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Daily Archives: February 8, 2022

Musk: Robots to be Bigger Business than Tesla Cars

Jane Wakefield wrote . . . . . . . . .

Elon Musk likes to have a focus – and this year, it looks like it might be robots.

He told investors on a Tesla earnings call his nascent robot plans had “the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business, over time”.

And they would be the most important things Tesla worked on this year.

The robot in question, part of a project dubbed Optimus, was previewed last year – to raised eyebrows – by a human in a robot suit dancing on stage.

And the performance became a popular internet meme.

The Tesla Bot, as it was dubbed, would use the same artificial-intelligence (AI) systems that helped power Tesla vehicles, Mr Musk said at the event last August – but no prototype has yet been made.

He also said the not-yet-built 5ft 8in robot would have a screen on its “face” and be able to lift 150lb and travel at about 5mph.

Labour shortages

This week, Mr. Musk told investors the humanoid robot’s first application would be at a Tesla plant “moving parts around the factory, or something like that”.

But in the future, he sees it helping solve labour shortages.

And earlier this week, he tweeted: “Tesla AI might play a role in AGI [artificial general intelligence], given that it trains against the outside world, especially with the advent of Optimus”.

AGI refers to the ability of a machine to learn or understand tasks currently performed by humans.

Mr Musk has previously warned AI risks killing off human civilisation.

And in the same Twitter thread, he added: “Decentralised control of the robots will be critical.”

‘Narrow intelligence’

Professor of robot ethics Alan Winfield, at the University of West England, said: “AGI is an exceptionally hard problem.

“The idea that you can crack AGI because you have created a driverless vehicle is absurd.

“Even if that car is highly capable, that would not be AGI – it would be high-functioning narrow intelligence.

“Google and Facebook have hired some of the best AI people in the world and the idea that Musk can come in and crack the problem is hubristic in the extreme.”

Mr. Musk does likes hard problems though, from autonomous cars to trips to Mars, and has plenty of successes.

SpaceX’s reusable rockets are widely regarded as representing a big step forward for space flights, for example.

But previous efforts to create cost-effective mass-market humanoid robots have failed.

In June, Japanese conglomerate Softbank announced production of Pepper, a friendly little humanoid, had been paused and would start again only when the robots were needed, much to the dismay of the academic community that used them.

That said, robots are increasingly used in factories around the world, with a current average of 126 robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

Keeping robots upright is a big challenge

Many, though, remained skeptical about Mr. Musk’s plans.

Accel Robotics software engineer Filip Piekniewski tweeted: “Anyone who thinks Tesla is actually building a humanoid robot is living in an alternate reality.

“Mars bases is more likely than the bot.”

And professor of cognitive robotics Tony Prescott, at the University of Sheffield, told BBC News Mr Musk would face many challenges.

“If it is being used in a factory, then a wheel-based robot would be much easier to build and have no problems of balance – but then it wouldn’t be humanoid,” he said.

‘Research problems’

Keeping the robot upright would be one of the biggest issues, Prof Prescott said, along with creating hands and any form of hand-to-eye co-ordination.

“These are fundamental research problems that you need to solve,” he said.

And even robots such as Atlas, designed by Boston Dynamics and regarded as one of the most sophisticated humanoid bots available “will be attached to the ceiling when it is not making videos”.

The AI in cars will be very different to that needed for robots, experts say

“Tesla cars are robots – but they are a much simpler form, so this will be starting from scratch,” Prof Prescott added.

Prof Winfield agrees with Mr. Musk on one thing though.

“The only thing that Musk is getting right is that the path towards AGI will be through physical robots,” he said.

“Our own intelligence is grounded in the real world.”

The Tesla boss’s new robotics focus may disappoint some customers – in the same earnings call, he also said the company would not be introducing any new car models in 2022.

And he does have a history of making rather ambitious promises.

In 2019, he said Tesla would have one million robot-taxis on the road by the end of 2020.


Source : BBC

Vaccine Passport Pioneer Israel to Curb Use of ‘Green Pass’

Israel, one of the first nations to implement a vaccine pass, is to curtail its use in most places, authorities said Wednesday, despite tens of thousands of daily coronavirus infections.

The government’s coronavirus task force decided only “high-risk” events such as parties will require a “green pass” that certifies a person has been vaccinated or recovered from the virus, according to an announcement released by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.

The new rules are to take effect Sunday, pending approval from a parliamentary committee.

Facilities that have typically demanded proof of vaccination — including restaurants, bars, gyms and hotels — will likely drop the requirement if the measures are passed.

The government will soon publish a complete list of places were the pass is still needed, a task force spokesperson confirmed to AFP.

The change comes as cases of Covid-19 continue to remain at all-time highs, with more than 60,000 new cases recorded on Tuesday and 2,618 Covid patients in hospital.

Epidemiologist Nadav Davidovitch, who sits on an expert panel advising the government on Covid, said the changes in the green pass made sense because vaccinated people were still being re-infected.

“To continue the green pass in the same way can create false assurances,” he said.

“It’s not reducing infections in closed spaces like theatres. It needs to be used mainly for high-risk places like hospitals, elderly care homes, or events when you are eating and singing and dancing.”

Still, he said it would be “a mistake” to do away with the green pass altogether as Israel did in June 2021, only to reinstate it when cases surged again.

The new rules would also shorten the validity of the green pass to four months for people who received two vaccine shots. Those who received a third or fourth booster would see their green pass last indefinitely.

The task force further recommended that even unvaccinated people would be able to board a flight from Israel without a coronavirus test, provided their destination country did not require one.

Bennett has vowed to avoid the strict closures Israelis endured earlier in the pandemic, before the vaccine rollout was complete.

Coronavirus cases are also surging in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority announced it would close schools for 10 days from Thursday due to the virus.


Source : France 24

‘Take Back Life’: More Nations Ease Coronavirus Restrictions

Jamey Keaten wrote . . . . . . . . .

Late-night partying at clubs. Elbow-to-elbow seating in movie theaters. Going without masks in public, especially in Europe and North America: Step by step, many countries are easing their COVID-19 restrictions amid hopes the omicron wave may have passed its peak.

The early moves to relax precautions, based on declining or flattening case counts in recent days, represent what could be another turning point in a nearly two-year pandemic that has been full of them.

The extraordinarily contagious omicron has fueled more cases worldwide over the past 10 weeks — 90 million — than were seen during all of 2020, the outbreak’s first full year.

But the World Health Organization this week said some countries can now consider carefully relaxing the rules if they have high immunity rates, their health care systems are strong and the epidemiological trends are going in the right direction.

The most pronounced pullbacks in restrictions are in Europe, for many months the world’s epicenter of the pandemic, as well as in South Africa — where omicron was first announced publicly — and the United States. In Britain and the U.S., as in South Africa before them, COVID-19 cases skyrocketed at first but are now coming down rapidly.

In the U.S., local leaders have served up a hodgepodge of responses. The city of Denver is ending requirements for proof of vaccination and mask rules for businesses and public spaces, while keeping them for schools and public transportation.

New York’s governor plans in the next week to review whether to keep the state’s mask mandate at a time when cases and hospitalizations have plummeted in the early omicron hotspot. New York City is averaging 4,200 cases a day, compared with 41,000 during the first week of January.

The U.S. as a whole is on a similar trajectory, with infections plunging from an average of over 800,000 a day 2 1/2 weeks ago to 430,000 this week.

England, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and several Nordic countries have taken steps to end or loosen their restrictions. In some places, like Norway and Denmark, the easing comes even though case counts are still hovering near their highs. Some governments are essentially betting that the pandemic is ebbing.

“Rest assured that the worst days are behind us,” said Health Minister Fahrettin Koca of Turkey, where the number of daily infections topped 100,000 on Tuesday, the highest on record in the country of over 80 million.

Last week, England ended almost all domestic restrictions. Masks aren’t required in public, vaccine passes are no longer needed to get into public venues, and the work-from-home order has been lifted. One lingering condition: Those who test positive still have to isolate.

On Tuesday, Norway lifted its ban on serving alcohol after 11 p.m. and the cap on private gatherings of no more than 10 people. People can sit elbow-to-elbow again at events with fixed seating, and sports events can take place as they did before the pandemic.

“Now it’s time for us to take back our everyday life,” Norwegian Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said Tuesday. “Tonight, we scrap most measures so we can be closer to living a normal life.”

In the capital of Denmark, which on Tuesday took the lead among European Union members by scrapping most restrictions, many people were still wearing masks on the streets and in stores a day later.

“I still wear a mask because I want to protect myself and others whose health is not so good, or who have health issues,” said retiree Kjeld Rasmussen, 86, in Copenhagen. “I have several things (health conditions) and so for me, it is also a good way to say to others, ‘Keep your distance.’”

More than 370 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported worldwide.

The loosening of omicron’s grip in many places has given rise to hope that the outbreak is about to enter a new phase in which the virus will become, like the flu, a persistent but generally manageable threat that people can live with.

Switzerland on Wednesday scrapped work-at-home and quarantine requirements and announced plans for an easing of other restrictions in coming weeks, saying: “Despite record high infection figures, hospitals have not been overburdened and the occupancy of intensive care units has fallen further.”

“There are increasing signs that the acute crisis will soon be over and the endemic phase could begin,” the government said.

While omicron has proved less likely to cause severe illness than the delta variant, experts are warning people against underestimating it or letting their guard down against the possibility of new, more dangerous mutant varieties.

“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines — and because of omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity — preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus said Tuesday. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

WHO’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, warned that political pressure could lead some countries to open back up too soon — and “that will result in unnecessary transmission, unnecessary severe disease and unnecessary death.”

As throughout the pandemic, many countries are going their own way: Italy has tightened its health pass requirements during the omicron surge. As of Monday, it began requiring at least a negative test within the previous 48 hours to enter banks and post offices, and anyone over 50 who hasn’t been vaccinated risks a 100-euro ($113) fine.

Austria, which was the first European country to impose a vaccine mandate, is planning to loosen COVID-19 restrictions this month and take such steps as letting restaurants stay open later. Greece has ordered fines for people 60 and over who refuse to get vaccinated.

In Germany, where infections are still setting daily records, curbs on private gatherings and requirements for people to show proof of vaccination or recovery to enter nonessential stores remain in place.

“I think that the moment we have the feeling that we can loosen responsibly, federal and state governments will take that step,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Monday. “But at the moment, it is still a bit premature.”

Other continents are being even more cautious. Some of the world’s highest vaccination rates are in Asia, and its leaders are holding to stricter lockdown measures or even tightening them for now.

The Pacific island country of Tonga went into lockdown Wednesday after discovering infections in two port workers helping to distribute aid following a volcanic eruption and tsunami. The country had been virus-free.

New Zealand will ease its strict border controls, freeing vaccinating New Zealanders from having to stay in quarantine hotels run by the military. But the unvaccinated still must quarantine, and most foreigners will still have to wait until October to visit quarantine-free.

Just days ahead of the Beijing Olympics, China is sticking to its zero-COVID policy. It imposes strict lockdowns and quarantines quickly when any cases are detected, mandates masks on public transportation, and requires people to show “green” status on a health app to enter most restaurants and stores.

South Africa this week announced that it has exited the fourth wave, saying scientific studies show immunity has hit 60% to 80%. Masks are still mandatory, but a curfew has been lifted and schools are required to fully – not just partially — open for the first time since March 2020.

Dr. Atiya Mosam of the Public Health Association of South Africa said such steps are a “practical move towards acknowledging that COVID-19 is here to stay, even though we might have a milder strain.”

“We are acknowledging how transmission occurs, while basically balancing people’s need to live their lives,” Mosam said.


Source : AP

Chart: The Federal Reserve and Financial Crisis

Revisiting the Anatomy of a Bubble

Jeremy Grantham’s recent piece, Let the wild rumpus begin, argued that the US is in its 4th “superbubble” of the last 100 years and is in its final stages. This inspired us to refresh our bubble framework (below, taken from our 2017 blog post). Many valuation measures of the US equity market are near historic highs and with the Fed about to tighten monetary policy, investors should naturally be skeptical of US equity allocations.

In Kindleberger’s classic, Panics, Manias and Crashes, he expands on earlier work by Minsky in Stabilizing an Unstable Economy. They found that no two bubbles are alike, but they all share a common structure. Below we’ve summarized the five key stages of market bubbles that allow you to identify them as they happen.

Displacement:

Bubbles start with a displacement, some sort of a shock to the system. A displacement could be war (usually the end of war), a major political change, deregulation, a technological innovation, a financial innovation or a shift in monetary policy. The displacement creates a new opportunity in at least one sector of the economy. One example is the widespread adoption of computers, the internet and email in the US in the 1990s, which set the stage for the dot-com bubble.

Boom:

A boom begins, especially in the favored sector, as optimism grows. There is a positive feedback loop as the price of stocks, one or more commodities, and/or real estate increase, which then leads to greater consumption and investment, which leads to greater economic growth. Credit fuels the boom. Borrowers become more willing to take on debt and lenders are increasingly willing to make riskier loans as economic prospects improve.

This expansion of credit isn’t necessarily provided by banks. The Tulip Mania in 1636 in Holland, for example, was fueled by vendor-financing from bulb sellers. However, banks have been the predominant source of credit since the 19th century. Banks can expand credit further and more rapidly than vendors could. To make matters worse, new banks are often formed in the expanding economy. This causes banks to further loosen their credit standards to avoid losing market share.

Euphoria:

A boom transforms into euphoria as “rational exuberance morphs into irrational exuberance.” There are hundreds of books documenting the endless possibilities of the economy (e.g. Japan as Number One and The East Asian Miracle in Japan in the 1980s, and Dow 40,000 in 1999). Participants extrapolate recent price increases into the future, expecting prices to continue to increase at unsustainable rates. Some, especially industry insiders, realize that there is a bubble, but many continue to participate in the market, believing they can sell to “the greater fool” before the implosion.

However, more and more euphoric outsiders begin to enter the market as media attention grows and individuals see others getting rich. As Kindleberger quoted in Manias, Panics and Crashes, “there is nothing as disturbing to one’s well-being and judgment as to see a friend get rich.” The rush of capital causes a further increase in prices, and sound investment shifts to wild speculation. Individuals invest with the hope of short-term capital gains, and debt compounds as people borrow or trade on margin to further speculate. Money seems free. Fraud is also common at this stage, although it typically is not exposed until later.

Distress:

At some point, an event hits that causes a decline in confidence and a pause in the explosive price increase. The event could be a bankruptcy, a change in government policy, a piece of news (real or rumored), or a flow of funds from the country. The response to these events differs in bubbles because of the debt build-up. People who financed their purchases with borrowed money become distressed sellers as the income on their assets drops below their interest payments. Kindleberger noted, “The economic situation in a country after several years of bubble-like behavior resembles that of a young person on a bicycle; the rider needs to maintain forward momentum or the bike becomes unstable.”

A slowing bike is actually a better metaphor than a bubble. Sometimes panic sets in immediately, but in other cases it can take up to several years for the crisis to fully develop. In the dot-com crisis, panic happened almost immediately, while it took a few months for panic to set in during the Great Financial Crisis.

Panic:

Not everyone realizes that a crisis is unfolding at the same time. Insiders and institutional investors usually sell first. Once other market participants realize the gravity of the situation (perhaps after another major event), run-of-the-mill selling turns into outright panic as everyone tries to get out at the same time. Prices plummet and levered companies increasingly go bankrupt as they can’t meet their interest payments. The sell-off typically spreads to other sectors and other countries. As bankruptcies mount, banks can begin to fail, further drying up credit when it’s needed the most. The panic continues until a lender of last resort convinces investors that cash will be made available to meet demand, or prices fall so low that value investors start to buy back in.


Source : Variant Perception