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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Automating Everything - Why the Revolution? (Patent Pending) - Part 1



What if every delivery, installation and repair in the world could be effectively automated, with no human presence required? Whether pizzas or refrigerators, furniture or pharmaceuticals, smartphones or snail mail, what if it could all arrive at your door and even be installed inside without any visitors ever being present? What if your deliveries could find you on the move, or if your purchase could be constructed close at hand in the first place, even those requiring special skills to make? What would happen if some repairs could be handled by unmanned repair shops or even some devices’ own internal systems?

What would it mean if a rare piece of expensive technology could be repaired immediately at a remote base or if someone in need of a brilliant neurosurgeon or cardiologist could receive their aid while hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital?

How would other fields change if critical personnel could be rushed to the scene by the dozens or thousands without deploying one additional person, bolstering emergency personnel handling disaster sites, forest fires, missing-person searches, security threats or other crises where the available assistance is often neither numerous nor expert nor remotely expendable? What if a host of systems could be actively coordinated by just a handful of people to deal with even more exotic threats from emergent pandemics to countering cyber-threats?

What if even more hostile natural environments, such as space itself, could be opened up to development by the same form of automation and oversight?

And what if the little human intervention involved constantly trained the software to require less and less human assistance, or even awareness, so that the entire system would continue to become even more self-reliant and adaptable? And what if all of this was already possible using off-the-shelf technology, available from numerous sources?

Because it is. The building blocks already exist and now so does the invention that brings them all together… patent pending.

The details can be found below, in this introduction, and the rest of the article expands upon them.

But for now, the question is not: What if?

But rather: What now?


Here follows a brief description of the means to automate all of these technologies with no human presence and minimal human intervention. Not every image sent to the Patent Office is included herein, but a few resources are included because they so clearly illustrate the emerging technologies that can be incorporated into the system as described.

The system begins with its core purpose, automating deliveries, installations, repairs, remote manufacturing and assorted services for the commercial world, and naturally expands from there.

So how do we automate these basic elements of retail, and then everything else? The key innovations required are self-driving vehicles, autonomous robots, VR gear, haptic gloves, our existing 3D street maps, smartphone video cameras and GPS technology. Other innovations can be incorporated as they become available, but what we need we already have.

Right now, a delivery, whether it is a shipped package, a store white-goods delivery or a basic installation, has certain elements in common. Someone loads an item into a truck, someone drives that truck to a destination, and someone unloads that item at the other end. Unfortunately, you need at least one person on every vehicle, committed to being there for the entire delivery route, which can easily last for several hours, especially for multiple deliveries. If a second delivery person is needed, you have just doubled your personnel commitment.

And yet most if not all of the actions required by the delivery team can just as easily be handled by machines, and the few requiring human oversight and awareness take up only a fraction of the time required of these employees. The human element is still irreplaceable in many instances, but whether their skills are very basic or incredibly refined, too many employees have to be paid for little more than traveling to and from the task at hand… because their time is valuable too. But what if bringing that human element to the project took almost no time or personnel at all, by cutting out the elements well within the programmed expertise of machines?

Let us begin by considering the basic commercial delivery.

A simple package delivery – whether a mailed parcel, a small purchase sent from the store, or even a pizza – only requires that the item reach a customer or their doorstep, and possibly for said customer to sign a pad or pay for their goods upon arrival. Google’s automated vehicles obviously have the potential to get goods very close to your doorstep. Google has made a point of testing their cars with live, competent humans in the driver’s seat, but inevitably, unmanned vehicles are in our future. A likely interim step for the unmanned auto would be the remote-oversight compromise – having someone watching remotely who is capable of stepping in and controlling the vehicle in real time and absolutely capable of hitting a “Stop” button if it looks like a truck is about to back over, say, a child, a pet or a petunia. Note, however, that existing high-end vehicles are already introducing safety features that involve the machine reacting automatically and faster than a human driver in order to protect its occupants. People will soon begin to see human intervention as less critical, except with regards to their own judgment calls, for example, what parts of their yard and driveway are accessible and what parts are off limits.

Once a vehicle has arrived, the simplest delivery can be handled by an ordinary automated cart with similar but simpler programming than the code used by the primary vehicle. All the cart needs to do is load up its package, drive out of the truck, and roll up to a door. Other actions, such as asking for money to be deposited before the release of the goods, proffering a digital pad for a signature, or knocking on a door, are trivial and can be handled using existing technology. A recorded voice and digital display can request payment, payment can be handled like a self-service checkout, and raising and holding an attached pad or firmly tapping on a door with a padded limb are very straightforward motions. The latter can use a rangefinder to help gauge distance, but once programmers know the optimum speed, direction and force for the motion, the cart should be able to perform it every time with whatever limb is built in to handle it. If they were in some way challenged by this motion, the same cart could always include a recorded knocking noise, a voice calling out and/or a directional doorbell with the sound projected towards the residence or business and muffled in other directions. Simply putting the speaker deep inside the cart at one end of a cone whose wider open end will face toward the door will create the directional effect with minimal effort. Meanwhile, inside the delivery truck, packages would be pre-loaded into racks that would transfer them onto the delivering cart.

Stairways pose a challenge for this automated-cart option, which are addressed with more complex deliveries below. Before leaving this relatively basic method behind, however, remember that walking down two or three steps will be an acceptable effort for most customers. Also remember that some smaller obstacles are not as impassable as we might imagine. With three steps before our plucky little cart, simply dropping a short, extendable ramp from the top of the cart and having a smaller cart sitting on top drive onto the porch to knock on the door and deliver the item will do. Alternatively, the cart might start a bit further back, lay down a temporary ramp, and roll up itself. Either way, the cart will be programmed to accept some locations as inaccessible, to label them as such in its corporate database, and to allow for other delivery methods in those instances. Human oversight, in the meantime, will allow for the same discrimination – if a cart can not recognize that a location poses an insurmountable obstacle to its delivery, but is likewise unable to deliver, it will signal its human overseers after a pre-set interval (for example, a five-minute delay in a step in the delivery) and they will make that distinction for it with the touch of button. Further, even before this system becomes more fully automated, one human being can easily watch a bank of monitors and hit a pause or abort button and even take direct remote control over the cart as necessary. A more automated cart will be able to pause and signal whenever it needs assistance or is merely “confused” (facing a challenge not clearly covered in its programming), enabling human overseers to handle even more simultaneous deliveries. If multiple overseers watch these deliveries, focusing on those actively occurring, each employee can take exclusive control of a specific delivery and pause others until they or another overseer can intervene. By allowing multiple watchers to observe and step in as needed, simultaneous issues become less of a problem, allowing a larger number of otherwise autonomous deliveries to occur per employee handling oversight duties.

The standard, automated delivery would include a prerecorded message announcing the order’s arrival and a photo of whoever took the package and possibly signed for it. Barring more difficult terrain or a delivery requiring more than a simple hand off and a signed digital pad, one or two powered carts could handle the simplest door-to-door deliveries.

But the real breakthrough in delivery options remains humanoid robots. Research companies have already developed both quadruped and biped robots capable of independently navigating rough, natural terrain. Their independence is still limited to moving around autonomously and carrying loads, but for our purposes, that is all we need. Once you have a human-shaped robot capable of walking into a building while managing a load, you can let humans handle the rest. Carrying loads, walking up stairs and regaining their footing when pushed off balance are basic tasks which these robots have already mastered. And Petman and Atlas, given an adequate power supply, such as modern, compressed-natural-gas fuel cells, already fit the bill. They just need to get a better look, a human perspective and a little guidance.

How? Here is where we integrate cameras and remote sites most thoroughly into the program, allowing delivery personnel wearing VR gear (such as the recent Oculus Rift equipment, or any of its imitators) and haptic gloves to view what is going on and to direct the route of the robots. More importantly, with a clear view of what is going on and haptic gloves, those personnel can take their robots in hand and not only guide them, but take direct control over their arm movements. By having the robot’s arms mirror those of the human controller during this remote override, an operator watching from the perspective of cameras built into or attached to the robot’s head can control their every gesture. Hence, pulling out refrigerators and plugging them back in becomes something easily handled by a person who does that all the time.

The advantage to this is that your delivery personnel are not spending hours upon hours each day either driving to delivery locations or riding along with the driver. You only need their time and attention during each stop. Once their part in a delivery has been concluded, they can go on to overseeing the next delivery or waiting for the next chance to use their skills. The truck is entirely capable of getting itself to its next location. Once no human oversight is required to drive from one site to another, you will never need to commit personnel for the entire length of a trip, but only for the delivery of goods that takes place once your vehicle arrives. For all deliveries or installations requiring this kind of brief, routine, but skilled or semi-skilled work, you can cut your personnel requirements drastically.

The capital cost is always key, but remember the price of information technology is constantly dropping, even as its power increases. A company making deliveries already has trucks – automating them is a matter of adding electronic controls and a copy of the software. By the time you are ready to do this, even on a small scale, that technology will not only have proved itself, its price tag will have dropped well below the cost of the excess drivers, who probably don’t want to be hauling refrigerators indefinitely anyway. And some of whom will still be doing so, just on the other end of those cameras and haptic sensors, instead of in person, using their own backs. And $15 an hour, for 40 hours a week, for 2 personnel represents, in 10 weeks, $12,000. Or in 50 weeks, $60,000. For 200 personnel working at that pace, $6,000,000. Meanwhile, the cost of computer hardware continues to drop at the pace of Moore’s Law, and electronics have experienced a similar and ongoing decline in price for decades.

Phased in with the cart-and-van basic delivery and an aesthetically pleasing look for your humanoid robots, you will have an extremely unintimidating method of getting goods to your customers. The basic delivery itself, however, may not be so trivial in terms of its impacts.

Wedded to an effective inventory count and a reliable confirmation of ordered goods (which could similarly be enhanced by double checking through video), the basic delivery will enable customers who want something from the store but who do not have time to get it during their busy day a means of ordering remotely while at one location, and then receiving it at a place and time of their choosing, even if they do not know where or exactly when they will choose to receive it later.

Handling all of these actions will be illustrated and described in greater detail below as will the other services enabled by this invention.

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