2015 January 28 Wednesday
Robot Workers In New Japanese Hotel

Robotic room cleaning and receptionist.

NAGASAKI A hotel with robot staff and face recognition instead of room keys will open this summer in Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki Prefecture, the operator of the theme park said Tuesday.

It will still have some human workers. To make the beds and pick up towels?

I can easily see how robots could make human room cleaners faster. The robots could hand towels and fresh pillows to a human room cleaner, vacuum the floors, and perhaps clean counter tops once a human moved stuff out of the way. If rooms were laid out of easier robotic servicing the job would get easier. For example, a robot could have special plugs in the wall (ceiling?) to plug itself in to recharge a battery and vacuum at the same time.

Robotic receptionists seem especially easy to provide. Slip your credit card in the slot to check in and a card to open your door could pop out. Or of course the door could have a camera to recognize you. Human interactions to check in just slow us down. We could get told our room number on a cell phone app and go directly to the room upon arriving at a hotel. Just like skipping the counter visit when renting or returning a car.

By Randall Parker 2015 January 28 09:09 PM 
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2015 January 24 Saturday
Telomere Lengthening RNA Treatment Lets Cells Divide More

Take away the threat of cancer and I'll sign up for telomere lengthening.

Researchers delivered a modified RNA that encodes a telomere-extending protein to cultured human cells. Cell proliferation capacity was dramatically increased, yielding large numbers of cells for study.

This result suggests that the Hayflick limit on how many times a cell can divide is caused by telomere shortening that happens every time a cell divides. Once the telomeres on chromosomes get too small the cell loses the ability to divide. This is an expected result. Telomere shortening has long been thought to be a defense mechanism against cancer by limiting how many times a cell can divide.

Yet we still get and die from cancer. Why? Cancer gets around it by mutations to turn on telomerase to lengthen telomeres as well as probably by other mechanisms. But the need for the additional mutations decreases the odds of dying of cancer - albeit at the cost of dying from aging. Our cells gradually lose the ability to divide to do repair and we become decrepit and malfunction and die.

This technique is useful for scientists who need long living cell lines.

A new procedure can quickly and efficiently increase the length of human telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that are linked to aging and disease, according to scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Treated cells behave as if they are much younger than untreated cells, multiplying with abandon in the laboratory dish rather than stagnating or dying.

There are two problems with using this technique on our bodies. First, getting it into all the cells would be hard. Second, it would increase our odds of getting cancer. What we need: the ability to kill pre-cancerous cells that have some but not all the mutations needed to make a cell cancerous. Once we can wipe out those cells we will be able to use gene therapy to lengthen our telomeres. The result would be that all over the body a lot more repair would get done and people would become healthier.

What I'd like to know: what fraction of 60, 65, 70, 75 year old people have cancers being held at bay by short telomeres? If 65 year olds all got their telomeres lengthened what fraction would die sooner of cancer an what fraction would live longer and healthier due to better body repair?

By Randall Parker 2015 January 24 07:46 PM 
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2015 January 18 Sunday
Automated Vehicles And Changes In Lifestyles

What will automated cars and trucks do to change society? First some uncontroversial changes:

  • A big reduction in jobs driving taxis.
  • A big reduction in jobs driving local delivery and long haul trucks.
  • A big reduction in car accidents and deaths from car accidents.
  • Greater mobility for the blind and other disabled.
  • Greater fuel efficiency as cars drive themselves more optimally.
  • Higher potential traffic volume on a freeway as cars do coordinated speed control and lane changes.

But what about the impacts on personal decisions on whether to live in cities, suburbs, or rural environments? That one seems a lot harder to call.

The argument for more suburban and rural living: commuting from suburb to city will become faster (faster average freeway speeds) and easier. Also commuting between suburbs (which is also quite common) will become easier as well. Why live in a city to reduce commuting time and commuting stress when you can use the commuting type to catch up on email, do video conferencing, and write documents? All else equal if commuting becomes easier people will commute longer distances.

The argument for more city living: autonomous cars will make mobility within a city cheaper, faster, and safer. Autonomous cars will reduce the need for car ownership. In a future permutation of Uber or Lyft you will be able to summon a rental autonomous vehicle, walk out your apartment, and find it waiting for you by the time you reach the street. Car ownership will become much less common and yet mobility will increase within the city. You won't need to park your car when you reach your destination because it will drive itself off to pick up another customer - just like taxis now but cheaper and with much faster service. So the high costs and hassles of car ownership will be replaced with a much more responsive transportation system within cities. Though the increase in people moving around might make traffic worse.

In both suburbs and cities I expect to see big commuter buses to be replaced by shared riding in smaller vehicles. Buses have to run less often because they are so big. Therefore people have to wait for them rather than immediately go where they want to go. An autonomous SUV going down a busy suburban or city surface road will get a signal from a central dispatching computer to pick up people who walk out from side streets and carry them in a direction that other riders in the vehicle are already going.

Ask yourself: Given autonomous vehicles would you change your mind about where you want to live? What sort of housing would you move from and to?

By Randall Parker 2015 January 18 09:40 AM 
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2015 January 01 Thursday
Truck Drivers: How Many Will Lose Jobs To Automation?

According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) heavy duty and tractor trailer truck drivers made $38.2k per year in 2012 and 1.7 million worked in that job in 2012. BLS projects that from 2012 to 2022 the number of truck drivers will grow by 11%, about in pace with overall employment.

I looked into these numbers curious to see if BLS is considering any impacts on employment due to the rise of autonomous vehicles. Short answer: No. Yet long haul trucking seems like an ideal first use of autonomous vehicle technology. Long haul trucks are expensive pieces of capital equipment with high rates of use. Autonomous operation could not only cut labor costs but also speed up deliveries since computer cores do not need to sleep. Plus, once the technology is mature autonomous operation will cut accident rates. This will both cut costs and save lives.

Long haul trucking seems especially attractive as the first application of autonomous commercial vehicle technology (and I am ignoring existing autonomous surface mine vehicles that do not use normal roads).. The trucks would not need the (greater) level of sophistication needed to drive autonomously on surface roads. A skilled driver could move the truck to a freeway, get out, and then let automation take over. Then at the other end the truck could stop and let a driver climb in and drive off the freeway and onto trickier surface roads.

Some issues would need to be worked out. Refueling comes to mind. I think long haul truck stops with special off lanes could be built. Drivers, working rather like port pilots who take over ships near port, could drive each truck to a refueling station and eventually move the truck the truck stop's on ramp.

Is 2022 too soon for autonomous trucks to start taking on a significant portion of long haul truck trips? Perhaps by a few years. Mercedes has a Future Truck 2025 Autonomous Driving Demo.

A longer demo.

Don't expect to work as a long haul trucker 15 years from now.

By contrast, the 654,000 driving buses (most of whom are school bus drivers) will keep their jobs longer than long haul truck drivers. School bus drivers provide supervision of kids as well as deal with pedestrians and the behavior of other vehicles in very varied environments.

Only 81,600 work in water transport occupations with a projection of 13% growth by 2022. Boat pilo ting seems like a job ripe for automation. But not that many jobs are at stake.

Railroad worker employment is projected to drop by 3% from 113,800 jobs in 2012 in spite of growth in traffic. BLS attributes this to expected advances in automation. Out of all the transportation industry occupations listed by BLS only flight attendants are projected to decline by more (down 7% by 2022).

If you are curious you can have a look at the BLS transportation and materials moving occupations projections.

By Randall Parker 2015 January 01 08:41 PM 
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