In Shenzhen, even kindergartners have homework. You can see it in the workbook-laden backpacks weighing them down as they waddle through the school gates at 8 a.m. and back out again at 5 p.m. Many are not headed home yet. There are dance classes, piano lessons, English tutors, kung-fu sessions to get to. After classes, after dinner, it is time to tackle that homework.
There was a time when the world's two great superpowers were obsessed with nuclear weapons technology. Today the flashpoint is between the US and China, and it involves the wireless technology that promises to connect your toaster to the web. The two countries are embroiled in a political war over the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei. The Americans have recently stepped up long-standing criticisms, claiming the tech giant has stolen trade secrets and committed fraud, and that it has ties to the Chinese government and its military. The company denies the charges and has sought to defend its record on privacy and security.
At his keyboard in Austin, Texas, Bryan Bishop was writing quickly. A nationally ranked speed typist, he had drafted a polite inquiry to a prominent futurist in the UK. He wanted advice on his "designer baby startup." For a few years now, Bishop, a 29-year-old programmer and Bitcoin investor, has been leaving a trail of comments about human "enhancement" on the web. He's a transhumanist, which means he thinks humans can be improved in profound ways by technology. He'd long exhorted others to do something about the human condition. Now, he had decided to do it himself.
Despite dazzling advances in AI, robots are still horribly ham-fisted. Increasingly, researchers and companies are turning to machine learning to make them more adaptive and dexterous. This typically means feeding the robot a video of what's in front of it and asking it to work out how it should move in order to manipulate that object. For instance, researchers at OpenAI, a nonprofit in San Francisco, taught a robotic hand to manipulate a child's block in this way. By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters and notifications from MIT Technology Review.
Our current street maps aren't much good for helping driverless cars get around. Although we've mapped most roads, they get updated only every couple of years. And these maps don't log any roadside infrastructure such as road signs, driveways, and lane markings. Without this extra layer of information, it will be much harder to get autonomous cars to navigate our cities safely. Robotic deliveries, too, will eventually require precise details of road surfaces, sidewalks, and obstacles.
Algorithms are increasingly being used to make ethical decisions. Perhaps the best example of this is a high-tech take on the ethical dilemma known as the trolley problem: if a self-driving car cannot stop itself from killing one of two pedestrians, how should the car's control software choose who live and who dies? In reality, this conundrum isn't a very realistic depiction of how self-driving cars behave. But many other systems that are already here or not far off will have to make all sorts of real ethical trade-offs. Assessment tools currently used in the criminal justice system must consider risks to society against harms to individual defendants; autonomous weapons will need to weigh the lives of soldiers against those of civilians.
For all the recent progress in artificial intelligence, industrial robots remain amazingly dumb and dangerous. Sure, they can perform arduous tasks precisely and repetitively, but they cannot respond to variations in their environment or tackle something new. That severely limits just how useful robots can be in the workplace. Nvidia wants to use machine learning to help solve this problem. The world's leading producer of the specialistcomputer chips that are crucial to artificial intelligenceis opening a new robotics lab in Seattle to make the robots that work alongside humans--co-bots-- smarter and more capable.
In the early 1980s, a cluster of fledging computer companies opened up shop in a chaotic corner of northwest Beijing, near the campuses of Peking and Tsinghua Universities. Electronics Street, as the area became known, was a tangle of sturdy bicycles and hand-drawn signs, loud with heated bouts of haggling. Dusty banners hung over pedestrians' heads, while boxes of copy paper stacked 10 or 12 high blocked their path. Pirated software was so abundant that some preferred the moniker Crook Street. The existence of a burgeoning PC market was remarkable, given that many Chinese still did not own a refrigerator. But more remarkable was that the businesses of Electronics Street were private enterprises. Their foray into capitalism was an experiment launched with China's economic reforms, which early on were linked to investments in science and technology.
Every day at around 4 p.m., the creeeek criikkk of stretched packing tape echoes through Huaqiangbei, Shenzhen's sprawling neighborhood of hardware stores. Shopkeepers package up the day's sales--selfie sticks, fidget spinners, electric scooters, drones--and by 5, crowds of people are on the move at the rapid pace locals call Shenzhen sudu, or "Shenzhen speed," carting boxes out on motorcycles, trucks, and--if it's a light order--zippy balance boards. From Huaqiangbei the boxes are brought to the depots of global logistics companies and loaded onto airplanes and cargo ships. In the latter case they join 24 million metric tons of container cargo going out every month from Shekou harbor--literally "snake's mouth," the world's third-busiest shipping port after Shanghai and Singapore. A few days or weeks later, the boxes arrive in destinations as nearby as Manila and Phnom Penh and as far afield as Dubai, Buenos Aires, Lagos, and Berlin.
Andrew Yang announced he is vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination back in February. But how is he going to do that? I got the chance to sit down with him at the Work Awesome conference in New York yesterday to ask him about his stances on trucking automation, AI policy, and his favorite topic, universal basic income (UBI). This article first appeared in Clocking In, our newsletter covering the impact of emerging technology on the future of work. Erin: Why focus on automation and UBI? Andrew: The reason why I'm focused on this issue is I'm convinced it's driving the social, economic, and political dysfunction we are seeing.