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posted by martyb on Wednesday April 27 2016, @12:17AM   Printer-friendly
from the operators-used-to-connect-phone-calls dept.

Yoav Hollander has an interesting post at The Foretellix Blog about the rise of mostly-autonomous systems (MOAS), systems which are normally autonomous, but still have “operators standing by” for the infrequent-but-crucial moments when they are needed. According to Hollander, the main reason we will have mostly autonomous systems in the future is that it is much, much, much easier to automate (and verify) 97% of the required behavior than it is to automate 100%. Full autonomy is perhaps possible, but is really hard and some claim completely autonomous systems will never be achieved, percisely because of these rare-but-hard-to-handle cases. Even if it can be achieved eventually, economics and common-sense dictate that we’ll first go through this mostly-autonomous stage.

Some examples of mostly-autonomous systems already in use or development include airline pilots, automated answering services, chatbots, autonomous vehicles, and military robots. For example, Everybody and their brother are now creating chatbots based on machine learning (ML), which help in scheduling, pizza ordering and so on. "In the past two years, companies offering do-anything concierges (Magic, Facebook’s M, GoButler); shopping assistants (Operator, Mezi); and e-mail schedulers (X.ai, Clara) have sprung up. The goal for most of these businesses is to require as few humans as possible. People are expensive. They don’t scale. They need health insurance. But for now, the companies are largely powered by people, clicking behind the curtain and making it look like magic."

[Continues...]

What are the implications for MOAS on future employment? According to Hollander, there will be new occupations but they will not compensate for all the jobs lost to automation and one of the main new jobs will be “operators of mostly-autonomous systems." As a concrete example, consider the future Assistive-Robots-R-Us corporation (motto: “Making the elderly and the disabled independent again”). They rent their robots for a weekly fee, and their sales guy swears on a stack of bibles that by golly, when an emergency occurs and a remote operator needs to take control, an operator will absolutely be there in A-R-R-U’s headquarters, ready and able to assist. In fact, this is why A-R-R-U is so popular: people trust it, A-R-R-U's MOAS operators will be smart problem solvers: This is probably not going to be a low-paid, simple job – all the simple stuff will be automated away. "The typical MOAS operator will be a smart, interdisciplinary problem solver – she gets all the odd situations, and is measured on customer satisfaction and avoidance of bad outcomes."


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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @12:33AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @12:33AM (#337683)

    If you are doing the same thing pretty much every time. Then yes automate it. Tasks such as flying a plane are 99.99% of the time very uneventful and follow the procedure. It is that 0.01% where things get exciting. Things such as ordering food at mcdonalds is ripe for automation. Because you are basically telling someone what you want who then translates it into the control panel which puts the order in front of a cook who follows the method prescribed by mcdonalds. All steps that could be automated. Something like a car mechanic is probably not something that could be automated. As it takes some amount of skill to divide and conquer the problem and pretty much every car is different. Oh and make sure you are not blindly replacing things and pissing off the customer.

    https://xkcd.com/1205/ [xkcd.com]
    https://xkcd.com/1319/ [xkcd.com]

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  • (Score: 2) by slinches on Wednesday April 27 2016, @01:13AM

    by slinches (5049) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @01:13AM (#337690)

    If the threshold is 99% or higher, then my job (aerospace engineer) is fairly safe. I don't think I've done the same thing twice more than a handful of times in the last ten years.

  • (Score: 2) by Tork on Wednesday April 27 2016, @02:30AM

    by Tork (3914) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @02:30AM (#337714)
    Not even the nightly sanitation of the cooking equipment and the cleaning of bathrooms can be automated right now, it's gonna be a while.
    --
    Slashdolt Logic: "23 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
    • (Score: 2) by julian on Wednesday April 27 2016, @03:02AM

      by julian (6003) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @03:02AM (#337734)

      Sure it could, you'd just have to redesign the entire restaurant. Instead of having a fleshy meat-bot move parts/fluids around, and actuate valves and switches--design the system that these things can be done electronically/mechanically. All the waste flows to the drains/dumpsters as normal, but by gravity or conveyor instead of a teenager bagging and dragging. Maybe one technician comes by every day to make sure the whole thing is humming along nicely; it'll self report every attribute over the Internet at millisecond resolution anyway so you'll know when something is failing.

      "But it costs too much to gut an entire restaurant and replace it with automated equipment!"

      Yes, it does *now*. Will it always cost more? Probably not...and sooner than you think. Are we ready for permanent 25% unemployment, and growing every year?

      • (Score: 2) by TheLink on Wednesday April 27 2016, @04:06AM

        by TheLink (332) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @04:06AM (#337762) Journal
        Yeah. Imagine if McD spends all that money to have nearly fully automated McD outlets - food making robots, self-service/online ordering, lots of identical self-cleaning toilets/dining areas, janitor bots in McDonalds with just one or two human cashiers/managers for human-human stuff, and a handful of engineers on shift to support dozens of outlets in an area. With robot trucks delivering the food directly to special receptacles (all very sanitary and untouched by human hands).

        Only to find they now have near nonexistent customers since the richer people rarely eat at McDonalds and the poor people no longer have jobs that pay them well enough or have enough spare time to buy food from McDonalds even though it is now cheaper with all the savings.

        In short if you remove humans from the picture what's the point in having a system that serves humans (unless it's for free)?

        That's why many people think that a system with Basic Income might be a better "upgrade path" for society despite potential concerns and issues. And I agree that's the better path if your country can afford it (can achieve the productivity per capita)

        The people in other (mostly poorer) countries that can't afford or can't implement the bots and basic income would be competing against the rich world's bots that get more and more efficient. Initially they would probably do OK and be competitive (which is partly why the workers in the rich country are losing jobs or getting worse jobs ) but later on...
        • (Score: 2) by cafebabe on Saturday May 07 2016, @10:58PM

          by cafebabe (894) on Saturday May 07 2016, @10:58PM (#343036) Journal

          they now have near nonexistent customers since the richer people rarely eat at McDonalds and the poor people no longer have jobs that pay them well enough or have enough spare time to buy food from McDonalds even though it is now cheaper with all the savings.

          As I noted in a previous discussion spurred by McDonald's [soylentnews.org]:-

          You're either in the luxury market or the commodity market. If your employees cannot afford your products then you're in the luxury market.

          --
          1702845791×2
      • (Score: 2) by Tork on Wednesday April 27 2016, @04:15AM

        by Tork (3914) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @04:15AM (#337766)

        All the waste flows to the drains/dumpsters as normal, but by gravity or conveyor instead of a teenager bagging and dragging.

        Uh, no. I'm not talking about waste management, I'm talking about anything that touches food needs to be cleaned, at minimum, on a daily basis. I mean scrubbed using a sanitizer. The grill, the fryers, even the soft-drink dispensers. Anything customer-facing is very difficult to automate in the first place, when you start getting into areas where sanitary conditions affect the health of the customers you start running into use cases that not only have to deal with gov't regulations, but also plain old customer satisfaction. All they have to do is THINK the equipment isn't being cleaned and they're gone.

        McDonalds will be the last place to become fully automated, not the first.

        --
        Slashdolt Logic: "23 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
        • (Score: 3, Informative) by julian on Wednesday April 27 2016, @06:39AM

          by julian (6003) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @06:39AM (#337824)

          Cleaning a cooking surface reduces to two functions: mechanical removal of waste debris (carbonized food/fuel stuff) and disinfection. The second part is often obviated by the first process. Think of a grill, it's sterile almost all the time because it's heated to several hundred degrees.

          Are you really suggesting that it's impossible to produce a self-cleaning stove that heats, scrapes, douses with disinfectant, and rinses, itself?

          And why would my drive-up automated restaurant have bathrooms? Let the customers deal with that on their own. Do soda vending machines have bathrooms? Not my problem.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @05:02AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @05:02AM (#337785)

      Oh I agree. The ordering of food probably is going to be fully automated in 5 years. The cooking not so much. The cleaning of the restaurant not so much. It will happen though. Most of automation is removing variability. For example your example of cleaning a restroom. It is a mater of getting everything down to standard well understood sizes and shapes.

      It will come down to ability and cost. Like you point out machines can not at this time clean themselves. It is probably a system that could be automated though. However, something like punching in the orders *can*. Just 2 dudes for 15 hours at 15 an hour the store is open running the registers (understaffed btw) is about 80k a year. If you can clear that cost you are ROI in under a year (many companies like 3-5). They are also not as big of a hassle to deal with. You do not have to go thru 'the list' and beg people to come into work. Most businesses will jump at that. I know of one chain restaurant that already has.

      • (Score: 2) by Tork on Wednesday April 27 2016, @06:02AM

        by Tork (3914) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @06:02AM (#337811)
        The two dudes that take the orders are the same two dudes that maintain the lobby, ie clean the tables, mop the floors, and restock condiments. You're correct that man-hours of work would be saved, but how that affects the staffing level is entirely uncertain. It's possible that accuracy of orders is the *only* benefit they get from it.
        --
        Slashdolt Logic: "23 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @04:49PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @04:49PM (#338018)

          Instead of needing 2 dudes you now need 1. It is a removal of a person and an increase of productivity for the one remaining.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @08:33PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27 2016, @08:33PM (#338126)

      Well, with failures in NYC, SF, and Seattle, the USA clearly can't get its shit together (See what I did there?) but there are lots of places around the globe [google.com] that have figured out the self-cleaning loo. [mashable.com]

      each automatic unmanned toilet cleans itself before entry and after use. They come equipped with sensors for exhaust fan and light to ensure that they consume less water and power than conventional toilets.
      [...]
      It also washes the floor automatically after five or ten rounds.
      [...]
      the cost of each toilet is approximately [...] $6,630
      [...]
      can be located through an Android app called eToilet
      [...]
      developed indigenously by Eram Scientific Solution, an Indian social enterprise that has already installed over 1,600 eToilets in private buildings and schools

      -- OriginalOwner_ [soylentnews.org]