Cobots Are Coming

Robots at work

I hope things change, but at the moment, I would have to say it seems China is getting ahead of us in many ways. In the Axios newsletter, which I read every day to keep on top of strategic happenings, there was a story about, a gigantic Chinese e-commerce company. The story said, “ has built a big new Shanghai fulfillment center that can organize, pack and ship 200,000 orders a day. It employs four people — all of whom service the robots.” In addition to smart warehouses, the company is working on self-driving trucks and drones to deliver the goods anywhere in China. Chinese executives have said they are planning a new east-to-west, north-to-south package delivery logistics system which will be able to deliver a package, ordered by 11 AM, the same day almost anywhere in the country.

Some pundits see nothing but gloom and doom with regard to robots; millions of lost jobs. However, the warehouse with robots and four people is but one aspect of the future. The Chinese are ahead on infrastructure, but the United States and Europe still lead the world in innovation. One new area is the development of cobots. 


Above the Mr. Mofongo grand café and restaurant is the Mofongo’s Distillery & Cocktail bar. The demonstration of the entire process of distilling from basic ingredients to the final product is impressive, but the most distinctive feature is the 26-foot high liquor cabinet behind the cocktail bar with 56 different homemade liquors and exceptional rum varieties. This huge selection is not reachable by humans, but the Armando robot arm can take it in stride. The spectacle draws in curious customers, but it also helps bartenders. The robot arm is not eliminating jobs; it is providing assistance to humans. You might say it is collaborating. This is an example of a new class of technology called cobots.

The Wall Street Journal reported in “Your Next Robot Encounter: Dinner, Drinks and a Massage“, that 20 manufacturers around the world are selling such cobots and  that cobots made up 5% of the $14 billion industrial-robot market in 2017. Research by Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm Loup Ventures said that sales will jump to 27% of a $33 billion market by 2025. The applications are endless. The Journal reported that in Japan, a cobot boxes takeout dumplings, and in Singapore, robots give soft-tissue massages. Thousands of cobots are being developed and sold around the world. Robots can do amazing things, but they can’t do everything, at least yet. Cobots can give a boost to human productivity. I like the way the Dutch bar owner, Mr. Beijk, said it best. “Robots are going to become more and more helpful. By doing the monotonous tasks, they give us the time and flexibility to be human — such as taking even better care of our guests.”

Ten Days in Europe – Part 2

Sagrada Família

OCLC, the global library cooperative, helps thousands of the libraries around the world make information more useful and accessible. Libraries and OCLC believe what is known must be shared, and working together, they make breakthroughs possible. The business portion of the European trip all took place in Amsterdam. Amsterdam, with a population approaching one million, is the Netherlands’ capital. The beautiful city is known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system, and narrow houses with gabled facades. The unique features are legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age. We were fortunate go have guided tours of the incredible Van Gogh Museum, and see works by Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum. The board and committees accomplished a lot of important work during the week, but it was also nice to tour and dine with fellow trustees and the management team.

Cycling is key to Amsterdam’s character. There are more than 800,000 bikes, more than four times the number of cars. Amsterdammers bicycle nearly 1.25 million miles every day. The city has 249 miles of bike paths. Between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles are pulled out of Amsterdam’s canals each year where vandals or owners of broken bikes threw them. The City backs up the character with money. It is investing more than $150 million on bicycle infrastructure before 2020, nearly $120 million of which is for creating 38,000 new bike parking places. Amsterdam also encourages electric vehicles. I saw more Tesla’s there than I have seen in Connecticut. Connecticut likes electric vehicles also but its car dealers don’t so the legislature bans Tesla showrooms for ordering Teslas. Protecting the status quo. You can see some Amsterdam photos here.

There were any number of ways to get back home from Amsterdam, but my first choice was easy: Barcelona. The interest came from Origin,  the 2017 mystery thriller novel by author Dan Brown. It is the fifth installment in his Robert Langdon series, following Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and Inferno. I read them all, but Origin was the best. What really piqued my interest was his detailed description of a church called Sagrada Familia. I could not believe what I was reading. It was a novel, so he must have made up the description. I search for it and found his description was completely accurate. I had to see it in person. It is one of those things you have to see to believe. Construction began in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026 or 2028. How could something take more than 140 years to build. If you get to go see it, you will understand. The highest part of the church will be 500 feet tall. Barcelona was a great experience. You could easily spend weeks there seeing the incredible architectures of Gaudi, the parks, and an abundance of good food. See some of our Barcelona photos here.

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Ten Days in Europe

Rijksmuseum Library

Graduating from engineering school and joining IBM were just two things of thousands which happened 51 years ago. Another was the beginning of OCLC. Over the decades the name of the organization has changed a number of times. Like IBM, Apple, and many other companies, the full original name has changed to something simpler and easy to remember. Most important is what it does, not what it is called. When it comes to OCLC, the libraries of the world know what it does. Libraries connect people to the information they need to solve problems. OCLC, the global library cooperative, helps thousands of the libraries make information more useful and accessible. Libraries and OCLC believe what is known must be shared, and working together, they make breakthroughs possible. I am privileged to serve as Vice Chair of the OCLC Board. If you are not familiar with OCLC, take a look here.

Being a global organization, OCLC occasionally has a board retreat somewhere other than its Dublin, Ohio headquarters. This year we met in Amsterdam. The entire trip involved six days in Amsterdam and four days in Barcelona, Spain. The trip was 50/50 business and pleasure. The picture above is from the research library (70,000 books) at the famous Rijksmuseum. Next week I will have many pictures to share and some comments about what I learned during the trip.

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The AI Doctor

Artificial Intelligence

There are 2.5 doctors for every 1,000 people in the United States. In China, there are 1.5. While artificial intelligence (AI) is being developed all around the world, China has  the most urgency behind their research and development. Computerized medical diagnosis is part of China’s grand plan to fully embrace AI by 2020. China is likely to lead the race, in part because Chinese doctors are keen to automate their most repetitive procedures and there is less concern in China about the use of data. AI technology may not flourish as fast in the U.S. because of debates about job losses and legal liabilities when AI makes a mistake, which it surely will. 

The Intelligent Machines section of the MIT Technology Review cited the recent experience of a cancer radiologist named Chongchong Wu. She loaded a suspicious looking lung scan into an AI program computer program resembling Photoshop. AI uses a machine learning technique called neural networking. The software becomes trained by being fed with thousands of lung scans and being told what was a sign of disease and what was not.  Dr. Wu found and corrected two false positives where the software mistakenly identified blood vessels as potential malignancies. At least as important, the software led to find a nodule she had previously overlooked and which indicated an early sign of disease.

The MIT Technology Review reported China is moving quickly, with more than 130 companies working on AI across the country’s healthcare sector. A hospital in Beijing now submits all its lung scans to an AI algorithm to expedite the screening process. Although AI faces challenges of adoption, accuracy, liability for errors, etc., there seems no doubt that momentum will grow. Lung scans is just one of many examples of where AI can be applied. We will likely be seeing an AI doctor soon.

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It’s All About Attitude

On May 1st, the Danbury Area Computer Society held it’s monthly meeting, and it was my honor to give a talk there about The Future. This was the twenty-sixth year in a row I have shared my thoughts at DACS. Andy Woodruff wrote a synopsis of the talk which follows below.

Dr. John R. Patrick presented his thoughts about how “attitude” shapes our approach to technology and how we use it. He has long recognized that our “attitude” affects whether we embrace technology and use it effectively … or overlook the opportunities that it offers.

John has written four books that all revolve around “attitude”, and he is currently writing a fifth book. In each book, he analyzes a particular field, such as the internet. He reviews how we currently utilize technology in that field, and he describes how we can better utilize existing technology and develop new products.

In this presentation, John reviewed all of his books and pulled together common threads. He is clearly an optimist about how we can use technical tools to solve problems and improve lives. He thinks about these opportunities, both about how individual people can utilize a better “attitude” and how we as a society can utilize a better attitude.

Attitude booksIn his first book, Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It, John provided his perspective about the Internet, including its state at the time he wrote the book and how he expected it to grow. He published the first edition of this book in 2001 and an updated edition, Net Attitude: What it is, How to Get it, and Why it is More Important Than Ever, in 2016. John is indeed an expert about the internet, as he was a founding member of the World Wide Web Consortium (the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web) and served as IBM’s Vice President of Internet Technology.

John discussed Amazon as an example of a company run by someone with an effective “attitude”. He met founder Jeff Bezos in the 1990’s, and he was impressed with Jeff’s attitude. Jeff opened Amazon’s doors in 1995, and today it is the largest online retailer in the world. John said “There’s nothing glamorous about Amazon’s website; it just works.” Amazon management clearly developed the website to serve customers. In contrast, many other companies’ websites do not work well or are hard to use. Amazon prospered, due to its attitude about the website and many other aspects of technology in retailing.

In the second book, Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare, John describes how attitudes of patients, providers, payers, and policy makers have led to a United States healthcare system that is expensive and does not serve all of the population. When John retired from IBM in 2001, he joined several boards including at Danbury Hospital. He says “It was an eye opener. I was appalled by how manual things were. There were Post-it®notes everywhere.” John quickly recognized the healthcare field was ripe for an improved attitude about technology. This could reduce the time necessary for the manual steps, such as situations where staff needs to enter the same information separately into two computer systems. John studied healthcare and completed a doctoral degree in the field. He sees many areas where new technology can help patients directly and reduce costs. As an example of a new device, he described an inexpensive EKG device that connects to an iPhone and performs a basic EKG. A patient can use this device to monitor their own health.

In his third book, Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy, John makes the case for improved technology for voting. He noted that in our last two presidential elections, there were 100 million people who could have voted but did not. Why not? He said this is partly because of the effort and time involved in going to a voting location. He advocates the use of electronic voting via the Internet, as is already done in Australia and Estonia. He believes this would be much more attractive to millennials. Hence the use of electronic voting would change the demographics of the voting electorate, by including more young people. Why have we been slow to adopt changes to voting systems? John said the slow pace is due in part to incumbents who “don’t want more people to vote” and therefore undermine efforts to improve these systems.

John described an improved voting method called Ranked Choice Voting (or “Instant Runoff”). In this method, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no one has won more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be re-tabulated. The process continues until one candidate wins a clear majority and is declared the winner.

The Ranked Choice Voting method therefore allows a voter to select a third party candidate as his or her top preference, eliminating any concern about “spoiling” the vote of one of the top two candidates. This voting method would clearly have been impractical or impossible to utilize in past generations without computerized machines. Now that computers are available, John suggests we go ahead and utilize this better method. It is currently being used in Maine and in 15 cities, but it has not yet taken hold on a larger scale.

In his fourth book, Home Attitude: Everything You Need To Know To Make Your Home Smart, John describes home automation methods and devices. He has this equipment at his own home; it includes voices that speak to him and lighting that turns on gradually to awaken him. John said home automation technology “has gotten to the point where it’s affordable”. Again, the decisions around home automation revolve around attitude. He suggests each person can recognize how much and exactly what home automation he or she wants. The system can be geared for enhanced security or for convenience or for enjoyment. In John’s home, a voice tells him the weather, for his convenience. Music plays automatically, and the automatic music selections are determined differently on Sundays for his enjoyment.

In the past, John has given DACS presentations about the individual topics of most of these books. In tonight’s talk, he reviewed all the books and showed the common theme about “attitude”.

John formed his company “Attitude LLC” in 2001. Interested readers can visit his website, to find his books for sale and join his mailing list for “weekly e-briefs”.

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