Thursday, May 11, 2017

The strange future of robots is almost here

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dismissed the idea that robots may soon take over our jobs, saying it wasn’t even on his radar screen for the next 50 to 100 years. But experts say between 20 and 40 per cent of jobs worldwide are at risk of automation by the early 2030s.

The majority of robots today are glorified mechanical arms working in motor vehicle and other assembly plants. And it won’t be long before robots enter all areas of life from self-drive cars to hospital patient care and beyond. But robots are also being considered for applications you may not have thought about.

Interviewing children who are victims of child abuse is not only a confronting task, it’s also full of pitfalls. Children may be unwilling to confide in adult strangers even when they are police officers. It’s also hard for investigators to remain neutral when presented with distressing evidence and their reaction may skew testimony, resulting in bad evidence.

Robots, being emotionless devices, can control their vocal tone, facial expressions and body language much better than humans. Some studies have found that children are more willing to confide in a robot; although others suggest children may be more likely to embroider their testimony to prolong their contact with the robot.

On the other side of the equation, computer-generated children have already been used by law-enforcement agencies to trap and prosecute hundreds of paedophiles in online chat rooms. More controversially, it’s been suggested that child-shaped robots could provide a low-risk avenue for objective study and treatment of paedophiles.

The future of robots will be stranger than you imagine.

This article originally appeared in Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here -

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The dying art of book autographs

I love ebooks. I love their convenience, price and virtual indestructibility. But the one thing they can't give you is that personal author autograph experience. I've been lucky to collect quite a few autographs over the years. You can see some of my favourites in my Google Album