In 2013, a robotic arm rang the closing bell on the Nasdaq. This was done to celebrate the launch of the Robo Global Robotics & Automation ETF (ROBO). The bell-ringing by the first non-human was made possible by a 3-D tablet touchscreen.
That same year, Alphabet’s Google’s X division (as it’s now known) bought robotics engineering company Boston Dynamics. One of their projects was to create a "humanoid" robot — one that’s aware of its situations and can adapt to them.
And this week, they unveiled a video of "Atlas" — a robot who stands at 5’9". But this robot isn’t standing around much.
Rather, this 180-pound wonder was seen taking a stroll in the snow, lifting boxes and solving problems. You can click on this link or on the image below to see Atlas in action …
What’s fascinating is that no one appears to be controlling Atlas. It is doing everything on its own. Even more intriguing is how aware Atlas is of its surroundings — and adapts to them.
Atlas seems committed to his task of picking up 10-pound boxes. When the human man in the video uses a hockey stick to move the boxes farther away from Atlas — and even when he uses the stick to push Atlas to the ground — Atlas gets back up and goes back to work.
But this wasn’t just some robot-shaming video created to entertain YouTube users.
Google X and Boston Dynamics have big plans for Atlas.
One of the more-immediate goals for this situationally aware robot may be to help with Google’s expansion of its same-day grocery-delivery business, which is live in a handful of major U.S. cities.
After all, Amazon (AMZN) is using drones as part of its delivery service. Atlas could help Google to become a ground-level competitor, literally.
But that’s nothing compared to the potential for this physical manifestation of artificial intelligence.
Until now, artificial intelligence has been more of an abstract concept. Generally, it refers to software or machines being able to learn, and ultimately interact with, its users.
This technology can be used for entertainment (playing games), profit (targeted advertising) or general help (Siri, Alexa or Cortana, depending on your preferred digital assistant).
But Google isn’t content being just a "search engine story," as Max Wolff, chief economist at Manhattan Venture Partners, said on CNBC this week.
With the Atlas technology, it has a real opportunity to help protect human life.
That’s why we could soon be seeing this technology being used to handle hazardous waste … enforce the law … and even to detect bombs in buildings and on battlefields.
And that’s where the line starts to blur about using robots in defense — especially an autonomous one like Atlas.
Here in the Afternoon Edition, we’ve been talking about the robotic revolution for a long time now. Here are just a few of our most-popular articles on this topic.
• March 2014: Soldiers of the Future: Will Google be Evil?
• March 2014: Will Robots Take Your Job (Again)?
• May 2014: Amazon Hiring 9,000 Robots This Year
• May 2015: Robots Aren’t Coming — They’re Here
• June 2015: Human Hybrids by 2030
As I’ve said before, a robot that can move independently and dig victims out of collapsed buildings could also carry weapons and shoot people.
There are a lot of benefits and risks that need to be weighed before this can happen … not to mention some degree of government red tape. However, there’s a lot to be said for using robots to do the business of fighting, to preserve human life.
But we might see Atlases starting to show up in the workforce even sooner. The robot was able to adapt to its environment, yes. But overall it was a "doer" rather than a thinker.
That’s why I’m planning to teach my young children to be thinkers — and doing everything I can to keep my own mind sharp as I get older.
Artificial intelligence continues to have its limitations. But when it comes to new ideas, we humans still have a wonderful opportunity to use real intelligence to keep our edge. And it’s up to each of us individually to make sure we keep it.
Speaking of intelligence, our readers continue to prove they are among the world’s smartest.
Apple (AAPL) is still a hot topic with our readers. Tomorrow is the deadline for Tim Cook & Co. to comply with the federal court order to build a backdoor that would unlock iPhones upon request.
The company’s latest response? To work on new ways to strengthen the encryption of its customers’ iCloud accounts, where their data is backed up.
From what I’ve read, the FBI does have access to an iCloud backup of the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone 5C that was made back in October. Allegedly, the feds also want to see the most-recent activity.
That request doesn’t fly with most of our readers. Here are three of the newest e-mails on this subject in my inbox …
Robert N. writes:
We should be wary of weakening our operating systems by creating backdoors that could be exploited by both "friendly" government agencies and, ultimately, by "unfriendly" hackers, cyber terrorists and cyber warriors. It is hard enough even now to keep "secure" computer systems truly secure. Making our technology (in a technologically dependent society) more vulnerable to future attacks strikes me as both unwise and the height of folly.
I’m considering buying out my year-and-a-half contract on my Galaxy Note 4 and buying an iPhone just as a stick in the eye to the feds. Even though I have nothing to hide, I do like the security that the iPhone affords me. My biggest concern to doing that is that the feds will get their way and my (secure phone could be hijacked and made unsecured).
After thinking about this a bit more, I’m on the side of Apple. All our electronics that connect to the Internet should have this security. When shopping for electronics, I buy Taiwan or S. Korea. China only if there is no other choice. Since Apple products are built in China, I wonder if the Chinese have a backdoor we don’t know about?
Brad comment: Governments "hacking" us is nothing new — whether our own or others.
It’s safe to say that our wounds are still pretty fresh from the NSA … the Chinese Army’s search for U.S. corporate trade secrets … China supposedly gaining access to U.S. workers’ personnel files … and more. So, it isn’t surprising that the public is rooting for Apple to prevail.
That’s because what could happen if it doesn’t is too scary to think about right now.
Chinese stocks were down overnight, but the U.S. markets spent most of the day in positive territory as oil gained 2.8%. As oil went, so did stocks. In Thursday’s session, the S&P 500 gained 1.1%.
• The courtship of Yahoo! (YHOO) begins. You might think search giant Alphabet/Google would snap up Yahoo! now that it’s put itself up for sale. But it’s a trio of telecoms — AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA) and Verizon (VZ) — that are reportedly making a play for the troubled Internet content provider … and, perhaps most importantly, its $26 billion Alibaba (BABA) stake.
• Good news for the U.S. manufacturing sector. Durable goods orders for January jumped 4.9%, and payrolls rose the most since August 2013. The sector, which accounts for 12% of the economy, has struggled because of falling oil prices and a stronger dollar.
• Halliburton (HAL) said it’s set to cut 5,000 more jobs. It has already slashed its workforce by some 25% since 2014 when oil began its 70%-plus decline. Yet …
• "There isn’t enough blood on the streets of Houston yet." That came from an oil analyst at ING Bank, who says oil prices will keep treading around the $30-per-barrel mark at least through the summer.
• 13 investment banks told the Wall Street Journal that West Texas Intermediate crude oil will average $38 this year. That’s $11 lower than when they were surveyed in January.
Good Luck and Happy Investing,
Uncommon Wisdom Daily