Airport Screening – Safety First, Why Not Show the World?

Americans don’t really seem to care about economic competition when it comes to ensuring safety at U.S. airports.  Things are different in Europe as we all know, but if Google has developed the best computer algorithms to identify concealed weapons in airport checkpoint body scanners in the U.S., wouldn’t the rest of the world want to do the same?  Not so, I’m afraid.  Those “wild and crazy” European Union officials are more concerned about Google’s business practices on their continent and want to exact some hefty fines that will delay many proven screening techniques in airports throughout Europe.  I am not making this up!

So in the land of the free and the brave, we have industry-wide contests to select winners in developing the best body-scanning technology to identify concealed weapons on airline travelers.  A $1.5 million contest to be exact, run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  It’s all about artificial intelligence for which the U.S. seems to be taking the lead in a large number of technological screening endeavors.  For the rest of the world, this may all seem too “robotic”, but let’s face it, we need to make some changes quickly for safety’s sake  The world’s traveling population is growing astronomically, and we need to rely more on available technological resources.  We don’t need more “friendly skies”; we need more vigilance that technolgy can provide whereever we may be on land or in the skies.  European resistance for the sake of a “level economic playing field” is misguided.

Please trust me, I am not advocating that America has all answers for airline safety world-wide.  But I do believe that we can help in making airline travel safer wherever you may be traveling.

Ray Myers




Ke vs. Lee or, China and South Korea Vie to Beat AlphaGo

So it’s only a game as they say, but the geopolitical implications seem obvious.  This board game is called Go and I have seen it played in parks around Hanoi, but please don’t ask me to explain it.  But I will quote from a article by a Hong Kong reporter that might help shed some light.  “Go, in which two players vie for control of a board using black and white pieces called stones, is considered complex because of the sheer number of possible moves.  Even supercomputers cannot simply calculate all the possible moves, presenting a big challenge for AlphaGo creators.”  But AlphaGo developers did accept the challenge and created the software that makes this game available online.

So far, AlphaGo seems to be the undisputed “artificial intelligence” champion, only being beaten once by South Korea”s Mr. Lee.  China’s Mr. Ke seems more resigned to only playing against human opponents.  He noted that he would focus more on playing with people saying that the gap between humans was becoming too great.  He would treat the software as more of a teacher, he said, to get inspiration and new ideas about moves.  Or maybe he should say that he has finally met his match, but when his “match” is basically artficial intelligence, it just may be too hard to admit defeat by a software program?  Somehow this all sounds vaguely familiar, like Dr. Frankenstein being outsmarted by his own “monstrous” creation.

AlphaGo is also demonstrating an ability to learn from its gaming experiences.  It is not just calculating moves, but learning from its own experiences.  That is something that we can all benefit from, so that we can remain smarter than our machines, I hope.

Ray Myers 

P.S.  Happy Memorial Day weekend.  Be back on the 31st.

Can Robots Really Help to Make America Great Again?

I am dedicating this blog to Donald J. Trump (so-called President) in the remote hope they he might take a passing glance at what some experts say is actually happening with the automobile industry in this country.  Let’s first take a look at Trump’s version of how he will help the automobile industry and its workers (his alternative reality?).  He would like to reduce the miles per gallon requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for American-made cars/trucks. Consequently, we will then burn more gas, and simultaneously increase toxic car emissions into our already polluted atmosphere.  Detroit can then build more cars/trucks that will be less expensive than those saddled with all those environmental protection safeguards.  Not to mention that automobile makers will be hiring more American workers and bring economic relief to depressed parts of the country.  NOT SO FAST!

Thought for today: Automakers are the biggest users of industrial robots, which have hurt jobs and wages in local economies.  Real-world data supports this more pessimistic future.  Researchers were surprised to see very little employment increases in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing.  A recent study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States.  Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007, it concluded, and that number will rise because industrial robots are expected to quadruple. And it obviously appears that these hi-tech robots and their “offspring” will be keeping their jobs longer than their human counterparts.

So the challenges just seem to be piling up for the Donald.  I would suggest that he READ some fact-based reporting in a real newspaper (NY Times?).  And stop believing “fake news” and watching FOX TV.

Ray Myers

Make America Great Again – Get Chinese Investors!

Sad, but true.  Now I don’t know if Confucius ever said that, but it seems that many American inventors and entrepreneurs developing innovative technologies for the U.S. military are finding more support from Chinese investors than from the Pentagon.  For example, Neurala, a Boston start-up that makes robots and drones got little response from the American military when it needed money.  But it landed an investment from a state-run Chinese company.  

Beijing is encouraging Chinese companies with close government ties to invest in American start-ups specializing in critical technologies like artificial intelligence and robots to advance China’s military capacity as well as its economy.  The size and breadth of these Chinese-U.S. deals are not clear because start-ups and their backers are not obligated to disclose them.  Over all, China has been increasingly active in the American start-up world, investing $9.9 billion in 2015.  Chinese investors have money and are looking for returns, while the Chinese government has pushed investment in ways to clean up China’s skies, upgrade its industrial capacity and unclog its snarled highways.

I bet that Donald Trump could personally help Neurala and other American technology start-ups, and make America Great Again.   Save U.S. budget dollars by NOT flying his whole family around the world and NOT going to Mar-a-Lago every weekend.  Maybe he too could begin investing in America’s future, just like the Chinese!

Ray Myers

Robots as Paralegals

Next time you visit a lawyer’s office you may find fewer staff and more computers in various forms doing research in preparing clients’ legal documents or gathering materials for attorneys’ future courtroom appearances.  One thing you can still be sure of, is that you will still be getting billed by the hour whether it is a machine or a real live paralegal or attorney doing this work.  Recent research also suggests that basic document review has already been outsourced or automated by large law firms, with only 4 percent of lawyers’ time now spent on this task.

“Technology will unbundle aspects of legal work over the next decade or two rather than the next year or two, legal experts say.  Highly paid lawyers will spend their time on work on the upper rungs of the legal task ladder.  Other legal services will be performed by nonlawyers – the legal equivalent of nurse practitioners – or by technology.”  So the law firm partner of the future will be the leader of a team, “and more than one of the players will be a machine.”  Technology has unlocked the routine task of sifting through documents, looking for relevant passages.  So major law firms are undertaking initiatives to understand the emerging technology and adapt and exploit it.

So what would Perry Mason do if he were around today?  Would he keep Della Street as his legal secretary (maybe more important than a paralegal?), or trade her in for a shiny new robot?  You decide?

Ray Myers


Obama Farewell: Education Needed to Keep Up With Automatiom

Thank you, President Obama, for all that you have done for this country.  Please keep helping us in ways that only you can do.  You have clearly seen the power of technology as an added instructional tool for the twenty-first century, but you are definitely not obsessed with the instant self-gratification of social media/Twitter as a tool to attack political and personal enemies (real or imagined).  Are you listening, Mr. Trump?  It’s not all about the technology.  Education is still the key as advocated by President Obama.

Maybe a little history lesson will help.  When the United States moved from an agrarian economy to an industrialized economy, it rapidly expanded high school education: By 1951, the average American had 6.2 more years of education than someone born 75 years earlier.  The extra education enabled people to do new kinds of jobs, and explains 14 percent of the annual increases in labor productivity during that period, economists say.  Now the country faces a similar problem.   Machines can do many low-skilled tasks, and American children, especially those from low-income and minority families, lag behind their peers in other countries educationally.  President Obama named some policy ideas for dealing with the problem: stronger unions, an updated social safety net and a tax overhaul so that the people benefitting most from technology share some of their earnings.

The Trump administration probably won’t agree with many of these solutions.  But the economic consequences of automation will be one of the biggest problems it faces.  It won’t go away.  It can’t be FIRED!

Ray Myers





Droning On In the U.K.

If you like the sight of “delivery drones” hovering over your head wherever you may be, then maybe the United Kingdom is the place for you.  Not all Brits, however, are enthusiastic about this prospect.  As one unhappy British citizen expressed: “They are testing the drones over here because they can’t do it in America.  Whatever the Americans don’t want, I don’t want it either.”  Talk about your trans-Atlantic alliances.  Aversion to remotely controlled airborne technology may actually be strengthening international partnerships around the world.  Amazon is in the forefront in the U.K. and retailers in other countries are already testing how these drones may play a more strategic role in their delivery of products that they sell online.  

In Britain, Amazon is working with local authorities to test several aspects of drone technology like piloting the machines beyond the line of sight of operators, a practice still outlawed in the United States.   It seems that much of the drone opposition is rooted in concerns for the historical preservation of the countryside that played a large part in Britain’s past.  For example, the Friends of the Roman Road, a local organization that maintains centuries-old public footpaths near the Amazon drone testing site in Cambridgeshire, fear that the drones represent a threat to local wildlife and the wider countryside.  Drones flying overhead would certainly detract from appreciating the historical significance of the Roman Road and the role it played in ancient times. 

I guess we all know that times do change, but surely some things are worth preserving.  Droneless skies over sites of historical preservation are well worth our consideration.  Think of them as new types of “no-fly” zones.

Ray Myers



Technology to Help Make Schools and Teachers Great Again!

My apologies, but I couldn’t resist paraphrasing this “Donald Trumpism.”  It’s just that now is that time of year when education publishers, and now tech companies, start to  unveil the latest and most exciting “products” for the next school term beginning in September.  So, I think the big news here is the dramatic change in the traditional textbook sales business.  Here is a more professional analysis from the Software and Information Industry Association: “Schools in the United States spend more than $8.3 billion annually on software and digital content . . . That spending could grow significantly as school districts that now buy physical textbooks, assessment tests, professional development resources for teachers and administrative materials shift to digital systems.”  Goodbye, Mr. Chips!

This trend has certainly not gone unnoticed in the digital publishing world.  Publishing giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and in online higher education, edX, have easily recognized the business value of making their products and services more available digitally.  The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is now holding its annual 2016 convention in Denver this year, and if you attend the proceedings there with 16,000 other teachers and school officials, or follow them remotely,  you will be introduced to these new digital ventures in a more formal way.  Remember the days when you had to go to the Bookstore each semester?

Please believe me that I am not really trying to be nostalgic, well maybe a little.   During my college summers I packed and shipped textbooks to university campuses in the U.S. for the Collier-Macmillan Publishing Company.  Now technology can do all that for you personally.   I often wonder if I have actually been replaced by a robot?

Ray Myers



Driverless Cars and Safer Streers

Maybe this is really the answer: just take the steering well away from the human driver and our roads will be safer.  Now you will be free to text your heart away on any mobile device and not worry about your safety or the safety of others in their cars or walking the streets – you won’t be driving the car!  Google has formed a coalition with Ford in trying to make this all technologically and legally possible.  Volvo has also joined this group as well as ride-sharing firms Lyft and Uber.  They call themselves th Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.  But I am not quite sure how Lyft and Uber fit into this self-driving initiative.  Do they just send out driverless cars when you call them for a ride?

I still think I will miss seeing a “flesh and blood” person sitting behind the steering wheel when I ask Uber to send a car to help me get somewhere.  But maybe I am overreacting.  You’ve got to trust the technology after all.  Right!  Experts have already testified before the U.S. Congress stating that ninety percent of vehicle accidents every year (32,625 deaths in 2014) were the result of decisions made by drivers at the wheel – and self-driving technology has the potential to prevent “at least” some of those accidents. 

So I am grateful that self-driving cars can be instrumental in reducing the number of fatalities on American roads.  But I guess I still have to keep an eye open for those with human beings behind the wheels!

Ray Myers


Is Life a Calendar to Fill Up?

Let technology do it for you.  Now you can go to your new improved Google calendar and find that “Goals” has scheduled all those things you have to do everyday.  “Goals” is the name of the software that offers you a menu of goals to choose from on a daily basis.  It can then scour the white spaces in your calendar for available times and will map out a schedule.  Of course you will still be in charge of deciding if this is all okay with you and let “Goals” make all the final arrangements.  Why not?

I don’t know about you, but all of this does scare me in my “old age.”  I really do have more spare time these days, and I would hate to have it all filled up by a virtual assistant of some kind.  I can still pretty much plan my calendar from day to day, and more often think in terms of month to month at a more leisurely pace.  And we can all thank artificial intelligence (A.I.) for making this all possible.  Yes, that’s right, your new personal assistant is really a robot after all.  And a very hard-working one at that.  He/she (your choice) can even sort your email into high and low priority items and weed out the junk.  Unfortunately, this appears to have freed up time for people to send more work email!

So be careful what you wish for, or in this case, what you really never wished for, but Google decided you needed.  Sherry Turkle at M.I.T. worries that “human” software agents can diminish authentic human interactions.  I don’t think robots ever worry about that!

Ray Myers

Shopping Online With Your Chatbot

Need someone to go shopping with?  Well maybe that’s not done so much any more, and you probably don’t need someone after all if you have Chatbot.  And you really don’t need a salesperson to help you since you will be online, and Chatbot will be there programmed to answer all of your anticipated questions.  At this rate there may not be any brick and mortar stores (malls?) to stroll through in the near future.  What’s going to happen to all of those gigantic shopping malls and parking garages?  As more shopping goes online, maybe they will morph into “distribution centers” where your purchases are shipped to your home, saving you from the inconvenience of having to go to a store to shop.

This is the future that many social media entrepreneurs are banking on.  “Facebook said it was opening up Messenger, it’s own messaging app, so that any outside company – from Applebee’s to Zara – could create a bot capable of interacting with people through the chat program.”  And Facebook may be the logical and most profitable place to begin.  It already has 900 million regular monthly users of Messenger with more than 15 million businesses having an official brand page on Facebook.

So this is shopping in the virtual world.  But don’t forget that you still need a home with a real address to have everything shipped to.  Or maybe you can just get a really big post office box?  After you buy all that stuff online, you may have to invest in a bigger home that will truly become your castle!

Ray Myers


Virtual Assistants Need Some Personality – Hire a Human!

They really do need us.  Just when I was starting to worry that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would become so pervasive that it would eclipse our limited human capacities, I now read that the tech behemoths (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) are now hiring real people to make these virtual assistants sound more human.  Microsoft, for example, has hired poets, novelists, playwrights and former television writers to be members of their writing teams.  So technology may help us become more literate after all, or at least will provide more employment opportunities for those who are literate.  Oh, I forgot to include comedians in the list of desired writing team members.  That makes me happy!

This is very good news for job seekers in the U.S.  By 2025, 12.7 million new U.S. Jobs will involve building robots or automation software; by 2019, more than one-third of the workforce will be working side by side with such technologies.  That’s only three years away (Forester Data).  What a change in the work place!  In the old days you just had to worry about getting along (or not) with the humans you worked with.  Now you will have to get along with your “artificial” colleagues as well.  I’m not sure that they will become supervisory personnel in the future, but I would guess that many of you are thinking that you have already worked for some real “bots” in the past.

Some early studies of human-robot interaction have found that attempts to make robots seem more humanlike can inspire unease or revulsion instead of empathy.  Maybe we all just have to learn to “get along,” but I don’t know if robots can be programmed for that?

Ray Myers


Throwing an Internet Lifeline to Low-Income Households in U.S.

This is all about broadband access for millions of households that have been described as living on the poorer side of the digital divide.  They will receive a monthly subsidy of $9.25.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that one in five people do not have access to broadband in their homes, and the vast majority of those disconnected are poor.  Only about 40 percent of people earning less than $25,000 a year can afford broadband whole 95 percent of all households making over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, according to the FCC.

Consumer advocacy groups cheered for this decision by the FCC.  Inexpensive options for access have dwindled, not grown.  “A broadband subsidy for Lifeline will transform access to this basic human right in American cities, where such access is necessary to apply for even the lowest-wage jobs.” (Media Mobilizing Project).   There will also be benefits for students from low-income families who do not have Internet in their homes.  Seven out of ten schools assign homework that requires Internet access.

Let’s remember that connectivity and all the technology tools that are now available to today’s learners and future generations can only be as helpful as we make them.   Educators and families remain the primary guiding forces.  I don’t think there will ever be “Siri teachers” that will replace classroom teachers in any of our communities, regardless of income.  But I could be wrong?

Ray Myers



Resurrecting Treasures from the Rubble – Thank a Robot!

Technology to the rescue!  When I first read that Syria’s Assad had ousted the ISIS militants from Palmyra, I took little notice since I am not really sure if any news is actually good news anymore in that part of the world.  But it seems that with Palmyra now in the hands of the Syrian government, one can only hope that Syrian leaders will become more actively engaged in the reconstruction of these archaeological treasures.
Modern technology has also made the reconstruction of damaged historic landmarks possible through the use of 3D computer modeling generated from dozens of photographs taken by archaeologists over the years.  Fortunately, Palmyra has benefitted from the growing popularity of digital archaeology as a new frontier in the preservation of ancient architectural jewels. Now here is where the robots come in. These photographs can be put into a database, and once experts are confident that the computer model contains all the structural information necessary, a file is sent to Italy where robots carve the reproduction from blocks of Egyptian marble.

The fact that these marvelous structures were destroyed by man’s wanton disregard for past civilizations’ treasures, or plundered for personal or political gain, should enrage us all.   This is but one example of how the ravages of war can destroy marvels from mankind’s past.  In a very important way technology has the power to help us preserve archaeological wonders in spite of man’s wanton destruction.

Ray Myers

Universal Basic Income (U.B.I.) for Everyone – Thank a Robot

Don’t start counting on receiving monthly checks from the government quite yet.  The basic idea here seems to be that  as robots begin doing more of the work traditionally done by humans in our economy and jobs dry up, we should ensure that American workers’ wages will not be negatively impacted.  How about $1,000 a month?  And on top of that, we would all be free to become artists, scholars, entrepreneurs or otherwise engage our passions in a society no longer centered on the drudgery of daily labor.  What a concept!

Blame it all on artificial intelligence, if you are really looking for someone or something to blame.  So I guess it’s all about the intersection of artificial and human intelligence (just made that up).  We will be increasingly living in a world where we can use as much of either as we may want.  But I still think we need to exercise our natural intelligence on a regular basis to keep its “moving parts” working.  I don’t think artificial intelligence works on this same principle?

So excuse me as I go back to reading my daily papers, and drinking my coffee to fuel my brain’s synapses, and try to figure out how to escape the “drudgery of daily labor.”  I don’t think robots have to worry about that.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will be taking an early spring break next week, but will return on March 21st.  Thanks for reading my posts, or scanning them if you are a robot?


Computer Has Voice, Personality, and Political Potential

I guess it’s just not enough to give your computer a voice like IBM’s Watson; he/she also needs a personality.  In other words, here is the latest update on this voice-enhancing endeavor.  “Machines are listening, understanding, and speaking, and not just computers and smartphones.  Voices have been added to a wide range of everyday objects like cars and toys, as well a household information “appliances” like the home-companion robots Pepper and Jobo, and Alexa, the voice of the Amazon Echo speaker device.”

Now here comes the scary part.  One software firm in Israel is now considering developing a “conversational character,” an avatar that could be deployed on a social media platform during a political campaign.  For example, a plausible-sounding Ted Cruz or Donald Trump could articulate the candidate’s positions on any possible subject.  What a concept!  Just prerecord your responses to any burning issues on the campaign trail and let your avatar do the rest.  No more flip-flopping, or nuancing on issues as the campaign develops.  Unfortunately, I think that would be the part I would miss the most.

The developers of this software claim that this social media platform will enable the audience to have an interactive conversation with the candidate.  A real virtual interactive conversation?  Is that what we really want in terms of understanding the political positions of our candidates?  Maybe that is what is actually happening already.

Ray Myers

Driverless Cars Need to be More Human (Aggressive?)

These cars are just too polite.  Engineered for driving safely on America’s highways and bi-ways in the twenty-first century, Google has clearly produced one of the safest vehicles on the road today.  Since 2009 these cars have been involved in only sixteen crashes and, in each case, a human driver has been at fault (company data).  At the same time, the Google car has been pulled over once by the police for driving too slowly!

In the final analysis these driverless automobiles really do obey the “rules of the road” when their human-driven counterparts apparently always do not.  Take the four-way stop scenario: the Google car always seems to politely wait for its turn.  Not unsurprisingly in the human-driver world, this rule does not always seem to apply.  He who hesitates may be lost as the saying goes, but if you are in New Jersey you always have jughandles at stop lights (you may have to do some research on this, sorry).

So it seems that the lesson to be learned for the new driverless cars is tha they have to be aggressive in the right amount.  And that right amount depends on the culture, and there are lot of road ways between Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Ray Myers


Digitally Yours

Too busy this holiday season or any other time of the year to write handwritten notes, no problem!  You now have Bond, not James, who can take care of all that for you.  In this case, technology will reproduce your own handwriting, or any other if you prefer, and dispatch all of these carefully crafted personalized missives for you.  Now, of course, there is a price for this convenience, but who has the time any more to send all these “thank-yous,” and all I can tell you is that Bond’s business is booming, at least in the New York area.

Good manners and good business sense all wrapped into one thanks to robotics.  These robots, however, can be programmed to write in your own handwritten script or any other you may prefer.  There are currently 200 robotic writing machines in Bond’s  Manhattan facilities.  An invitation only service costs $1,200 a year and provides clients with a personalized mobile app to send notes in their own handwriting on custom stationary.  Other personalized messaging services range from $3.50 to $2.50 per card (corporate accounts with large orders).

Most customers like the fact that it is more than a text message, and is perceived as a more thoughtful sentiment.  No one will ever have to know it came from a robot!  And it comes in an envelope with a wax seal, a very thoughtful, personal touch, from anybody or a machine.

Ray Myers



Making Artificial Intelligence Harmless?

How little we really know or maybe it’s just me.  Last week I blogged about the wonders of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it could have done miraculous things for characters like the Strawman in the Wizard of Oz.  Little did I know that prominent leaders in the scientific community are concerned that this technological power could also be used in ways that can potentially do more harm than good. 

To combat the imminent abuse of this powerful scientific resource for destructive purposes such as killer robots (e.g., terminators), leading tech entrepreneurs and companies have joined forces.  A new non-profit group has been formed called Open AI with a mega-fund of one billion dollars dedicated to finding and funding positive uses for AI.  Their intended mission is to do everything they can to ensure that the same tech that could support “killing machines” gets used for good instead.

Some say one billion dollars will not be enough.  A future where terminators could exist is basically inevitable.   Bill Gates has also expressed the urgency of this issue, stating that he does not “understand why some people are not concerned” about the possibility of a rogue, self-aware robot.  Artificial intelligence may help us address an array of human challenges but it is still man who decides how to use it best.

Ray Myers

If I Only Had a Brain!

Well don’t worry any more, Mr. Scarecrow.  There’s always artificial intelligence.  And as long as you have the necessary visual acuity you will now be able to recognize all the hand written characters from as many as fifty different languages!  I guess the hard part may be carrying around the lap top (mobile device?) that contains the software or other assistive programs you may need, but there are many mobility experts that can help today.  I do not know how many languages they may speak or write in Oz, but you will surely be in better shape than you were before.

Mr. Scarecrow may find that all these advances will make him a little nostalgic for the good old days when he would ramble down that yellow brick road with Dorothy and the gang, but I know that he will enjoy the independence this new technology brings.  It will change his life just as technology has changed all of our personal and professional lives in the twenty-first century.

Experts note that such advances in artificial intelligence and robotics reflect an intensifying focus in Silicon Valley.   I think that this focus will be of great future benefit to all people in every corner of the globe.

Ray Myers