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Then call them ‘robots’

Before they were robots, they were “androids” or “automatons.” The word “robot” is commonly accepted as having arrived in English through —…



Before they were robots, they were “androids” or “automatons.” The word “robot” is commonly accepted as having arrived in English through — of all places — a Czech play. “R.U.R.” made its public debut in Prague 102 years ago, yesterday. It would arrive in the States a year and a half later, with Spencer Tracy making his nonspeaking Broadway debut as one of Rossum’s titular Universal Robots.

The playwright Karel Čapek humbly noted the following decade that he couldn’t take full credit for the word’s origin. That honor belonged to his brother Josef, an accomplished painter and noted writer and poet in his own right:

“Listen, Josef,” the author began, “I think I have an idea for a play.”

“What kind,” the painter mumbled (he really did mumble, because at the moment he was holding a brush in his mouth). The author told him as briefly as he could.

“Then write it,” the painter remarked, without taking the brush from his mouth or halting work on the canvas. The indifference was quite insulting.

“But,” the author said, “I don’t know what to call these artificial workers. I could call them Labori, but that strikes me as a bit bookish.”

“Then call them Robots,” the painter muttered, brush in mouth, and went on painting. And that’s how it was. Thus was the word Robot born; let this acknowledge its true creator.

Maybe it’s better we wound up with a derivative of “robota,” rather than “labori,” as the latter too clearly betrays its underlying definition to English speakers. The former operates in the same ballpark, certainly, meaning “servitude or forced labor,” but that requires some knowledge of Czech not possessed by most native English speakers.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Obviously, the definition is a problematic one. It humanizes these systems in way I suspect would make most uncomfortable. Though, for the record, Rossum’s robots didn’t need humanizing. They’re far removed from the commonly agreed-upon modern definition. They’re closer to organic beings, mixed with a little bit of poetic magic — more Pinocchio than Howdy Doody.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that questions of robotic agency date back even before the arrival of the word in English. At the risk of spoiling a 102-year-old play, so, too, does the concept of robot uprising. You can get as annoyed as you want at people who immediately jump to the idea of “robopocalypse” every time an advanced new system enters their Twitter feed, but the concept has been around a hell of a lot longer than any of us.

The flip side of this conversation is, of course, dehumanizing humans. It’s something I sometimes worry we risk with technology. It’s a conversation I’ve had with folks in many blue-collar positions. I still believe that technology can — and often does — make jobs better, whether it’s a robotic exoskeleton lightening the load or an autonomous cart moving goods around a warehouse. Technology can also open new avenues for pushing workers to their limit. Monitoring a worker’s whereabouts and output on a minute scale, for instance, does not allow time for humans to be human.

More relevant to the current economic situation, however, is something I’m trying to get better at myself. In some respects, evolution has fine-tuned our brains to understand abstraction. Take metaphor and symbolism in the art we make, for example. We’re good at creating these sorts of shortcuts to help understand the big ideas we’re not necessarily capable of putting into words.

We do, however, have our limits. Big numbers, for instance, can be extremely difficult to conceptualize on an individual scale. I understand that there’s a literal big difference between having $100 million and having $1 billion. But if I want to actually get anything done today, I’ll simply accept them both as a lot more money than I, a journalist, will ever have and simply go about on my way.

Amazon sign on building

Image Credits: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg / Getty Images

To most of us, the notion of, say, 18,000 people losing their jobs in one single decision from upper management is impossibly large. We — and I certainly include myself in this — can do a better job being mindful of the kinds of impacts these decisions have on an individual level. I know how painful being laid off is. I’ve been through it twice — I do work in publishing, after all. I know you can read a million LinkedIn posts and still not internalize that losing your job was not your fault. Some of us are just programmed to blame ourselves.

The first time I was laid off, it knocked me off track for a couple of years, frankly. Though I do firmly believe that you have to have gone through this experience to be able to exhibit compassion. I know this is obvious on the face of it, but losing a job in a bad economy means you’re looking for a job in a bad economy (in some cases, alongside hundreds of thousands of people with broadly the same skill set). It’s important to remember that when discussing layoffs at companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

It’s also important to be honest about the degree to which success is a product of luck. That’s something that easily gets lost in the culture of rise-and-grind LinkedIn hustle-porn post platitudes. I’m sure reading the social media equivalent of an inspirational poster about how smart and successful some CEO thinks they are must have inspired someone at some point. But I don’t generally find it super useful.

I happen to believe there are some deep-seated issues that have let us get to a point where disrupting 10 or 20,000 lives is just the way it goes sometimes. But I’m also under no illusion that we’ll be able to address the root cause anytime soon. So, let’s start discussing the ways we can help one another, knowing that many of us have been through the process and, more than likely, will go through it again.

For me, it’s meant doing what I can to promote people who suddenly find themselves out of work. I’ll happily amplify them to my meager follower count. Sharing job openings is never a bad idea either. There’s a lot of talk about how the robotics community is, well, a community. Being part of a community means lending a hand when people are down. I would love to start a dialogue about the best ways to help in this current moment.

Starting next week, I’m going to feature a couple of companies that have open positions to fill in the robotics space. And drop me a line with the name of your company and how many roles you’re looking to fill. Hopefully we can get jobs for some of those impacted by all of this.

Image Credits: Crunchbase

A logical question in all of this is: How bad is bad? It’s a difficult thing to quantify, of course. Thankfully, some new figures just dropped from Crunchbase, collating some of the trends around robotics investments.

Here’s your headline: Investments in robotics startups was down 44% in 2022. That’s a lot. A lot, a lot — particularly for an industry that had so much forward momentum coming out of the pandemic. See the top line graph above for an easy visualization.

Image Credits: Crunchbase

Another thing you’ll immediately notice in this next graph: The 2022 bar is also lower than 2018 and 2019. In fact, it’s the second lowest in half a decade. Only 2020 was lower, and we all know what happened then. That was obviously an anomaly. The question, ultimately, is whether 2021’s record spend was an anomaly as well. Common thought — and I tend to agree — is no, on a long enough timeline. The economy will improve (though it’s an open question of how long that will take) and we’ll see a return to the trending upward growth.

I do believe the growth experienced in 2021 was a direct result of the fallout from the anomalous conditions that led to the 2020 dip, but I think it’s reasonable to expect a return to continued year-over-year growth.

The recession we’re currently facing will also have knock-on effects for the industry. One effect I’ve discussed previously is a potential increase in M&As. This makes local sense. Say you had a raise on the roadmap and suddenly your runway crumples beneath you. What’s the better outcome: closing the company or selling it to a potentially like-minded firm?

Robot arm at construction site

Image Credits: Roin/Built

I can’t speak to the specifics of Built’s acquisition of Roin, but I can say it’s another data point for what I anticipate will be a growing trend. As I noted in the piece, this one makes sense on the face of it. The two companies weren’t competitors, so much as complementary, as this deal effectively extends Built’s offerings to include concrete automation and the extremely fun term “shotcrete” (shooting concrete, basically).

“Since their founding, Roin’s team has pushed the boundaries of construction autonomy, which has created a unique expertise in our industry,” Built Robotics founder and CEO Noah Ready-Campbell said in a release. “With Roin joining Built, the combined teams will continue developing new autonomous construction applications and customers can expect to see robotic applications expanding beyond earthmoving.”

Image Credits: Kewazo

Construction is, of course, a prime target for automation. It’s massive, it’s extremely profitable and it checks off the three Ds (dull, dirty, dangerous) quite easily. This week, Munich-based Kewazo, which we had as a young early-stage startup at our TC Sessions: Robotics pitch-off pre-pandemic, just raised $10 million. The company’s Liftbot product is effectively an automated elevator for scaffolding.

“Despite already existing labor shortages, it became impossible for foreign workers to commute back to their home countries and come back,” Kewazo co-founder and CEO Artem Kuchukov told TechCrunch. “Many sites in Europe, the Middle East, and Singapore massively suffered from that, as a large percentage of their workforce simply wasn’t there anymore. That was a huge catalyst for construction automation, as companies began to look for ways to sustain their businesses without relying on an uncertain labor supply.”

Image Credits: Scythe Robotics

In spite of all the aforementioned slowdowns, I have seen fundraising starting to slowly ramp up after the holidays. Landscaping firm Scythe just announced a sizable $42 million Series B, bringing its total funding north of $60 million.

“The market has definitely taken a bearish turn,” co-founder and CEO Jack Morrison told TechCrunch of the round, “that committed climate VCs are well funded and actively looking for investment opportunities that urgently address the intensifying climate crisis we face.”

Image Credits: Cornell University

And finally, since this has been a heavy one, let’s close by looking at this soft robot from Cornell. It’s a fun exploration of how movement can be influenced through compliant actuators.

“We detailed the full complement of methods by which you can design these actuators for future applications,” says researcher Kirstin Petersen. “For example, when the actuators are used as legs, we show that just by crossing over one set of tubes, you can go from an ostrich-like gait, that has a really wide stance, to an elephant-like trot.”

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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Then call them ‘robots’ by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

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As We Sell Off Our Strategic Oil Reserves, Ponder This

As We Sell Off Our Strategic Oil Reserves, Ponder This

Authored by Bruce Wilds via Advancing Time blog,

One of Biden’s answers to combating…



As We Sell Off Our Strategic Oil Reserves, Ponder This

Authored by Bruce Wilds via Advancing Time blog,

One of Biden's answers to combating higher gas prices has been to tap into America's oil reserves. While I was never a fan of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) program, it does have a place in our toolbox of weapons. We can use the reserve to keep the country running if outside oil supplies are cut off. Still, considering how out of touch with reality Washington has become, we can only imagine the insane types of services it would deem essential next time an oil shortage occurs.

Sadly, some of these reserves found their way into the export market and ended up in China. We now have proof that the President's son Hunter had a Chinese Communist Party member as his assistant while dealing with the Chinese. Apparently, he played a role in the shipping of American natural gas to China in 2017. It seems the Biden family was promising business associates that they would be rewarded once Biden became president. Biden's actions could be viewed as those of a traitor or at least disqualify him from being President.

The following information was contained in a letter from House Oversight Committee ranking member James Comer, R-Ky. to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen dated Sept. 20. 

"The President has not only misled the American public about his past foreign business transactions, but he also failed to disclose that he played a critical role in arranging a business deal to sell American natural resources to the Chinese while planning to run for President.”

Joe Biden, Comer said, was a business partner in the arrangement and had office space to work on the deal, and a firm he managed received millions from his Chinese partners ahead of the anticipated venture. While part of what Comer stated had previously been reported in the news, the letter, cited whistleblower testimonies, as well as emails, a corporate PowerPoint presentation, and a screenshot of encrypted messages. These as well as  bank documents that committee Republicans obtained suggest Biden’s knowledge and involvement in the plan dated back to at least 2017.

The big point here is;

  • The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was established in 1975 due to the 1973 oil embargo, is now at its lowest level since December 1983.

In December 1975, with memories of gas lines fresh on the minds of Americans following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Congress established the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). It was designed “to reduce the impact of severe energy supply interruptions.” What are the implications of depleting the SPR and is it still important?

The U.S. government began to fill the reserve and it hit its high point in 2010 at around 726.6 million barrels. Since December 1984, this is the first time the level has been lower than 450 million barrels. Draining the SPR has been a powerful tool for the administration in its effort to tame the price of gasoline. It also signaled a "new era" of intervention on the part of the White House. 

This brings front-and-center questions concerning the motivation of those behind this action. One of the implications of Biden's war on high oil prices is that it has short-circuited the fossil investment/supply development process.  Capital expenditures among the five largest oil and gas companies have fallen as the price of oil has come under fire. The current under-investment in this sector is one of the reasons oil prices are likely to take a big jump in a few years. Production from existing wells is expected to rapidly fall.

The Supply Of Oil Is Far More Constant And Inelastic Than Demand

It is important to remember when it comes to oil, the supply is far more constant and inelastic than the demand. This means that it takes time and investment to bring new wells online while demand can rapidly change. This happened during the pandemic when countries locked down and told their populations and told them to stay at home. This resulted in the price of oil temporarily going negative because there was nowhere to store it.

Draining oil from the strategic reserve is a short-sighted and dangerous choice that will impact America's energy security at times of global uncertainty. In an effort to halt inflationary forces, Biden released a huge amount of crude oil from the SPR to artificially suppress fuel prices ahead of the midterm elections. 

To date, Biden has dumped more SPR on the market than all previous presidents combined reducing the reserves to levels not seen since the early 1980s. In spite of how I feel about the inefficiencies of this program, it does serve a vital role. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of a country's ability to rapidly increase its domestic flow of oil. This defensive action protects its economy and adds to its resilience. 

Biden's actions have put the whole country at risk. Critics of his policy pointed out the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was designed for use in an emergency not as a tool to manipulate elections. Another one of Biden's goals may be to bring about higher oil prices to reduce its use and accelerate the use of high-cost green energy.

Either way, Biden's war on oil has not made America's energy policies more efficient or the country stronger.

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/25/2023 - 18:30

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The Disinformation-Industrial Complex Vs Domestic Terror

The Disinformation-Industrial Complex Vs Domestic Terror

Authored by Ben Weingarten via,

Combating disinformation…



The Disinformation-Industrial Complex Vs Domestic Terror

Authored by Ben Weingarten via,

Combating disinformation has been elevated to a national security imperative under the Biden administration, as codified in its first-of-its-kind National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, published in June 2021.  

That document calls for confronting long-term contributors to domestic terrorism.

In connection therewith, it cites as a key priority “addressing the extreme polarization, fueled by a crisis of disinformation and misinformation often channeled through social media platforms, which can tear Americans apart and lead some to violence.” 

Media literacy specifically is seen as integral to this effort. The strategy adds that: “the Department of Homeland Security and others are either currently funding and implementing or planning evidence–based digital programming, including enhancing media literacy and critical thinking skills, as a mechanism for strengthening user resilience to disinformation and misinformation online for domestic audiences.” 

Previously, the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested, in its report on “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Election” that a “public initiative—propelled by Federal funding but led in large part by state and local education institutions—focused on building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.” 

In June 2022, Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced the Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act, which – citing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report – would fund a media literacy grant program for state and local education agencies, among other entities. 

NAMLE and Media Literacy Now, both recipients of State Department largesse, endorsed the bill. 

Acknowledging explicitly the link between this federal counter-disinformation push, and the media literacy education push, Media Literacy Now wrote in its latest annual report that ... 

... the federal government is paying greater attention to the national security consequences of media illiteracy.

The Department of Homeland Security is offering grants to organizations to improve media literacy education in communities across the country. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense is incorporating media literacy into standard troop training, and the State Department is funding media literacy efforts abroad.

These trends are important for advocates to be aware of as potential sources of funding as well as for supporting arguments around integrating media literacy into K-12 classrooms. 

When presented with notable examples of narratives corporate media promoted around Trump-Russia collusion, and COVID-19, to justify this counter-disinformation campaign, Media Literacy Now president Erin McNeill said: “These examples are disappointing.”

The antidote, in her view is, “media literacy education because it helps people not only recognize the bias in their news sources and seek out other sources, but also to demand and support better-quality journalism.” (Emphasis McNeill’s)

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/25/2023 - 17:30

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G7 Vs BRICS – Off To The Races

G7 Vs BRICS – Off To The Races

Authored by Scott Ritter via,

An economist digging below the surface of an IMF report has…



G7 Vs BRICS - Off To The Races

Authored by Scott Ritter via,

An economist digging below the surface of an IMF report has found something that should shock the Western bloc out of any false confidence in its unsurpassed global economic clout...

G7 leaders meeting on June 28, 2022, at Schloss Elmau in Krün, Germany. (White House/Adam Schultz)

Last summer, the Group of 7 (G7), a self-anointed forum of nations that view themselves as the most influential economies in the world, gathered at Schloss Elmau, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, to hold their annual meeting. Their focus was punishing Russia through additional sanctions, further arming of Ukraine and the containment of China.

At the same time, China hosted, through video conference, a gathering of the BRICS economic forum. Comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, this collection of nations relegated to the status of so-called developing economies focused on strengthening economic bonds, international economic development and how to address what they collectively deemed the counter-productive policies of the G7.

In early 2020, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had predicted that, based upon purchasing power parity, or PPP, calculations projected by the International Monetary Fund, BRICS would overtake the G7 sometime later that year in terms of percentage of the global total.

(A nation’s gross domestic product at purchasing power parity, or PPP, exchange rates is the sum value of all goods and services produced in the country valued at prices prevailing in the United States and is a more accurate reflection of comparative economic strength than simple GDP calculations.)

Then the pandemic hit and the global economic reset that followed made the IMF projections moot. The world became singularly focused on recovering from the pandemic and, later, managing the fallout from the West’s massive sanctioning of Russia following that nation’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The G7 failed to heed the economic challenge from BRICS, and instead focused on solidifying its defense of the “rules based international order” that had become the mantra of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.


Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an ideological divide that has gripped the world, with one side (led by the G7) condemning the invasion and seeking to punish Russia economically, and the other (led by BRICS) taking a more nuanced stance by neither supporting the Russian action nor joining in on the sanctions. This has created a intellectual vacuum when it comes to assessing the true state of play in global economic affairs.

U.S. President Joe Biden in virtual call with G7 leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Feb. 24. (White House/Adam Schultz)

It is now widely accepted that the U.S. and its G7 partners miscalculated both the impact sanctions would have on the Russian economy, as well as the blowback that would hit the West.

Angus King, the Independent senator from Maine, recently observed that he remembers

“when this started a year ago, all the talk was the sanctions are going to cripple Russia. They’re going to be just out of business and riots in the street absolutely hasn’t worked …[w]ere they the wrong sanctions? Were they not applied well? Did we underestimate the Russian capacity to circumvent them? Why have the sanctions regime not played a bigger part in this conflict?”

It should be noted that the IMF calculated that the Russian economy, as a result of these sanctions, would contract by at least 8 percent. The real number was 2 percent and the Russian economy — despite sanctions — is expected to grow in 2023 and beyond.

This kind of miscalculation has permeated Western thinking about the global economy and the respective roles played by the G7 and BRICS. In October 2022, the IMF published its annual World Economic Outlook (WEO), with a focus on traditional GDP calculations. Mainstream economic analysts, accordingly, were comforted that — despite the political challenge put forward by BRICS in the summer of 2022 — the IMF was calculating that the G7 still held strong as the leading global economic bloc.

In January 2023 the IMF published an update to the October 2022 WEO,  reinforcing the strong position of the G7.  According to Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the IMF’s chief economist, the “balance of risks to the outlook remains tilted to the downside but is less skewed toward adverse outcomes than in the October WEO.”

This positive hint prevented mainstream Western economic analysts from digging deeper into the data contained in the update. I can personally attest to the reluctance of conservative editors trying to draw current relevance from “old data.”

Fortunately, there are other economic analysts, such as Richard Dias of Acorn Macro Consulting, a self-described “boutique macroeconomic research firm employing a top-down approach to the analysis of the global economy and financial markets.”

Rather than accept the IMF’s rosy outlook as gospel, Dias did what analysts are supposed to do — dig through the data and extract relevant conclusions.

After rooting through the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Data Base, Dias conducted a comparative analysis of the percentage of global GDP adjusted for PPP between the G7 and BRICS, and made a surprising discovery: BRICS had surpassed the G7.

This was not a projection, but rather a statement of accomplished fact:

BRICS was responsible for 31.5 percent of the PPP-adjusted global GDP, while the G7 provided 30.7 percent.

Making matters worse for the G7, the trends projected showed that the gap between the two economic blocs would only widen going forward.

The reasons for this accelerated accumulation of global economic clout on the part of BRICS can be linked to three primary factors:

  • residual fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic,

  • blowback from the sanctioning of Russia by the G7 nations in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a growing resentment among the developing economies of the world to G7 economic policies and

  • priorities which are perceived as being rooted more in post-colonial arrogance than a genuine desire to assist in helping nations grow their own economic potential. 

Growth Disparities

It is true that BRICS and G7 economic clout is heavily influenced by the economies of China and the U.S., respectively. But one cannot discount the relative economic trajectories of the other member states of these economic forums. While the economic outlook for most of the BRICS countries points to strong growth in the coming years, the G7 nations, in a large part because of the self-inflicted wound that is the current sanctioning of Russia, are seeing slow growth or, in the case of the U.K., negative growth, with little prospect of reversing this trend.

Moreover, while G7 membership remains static, BRICS is growing, with Argentina and Iran having submitted applications, and other major regional economic powers, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, expressing an interest in joining. Making this potential expansion even more explosive is the recent Chinese diplomatic achievement in normalizing relations between Iran and Saudia Arabia.

Diminishing prospects for the continued global domination by the U.S. dollar, combined with the economic potential of the trans-Eurasian economic union being promoted by Russia and China, put the G7 and BRICS on opposing trajectories. BRICS should overtake the G7 in terms of actual GDP, and not just PPP, in the coming years.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for mainstream economic analysts to reach this conclusion. Thankfully, there are outliers such as Richard Dias and Acorn Macro Consulting who seek to find new meaning from old data. 

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/25/2023 - 07:00

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