Artificial Intelligence Is Only Dangerous If Humans Use It Foolishly

It is the nature of technology to improve over time. As it progresses, technology brings humanity forward with it. Yet, there is a certain fear that surrounds technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, in part due to how these have been portrayed in science fiction. This fear, however, is mostly a fear of the unknown. For the most part, humankind doesn’t know what will come of the continued improvement of AI systems.

The Top Artificial Intelligence Movies of All Time
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The coming of the technological singularity is one such outcome that’s greatly influenced by science fiction. Supposedly, AI and intelligent machines will become so smart that they will overtake their human overlords, ending the world as we know it. We don’t know if that would indeed happen, of course — although there are some institutions that are actively working towards making the singularity happen.

But perhaps the most immediate concern people have with AI and automated systems is the expected job displacement that goes along with these. A number of studies seem to agree that increased automation will cause an employment disruption in the next 10 to 20 years.

One study predicts machines will replace 47 percent of jobs in the United States. Another study expects 40 percent of jobs will be displaced in Canada, while British agencies predict some 850,000 jobs in the UK will be replaced by automated systems. Meanwhile, 137 million workers in Southeast Asia are in danger of losing their jobs to machines in the next 20 years. The trend is expected to cover a whole range of industries, not just blue collar jobs.

What to Fear, Really

Given all of these, are we correct to fear AI?

Without the risk of being an alarmist, yes there are things to be worried about. But a great deal of this has to do with how we use AI, according to a piece written by ZD Net and TechRepublic UK editor-in-chief Steve Ranger. “AI is a fast-growing and intriguing niche,” Ranger wrote, “but it’s not the answer to every problem.”

Ranger warns of the inability of industries to cope up with AI, which could potentially cause another “AI winter.” He writes: “[A] lack of skilled staff to make the most of the technologies, along with massively inflated expectations, could create a loss of confidence.” Moreover, there’s the danger of looking at AI as the magical solution to everything, neglecting the fact that AI and machine learning algorithms are only as good as the data put into them. Ranger says, “ways must be found to make sure that AI-led decision making becomes as easy to understand — and to challenge — as any other type.” He sees this as the ultimate threat related to AI. He points out that research is being done when it comes to being able to understanding how AI reaches its conclusions. The five basic principals laid out are responsibility (a person must be available to deal with the effects of the AI), explainability (ability to simply explain the decisions made by the AI to the people affected by it), accuracy (sources of error must be kept track of), auditability (third parties should be able to easily review the behavior of the AI), and fairness (AI should not be affected by human bias or discrimination).

Ultimately, the greatest threat to humanity isn’t AI. It’s how we handle AI. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning are not what we need to worry about: rather, it’s failings in human intelligence, and our own ability to learn,” Ranger concludes.

Measured and Monitored

Thankfully, there are institutions that have already come up with guidelines in pursuing AI research and development. There’s the Partnership on AI, which includes tech heavyweights like Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. Another one is the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund (AI Fund) that’s led by the Knight Foundation. There’s also the IEEE’s framework document on designing ethically aligned AI.

The benefits of AI are undeniable, and we don’t need to wait for 2047 and the singularity to figure out just how much it affects people’s lives. Today’s AI systems shouldn’t be confused with sci-fi’s Skynet and HAL-9000. Much of what we call AI right now are neural networks and machine learning algorithms that work in the background of our most common devices. AI is also found in systems that facilitate trends-based decision making processes in companies and improve customer services.

If used properly, AI can help humanity by keeping people away from hazardous jobs, reducing the number of car accidents, and improving medical treatments. Our fears cannot outweigh these perks.

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Body Part Regeneration Is in Our Future

A Human Regrowth Industry?

The ability to regenerate body parts has always been a fascinating prospect, inspiring characters like Wolverine who can instantly heal themselves and regrow body parts they’ve lost — and now regeneration has inspired scientific research. Many species in the animal kingdom can regenerate: arthropods (like scorpions) can regrow appendages, some annelids (like worms) can regenerate from only a few segments of their body, echinoderms (like starfish) can both self-amputate and re-grow limbs, amphibians (like salamanders and newts) can regenerate a limb in as little as a month, and some reptiles can regenerate their tails.

The aquatic acorn worm, a small coral reef dweller that burrows in the sand and one of the closest invertebrate relations to the human, can regenerate any part of its body that has been cut off, even its nervous system and head. Cutting an acorn worm in half simply results in two complete, indistinguishable specimens within fifteen days. They are also unusually similar in body structure to humans. Researchers wondered: since humans have most of the same genes, shouldn’t we be able to do the same thing?

“I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn’t allowing that to happen,” biology professor Billie Swalla commented in a University of Washington (UW) press release describing his recent work. Swalla is the Director of Friday Harbor Laboratories and part of a research team, along with Shawn Luttrell, that’s focused on the study of regeneration in invertebrates. “I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate.”

Although it may sound like only the most fanciful science fiction, many research scientists believe that the regeneration of human body parts is achievable. We already regenerate skin, pieces of other organs, and nails; we also have many of the necessary genes. “We share thousands of genes with these animals, and we have many, if not all, of the same genes they are using to regenerate their body structures,” says Luttrell. “This could have implications for central nervous system regeneration in humans if we can figure out the mechanism the worms use to regenerate.”

Reverse Engineering Worms

The human roadmap that is contained in our DNA is present in every cell in our bodies, and it should also contain enough information to build or regenerate the body. However, access to that part of the plan is not accessible in humans for some evolutionary reason. One possible reason for this is that regeneration may take too much energy in a large, complex organism like a human. Another could be that our highly developed immune system actually stops the process with responses such as scar formation.

The UW team has been investigating which gene expression patterns take place when regeneration begins in acorn worms. Since regeneration follows precisely the same steps in every worm once it starts, the researchers believe that a “master control” gene may exist. If such a gene is what starts the process, it may be able to trigger regeneration in humans.

They are also attempting to identify which kinds of cells function as the building blocks of regeneration. Stem cells are an obvious possibility, but there may be other types of cells which could be repurposed for regeneration. Eventually, the team hopes to use gene activation or editing to start the process in other animals, including humans.

An Exponential Timeline of Organ Transplants
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Ultimately, this would change the face of medicine. Burn victims could regenerate their skin, people would no longer need to wait for organ transplants, and if limbs were lost in an accident, they could be regrown. This technology, if it is possible, is not happening anytime soon. The challenges are complex, and so is the duplication of working human nervous systems, brains, and internal organs that would need to be mastered. Genetically we are in a favorable position, and our progeny may see human regeneration as part of our medical reality in 100 years or so.

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Hyperloop One Just Released 11 Possible Routes for Its Futuristic Transport System

Hyperloop One is seriously considering building its high-speed transit system in several states in the United States.

The Los Angeles-based startup held a two-day event in Washington DC this week to showcase its “Vision in America.” The event served two purposes: one, to evaluate eleven US route proposals for the high-speed transit system, and two, to meet with federal regulators in Washington about getting the system up and running.

“We’re trying to position Hyperloop as one of the best candidates that there are for re-inventing infrastructure in America,” Nick Earle, Hyperloop One’s senior vice president for global operations, told Business Insider. “It’s built in America, it can be implemented in America, it’s made in America…there are a lot of reasons why it fits with the national agenda right now.”

The event shows Hyperloop One is trying to get ahead of the regulatory curve before it even proves the technology.

hyperloop one nevada rail
Hyperloop One

The startup plans to launch a public trial, which Earle refers to as the company’s “Kitty Hawk moment,” on its two-mile development track in Nevada by the end of June. But a company has yet to prove the system Tesla CEO Elon Musk outlined in a White Paper in 2013.

Earlier this year, Hyperloop One launched a global challenge to crowdsource route proposals for a Hyperloop system in the US. After receiving over 2,600 submissions, the startup selected eleven finalists to present their vision in DC.

Hyperloop One says it will ultimately select two or three routes to study further. Scroll down for a look at all the routes under consideration:

1. Hyperloop Massachussetts

1. Hyperloop Massachussetts
Hyperloop One

Led by Holly McNamara, selectman of the town of Somerset, the team proposes using a Hyperloop to connect Boston and Providence with stops at Somerset and Fall River. The Hyperloop would run for 64 miles.

The goal is to build an elevated system that shares highways and rail right-of-ways with connections to the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s most popular rail line that runs between Washington D.C. and Boston.

2. Team Rocky Mountain Hyperloop Consortium

2. Team Rocky Mountain Hyperloop Consortium
Hyperloop One

The team is led by John Whitcomb, a member of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society. It proposed a long, 1,152-mile route between Cheyenne, Wyoming and Houston, Texas with stops in Denver, Dallas, and Forth Worth.

3. Team Hyperloop Missouri

3. Team Hyperloop Missouri
Hyperloop One

The team is composed of Missouri’s Department of Transportation and is led by Thomas Blair, the department’s assistant district engineer, highlighting some state support for the project. The 240-mile route between Kansas and St. Louis would stop in Columbia.

4. Team Hyperloop Florida

4. Team Hyperloop Florida
Hyperloop One

The team is led by Alice Bravo, director of transportation development in Miami, highlighting similar state support to Team Missouri. The 257-mile system would transport passengers and cargo and run parallel to Highway 27 and I-4.

5. Team Hyperloop West

5. Team Hyperloop West
Hyperloop One

The team is comprised of architects, designers, and faculty members from Woodbury University and San Diego State University. The 121-mile system would transport cargo and passengers and make no stops in-between.

6. Team Hyperloop Nevada

6. Team Hyperloop Nevada
Hyperloop One

The team is led by Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and includes support from the state’s Department of Transportation. The 454-mile sytem would carry freight and passengers and run along I-11.

7. Team Hyperloop Midwest

7. Team Hyperloop Midwest
Hyperloop One

The 488-mile system would carry passengers and cargo between Pittsburgh and Chicago with a stop in Columbus. The team is led by Thea Walsh, director of transportation systems and funding for mid-Ohio regional planning.

8. Team PNW Hyperloop

8. Team PNW Hyperloop
Hyperloop One

The team is led by University of Washington students and proposes first carrying cargo along the 173-mile route before including passengers.

9. Team Rocky Mountain Hyperloop

9. Team Rocky Mountain Hyperloop
Hyperloop One

Comprised of members of the Colorado Department of Transportation and engineering firm AECOM, the team boasts having partnerships with the Denver International Airport, the City of Denver, and the City of Greeley.

The first phase of the project would connect Denver International Airport to Greeley and would eventually expand into a 360-mile system.

10. Team Colorado Hyperloop

10. Team Colorado Hyperloop
Hyperloop One

This is the third route proposal to pass through Denver, Colorado. This team is lead by Blake Anneberg, a self-proclaimed tech enthusiast. The first phase of the 242-mile project would run between Denver and Colorado Springs or Denver and Fort Collins before expanding to other cities.

11. Team Hyperloop Texas

11. Team Hyperloop Texas
Hyperloop One

The team was created by engineering firm AECOM and led by Steven Duong, an AECOM urban designer. The 640-mile system would connect all the major cities in Texas and carry passengers and cargo. The route would follow I-35 and I-10.

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Buck calls for more space intelligence positions

Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander, 14th Air Force and Joint Functional Component Command for Space, answers questions from reporters in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 6, 2017 at the 33rd Space Symposium. Credit: Dave Grim/U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON – The Air Force needs more people for space intelligence, at the very least similar to levels it has in other domains, Lt. Gen. David Buck said.

“Our space intel capability has atrophied, so we need to hit the gym and develop some muscle mass,” Buck said at a breakfast Friday hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Buck has two positions: commander of the 14th Air Force under Air Force Space Command and leader of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space under U.S. Strategic Command. That puts Buck in position of not only organizing, training, and equipping space forces, but also being a main point-person for the space part of any military operations.

However, Buck said that to do his job well, he needs more people focused on analyzing and developing intelligence about what’s going on in orbit.

“To put it in context, Air Combat Command [responsible for carrying out airstrikes against ISIS and other targets] has roughly 5,000 intelligence professionals focused on the air campaign. Yet Air Force Space Command only has about 550 intelligence professionals focused on space,” Buck said.

“A typical flying wing has over 30 intel specialists with at least two per squadron,” the general continued. “My wings in 14th Air Force barely have 10, with only a sprinkling at the squadron level.”

Buck said that “getting there will take some time,” as the Air Force first has to find the people, create the right positions for them, and grow their expertise.

The good news, Buck said, is that the conversation is already underway, and Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, is currently assessing the best way to get more intel personnel into space career fields.

“To me, intelligence drives operations, and we have to get ahead of adversary actions,” Buck said. “Just like every other domain I need domain awareness: knowledge of who, what, where, when, and why.”

Space is integrated into every military operation, including the recent bombing campaigns in Syria and Afghanistan, Buck said.

Although the general said he could not talk in specifics about the operations, he said that typically the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) will receive requests for space support from combatant commanders.

“Typically we will get those space support requests and say ‘how can we best support this campaign?’” Buck said. “Typically in a campaign like this, notionally, it would involve optimizing the precision, navigation, and timing constellation – GPS – and also making sure that our satellite communications systems are queued and ready to support.”

Buck also said that the military needs to reevaluate the how it organizes space warfighting, and that it needs to get more authority into the hands of the people actually carrying out the mission.

“We’re discovering through test and experimentation that the speed of fight in, through, and from space requires delegation of authorities to enable flexibility on the operational commander’s timing and tempo,” he said. “At times it seems easier to get approval to drop a kinetic weapon on a target than it is to take pictures in space. I’m overstating it some, but you get the point.”

Greater intelligence and organization will aid the military in any future conflicts where fighting spills over into orbit, Buck said.

“We don’t want to talk about war in terms of a land war or a maritime war or an air war, so let’s stop talking about space in terms of a space war,” he said. “In the military, we conduct campaigns. Many of these campaigns are domain centric, but they’re all related to the same objective, and that’s all war. An adversary’s first move in conflict may be in space, cyber, or deep undersea – domains that challenge our abilities to attribute hostile actions.”

This “Smart Drug” Could Hack Your Brain Chemistry to Increase Your Intelligence

The Science of Nootropics

Nootropics, broadly speaking, are substances that can safely enhance cognitive performance. They’re a group of (as yet unclassified) research chemicals, over-the-counter supplements, and a few prescription drugs, taken in various combinations—that are neither addictive nor harmful, and don’t come laden down with side-effects—that are basically meant to improve your brain’s ability to think.

Right now, it’s not entirely clear how nootropics as a group work, for several reasons. How effective any one component of a nootropic supplement (or a stack) is depends on many factors, including the neurochemistry of the user, which is connected to genes, mood, sleep patterns, weight, and other characteristics.

However, there are some startups creating and selling nootropics that have research scientists on their teams, with the aim of offering reliable, proven cognitive enhancers. Qualia is one such nootropic. This 42 ingredient supplement stack is created by the Neurohacker Collective, a group that boasts an interdisciplinary research team including Sara Adães, who has a PhD in neuroscience and Jon Wilkins, a Harvard PhD in biophysics.

Smart Drugs

Some of Qualia’s ingredients are found in other stacks: Noopept, for example, and Vitamin B complex are some of the usual suspects in nootropics. Green tea extract, L-Theanine, Taurine, and Gingko Biloba are also familiar to many users, although many of the other components might stray into the exotic for most of us. Mucuna Pruriens, for example, is a source of L-Dopa, which crosses the blood–brain barrier, to increase concentrations of dopamine in the brain; L-Dopa is commonly used to treat dopamine-responsive dystonia and Parkinson’s disease.

New Article DrugsThe website says that the ‘smart drug’ is designed to provide users with “immediate, noticeable uplift of [their] subjective experience within 20 minutes of taking it, as well as long-term benefits to [their] neurology and overall physiologic functioning.” For people climbing their way up in Silicon Valley, it’s a small price to pay. What would you do with 10 percent more productivity, time, income, or intelligence?

Note: Futurism curates the products that could help reshape our world. Here, we have partnered with the team behind Qualia in order to offer readers a 10% discount using the coupon code ‘futurism’. Futurism also has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from purchases.

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With Automation Looming, the US Needs To Make Education Affordable Or Fail

Crafting Well Rounded Minds

Education is the cornerstone of society. This is because knowledge is the only thing that lets one be an informed and productive member of society. Of course, education is not limited to just traditional schooling (i.e. a classroom), but includes knowledge gleaned from friends, family, mentors, personal experiences, and on and on.

That said, in our society, traditional schooling is a major part of how we educate the coming generations.

Today, we spend our most formative years in school, learning about the world and how to function in it. In the modern world, which is continually becoming more globalized, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and analytically about all aspects of our world—from politics, to economics, to the arts, to (of course) science and technology.

[Save For Jolene] *3* Higher Education Needs to Evolve to Meet the Needs of the Future

A well-rounded liberal arts education can provide this to its students. According to Willard Dix, a college admissions expert and contributor to Forbes, “a liberal arts education provides a multi-faceted view of the world. It enables students to see beyond one perspective, encouraging them to understand others’ even if they don’t agree. It instructs us to base our opinions on reason, not emotion.”

And at a time of increasing polarization, dialogue and understanding are invaluable qualities.

Even disciplines that are thought to be exclusively “fact-based,” such as the STEM fields, can greatly benefit from a liberal arts focus, as critical thinking skills are what allow individuals to analyze and make meaning from new information and move fluidly through society and careers. Case in point, the current president of Miami University, Gregory Crawford, went to school to study physics and now, as an education administrator, he advocates for an educational system that is multifaceted:

There are extraordinary skill sets to learn from the liberal arts, like communication, analytical skills, writing, global awareness. Can you tell a story in a world of data and analytics? When students are exposed to the liberal arts they become more self-aware, more self-disciplined and develop other virtues like empathy and courage.

A liberal arts focus not only can prepare students for the job market, but also life after college in general.

Dwindling Market

Speaking of the job market, education, in general, is about to become even more of a requirement, thanks to the steady rise of automation. Experts predict that developed countries may lose a staggering 30 percent of jobs in the next 15 years. Much of this job loss, if not all of it, will impact blue collar workers—a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that each robot that makes its way into the workforce replaces six humans.

Thus, as the years progress, industries that used to be home to extremely well paying blue collar positions will increasingly become a thing of the past.

However, individuals that have an understanding of a broad spectrum of fields will largely be able to protect themselves from the impact of automation, as they will be able to seamlessly (or more seamlessly) move between industries. This adaptability is precisely what a liberal arts education, at its best, provides. But there is a problem for those pursuing such an education in the United States: Money.

Tackling Affordability

One of the most significant obstacles to an education for young adults today is debt, and a significant portion of that comes from education. Student debt in the United States has hit an unbelievable $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A trillion of those dollars belong to federal student loans. While other nations face affordability issues of their own, the situation in the United States is extreme.

The United States is the fourth most expensive country in which to get a college education, with the average cost being greater than $29,300 each year, according to a list compiled by FairFX. Increases in cost are not showing any signs of slowing, and with figures like that, higher education is no longer just out of reach to the poorest Americans. Now, many mid-level American families also can’t make the cut.

What can be done to ensure everyone will be equipped to thrive in the workforce of the very near future?

In Germany, they answered that question by eliminating tuition costs altogether. The country abolished tuition all the way back in 1971. They were briefly brought back from 2006 – 2014, but they were removed again due to widespread problems, even though the costs only averaged €500 ($630 USD).

In fact, more than 40 countries around the world offer free higher education. Obviously, when people use the word “free” what they really mean is that nations use tax dollars to pay for education in the same way that they use tax dollars to pay for subsidies for corn and fossil fuels and to pay for war efforts (do keep in mind, the United States has a defense budget larger than many developed nations combined).

But now, thanks to a recent development, it looks like the United States is going to start reallocating funds to test the free tuition waters.

Empire State of Mind

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state in the country to offer a tuition-free four-year education for residents. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship program, it will provide four years of college tuition for families who make less than $100,000 per year. The program will begin this fall, with the income cap raising by $10,000 in 2018 and an additional $15,000 the following year.

The governor said, “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.”

NBC News tells us that this plan will benefit a remarkable 80 percent of the state’s families with college-age kids. The plan also requires that students complete at least 30 credits per year and stay within their program’s minimum GPA requirements. There are also requirements regarding living and working in the state for a certain period after graduation, which will ensure that students give back to the state that is paying for their education. Governor Cuomo explained the importance of this move in his statement:

The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it.’ With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.

While many families may be overjoyed with the opportunities this will provide their children, other entities were not so keen when the idea was proposed. Some private colleges, including the Governor’s own alma-mater, even went so far as to ask their students to oppose this historic move.

For example, the president of Keuka College, a small liberal arts school in central New York, Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, sent an email to his students urging them to oppose the program.

While it is understandable that private colleges may fear the future, efforts such as the ones outlined here come off as tone-deaf, at best, or selfish, at worst. Keuka is a school that is well out of the price range of most individuals, costing a staggering 40K a year. And while there are some programs that assist low-income students, the cost is beyond the affordability of most.

Ultimately, such call to action does not seem to fully weigh the (very justifiable) panic of students, which has become endemic in today’s higher education climate. And of course, the letter makes no mention of the “940,000 middle-class families” who will be able to send their children to school as a result of this legislation, many of which may not have had the luxury before its passing.

Since the passing earlier this month, Keuka has released another statement.

It’s too early for any of us in New York’s private colleges and universities to know what this will mean for recruitment and retention at our institutions. But what we do know is that competition is the bedrock of our economic system. To stay competitive, Keuka College must continue to adapt and change.

They may not be celebrating the news, but they have gotten to the heart of the matter: Just as the workforce is going to have to adapt and change with the proliferation of automation, our educational institutions are going to have to change to accommodate that workforce and lead them to be fully capable of thriving in the economy and society of tomorrow.

To remain a global leader, we will need to rethink how we educate and seriously consider the barriers that exist that limit who can benefit. Those conversations need to start now.

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Rise of the Machines: We Can Stop Automation From Destroying Society

A Growing Gap

Widespread automation has the potential to amplify existing income disparities and produce an unparalleled level of economic inequality. As artificial intelligence (AI) improves and algorithms get more advanced, automated systems can replace more of the workforce, meaning fewer people are needed to generate the same (or greater) amounts of wealth for those at the top. If technology advances far enough, traditional labor may be rendered obsolete.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
Click to View Full Infographic

The advancement of technology has never posed quite such a threat in the past as automation has traditionally created new jobs as it replaced old ones. The Guardian cites the example of bank tellers. ATMs appeared in the 1970s, but there are more human tellers now than back then. Today’s tellers do more than dispense cash, though; they sell financial services and provide advice.

However, the ATM example may not apply as AI improves. If ATMs can dispense cash and advise customers about their mortgage options, too, banks may not need human tellers.

This situation only matters if the ownership of wealth is limited, and at this point in the U.S., it is. Right now, unless you own capital, what you have is your wage. Unfortunately, although productivity has improved since the 1970s, wealth has moved toward ownership and more capital, not wages. Wages and labor are the only source of wealth for most people, and they are also one of the only ways workers can assert themselves in the workplace and advocate for change. If automation renders labor redundant, labor as a source of wealth and power in the workplace will evaporate.

Equity and Automation

The very wealthy are not likely to be affected by any of these changes. It’s the people working in industries like transportation, insurance, medicine, and customer service that will be hit the hardest.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that more people worked as retail salespeople (4.5 million) and cashiers (3.5 million) in May 2016 than any other occupation. Another 4.6 million people were working in transportation and warehousing as of 2014. Clearly, huge portions of the workforce will be affected by the presence of AI, but this disruption will not have a negative effect on the wealthiest people in the world.

The real issue here isn’t the tech itself — it’s the widening gap between economic classes and the incredible poverty it will cause, not to mention the erasure of the working class. Thankfully, there are several proposed solutions to this potential crisis of equity that don’t require slowing down technological advancement. They include universal basic income (UBI), a tax on robots that replace workers, and job guarantee programs.

UBI has been subjected to heated debate, but many, including Bill Gates and Elon Musk, believe it will be feasible in the near future. Former President Obama has also acknowledged that UBI will need to be seriously discussed within the next 10 to 20 years.

Bill Gates and others have argued that robots that replace human workers should pay taxes — or, more accurately, that their owners should. This would place the existing wage burden back on the wealthy and provide money into the “pool,” which could then be used for UBI or education for workers to take on the new jobs that automation creates. These taxes could also fund job guarantee programs.

Job guarantee programs through the government would guarantee a living wage for anyone doing public sector or non-profit work (depending on the program). This is similar in theory to 1933’s Works Progress Administration program. It also shifts the power away from private owners of wealth, who can demand that workers do whatever menial tasks they want at wages they set, and allows people to do anything from teaching to environmental cleanup for a decent wage.

With the National Bureau of Economic Research reporting that the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households held roughly 42 percent of the country’s wealth in 2014, we can’t afford to let automation further widen the gap between the haves and the have nots.

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House members ask Pentagon to stay the course on launch vehicle development

ULA Vulcan

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 20 House members has asked the Defense Department not to alter the U.S. Air Force’s plans to fund development of new launch systems.

In the letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, dated April 10, the members said the Air Force should continue efforts to develop “complete, robust launch systems” rather than focus on specific components, such as an engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180. That approach, they argued, is the best way to end reliance on the RD-180 while providing assured access to space at reduced cost.

“Investing in the entire launch system through government and industry cost-share partnerships — rather than a specific component — is the fastest, safest, and most affordable way for the taxpayer to achieve these objectives,” they wrote. “Restricting funding only for a domestic engine will result in higher costs for the taxpayer and risks delays in ending use of the RD-180 engine.”

The Air Force made several Rocket Propulsion System awards in early 2016 to support development of both engines and full-scale vehicles, with the winning companies contributing one third of the cost of each award. In March, the Air Force issued a draft request for proposals (RFP) for the next phase of the program, called the Launch Service Agreement, with the full RFP expected this summer.

Under that program, the Air Force is expected to make up to three awards in early 2018 to fund continued development of those vehicles, including certification test flights. Among the companies expected to compete for those awards are Orbital ATK, which is developing a vehicle through its Next Generation Launch program; SpaceX, which received funding to support work on its Raptor methane engine last year; and United Launch Alliance, for its Vulcan vehicle.

Aerojet Rocketdyne also received a Rocket Propulsion System award from the Air Force last year to support work on the company’s AR1 engine, which the company is billing as a replacement for the RD-180 used on ULA’s Atlas 5. ULA has yet to make a formal decision on the engine that will power the first stage of Vulcan, but has indicated as recently as April 5 that Blue Origin’s BE-4 remains the frontrunner over the AR1.

The members who signed the letter include Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Twelve Republicans signed the letter, led by Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. Five of the members who signed the letter are from Colorado, where ULA is headquartered, while four are from Washington state, where Blue Origin is based. Three members are from Texas, where both Blue Origin and SpaceX have test facilities.

Absent from the list of members who signed the bill are Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairmen of the full House Armed Services Committee and its Strategic Forces Subcommittee, respectively. In February, the two sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow and James MacStravic, performing the duties of the under secretary of defense for acquisition, calling on the government to have “full access to, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making about any engine down-select for Vulcan (assuming they will be requesting government funding).”

In the letter, they argued that since ULA is accepting government funding to support the development of Vulcan, the government should also have insight into that process, “especially where one of the technologies is unproven at the required size and power.” That was a reference to Blue Origin’s BE-4, which will be the largest rocket engine developed to date using methane as a fuel, rather than the kerosene used by the RD-180 and AR1 engines.

Thornberry has since backtracked on the comments in that letter, telling reporters last month it was not his intent to micromanage subcontracting decisions.

Rogers, in a recent SpaceNews interview, said he was not satisfied with the pace of development of an RD-180 replacement, but also praised the capabilities of commercial launch companies. “My subcommittee, our full committee, this Congress, is committed to not stop until we have an American-made engine that can get our national security space assets launched,” he said.

Mercedes-Benz Will Launch Its Self-Driving Rideshare Service in 2020

Joining the Fray

The number of potential movers and shakers in the field of autonomous taxiing seems to be ever growing. But the stiff competition may benefit the consumer and force the competitors to create the best product possible. Not only will they be competing among themselves, but also with traditional taxis and personally owned vehicles. The latest company to join in on the fun is also one of the biggest and fanciest in the world.

Image: DaimlerImage Credit: Daimler

Mercedes-Benz is teaming up with vehicle component manufacturer Bosch to fast-track a self-driving taxi service. The company is expecting to launch the service as soon as 2020, a year earlier than other companies’ plans. Ford, BMW, General Motors, and Google’s Waymo all plan to launch their services in or around 2021. Uber has already deployed self-driving cars in Pittsburgh to test their service. The vehicles are monitored by a live person and they have the ability to take over control if the need arises. The other offerings will likely roll out the same way initially.

Life-Saving Tech

Studies have shown that between 90 and 93 percent of all vehicular accidents are caused by human error. By removing the human from the equation, we could significantly reduce these incidents — theoretically, at least. There is always a lot of press surrounding any collisions or other incidents involving self-driving tech, whether they involve Tesla’s offerings or Uber’s taxis. So it is clear that self-driving vehicles will not end all accidents, but they could still potentially save thousands of lives.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Reducing driving-related deaths would be a fantastic attribute of self-driving vehicles, but that’s not the only potential benefit. These vehicles are all run on electric power, so they are much cleaner than fossil fuel-burning, traditional vehicles. With one-third of all air pollution coming from operating gasoline-powered vehicles, mitigating their role in daily transportation will help keep us from further damaging the environment.

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