iPhone manufacturer Foxconn plans to replace almost every human worker with robots

Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturing giant behind Apple’s iPhone and numerous other major electronics devices, aims to automate away a vast majority of its human employees, according to a report from DigiTimes. Dai Jia-peng, the general manager of Foxconn’s automation committee, says the company has a three-phase plan in place to automate its Chinese factories using software and in-house robotics units, known as Foxbots.

The first phase of Foxconn’s automation plans involve replacing the work that is either dangerous or involves repetitious labor humans are unwilling to do. The second phase involves improving efficiency by streamlining production lines to reduce the number of excess robots in use. The third and final phase involves automating entire factories, “with only a minimal number of workers assigned for production, logistics, testing, and inspection processes,” according to Jia-peng.

The slow and steady march of manufacturing automation has been in place at Foxconn for years. The company said last year that it had set a benchmark of 30 percent automation at its Chinese factories by 2020. The company can now produce around 10,000 Foxbots a year, Jia-peng says, all of which can be used to replace human labor. In March, Foxconn said it had automated away 60,000 jobs at one of its factories.

In the long term, robots are cheaper than human labor. However, the initial investment can be costly. It’s also difficult, expensive, and time consuming to program robots to perform multiple tasks, or to reprogram a robot to perform tasks outside its original function. That is why, in labor markets like China, human workers have thus far been cheaper than robots. To stay competitive though, Foxconn understands it will have to transition to automation.

Complicating the matter is the Chinese government, which has incentivized human employment in the country. In areas like Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Zhengzhou, local governments have doled out billions of dollars in bonuses, energy contracts, and public infrastructure to Foxconn to allow the company to expand. As of last year, Foxconn employed as many as 1.2 million people, making it one of the largest employers in the world. More than 1 million of those workers reside in China, often at elaborate, city-like campuses that house and feed employees.

In an in-depth report published yesterday, The New York Times detailed these government incentivizes for Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, its largest and most capable plant that produces 500,000 iPhones a day and is known locally as “iPhone City.” According to Foxconn’s Jia-peng, the Zhengzhou factory has some production lines already at the second automation phase and on track to become fully automated in a few years’ time. So it may not be long before one of China’s largest employers will be forced to grapple with its automation ambitions and the benefits it receives to transform rural parts of the country into industrial powerhouses.

There is, however, a central side effect to automation that would specifically benefit a company like Foxconn. The manufacturer has been plagued by its sometimes abysmal worker conditions and a high rate of employee suicide. So much so in fact that Foxconn had to install suicide netting at factories throughout China and take measures to protect itself against employee litigation. By replacing humans with robots, Foxconn would relieve itself of any issues stemming from its treatment of workers without having to actually improve living and working conditions or increase wages. But in doing so, it will ultimately end up putting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out of work.

– Via: MacRumors
– Source: DigiTimes

Noah Hits 240 Green Lights is a beautiful short film so I don’t really care if it’s fake

On December 6th, Uber driver Noah Forman claims he drove from Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem to Washington Square Park in downtown Manhattan, then back up to 59th street, across to Second Avenue, and back downtown to the Bowery at Prince Street before hitting a single red light. That’s 240 green lights in a row, for a 27-minute nonstop drive through New York City at about 3:30 in the morning.

Forman told The New York Daily News that his personal best before that night was 186 green lights. All of these things seem nearly impossible — the 186 green lights, the 240 green lights, the decision to drive a car down Fifth Avenue during holiday tourist season, the decision to drive a car down Fifth Avenue given the fact that it is home to a president-elect who does not count his home city’s drivability among his very few concerns. Yet, here is a video (sped up!).

Is it real? I don’t know, and neither does the NYC Department of Transportation. A spokesperson told The Verge that the DOT “cannot attest to this video, given we are unsure of its accuracy.”

I don’t want to be a jerk, but I typed Noah’s route into Google Maps. Unfortunately, as the speed limit on both Fifth Avenue and Second Avenue is 25 miles per hour, I’m going to have to guess that Noah was speeding a little bit at times. That part of the possibly true story is not great, as it would be illegal.

But either way, the video is beautiful. Look at how many times something goes right. 240 times. Can you imagine 240 things going just the way you want, and all of them happen one right after the other? Oh my goodness! While watching “Noah Hits 240 Green Lights,” it is lovely to zoom past the Christmas lights of midtown Manhattan. The zooming is much better than having to trudge through a hoard of human beings so dense and unnavigable that you end up thinking “hmm what would happen if I were to just lie down and take a nap in the warmth of this leg forest?” It is nice, in my opinion, that there are no collisions in this film about a car — atypical for the “movies about cars” genre. I am happy.

Forman told The New York Daily News that he “could tell right from the beginning” that it was a perfect night to try for his record. He also said, “It seems like you go with where the lights take you,” which is a cheesy poetic phrase but not the worst I’ve heard. Honestly if he’s making all this up I don’t even care.

We can’t expect virtual reality to make us better people online

Last week, I got to chat with Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, one of the virtual reality gaming industry’s most prominent figures. Like many others, Sweeney believes that VR has the potential to transform how we interact online, especially as more sophisticated tracking systems translate body language, facial expressions, and other details into digital worlds. More specifically, he thinks virtual reality could make us treat each other better there. Unfortunately, this is almost certainly wrong — and if we wait for it to happen, I fear we’ll ruin social VR in the process.

During the interview, I asked Sweeney about how social VR would deal with the toxicity that multiplayer games and social networks already have had to address. “Both multiplayer games and online forums have this property of virtual anonymity. Other people can’t really see you, they don’t really know who you are. And so the sort of social moderating mechanisms in real life, and your desire not to offend people around you, don’t really adjust,” Sweeney told me. “Once your VR avatar really looks like you, and people can see you, and you can see them and their faces and emotions, I think all of the normal restraining mechanisms will kick in. If you insult somebody and you see that they have a sad look on their face, then you’re going to feel really, really bad about that. And you’re probably not going to do it again.”

At first glance, this sounds theoretically possible: if people are more civil in face-to-face conversation, maybe that means we need more virtual faces on the internet. Anecdotally, virtual reality developers have shifted away from photorealism because some players have found killing real-seeming people in VR disturbing. But there’s a gulf between a willingness to kill and a willingness to say nasty things, and even if a minority of people treat each other badly, that can ruin things for everyone else.

As anyone who’s been bullied, catcalled, or otherwise harassed in real life can attest, social restraining mechanisms don’t create a blanket aversion to “offending people.” They make everyone worry about offending people they see as part of their in-groupor people they could face punishment for bothering.

There are good reasons to make online communication more expressive. Being able to read someone’s emotions better is great if you’re already invested in having a decent conversation. It could make it easier to detect sarcasm, convey intimacy, or tell whether you’ve accidentally caused distress. It’s a worthy and interesting goal, and one that could transform how we interact online.

But saying that emotions will make you care about a person is totally backward. Online griefers, for instance, love seeing firsthand evidence that they’ve hurt someone. The platitude “don’t feed the trolls” has limits, but it accurately captures an important harassment dynamic: the more visible and agitated someone’s response, the more “exploitable” they are for future attacks. Outside virtual reality, games like Hearthstone and Splatoon were praised for removing — not expanding — the ability to communicate with other players. And the argument that VR has a unique empathy-generating power has its own set of problems.

The internet isn’t hostile because people there don’t look real enough — it’s not even clear that making internet users tie their actions to real-life identities helps that much, except insofar as it helps prosecutors literally put offenders in jail. Among other reasons, the internet is hostile because it puts a lot of disparate groups within arm’s reach of each other, and it’s extremely easy to deliver abuse with said proximity. The odds of suffering any external social consequences are vanishingly low, and they’re often offset by your own digital tribe’s approval — see, for example, the rise of “professional victimizers” and their legions of fans. Even if you assume that the majority of users are kind (or indifferent) to everyone they meet online, communications technology can vastly amplify a few bad voices. And the attempts to correct them through old-fashioned social shaming often backfire tremendously, simply creating a new cycle of abuse.

Harassment has already proved to be a problem in VR social networks and multiplayer experiences: one of the most famous incidents of 2016 involved an anonymous player grabbing his female partner’s virtual chest in an archery game. Saying that things will get better once we just have the right combination of sensors only inspires complacency. Why bother fixing something in the short term when you could chase a utopian dream instead?

Fortunately, this isn’t the approach I’ve seen most developers take. When QuiVR’s creators found out about the incident above, they instituted a personal space bubble that prevented unwanted touching, as well as a gesture that could totally erase another player from view. VR social network AltspaceVR introduced a similar bubble after people reported harassment on the platform. These technological solutions aren’t a silver bullet; you also need strong social norms and moderation. But they’re a kind of infrastructure that empowers good citizens and makes trolls’ lives harder.

The sheer scale of the digital world can make it feel more dangerous than the “real” one, both inside and outside VR. But the internet can also provide spaces to engage with people you would never meet offline, safe from threats of physical force or economic pressure. The best communities have thrived by giving users control over what they can share, letting them choose who to interact with, and consistently kicking out people who break the rules — not by waiting for some final, perfect method of communication.

DirecTV Now’s $35, 100-channel plan will jump to $60 on January 9th

DirecTV Now’s limited-time introductory $35-per-month subscription deal is going away early next month. AT&T’s website confirms that the “Go Big” package of over 100 channels will switch to its normal $60 monthly cost starting January 9th.

If you’re at all interested in the streaming TV service, you should sign up before that date — otherwise you’ll miss out on the promotional price. If you do start a DirecTV Now subscription by the 9th, you’ll be able to continue paying that $35 each month without being switched to the more expensive subscription plan. Once the limited offer ends, there will still be a $35 plan, but with significantly fewer channels:

AT&T has said that anyone who subscribes to the $35 promotion will be locked in at that price. But for how long? That part’s unclear. The DirecTV Now website plainly states that this “offer rate may increase,” and AT&T executives have already admitted that the service’s pricing structure is likely to rise in the future to account for the costs of signing deals with cable channels. Oh, and those channels might go away with little or no notice — something PlayStation Vue customers are now familiar with. Yeah, some people might just be better off sticking with traditional cable.

But we’ve found DirecTV Now, in its currently early incarnation, to be a decent bargain for the $35 / 100 channels price. I’d seriously hesitate to pay more than that at this stage, as I’ve been getting emails from some customers upset over bugs, streaming issues, and other viewing problems in the weeks since the service publicly launched. If you want to see how things fare for you, you can sign up for an entire free month using this promo code over at Slickdeals. Normally the free trial is limited to one week, but this gets you more time and in on that temporary $35 pricing before it’s gone.

Teens are vaping more than ever, and not just nicotine

Vaping is more popular with teens than ever, with more than one-third of high school students reporting having tried e-cigarettes. And teens aren’t always using e-cigs for nicotine, according to a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that dug into teen vaping behavior.

To evaluate e-cig use, the CDC and the US Food and Drug Administration poured through surveys filled out by 17,000 middle and high school students across the US in 2015. About 38 percent of high school students and 13 percent of middle school students reported that they’ve tried e-cigarettes. That could be an underestimate, too, since the students were reporting their own behavior, and surveys based on self-reports are known to be unreliable.

The CDC is interested in vaping is because we still don’t know exactly how using e-cigarettes could affect a teen’s development. A medical group in the UK lauded e-cigs as useful tools to help current smokers quit, but the CDC said in a statement there’s no evidence that they work. What’s more, e-cig use during adolescence could kickstart an addiction, and the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warns that nicotine in any form is unsafe for teenagers. Still, more than 3 million teens used e-cigs in 2015, a tenfold increase over four years that Murthy called a public health crisis. But to stop it, the CDC has to understand it better.

In today’s report, one-third of e-cigarette users reported using their devices for something other than nicotine. This was more common for male white and Hispanic students than non-Hispanic black students. The survey didn’t get into what exactly the students were using their vape pens for, if not nicotine. But other studies point to pot as the most likely substance.

More than half of the e-cig users stuck to reusable electronic cigarettes — the ones you can refill with new liquid nicotine cartridges — as opposed to the disposable kind. Although most of the students didn’t know what brand they were using, the ones who did used blu and VUSE most frequently.

Both of these brands are owned by big tobacco companies, and are among the most heavily advertised. Millions of teens are exposed to ads for e-cigarettes online and in stores. These ads take a leaf out of big-tobacco’s book, promising independence and sex appeal to manipulate people into buying. And they work: more exposure to e-cig advertisements corresponds with more e-cig use in young adults, according to previous CDC research.

The CDC has repeatedly called for restricting e-cig marketing, but they have no control over advertisements. But regulation of the devices is growing; just this year, the FDA ruled that e-cigarettes and vape pens fall under the regulatory umbrella of tobacco products, which means the agency can ban sales to people under 18. We’ll see if the numbers of teenage users drop when the CDC analyzes the data from 2016.

Twitter wants to make tweets editable, but it’s complicated

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is polling Twitter users on what features they’d like to see from the company in 2017.

Everyone’s got ideas, like “get rid of the Nazis” and “reverse verification,” where everyone is verified by default. I love the internet.

Following in the footsteps of Brian Chesky: what’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017? #Twitter2017

— jack (@jack) December 29, 2016

Anyway, the obvious thing people are asking for is the ability to edit tweets, and Jack wants to give them that power, too.

@howardlindzon not sure why you’re quoting this tweet but yes, a form of edit is def needed. But for everyone, not just those w badges

— jack (@jack) December 29, 2016

I’m glad we all share the same tweet-editing stance. Apparently this task won’t be so simple to carry out, however, as evidenced by Jack’s other tweets to users.

@michaelpachter I’m listening. And what do you want from edit? Quickly fix mistakes or edit anytime?

— jack (@jack) December 29, 2016

Editing tweets, while seemingly an easy thing to introduce, requires work on the backend. What if someone edited a tweet months later and you had retweeted it? It could look like you’re endorsing something totally different than you intended. That’s one of the more obvious concerns.

@AnthonyQuintano edit mistakes quickly or edit anytime? Big dif in implementation. Latter requires change log as we’re oft the public record

— jack (@jack) December 29, 2016

Clearly Jack and whoever else is left at the company is thinking through these issues. They might have a plan in place for all we know and just want further input. So now, let’s all join hands — that means you, too, Kim Kardashian — and will Twitter to give us editing power.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources site no longer says humans cause climate change

The website of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources no longer says that humans and greenhouse emissions cause climate change.

The new language says that causes of global warming are “are being debated and researched by academic entities.” It is not true that the causes of global warming are being heavily debated. Almost all climate scientists already agree that human-made greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change, and that global warming is a pressing issue. Before the revision, the site’s text reflected that consensus, saying “human activities that increase heat–trapping (“green house”) gases are the main cause.”

DNR spokesperson Jim Dick told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinelin an email that the “updated page reflects our position on this topic that we have communicated for years, that our agency regularly must respond to a variety of environmental and human stressors from drought, flooding, wind events to changing demographics.” This does not address the question of why the new language implies that we do not know what causes climate change.

This is the latest anti-environment move from Wisconsin’s government, which has de-emphasized global warming since Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011. For example, the DNR site once had a lot of information from a 2008 Task Force on Global Warming. That’s no longer there. Walker has also introduced legislation to block clean energy, resisted Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and postponed pollution standards.

So far, Wisconsin is the only state that appears to be revising its website, but more states could follow suit now that it’s clear climate science will be attacked under President-elect Donald Trump. Many scientists have said that his environmental plans are a disaster. Trump has called climate change a “Chinese hoax,” appointed climate denier Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, asked for the names of climate change workers from the Energy Department (though he later backed down).

The good news is that there are people trying to fight back. Energy Department officials refused to give Trump the name of climate change workers, and scientists are scrambling to save government climate-change data before Trump is sworn in. These researchers are the ones who need all the help they can get with rebuffing Trump. The last thing we need are state agencies themselves lead the way in denying science.


Miami may be underwater by 2100

Obama imposes sanctions on Russia over election hacking

The Obama administration today announced new sanctions against Russia in response to the country’s widely reported role in hacks meant to influence the US presidential election.

The sanctions include penalties for five entities and four individuals. Included on that list are multiple officials from Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, the country’s military intelligence unit tied to this year’s hack of the Democratic National Committee. Top officials from the Directorate, known as the GRU, are also listed for sanctions, as are two individuals with several digital aliases. Russia’s Federal Security Service, another intelligence agency, has also been sanctioned.

Three companies, which the White House says “provided material support” to GRU operations, were included in the sanctions as well.

As part of today’s action, 35 Russian officials who “were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status” in the US, according to the White House, will be ejected. Two compounds, one in New York and one in Maryland, used by Russia for intelligence purposes will also be shut down. Previous reporting this week also suggested the US will also take long-expected, unspecified covert action against Russia, likely using cyber techniques.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said in a statement.

The new sanctions amend a previous executive order from the president, “Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities,” which was made in response to North Korea’s hack of Sony. The order allows the president to impose travel bans and freeze the assets of sanctioned persons, although in the case of the Russian officials, it may be mostly symbolic. Russian officials previously faced penalties from the Obama administration in 2014, after the country’s annexation of Crimea.

As part of the announcement, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI issued a joint report detailing malicious cyber operations in Russia. Some of the information in the report will be newly declassified, according to the White House.

“Such steps of the US administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, deal a blow on the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,” the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in response to the sanctions.

Along with last year’s hack of the DNC, which caused major embarrassment for the Democratic part and led to the resignation of top DNC officials, Russia is believed to have orchestrated the hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Emails stolen from Podesta’s account and later released have been seen as one factor in Clinton’s loss.

But the future of the sanctions will be uncertain after Trump takes office. The president-elect took a considerably more pro-Russia stance before the election, and has attempted to cast doubt on the country’s links to the hacks. “The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on,” he said yesterday.

Earlier this month, the FBI and CIA reportedly came to the conclusion that Russia’s election meddling was done to support Trump.

The Adam Ruins Everything takedown of electric cars is wrong because it’s built on lazy research

Adam Ruins Everything, a TruTV show created by comedian Adam Conover, points out obvious problems in an effort to get some laughs. Segments from his show are often broken off into standalone videos that are tailor-made for viral success on the internet, pulling in millions of views while explaining things like the famous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit.

In a new sketch, though, Conover turns his sights on electric cars. He claims that electric cars “aren’t as green as you think,” calls the Tesla Model S an “ecologically problematic toy,” and repeatedly shames a fictional Tesla buyer.

Why bother attacking electric cars and the people who want to buy them? Conover (or his writers) apparently believes that switching to an electric car merely shifts your fuel source from the gas pump to a power plant, and that power plants are inherently dirty.

But Conover almost instantly gives away how he’s twisting logic to make his argument when he follows this claim by saying that “if those power plants burn coal, driving an electric car can actually put more CO2 into the air than a hybrid.”

That “if” is a big qualifier, because while coal is a large source of electricity generation in the United States, it’s been falling for years. In 2007 it was responsible for 48 percent of the electricity generated in the US, but in 2015 that figure dropped to 33 percent.

Conover also conveniently leaves out the fact that solar and wind energy are on the rise. In fact, solar and wind are not only adding lots of capacity to the electrical grid, but the price of solar is dropping dramatically. Instead, he uses solar and wind energy to continue shaming the character in the video when he naively assumes his Tesla will soon run on clean energy.

But the biggest problem is that, when Conover makes this crucial argument in the video, he cites a piece written by Slate’s senior technology writer Will Oremus in 2013 — a piece that’s more about the difficulty of parsing all this information than it is about how electric cars might be dirty. What’s more, Oremus spends a large chunk of his article explaining that how “clean” your electric car is will vary depending on where you live, because different parts of the country use different percentages of these fuel sources to generate electricity. From Oremus’ piece:

For any given Model S, though, the emissions-per-mile depend heavily on the mix of energy sources that go into your local grid. According to Tesla’s own emissions calculator, if you’re driving your Model S in West Virginia—where the power mix is 96 percent coal—you’re spewing some 27 pounds of CO2 in a typical 40-mile day, which is comparable to the amount you’d emit in a conventional Honda Accord. Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio aren’t much better. On the other hand, if you’re charging your Tesla in California, where natural gas supplies more than half the electricity—or, better yet, Idaho or Washington, where hydroelectricity reigns—your per-mile emissions are a fraction of that amount. Congratulations: Your Model S is a clean machine after all.

If you you’re thinking about buying an electric car, the US Department of Energy has a nifty tool that lets you search by state to see how electric cars stack up emissions-wise against hybrids and gasoline-powered cars, with respect to the local electrical grid.

Either way, how dirty a power plant might be shouldn’t stop car companies from making electric cars, just as much as it shouldn’t stop people from buying one. It’s a problem that the companies that run the power plants need to address. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly how Oremus concluded the piece that Conover cites in his video:

To use the nation’s reliance on dirty coal as an argument against electric cars is to get things backward. Rather, the prospect of making cars far greener than they are today should count as yet another argument against the nation’s continued reliance on dirty coal.

The latter half of Conover’s video is more about how buying lots of new cars, especially when you don’t need to replace your old one, can hurt the environment because of the emissions created by the process required to make cars in the first place. This “carbon footprint” argument is a more salient point than his first one, but it doesn’t just apply to electric cars — it applies to all products.

If this is the point Conover really wanted to make with his video, then he should have just focused on carbon footprints in the first place. Instead, he used poorly interpreted data and lazy research to target electric cars as a way to eventually get around to making this point. And in the process he shamed people for potentially being smug about trying to help the environment in small ways — an unnecessary jab that South Park already landed (in a much funnier way) a decade ago.

Encouraging people to learn more about where they get their energy from is a good thing. And we shouldn’t treat electric cars like some silver bullet that will take town dirty energy. But you can accomplish both those things without attacking people who are interested (and invested) in the technology or misrepresenting the reality of the situation — even if it means presenting the information in a more nuanced and less viral-ready way.

Ryan Gosling will star in La La Land director’s Neil Armstrong biopic

After over a year of speculation, Ryan Gosling has signed on to star in the upcoming Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, Variety reports. The film will be directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, from a script by Spotlight’s Josh Singer.

The story is based on Armstrong’s official biography, First Man: A Life of Neil A. Armstrong, published by NASA historian James Hansen in 2005. The film will cover only the years 1961 to 1969, focusing on the first manned mission to the Moon. According to Variety it will be a “visceral, first-person account” of “one of the most dangerous space missions in history.”

Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood purchased the film rights to the book two years before its publish, with Eastwood set to direct and produce, but the project then languished for a decade. Chazelle was said to be in talks to take over as director in the fall of 2014, following the success of his debut feature Whiplash.

Both he and Gosling are now confirmed for the project, making it their second collaboration after this year’s critically-acclaimed musicalLa La Land. This will be Chazelle’s first time directing a feature film that he did not also write.