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War dogs

Let’s talk about strapping guns to the backs of robots. I’m not a fan (how’s that for taking a stand?). When MSCHF did it with Spot back in February, it was a thought experiment, art exhibit and a statement about where society might be headed with…

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Let’s talk about strapping guns to the backs of robots. I’m not a fan (how’s that for taking a stand?). When MSCHF did it with Spot back in February, it was a thought experiment, art exhibit and a statement about where society might be headed with autonomous robotics. And most importantly, of course, it was a paintball gun. Boston Dynamics clearly wasn’t thrilled with the message it was sending, noting:

Today we learned that an art group is planning a spectacle to draw attention to a provocative use of our industrial robot, Spot. To be clear, we condemn the portrayal of our technology in any way that promotes violence, harm, or intimidation.

It’s precisely the sort of thing the company tries to get out in front of. After decades of killer-robot science-fiction, it doesn’t take much to make people jump any time an advanced robot enters the picture. It’s the automaton version of Rule 34 (in staunch defiance of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics): If a robot exists, someone has tried to weaponize it.

As I’ve said in this very column, I’m glad we’re having these conversations now, and I’m happy people are skeptical when the NYPD trots out a branded version of Spot. I also think it’s important to note, for example, that police departments have been using robots for years to perform dangerous tasks like bomb detection. A majority of us would probably agree that saving people from exploding is a good use for a robot.

I’m glad Boston Dynamics continues to vocalize its opposition toward using the robot for harm (what constitutes intimidation, when it comes to headless quadrupedal robots, is another conversation altogether). Spot’s makers — along with a wide swath of the robotics industry — cut their teeth on DARPA-funded projects. I’d say there’s a pretty big gulf between building a robotic pack mule and a mobile weapon, but these are precisely the sorts of things you need to bake into a mission statement.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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For this Ghost Robotics dog on display at the Association of the U.S. Army convention in D.C. this week, I’d say intimidation is probably the best-case scenario. I’ll let the rifle’s maker, SWORD Defense Systems, speak for themselves here:

The SWORD Defense Systems Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle (SPUR) was specifically designed to offer precision fire from unmanned platforms such as the Ghost Robotics Vision-60 quadruped. Featuring safe, chamber, clear, and fire capabilities that allows for safe and reliable deployment of the weapon system – providing the operator an ability to load and safe the weapon at a distance.

If that doesn’t send a cold shiver down your spine, I don’t know what to tell you. Is it ethically that far removed from the attack drones the military has been using for bombing campaigns for decades now? Potentially not. But I’m not a fan of drone strikes, either.

Ghost Robotics certainly can’t be accused to obfuscating its military connection. A solider walking around with the Ghost Vision system is the first thing you see when you visit the company’s site. However you feel about the DoD’s budget, defense funding has historically been a huge part of keeping robotics companies afloat, long before VCs were pumping money into the category. Ghost’s site breaks things down accordingly into defense, homeland and enterprise. A recent highly publicized 5G deal with Verizon falls into the latter.

Recent coverage has highlighted the robotic dogs’ use for patrolling warzones — not dissimilar from Spot’s functionality in that case. But mounting a gun on the robot changes the math considerably here. There are a lot of questions — I’ve reached out to Ghost Robotics with some preliminary ones. But this surely isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about this setup.

Image Credits: Dexterity

In non-unmanned-rifle news, Dexterity continues to make waves with another large raise. Just over a year after coming out of stealth with $56.2 million, the Bay Area-based firm is clearly striking while the iron is hot, as interest in automated fulfillment has spiked during the pandemic. Four years after launch, it just raised another $140 million at a $1.4 billion valuation.

The company has been running its systems in the real world for two years now, moving a wide range of different objects, including, “loosely packed deformable polybags, to delicate hot-dog buns, to floppy tortillas, to poorly sealed cardboard boxes, to bags of earthworms, to trays and crates of consumer food, to even a molten birthday cake.” Dexterity plans to use the money to continue the deployment of its first thousand robots.

Image Credits: Yanmar

Closing us out this week is the Yanmar YV01, an autonomous spraying robot designed specifically for vineyards.

“YV01 offers cutting-edge autonomous technology and is flexible, lightweight and environmentally-friendly as it ensures highly accurate spraying on vines,” Yanmar Europe President Peter Aarsen said in a release. “It can be safely and simply operated by a nearby supervisor and it is ideally suited for vineyards which have narrow pathways and where the vines are not tall.”

Currently being tested in (where else) Champagne-producing Épernay, France, the system will go on sale next year.

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International

Britain investigating Delta subvariant as possibly more transmissible

The UK Health Security Agency designated a Delta coronavirus subvariant called AY.4.2 as a "Variant Under Investigation," saying there was some evidence that it could be more transmissible than Delta.

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Britain says investigating Delta subvariant as possibly more transmissible

LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) – The UK Health Security Agency on Friday said it designated a Delta coronavirus subvariant called AY.4.2 as a “Variant Under Investigation”, saying there was some evidence that it could be more transmissible than Delta.

“The designation was made on the basis that this sub-lineage has become increasingly common in the UK in recent months, and there is some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta,” UKHSA said.

FILE PHOTO: The word “COVID-19” is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

“While evidence is still emerging, so far it does not appear this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.”

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by James Davey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

Reuters source:

https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/britain-says-investigating-delta-subvariant-possibly-more-transmissible-2021-10-22

 

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Government

‘Build Back… You Know, The Thing’: Americans Have No Idea What’s In Biden’s Economic Plan

‘Build Back… You Know, The Thing’: Americans Have No Idea What’s In Biden’s Economic Plan

While Congressional Democrats spar over the ultimate size of President Biden’s "Build Back Better" economic plan, Bloomberg astutely points out that..

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'Build Back... You Know, The Thing': Americans Have No Idea What's In Biden's Economic Plan

While Congressional Democrats spar over the ultimate size of President Biden's "Build Back Better" economic plan, Bloomberg astutely points out that Americans have no clue what they're signing up for with their tax dollars. In fact, according to a CBS News poll published Oct. 10, just 10% of Americans say they know the specifics of the bill, while only 1/3 think it would benefit them directly.

What's more, "Not even Congress knows what the bill would accomplish, with the contents of the plan changing day-by-day as Democrats squabble over how much it should spend, who it should benefit and who should pay for it."

For example, on Tuesday, the White House suggested it would jettison free community college. The next day, Democrats were focused on proposed tax hikes after moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) put her foot down over corporate and personal tax rates.

In an attempt to provide some clarity (don't hold your breath), Biden on Thursday night held a CNN town hall-style event (on the same night as Dune's US release).

In short, their messaging sucks.

"I will state the obvious, but they need to shift the focus away from process to policy. So far, the coverage around their proposal is all around Democratic divisions, which inevitably makes it impossible to sell," said former Marco Rubio communications director, Alex Conant. "Frankly, they need to talk about what their goals are," he added. "Why is this necessary?"

Republicans, on the other hand, are clear on their messaging; "Massive government spending leads to massive tax hikes," according to GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. "When you have a shifting number and shifting programs, it becomes confusing to follow."

Instead of focusing on the legislation’s new investments in child care, the elderly, education, healthcare and climate change, Democratic lawmakers have openly haggled over the price tag. A standoff between the party’s progressive and centrist factions has created cable news-ready drama.

Given how much is wrapped up in this package, it was always going to be a long and intense negotiation,”  said Ben LaBolt, a former spokesperson for President Barack Obama. “One way to start is to build the case for the way this will help middle class families and focus the public on those conversations, while at the same time preserving room for the closed-door negotiations to bring all of the elements of the party together for the biggest, most comprehensive approach possible.” -Bloomberg

In a Wednesday speech in Scranton, PA, Biden tried - and failed - to  convey how his economic agenda would help working class families - by intermingling stories about growing up in the area and programs contained in the legislation.

"Frankly, they’re about more than giving working families a break; they’re about positioning our country to compete in the long haul," said Biden, doing his usual poor job of reading a teleprompter. "Economists left, right, and center agree."

Meanwhile, Biden - let's face it, Biden's 'advisers' have failed to ink a final compromise between warring factions of Democrats. For the Build Back Better plan to pass, every single Senate Democrat must be on board. As moderates Sinema and Joe Manchin (D-WV) balk on the price tag and demanding deep cuts, progressive House Democrats are sure to similarly balk at passing the smaller, $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that's already passed the Senate.

While advocacy groups have started to spend heavily to promote policies in the plan, most of the discussion remains centered on its cost.

Biden’s advisers are banking on the presumption that ordinary Americans don’t pay much attention to the machinations of everyday Washington. Much as they were during the presidential campaign, the president’s aides are largely dismissive of what they call horse-race stories.

But Biden’s team had a much easier time selling his pandemic relief legislation, the American Rescue Plan, in March, with its convenient focus on three clear issues -- money for vaccines, money to re-open schools and checks sent directly to American households. -Bloomberg

"They haven’t laid out why we need this, other than Democrats are in power now and aren’t going to have it again for a long time," said Conant.

Good luck with that.

Tyler Durden Fri, 10/22/2021 - 08:51

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Government

Parents were fine with sweeping school vaccination mandates five decades ago – but COVID-19 may be a different story

Public health experts know that schools are likely sites for the spread of disease, and laws tying school attendance to vaccination go back to the 1800s.

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Children and parents lined up for polio vaccines outside a Syracuse, New York school in 1961. AP Photo

The ongoing battles over COVID-19 vaccination in the U.S. are likely to get more heated when the Food and Drug Administration authorizes emergency use of a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, expected later this fall.

California has announced it will require the vaccine for elementary school attendance once it receives full FDA approval after emergency use authorization, and other states may follow suit. COVID-19 vaccination mandates in workplaces and colleges have sparked controversy, and the possibility that a mandate might extend to younger children is even more contentious.

Kids are already required to get a host of other vaccines to attend school. School vaccination mandates have been around since the 19th century, and they became a fixture in all 50 states in the 1970s. Vaccine requirements are among the most effective means of controlling infectious diseases, but they’re currently under attack by small but vocal minorities of parents who consider them unacceptable intrusions on parental rights.

As a public health historian who studies the evolution of vaccination policies, I see stark differences between the current debates over COVID-19 vaccination and the public response to previous mandates.

Compulsory vaccination in the past

The first legal requirements for vaccination date to the early 1800s, when gruesome and deadly diseases routinely terrorized communities. A loose patchwork of local and state laws were enacted to stop epidemics of smallpox, the era’s only vaccine-preventable disease.

Vaccine mandates initially applied to the general population. But in the 1850s, as universal public education became more common, people recognized that schoolhouses were likely sites for the spread of disease. Some states and localities began enacting laws tying school attendance to vaccination. The smallpox vaccine was crude by today’s standards, and concerns about its safety led to numerous lawsuits over mandates.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld compulsory vaccination in two decisions. The first, in 1905, affirmed that mandates are constitutional. The second, in 1922, specifically upheld school-based requirements. In spite of these rulings, many states lacked a smallpox vaccination law, and some states that did have one failed to enforce it consistently. Few states updated their laws as new vaccines became available.

School vaccination laws underwent a major overhaul beginning in the 1960s, when health officials grew frustrated that outbreaks of measles were continuing to occur in schools even though a safe and effective vaccine had recently been licensed.

Many parents mistakenly believed that measles was an annoying but mild disease from which most kids quickly recovered. In fact, it often caused serious complications, including potentially fatal pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

With encouragement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all states updated old laws or enacted new ones, which generally covered all seven childhood vaccines that had been developed by that time: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. In 1968, just half the states had school vaccination requirements; by 1981, all states did.

Smiling boy rolls up his sleeve to get a shot from a nurse
Sometimes, students even received vaccinations from nurses at school. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine, CC BY-ND

Expanding requirements, mid-20th century

What is most surprising about this major expansion of vaccination mandates is how little controversy it provoked.

The laws did draw scattered court challenges, usually over the question of exemptions – which children, if any, should be allowed to opt out. These lawsuits were often brought by chiropractors and other adherents of alternative medicine. In most instances, courts turned away these challenges.

There was scant public protest. In contrast to today’s vocal and well-networked anti-vaccination activists, organized resistance to vaccination remained on the fringes in the 1970s, the period when these school vaccine mandates were largely passed. Unlike today, when fraudulent theories of vaccine-related harm – such as the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism – circulate endlessly on social media, public discussion of the alleged or actual risks of vaccines was largely absent.

Through most of the 20th century, parents were less likely to question pediatricians’ recommendations than they are today. In contrast to the empowered “patient/consumer” of today, an attitude of “doctor knows best” prevailed. All these factors contributed to overwhelmingly positive views of vaccination, with more than 90% of parents in a 1978 poll reporting that they would vaccinate their children even if there were no law requiring them to do so.

Widespread public support for vaccination enabled the laws to be passed easily – but it took more than placing a law on the books to control disease. Vaccination rates continued to lag in the 1970s, not because of opposition, but because of complacency.

Thanks to the success of earlier vaccination programs, most parents of young children lacked firsthand experience with the suffering and death that diseases like polio or whooping cough had caused in previous eras. But public health officials recognized that those diseases were far from eradicated and would continue to threaten children unless higher rates of vaccination were reached. Vaccines were already becoming a victim of their success. The better they worked, the more people thought they were no longer needed.

In response to this lack of urgency, the CDC launched a nationwide push in 1977 to help states enforce the laws they had recently enacted. Around the country, health officials partnered with school districts to audit student records and provide on-site vaccination programs. When push came to shove, they would exclude unvaccinated children from school until they completed the necessary shots.

The lesson learned was that making a law successful requires ongoing effort and commitment – and continually reminding parents about the value of vaccines in keeping schools and entire communities healthy.

Add COVID-19 to vaccine list for school?

Five decades after school mandates became universal in the U.S., support for them remains strong overall. But misinformation spread over the internet and social media has weakened the public consensus about the value of vaccination that allowed these laws to be enacted.

adults and kids with signs protesting COVID-19 vaccines
Some anti-vaccination activists are vocal opponents of vaccine mandates for kids. Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

COVID-19 vaccination has become politicized in a way that is unprecedented, with sharp partisan divides over whether COVID-19 is really a threat, and whether the guidance of scientific experts can be trusted. The attention focused on COVID-19 vaccines has given new opportunities for anti-vaccination conspiracy theories to reach wide audiences.

[Over 115,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

Fierce opposition to COVID-19 vaccination, powered by anti-government sentiment and misguided notions of freedom, could undermine support for time-tested school requirements that have protected communities for decades. Although vaccinating school-aged children will be critical to controlling COVID-19, lawmakers will need to proceed with caution.

James Colgrove has received funding from the National Library of Medicine, the Greenwall Foundation, the Milbank Memorial Fund, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

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