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As pandemic drags on, interest in automation surges

Today, the U.S. exceeded three million COVID-19 cases and 132,000 deaths. In several states, new hotspots have rolled back plans to reopen businesses. The novel coronavirus has — and will continue — to profoundly impact the way we live and work.

For the moment, that includes a shift in the employment status of many Americans. More than 50 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March. And while many states have made efforts to reopen businesses and return some sense of normality, these moves have led to a spike in cases and may prolong the pandemic and its ongoing economic impact.

Technology has been a lifeline for many, from food delivery to the 3D printing I highlighted last week, which has worked to address a nation suffering from personal protective equipment shortages. Automation and robotics have also been a constant in conversations around tech’s battle against COVID-19.

Robots don’t get sick, tired or emotionally burnt out, and unlike us, they aren’t walking, talking disease vectors. Automation advocates like to point to the “three Ds” of dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that will eventually be replaced by a robotic workforce, but in the age of COVID-19, nearly any essential job qualifies.

The robotic invasion has already begun in earnest. The service, delivery, health care and sanitation industries in particular have all opened a massive gap over the past several months that automation has been more than happy to roll right through. A recent report from The Brookings Institute notes that automation arrives in the workforce in fits and starts — most notably, during times of economic downturn.

“Robots’ infiltration of the workforce doesn’t occur at a steady, gradual pace. Instead, automation happens in bursts, concentrated especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks, when humans become relatively more expensive as firms’ revenues rapidly decline,” the study found. “At these moments, employers shed less-skilled workers and replace them with technology and higher-skilled workers, which increases labor productivity as a recession tapers off.”

Elon Musk sets update on brain-computer interface company Neuralink for August 28

Elon Musk said on Twitter this week that Neuralink, the company he founded in 2016 to develop computer-brain interfaces for the explicit purpose of helping humans keep pace with advanced artificial intelligence, will provide an update on its progress on August 28. The last major update from Neuralink came roughly a year ago, when it shared that it will be using a surgical robot to implant gossamer-thin wires into a person’s brain, connected to an external computer processing unit, and that ultimately it hopes to make the connection between the two wireless for maximum freedom and flexibility.

Neuralink revealed in July 2019 that it had already performed successful tests of its technology on mice and even apes, and that it would be pursuing testing on its first human subjects starting as early as the following year – which is this year, 2020, if you’re keeping track.

C-founded by Musk and led by CEO Jared Birchall, Neuralink is headquartered in San Francisco and has been conducting research in partnership with UC Davis. The company’s goal initially is to use its technology to help mitigate the effects of neurological disorders in patients with severe impacts to mobility and other daily functioning, but ultimately the company also hopes to use its technology to essentially ‘upgrade’ humans to be able to interact with computing devices at the speed of thought.

Musk has consistently pointed out how ‘lossy’ the process of translating thought to input via conventional means including keyboard and mouse is, and believes that a tighter, more high-fidelity bond between people and computers can help decrease the risk that advanced AI surpasses the capabilities of human intelligence. Musk has stated on a number of occasions that he believes uncontrolled, unregulated advanced general artificial intelligence poses an existential risk to humanity, and Neuralink is intended to be a means of protection against that threat.

We don’t yet know what Musk and Neuralink will be sharing about the company’s progress since its last update in 2019, but hopefully we’re hear something about its plans to begin human trials. Musk also shared what he calls Neuralink’s “mission statement” alongside the date of the company update: “If you can’t beat em, join em.”

Elon Musk’s Neuralink to share ‘progress update’ soon

Elon Musk's Neuralink to share 'progress update' soon

Elon Musk’s AI-meets-human-brain company Neuralink will have some sort of announcement on August 28. 

The CEO himself announced it on Twitter, without giving any other details. 

Progress update August 28

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2020

“If you can’t beat em, join em,” he tweeted, saying that’s Neuralink’s “mission statement.”

Neuralink last had an event a year ago in San Francisco. The company didn’t have anything resembling a product yet, but it did share its progress on inserting electrodes into monkey and human brains. You can watch the recorded live stream from that event below.

It’s worth noting that the company’s official Twitter account hasn’t tweeted at all since that event, and there’s no official announcement of any sort now.  Read more…

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