Robots may build your next home

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The future of US homebuilding depends on more people like Cyndicy Yarborough, a 26-year-old former Wal-Mart clerk with no background in construction.

At Blueprint Robotics in Baltimore, she works in a factory that builds houses like cars, on an assembly line, using robots that fire thousands of nails into studs each day and never miss. Yarborough operates a machine that lifts floors and walls and packs them onto a flatbed truck, the final step before delivery to a development site where they’ll be pieced together.

“I like being a part of something new, on the cutting edge,” said Yarborough, a single mother who took the job at Blueprint last May.


For all the concern over automation removing jobs from the workforce, companies like Blueprint are actually helping to ease a labour shortage


For all the concern over automation removing jobs from the workforce, companies like Blueprint are actually helping to ease a labour shortage that has crimped construction of residences and commercial properties across the country.

The plants enable developers to fill the gap by having houses and apartment buildings manufactured off-site, for less money and in a fraction of the time. Even Marriott International Inc., the world’s biggest hotel operator, is increasingly turning to modular construction for some of its properties.

To meet growing demand, high-tech plants are opening, and older factories that were shuttered after the last decade’s real estate crash — many in areas such as rural Pennsylvania, where labour costs are cheap — are being revived. Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections, which are transported on trucks, then laid down on foundations by cranes, like giant Legos. Sometimes the modules are fully framed rooms, complete with tile showers and gourmet kitchens.

“This has to be the wave of the future — I don’t know how we solve the labour shortage otherwise,” said John Burns, an Irvine, California-based homebuilding consultant. “What drives modular construction is the ability to build the house more cost-effectively.”

US homebuilders say the labour crunch is their biggest challenge, and that it’s pushing costs up as much as 5.2pc on average, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo surveys last year. President Donald Trump’s proposals to crack down on undocumented workers may further squeeze the industry, one heavily dependent on immigrant labour.

The idea of transporting homes in prefabricated sections has roots in the early 1900s, when homesteaders could buy kits from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue for assembly on their newly acquired plots of land. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became increasingly popular to build lower-cost homes in factories, according to Gary Fleisher, who runs a blog for the industry called Modularhomecoach.com.

Today’s plants are capable of producing bigger buildings with more elaborate designs. The Blueprint factory in Baltimore is one of the first in the US to use robots, Fleisher said.

Taller multifamily buildings, dorms and hotels are increasingly being manufactured indoors. And so are mansions that sell for millions.

“Some builders won’t even advertise they work with modular companies like us,” said Myles Biggs, general manager of Ritz-Craft Corp.’s Pennsylvania construction facility. “You could be driving past a modular home and not even know it, because it looks just like one next door.”

Ritz-Craft can deliver a single-family house in six to eight weeks, on average. Having an indoor facility means weather delays are rarely a factor. Each worker is given a narrow concentration, like tiling floors or sanding drywall, which increases production speed. People without any background in construction can become skilled labourers in two weeks, according to Biggs.

The idea is catching on with Marriottt, which aims to have agreements with North American developers this year to produce about 50 of its Select branded hotels in factories, said Karim Khalifa, senior vice president of global design strategies. In December, Marriott opened a Fairfield Inn in Folsom, California, with 97 rooms — all built at a Guerdon Enterprises plant in Boise, Idaho.

Last month, a collection of Marriott hotel rooms was getting wood-framed walls and ceilings at a Champion Homes factory in Liverpool, Pennsylvania. Even the beds and televisions will be in place before the boxes are shipped through stretches of highway and stacked in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, next month.

“What we like is how well modular is built,” Khalifa said. “These things have all been designed to be transported. They have the integrity of a shipping container.”

Apartment developers, too, are increasingly going with modular construction, especially in fast-growing cities such as Denver and Nashville, Tennessee, said Rich Rozycki, head of Champion Homes’ commercial division, which has seen its pipeline grow 50pc since 2014. The company also has had discussions with national homebuilders looking for a solution to their labour problems, he said.

Labour costs are more favourable for factory construction, according to David Reed, vice president of Champion’s modular division. Workers make about $15 to $20 an hour in rural Pennsylvania. That compares with $50 to $100 an hour in the markets the manufacturers serve, like New York’s Hudson Valley, and the Washington, D.C., area, Reed said.

Builder Kris Megna works with Champion to create houses as large as 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) in the pricey suburbs of Boston. Megna, 31, who founded Dreamline Modular Homes in 2010, said almost any custom design is possible, even though the modules can’t be much bigger than 60 feet by 16 feet (18 meters by 5 meters). Walls between sections can be knocked down for open-concept kitchens, and cut-outs can create vaulted ceilings, he said.

“The house is 60pc complete when it arrives, and that means 60pc of the headaches of building are gone,” Megna said.

— Bloomberg/The Washington Post Service

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, April 24th, 2017

KP, Chinese firms sign 11 agreements

Beijing: KP Local Government Secretary Syed Jamal Uddin Shah and a Chinese official are signing five memoranda of understanding for development projects on Monday.—APP
Beijing: KP Local Government Secretary Syed Jamal Uddin Shah and a Chinese official are signing five memoranda of understanding for development projects on Monday.—APP

BEIJING: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Monday signed 11 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Chinese companies for development projects in the province under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

According to a press release, MoUs were signed for five projects costing up to Rs60 billion. These projects are related to CPEC Tower, construction of a new bus terminal at Chamkani, Ring Road missing link, Health City at Regi Model Town, and Commercial and Residential Reconstruction Centre.

Local Government Secretary Jamal Shah signed the MoUs on behalf of the KP government. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Minister for Local Government Inayatullah and Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) Director General Salim Watto were also present on the occasion.

These projects will be jointly executed by PDA and Chinese companies, the press release said.

The construction of the Ring Road missing link will cost up to Rs12bn while that of the new general bus stand at Chamkani will cost Rs10bn. The construction of CPEC Tower will be carried out at Rs5bn while that of Health City at Regi Model Township is estimated to cost up to Rs22bn.

The initial estimate for the construction cost of Commercial and Residential Reconstruction Centre is around Rs11bn.

PC-1s of these projects are complete, it said. The Chinese authorities will soon visit Pakistan to finalise the execution process, said Mr Watto.

Other development projects are related to information technology, special economic zones, power plants, oil refinery, infrastructure and e-commerce.

Speaking at the MoU signing ceremony, Mr Khattak invited Chinese companies to take advantage of the investment-friendly environment in KP.

“We have set the stage to begin the journey of industrialisation in the province. We need the support of our iron brothers to put the province on the path of development and economic growth,” he said.

Appreciating the One Belt, One Road Initiative, he said the CPEC is its flagship component and stressed that business, cultural and social cooperation between Pakistan and China should be further enhanced.

Mr Khattak said a strong security force comprising 4,500 personnel has been established for the protection of foreign workforce, including Chinese nationals.

While emphasising the importance of the CPEC, China-Pakistan Friendship Association President Sha Zhu Kang said the success of One Belt, One Road initiative is linked with the CPEC, which he termed the pilot project of the grand scheme.

He said the proposed corridor stretching from Kashgar to Gwadar will bring about economic and social progress.

He said Chinese companies are already working in KP and providing job opportunities to a large number of locals.

Ambassador Khalid said that around 86 projects, including those in energy, agriculture and infrastructure sectors, will be presented for investment and cooperation. He said the KP chief minister’s visit to China, second in the last four months, underscores the importance of the CPEC and Sino-Pak relations.

The ambassador said all political parties in Pakistan are on the same page as far as Sino-Pak relations are concerned.

He said the CPEC is showing steady progress. Now the Gwadar port is operational and energy and infrastructure projects are being completed in time, he added.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2017

Conversation with Careem Pakistan

The CEO of Careem Pakistan talks about how Careem plans to make further inroads into the Pakistani market.

Co-founded by a Pakistani, Mudassir Sheikha, and Magnus Olsson, Founder and MD, Careem began operations in the UAE in 2012. Talha bin Hamid speaks to Junaid Iqbal, CEO, Careem Pakistan, to find more about what Careem’s game plan is as far as making further inroads into the Pakistani market is concerned.

TALHA BIN HAMID: When did Careem decide to enter the Pakistani market?
JUNAID IQBAL:
Careem started toying with the idea of launching in Pakistan in early 2015, and various pilots were run that year. We began a test launch in October 2015 when I joined Careem, and we launched in March 2016.

TBH: Which factors prompted Careem’s entry into Pakistan?
JI:
Several reasons; the first is the fact that Pakistan is severely underserviced when it comes to public transport and establishing Careem in Pakistan was a great way to create jobs. Secondly, our technology is ‘Made In Pakistan’, so it is only fair that our people should benefit from it. However, it is important to remember that Careem is a platform, not a service provider; ride hailers and providers connect with each other using our technology, but that does not make us a transport company.

TBH: In late January, the Punjab Government’s Provincial Transport Authority declared that ride-hailing services such as Careem were operating outside regulatory boundaries in Lahore. How easy it was to work with the regulatory agencies to resolve the issues?
JI:
In almost every country, regulatory bodies have caused the growth of businesses such as ours to lag initially, and the debate around the world has focused on the distinction between the platform and the service provider. Close to 100 countries are now in the process of formulating new regulations in this regard and close to 20 have already done so; Pakistan was no different in that sense because the regulatory bodies in Pakistan considered us to be a car rental company, which we are not; our argument was simple: if we offer a doctors-on-demand service, would that make us a hospital? Of course not. The good news is that we are now engaged with all the provinces in a consultative process aimed at developing new laws specific to an online platform like ours, and we are very excited about working with our Government. In the long run, these laws will help other online platforms, such as AirBnB if and when they come to Pakistan. However, it does mean that when new laws come into play, platforms such as ours will have to meet the requirements set by the regulator.

TBH: How does Careem differentiate itself from Uber and other competing services?
JI:
Firstly, we provide multiple ways of booking a car: one the phone, through the web and via our app. Secondly, we have three options as far as booking a ride is concerned: now, later and repeat. Most of our competitors only provide the ‘now’ option. Thirdly, we have several types of cars, which cater to various income segments: Go, Go+ and Business; whereas our competitors only have one. Fourthly, we have a mobile wallet that our customers can top up with cash. Most importantly, the Pathfinder Group headed by Ikram Sehgal, runs very comprehensive background checks on our captains. No other company does anything even remotely close.

TBH: What are the processes in terms of recruiting Careem’s captains and conducting the necessary background?
JI:
It is a five-step process: sign up, attend our training session, pass our driving test, get your car’s fitness certificate from CarSure and then submit your paperwork for a background check. Our background checks are very comprehensive; we check our drivers’ NIC with NADRA and their driving license from the relevant authority. After that, a verification officer visits and verifies the prospective driver’s home, records its exact geographic location, and conducts a reputation check in the neighbourhood. He also gets a police certificate from the neighbourhood. If even one of these items is not verified, the person cannot be a captain on our platform.


“Being a Careem captain involves a five-step process: sign up, attend our training session, pass our driving test, get your car’s fitness certificate from CarSure and then submit your paperwork for a background check.”


TBH: What factors are considered when Careem collaborates with services and events such as FindMyDoctor and Karachi Eat Festival?
JI:
We feel that technology is a progressive force and it is our responsibility to use our platform to facilitate other initiatives aimed at enriching our community. That is why we take pride in working with such partners because we feel that they are playing their part in making Pakistan a better place.

TBH: Given the local flavour of Careem’s of promotions, such as the Shadi Care and the Rickshaw Service, are these ideas generated locally or at your headquarters in the UAE?
JI:
Careem is a hyperlocal company, and ideas are generated and executed on a city-to city-level. Each city has to find ways of integrating itself in the community and our marketing teams come up with their own set of ideas.

TBH: What are Careem Pakistan’s short-term objectives in Pakistan?
JI:
By 2020, our aim is to create one million job opportunities, attract $10 billion in terms of investment in the public transport infrastructure, and have a presence in an all urban and sub-urban cities.

TBH: What are the main challenges Careem faces?
JI:
Finding good talent, including captains, and ensuring the processes involved in conducting background checks are watertight.

Note: This interview was conducted on February 12.

Source: Dawn News

Apple enters self-driving car race

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SAN FRANCISCO: Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too.

Ending years of speculation, Apple’s late entry into a crowded field was made official on Friday with the disclosure that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had awarded a permit for the company to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state.

The permit covers three vehicles all 2015 Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUVs and six individual drivers. California law requires people to be in a self-driving car who can take control if something goes wrong. Apple confirmed its arrival in the self-driving car market, but wouldn’t discuss its intentions. Its interest in autonomous vehicle technology, however, has long been clear.

The Cupertino, California, company pointed to a statement that it issued in December. ” Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” the company said then. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation.” Apple released that statement after Steve Kenner, a former Ford Motor executive who is now Apple’s director of product integrity, notified federal regulators of the company’s interest in self-driving cars in a letter.

Like others, Apple believes self-driving cars could ease congestion, prevent millions of crashes and save thousands of lives annually in traffic accidents often caused by drunk or distracted motorists.

Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market. And Apple has been searching for its next act for a while, one that will take it beyond its mainstay phones, tablets and personal computers.

Although iPhone’s ongoing popularity has helped Apple remain the world’s most valuable company, the company hasn’t had a breakthrough product since the 2010 debut of the iPad, currently in the throes of a three-year sales slump. The dry spell has raised doubts as to whether Apple lost some of its trend-setting magic with the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.

Apple will be vying against 29 other companies that already have California permits to test self-driving cars. The list includes major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla, as well as one of its biggest rivals in technology, Google, whose testing of self-driving cars has been spun off into an affiliate called Waymo.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2017

Policy being finalised for biomass technology

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ISLAMABAD: Policy recommendations were finalised to support the use of biomass technology in industry at a consultative stakeholders’ workshop held on Friday.

The event was organised by the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

The finalised policy recommendations will be submitted to the AEDB for making the necessary changes in existing policies, regulations and procedures related to biomass.

The quality standards will be used by the customs department of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to ensure that only gasifiers complying with the stated standards are imported in the country.

Recognising the need for tapping all possible energy sources available to Pakistan, especially renewable sources such as biomass, UNIDO is implementing a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project on “promoting sustainable energy production and use from biomass in Pakistan”. The project aims to promote market-based adoption of modern biomass technologies for industrial and rural energy applications with particular focus on the introduction of biomass gasification technology.

The consultative stakeholder workshop was attended by over seventy experts, including representatives from AEDB, the National Electric and Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), provincial energy departments, private sector, academia and several other stakeholders.

United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne described biomass as a ‘huge resource’ for the country with immense benefits. He linked promoting biomass with the achievement of several sustainable goals and highlighted the importance of biomass as part of the larder bio-economy with volume of over $2 trillion globally.

AEDB Chief Executive Officer Amjad Ali Awan, who chaired the meeting, highlighted the importance of biomass energy technologies both as a means to address energy challenges in the country and an important opportunity to save fuel and diversify its energy mix to include clean indigenous energy sources.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017

NED’s all-girl tech start-up deploys laser tag at Arena

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZ

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZ

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZWith the aim of not having their final year project gather dust in library files, the group decided to build a product that will actually see the light of day and built the hardware for the shooting game, Armez. PHOTO: COURTESY ARMEZ

KARACHI: It is not every day that a final year project at a Pakistani public university becomes a successful commercial venture. But that is precisely what happened with Armez – the engineering project of four NED University students – that recently replaced the famous paintball shooting game at Arena recreational facility in Karachi.

Armez is essentially a world famous laser tag game. However, what sets it apart is the fact that it is the final year project of four girls who created everything from scratch. With their meagre pocket money and limited technological resources, the NED students worked day and night building the hardware for the shooting game and breaking gender stereotypes in the process. A successful deal with Arena only goes to show the promise these young graduates and their budding tech start-up holds.

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From idea to product

The team comprises four students of NED University’s electronics engineering department – Sheena, Nimra Idrees Fazil, Ramla Kaleem Shah and Tahniat Hasan Khan – and their mentor, Dr Muhammad Khurram. A professor at NED’s computer and information systems department, Khurram served as the project director while research, electronics and manufacturing work was done by the students.

With the aim to not have their final year project gather dust in library files, team member Khan says the group decided to build a product that will actually see the light of day. “Our mentor pitched this idea and we knew right away it will have market value both in terms of gaming and defence training,” Khan shares.

In a start-up culture dominated by software products, says another member, Shah, making hardware merchandise sets Armez apart from other young enterprises.

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Fun and games

As Fazil describes, Armez provides first-person shooting game experience out in the open, enabling Counter Strike enthusiasts to practise and strategise tactics and be proactive and defensive in a physical environment with real people. “We want to change the way people approach gaming activities and promote live action sport,” she says.

In addition to providing socially-involved gaming experience, team member Khan says Armez can also be used to provide military training to citizens on the lines of National Cadet Corps – the civil-defence training imparted to college students in the past by Pakistan Army.

Foray into business world

On the successful deal with Arena, Sheena says the group held a demo session with 10 sets of their equipment to show what the experience entails and that is when they were noticed by Arena. “In the following meetings, we were able to satisfy their demands; we successfully deployed and tested our equipment in their recreational facility and now it is available to the general public,” Sheena shares. On the first day, 82 games were played at Arena highlighting the popularity of the made-in-Pakistan game.

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With one customer already in their income statement, Sheena says the group plans to provide their products and services to other gaming ventures in Pakistan and eventually abroad.

Their mentor, Khurram, says the response to their product has been very appreciative and it has given them hope that there’s a market for quality products and services made in Pakistan. “The commercial deal with Arena is a jump-start. The indicators are positive as we have created a market and our product is commercially viable. There is no stopping us now – we have big plans for the future,” he shares.

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How it works?

In an Armez game, players are provided with laser guns – instead of paint ones – and jackets embedded with sensors. When the jacket is hit by a laser, the player feels a little vibration and small bulbs indicating ‘game lives’ on the jacket light up to show ‘health level’. The gun stops working when a player’s ‘health level’ reaches its limit. All the hits and their timings are recorded and are displayed on a computer screen to keep track of the game.

Source: Tribune News

‘Israeli’ Android spy app designed to hack smartphones

Security researchers at Google and Lookout have discovered an extremely sophisticated Android app capable of spying on users by hacking their smartphone’s camera and microphone.

Called Chrysaor, the spyware seems to be linked to Pegasus, a notorious program found to be targeting iPhone users last year and is suspected of being created by Israeli firm NSO Group Technologies.

Google and Lookout announced the discovery of the spyware last week. The app which, was not available to download from Google Play, has been discovered on less than three dozen devices.

“A few [potentially harmful application] authors spend substantial effort, time, and money to create and install their harmful app on one or a very small number of devices,” said Google in a blog post. “This is known as a targeted attack.”

NSO Group Technologies has previously been accused of targeting human rights activist based in the Middle East with its Pegasus iOS malware and was possibly trying something similar with the Android version.

“To install Chrysaor, we believe an attacker coaxed specifically targeted individuals to download the malicious software onto their device,” said Google.

“Once Chrysaor is installed, a remote operator is able to surveil the victim’s activities on the device and within the vicinity, leveraging microphone, camera, data collection, and logging and tracking application activities on communication apps such as phone and SMS.”

The likelihood of being affected by such as spyware maybe small, however Google recommends users take precautionary measures such as installing apps only from reputable sources and keeping devices up-to-date with the latest security patches to protect themselves.

Source: Tribune News

WikiLeaks reveals how CIA hacks iPhones, MacBooks

An iPhone is seen on display at a kiosk at an Apple reseller store in Mumbai, India, January 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

An iPhone is seen on display at a kiosk at an Apple reseller store in Mumbai, India, January 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON: The Central Intelligence Agency is able to permanently infect an Apple Mac computer so that even reinstalling the operating system will not erase the bug, according to documents published Thursday by WikiLeaks.

In its second release allegedly from the CIA’s arsenal of hacking tools, WikiLeaks also said that it appears the US spy agency has been able since 2008 to insert it bugs onto new and unused iPhones by intervening in Apple’s supply and distribution network.

The release follows the initial publication on March 9 by the anti-secrecy group of thousands of pages of instructions and code from what it called the entire CIA arsenal of hacking tools.

The documents are generally believed to be genuine although the CIA has not acknowledged this.

The publication of the documents sparked a US counterintelligence investigation into how the documents leaked out from the CIA and made their way to WikiLeaks, with some people pointing fingers at the agency’s use of private subcontractors as a likely source.

The newest documents focus on how the CIA targets Apple’s popular personal electronics to spy on users.

They show the CIA developed a tool in 2012 called “Sonic Screwdriver” that can hijack an Apple computer’s password-protected boot process from peripheral devices like adapters and USB drives.

By doing so, they can inject a undetectable bug deep into the computer’s essential firmware that will not be erased even when the computer is reformatted.

The manual for the “NightSkies” bug shows that the CIA developed it in 2008 to be implanted physically in brand new iPhones.

“While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target, it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments,” WikiLeaks said.

The documents provide a glimpse into the workings of the CIA. One showed the agency urgently trying to adapt NightSkies to a certain Apple laptop.

The agency “has the opportunity to gift a MacBook Air to a target that will be implanted with this tool,” one 2009 document said.

“The tool will be a beacon/implant that runs in the background of a MacBook Air that provides us with command and control capabilities.”

Source: Tribune News

Tech world debate on robots and jobs heats up

SoftBank Corp's human-like robot named 'pepper' is displayed at its branch in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

SoftBank Corp’s human-like robot named ‘pepper’ is displayed at its branch in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON: Are robots coming for your job?

Although technology has long affected the labor force, recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are heightening concerns about automation replacing a growing number of occupations, including highly skilled or “knowledge-based” jobs.

Just a few examples: self-driving technology may eliminate the need for taxi, Uber and truck drivers, algorithms are playing a growing role in journalism, robots are informing consumers as mall greeters, and medicine is adapting robotic surgery and artificial intelligence to detect cancer and heart conditions.

Of 700 occupations in the United States, 47 percent are at “high risk” from automation, an Oxford University study concluded in 2013.

A McKinsey study released this year offered a similar view, saying “about half” of activities in the world’s workforce “could potentially be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.”

Still, McKinsey researchers offered a caveat, saying that only around five percent of jobs can be “fully automated.”

robot retrieving medicines in the pharmacy of the Argenteuil hospital, in Argenteuil, a Paris suburb. PHOTO: AFP

Another report, by PwC this month, concluded that around a third of jobs in the United States, Germany and Britain could be eliminated by automation by the early 2030s, with the losses concentrated in transportation and storage, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade.

But experts warn that such studies may fail to grasp the full extent of the risks to the working population.

“The studies are underestimating the impact of technology — some 80 to 90 percent of jobs will be eliminated in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University in Silicon Valley.

“Artificial intelligence is moving a lot faster than anyone had expected,” said Wadhwa, who is co-author of a forthcoming book on the topic. “Alexa (Amazon’s home hub) and Google Home are getting amazingly intelligent very fast. Microsoft and Google have demonstrated that AI can understand human speech better than humans can.”

Wadhwa calls the driverless car a “metaphor” for the future of labor and a sign of a major shift.

Warnings of dire social consequences from automation have also come from the likes of the physicist Stephen Hawking and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, among others.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem historian Yuval Harari writes in his 2017 book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” that technology will lead to “superfluous people” as “intelligent non-conscious algorithms” improve.

People looking at a self-driving vehicle, as it is tested in a pedestrianised zone, during a media event in Milton Keynes, north of London. PHOTO: AFP

“As algorithms push humans out of the job market,” he writes, “wealth and power might become concentrated in the hands of the tiny elite that owns the all-powerful algorithms, creating unprecedented social and political inequality.”

Harari points to the Oxford study, estimating a high probability of job loss to automation — cashiers (97 percent), paralegals (94 percent), bakers (89 percent) and bartenders (77 percent), for example.

Others disagree.

Boston University economist and researcher James Bessen dismisses alarmist predictions, contending that advances in technology generally lead to more jobs, even if the nature of work changes.

His research found that the proliferation of ATM machines did not decrease bank tellers’ employment in recent decades, and that automation of textile mills in the 19th century led to an increase in weaving jobs because it created more demand.

“Robots can replace humans in certain tasks but don’t entirely replace humans,” he said.

But he acknowledged that automation “is destroying a lot of low-skill, low wage jobs, and the new jobs being created need higher skills.”

Former president Barack Obama’s council of economic advisors also warned last year that most jobs paying less than $20 an hour “would come under pressure from automation.”

Although the net impact of robots remains unclear, tech leaders and others are already debating how to deal with the potential job displacement.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said last month that he supports a “robot tax,” an idea floated in Europe, including by a socialist presidential candidate in France.

But Bessen, a former fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, said taxing robots could be counterproductive.

“You don’t want to be taxing the machines because they enable people to earn higher wages,” he said. “If you tax machines, you will slow the beneficial side of the process.”

robot interacting with visitors at the Soft Bank robotics stand at the Cebit technology fair in Hanover, Germany. PHOTO: AFP

Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation for technical innovation and founder of the Silicon Valley think-tank Singularity University, is among those calling for a “universal basic income” to compensate people for job losses.

Offering income guarantees “will be one of many tools empowering self-actualization at scale,” he said in a blog post, arguing that automation will allow people “to follow their passions, be more creative.”

But Wadhwa says the problems run deeper and will require more creative solutions.

“A basic income won’t solve the social problems of joblessness because people’s identity revolves around our jobs,” he said.

“Even if we have enough food and energy, we have to deal with the social disruption that’s coming. We need a much broader discussion.”

Bessen says reversing the trends of the past decades, where high-skilled jobs gain at the expense of others, pose a “big challenge.”

“It’s entirely possible we can meet the challenge,” he said. “But the evidence in the past 20 years is that things are moving in the wrong direction.”

Source: Tribune News

Google Maps already tracks you; now other people can, too

Google is enabling users of its digital mapping service to allow their movements to be tracked by friends and family. —AP

Google Maps users will now be able to broadcast their movements to friends and family — the latest test of how much privacy people are willing to sacrifice in an era of rampant sharing.

The location-monitoring feature was rolled out on Wednesday as an update to the Google Maps mobile app, which is already installed on most of the world’s smartphones. It will also be available on personal computers.

Google believes the new tool will be a more convenient way for people to let someone know where they are without having to text or call them. The Mountain View, California, company has set up the controls so individuals can decide with whom they want to share their whereabouts and for how long — anywhere from a few minutes to indefinitely.

But location sharing in one of the world’s most popular apps could cause friction in marriages and other relationships if one partner demands to know where the other is at all times. Similar tensions could arise if parents insist their teenagers turn on the location-sharing option before they go out.

It could also be turned into a way to stalk someone entangled in an abusive relationship, warned Ruth Glenn, executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It has the potential to be another tool in an abuser’s toolkit,” she said.

Similar tracking is already available on other apps; Glympse, founded by former Microsoft employees, has offered this function for years. Although it isn’t as wide-ranging, Apple also offers a tracking option called “Find My Friends” on its iPhone, iPad and Watch.

That’s one of the reasons Google isn’t expecting a lot of complaints about adding the option to Maps, especially since everyone can decide when to turn it on and who can monitor them.

“We don’t feel like we are changing the game,” said Jen Fitzpatrick, Google’s vice president of maps.

Maps users will be able to activate the location-sharing feature by tapping a button near the search bar and then picking a person from their contact list to text with the information. If the recipient doesn’t have the Google Maps app on their phone, it will text them a link to open the location on the map in a browser.

The settings also allow users to determine how long their movements can be tracked each time a location is shared. If no time limit is selected, Google will periodically send people email reminders that they’re still sharing their location, a step that Glenn said may help anyone who didn’t know an abusive partner was still following them.

Source: Dawn News

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