Robot learns tasks by interpreting written text

If we need help with a certain task, many of us turn to the Internet for guidance. But, as a recent article on the MIT Technology Review website reveals, it might not be long before robots are doing the same.

Researchers behind a European project called RoboHow are currently exploring ways robots can learn to interpret language. A prototype robot, called PR2, has already been created in Germany. PR2 has made pizzas and pancakes simply by reading instructions on how-to website WikiHow and watching YouTube tutorials.

The aim of the four year project is to reach a stage wherein machines are able to carry out everyday tasks as proficiently as humans. Instead of having to program a robot to perform a set number of motions, the idea is that robots will learn new tasks simply by humans communicating instructions to them.

If successful, the project could have huge implications in the home and in the workplace, as machines and robots become increasingly integrated within our day-to-day lives.

Michael Beetz, head of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Bremen, where the project is based, commented: "If you have a robot in a factory, you want to say 'Take the screw and put it into the nut and fasten the nut' [...] You want the robot to generate the parameters automatically out of the semantic description of objects."

Along with making pizzas and pancakes, PR2 is learning how to carry out simple tasks in the laboratory, like handling chemicals.

When a robot learns the actions required to perform a certain task, the information gained is uploaded onto a database, called Open Ease. Other robots are able to access the information on this database, which enables them to learn the same task.

Professor at the Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, Siddhartha Srinivasa, said the ability to connect action with language in robots is extremely important, nevertheless complex. Success will "require a tight integration of natural language, grounding the understanding via perception, and planning complex actions via manipulation algorithms," he said.


How technology can help relieve workplace stress

Technology gets a bad rep for causing stress and anxiety at work, from feeling pressured to reply to every single email to needing to keep checking social media for fear of 'missing out' on something.

But what about the ways in which technology can be used to reduce work-related stress and encourage positive mental health? The Harvard Business Review recently offered some examples of how our devices and platforms can be harnessed for the power of good:

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Social media has heightened an anxiety already present in many busy professionals: the fear that they're missing out on something, whether that's industry news or an event they weren't able to attend. But social networks have filters in place to hide content from certain people, and Tweetdeck can filter out any tweets relating to a certain topic or event - so you won't have to see what you're missing.

Distraction

This is a key contributor to workplace stress, from constantly checking our phones to amusing articles that steal our attention and cause us to lose focus on our work. Thankfully, tools such as RescueTime (to track your time spent online); Focus (which blocks certain websites); and Freedom (prevents you from even going online) can help you manage your time and energy more wisely.

Tiring commutes

Long commutes can take their toll on workers, both mentally and physically. But with the right tools, this time can be used to help you unwind, re-energize or get one step ahead of your workload. Newsreaders such as Feedly can keep you up-to-date with current affairs, while Buffer lets you sync up a whole week's worth of Tweets in advance. For those who walk or cycle to work, music and fitness apps can help you maximise this time; while podcasts can help you wind down after a long day.

Long hours

Constant connectivity means it's becoming increasingly difficult for people to switch off at the end of their working day - particularly those with demanding bosses who contact them outside of office hours. Email filters send messages as a text directly to your phone, so that you don't have to keep checking your inbox; alternatively delay delivery services will send your reply a few hours later, so that your boss stops assuming you're available 24/7.

Every click, swipe, "like," buy, comment, deposit, jog and search produces information that creates a unique virtual identity - something we call

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How Do Mobile Experts Use Mobility and What Does it Mean for Retailers?

How often do mobile experts purchase products and services using their mobile devices? The answer, only 1% purchase products using mobile devices daily, 30% weekly, 43% monthly and 20% once every three months.  Wow! I am a one-percenter!!! I use my Starbuck's app and Apple Pay often multiple times in a day.

In another recent survey of 5,000 people in North America that I was involved in titled Cognizant's 2015 Shopper's Survey, we found 73% still prefer using desktops/laptops for online purchases. This does not mean mobile devices were not used in the path-to-purchase journey, rather desktops/laptops are often preferred for payments.

Our findings also reveal a typical path-to-purchase journey involves multiple platforms and devices. Often smartphones are used for quick searches and discovery, tablets are used for in-depth immersive product research, and desktops/laptops for purchases. People even change their device preferences depending on the time of day. Mobile devices are popular in the morning, at lunch and in the late afternoon. Desktops and laptops are popular during business hours, while tablets are popular in the early to late evenings. This points to the popularity of living room and in-bed shopping. When asked where they are located when making online purchases they answered:

  • 46% in the living room
  • 36% at work
  • 29% in the bedroom
  • 24% in the TV room
  • 20% in coffee shops or restaurants

The use of multiple devices and platforms at different times of the day makes it challenging for online retailers and marketers to track consumer interests. When asked the time of day they make most of their online purchases, mobile experts listed their purchasing habits in the following order by popularity:

  1. Early morning
  2. Mid-morning/Early afternoon
  3. Noon
  4. Late night

Our findings reveal that the retail strategies of yesteryear are insufficient for future success. Today those involved in mobile commerce have many new challenges. Mobile users follow different path-to-purchase journeys across multiple devices, times and locations. These journeys look different for different demographics, categories of products and products with different price points as well. Context is mandatory today to understand how to personalize a digital experience. Recommending places to eat in San Francisco based on my past preferences, when I am in Boston isn't useful.

Collecting greater quantities of data with users' permission in order to provide a contextually relevant and personalized experience is a hurdle retailers must overcome. I have some thoughts. Stay tuned for my new report, "Cutting Through Chaos in the Age of "Mobile Me."