Category Archives: robots

Humans still in the loop with Netflix suggestions

Soon, robots won't just be in movies - they'll be telling us which ones to watch.

Soon, robots won’t just be in movies – they’ll also be telling us which ones to watch.

On the universal list of dream jobs, being paid to sit around and watch TV and movies all day would almost certainly be near the top of the list. You may have heard a while back that a few lucky people do just that for Netflix. The streaming company employs about 40 individuals around the world to create metadata tags for its content. In effect, they watch TV shows and movies and enter information about them into a spreadsheet – how much violence is there, the gender of the main characters, tone and mood, is there nudity or cursing, and so on.

I had the chance to chat with Mike Hastings, who as the director of enhanced content team runs this program, during my visit to Netflix’s headquarters in Los Gatos., Calif. last week. I was curious as to why the company still uses humans for this particular task. Image recognition and machine learning has come a long way, with company’s such as Israel’s Anyclip effectively doing the same job, but without people.

“We’ve been doing this for about six years and humans were definitely the way at first,” says Hastings (no relation to chief executive Reed Hastings). “We’re still using humans today because it’s been the most reliable, trustworthy way of getting some of this data.” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 19, 2014 in netflix, robots


Robot cars and the need for human judges

stanleycar1Chris Urmson, the head of Google’s robot car project, made some impressive claims about the company’s autonomous vehicles at a robotics conference in Silicon Valley on Friday. He told attendees the cars are safer than those driven by humans, based on thousands of hours of test driving in California and Nevada.

“We’re spending less time in near-collision states,” he said. “Our car is driving more smoothly and more safely than our trained professional drivers.”

The professionally trained drivers used as a control during Google’s experiments were found to speed up and slow down more abruptly than their autonomous counterparts. Robots also tended to maintain safer distances from the vehicles ahead of them, according to the data. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in cars, Google, law, robots


Robot fast-food workers an inevitability

robot-foodI recently wrote about how fast-food workers in the United States need to be careful about what they wish for – that their demands for raises up to $15 an hour could result in their having no jobs at all. Chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King might find it more in their interests to replace their human robot-like labour forces with real robot labour forces, leaving human workers with zero income.

The debate continues, but there is some strong logic forming as to why this robotic replacement isn’t just fanciful science-fiction, but rather a very likely thing to happen in the next few years.

The fast-food wage battle is quickly turning into the nexus point of the festering American inequality problem; if the chains aren’t careful, this could turn into Occupy Wall Street: The Sequel. Occupy McDonald’s, anyone?

As we well know by now, the income gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans has been growing for decades and shows no signs of stopping. That’s bad for all sorts of social reasons, with inequality driving unrest, crime, violence and even revolution in the extreme cases. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on September 12, 2013 in food, mcdonald's, robots


Fast-food workers to strike as robots loom

BreakTimeSolutions-FrenchFryMachFast-food workers across the United States are being urged to strike on Thursday in an effort to drum up support for higher wages. The unrest has been simmering for some time now, with many employees unable to make ends meet on their painfully low wages.

The cause is noble, but as the old saying goes: the workers may want to be careful about what they wish for. They may not get the raises they’re after, but they may indeed end up out of work. Simply put: the robots are coming.

I’ve written before about robotic vending machines that can make hot dogs and pizza automatically, cheaply and quickly. Add French fries to that list. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on August 27, 2013 in food, robots


Tiny robots could fly around no-kill rules

robo-flyA pair of intriguing-and-potentially-linked robot stories made the news this week, with the first being a United Nations report calling on a moratorium for automated killing machines. The report for the UN Human Rights Commission suggests a worldwide ban on the production, assembly, testing and deployment of fully or semi-autonomous weapons until rules can be developed to govern their use.

With United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan already having such killer robots, the clock is ticking. Removing humans from the decision to institute killing, the report says, could lead to an increase of it.

“Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans — while they are fallible — at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not,” it says. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 3, 2013 in robots, war, weapons


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