Roomba Is Mapping Your House to Make IoT Gadgets Smarter

With your permission, iRobot may sell maps of your home to third-party companies working on smart home devices.
iRobot Roomba 880 Vacuum Cleaning Robot

Have a Roomba? Maps of the inside of your home could soon wind up with tech companies like Apple, Amazon, or Google parent Alphabet.

In a recent interview with Reuters, iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle said his company may sell maps of users’ homes to third-party companies working on smart home devices. Collected by the company’s high-end Roomba models, those maps include data about “the dimensions of a room as well as distances between sofas, tables, lamps, and other home furnishings,” according to the report.

The company could reach a deal to sell this data in “the next couple of years,” Angle tells Reuters. He reportedly thinks iRobot’s mapping data can help smart home devices like lights, thermostats, and security cameras better understand their physical environment.

The news has, of course, raised privacy concerns. In a statement, Angle told PCMag said iRobot is “committed to the absolute privacy of our customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products.

“No data is sold to third parties,” he said. “No data will be shared with third parties without the informed consent of our customers.”

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Right now, he said, the company is building maps “to enable the Roomba to efficiently and effectively clean your home.” The company’s top-of-the-line robot vacuum, the $900 Roomba 980, can, for instance, build a map of your home as it cleans, and keep track of its location until it has tidied up an entire level.

“In the future, with your permission, this information will enable the smart home and the devices within it to work better,” Angle wrote. “For example, if you wanted your home to understand which connected lights were in which rooms so your voice command device would work better, your Roomba would be able to provide that. But to be clear, this is only if you opt in. It is still unclear what — if any — actual ‘partnerships’ would be needed to make that happen.”

Meanwhile on the robotics front, the co-inventor of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, Joe Jones, recently unveiled a new product: the Tertill weed-killing robot. The cute little device is solar powered and waterproof; it lives in your garden, collecting sunlight during the day. Once the battery is fully charged, it starts roaming and hacking away at any weeds it passes over.

Campus Technology 2017: Lifetime Learning Is the New Model for Higher Education

In the workforce of the future, graduates will need to complement — not compete with — technology, an education expert says.

The future of higher education will likely be crafted by both incremental changes and a drastic rethinking of the institutional model, according to the predictions of Jeff Selingo, Washington Post columnist and author of three books, most recently, There Is Life After College.

“We have to think of new models to serve lifelong learners,” said Selingo, who delivered the keynote address on Wednesday at the Campus Tech conference in Chicago.

The challenge? Educators may not be prepared for the extent of change that’s ahead.

“We tend to overestimate the speed of change in higher education, and in any industry, but we tend to underestimate the depth of change,” he said.

Education has already undergone significant disruption, but Selingo predicted that bigger changes are coming. He pointed to a recent Oxford University study that found that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of being eliminated by automation. Findings like this make it imperative, he said, to rethink how colleges prepare graduates for a job market in flux.

“What do we need to do, not only after high school, but for the rest of our lives, to complement, not compete with, technology?” he asked.

Workplace Skills Are a New Model for Higher Education

As part of his research, Selingo spent two years interviewing employers, from Silicon Valley companies to corporations that traditionally hire large numbers of college graduates, such as Macy’s and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. What he heard is that recruiters see a persistent skills gap— not in hard skills, but in soft skills such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving and organization.

It’s a complaint that is likely familiar to higher education leaders, but the extent of the problem may surprise them. Selingo cited research from Boston-based Burning Glass Technologies, an analytics software company that scraped 25 million job ads to identify the most frequently in-demand skills. Their finding? Soft skills were at the top of the wish list in three-quarters of ads, regardless of industry. That’s telling, Selingo said, because that means employers no longer assume college graduates will have those skills — because often they don’t.

A root cause of the discrepancy, Selingo said, is an educational model that is outdated.

“In many ways, the education system we have today is like the workplace of old,” he said. Punctuality, rote tasks, following an established set of processes — these were once the path to success. But in an environment of rapid, ongoing change, that model no longer works: “The modern work world is a mash of activities with no scheduled end.”

The old model is also problematic because it was not designed to serve the 18 million students who attend college today, Selingo said. Originally, colleges served a rarefied few, with most workers learning through on-the-job apprenticeships.

Together, these changes suggest that education needs a dramatically new approach, in which learning is a lifelong pursuit, not an endeavor limited to a few years in early adulthood. This new model will emphasize both soft skills and hard skills that meet the needs of employers, particularly given the expected influence of automation and artificial intelligence.

Selingo quoted one of the educators he interviewed, Rick Settersten, an Oregon State University professor, who said, “A lot of what college comes down to is not what happens in the classroom. It’s about navigating life and building relationships.”

For Many, Internships Are the Key to Success

Selingo also shared insight into why some graduates fare better than others, an area that’s come under scrutiny as employers, parents and other stakeholders question the value of an often-expensive college degree. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, for example, reports that the average college graduate achieves financial independence at age 30, up from age 26 in 1983.

Selingo’s research found that graduates tend to fall into three categories: Sprinters (35 percent), who jump right into careers post-graduation; Wanderers (32 percent), who take their time settling on a career path; and Stragglers (33 percent), who seem to have hit the “pause” button on professional progress.

The biggest difference, according to Selingo, is whether students had internships during college. Nearly 80 percent of Sprinters did, versus 47 percent of Wanderers and 24 percent of Stragglers. That’s not surprising, he said, since many employers hire individuals who previously interned with them.

That finding is important, Selingo said, not because students shouldn’t follow their own paths, but because their ability to find a professional “on ramp” at some point during their twenties can have a big impact on future earnings and career trajectories.

New Solutions Emerge to Fill Educational Gaps

A new model, with emphasis on lifelong learning and better preparation for the workforce, may take a variety of forms, Selingo said. He pointed to the soaring popularity of “how to” videos on YouTube, a mode of learning that young people readily embrace. The education market has seen a surge of new providers (such as General Assembly, Coursera and Codecademy) that offer training — often to students who already have a degree — in career-focused areas such as coding and analytics.

Institutions are introducing new programs that better fit the needs of today’s students, such as “micro master’s degrees” that are online and significantly less expensive. New rankings are emerging to help stakeholders gauge institutions’ effectiveness: how many graduates find jobs, for example, or are able to repay student loans.

“The decade ahead will be about developing platforms for success — both for students and campuses — through institutional alliances and throughout the life cycle of a student’s education,” Selingo said.

Catch more updates from Campus Technology 2017 on EdTech’s official event page.


Yes, you can buy happiness-if you spend it to save time

The New York TimesWashington PostBBC and various media outlets reported on UBC research that found money used to buy time can increase happiness.

The researchers–lead author Ashley Whillans, now with Harvard Business School, and senior author and UBC psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn–surveyed more than 6,000 people in four countries. People reported feeling happier when they paid someone to do tasks they preferred not to do themselves.

Similar stories appeared in the Boston GlobeAtlanticCNNL.A. TimesThe TelegraphTimes UKThe IndependentDaily MailABCToday ShowUS News & World ReportNew York PostInternational Business TimesThe AustralianYahoo U.K.MicMarie-Claire U.K.UK MirrorSky News AustraliaNewsweekNational PostCalgary HeraldGlobal BC and Metro News. A Vancouver Sun story appeared in the Montreal GazetteEdmonton Journal, and 24 Hours Vancouver; and a Canadian Press story appeared on CTV.

DeepMind Develops AI With An Imagination

via Geralt @ Pixabay

Google is going full Westworld by giving robots the ability to imagine and plan.

In the same way a person would look at a glass of water on the edge of a table and consider whether it might fall, this form of deliberative reasoning, or “imagination,” is important for algorithms to develop and evolve.

DeepMind’s AlphaGo program time and again demonstrated an AI’s ability to look to the future, accurately predicting moves to beat even the best human players.

But those “internal models,” according to Google, work because things like Go have clearly defined rules and allow for predictable outcomes.

“The real world is complex, rules are not so clearly defined, and unpredictable problems often arise,” a DeepMind blog post said. “Even for the most intelligent agents, imagining in these complex environments is a long and costly process.”

One in which Google is willing to invest.

In two recently published papers, Team DeepMind describe new approaches for imagination-based planning, including an “imagination encoder”—a neural network that learns to extract useful information and ignore everything else.

To assess these new architectures, the AI played puzzler Sokoban (video below) and a spaceship navigation game—both of which require forward planning and reasoning, “making them the perfect environment to test our agents’ abilities,” DeepMind said.

By allowing the network to try each procedurally generated level only once, researchers can see how the machine mulls over different strategies “in its head” before making an actual attempt.

In both cases, the imagination-augmented agents outperformed their baseline counterpart “considerably,” according to the blog. Add to that a “manager” component, and AI can learn to solve tasks more efficiently in fewer steps.

“If the computational cost of imagination increases with each action taken, the agent imagines the effect of multiple chained actions early, and relies on this plan later without invoking imagination again,” DeepMind said.

In other words: now that artificial intelligence has devised their own unintelligible language and the ability to plan ahead, we’re all doomed.

Google is reportedly removing ‘Ok, Google’ voice search from Chromebooks