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A Kiva robot in action
A Kiva robot in action

Amazon sure seems interested in being involved in the continued development of robots and artificial intelligence.

The retailer held an “exclusive,” invitation-only conference for experts in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics and space exploration this week in Palm Springs, according to a report in Bloomberg. Attendees of the Machine-Learning Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration, or MARS, included representatives from Toyota Motor Corp., Rethink Robotics, as well as experts from such schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley and ETH Zurich, Bloomberg reported..

The news service said that the gathering featured “robotic arms dueling with light sabers from Star Wars, seminars about imbuing machines with human values and a celebrity appearance by film director Ron Howard (“Backdraft,” “A Beautiful Mind”).”

Amazon already relies heavily on AI and robotics. As of October, 30,000 Kiva robots labored in the retailer’s warehouses. Kiva is the robotics company Amazon acquired in 2012. But some observers predict that Amazon’s dependence on AI and robots will only grow.

One of the attendees posts a note about the conference (Twitter).
One of the attendees posts a note about the conference (Twitter).

New York Times reporter John Markoff wrote in his book, Machines of Loving Grace, that machines now possessed enough perception and dexterity that could lead humans to “disappear entirely” from Amazon’s fulfillment centers. Amazon has said that humans will be a vital part of the company’s operations for a long time to come.

Markoff cited a December 2014 experiment involving a robotic arm used for “piece pick” operations. Picking merchandise is still an area dominated by humans but Markoff says that may not always be the case. What would seem to support his assessment are the robots from Boston Dynamics. That’s the group that released the YouTube video last month that caused a stir.

The clip showed machines performing tasks much the way a human performs them. Two-legged robots were filmed keeping their balance while trekking through woods. One equipped with mechanical arms, picked up boxes and set them on shelves.

A story from Bloomberg last week indicated that Google wants to sell Boston Dynamics and wrote that Amazon may be interested in buying. As for the space experts, that is likely for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his private investment in Blue Origin, a commercial space exploration firm.

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