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It's hard to predict what will happen as robotics technology matures, and artificial intelligence software advances, but there is growing concern that robots could end up taking jobs from humans. In Germany and other European Union (EU) nations look to solve political problems, there is growing concern that robots - and not immigrants from other nations - could lead to a shrinking work force.
"What's fundamentally different is that (these advances) have the ability to affect a broader set of workers," said Jeremy Bowles, a researcher at the Bruegel Institute in Brussels, Belgium. Bowles believes humanoid robots will be able to carry out human tasks that could one day impact white-collar employees.
However, a counter-argument is that the rise of robotics will help spur the economy, as there will be additional opportunities for businesses. "Robotics is seen as a pivotal technology, which is not only going into robotics per se but into so many other branches and technologies," said Uwe Haas, secretary general of the European Union's robotics program. "It will create new jobs because [it will make] new businesses possible."
Police agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area have shown an increased interest in using drones for various operations, though the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates aren't amused.
The Alameda County Sheriff's office purchased two drones last year for about $97,000, citing an interest in using them for disaster response and search-and-rescue operations.
"Through our research we learned that a small, unmanned aircraft can support first responders in situations which would benefit from an aerial perspective, and that by having it could expose dangers that could otherwise not be seen," said Tom Madigan, Alameda County Sheriff's Office captain, told Bloomberg News. "That's what triggered our interest."
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has started testing its VolcanoBot 1 robot in Hawaii, sending it into inactive fissures located inside the active Kilauea volcano. The small two-wheeled robot is less than seven inches tall and around one foot long, with the ability to help researchers create 3D fissure maps.
"We don't know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic," said Carolyn Parcheta, JPL postdoctoral fellow.
NASA hopes to refine the VolcanoBot 1's abilities, which could be rolled out for future missions on planets and moons besides Earth. There is specific interest in exploring craters on the moon and Mars, with Earth-based experiments helping perfect hardware before sending them into space.
The CNN news organization and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have agreed to create a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) to see how drones can be used for news gathering and reporting.
CNN previously had an agreement with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), with CNN, GTRI and FAA working together - and could help create a roadmap for wider drone use in news reporting.
"Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism using various types of UAVs and camera setups," said David Vigilante, CNN Senior Vice President, in a statement. "Our hope is that these efforts contribute to the development of a vibrant ecosystem where operators of various types and sizes can safely operate in the US airspace."
A new mobile application described as a "brain thermometer" is being developed by AnthroTronix, and has the ability to accurately gauge soldier traumatic brain injuries and other physical ailments. The Defense Automated Neurobehavioral Assessment (DANA) conducts neurocognitive and psychological tests that can help medical experts identify problems.
Participants are asked to answer on-screen exercises, with speed and accuracy tracked - a medical provider would then analyze the tests and compare it to pre-deployment test figures.
"In essence, measuring reaction time is like taking the temperature of the brain," said Corinna Lathan, CEO of AnthroTronix. "It's a vital part of the data that any health professional needs to evaluate his patient."
Research into artificial intelligence (AI) continues to evolve, and there is growing concern that uncontrolled AI could have a significant impact on mankind. To prevent this from happening, the Future of Life Institute (FLI) wants AI researchers to sign an open letter to protect humans from intelligent machines.
"We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robost and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do," the letter reads. "The attached research priorities document gives many examples of such research directions that can help maximize the societal benefit of AI. This research is by necessity interdisciplinary, because it involves both society and AI. It ranges from economics, law and philosophy to computer security, formal methods and, of course, various branches of AI itself."
AI is being used in autonomous weapons systems, robots and humanoids, and in autonomous vehicles - raising serious ethical questions that must be answered.
Drones invaded the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), with attendees able to see the latest and greatest consumer drone products. As more first-time pilots and hobbyists take to the skies in 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is scrambling to help find methods to teach proper flight safety.
Meanwhile, drone makers are increasing technology - and while it's recommended to fly in areas less populated - that simply won't be possible as more first-time pilots begin to fly drones. Designers are working on drones that could be able to utilize built-in autonomous technology so they can avoid other drones, trees, buildings, streetlights and other obstacles - but that isn't currently possible.
Universities and private companies are working on new algorithms to make drones smarter, along with new emergency landing features. One solution being developed is image recognition software paired with tracking software so drones can identify helicopter landing pads for opportunities to land.
Apple iPhone users separated from their smartphone can suffer from "physiological anxiety" and "poor cognitive performance," according to "The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology" study, published by the University of Missouri.
The researchers first tasked survey participants to sit down and complete a puzzle while near their smartphone, and then had to take a second survey with their phone in a different part of the room. However, researchers called the phone, with participants able to see their iPhone and could hear it ring - but couldn't answer the phone.
Participants had increased heart rate and blood pressure while trying to complete the puzzle in the second scenario. Researchers recommend iPhone users keep their smartphones nearby when completely tasks that involve significant attention, so no anxiety occurs.
It looks like the US government has shiny toys, and defense contractors are getting paid, but border drones cost $12,255 per hour to operate - and aren't very effective in detecting human smuggling or drug running.
The DHS has a fleet of 10 Predator B drones that are used to patrol selected locations of the US-Mexico border in Arizona and Texas, however, they logged just 5,102 hours of the planned 23,296 total flight hours per year. The DHS has invested $360 million into the program since 2005, and the department wants to spend upwards of $443 million for another 14 drones.
"Notwithstanding the significant investment, we see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border, and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time," said John Roth, inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, in a statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued drone flight permits for a real estate firm and agricultural farm in Washington to take to the skies.
Advanced Aviation Solutions will be able to conduct "crop scouting," while the Tierra Antigua Realty firm in Arizona will be able to film properties.
Advanced Aviation Solutions will use an eBee drone to measure fields and measure monitor health, in an effort to save time for farmers. Meanwhile, Tierra Antigua Realty plans to "enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos," according to the FAA.