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The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

malachiorion Re:My concern is far less esoteric (255 comments)

I agree. I think that's a serious, serious concern, or should be. It's also proof (to me) that full autonomy is only going to work when some sort of mandate requires that all cars are robotic. Pretty Draconian, since it means making driving illegal. Until that happens, it'll be region or lane-specific autonomy, if anything.

about 2 months ago
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The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

malachiorion Re:Huh? (255 comments)

Yeah, pretty hackish of me. Sorry about that.

about 2 months ago
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The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

malachiorion Re:Measuring Competence (255 comments)

But those Google cars are extremely coddled. 1) They're always relying on pre-loaded LIDAR data, so always on routes that Google has mapped ahead of time. It's going to take a very long time to establish a fully comprehensive, national LIDAR map, and even when it's completed, it'll have to be updated constantly. 2) They aren't driving in extreme weather conditions. 3) They're driving in a very limited radius—no one's taking them on a cross-country trip, dealing with unfamiliar and poorly marked roads. So that's 700,000 miles in a highly controlled environment. 4) And 700,000 miles is pretty skimpy, isn't it, when it comes to gauging the problems that arise with cars, and with drivers (human or otherwise)? It's not as though everyone gets into a potentially fatal accident every 500,000 miles. But when you combine all vehicles and all those drivers, and consider the total number of cars on the road, that's where the number of total collisions start to get scary. I have no doubt that robotic cars will reduce crashes, and, if they really become the rule, not the exception, will save a crazy amount of lives (and money). Still, it's not like these things are going to be creeping along at 20 mph. At 65 mph, physics can kick your ass real quick.

about 2 months ago
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The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

malachiorion Re:It's all about ME, ME, ME. (255 comments)

Did you read my original story, though? I wasn't proposing that autonomous cars will or should be magically transformed into ethical beings. I was just picking up Patrick Lin's notion, that we may have to do what current programmers do, in other capacities—work through tons and tons of branching in-then statements, making a staggering amount of decisions ahead of time, and then embed those in the robots before they're deployed. That assumes a lot of stuff, like incredibly advanced sensors and sophisticated networks, in order to detect and "solve" certain ethical problems, but even at a more basic level, shouldn't we decide, in advance, how a car should respond to a pedestrian darting into traffic, if there's no time or room to simply avoid a collision (with someone)?

about 2 months ago
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Robots Are Strong: The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

malachiorion Whoops! (1 comments)

I was about to write something about the story diving into Bishop's unexplained level of perfection, but wound up leaving that last, stupid, orphaned word. Sorry!

about 2 months ago
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Why Hollywood's Best Robot Stories Are About Slavery

malachiorion Re:Mod parent up. (150 comments)

I get into that, at least a little, in the story. That when it's the AI that's acting as master, it's still a story of oppression and slave revolt.

about 3 months ago
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The Brief Rise and Long Fall of Russia's Robot Tank

malachiorion Re:Link no longer there. (79 comments)

I mentioned this in another response, but I don't necessarily think the Goliath is in the same league as the Teletank, as far as gun-toting ground bots go. I should have specified that, though, in the piece.

about 5 months ago
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The Brief Rise and Long Fall of Russia's Robot Tank

malachiorion Re:Perhaps the first but... (79 comments)

I probably should have clarified, but if you read the piece, I was talking about armed the unprecedented—and still unique—use armed UGVs, like ground bots with guns. No one else has done that. The Goliath, on other hand, was a rolling bomb. You could call that an armed UGV, but, to me, that's like calling a Tomahawk an armed UAV.

about 5 months ago
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The Brief Rise and Long Fall of Russia's Robot Tank

malachiorion Re:In Soviet Russia, (79 comments)

I meant way, way fewer. Like dozens of tanks and over a hundred planes for the Finns, versus thousands of both on the Russian side.

about 5 months ago
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Apocalypse NAO: College Studies the Theological Ramifications of Robotics

malachiorion Re:Not the right question (176 comments)

Believe it or not, that appears to be a subset of this particular theologian's concern—that we'll develop "exclusive" relationships with bots, including possibly "going to bed with them." The implications are a little strange, mainly that sanctioned sex is, by some law of salacious syllogism, a component of a person's continuing relationship with God.

about 5 months ago
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Apocalypse NAO: College Studies the Theological Ramifications of Robotics

malachiorion Re:God's robot's - humans (176 comments)

Agreed. It's not like biological conception is a miracle—it's biology, presumably set in motion by a higher power (if you're into such things). Why would the creation of an inorganic humanoid be any less under His purview or jurisdiction?

about 5 months ago
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Apocalypse NAO: College Studies the Theological Ramifications of Robotics

malachiorion Re:God's robot's - humans (176 comments)

Well, in Staley's defense, that wasn't necessarily his view. He was trying to describe the reaction he wants to head off.

about 5 months ago
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Apocalypse NAO: College Studies the Theological Ramifications of Robotics

malachiorion Re:The robots aren't the point (176 comments)

I would love to see research related to the potential moral damage, as you put it, resulting from owning (and possibly abusing) an apparently soulless, though somewhat life-like machine. I don't think this college will get there, but it really would be a perfect research area for them. Unfortunately, the sense I got from Staley was that there wouldn't be much actual experimentation going on. Which makes sense, since he's a theologian, not a psychologist (or roboticist), and the robot isn't a super-advanced HRI model. I honestly think that he's open to new conclusions, but that his main emphasis is to explore a religious version of Sherry Turkle's concerns, about the disconnection that can result from interfacing with tech, including bots. He was also very upfront, in the interview, about the fact that this might be a non-issue, since there's no guarantee that we'll get to a point where humanoids can really command a ton of our attention. He also referenced issues like people "going to bed" with robots, something that I wouldn't trust a Christian college to discuss in a useful way. Still, HRI is such a small, nascent field, that any work seems valuable, even if it winds up being devoid of data, and purely anecdotal.

about 5 months ago
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Why Robot Trucks Could Be Headed To Afghanistan (And Everywhere Else)

malachiorion Re:As an ex-trucker let be first to say... (135 comments)

I think the robots are coming for a ton of our jobs, no matter how hard we resist. Politics could (and maybe should) slow things down, but robotic long-haul trucking wouldn't necessarily require a go-ahead from the government, if it simply follows broader autonomous driving regulations. They could start, for example, with requiring a driver to be in the cab, as with Google's cars, but companies might find a way to pay less for those positions. If robo-trucks rack up a better safety record, and, say, news outlets start harping on automated 18-wheelers driving less aggressively, playing to notions of truckers as bullies, then popular support could build, and more autonomy could kick in. Inch by inch, as companies save money and the general populace sees it as a positive, the political resistance could give way. Lots of coulds and what-ifs, I know, but I think money beats politics, in the long run. And as much as people value retaining jobs, lots of them also see tractor trailers as a problem that needs solving.

about 6 months ago
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Why Robot Trucks Could Be Headed To Afghanistan (And Everywhere Else)

malachiorion Re:This uses a velodyne lidar with 64 beams at 15H (135 comments)

Good eye! Lockheed told me that some of the gear used in this demo was relatively high-end, but they think they can downgrade with commercial applications (they might also be hoping for more a priori LIDAR data by the time that's feasible).

about 6 months ago
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Low-Cost Morphing Robotic Hands Could Revolutionize Blue-Collar Bionics

malachiorion Re:I remember the discovery just a few years back (21 comments)

Yeah, they unveiled the research back in 2010, when it was still a combined Cornell/U of Chicago/iRobot project. The parties sort of went their separate ways since. The news here, in theory, is that while iRobot is still in the experimental stage with its own jamming gripper work, Empire Robotics (comprised of some of those original Cornell researchers) have brought it to market, and are actively pursuing prosthetics next.

about 6 months ago
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The Year In Robotics

malachiorion Re:The real big news in robotics. (44 comments)

You're right, I left out a lot of the potentially game-changing manufacturing news, but mostly because I felt like it was iterative, and we haven't seen the full results, yet. Even Baxter (not an iRobot bot, by the way—Rodney Brooks hasn't done anything with iRobot for years) is a great-seeming bot that isn't really doing much at the moment, and that could get eclipsed by what Google comes up with. I was torn, regarding the autonomous driving stuff. I kind of felt like that was, for the most part, just marketing talk. It's true that companies claimed to have demonstrated at least partially autonomous operation on the Autobahn and such, but doesn't it seem like the real news is still to come? Or, at the very least, that none of what happened this year really trumps the 2012 legislation that cleared robot cars for use in Nevada?

about 7 months ago

Submissions

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Collaborative Algorithm Lets Autonomous Robots Team Up And Learn From Each Other

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about a month ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Autonomous robots are about to get a lot more autonomous, thanks to an algorithm from MIT that turns teams of bots into collaborative learners. This was covered in other places, but I'm not sure why no one's digging into the real implications of this (admittedly somewhat obscure) breakthrough. The algorithm, called AMPS, lets autonomous systems quickly compare notes about what they’ve observed in their respective travels, and come up with a combined worldview. The goal, according to the algorithm's creators, is to achieve "semantic symmetry," which would allow for "lifelong learning" for robots, making them more self-sufficient, and less reliant on constantly pestering humans to explain why the more surprising aspects of the unstructured world they're operating within don't line up with what programmers have prepped them for. Here's my story for Popular Science."
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Surgical Snakebots Are Real, And Heading For Humanity's Orifices

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about a month ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Last week marked the first use of a surgical snakebot—the Flex system, from MA-based Medrobotics—on living human beings. It wriggled down two patient's throats, to be specific, at a hospital in Belgium. That's neat, and could mean an interesting showdown-to-come between this snake-inspired robot (invented by a Carnegie Mellon roboticist), and the more widely-used da Vinci bot. But this is bigger than a business story. The next era in general surgery, which involves making a single small incision after entering the anus or vagina, instead of multiple punctures in the abdomen, might finally be feasible with this kind of bot. This is my analysis for Popular Science about why instrument-bearing snakebots wriggling into our orifices is a technology worth rooting for."
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Lie Like a Lady: The Profoundly Weird, Gender-Specific Roots of the Turing Test

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about a month and a half ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Alan Turing never wrote about the Turing Test, that legendary measure of machine intelligence that was supposedly passed last weekend. He proposed something much stranger—a contest between men and machines, to see who was better at pretending to be a woman. The details of the Imitation Game aren't secret, or even hard to find, and yet no one seems to reference it. Here's my analysis for Popular Science about why they should, in part because it's so odd, but also because it might be a better test for "machines that think" than the chatbot-infested, seemingly useless Turing Test."
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Robots Are Evil: The Sci-Fi Myth of Killer Machines

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 2 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Remember when, about a month ago, Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could destroy all humans? It wasn't because of some stunning breakthrough in AI or robotics research. It was because the Johnny Depp-starring Transcendence was coming out. Or, more to the point, it's because science fiction's first robots were evil, and even the most brilliant minds can't talk about modern robotics without drawing from SF creation myths. As part of my series for Popular Science on the biggest sci-fi-inspired myths of robotics, this one focuses on R.U.R, Skynet, and the ongoing impact of allowing make-believe villains to pollute our discussion of actual automated systems."
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The End is A.I.: The Singularity is Sci-Fi's Faith-Based Initiative

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 2 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Is machine sentience not only possible, but inevitable? Of course not. But don't tell that to devotees of the Singularity, a theory that sounds like science, but is really just science fiction repackaged as secular prophecy. I'm not simply arguing that the Singularity is stupid—people much smarter than me have covered that territory. But as part of my series of stories for Popular Science about the major myths of robotics, I try to point out the Singularity's inescapable sci-fi roots. It was popularized by a SF writer, in a paper that cites SF stories as examples of its potential impact, and, ultimately, it only makes sense when you apply copious amounts of SF handwavery. Here's why SF has trained us to believe that artificial general intelligence (and everything that follows) is our destiny, but we shouldn't confuse an end-times fantasy with anything resembling science."
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Robots Are Strong: The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 2 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "When it comes to robots, most of us are a bunch of John Snow know-nothings. With the exception of roboticists, everything we assume we know is based on science fiction, which has no reason to be accurate about its iconic heroes and villains, or journalists, who are addicted to SF references, jokes and tropes. That's my conclusion, at least, after a story I wrote Popular Science got some attention—it asked whether a robotic car should kill its owner, if it means saving two strangers. The most common dismissals of the piece claimed that robo-cars should simply follow Asimov's First Law, or that robo-cars would never crash into each other. These perspectives are more than wrong-headed—they ignore the inherent complexity and fallibility of real robots, for whom failure is inevitable. Here's my follow-up story, about why most of our discussion of robots is based on make-believe, starting with the myth of robotic hyper-competence. Bishop"
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The Mathematics of Murder: Should a Robot Sacrifice Your Life to Save Two?

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 3 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "That's not a rhetorical question. If harming humans is unavoidable (overruling the First Law of Robotics), autonomous cars should be prepared to kill their owners, for the sake of our species. It's a distressing, and ugly stance, but if you dig into the moral and legal ramifications of how we're going to program machines that have the capacity to kill us, or save us, the choice seems obvious—let the robots choose. This is a thought experiment at the moment—a version of the classic trolley problem—but before fully autonomous cars become a widespread reality, we'll have to decide whether robots should protect their owner, or protect all of us. My analysis for Popular Science. (And yes, this is piggybacking off an op-ed for Wired, but I spoke with that author, a tech-centric philosophy professor, for this story)."
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Why Hollywood's Best Robot Stories Are About Slavery

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 3 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "On the occasion of Almost Human's cancellation (and the box office flopping of Transcendence), I tried to suss out what makes for a great, and timeless Hollywood robot story. The common thread seems to be slavery, or stories that use robots and AI as completely blatant allegories for the discrimination and dehumanization that's allowed slavery to happen, and might again. My analysis for Popular Science, including a defense (up to a point!) of HAL 9000's murder spree."
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How It Works: The Surgical Snakebot

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 4 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "It sounds like the nightmare of all robotic nightmares: A flexible, snake-inspired bot that slides down your throat to snip and burn through your tissue. From there, thing get even more terrifying. If Medrobotics has its way, some version of its FLEX robot will enter patients' bodies through ... other orifices, traveling to nearly anywhere in the abdominal region with a single incision (far fewer than with other surgical robots).
In fact, the surgical snakebot could be a huge leap (slither) forward for robotic surgery, with less of a learning curve for operators and the eventual prospect of surgery with significantly less physical trauma. The potential mental trauma, of course, is another matter. Here's a quick overview of the FLEX system, which is cruising towards clearance in Europe and the U.S., with diagram included, for Popular Science."

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The Microscopic Future of Surgical Robotics

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 4 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "I'm not referring to an Inner Space-style nano-scale journey into the patient, but a move towards micro-scale bot-assisted procedures, such as attaching tiny blood vessels only barely visible under a microscope. That's the direction being explored by Intuitive Surgical, makers of the most common (and most embattled) surgical bot, the da Vinci System. Other companies and labs are working towards their own robotic microsurgeons, including a Canadian system that already removed a patient's tumor. But when Intuitive's head of medical research is this excited about zooming in during surgery and creating entirely new treatments, it's a safe bet that microscopic procedures are the direction surgical bots are headed. My story for Popular Science."
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Solve for Standing Ovation: Should AI Researchers Bother Building a TED-Bot?

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 3 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "The AI XPrize would be an amazing competition—to make an AI capable of giving a stirring TED Talk—if it weren't so silly. Is there a point to updating the Turing Test, when it's been so widely abandoned by researchers? And does anyone think that TED Talks are compelling proof of sentience? None of the roboticists I reached out to had even heard of the newly announced contest, and the two AI researchers I spoke to had some suggestions for improving the XPrize. Well, one did. The other didn't buy the concept at all. My post for Popular Science."
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Tale of the Teletank: The Brief Rise and Long fall of Russiaâ(TM)s Military

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 5 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "From Popular Science: "Seventy-four years ago, Russia accomplished what no country had before, or has sinceâ"it sent armed ground robots into battle. These remote-controlled Teletanks took the field during one of WWIIâ(TM)s earliest and most obscure clashes, as Soviet forces pushed into Eastern Finland for roughly three and a half months, from 1939 to 1940." The workings of those Teletanks were cool, though they were useless against Germany, and Russia proceeded to fall behind the developed world in military robotics."
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Apocalypse NAO: Are Robots Threatening Your Immortal Soul?

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 5 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Have you heard the one about the Christian college in North Carolina that bought a humanoid robot, to figure out whether bots are going to charm us into damnation (dimming or cutting our spiritual connection to God)? The robot itself is pretty boring, but the reasoning behind its purchase—a religious twist on the standard robo-phobia—is fascinating. My analysis for Popular Science."
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Why Robot Trucks Could Be Headed To Afghanistan (And Everywhere Else)

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 6 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "I'm surprised I haven't seen more coverage of Lockheed Martin's autonomous truck convoy demonstration—they sent a group of robotified vehicles through urban and rural environments at Fort Hood, without teleoperation or human intervention. It's an interesting milestone, and sort of a tragic one, since troops could have used robotic vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. What's fascinating, though, is that Lockheed is hoping to get into Afghanistan just before the U.S. withdraws, to help ferry gear. Plus, they have their sights set on what would be the defense contractor's first real commercial product—kits that turn tractor trailers into autonomous vehicles. Here's my post for Popular Science."
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Google Rumored to be Pulling its Team From the DARPA Robotics Challenge

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 6 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "According to a participant in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, Google is withdrawing Team SCHAFT. This is the only story I've written based on a source who has requested anonymity, but it makes perfect sense. None of the roboticists I've talked to for related pieces have seen it as even remotely good business for Google to be a defense contractor, and this decision, if it plays out as described, might just calm the internet's jokey, jangled nerves for a while."
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Low-Cost Morphing Robotic Hands Could Revolutionize Blue-Collar Bionics

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 7 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Cornell, MIT and iRobot have all shown off so-called jamming manipulators, rubbery blobs that grip objects by deforming around them. But with the first commercially available version shipping to industrial and manufacturing customers, Cornell spinoff Empire Robotics has a new market in mind: Prosthetics. While impossibly expensive, neuro-controlled bionic hands continue to be a fantasy for most amputees, jamming manipulators could do the job. My post for Popular Science about the merits of a low-tech, self-gripping stump, that could be powered by hooking up to an air compressor."
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Of Her and Humanoids: The Year in Robotics

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 6 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "From Google's emergence as a robotics giant to Gypsy Danger's emergence as a giant robot (we can root for), here's my attempt (for Popular Science) to round up the biggest trends in robotics in 2013. Comments are enabled—they usually aren't, on Pop Sci's site—to point out all the stuff that's more important than my picks."
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The Humanoids Are Here: The Walking, Climbing, Driving Robots of the DRC

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 7 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Before the inevitable pratfalls, here come the pride of the robotics world. This gallery for Popular Science of the Track A and Track B bots competing in this week’s DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) trials features pretty pictures—the shots of THOR and CHIMP are particularly bracing—as well as some pre-game analysis from me, based on new and old reporting. As luck would have it, the bot that I spent the most time with, Virginia Tech's THOR, is the one that was benched."
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Sympathy For The Metal: Almost Human Is The Pro-Robot Propaganda We Need

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 8 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "Almost Human isn't a realistic vision of the future. It might be something better—the rare mainstream science fiction that imagines robots as innovations, not more of the same Terminator-sourced rebels-in-waiting. This is my analysis for Popular Science, including some insight from Kate Darling, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab who was consulted (however briefly) by the show's producers and writers."
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Cognitive Computing For All: IBM Releases A Legion Of Watsons

malachiorion malachiorion writes  |  about 9 months ago

malachiorion (1205130) writes "The first examples of what developers can do with the new Watson API are pretty lame—health coaching, personal shopping... But the tech behind Watson, and its transition from a single system to a cloud-based species, essentially, of cognitive computing software, is a very big deal. My analysis for Popular Science: http://www.popsci.com/blog-network/zero-moment/cognitive-computing-all-ibm-releases-legion-watsons"

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