Had the good fortune to the visit the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey with my family and came across a great display of robotics and artificial intelligence used in a practical application...solving a Rubik's Cube puzzle.
This was fascinating to see, especially in light of articles I recently wrote covering the ever increasing rate artificial intelligence is improving, and the challenge (not threat) it presents to the job market.
Liberty Science Center's Beyond the Rubik’s Cube exhibit features a one armed robot, developed by Faber Industrial Industries of Clifton NJ, capable of solving any Rubik’s Cube in under one minute.
Using today’s standards solving Rubik’s Cube in under one minute is not an impressive feat. Humans have solved them in under seven seconds and a recent world record was set by the Cubestormer III with a time of 3.253 seconds,
However if you read on you’ll see that this machine is different. It provides the ability to solve complex (while limited in scope) problems, uses readily available machine and robotic parts, was built on software running Microsoft Windows on a PC (ubiquitous), is not fixed (portable) and works off a common consumer level electric source (120V versus 200V industrial).
If you take that combination of attributes and combine it with the fact that artificial intelligence is exponentially improving, you can easily imagine how many current jobs are or will be shortly at risk.
Some of the impressive particulars about the machine were summed up by Faber’s Greg Raciti in an article I found on Possibility
“It’s built out of machine vision parts,” says Raciti, “so we wanted to play that up, make it look industrial and impressive.” The system is built around a Denso VS-650 six-axis articulated machine arm, a Teledyne DALSA GEVA 1000 vision system, and two Genie GigE cameras. All the software runs in the same Microsoft Windows environment. “That’s part of the magic,” explains Raciti. “We’re using a Windows PC for all of our software. I can even use Visual Basic directly on it to develop.” In the end, it shows how versatile the building blocks of industrial solutions really are. The industry continues to grow and diversify, and the tools have to keep pace with whatever gets thrown at them. “Essentially, you could unplug this and use it for something else. You couldn’t do that with the Cubestormer.”
Another important feature of the Faber unit it that its portable. Industrial equipment like this is built to be fixed and located in one place. But this exhibit will moving around the world on a grand tour and the engineering team needed to account for that in their design work. The multiple challenges portability offered included addressing that industrial equipment typically run off 200V power sources while consumer power run off 120V. It looks they solved all the challenges but we will have to wait until April 2016 when the machine leave New Jersey's Liberty Science Center to see if the challenge was truly met.
The take away here is that we need to be thinking about the implications technology like this has to meaningful and gainful human employment in the near and not so near future. How do we work with machines to produce synergistic added value, not obtainable by man or machine working alone? If we don't figure this one out, the machines may do it for, and possibly, without us.