2015 September 30 Wednesday
$1000 Genome By Veritas Genetics

DNA sequencing costs have dropped several orders of magnitude in the last 15 years. The cost passed below $10k in around 2011 and has continued to drop since. Now some people can now get their DNA sequenced for $1000.

Veritas Genetics today announced that the company is making it possible for participants in the Personal Genome Project (PGP) to be among the first to get their whole genome sequenced and interpreted for less than a $1,000.

Led by Veritas Genetics Co-Founder Dr. George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Personal Genome Project, PGP is a long-term effort to sequence thousands of complete genomes to enable research into personal genomics and personalized medicine. PGP has more than 16,000 participants worldwide.

The "$1,000 Genome" has long been considered the tipping point when sequencing and interpreting the human genome becomes commonplace and begins to rapidly increase what is known and to dramatically impact healthcare. The catchphrase underscores how far science has come since the actual cost of the Human Genome Project, estimated at $2.7 billion spent over a decade.

To participate you have to join the Personal Genome Project and provide them with extensive medical records. Then scientists use all this data to figure out what all the genetic variants mean.

My guess is they are offering a discount on the DNA sequencing cost in order to collect the massive quantity of information they need to study how millions of genetic variants influence health and performance of our minds and bodies.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 30 08:58 PM 
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2015 September 27 Sunday
End Of Moore's Law For CPU Speed Increases Coming To End

The rate of computer processor power growth has slowed from doubling once every two years to once every 2.5 to 3 yeas. The doublings might stop entirely by about 2025.

Will other forms of technological advance speed up to take the place of CPU doubling speed as a driver of economic growth? I'm thinking of genetic editing with CRISPR-Cas9 and other genetic manipulation techniques yet to be discovered. Biotech continues to have a far smaller impact than the computer industry on economic growth and living standards. But in theory biotech ought to be able to deliver far larger benefits - most notably rejuvenation therapies. The question is when will it happen?

By Randall Parker 2015 September 27 11:57 AM 
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2015 September 20 Sunday
Robotic Drones Build Rope Bridge

So far only rope bridges.

One of the benefits of fully robotic road and bridge construction: shorter periods of traffic disruption. Robots will be able to operate 24x7. A new bridge will go up in a third of the time or less. New office buildings will go up much faster too.

The CEO of big auto parts maker Magna thinks robotic advances will cause manufacturing to shift back from China to USA and Europe. This will cut shipping costs and reduce inventory costs of finished goods getting transported across oceans. Lower demand for shipping as more goods are made locally?

On the bright side, those who still have jobs will pay less for cars, boats, bicycles, and many other manufactured goods as labor costs drop by about a fifth in the next 10 years.

BCG Research Predicts That by 2025, Adoption of Advanced Robots Will Boost Productivity by Up to 30 Percent in Many Industries and Lower Total Labor Costs by 18 Percent or More in Countries Such as South Korea, China, the U.S., Japan, and Germany

Furniture, bathroom fixtures, door knobs, lamps, and countless other parts for houses will cost less. Cars will cost less. So if you can maintain your earning power in an increasingly automated society you will have access to lots of cheap goods.

Do you have a job that you expect will get automated in the next 10-15 years? Say what it is in comments. If you have an idea for what you ought to do next once a robot takes over your job say that too.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 20 01:16 PM 
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2015 September 17 Thursday
Volvo Working On Robotic Trash Collectors

Read about it here.

The robots would collect the trash cans to bring to the dump truck. But in many neighborhoods currently you take your trash can to the curb. Then the truck comes along and a sort of forklift comes down from the truck, operated by the driver, to pick up the can. So an autonomous vehicle with cameras and image processing could have computer logic to guide the trash can grabber.

Wheeled robots would be an improvement. They could cruise up a driveway way to grab the trash cans and so would certainly avoid the problem of forgetting to put out the trash at the curb. Though the robots would get attacked by some dogs. I used to have a dog that would try to bite the wheels of a lawn mower when I moved the mower before starting its engine. I can certainly see dogs wanting to bite at a robot.

When does this stuff hit the market? Corporations do not have really long time horizons for investing. So Volvo isn't pursuing a 20 year plan.

A Forrester study expects a 7% net loss of jobs to automation over the next decade. They expect 16% of jobs to be lost but about 9% new jobs yielding the net loss. That is by 2025. Will the rate of advance of robotics development accelerate that fast by 2025?

The Forrester report: The Future Of Jobs, 2025: Working Side By Side With Robots and a Forrester blog post on it.

Those who are skeptical that such a large amount worker displacement is possible should see my blog post: Employment-Population Ratio By Education Level. It has already happened.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 17 08:31 PM 
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2015 September 15 Tuesday
How To Colonize Mars

Since it is so expensive to move people safely to Mars it would make sense to wait until we have the technologies needed to do three thing:

  • first send robots to construct a large underground habitat.
  • Then create and send genetically engineered organisms that can grow food, fiber, drugs, and structural elements in Martian conditions.
  • Then create genetic sequences that would adapt people to life on Mars and give them formidable intellects and long lasting bodies.
  • send a very small number of humans with lots of genetically engineered embryos. Grow the colonists on Mars. The first colonists would spend their time raising a large number of children who'd then do colony expansion work.

The genetically engineered organisms would avoid to send capital equipment to produce each kind of product that the colonists will need. The engineered organisms could be very small when shipped. But creation of suitable growing vats on Mars likely will be a challenge.

Humanity probably won't have the technologies needed to solve all these problems for 20-30 years. The robotics problem should be pursued first.

Another problem: how can a Mars colony produce and store enough energy? Send mini fusion plants? Or will they weigh too much? Genetically engineer organisms that can manufacture solar panels?

By Randall Parker 2015 September 15 09:15 PM 
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2015 September 13 Sunday
Can You Make Better Choices For Politicians Than Stocks?

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams writes an excellent blog. Here is an example of the quality of his thinking: If the vast majority of smart people can't beat the stock market indexes why do they think they can do better at knowing who to elect as President?

A small number of people are better at guessing about the future. Large scale screening of the public would let us know who they are. This has already been done to rank 3000 people by their ability to make accurate predictions. But if I was running the CIA or an investment bank I'd do this on a much larger scale. The people with the best predictive skills are largely unknown.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 13 10:00 PM 
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Hundreds Of Colleges Provide No Earnings Boost

Most graduates of hundreds of colleges are doing no better than high school grads 10 years after graduation.

Great that this has been quantified. Why? Two reasons you already know:

  • Smart people make more money because they can do more. College does not make you smarter. Colleges with lower standards offer a way to get a degree without being very bright.
  • Some colleges teach few useful skills. They lack accounting courses, let alone engineering or computer science. Even some schools have those courses recruit mostly students who aren't capable of passing them.

Even a substantial chunk of the earnings boost associated with elite college education is coming from the intelligence and drive of the people who manage to get accepted to these colleges. Unless IQ and drive are adjusted for attempts to measure the benefits of college will produce overestimates.

Of course the students who to go the low IQ colleges default at much higher rates.

Kids who aren't too bright are being economically harmed by delaying work to go to colleges where they won't learn anything useful. If only our society was more honest about intelligence differences we could have policies that helped the lower IQ folks learn skills they could master that would help them in the job market.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 13 09:20 PM 
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2015 September 12 Saturday
Low Winds In America Cut Wind Power Output

In spite of a rapid pace in new wind farm construction wind electric power output dropped 4.2% in the first 5 months of 2015 as compared to a year earlier. The drop was most severe in the West.

In the future we won't just have drought years and hot or cold years. We will also have low wind years. Wind drought? We need a term for it. Imagining a commentator in the year 2035: "The western United States is in the 5th year of a wind drought that has seen rationing of power in many areas and a flurry of solar panel installations".

By Randall Parker 2015 September 12 10:27 AM 
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2015 September 07 Monday
Some Jobs Headed For Extinction

See The 5 jobs look set for the biggest drops : "Fallers" who cut down trees are headed for a 43% drop in employment by 2022. Lumberjack is not a good career choice. The 8,000 people who are still left running movie theater projectors ("motion picture projectionist") are, unsurprisingly, in a quickly shrinking occupation. Of course movies are going digital and automated. Here are some more jobs that will be replaced by robots.

Some jobs are shrinking because the technology already exists and capital investments are gradually sweeping thru and replacing old equipment with new equipment that does not need humans. But some other occupations are kinda like in a waiting room. The tech to replace them is under development but not yet ready for mass deployment. As examples I think of fast food restaurant cooks and counter help (the Eatsa automat shows the future), commercial drivers (e.g. long haul truck, taxi, bus), and the people who harvest fruits and vegetables. My guess is automated cooking robots start taking over restaurant cooking jobs before autonomous trucks take over long haul trucking jobs. But both will be in the same state as movie projectionists by 2025: the human phase-out will be under way. By 2040? Almost all gone. Human-staffed restaurants for the upper class will survive as a niche market, though perhaps with only a single chef controlling machines and humans as wait staff.

For some types of jobs the only thing left to speculate about is when their phase-out begins. When do the first autonomous taxis hit the road? When do the first autonomous long haul trucks hit the road? Which comes first? When will a tractor sweep around a cauliflower field and pick all the cauliflower with no human involvement? Or when will Wal-Mart or Target (or perhaps a Japanese chain) deploy the first automated shelf-stocking robot? Or how about when will the first robot empty all the trash cans at desks in an office?

What jobs do you see around your workplace or your town that you do not think will last 20 years?

We have finally arrived at the era when robots extensively take over work which historically has been done by humans. The robots have done this out of sight in factories. In the next phase they will take over work in all areas of the economy. The next 20 years promises to be interesting.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 07 01:20 PM 
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2015 September 05 Saturday
Radiation Shielding Metal Foams Have Space Exploration Uses

Metal foams reduce the weight needed for radiation shielding.

Research from North Carolina State University shows that lightweight composite metal foams are effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays and neutron radiation, and are capable of absorbing the energy of high impact collisions. The finding means the metal foams hold promise for use in nuclear safety, space exploration and medical technology applications.

A human trip to Mars poses a radiation brain damage threat. So lighter materials to protect against radiation would make a Mars trip more feasible, though still not sensible. I still think we should not go to Mars until robots have prepared safe living quarters and have built up enough infrastructure for energy, food production, and other needs to make a permanent Mars colony possible. We went to the Moon several times and that made for great TV (though not in the later trips). But humans haven't been back since Apollo in December 1972. That's over 42 years ago. So stunt space expeditions to show that humans can do something do not lead to permanent expansion of human presence into a new realm.

Metal foams are being developed for shielding in applications on Earth and the research is funded by the US Department of Energy.

"This work means there's an opportunity to use composite metal foam to develop safer systems for transporting nuclear waste, more efficient designs for spacecraft and nuclear structures, and new shielding for use in CT scanners," says Afsaneh Rabiei, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and corresponding author of a paper on the work.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 05 05:03 PM 
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Autonomous Cars, Repair Shops, Robotic Repair

If your autonomous vehicle has a problem that does not impair its safe operation then it can drive itself to a repair shop without you. Then you can get an autonomous taxi (or autonomous rental if needed) to take you to work while your car is getting fixed. This has consequences for how the vehicle repair industry is structured as well as for the size of local businesses.

If your car can't make it to the repair shop then an autonomous towing flatbed truck could show up and, perhaps with some help from you, take your car away. Then once the car is fixed it can drive itself back to you.

Something changes in this scenario that might not be immediately obvious: the value of having repair shops near your home goes down. Your own time is not spent driving to and from the repair shop. Neither is the time of a tow truck driver. Even when humans are needed to get the car up onto a flat bed the humans who do it don't have to stay with the flatbed as it goes back to a repair shop. They can move on to other work.

Since repair shops do not need to be nearby they can be much bigger. A larger number of vehicles can be brought to a single location. Therefore the repair shop can get enough vehicles processed through it to spread the capital costs of automated repair equipment over a larger number of vehicles and therefore use less human labor

A highly automated repair shop can also operate 24 hours per day. Robots don't need to sleep after all. This increases the utilization of capital and lowers the break even threshold for automated equipment and therefore makes automated repair happen sooner.

The restructuring of the car repair industry will play out over years after autonomous vehicles first hit the road in sizable numbers. The ability to centralize repair to fewer locations will increase the demand for automated equipment which will cause companies to invest in its development. Since engineering development takes time and changes in industry practices takes time the restructuring process might play out over about 10 years once autonomous vehicles become widespread.

This restructuring is not limited to auto repair. Suppose you have some broken shoes. You might think it not worth your time to take the shoes to a repair shop. After all, you have to pay 2 visits: once to drop off the shoes and a second time to retrieve them. But what if your own vehicle can take the shoes to the shop, a shop employee runs out and fetches them, and then your car drives itself back home. Or perhaps the repair shop sends a vehicle on rounds to pick up stuff from customers. Or perhaps an automated courier service will send a UAV to pick up your broken phone and send it hundreds of miles away for repair. Suddenly the hurdles to using a repair service are lowered. This will lower the barriers to the use of shoe repair, computer repair, cell phone repair, and appliance repair and will make it easier to use repair shops that are farther from home.

The ability to use more distant repair facilities will cause changes in the structure of societies. We will not live as close to people in service industries. You won't need a corner shoe repair or a corner appliance repair shop. The amount of local business will shrink.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 05 10:17 AM 
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2015 September 02 Wednesday
Crime Surge In American Cities

Remember the optimism in some circles a few years ago about how the crime rate will just keep dropping? See: Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities

Call cops racist and prosecute them for defending themselves and really quickly they become so timid that criminal elements feel quite emboldened. Thugocracy gets out of hand and the aggressive thugs become more eager to pull a gun and start shooting.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 02 08:11 PM 
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2015 September 01 Tuesday
Are We Approaching A Robotic Cambrian Explosion?

Check out this piece in IEEE Spectrum: Is a Cambrian Explosion Coming for Robotics?

Many of the base hardware technologies on which robots depend—particularly computing, data storage, and communications—have been improving at exponential growth rates. Two newly blossoming technologies—“Cloud Robotics” and “Deep Learning”—could leverage these base technologies in a virtuous cycle of explosive growth. In Cloud Robotics—a term coined by James Kuffner (2010)—every robot learns from the experiences of all robots, which leads to rapid growth of robot competence, particularly as the number of robots grows.

Not sure whether to be frightened or thrilled. I feel both.

The kinds of human activities which will get automated in the next 10 years: driving, cooking, crop harvesting, construction. As computers become more powerful and algorithms more capable of making a machine learn the current capabilities will seem crude 10 years from now. Robot development will become much easier.

Will the rate of advance of robotic tech greatly accelerate? Seems plausible. How will this affect you? Depends heavily on whether you will retain value in the labor market. Menial laborers are certainly going to be out of luck.

By Randall Parker 2015 September 01 09:45 PM 
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