Luxury goods makers confront rise of the robot

This discussion about automation in the luxury goods market (https://rob.al/2lthZQF) reminded me of the chapters in The Man In the High Castle (https://rob.al/2lvvKOx) where it's suggested that some hand crafted items are so beautiful that they possess a factor, wu, that makes them desirable, and one of the character's acquaintances wishes to clone them as "most of the masses still believe in magic". But cloning the items removes what is intrinsically valuable. To me, automation manufacture of luxury goods seems to follow the same path – removing the skill and artisan nature of their creation threatens the very soul of the items they produce.
https://rob.al/2lthZQF
Response by European groups to robot revolution is as varied as their runway styles

Facebook’s new AI research is a real eye-opener

As AI becomes closer than ever to creating digital artifacts which are indistinguishable from those generated in real life, I'm left wondering how we manage the risks to our understanding of law and justice – think perhaps of a generated "CCTV recording" of a political opponent committing a crime being submitted as evidence in court, and no person nor machine can definitively prove whether it's fake or genuine.
https://rob.al/2ltTi6K
There are plenty of ways to manipulate photos to make you look better, remove red eye or lens flare, and so on. But so far the blink has proven a tenacious opponent of good snapshots. That may chan…

Amazon launches Alexa for Hospitality to bring voice-enabled services to hotel guests

We make a lot of use of our Alexa at home, and i'm interested to see how it can help in hotels. Being able to order important but not time-critical services ("alexa, have someone pick up my laundry"), or get information ("alexa, what floor is the gym on") come to mind. But is it going to be more than a gimmick? I still occasionally visit hotels with those massive Bose speakers with an iPhone 30 pin connector on them. Even when that was the right connector, who ever used them?? I know i just unplugged them to plug my laptop in instead.
https://rob.al/2IgfY38
Amazon has announced a new program designed to help hotels deploy Alexa’s voice-enabled smarts across their properties. Though Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo speakers are growing in popula…

Oracle defends cloud business disclosures

I've long found the sustainability Oracle's business model questionable – and their latest move to hide (lack of?) cloud revenue growth in their financials further reinforces my view that they are a company on the way down.
https://rob.al/2tqoFlW
Shares slide as analyst worries it may be ‘obfuscating weakness’

This company tames killer robots

Humans are good at tasks which require dexterity and manipulation of flexible materials (like thin tubes or fabric), but often these detailed tasks are associated with big, heavy "chunks" of other things (such as wiring up a heavy car dashboard before dropping it in to place). Typically, people and industrial robots are kept separate to avoid catastrophic injuries, but a new class of robot which is "aware" of its working environment and can react accordingly (e.g. slow down when a human moves closer) promises to make robots even more useful, taking control of the heavy lifting and allowing humans to focus on the complex, fiddly work.
https://rob.al/2yye9Pu
Artificial intelligence can turn the most dangerous industrial robots into helpful coworkers, and that could transform manufacturing.

Rise of contactless payment means cash is no longer king

The move to a cashless society is making steady progress across most of the world. In the UK, for example, more than 50% of transactions were completed cashlessly last year (https://rob.al/2yzozhH), while in China, UnionPay's rapid push in to new markets (as diverse as Malaysia, DRC, and Kazakhstan https://rob.al/2Kd4sdL) demonstrates the sheer scale of the opportunity, with the pace of change hardly altered by the introduction of a new competitor (NetsUnion https://rob.al/2IhFMvN). But there's rightly growing concern about those being left behind (https://rob.al/2KcwHti) and the solutions for that problem are yet to be discovered.
https://rob.al/2yzozhH
UK spending on debit cards overtook hard currency for the first time in 2017

The productivity paradox

Recognising AI as a "general-purpose machine", rather than a distinct and immediately implementable tool or technique, can help explain why the anticipated gains are not yet being seen. With the introduction of other general-purpose machines, like the electric motor, the computer, the steam engine, it took decades for companies and industries to identify how they needed to change – simply automating an existing business process is unlikely to give massive benefits. Rethinking how an organisation achieves outcomes independent of the existing process or tooling is – but it'll take many more years to materialize.
https://rob.al/2MN0rvh
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Is There a Smarter Path to Artificial Intelligence? Some Experts Hope So

Novel new approaches to the use of AI – highlighting its use as an augmentation to human judgement, not a substitute – are welcome, but still fall far short of addressing the elephant in the room – most machine learning or AI today is still pure statistical inference, often without even implicit acknowledgement of the path of causation (grass grows when the sun shines – but which causes which?). Until this problem question is addressed, even the new approaches outlined in this article will just be fitting data to a curve.
https://rob.al/2K3TZT2
A branch of A.I. called deep learning has transformed computer performance in tasks like vision and speech. But meaning, reasoning and common sense remain elusive.

A freshly funded battery startup aims to ease the cobalt crunch

It's an often overlooked problem, but although electric vehicles produce zero emissions at point of use, and can be powered entirely with emission free fuel (e.g. renewable power sources), they still contain a lot of rare materials, often mined or produced under somewhat questionable ethical standards, so it's great to see how the world is starting to respond.
https://rob.al/2trnOSj
Conamix, a little-known startup based in Ithaca, New York, has raised several million dollars to accelerate its development of cobalt-free materials for lithium-ion batteries, the latest sign…

New AI method increases the power of artificial neural networks

Although i was aware of the benefits of sparsely connected neural networks, this paper outlines an additional, slightly counter-intuitive property – scale-freeness through a method they call "Sparse Evolutionary Training). Starting from a sparse network, the model randomly adds new connections and drops weaker ones, "evolving" in to a more model which is more complex to define, but ultimately simpler, with fewer "hubs" (scale-freeness), and this less densely connected end state is quicker to stabilise (as it requires fewer calculations) and to maintain and train than a traditional statically connected network.
https://rob.al/2Ifd8eM
An international team of scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Derby, has developed a revolutionary method that quadratically…