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North American companies notch another record year for robot orders

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North American companies notch another record year for robot orders

North American companies struggling to hire workers in the tightest labor market in decades brought on more robots last year than ever before, with many earmarked for new electric vehicle and battery factories under construction.

Demand for robots appears to have slackened near the end of the year, though, raising questions about how strong 2023 will be in the face of shifting household consumption patterns and the rising interest rates engineered by central bankers to bring high inflation under control.

Companies, overwhelmingly located in the United States but including some in Canada and Mexico, ordered just over 44,100 robots in 2022, an 11% increase over the previous year and a new record, according to data compiled by the Association for Advancing Automation, an industry group also known as A3. The value of those machines totaled $2.38 billion, an 18% increase over the prior year, according to the data.

The “labor shortage doesn’t seem to be letting up,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. Many companies, scrambling to find workers amid the lowest U.S. unemployment rate since 1969, see automation as a quick fix.

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Burnstein said there was a visible slowdown in orders at the end of the year, which raises a question about how 2023 will evolve. “The fourth quarter was really propped up by the strength in the auto industry,” he said. “We saw a falling-off in non-automotive” orders.

A shift away from pandemic-era consumer behavior likely played a role in the orders drop-off in some segments, he added. “You saw companies like Amazon put a pause on building new warehouses, which means they probably canceled or delayed purchases of new automation.”

Supply chain problems may also have distorted last year’s results. Burnstein said robot makers saw some customers place extra orders during the COVID-19 health crisis – just to ensure they would get part of what they needed.

AUTO SECTOR DRIVES DEMAND

More than half of last year’s orders came from automakers and their suppliers – a group that has long led the way in automation of U.S. factories.

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New plants for electric vehicles, batteries and battery recycling have been announced since the beginning of 2021 at a cost of $160 billion, according to Atlas Public Policy, a U.S.-based research group working with automakers and environmental groups.

Most robots ordered last year will be used for material handling – an expansive category that includes all types of movement and handling of goods inside factories and warehouses.

Closure Systems International Inc’s sprawling plant in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for instance, recently automated the job of packing and sealing boxes at the end of the assembly line. The company produces closures used for things like soda bottles and food packages.

Next up are “auditor” jobs. Machines in the Crawfordsville plant spit out new caps faster than a machine gun, so workers called auditors currently sit in small booths along the line, constantly checking that specifications are met.

Brad Bennett, the company’s senior vice president of global operations, said small robots will soon be installed in the booths to do the inspection work. “We won’t have to reduce people,” he said. Those workers will move to other tasks.

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The new machines will help avoid what happened during the pandemic, he said. “During COVID, we were literally running with 30% of the plant down because we couldn’t get a $15-an-hour guy to show up.”

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WhatsApp unveils new text formatting feature for enhanced communication

WhatsApp unveils new text formatting feature for enhanced communication

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WhatsApp unveils new text formatting feature for enhanced communication

WhatsApp has unveiled a groundbreaking feature that revolutionizes text messaging by allowing users to customize their messages like never before.

Prior to this update, users were limited to basic text modifications such as bold and italic; however, the new feature introduces a plethora of formatting options, including numbers, bullets, block quotes, and text highlighting.

The process is simple and intuitive, requiring users to incorporate specific symbols to achieve their desired text format. For monospacing text, users can enclose their message with three backticks on both sides. Adding a quote is as easy as placing an angle bracket and a space before the text.

To strike through a message, users need to flank their text with tilde symbols, while bolding requires asterisks on both sides. One of the standout additions is the ability to create bulleted lists effortlessly. Users can precede each word or sentence with an asterisk or hyphen and a space to generate a neatly organized list.

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Moreover, numbering and spacing at the beginning of text with “1.” facilitates the creation of itemized lists, enhancing the overall clarity and structure of messages.

Inline code can now be seamlessly integrated into messages by enclosing the text with backtick symbols at the start and end. This provides users with a practical way to share code snippets or emphasize specific phrases within their conversations.

The accompanying image showcases the versatility of this new feature, illustrating the various formatting options available to users. WhatsApp users across iOS, Android, and web devices can now leverage this advanced text formatting feature to elevate their communication experience.

The update reflects WhatsApp’s commitment to continually enhance user experience and foster more expressive and organized conversations. Whether you’re conveying information, emphasizing key points, or sharing code snippets, the new formatting options provide a dynamic and engaging communication platform for users worldwide. 

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Meta to set up team to counter disinformation, AI abuse in EU elections

Meta to set up team to counter disinformation, AI abuse in EU elections

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Meta to set up team to counter disinformation, AI abuse in EU elections

 Facebook owner Meta will set up a team to tackle disinformation and the abuse of generative artificial intelligence in the run-up to European Parliament elections in June amid concerns about election interference and misleading AI-generated content.

The rapid growth of generative AI, which can create text, images and video in seconds in response to prompts, has triggered fears that the new technology could be used to disrupt major elections, across the world this year. 

European Parliament elections will take place June 6-9. Its 720 lawmakers, together with EU governments, pass new EU policies and laws.

“As the election approaches, we’ll activate an Elections Operations Center to identify potential threats and put mitigations in place in real time,” Marco Pancini, Meta’s head of EU affairs, said in a blogpost.

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He said experts from the company’s intelligence, data science, engineering, research, operations, content policy and legal teams will focus on combating misinformation, tackling influence operations and counter the risks related to the abuse of generative AI.

Meta, which currently works with 26 independent fact-checking organisations across the European Union covering 22 languages, will add three new partners in Bulgaria, France, and Slovakia, Pancini said.

Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI and 17 other tech companies earlier this month agreed to work together to prevent deceptive artificial-intelligence content from interfering with elections across the globe this year.

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‘X’ faces prolonged suspension across Pakistan

‘X’ faces prolonged suspension across Pakistan

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'X' faces prolonged suspension across Pakistan

The popular microblogging site ‘X,’ formerly known as Twitter, has been inaccessible across Pakistan for over a week. 

Despite a brief interval when the site was accessible, users are now reporting a persistent outage, even when using Virtual Private Network (VPN) services.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the government agency responsible for overseeing telecommunications, hasn’t released any official statement regarding the suspension of the service.

This lack of transparency has only intensified the frustration among users who heavily rely on ‘X’ for information and news updates. Users who initially turned to VPNs as a workaround have also hit a roadblock, as the microblogging site remains inaccessible. 

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The situation has raised concerns about the government’s stance on digital freedom and freedom of speech. The outage has not gone unnoticed by the public, with many expressing their discontent on various platforms. 

Criticism has been directed towards the government and the IT minister for what is perceived as an attack on freedom of speech and a hindrance to the revenue generated by the country’s thriving IT professionals.

Earlier, the Sindh High Court issued a directive to restore access to ‘X’ across Pakistan, recognising the site’s significance for information dissemination. However, despite court’s order, there has been no implementation, leaving users and advocates of digital freedom in a state of dismay.

The suspension of ‘X’ has broader implications, impacting not only the general public but also businesses and professionals who rely on the platform for communication, networking, and staying informed about the latest developments. The longer the outage persists, the more severe the consequences may be for the nation’s digital landscape.

As the public awaits an official statement from the PTA and the government, concerns about the potential ramifications of such a prolonged suspension continue to grow.

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