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Comment Re:And so it begins... (Score 1) 407

Actually, it can be far more complicated than you may think - Consider that a typical robotic workcell may have several robots and quite a few other devices (tooling, clamps, material handling/motion control equipment, process equipment, etc.), each with it's own, mostly or entirely independent control logic. In most cases, there simply is no overarching view of the logic or the policy that's supposed to be implemented (that requires *understanding*, and hence humans), so it's surprisingly easy to run into potentially dangerous conditions that weren't anticipated by the people who designed the system. (I say this as someone who has 30 years experience in both robots and IoT.)

You're right that that's the way safety *should* work, but getting to that point in the real world (which is a messy place) is a lot harder than you might expect - as evidenced in this case by the failure to anticipate or realize the potential danger from a second robot.

Comment Re: And so it begins... (Score 1) 407

Well, I'm one of those people - my degree is in robotics, and yes, I've been whacked, hard, by robots while working with them. The second time taught me to be very careful, as it could have killed me if things had gone only a little differently.

It's hard to do a complete lock-out/tag-out type process when you're testing the robot, or more commonly, the interactions between the various devices in the workcell. (No, I'm not saying you shouldn't lock and tag...) There are some things that are much more easily debugged from up close - the danger comes when you *think* you're in a "safe" spot in the work envelope, but one or another of the various programs running has other ideas. (Keep in mind that the average robotic workcell may have a dozen or more controllers running their own mostly to entirely independent control logic.)

In my experience, most robot-related accidents (which thankfully, only rarely lead to serious injury or death) are due to a combination of both human error AND software errors. (Hardware errors are both far less common and far less likely to result in injury.) Like plane crashes, the root cause may be attributed to human error, but there are almost always a set of contributing factors and conditions that stack up to lead to a deadly accident. (And like SCUBA diving, you ALWAYS need a buddy - but in this case, with the big red switch in his hand.)

There are several bigger problems that need fixing - First, 20th century robot technology (which is still practically all that's in use) builds robots that are stupid - really, really stupid. Unlike the robots of SciFi, they have no concept of people or other things, and only the most rudimentary idea of themselves. Generally, they can't feel at all (except *maybe* at their end effector (hand)), and almost none of them can independently avoid collisions even with other machines and static objects in the workcell, much less unpredictable and strangely-shaped things like people.

Giving robots the ability to feel or detect impact (via skin-type force sensing) would go a long way, but then programming would have to catch up, too, so that there are good places to hang autonomic or low-level, high importance safety loops. (BTW, this sort of multi-layered control scheme was what the MIT Media Lab's Rodney Brooks was originally working on before he got seduced by shiny things. His early papers are still surprisingly relevant.) The vast majority of robots today still use what are more or less a series of GOTO instructions in threespace sprinkled with conditionals, with little to no ability to do their own path planning, or react to anything they haven't been preprogrammed specifically to deal with.

As for fixing blame - that's really hard, and very situational. (If it's a software problem, is it due to insufficient safeguards in the underlying system, insufficient care by the implementor, or something that was reasonably unexpected?) Even knowing the full story (which obviously we don't here), it can be very difficult to sort out who is (or should be) responsible for what - especially when the law may not always be congruent with expectations. In general though, it's hardly fair to hold manufacturers responsible for unwise or insufficiently careful use of products that are known to be potentially dangerous. I often use a variant of this quote humorously to refer to Unix/Linux, but it's literally true when applied to robots: "Keep in mind that robots are power tools. And power tools can kill."

Comment Re:MS PAINT SAVES THE DAY! (Score 1) 139

True, the lack of layers in Paint makes it a good choice for this kind of thing - perhaps the only thing it's really good at...

It's stunning how many people do this kind of thing in Photoshop or Acrobat, but leave the layers intact, so you can remove the obscuration with a little advanced editing...

Comment Re:Research is a bit blurry (Score 1) 139

Ten years ago, I was CTO for a company making smart touchscreen devices for restaurant and bar tabletops. We didn't have a camera in any of the ones we fielded (people were still to weirded out by that idea, then), but I did some serious technical investigation on whether we could use an intentionally low-res image to determine basic demographics of the diners w/o voilating their privacy.

In my research, I found an really interesting paper (from France, IIRC, it's been a while) showing that even a 16-pixel (!) image could still be used to determine the age and sex of a person to around 80-90% accuracy, and recognize the same person again over half the time. IIRC, it used both neural networks and some standard image processing, but nothing really exotic or so big that we couldn't run it locally in the display device, if we'd decided to. Even the author was amazed that this was possible, because neither he nor anyone else had thought there was enough information there to perform such a feat of recognition.

But computers really don't look at things like we do, and why even "just metadata" (and it's a lot more than that, now) is so dangerous - with some not-too-complicated processing, the machine can tease out patterns in the data that we cannot.... (Note that this means that the spooks probably really can do some of the "ridiculous" image processing and recognition we tend to laugh at in movies and TV shows. No Way Out, indeed....

Comment Re:Pebble (Score 1) 117

Of course, you can do what I do and wear one of the excellent Seiko 5 watches ( ), generally regarded as the best watch value on the planet, and frequently making lists of best watches under $500, even though they're an order of magnitude cheaper than that! On top of that, it will still be a good, fully functional device many years from now, which is definitely not true of ANY smartwatch. (Let's see you try to get replacement batteries in 10 or 20 years, even on the off chance your iPhone 12 still supports it...)

These things really are a marvel of modern engineering and manufacturing techniques: A $53 watch with simple, clean lines that has an excellent automatic (no batteries, no winding) day-date movement with sweep second hand, a crystal back that lets you see the works working, and a really nice NATO-style nylon strap with stitched leather trim. The one I had last year kept ridiculously good time (like a quartz watch - my current one is only very good), but it got torn off while sailing in Lake Travis. Yes, when Seiko says it's "water resistant" to 10m, they mean it - swimming, sailing, caught in a downpour - no matter. Seiko doesn't sell the 5 series here in the US, but you can buy them here through Amazon, and they'll even extend the warranty to the US for you. (No real risk because the things just don't break...)

Sure, if I was made of money I might buy a Bremont and a JLC Reverso, but I'm hard on watches, so it's nice to know that even a total loss will only set me back the cost of a few drinks...

Comment Don't try to help me! (Score 2) 181

Half of the frustration with computers in the past few years is that they no longer do what we tell them - instead, they try to figure out what we really wanted and guess at what they should provide.

In the immortal words of Beka Valentine*, "Override Safety Protocols! Authorization code, 'Shut up and do what I tell you!' "

*And if you don't watch Andromeda, shame on you - it's quality is very uneven in places, but in many ways, it's the the best synthesis of Roddenberry's recurring themes in one show: The nature of humanity of AIs (Data, Questor, etc.) and aliens (Spock, et al), the genetic superman and his culture and realtionship with humanity (Khan, etc.), the heroic underdog, the character of the Captain, and more..

My manifesto for computing in the 21st century: "STOP TRYING TO HELP ME, DAMMIT, JUST DO WHAT I SAY!"

Comment What we REALLY need is an a la carte right! (Score 2) 33

The most important reform we could have of cable, satellite, and other programming bundle vendors (SlingTV, etc.) is that the consumers should be able to pick and choose (and pay for) only the channels they want, with no economic penalty for choosing unbundling. Right now, a fair fraction of cable bills goes for channels that almost no one wants or watches.

I'd love a service like SlingTV, but with the ability to select only the channels I want (for instance, to address the very real sports problem mentioned above, I'd take Fox Sports Southwest, so I could watch the Rangers, but I don't want a dime of my money going to the SJW Nazis at ESPN, which sucks huevos, anyway...)

There is no neutrality, and no real freedom for consumers, until we can CHOOSE what we actually want to buy!

This is the media programming equivalent of saying it's OK for a car dealer to force you to buy bogus upgrades like "paint protection", "upholstery protection", and "fuzzy dice package", or "dealer prep" (beyond ordinary make-ready) regardless of whether you want them or not. (This sort of thing has been such a problem that many states have outlawed this sort of chicanery in recent years...)

Comment Re:This again? The people have spoken. (Score 1) 154

No, I didn't demand this, but you're right, far too many did. Apple caved way too easily, and the last great hope of web apps as first-class citizens died with HP's knifing of PalmOS, where *all* apps were web apps, meaning it was even possible to replace the dialler, address book, etc...

Damn, I miss Palm - there's no question that the basic capabilities of Contact Management, Scheduling, and integration with my PC (through Palm Desktop, which was actually quite good) was far better on my Palm Pilot in the mid 90's than it is with the latest iPhone and Android phones of today.

Waiting for someone to reinvent this stuff yet again, which won't happen on today's "we own you" platforms...

Comment Re:Wouldn't matter, the dog is just an excuse (Score 1) 299

Anyone who has ever hunted with a really good bird dog knows how true this is... That incredible nose is useful, for sure, but it's really only a part of what makes dogs great at finding things. The best dog I've ever had (a Springer Spaniel) would sometimes (if she wasn't bounding up over the grass to see for herself) take her last cue of where the bird fell from where I was looking, since I'm taller. The work between hunter and a good bird dog is incredible teamwork - I learned to keep my gaze on the spot of the fall for an extra second so that she could process that along with what she saw herself - then she was stamping her feet waiting for me to tell her, "Back!" so she could go and retrieve.

Dogs *really*, *really* want to please their masters, so I'm pretty skeptical that all these search dogs are really doing the work entirely on their own and not picking up (even subconcious) signals from their owners/trainers.

Comment Re:Possible solution... (Score 1) 299

The true purpose of police is to protect the rule of law. That means preventing crimes where possible, and bringing to justice those who are thought to commit crimes.

Note that this latter function, which is arguably more important for the system at large, actually has the police protecting the criminals from the citizenry until the accused can be fairly tried and punished if found guilty. Protecting the citizenry from criminals is far harder, without any a priori knowledge of criminal intent.

In any country with a properly functioning legal system, police maintain order by protecting both citizens and criminals from each other. When your police have SWAT tanks and you need protection from them, then the system is broken...

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