2016 April 27 Wednesday
Semi-Autonomous Trucks And More Tasks For Drivers

We are headed for a transitional phase where trucks mostly drive themselves but human drivers have to remain present to take over in circumstances that computers can't handle. A piece in Wired speculates that drivers will take on other tasks remotely while driving.

Is this idea viable? If the trucks could have high speed internet through much of their trips and the high speed internet was cheap enough then I can see a number of potential users of trucker time: Drivers could monitor video streams of businesses to look for criminals invading business premises in off hours. Or monitor video streams of stores to spot shoplifters. They could also listen on audio streams to answer questions of visitors in a store. Develop a specialty and answer questions about choices of consumer electronics for example. Or answer questions in a hardware store about how to do home repair or remodeling.

Do any of these ideas seem practical? See uses for the time of drivers who are babysitting computers that are driving the trucks?

The same question can be asked about aircraft pilots on long trips with autopilots in control. What other productive work could the aircraft pilots do on very long flights? For that matter, given an airplane full of passengers what productive use could they be put to? Load up a large data set of images or sounds or text to classify and ask each passenger questions in exchange for a partial fare refund?

By Randall Parker 2016 April 27 09:55 PM 
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2016 April 23 Saturday
Farming Automation And Robots

Japanese farmers are old and as they retire younger Japanese aren't replacing them. Japan imports most of its food. So what to do? Develop a variety of robots to automate farming. One Japanese company is developing a fully automated indoors farm. They expect it to be more energy efficient than outdoors farming.

Automated farming is, as one would expect, under development in other countries as well. Two different robotic weed sprayers are under testing at a Yorkshire England farm and at farms in Queensland Australia.

In Minnesota automated milking equipment boosts productivity per cow.

A robot that picks thru and sorts organic fruit is also under development.

Most farms in America have tractors with some auto steering capability. But enough things can go wrong which the tractor can't handle that humans are still in the cab. Tractor developers (e.g. John Deere) are working on enhancements to autonomous function which will eventually lead to fully autonomous tractors. Read that last link to get a sense of how many technologies are being applied to farming: Lasers, sonar, diesel electric drive trains, and lots of machine learning models.

I suspect we are going to see fully autonomous vehicles roaming around farms before we see them on the roads. Farm fields pose much fewer safety risks. Plus, some farm robots, such as for de-weeding, can be pretty small. We are also going to witness a shift of some farming indoors in very intensive, stacked trays that grow fruits and vegetables all year round.

By Randall Parker 2016 April 23 10:02 AM 
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2016 April 13 Wednesday
Mediterranean Diet Helps Heart Patients

Even after you already have a heart condition the Mediterranean diet is still good for you: 'Mediterranean' diet linked to lower risk of heart attacks & strokes in heart patients.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat more whole grain and less refined grain foods.

Something worth noting here: The unhealthy majority, by preferring unhealthy foods, reduce the options for healthier eating for the rest of us in restaurants. If more people shifted toward a preference for whole grains then we'd have more whole grain choices when eating out. As it stands now in many restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, there are no whole grain choices.

Does anyone come across whole grain pasta or whole grain pancakes or pastry when eating out at a major chain? Or are these choices only found in specialty local restaurants in a small number of communities?

By Randall Parker 2016 April 13 02:44 PM 
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Saturated Fat Really Harmful?

Does a switch to polyunsaturates increase mortality by increasing inflammation? Seems plausible. See this Harvard Health article on foods that promote and reduce inflammation.

I already avoid polyunsaturated fats due to the inflammation risk of excess linoleic acid in the diet and stick to olive or canola oil (or butter for that matter). As for meat with saturated fats: I do not avoid them to avoid the fat. I avoid red meat in order to avoid the iron load. High blood ferritin seems like a more serious worry than high blood cholesterol.

By Randall Parker 2016 April 13 01:02 PM 
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2016 April 09 Saturday
Automation, Robots, Jobs

There are now 260,000 robots working in U.S. factories. My own reaction: Only 260k? I was expecting more. Robot sales are growing at over 10% per year. Amazon alone has 30,000 robots. I think that's a global number.

"Fintech" (financial technology) start-ups look set to provide levels of automation that will become much more disruptive to employment in banking and finance. Employment in banking has peaked due to automation and is in a long term declining trend. Citibank analysts believe "Banking's Uber Moment" has arrived and employment in banking will decline 30% by 2025.

Some fearful people want to stop the robots. That's not going to happen at a global level. If a country puts in place measures to slow automation then some industries will move to other countries. Some socialists welcome robots and want to combine them with a a guaranteed income for all. But as I've previously argued, capital is very mobile and so most robots won't have their labor taxed to support the poor.

Robots and other forms of automation face little opposition in factories and will get rolled out. However, shipping port automation is being slowed by union strike threats in Rotterdam and the US west coast lags far behind Rotterdam because of union opposition to automation. More on union opposition to port automation here.

Autonomous vehicles are another technology that will automate a lot of jobs. But just when autonomous vehicles will hit the market is far less clear. Most of the major car makers and at least 4 Silicon Valley companies are chasing AVs. But there isn't a single cross-over point where autonomous vehicles become better. It depends on the driver's, age, emotional stability (driving while sad or anxious raises accident risk by about a factor of 10), tiredness, and assorted irresponsible behaviors such as text messaging, talking on the phone, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This suggests that a vehicle could test a driver to decide whether it should take over from the driver.

The relative performance of humans or computers also depends on road conditions such as the weather, the condition of road paint, design of signs and street lights, and an assortment of other environmental factors. We could get autonomous vehicles sooner if transportation departments upgraded physical signals that AVs could use to know what's a road and when to turn or stop. This would likely reduce accidents by human drivers as well.

Long haul trucks could get automated sooner since highways are less complex than city and suburban streets and upgrading their signage and paint for automated vehicles is a much smaller job than doing it for surface streets. Also, not all highways would need to get upgraded for autonomous trucks to start hauling on some of them.

My guess is drones (small autonomous aircraft) are going to take off before autonomous vehicles for the same reason that auto-pilots came to aircraft decades ago: the air is far less crowded and less complex than roads and highways. But autonomous aircraft seem like a smaller economic deal than autonomous cars and trucks. If drones could take a big slice out of UPS and FedEx ground deliveries I'd change my mind. Can they? Or do most deliveries weigh too much?

By Randall Parker 2016 April 09 04:19 PM 
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