3 min read

Boom time for robots

A weak yen and declining population means it's boom time for Japanese robots; AI is still no closer to understanding the world; the pandemic is over; and more excitement in the chess world.
Image showing automation at work.
Automation at work. Photo by Lenny Kuhne / Unsplash

1—Boom time for robots

The Japanese yen, on a trade-weighted rate adjusted for inflation, is currently at a 50-year low. According to the FT's Leo Lewis, that "should be a trigger for Japanese companies to bring production back onshore":

"There is already evidence of such moves: several clothing manufacturers have said recently they will bring production of high-end products home because of the weak yen. Japanese companies are jointly investing with the Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC in a $7bn plant in southern Japan that has become a poster child for reshoring in the weak yen era.

The hurdle that any such plans encounter is the minuscule spare capacity in Japan's labour market. The only way to make such a project work is if it is built to operate with an absolute minimum of human staff."

An absolute minimum of human staff means more capital: specifically, robots. But while robots can replace up to half of the staff in places such as convenience stores, manufacturers are still offshoring "because they now view proximity to customers as more critical than yen competitiveness":

"The problem for Japan that companies now clearly foresee is that permanently suppressed wages, in combination with the now structurally weak yen, will make it difficult to offset long-term population decline by enticing large-scale immigration.

The yen does not have very much further to fall, argues Monex adviser and economist Jesper Koll, before a high-end nurse in Manila will earn more than an entry-level nurse in Tokyo."

That poses problems for sectors such as healthcare but elsewhere it "portends a golden era of automation".

You can read Lewis' full article here (~3 minute read).

2—A giant gulf

There's a big difference between "drawing a picture and understanding the world", at least according to AI scientist Gary Marcus, who poured some cold water on those who claim that machine learning models such as DALL-E prove "We're in a golden age of progress in artificial intelligence":

"In assessing progress towards general intelligence, the critical question should be, how much do systems like Dall-E, Imagen, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion really understand the world, such that they can reason on and act on that knowledge?
If all the systems can do is in a hit-or-miss yet spectacular way convert many sentences into text, they may revolutionize the practice of art, but still not really speak to general intelligence, or even represent progress towards general intelligence."

Marcus ran several tests using various popular machine learning models, all of which failed at executing simple tasks such as "draw a white bicycle with green wheels", leading him to conclude that:

"Can we really say that a system that doesn't understand what wheels are—or what they are for—is a major advance towards artificial intelligence?"

You can read Marcus' full post here (~4 minute read).

3—The pandemic is over

Tweet showing a report that Hong Kong is about to reopen.
How long until China follows?

4—Chess excitement

If nothing else, world champion Magnus Carlsen is certainly keeping chess in the spotlight:

"After leading the Julius Baer Generation Cup on the first day, GM Magnus Carlsen sent waves through the chess world by playing only one move vs. GM Hans Niemann in their anticipated match before resigning."

Carlsen suspects Niemann of cheating in their previous match. Earlier this month chess.com suspended Niemann's account until he provides "an explanation and response" to a report provided to him in private "that contradicts his statements regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating".

Carlsen has yet to speak out, and chess.com has yet to make its report public.

You can read the full chess.com post on Carsen's latest withdrawal here (~3 minute read), which includes various takes from other grandmasters and social media pundits.

5—Further reading...

💉 US President Joe Biden told 60 minutes that "The pandemic is over". He also confirmed (again) that the US would defend Taiwan, and but wouldn't say if he planned to run for a second term.

🎮 The 18-year-old who socially engineered his way into Uber's systems appears to have also compromised the creators of the Grand Theft Auto video game series, posting "a tease for additional releases of 'GTA 5 and 6 source code and assets, [and the] GTA 6 testing build.' It's already considered to be one of the largest leaks in video game history."

🚌 Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, kept its COVID cases down by busing people out to detention quarantine centres. On Sunday one of those buses crashed killing 27 people, "with many questioning the increasingly over-the-top implementation of China's zero-Covid policy".

🐜 "A new estimate for the total number of ants burrowing and buzzing on Earth comes to a whopping total of nearly 20 quadrillion individuals. That staggering sum — 20,000,000,000,000,000, or 20,000 trillion — reveals ants' astonishing ubiquity even as scientists grow concerned a possible mass die off of insects could upend ecosystems."