Port Worker Blues: Robots Automating Everything

America’s busiest shipping ports will soon look like fully-automated Amazon warehouses, displacing thousands of workers and local businesses. In Los Angeles, port makeover is part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Green New Deal. ⁃ TN Editor

Pier 400 in Los Angeles is North America’s largest shipping terminal. More than 1,700 trucks pass through, on average per day, even in the middle of the U.S.-China trade war. All that cargo translates into thousands of miles driven within the facility each day, mostly by diesel vehicles, spewing pollutants.

For APM Terminals, the part of global shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S that runs the Los Angeles terminal, the future of cargo handling looks like the future of driving: electric motors replacing gasoline engines, autonomous software replacing human workers. The company says the changes are necessary to meet California rules requiring container terminals to reach zero emissions by 2030 and to keep business from leaving for other coasts.

The Los Angeles terminal has already ordered an electric, automated carrier from Finnish manufacturer Kalmar, part of the Cargotec Corp., that can fulfill the functions of three kinds of manned diesel vehicles: a crane, top-loader and truck. With enough of those, APMT could eliminate 65,000 miles driven daily by diesel trucks and cranes.

There would be fallout, though. The move to a robotic, emission-free operation may cut the need for workers such as Anthony Armijo, a part-timer who has spent 15 years picking up leftover dock shifts. “I just don’t understand what we’re going to be doing in the future,” he said. “I’m an American citizen. You would think they would have a way for us to make a living.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers across the West Coast, has gathered support from local, state and federal politicians for its effort to prevent the municipal board running the port from letting the company proceed with its plans. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has set his own emissions targets as part of his Green New Deal, is brokering negotiations for a deal this month.

The conflict is one of many pitting progressive clean-energy initiatives against blue-collar jobs threatened by changing technology.

“Automation is the path of history,” said Dan Sperling, a member of the California’s Air Resources Board and professor of civil engineering and environmental science at the University of California, Davis. “The questions are how much automation really makes sense, and how do you deal with the disruption to the workers?”

Wim Lagaay, president and chief executive officer of APM Terminals North America, sees cleaner, safer systems that meet the demand for quicker shipping as a way to secure the future of the port, which drives billions of dollars in economic activity. “If you don’t have a competitive port, you don’t have volumes, you have nothing,” he said. “Jobs will change, jobs will be created, jobs will be eliminated.”

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Pentagon

Vicious Cycle: Pentagon Buys Services From Tech Giants It Created

Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America about the danger posed by the military-industrial complex but in the same light, he also of a technological elite. It is now more apparent than ever that two forces have merged into a single column. ⁃ TN Editor

The US Department of Defense’s bloated budget, along with CIA venture capital, helped to create tech giants, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and PayPal. The government then contracts those companies to help its military and intelligence operations. In doing so, it makes the tech giants even bigger.

In recent years, the traditional banking, energy and industrial Fortune 500companies have been losing ground to tech giants like Apple and Facebook. But the technology on which they rely emerged from the taxpayer-funded research and development of bygone decades. The internet started as ARPANET, an invention of Honeywell-Raytheon working under a Department of Defense (DoD) contract. The same satellites that enable modern internet communications also enable US jets to bomb their enemies, as does the GPS that enables online retailers to deliver products with pinpoint accuracy. Apple’s touchscreen technology originated as a US Air Force tool. The same drones that record breath-taking video are modified versions of Reapers and Predators.

Tax-funded DoD research is the backbone of the modern, hi-tech economy. But these technologies are dual-use. The companies that many of us take for granted–including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and PayPal–are connected indirectly and sometimes very directly to the US military-intelligence complex.

A recent report by Open the Government, a bipartisan advocate of transparency, reveals the extent of Amazon’s contracts with the Pentagon. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, the company is now valued at $1 trillion, giving Bezos a personal fortune of $131 billion. Open the Government’s report notes that much of the US government “now runs on Amazon,” so much so that the tech giant is opening a branch near Washington, DC. Services provided by Amazon include cloud contracts, machine learning and biometric data systems. But more than this, Amazon is set to enjoy a lucrative Pentagon IT contract under the $10bn, Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI. The Pentagon says that it hopes Amazon technology will “support lethality and enhanced operational efficiency.”

The report reveals what it can, but much is protected from public scrutiny under the twin veils of national security and corporate secrecy. For instance, all prospective host cities for Amazon’s second headquarters were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

But it doesn’t end there. According to the report, Amazon supplied surveillance and facial Rekognition software to the police and FBI, and it has pitched the reportedly inaccurate and race/gender-biased technology to the Department of Homeland Security for its counter-immigration operations. Ten percent of the subsidiary Amazon Web Services’ profits come from government contracts. Departments include the State Department, NASA, Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, Amazon won a $600m Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract with the CIA. C2S will enable deep learning and data fingerprinting. Amazon’s second headquarters will be built in Virginia, the CIA’s home-state. Despite repeated requests, the company refuses to disclose how its personal devices, like Amazon Echo, connect with the CIA.

But Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to one thorough research article: In the mid-90s, future Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin used indirect Pentagon and other government funding to develop web crawlers and page ranking applications. Around the same time, the CIA, Directorate of Intelligence and National Security Agency–under the auspices of the National Science Foundation–funded the Massive Data Digital Systems (MDDS) program. A publication by Sergey Brin acknowledges that he received funding from the MDDS program. According to Professor Bhavani Thuraisingham, who worked on the project, “The intelligence community … essentially provided Brin seed-funding, which was supplemented by many other sources, including the private sector.” The Query Flocks part of Google’s patented PageRank system was developed as part of the MDDS program. Two entrepreneurs, Andreas Bechtolsheim (who set up Sun Microsystems) and David Cheriton, both of whom had previously received Pentagon money, were early investors in Google.

Like Bezos, Brin and Page became billionaires.

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Close-Knit Financial Oligarchy Controls All Major Corporations

Here are the real drivers and financial benefactors of Global Technocracy. This report is reminiscent of similar research compiled by the late Professor Antony C. Sutton and myself for our book, Trilaterals Over Washington, Vols. I and II. We reached a similar conclusion in 1978. ⁃ TN Editor

Starting with Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the US government willingly decided to ignore the anti-trust laws so that corporations would have free rein to set up monopolies. With each successive president the monopolistic concentration of business and shareholding in America has grown precipitously eventually to reach the monstrous levels of the present day.

Today’s level of monopolistic concentration is of such unprecedented levels that we may without hesitation designate the US economy as a giant oligopoly. From economic power follows political power, therefore the economic oligopoly translates into a political oligarchy. (It seems, though, that the transformation has rather gone the other way around, a ferocious set of oligarchs have consolidated their economic and political power beginning from the turn of the twentieth century). The conclusion that the US is an oligarchy finds support in a 2014 by a Princeton University study.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has not seen these levels of concentration of ownership. The Soviet Union did not die because of apparent ideological reasons but due to economic bankruptcy caused by its uncompetitive monopolistic economy. Our verdict is that the US is heading in the same direction.

In a later report, we will demonstrate how all sectors of the US economy have fallen prey to monopolization and how the corporate oligopoly has been set up across the country. This post essentially serves as an appendix to that future report by providing the shocking details of the concentration of corporate ownership.

Apart from illustrating the monopolization at the level of shareholding of the major investors and corporations, we will in a follow-up post take a somewhat closer look at one particularly fatal aspect of this phenomenon, namely the consolidation of media (posted simultaneously with the present one) in the hands of absurdly few oligarch corporations. In there, we will discuss the monopolies of the tech giants and their ownership concentration together with the traditional media because they rightfully belong to the same category directly restricting speech and the distribution of opinions in society.

In a future instalment of this report, we will show that the oligarchization of America – the placing it under the rule of the One Percent (or perhaps more accurately the 0.1%, if not 0.01%) – has been a deliberate ideologically driven long-term project to establish absolute economic power over the US and its political system and further extend that to involve an absolute global hegemony (the latter project thankfully thwarted by China and Russia). To achieve these goals, it has been crucial for the oligarchs to control and direct the narrative on economy and war, on all public discourse on social affairs. By seizing the media, the oligarchs have created a monstrous propaganda machine, which controls the opinions of the majority of the US population.

We use the words ‘monopoly,’ ‘monopolies,’ and ‘monopolization’ in a broad sense and subsume under these concepts all kinds of market dominance be it by one company or two or a small number of companies, that is, oligopolies. At the end of the analysis, it is not of great importance how many corporations share in the market dominance, rather what counts is the death of competition and the position enabling market abuse, either through absolute dominance, collusion, or by a de facto extinction of normal market competition. Therefore we use the term ‘monopolization’ to describe the process of reaching a critical level of non-competition on a market. Correspondingly, we may denote ‘monopoly companies’ two corporations of a duopoly or several of an oligopoly.

Horizontal shareholding – the cementation of the oligarchy

One especially perfidious aspect of this concentration of ownership is that the same few institutional investors have acquired undisputable control of the leading corporations in practically all the most important sectors of industry. The situation when one or several investors own controlling or significant shares of the top corporations in a given industry (business sector) is referred to as horizontal shareholding. (*1). In present-day United States a few major investors – equity funds or private capital – are as a rule cross-owned by each other, forming investor oligopolies, which in turn own the business oligopolies.

A study has shown that among a sample of the 1,500 largest US firms (S&P 1500), the probability of one major shareholder holding significant shares in two competing firms had jumped to 90% in 2014, while having been just 16% in 1999. (*2).

Institutional investors like BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street, Fidelity, and JP Morgan, now own 80% of all stock in S&P 500 listed companies. The Big Three investors – BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – alone constitute the largest shareholder in 88% of S&P 500 firms, which roughly correspond to America’s 500 largest corporations. (*3). Both BlackRock and Vanguard are among the top five shareholders of almost 70% of America’s largest 2,000 publicly traded corporations. (*4).

Blackrock had as of 2016 $6.2 trillion worth of assets under management, Vanguard $5.1 trillion, whereas State Street has dropped to a distant third with only $1 trillion in assets. This compares with a total market capitalization of US stocks according to Russell 3000 of $30 trillion at end of 2017 (From 2016 to 2017, the Big Three has of course also put on assets).Blackrock and Vanguard would then alone own more than one-third of all US publicly listed shares.

From an expanded sample that includes the 3,000 largest publicly listed corporations (Russell 3000 index), institutions owned (2016) about 78% of the equity.

The speed of concentration the US economy in the hands of institutions has been incredible. Still back in 1950s, their share of the equity was 10%, by 1980 it was 30% after which the concentration has rapidly grown to the present day approximately 80%. (*5). Another study puts the present (2016) stock market capitalization held by institutional investors at 70%. (*6). (The slight difference can possibly be explained by variations in the samples of companies included).

As a result of taking into account the common ownership at investor level, it emerges that the US economy is yet much more monopolized than it was previously thought when the focus had been on the operational business corporation alone detached from their owners. (*7).

The Oligarch owners assert their control

Apologists for monopolies have argued that the institutional investors who manage passive capital are passive in their own conduct as shareholders as well. (*8). Even if that would be true it would come with vastly detrimental consequences for the economy as that would mean that in effect there would be no shareholder control at all and the corporate executives would manage the companies exclusively with their own short-term benefits in mind, inevitably leading to corruption and the loss of the common benefits businesses on a normally functioning competitive market would bring.

In fact, there seems to have been a period in the US economy – before the rapid monopolization of the last decade -when such passive investors had relinquished control to the executives. (*9). But with the emergence of the Big Three investors and the astonishing concentration of ownership that does not seem to hold water any longer. (*10). In fact, there need not be any speculation about the matter as the monopolist owners are quite candid about their ways. For example, BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink sends out an annual guiding letter to his subject, practically to all the largest firms of the US and increasingly also Europe and the rest of the West. In his pastoral, the CEO shares his view of the global conditions affecting business prospects and calls for companies to adjust their strategies accordingly.

The investor will eventually review the management’s strategic plans for compliance with the guidelines. Effectively, the BlackRock CEO has in this way assumed the role of a giant central planner, rather like the Gosplan, the central planning agency of the Soviet command economy.

The 2019 letter (referenced above) contains this striking passage, which should quell all doubts about the extent to which BlackRock exercises its powers:

“As we seek to build long-term value for our clients through engagement, our aim is not to micromanage a company’s operations. Instead, our primary focus is to ensure board accountability for creating long-term value. However, a long-term approach should not be confused with an infinitely patient one. When BlackRock does not see progress despite ongoing engagement, or companies are insufficiently responsive to our efforts to protect our clients’ long-term economic interests, we do not hesitate to exercise our right to vote against incumbent directors or misaligned executive compensation.”

Considering the striking facts rendered above, we should bear in mind that the establishment of this virtually absolute oligarch ownership over all the largest corporations of the United States is a relatively new phenomenon. We should therefore expect that the centralized control and centralized planning will rapidly grow in extent as the power is asserted and methods are refined.

Most of the capital of those institutional investors consists of so-called passive capital, that is, such cases of investments where the investor has no intention of trying to achieve any kind of control of the companies it invests in, the only motivation being to achieve as high as possible a yield. In the overwhelming majority of the cases the funds flow into the major institutional investors, which invest the money at their will in any corporations. The original investors do not retain any control of the institutional investors, and do not expect it either. Technically the institutional investors like BlackRock and Vanguard act as fiduciary asset managers. But here’s the rub, while the people who commit their assets to the funds may be considered as passive investors, the institutional investors who employ those funds are most certainly not.

Cross-ownership of oligarch corporations

To make matters yet worse, it must be kept in mind that the oligopolistic investors in turn are frequently cross-owned by each other. (*11). In fact, there is no transparent way of discovering who in fact controls the major institutional investors.

One of the major institutional investors, Vanguard is ghost owned insofar as it does not have any owners at all in the traditional sense of the concept. The company claims that it is owned by the multiple funds that it has itself set up and which it manages. This is how the company puts it on their home page: “At Vanguard, there are no outside owners, and therefore, no conflicting loyalties. The company is owned by its funds, which in turn are owned by their shareholders—including you, if you’re a Vanguard fund investor.” At the end of the analysis, it would then seem that Vanguard is owned by Vanguard itself, certainly nobody should swallow the charade that those funds stuffed with passive investor money would exercise any ownership control over the superstructure Vanguard. We therefore assume that there is some group of people (other than the company directors) that have retained the actual control of Vanguard behind the scenes (perhaps through one or a few of the funds). In fact, we believe that all three (BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard) are tightly controlled by a group of US oligarchs (or more widely transatlantic oligarchs), who prefer not to brandish their power. It is beyond the scope of this study and our means to investigate this hypothesis, but whatever, it is bad enough that as a proven fact these three investor corporations wield this control over most of the American economy. We also know that the three act in concert wherever they hold shares. (*12).

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seattle

The Rise Of Hotel Robots In Seattle Worries Workers

The Technocrat mindset is to invent efficient technology that will displace inefficient humans, but there is no substitute for real human interaction. The sales pitch is always that robots will improve the workplace, but instead they displace workers altogether. ⁃ TN Editor

A couple of months ago, Justin Adsuara was surprised to see a waist-height robot scooting through the hallways of the Embassy Suites by Hilton. The glowing white cylinder was accompanied by an operator teaching it the layout of the new Seattle hotel, similar to training a dog to walk on a leash. Once the robot learns the lay of the land, it could deliver room-service meals or linens to guests.

The Pioneer Square hotel is the only property where the chain is considering using the robot, according to Hilton. But Adsuara, a lobby attendant at the hotel, said even this test phase has stoked “real fear” in the hotel’s food and beverage department, where workers are concerned about job security.

From automated check-in to droids that carry bags to rooms, new technology is transforming the hospitality industry worldwide. As a result, hotel workers around the nation are seeking a say in the introduction of devices that could threaten their jobs.

Embassy Suites employees, represented by UNITE HERE Local 8, are negotiating to include in their first contract with Hilton the right to collectively bargain over the implementation of new technology. Last year, unionized Marriott workers in eight U.S. cities launched the largest hotel strike in U.S. history, one that lasted nine weeks and ended with an agreement, finalized in December, that gives workers some say in the implementation of technology. Last October, Westin Seattle hotel employees represented by UNITE HERE Local 8 reached a tentative deal with Marriott International.

“The biggest tools that we have are to organize and to push for things in our contract that can indirectly mitigate the impacts of technology,” said Adsuara, a member of the union.

From Hilton’s perspective, AI technology is a tool that can help staff enhance the customer experience, said company spokesman Nigel Glennie. He called the robot “something that would support team members.” He added that at this point, “This is a trial by one hotel,” and not something the chain is considering for its other properties.

The contract negotiations between Hilton and the Seattle workers follow months of bargaining between casino companies and  members of the culinary and bartender unions in Nevada, which are affiliates of UNITE HERE. Language in the Nevada contracts that addresses technology was used as a model for negotiations between Marriott International and hotel workers across North America, said UNITE HERE Local 8 president Erik Van Rossum.

“We decided two years ago that if we didn’t push this in negotiations … that we would just be reactive and that there would be no negotiation,” said UNITE HERE president D. Taylor.

Although the hospitality union was in new territory, workers in other industries have long fought for job security in the face of automation. In 1960, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union negotiated a “mechanization and modernization agreement” to ensure job security and generous compensation for workers displaced by the increasing mechanization of the ports.

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Technocracy Unplugged: Jeff Bezos Wants To Colonize Space With 1 Trillion Humans

Along the way to becoming the richest person on earth, Jeff Bezos has certifiably lost touch with reality.  After dominating earth, his latest vision is to put one trillion humans in space in floating cylinders.

According to WebMD, “Schizophrenia is a psychosis, a type of mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. At times, people with psychotic disorders lose touch with reality.” ⁃ TN Editor

 

“Guess what the best planet is in this solar system?” asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at a recent media event on his Blue Origin space program.

“It’s easy to know the answer to that question,” he continued. “We’ve sent robotic probes like this one to all of the planets in our solar system. Now, some of them have been fly-bys, but we’ve examined them all. Earth is the best planet. It is not close. This one is really good.”

Bezos then went on to discuss his plan to ship humans off of the best planet in the solar system and send them to live in floating cylinders in space.

Bezos claimed that the growing human population and growing energy consumption will force us to make a choice between “stasis and rationing” and “dynamism and growth”, and claimed that the latter item in his dichotomy is possible only by moving humans off the planet.

“If we’re out in the solar system, we can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins,” Bezos said. “This would be an incredible civilization. What would this future look like? Where would a trillion humans live? Well it’s very interesting, someone named Gerry O’Neill, a physics professor, looked at this question very carefully and he asked a very precise question that nobody had ever asked before, and it was, ‘Is a planetary surface the best place for humans to expand into the solar system?’ And he and his students set to work on answering that question, and they came to a very surprising–for them–counterintuitive answer: No.”

Bezos went on to describe how the limited surface areas, distance, and gravitational forces of the other planets in our solar system make settling on those planets impractical and cost-prohibitive, while constructing giant space cylinders closer to Earth which can hold a million people is far more practical. These cylinders would spin to replicate Earth’s gravitational pull with centrifugal force.

Here are some illustrations Bezos used in his presentation to show us what these “O’Neill colonies” might look like:

“These are really pleasant places to live,” Bezos said. “Some of these O’Neill colonies might choose to replicate Earth cities. They might pick historical cities and mimic them in some way. There’d be whole new types of architecture. These are ideal climates. These are short-sleeve environments. This is Maui on its best day, no rain, no storms, no earthquakes.”

No rain? No weather? Just big, spinning cylinders floating monotonously in space? A trillion divided by a million is one million, which means that the best idea the richest man in the world can come up with for the future of our species is to fill our solar system with a million of these floating homogenized space malls.

“If we build this vision, these O’Neill colonies, where does it take us? What does it mean for Earth?” Bezos asked. “Earth ends up zoned, residential, and light industry. It’ll be a beautiful place to live, it’ll be a beautiful place to visit, it’ll be a beautiful place to go to college, and to do some light industry. But heavy industry, polluting industry, all the things that are damaging our planet, those will be done off Earth. We get to have both. We get to keep this unique gem of a planet, which is completely irreplaceable–there is no Plan B. We have to save this planet. And we shouldn’t give up a future of our grandchildren’s grandchildren of dynamism and growth. We can have both.”

Now, if you look at the behavior of Jeff Bezos, who exploits his employees and destroys his competitors, and who some experts say is trying to take over the underlying infrastructure of our entire economy, you can feel reasonably confident that this man has no intention of leaving “this unique gem of a planet”, nor of having the heirs to his empire leave either. When you see this Pentagon advisory board member and CIA contractor planning to ship humans off the Earth’s surface so the planet can thrive, you may be certain that he’s talking about other humans. The unworthy ones. The ones who weren’t sociopathic enough to climb the capitalist ladder by stepping on the backs of everyone else.

And make no mistake, when Bezos talks about saving the planet for “our grandchildren’s grandchildren”, he’s not just talking about his heirs, he’s talking about himself. Bezos has invested large amounts of wealth in biotech aimed at reversing the aging process and cracking the secret of immortality.

This is the sort of guiding wisdom that is controlling the fate of our species, everyone. The world’s most ambitious plutocrat envisions a world in which, rather than evolving beyond our destructive tendencies and learning to live in collaboration with each other and our environment, we are simply shipped off into space so that he can stretch out and enjoy our beautiful planet. That’s his best idea.

Our plutocratic overlords aren’t just sociopaths. They’re morons.

Bezos’ incredibly shallow vision for humanity reminds me of something Julian Assange said at a 2017 London festival via video link about the way Silicon Valley plutocrats are trying to become immortal by finding a way to upload their brains onto computers.

“I know from our sources deep inside those Silicon Valley institutions, they genuinely believe that they are going to produce artificial intelligences that are so powerful, relatively soon, that people will have their brains digitized, uploaded on these artificial intelligences, and live forever in a simulation, therefore will have eternal life,” Assange said. “It’s a religion for atheists. They’ll have eternal life, and given that you’re in a simulation, why not program the simulation to have endless drug and sex orgy parties all around you. It’s like the 72 virgins, but it’s like the Silicon Valley equivalent.”

I mean, damn. First of all, how stupid do you have to be to overlook the fact that science has virtually no understanding of consciousness and doesn’t even really know what it is? Even if these idiots find a way to upload their neurological patternings onto some AI’s virtual simulation, it’s not like they’d be there to experience it. It would just be a bunch of data running in a computer somewhere, mimicking the personality of a dead person and experienced by no one. People who believe that all there is to them is their dopey mental patterns have not spent any time whatsoever exploring what they are, and have no idea what it is to be human. The fact that anyone would think they could become immortal by digitizing their churning, repetitive personality patterns is crazy, and the fact that they’d want to is even crazier.

People who think this way should shut up and learn about life, not rule the world in a plutocratic system where money translates directly to political influence. People who think that humans can be happily unplugged from the ecosystemic context in which they evolved, the ecosystemic context of which they are an inseparable part, and people who think they can become immortal by uploading their wanky personalities onto a computer should shut the fuck up, spend some time alone with themselves, maybe try some psilocybin mushrooms, and learn a bit about what it means to be human. They certainly shouldn’t be calling the shots.

Earth is our home. It’s what we’re made for. The earth went through a lot to give you life. Sparks had to catch, oceans had to freeze, billions of cells had to survive endless disease, all of these amazing things had to happen just right to give you life. You belong here. You are as much a creation of the earth as the air you breathe. You may feel like a singular organism but you’re actually as much a singular organism as one of the many billions of organisms that make up your body. You and earth are one. And because you evolved on earth, you are perfectly adapted to earth and it is perfectly adapted to you. It yearns for your breath as you yearn for its breeze on your face.

We absolutely have the ability to transcend our unhealthy tendencies as a species which, when you really look at them, are merely creations of a mind that feels alone and separate and like it is in a constant fight for its life. If we just put down our mental swords for a hot second and learned to channel our creativity into the thriving of our society and our ecosystem instead of into killing and out-competing one another then we will be okay. The way out of this is the way towards health. For example, once women have been given back even the most basic rights of sexual sovereignty such as birth control and access to terminations as they have in most western countries, birth rates fall below replication levels. Women’s own internal bodily wisdom makes the problem of overpopulation moot if given half a chance just to make decisions on behalf of her own body.

Another example. People lament the lack of jobs due to AI and automation but we actually desperately need people to do less. We need a whole lot of people doing nothing, not using the roads every morning and evening, not producing widgets that no one needs and creating advertising campaigns to brainwash people into buying them anyway, just to have them end up in the ocean or leaching heavy metals into the earth. Having a whole lot of people doing nothing for more of their week would take the strain off of our health systems as the single biggest factor in disease is stress. Studies show that stress also shrinks your brain and lessens your creativity and innovation too, so all the punitive-minded libertarians out there who are worried that we won’t progress as a species if we start sharing resources around to people who aren’t doing things that traditionally made money because we’ll be too relaxed can chill too. We don’t need to crack the whip to get people to make beautiful innovations. Humans are at their best when feeling playful and relaxed. Nearly all the technological advances of the past came from people who had a lot of leisure time due to their privileged status. Releasing humans from 9 to 5 slavery would be the fastest way to slow our resource consumption and take pressure off of all our systems and would have the added benefit of making us smarter, funnier, more creative and more innovative too.

And for that matter, having every idea and innovation be required to make money is also killing us. We need the ability to fund things that will not make profit. How many times have you been in a conversation and someone’s come up with an idea that will solve a major environmental, energy or health problem and no one’s got excited because it will never get off the ground because it will never make money? Fully disappearing a problem never made anyone any money. Healthy people, for example, never spend a dime at the doctors. The way out of this is detaching human innovation from money and allowing solutions to flourish without the imposition of also having to turn a profit.

These are merely three things I can think of that will dramatically improve our collective ability to reverse this extinction event and all we have to do is get saner, stop punishing each other, start sharing and start collaborating. The only issue we have as humans is that a handful of highly competitive, highly sociopathic and yet incredibly mediocre people have all the power to build our future for us with virtually no input from anyone else. Because all the power in the form of all the money has been allowed to pool into the hands of those most willing to do whatever it takes to get it, we have just a few ruthless yet surprisingly dumb individuals calling the shots on the future of all living beings. The competitive mindset that gave rise to Jeff Bezos is the exact opposite of the kind of collaborative, harmonious mindset we’ll need if we’re going to overcome the challenges we face on the horizon.

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Amazon

Amazon Aims To Put UPS Out Of Business

While Amazon seeks to obsolete human labor in its distribution business, its next target is delivery of those packages and the establishment of a massive network of ‘independent’ businesses. Is there any money in driving? Just ask an Uber or Lyft driver! ⁃ TN Editor
 

Amazon’s new robot packs 600+ boxes per hour vs humans at under 200. With that announcement comes a $10K offer to quit.

The new machines, known as the CartonWrap from Italian firm CMC Srl, pack much faster than humans. They crank out 600 to 700 boxes per hour, or four to five times the rate of a human packer, the sources said. The machines require one person to load customer orders, another to stock cardboard and glue and a technician to fix jams on occasion.

Including other machines known as the “SmartPac,” which the company rolled out recently to mail items in patented envelopes, Amazon’s technology suite will be able to automate a majority of its human packers. Five rows of workers at a facility can turn into two, supplemented by two CMC machines and one SmartPac, the person said.

Amazon is not alone in testing CMC’s packing technology. JD.com Inc and Shutterfly Inc have used the machines as well, the companies said, as has Walmart Inc, according to a person familiar with its pilot.

“A ‘lights out’ warehouse is ultimately the goal.”

Opportunity to Quit

TechCrunch reports Amazon Offers Employees $10K and 3 Months Pay If They Quit

But there’s a catch. They have to start their own delivery business instead.

The retailer says it will fund startup costs up to $10,000, as well as the equivalent of three months of the former employee’s last gross salary, to give the employees the ability to get their new business off the ground without worrying about a break in pay.

Amazon said last year that people were able to start their own delivery business with only $10,000. At the time, military veterans were able to get that $10K reimbursed, as Amazon was investing a million into a program that funded their startup costs.

Employees — or any other entrepreneur — who wants to become a delivery partner, are able to lease customized blue delivery vans with the Amazon smile logo on the side, and take advantage of other discounts, including fuel, insurance, branded uniforms and more.

Delivery partners, meanwhile, could earn as much as $300,000 in annual profit by growing their fleet to 40 vehicles, Amazon claims. The company said last year it expected that hundreds of small business owners will come to hire tens of thousands of drivers across the U.S.

Directly Competing With UPS, FedX

It’s clear where this is headed: Amazon will directly compete with UPS and FedX.

If Amazon can offer retailers reduced costs and faster delivery, why wouldn’t businesses take it?

 

Real Example

Consider what happened to me two weekends ago. I was at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, staying at hotel in Moab, Utah.

A star tracker that I use for photographing the night sky broke. I wanted another ASAP and paid $50 extra for overnight delivery. I placed the order Thursday morning at 9:00 AM. I should have received it Friday, but didn’t.

UPS does not deliver on Saturday. Prime does. I did not get my star tracker until Monday. I lost three days of being able to photograph the night sky the way I wanted.

These camera stores offer free 2-day shipping on most items.

If and when Amazon offers a deal to such places, they may be able to free one day shipping or save money on two-day shipping.

Union vs Non-Union

UPS is union-based with union costs and pension costs.

UPS is the single largest employer in the Teamsters Union. The UPS contract is the largest collective bargaining agreement in North America.

UPS will not be able to compete with Amazon on costs. UPS is doomed.

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Technocracy

Modeling Technocracy: Garages Seen As ‘Urban Mobility Hubs’

The 1934 Technocracy Study Course (p. 244) proposed a “network of garages at convenient places all over the country from which automobiles could be had at any hour of the night or day. No automobiles would be privately owned. When one wished to use an automobile he would merely call at the garage.” ⁃ TN Editor

With cities looking at new ways to use garages and alleviate congestion, parking management company FlashParking says it has a different solution: convert garages into “urban mobility hubs” that serve multiple purposes.

Instead of using garages for just parking cars, the company suggests repurposing them and adding areas to charge electric vehicles (EVs); park and charge dockless bikes and scooters; stage ride-hailing vehicles when they do not have a fare; clean and service cars; and act as a holding area for autonomous vehicles (AVs).

“Parking garages aren’t the first thing that come to mind when you think of urban mobility or smart city initiatives, but some of the more innovative asset owners and parking operators are seeing that there is an opportunity to be part of the solution rather than continue to be part of the problem,” Jordan Weiss, vice president of marketing at FlashParking, told Smart Cities Dive.

As cities discourage personal vehicle usage, there are theories about the future of parking garages. Some cities have experimented with ideas to repurpose them or remove them to free up the space for other ventures.

It is in a similar vein to Los Angeles-based architecture firm Woods Bagot’s MORE LA initiative, which explores how surface lots can help ease issues like the housing affordability crisis and to make it easier to use AVs. In an interview with Smart Cities Dive, architect James Sanders, who consults for Woods Bagot as the global chair of its design council, said it represents a major opportunity to “begin to recoup some of this vast inventory that has been given over to the storage of unused cars.”

Ride-hailing has been blamed in-part for increasing urban congestion, as drivers often spend time trawling the streets looking for their next fare, known as “dead-heading.” Weiss said if parking garages can be revamped into staging areas, it can get them on and off the streets as needed. He said the plan is to “repurpose or extend some real estate within those urban garages and allow them to park their cars, save fuel, get off the streets, ease congestion and basically stage there until their next fare.”

And with dockless bikes and scooters coming under repeated scrutiny for cluttering the public right-of-way, Weiss said providing parking and charging for them in a garage could be a way to solve that problem. Companies like Charge have looked at offering parking for dockless vehicles, and Weiss said there are plenty of opportunities for dockless providers to partner.

“These micromobility companies, they spend a significant amount of money paying people to pick up these assets, drive them to a charging area, charge them and then drop them off back in the city center the next day for use,” Weiss said. “They would be able to save a lot of money by creating partnerships with these parking assets and have them staged and charged right there in the central business district rather than spending money to have them sent off and recharged.”

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Deployment Of Construction Robots Displacing Laborers

The construction industry is one of America’s most fundamental components of GDP and potentially one of the most significant source of ‘unemployables’ as workers are displaced. Robot automation of jobs is expanding quickly. ⁃ TN Editor

Research firm Tractica today projected a $226 million revenue market by 2025 for the construction robotics space, an area that traditionally has been labor-intensive and not focused on robotics as much as industries such as manufacturing, supply chain logistics, and health care.

In a new report, “Construction & Demolition Robotics,” Tractica said growing interest in construction robots will drive revenue from $22.7 million in 2018 to the $226 million figure by 2025. In addition, the firm said more than 7,000 construction robots will be deployed to address several construction and demolition tasks. The largest area in terms of unit shipments will be for robotic assistants used on construction sites, followed by infrastructure robots, structure robots, and finishing robots, Tractica said.

“At this early stage in the construction robotics industry, a few companies are offering products for sale or lease,” said Glenn Sanders, a senior analyst at Tractica. “The main categories that are currently available include robots for demolition, bricklaying, drilling, 3D printing, and rebar tying, plus a few exoskeletons and assistant robots for lifting loads.”

Sanders said midsize and major construction companies are looking to adopt these robots to solve issues around labor shortages, safety, speed, accuracy, and integration with building automation and building information modeling (BIM) systems.

The Tractica report provides market forecasts around shipments and revenues from 2018 through 2025, provides profiles of 28 key companies, as well as a company directory of 60 “significant and emerging industry players.” You can download an executive summary of the report here.

Earlier this year, Transparency Market Research predicted a construction robots market of $470.61 million by 2026, with a compound annual growth rate of 10.4% between 2018 and 2026, with Asia Pacific leading the global market.

In addition to robotics, construction companies are also beginning to utilize aerial drones and artificial intelligence software on construction sites as a way to improve analytics and operational efficiencies.

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Beware Robot Emotions: ‘Simulated Love Is Never Love’

Humans already have a strong emotional tendency to transfer attachment to inanimate objects. If robot makers exploit this tendency, then robot owners may have no idea they are being led into an emotional addiction. ⁃ TN Editor

When a robot “dies,” does it make you sad? For lots of people, the answer is “yes” — and that tells us something important, and potentially worrisome, about our emotional responses to the social machines that are starting to move into our lives.

For Christal White, a 42-year-old marketing and customer service director in Bedford, Texas, that moment came several months ago with the cute, friendly Jibo robot perched in her home office. After more than two years in her house, the foot-tall humanoid and its inviting, round screen “face” had started to grate on her. Sure, it danced and played fun word games with her kids, but it also sometimes interrupted her during conference calls.

White and her husband Peter had already started talking about moving Jibo into the empty guest bedroom upstairs. Then they heard about the “death sentence” Jibo’s maker had levied on the product as its business collapsed. News arrived via Jibo itself, which said its servers would be shutting down, effectively lobotomizing it.

“My heart broke,” she said. “It was like an annoying dog that you don’t really like because it’s your husband’s dog. But then you realize you actually loved it all along.”

The Whites are far from the first to experience this feeling. People took to social media this year to say teary goodbyes to the Mars Opportunity rover when NASA lost contact with the 15-year-old robot. A few years ago, scads of concerned commenters weighed in on a demonstration video from robotics company Boston Dynamics in which employees kicked a dog-like robot to prove its stability.

Smart robots like Jibo obviously aren’t alive, but that doesn’t stop us from acting as though they are. Research has shown that people have a tendency to project human traits onto robots, especially when they move or act in even vaguely human-like ways.

Designers acknowledge that such traits can be powerful tools for both connection and manipulation. That could be an especially acute issue as robots move into our homes — particularly if, like so many other home devices, they also turn into conduits for data collected on their owners.

“When we interact with another human, dog, or machine, how we treat it is influenced by what kind of mind we think it has,” said Jonathan Gratch, a professor at University of Southern California who studies virtual human interactions. “When you feel something has emotion, it now merits protection from harm.”

The way robots are designed can influence the tendency people have to project narratives and feelings onto mechanical objects, said Julie Carpenter, a researcher who studies people’s interaction with new technologies. Especially if a robot has something resembling a face, its body resembles those of humans or animals, or just seems self-directed, like a Roomba robot vacuum.

“Even if you know a robot has very little autonomy, when something moves in your space and it seems to have a sense of purpose, we associate that with something having an inner awareness or goals,” she said.

Such design decisions are also practical, she said. Our homes are built for humans and pets, so robots that look and move like humans or pets will fit in more easily.

Some researchers, however, worry that designers are underestimating the dangers associated with attachment to increasingly life-like robots.

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Overseas Amazon Alexa Reviewers Can Also Access Owner’s Home Address

Amazon hires ‘reviewers’ in foreign countries like Romania and India to listen to your interactions and conversations with Alexa. Guess what? They also have access to your home address! The potential for misuse is virtually certain⁃ TN Editor

An Amazon.com Inc. team auditing Alexa users’ commands has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer’s home address, according to five employees familiar with the program.

The team, spread across three continents, transcribes, annotates and analyzes a portion of the voice recordings picked up by Alexa. The program, whose existence Bloomberg revealed earlier this month, was set up to help Amazon’s digital voice assistant get better at understanding and responding to commands.

Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

While there’s no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device’s owner.

Location data is more sensitive than many other categories of user information, said Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney and teaching fellow at Georgetown Law’s Communications and Technology Clinic.

“Anytime someone is collecting where you are, that means it could go to someone else who could find you when you don’t want to be found,” she said. Widespread access to location data associated with Alexa user recordings “would set up a big red flag for me.”

In an April 10 statement acknowledging the Alexa auditing program, Amazon said “employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.”

In a new statement responding to this story, Amazon said “access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.”

Amazon’s Alexa Data Services team, which manages the scads of recordings of human speech and other data that helps train the voice software, numbers in the thousands of employees and contractors, spread across work sites from Boston to Romania and India.

Some of the workers charged with analyzing recordings of Alexa customers use an Amazon tool that displays audio clips alongside data about the device that captured the recording. Much of the information stored by the software, including a device ID and customer identification number, can’t be easily linked back to a user.

However, Amazon also collects location data so Alexa can more accurately answer requests, for example suggesting a local restaurant or giving the weather in nearby Ashland, Oregon, instead of distant Ashland, Michigan.

In a demonstration seen by Bloomberg, an Amazon team member pasted a user’s coordinates, stored in the system as latitude and longitude, into Google Maps. In less than a minute, the employee had jumped from a recording of a person’s Alexa command to what appeared to be an image of their house and corresponding address.

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