Russian National Orchestra

Russian National Orchestra

It was a great evening at the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. The Russian National Orchestra was founded in 1990 and has been described as “a living symbol of the best in Russian art” (Miami Herald) and “as close to perfect as one could hope for” (Trinity Mirror). The orchestra maintains an active international schedule with appearances throughout the music capitals of Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Conductor Kirill Karabits started the concert with a great performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. The star of the evening was next as violinist Alexey Bruni delivered a brilliant performance of Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35. The three part concerto is incredibly complex. A friend told me it is not performed often because the piece is too difficult to play for most concert violinists. I believe it.

After the intermission, Karabits conducted Alexander Glazunov’s four part Symphony No 8 in E-flat Major, Op. 83. The symphony brought out the full diversity and expertise of the orchestra’s outstanding string, brass, woodwind, and percussion sections. After a sustained standing ovation, the orchestra played an encore. The name of it was not announced, but I recognized it from the sound track of my favorite movie: The Hunt for Red October.

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Internet Voting: Are we Getting Closer?

Mobile Internet Voting

AlterNet, this week, published “2020 will be the year that online voting really takes hold in the U.S.— here are some of its biggest challenges“. Steven Rosenfeld did an excellent job of outlining the issues surrounding the lack of political and technological will to enfranchise the 100 million people who could not get to the polls for various reasons in 2012, 2016, and 2018.

Steven described three scenarios which I had written about in Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy,

A. A perfect Internet system. All Windows 95 and other older systems have been eliminated. There are no hackers, no viruses, and no malfunctions. 100% of the population has a perfect device with flawless authentication and they are well versed in how to use them.

B. The voting system using blockchain technology, smart phones, and the Internet. The system would support finger or face identification for authentication. All voting data would be encrypted. Choices on the screen would be clear, expanded text sizes would be available, and audio provided for those who are hearing impaired. Links would provide details about a candidate or an issue being voted on. Not everyone would be required to use the Internet voting systems. For those without a computer or who don’t want to use a computer, they will be able to go to a local polling place or public library to use the computer there. For those who do not want to use one of these computers, they will be able to vote with a paper ballot. Voters using a smart phone or computer can vote multiple times with only their last vote counting. Votes remain private and voters will be able to confirm their vote was counted.

C. Today’s system which is full of problems such as the few listed above. Tens of millions of Americans who are eligible to vote, will not vote for a long list of reasons. Some will be sick on election day, be called away on assignment at the last minute by their employer, not be able to get off of work, intimidated by weather or ours-long lines, and many other reasons. In 2016, 100,000,000 people fell into these categories and were therefore disenfranchised.

Now, consider A, B, and C. The anti-Internet voting activists want to compare scenario B to scenario A, which we will never have. They refuse to compare it to scenario C which is the flawed system we have today which disenfranchises huge numbers of voters. I hope Steven is right when he says, “2020 will be the year that online voting really takes hold in the U.S”. There are encouraging signs, such as the West Virginia trial using Voatz blockchain technology. What we need now is a grass roots movement, state by state, where voting officials develop requests for proposals for Voatz and numerous other voting technology companies. Competition among tech companies is exactly what we need to bring out the potential for safe, secure, private, and verifiable Internet voting.

Education for AI

AI

There is no doubt millions of jobs will be absorbed by impending robotic and AI technologies. It is already beginning in the financial and services industries where there is a major push to improve efficiency and replace the decades old infrastructure which handles mundane transaction processing. Millions of new jobs will be created for data scientists, systems architects, machine learning experts, robot designers who can teach robots how to design robots, manufacturing systems engineers who can design the factories of the future, bioinformatics experts, and many others with advanced skills. The key question we need to focus on is how we can transform our educational system to create these new skills. The demand will be there. The supply may not be.

There is hope the administration is finally getting on board and providing some leadership in AI, and equally important with the educational system needs. This week, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty were among 25 members appointed to the Administration’s American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. The board will make recommendations on policies to help bridge the skills gaps between American students and workers and jobs needed in the modern economy. This is an overdue, but really important, action. 

CNBC reported the story and titled the article as “Apple and IBM CEOs join Trump’s advisory board to make sure AI doesn’t kill jobs”. There is no possibility of prevented the killing of jobs, but as noted in my prior post, many new jobs will be created, and we need a newly energized educational system to ensure the new jobs do not all go to China where huge investments in AI are being made. The Advisory Board has a good mix of leaders from community colleges, universities, and technology companies. The creation of this Board follows another Administration move to create an executive order to foster AI technology. Seems the alarm bells have gone off in Washington. There are reasons to be hopeful. If you want to see the full list of the 25 members of Advisory Board, click here.

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Impact of AI on Jobs

AI

In a 2017 e-brief, I suggested artificial intelligence (AI) will change everything. One of the things is employment. Some embrace doom and gloom scenarios where millions of jobs are lost to robots and algorithms, creating a major burden for society. A cabinet member at the time said the impact is 50-100 years down the road. I hope his comment is just a reflection of him not yet being informed of what is happening.

There is no doubt millions of jobs will be absorbed by impending technology. It is already beginning in the financial and services industries where there is a major push to improve efficiency and replace the decades old infrastructure which handles mundane transaction processing. AI will enable transactions to be handled smarter and faster. Customer service agents in all industries will be supplemented and mostly replaced with AI based capabilities. These AI will gain intelligence from absorbing millions of calls, problems, resolutions, and suggestions from humans, and learning from them. After each interaction, the AI will get smarter.

There is also a dark side to AI. Bill Gates has been quoted as saying AI is potentially more dangerous than a nuclear catastrophe. Other pundits believe, in the next few decades, we are either going to head toward self-destruction, or  humans will eventually leave Earth and colonize the universe. Maureen Doud interviewed Elon Musk and other pundits and wrote a comprehensive article about the dark side of AI. It was published in Vanity Fair. Click here to read it.

While I do not reject the dark side out of hand, I believe there are a lot of positive things to come from AI. Nurses and physician assistants will be able to make more accurate diagnoses than doctors can make today. Customer service will be extraordinary. Needless delays in financial transactions involving money transfers will be eliminated. Productivity of enterprise knowledge workers will be greatly enhanced. Getting millions of hits when we search online will be replaced by discovery of the information we want, even when we don’t know what key words to search for. Knowledge workers in large organizations will be able to find answers to a lot of questions and research which are hidden in silos within their own company or even down the hall.

Millions of new jobs will be created for data scientists, systems architects, machine learning experts, robot designers who can teach robots how to design robots, manufacturing systems engineers who can design the factories of the future, bioinformatics experts, and many others with advanced skills. The key question we need to focus on is how we can transform our educational system to create these new skills. The demand will be there. The supply may not be.

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Robots at Home

Robotic vacuum cleaner

An emerging part of home automation includes the use of robots at home. Bilal Athar, CEO at Wifigen LLC and a home automation enthusiast, believes robots will be central to having a smart home. “A smart home should also be a clean home.”, said Athar. ECOVACS ROBOTICS is a company specializing in research and development, design, manufacture, and sales of robotic home appliances. Their mantra is “Live Smart. Enjoy Life.”]  The company makes robots which add a lot of convenience for cleaning floors and even windows. One product, the DEEBOT M81, is designed to clean different kinds of messes in the home.

The M81 vacuum and mop combo can sweep, vacuum, and mop in one pass. The company says the robot can “give your home a thorough and deep clean.”] You can choose the cleaning mode to auto mode for general cleaning, edge mode for cleaning specific edges, or spot cleaning when intensive cleaning is required. Everything is controllable from your smartphone. When battery power gets low, the DEEBOT automatically returns to its charging dock. No human intervention is required. You may add some integration with voice assistants like Alexa. A use case could be a child spilled something, and you say “Alexa, ask DEEBOT to clean the kitchen floor”.

While robots clean the inside of homes and apartments, a new field of home robots is emerging. Robots at home doesn’t mean they need to be in the home. They could also be outside moving the lawn. iRobot, the company which developed and markets the Roomba vacuumbot, has been working on robotic lawn mowers for more than ten years. In January 2019, iRobot announced Terra, a flat, square, autonomous, grass-cutting lawnbot.[iv] The company faced many engineering challenges along the way. GPS technology works nicely on a tractor out in an open field. At a residential property with trees and neighboring homes, there is too much signal interference to make GPS a reliable way to safely navigate the property. Sensors had to be developed which could keep the lawnbot out of garden beds, and avoid hitting picnic tables, toys, or other obstacles which may be on the lawn.

iRobot believes it has solved the engineering problems and plans to begin beta testing in 2019 with sales to begin in 2020. Terra has a quiet electric motor and a pair of tri-blade mulchers. The idea behind the mulchers is to allow the lawnbot to operate slowly and achieve a manicured look. Rather than mowing the lawn once a week, consumers might choose to have Terra work several days per week. When the battery gets low, Terra heads for the outdoor charging station to charge up and then return to where it left off.

Robotic lawn mowers are successful in Europe. Analysts say European lawns tend to be small and square, which makes the lawnbots simpler and more affordable. The analysts also question whether there is enough demand in the U.S. to have a successful product. The price is likely going to be $1,000 or more.

Cleaning floors and windows and mowing the lawn are just the beginning of what robots will be able to do at home. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2018, I saw a robot which could fold shirts. In the future we can expect to see robots which can do the laundry, make the beds, prepare cocktails, cook and serve dinner, and then go get a recharge. For those of us who like to cook in the kitchen, a robot may be our assistant to chop the onions or shuck the oysters. As robots gain AI, they will be able to anticipate our needs and operate autonomously to give us more time to spend on the things we want to do.

Robot Attitude: Robot Attitude: How Robots and AI Will Make Our Lives Better will be published later this year. I hope during the summer. If you would like me to let you know when the book becomes available, enter your name and email below, and click the Let Me Know button.


References
A Robot for Every Family,”  ECOVACS ROBOTICS (2018)
Where’s My Robot Lawn Mower? Roomba-Maker Now Has an Answer,”  AP (2019),

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