Add another one to the list of professions that is going to get robotic helpmates: prison “screws”…pardon me, correctional officers. The pioneer is South Korea. (What? Not North Korea?)
Robot guards with sensors to detect abnormal behaviour will soon begin patrolling South Korean prisons to ease the burden on their human counterparts, researchers said Thursday. […] A group of scientists has developed the robot warders under a one billion won ($850,000) project organised by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. The robots — 1.5 metres (five feet) high and running on four wheels — will mostly be used at night. They can connect prisoners with officers through a remote conversation function, according to a statement from the Asian Forum for Corrections (AFC), a South Korea-based group of researchers in criminality and prison policies. […] Professor Lee Baik-Chul of Kyonggi University, who led the design process and heads the AFC, said it was intended to let human guards focus more on correction and rehabilitation efforts.
Amazing! No, not the ‘bots: the fact that South Korea actually does rehabilitation. Here in America we’ve all but abandoned the idea of rehab for prisoners. Prison here is just for punishment. No use wasting taxpayer money on the losers behind bars, right?
Careful, corrections officers. Those pushy ‘bots have designs on your jobs. And they won’t be permitted to join the dreaded public employee unions. Or will they…?
Here’s an encouraging idea. Technology Review has an article a about a new company, Castlight, that gathers data about providers and the costs of specific medical procedures from insurance company claims. They then sell it to self-ensured companies to use to get a handle on the wide range of prices for services. It’s like Amazon with the familiar five-star ratings from consumers about their experiences.
Castlight aims to do as its name suggests: cast light on the actual costs of medical care, so that people can make informed decisions. The company…offers computer-based tools that let people comparison shop for health care in much the same way they would for airline tickets on Travelocity or for cars on Cars.com.
A couple of weeks ago I listened in on a webinar produced by mHealth News titled “What Makes a Health App Effective?” The seminar was an hour long. For me the second half-hour was the most informative. The presenter, Kyle Dolbow, PhD — a VP at Preventice — really lays out how well integrated and comprehensive future health apps need to be. The little one-function apps that typify health apps today are going to have to go away. They don’t work.
A link to a recording of the presentation is at the site above.
I’ve been posting about robotics and AI lately. From robotic cars and tractors, I’ve turned to where the impact of AI may be just as big but less expected: in white-collar and “informaitn worker” jobs. Part 1 was about computing moving into financial market transactions. This time, lawyers.
A NY Times article by John Markoff recently looked at software in the legal industry. Systems and software (think IBM’s “Watson”) are being put to use like a backhoe where troops of lawyers usually do the pick-and-shovel labor of discovering relevant documents for cases.
Another e-discovery company in Silicon Valley, Clearwell, has developed software that analyzes documents to find concepts rather than specific keywords, shortening the time required to locate relevant material in litigation. Last year, Clearwell software was used by the law firm DLA Piper to search through a half-million documents under a court-imposed deadline of one week. Clearwell’s software analyzed and sorted 570,000 documents (each document can be many pages) in two days. The law firm used just one more day to identify 3,070 documents that were relevant to the court-ordered discovery motion. […]
Quantifying the employment impact of these new technologies is difficult. Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy, is convinced that “legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future.” He estimated that the shift from manual document discovery to e-discovery would lead to a manpower reduction in which one lawyer would suffice for work that once required 500 and that the newest generation of software, which can detect duplicates and find clusters of important documents on a particular topic, could cut the head count by another 50 percent.
Indeed, immediately after “Watson” pulled off the Jeopardy take-down, IBM announced it was going to market Watson-like systems for medicine (to help docs make better diagnoses by plowing the literature) and for law as outlined above. Lawyers don’t get a lot of sympathy, but I have the sense tools to reduce the hours worked by legal functionaries comes from outside the profession, not inside. But it’ll be an interesting test case to see how these expensively-educated and well-paid people adjust to system lightening their load and perhaps their paychecks. File an injunction maybe?
I’ve posted before about robots that are on the verge of invading the skills where a lot of people work manually: driving cars and farm equipment, and assembling electronics. This skill of navigating through an unstructured environment has been under development for a long time, but now it seems ready to have its impact. Just today there’s a report that Hon Hai Precision Industry, the parent company for Foxconn, is investing $223 million in robotics research so they can start making robots. And Foxconn is the world’s largest maker of electronic components like the iPhone that — as I mentioned in an earlier post — is planning to install one million robots to do “simple” jobs “alongside” workers in their suicide-plagued factories.
“The investment marks the beginning of Hon Hai’s bid to build an empire of robots,” the Central Taiwan Science Park authorities said in a statement.
Uh, “empire of robots”? How do they mean that?
But, forget about that. Valued human activity (a.k.a., jobs) in the white-collar sector are in for dramatic changes too. In the next few posts I mention a few examples I’ve run across in recent weeks:
The number of human traders employed in the financial markets is set to fall dramatically over the next ten years as banks and brokers become increasingly reliant on computer-based algorithms to run their trading operations. This is one of the early conclusion of the UK Government’s Foresight panel, which was assembled to study the implications of high frequency trading on the economy. […] “Just as real physical robots revolutionised manufacturing engineering, most notably in automobile production, in the latter years of the 20th Century, leading to major reductions in the number of employees required at car plants, so the early years of the 21st seem likely to be a period in which a similar revolution (involving software robot traders) occurs in the global financial markets…”
Back during the 24 Hours of Reality webcast in September I posted about how climate change denial tends to evaporate when real money decisions are on the line. Here’s another example:
From the cotton field in rural India to the local rag bin, a typical pair of blue jeans consumes 919 gallons of water during its life cycle Levi Strauss & Company says, or enough to fill about 15 spa-size bathtubs. That includes the water that goes into irrigating the cotton crop, stitching the jeans together and washing them scores of times at home. The company wants to reduce that number any way it can, and not just to project environmental responsibility. It fears that water shortages caused byclimate change may jeopardize the company’s very existence in the coming decades by making cotton too expensive or scarce.
So to protect its bottom line, Levi Strauss has helped underwrite and champion a nonprofit program that teaches farmers in India, Pakistan, Brazil and West and Central Africa the latest irrigation and rainwater-capture techniques.
So, despite Fox News or the Koch brothers, real decision makers know they have to factor climate change into decision-making. Anybody whose responsibility to commit millions or billions of dollars to long-range plans can’t blow off climate change facts. Lenders, insurers and any CEO with a brain has “risk management” protocols to follow.
I think the kabuki theater of climate change denial is about to come to an end. Sure it’s fun to bash liberals over drinks after work over the “myth” of global warming, but when it comes to the “bottom line,” as the quote above says, Al Gore’s “inconvenient truth” matters. That’s why it’s called inconvenient. Reality bites.