The December 1-7 issues of The Economist contains a technology quarterly with two articles very relevant to Robot Futures. In March of the Lettuce Bot, the magazine puts forth a new entry in the chronic underemployment category. Farm hands much use their eyes to visually identify weeds and lettuce, then use their hands to pull the weeds and thin the lettuce. This article describes new robots from Stanford that perform this same operation using computer vision, massive libraries of lettuce images (just imagine: wiki-lettuce-flickr), and a computer-controlled fertilizer spray nozzle. The boundaries of affordable robot employment shift yet again and, as we have noted before, this march is unstoppable. More and more tasks that today require human eyes and hands will find robotic surrogates, and as this article points out, these new robot forms will rapidly become cheaper to operate than human, manual labor.
In The Eyes have it, the Economist describes how marketig firms such as ISCAN now directly scan the eyes of focus group volunteers to see precisely where and how purchase decisions occur. As I describe in New Mediocracy, know that this technology will extend to everyone as soon as high-fidelity computer vision catches up. If you can look across the room and infer where a stranger is looking, have no doubt that in a matter of a few years, a robot will also be able to. So take this article and scale it up: imagine the focus group itself swelling to the size of everyone, and you have a glimpse of one possible future, where all marketing not only derives sales, but ever more hyper-detailed information on how every one of us responds to the designed cues around us.