KFC in Shanghai now staffed by robots

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Colonel Sanders is assembling a robot army. At a high-tech new KFC store in Shanghai, customers can order their fried chicken and mashed potatoes via voice-activated robot…

Named Dumi, the robot is sophisticated enough to handle order changes and substitutions, though according to the Nanfang “its makers admit the robot has trouble distinguishing between certain dialects and accents.”

Robot order-takers aren’t the only advanced technology at this KFC store, which is located inside Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center. Customers can charge their mobile phones at wireless charging stations that also enable them to stream music, and pay for their meals via mobile payment services including Alipay and Baidu Wallet.

China has been staffing its restaurants up with robots for years, with automatons capable of everything from making ramen to serving as waiters. Robot servers aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be, however: Some restaurants have recently come to terms with the fact that when it comes to actually serving customers, humans still reign supreme.

Journalists and editors are duty-bound to offer that last comment. After all, they’re on the list of trades maybe easier to replace with robots than waiters.

At least if they work for news-as-entertainment American mass media.

I’d rather drive cross-country in my ancient pickup truck than try flying with Homeland Insecurity setting standards


Guido Menzio

On Thursday evening, a 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent — boarded a plane. It was a regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse.

Or so dozens of unsuspecting passengers thought.

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate…looked him over…something about him didn’t seem right to her…

Is Syracuse home? She asked.

No, he replied curtly.

He similarly deflected further questions. He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

Rebuffed, the woman began reading her book. Or pretending to read, anyway. Shortly after boarding had finished, she flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note…

Then the passengers waited, and waited, and waited for the flight to take off. After they’d sat on the tarmac for about half an hour, the flight attendant approached the female passenger again and asked if she now felt okay to fly, or if she was “too sick.”…American Airlines flight 3950 remained grounded.

Then, for unknown reasons, the plane turned around and headed back to the gate. The woman was soon escorted off the plane…The wait continued.

Finally the pilot came by, and approached the real culprit behind the delay: that darkly-complected foreign man. He was now escorted off the plane, too, and taken to meet some sort of agent…

And then the big reveal: The woman wasn’t really sick at all! Instead this quick-thinking traveler had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something.

That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering…The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or another foreign language, or even some special secret terrorist code. They were math…A differential equation, to be exact…

Guido Menzio showed the authorities his calculations and was allowed to return to his seat, he told me by email. He said the pilot seemed embarrassed. Soon after, the flight finally took off, more than two hours after its scheduled departure time for what would be just a 41-minute trip in the air, according to flight-tracking data.

The woman never reboarded to the flight.

Menzio for his part says he was “treated respectfully throughout,” though he remains baffled and frustrated by a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently.” He is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, as well as “A security protocol that is too rigid – in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks – and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless.”

I wonder what would have happened if the young economist constructing exactly the same equations was of Middle Eastern ethnicity and perhaps (gasp) a Muslim? Would American Airlines have shown as much reason over a 2-hour delay? Would he have been allowed to return to his flight?

The two questions we get to examine most often about American politics are (1) are people simply ignorant or (2) are they stupid?

Or both?

Geologists reach rock layer in crater of dinosaur-killing asteroid


Click to enlargeBBCMundo.com

Geophysicists announced this week that they have successfully collected key samples from the site of the asteroid strike that likely wiped out the dinosaurs.

Scientists have had a literal breakthrough off the coast of Mexico…After weeks of drilling from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico, they have reached rocks left over from the day the Earth was hit by a killer asteroid.

The cataclysm is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. “This was probably the most important event in the last 100 million years,” says Joanna Morgan, a geophysicist at Imperial College in London and a leader of the expedition.

Since the 1980s, researchers have known about the impact site, located near the present-day Yucatan Peninsula. Known as Chicxulub, the crater is approximately 125 miles across. It was created when an asteroid the size of Staten Island, N.Y., struck Earth around 66 million years ago. The initial explosion from the impact would have made a nuclear bomb look like a firecracker. The searing heat started wildfires many hundreds of miles away.

After that, came an unscheduled winter. Sulfur, ash and debris clouded the sky. Darkness fell and, for a while, Earth was not itself…

Scientists believe 75 percent of life went extinct during this dark chapter in Earth’s history, including the dinosaurs.

Researchers have sampled Chicxulub before, but this expedition…targets a key part of the crater yet to be studied: a ring of mountains left by the asteroid. This “peak ring” is a fundamental feature of the strike and should tell researchers much more about it, says Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, who co-leads the team with Morgan.

For weeks, they’ve been drilling — and going back in time. Each layer of rock they pass through is connected to a part of Earth’s history…

The rocks they’ve pulled out show how life began to recover after the cataclysm, Gulick says. “We’ve got all these limestones and rocks that contain the fossils from the world after the impact, all the things that evolved from the few organisms that survived.”

The research team finally reached the top of the peak ring this week. It appears to be a thick layer of broken, melted rock just beneath a layer of sandstone that may be the leavings of a huge tsunami that was triggered when the asteroid struck.

Gulick thinks the rocks hold clues. For example, if any microscopic organisms survived near the site of the strike, their fossils might be in these samples. In June, the rock cores will be sent back to a lab in Germany for further study.

The asteroid strike marked the end of an era. But the creatures that made it through that catastrophe went on to shape the world again, says Morgan.

“The mammals survived,” she says. “And that led on to our own evolution.”

Some folks might feel what came after the disaster was at least as important as the impact event itself. I’m not so confident. After all, the predominant species may yet complete the destruction of the whole planet.