners, but we’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. We’ll be back in a minute with Rich Mahoney from Seismic.
Next questions, go ahead.
LG: These questions are about …
KS: We’re back to jobs.
LG: We’re back to jobs, but more broadly industry and the economics of robots. Unni Sankar asks, “Why should a humanoid robot that back-flips comically, without earning a single dollar, get all the attention when more than 300,000 industrial robots silently work 24/7 in factories worldwide? Which impacts the bottom line of their owners and the top line of the vendors.” I think he’s more making a statement than asking a question, but it sounds like he’s saying these back-flipping robots are getting the attention and meanwhile …
Yeah, the reason for that is, I kind of alluded to it earlier.
KS: I’m sorry, I think it’s cool.
Yeah, besides that it’s cool — and I definitely think it’s cool — there’s not a lot of those videos that I see that I think are cool and that one I was excited about.
KS: Because you look at this videos, it’s like, “Eh, so what?”
Most of them, yeah.
KS: You’re one of those robot snobs. I know them.
I get my fix …
KS: My ex did a lot of robot stuff and she’d always like, “It’s nothing.” And I was like, “What are you talking about? It just pushed a tennis ball up a hill!” “So what?”
LG: Yeah, then Megan would take out a napkin and draw some design on it and be like, “This is how it should work.”
KS: She won at the robotics challenge at MIT.
That industrial automation that the question refers to is like a first case. We overlook it sometimes because we say industrial but it is a service robot application: People making things for other people. And we started to use robots to do that in a way that, yeah, at some level it was reducing labor, but we did it for a reason, because we could make higher-quality parts, we could make them faster.
If you look at … There was a chart I saw a few years ago, that the cost of durable goods compared to any other product has leveled off since the mid-1980s. The reason for that is because the use of technology automation has reduced, has maintained a fixed level of cost for those things.
So now you look at, again, the Boston Dynamics robot. Why is that important? Because we’re starting to see now new technologies, not just industrial-grade technologies but new component technologies in robotics that can serve the rest of the service industry, which is orders of magnitude bigger than manufacturing itself. So having robots that can go … Like, there’s a company, Savioke, that does bellhop kinds of robots in hotels.
KS: Yeah, the ones that come to the door, room service. There’s not going to be room service people any more.
LG: It’s remarkable, not only because it’s looks cool, but because you’re seeing that the components that are used to make those gears and make things work and stuff like that, are inherently more accessible now and affordable.
KS: I think room service robots is four years or five, I think …
They’re already deployed, they’re already happening.
KS: They’re deployed in restaurants, robot in the restaurant.
Any mobile robot that’s not manipulating something is just good business.
KS: So, this is one, “Shouldn’t robots pay taxes?” This is an issue, I think it was brought up by Mark Cuban, or someone was talking about this, or Bill Gates. “How would society function in the future with more robots than unemployed humans? So shouldn’t robots pay taxes?”
Then the second was, “Do you think there should be licensing requirements the way we have for those for architects, engineers and lawyers? How do we balance that against the employment opportunities created if the barriers to entry remains low?” Let’s talk about taxes and regulations and licensing.
I don’t think just a tax on service robots is going to be useful in any way. Because I think anything that impedes the application of them in an artificial way, I think, is not necessarily good. I think we do have to look at what the real impact is on the economy.
Right now — I think I was starting to say earlier — that this gap, this service gap, there’s a big demographic shift that’s going on. The population is aging. It’s already really intense in Japan and other Asian countries, that there’s not enough people to do the service jobs. I actually think that gap is going to drive the innovation. There’s a company in the Valley, Dishcraft, that is focused on dish-washing robots. It sounds very basic and simple, and why do we need this? But if you think about it …
LG: Sounds magical.
Yes, right. So imagine having that at home, but there’s huge industries, like restaurants and any kind of conference facilities, all need that kind of technology.
KS: Absolutely. All right, that leads us to the last question, go ahead.
LG: Sure, the last question is from Steve O’Dell.
KS: I’m for robot taxes, I say yes.
LG: But who’s going to represent them?
KS: They’ll get some robot lawyer.
LG: “No robot taxation without representation.”
KS: Going to be a real good lawyer. Robot lawyers, fine. I’m good with that.
LG: They’re going to have to go to robot school, like lawyers go to law school in order to get their license.
KS: No, they probably just shove that stuff in.
LG: There’s going to be a robot Bar exam.
KS: It’ll take two seconds, in two seconds to learn what it takes my brother 900 years to learn.
LG: All right, Steve O’Dell, @MileHighDevs.
KS: This is the last question for you. Rich has been so patient with our idiocy.
LG: I know, he really … [to Kara] Speak for yourself. “I keep seeing U.S.-built robots doing cool stuff with questionable utility, while Korea and Germany keep churning out products that immediately go to work. Where do you see the educational and R&D center of gravity in 10 years?”
KS: Yeah, that’s a good question. We’re stupid, we like them doing dumb things.
Yeah, I guess I don’t see that actually.
KS: I agree with Steve.
I think the U.S. is absolutely the innovative leader in robotic application and development. We’re not always — I definitely see this — that we’re not always the earlier adopters of that technology, and some of it is cultural, related to jobs and reaction to robots. Germany, Japan in particular, both adopt our technology sometimes faster than we …
KS: That’s interesting. Why is that? Because Cuban, I think, would say that China could get ahead of us in these areas, and we’re already at the forefront, and the worry was that …
Right, especially like China right now has much higher government support for the use of robotics. In the U.S., we have no support for the use of robotics. We actually have this issue that robots are bad and politicians are afraid to talk about robots because of the job issue. Whether for better or worse, it is what it is. It means that the application … If I look at Japan, there’s actually subsidies for products for seniors, robots that support seniors, because of the demographics, because of the cultural views of robotics in Japan. It is something that we have to pay attention to.
KS: What’s the difference? Why is it … because our politicians are freaking idiots.
I do think that we need some … we need a view of robotics that isn’t just a cultural reaction to them and right now there’s not …
KS: That is very true.
Yeah, there’s just not a good … The U.S. funds robotics, DARPA funds a tons of robotics, our innovators drive. Boston Dynamics is in Boston, the people came from MIT, it’s an American company that is capturing the attention of the world. But as a country we’re not necessarily early adopters and we’re …
KS: I think we’re in peak technology hating right now. All I’m getting is books about how technology is going to kill us.
Yeah, and for robots, though, that is definitely true. Other technologies maybe not as much. Maybe people aren’t realizing that there’s automation there that’s impacting us in ways that we’re afraid of for robots, but not totally following …
LG: Yeah, well, it’s really interesting, you brought up Kiva Systems, which was also a Boston company that Amazon ended up acquiring for their warehouses. It’s like, people probably aren’t making the connection when they go to amazon.com and they put, “I want same-day delivery,” “I want two-day delivery,” that they’re experiencing a really great convenience but the place it’s coming from is at least partially automated.
KS: Lots. Go look at all the videos.
LG: I mean, you can look at the food we eat every day. If you’re getting something from Big Ag, there’s some process that’s automated.
Yeah, and here’s another thing to think about in terms of what’s going to happen, is that that innovation and the problems that Amazon is focused on right now, this each pick problem, before when the robots were solving problems in manufacturing, they kind of put them in cages and they stayed there. When Amazons solves each pick, this dextrous picking of things, now I have something that can do things in my home, that can do things in restaurants. So I do think that the innovation that manufacturing and logistics are focused on now is going to open up more service applications.
KS: Absolutely, it’s going to be like AWS. It’s going to be … Amazon will have a … You can’t call it Amazon Logistic Services, ARS maybe. They’ll be the ones that will …
LG: You are in a name-picking mood today. I like this.
LG: Really, you’re brainstorming today for names for things.
KS: I like names.
KS: You can’t call it ALS, that’s a terrible disease that this perhaps will help solve.
But in any case, this has been fascinating. When we come back we’re going to talk about cyborgs and when we’re going to get human-looking … When’s that happening?
I think it’s already starting to happen. You’re seeing it. Yeah, you’re seeing it in the … Lauren was saying earlier, robots are moving, humanoid robots are moving like people.
KS: I mean face.
Oh, the face.
KS: You know, like “Humans,” that show. Do you like that show?
I do. I’m a science-fiction nut. So any kind of …
KS: I’m rooting for the … I can’t wait till they …
“Battlestar Galactica,” you’re talking about …
KS: No, no, no. “Humans.”
Yeah, sorry. I haven’t spent much time with that one yet.
KS: Yeah, they’re always mean to the robots so I’m rooting for the robots. I can’t wait till they wipe out the human race in that particular series, because they’re real mean.
That is part of the problem. Robots really won’t do anything to us that people don’t tell them to do right now.
KS: Steven Spielberg did a great … It wasn’t a great film but it was interesting, about that, about the humanity, and of course in “Blade Runner,” you don’t realize who’s a robot and who’s a replicant, which is interesting.
LG: I have one more question before we let you go. Which is, if you are someone who’s interesting in getting in the robotics industry …
KS: Yeah, where do you go? MIT.
LG: You’re looking at the next 10 years, are you looking … Should you be looking at programming robots? Should you be looking at programming automated systems? Where are the jobs going to be?
It’s a really good question. The thing about robots …
KS: It’s a good question.
LG: Just when I leave you Kara, I’m going to do robot stuff.
But that’s just that robots are everything. I look in my company, I’ve got electrical engineers, mechanical engineers. I’ve got data scientists. I’ve got software engineers. I now have UX designers. I have public relations specialists. As the robotics industry grows, every aspect of business operations is going to be needed.
KS: We need someone to tell the story, to tell the story.
What I always tell people is, whatever they’re interested in, the best thing you can do and that is really amazing in robotics now is just make them. You can buy robot kits. There’s so much available to you.
KS: What’s a popular one this year, the little tiny round one. It’s super popular. What’s it called? My kid wants one. Mini? There’s a new robotics kit out this year.
Yeah, I don’t think I know that one.
KS: Yeah, it’s real popular. It was in one of The Verge’s lists, or one of them was.
LG: Was it?
But that’s why, when I’m looking to hire people, I’m really looking for people that are obsessed with making them, that they can talk about the different types of motors and the different types of software. It’s so accessible.
So my access to robots came through science fiction. I read avidly growing up. There weren’t really the clubs and kits that are available now. That’s what I really tell people to do. And then just look for — and it’s in every company also, all companies are really looking at … I saw something recently about a new C-suite title called chief robotics officer, that companies, automobile manufacturers, have used robotics. But think about Pepsi or whomever, with their warehouse and logistics, they understand how to use robotics. So it really is going to be pervasive across all the industries.
KS: What’s the best school right now, schools?
The top schools are, everybody knows, MIT and Stanford and Berkeley.
KS: Of robotics.
For robotics. Carnegie Mellon has a really longstanding relationship — I’m sorry, reputation — for robotics. I think that there are lots of other. Any good engineering school that … Any good mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, computer engineering, all of those degrees are going to support, are going to be useful for robotics.
KS: Yeah, and there’s also the robotics challenges, like Dean Kamen does. What’s that called?
KS: FIRST Robotics. There’s all kinds of stuff like that.
Yeah, there are so many people, so many young people that get to participate in robotics. It’s really great. Even if you look at high school clubs — again, it’s not every person has to be a programmer. You need someone who’s a project manager. I’ve got a son now I’m advising for college and I’m like, “You’re so good at thinking about lots of different things.” A mechanical engineer isn’t necessarily a great project leader, and so we need people that can manage teams and think about the market. I think there’s a lot of opportunities …
KS: So there’s a growth area in building robots that will replace us. No, I’m teasing you. After all that …
That will enhance the quality of our lives, is how I like to think of it.
KS: I’m teasing you. We want you to come back and talk more about robotics and cyborgs in the future.
KS: We’ll be back, right?
LG: Yeah, maybe next time it will be the real Kara too, not a replicant.
KS: You totally missed my joke. Eric got my joke.
LG: I got the joke, Arnold.
KS: Arnold. “I’ll be back.” He’s got to stop saying that, I think, and so do I.
All right, this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed To Ask. Rich, really, thank you so much for putting up with us.
KS: We appreciate it.
LG: Thank you, Rich.
This ain’t your grandpa’s Walmart.
When Walmart paid $ 3 billion for Jet.com and its founder Marc Lore, the promise was that the entrepreneur would help the retailer appeal to new types of customers.
Here’s the next step in that evolution.
A new Walmart subsidiary, called Code Eight, has recently started testing a personal shopping service for “busy NYC moms,” according to multiple sources, with the goal of letting them get product recommendations and make purchases simply through text messaging.
The target customer of Code Eight is described in an online job listing as a “high net worth urban consumer” — translation: A rich city dweller — certainly not the historical sweet spot for Walmart’s main business.
Household items are delivered for free within 24 hours; other purchases are delivered within two business days. Returns are picked up for free at a customer’s apartment building or house.
Walmart’s startup incubator, Store No. 8, is also working on another under-the-radar project, dubbed Project Kepler. This effort aims to reimagine the in-store shopping experience with the help of technologies like computer vision.
Multiple people familiar with the project tell Recode that one goal of the initiative is the creation of physical stores that would operate without checkout lines or cashiers — in a similar fashion to Amazon’s futuristic Amazon Go store, which was announced a year ago but has yet to open to the public.
A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment.
Taken together, these Walmart initiatives mark a major leap in the vision for the type of businesses Walmart will operate, and customers it will serve, five or 10 years down the line. But since both business strategies are in early stages, there is no guarantee that either will develop into a long-term business or launch widely.
Walmart had previously announced that Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Fleiss is heading up Code Eight, but has revealed little to no details about the startup.
Recode has learned that Code Eight plans to eventually charge a membership fee, but current testers are using it for free. The personal-shopping service is currently focused on items in “health & beauty, household essentials and apparel/accessories” categories, according to a job listing. It’s not clear if the startup is sourcing this inventory from Walmart and its subsidiaries, or from outside retailers.
Code Eight has told early users that they can order products simply by texting a photo of it. They can also message with a general request for a type of product they need, and leave it up to the service to pick the specific item for them; customers fill out a survey upon joining that is supposed to help personalize their experience.
One source says that the Code Eight product has the appearance of an automated bot, but seems like a human is actually the one communicating on the other end of the message. That may change over time.
“[W]e set our sights on taking the lead in conversational commerce by leveraging machine learning, NLP, and personalization algorithms,” a Code Eight job listing reads. NLP refers to natural language processing — essentially, how a computer turns a human’s spoken or written request into instructions it can process.
The Project Kepler project focused on the future of in-store shopping is being led by Mike Hanrahan, the co-founder and former chief technology officer for Jet.com, multiple sources tell Recode. It is located in Hoboken, N.J., where Jet is based.
A Project Kepler job listing for a “computer vision engineer” says that the role will involve creating a “best-in-class consumer experience in the physical retail space.”
Amazon’s Go concept uses a combination of sensors and cameras to track what each store shopper takes off of shelves so it can automatically bill them for their purchase without their having to stop to pay on the way out. The store’s launch has been severely delayed, however, with reports that the technology did not work well when the store was crowded.
Walmart is envisioning a similar system that would potentially eliminate the need for cashiers in stores outfitted with the technology. Walmart has more than two million employees worldwide, many of whom work at checkout.
But it’s possible that the Project Kepler technology would be used in new types of store formats, rather than be retrofitted for existing stores. This project is just one of several across Walmart focused on what the retail store of the future should look like, according to a source.