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Did the Luddites have a point?
Brainy Robots Start Stepping Into Daily Life
Peter DaSilva for The New York Times, July 18, 2006.

These are some fruits of the research field known as artificial intelligence, where reality is finally catching up to the science-fiction hype. A half-century after the term was coined, both scientists and engineers say they are making rapid progress in simulating the human brain, and their work is finding its way into a new wave of real-world products.

The advances can also be seen in the emergence of bold new projects intended to create more ambitious machines that can improve safety and security, entertain and inform, or just handle everyday tasks. At Stanford University, for instance, computer scientists are developing a robot that can use a hammer and a screwdriver to assemble an Ikea bookcase (a project beyond the reach of many humans) as well as tidy up after a party, load a dishwasher or take out the trash.
One pioneer in the field is building an electronic butler that could hold a conversation with its master -- á la HAL in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- or order more pet food.

I'd like to point out up front that I'm all for labor saving devices...the `problem' I have with this `gee whiz' article concerns the `logical outcome' of such developments.

Are these devices being developed to relieve mankind from a life of drudgery or are they being developed to relieve the employer class from the `burden' of a maintaining a payroll?

Futurists once predicted that mankind would eventually free itself from drudgery through the development of marvelous machines capable of catering to one's every whim...

Like many predictions made by `futurists' it was assumed that all would reap the benefits, not just those who could afford it.

The task of developing these futuristic products isn't `free' so it stands to reason the primary thrust of developing AI enabled equipment is to put humans out of a job...a noble goal if this didn't mean the human being displaced wasn't faced with starvation and homelessness.

Not to go all Luddite on you good citizen but we've already passed the point where automation has left too many of us without a means of supporting ourselves/families.

Where is the shortened workday/week we were promised when these productivity enhancements were initially being introduced? Where is the job sharing and extra share of the profits we were promised?

I guess `promised' is too strong a word. These wondrous changes were actually only `alluded to' by those forward-thinking bad there hasn't been any `futurists' among us since...the turn of the last century.

So we have to deal with the reality. These `promising' new technologies won't benefit our society they will destroy it.

Yet one more display of idiocy at the highest levels of our society.

"It's time to build an A.I. robot," said Andrew Ng, a Stanford computer scientist and a leader of the project, called Stanford Artificial Intelligence Robot, or Stair. "The dream is to put a robot in every home."

I ask you to use your imagination and consider just how many `homes' will have a robotic slave as opposed to how many will be, say, doing armed security work at the homeless camps...

Who will benefit and who will suffer, this is the real question posed by automation in an ownership society.

This technology also has a dark side. The creation of self-directed machines that don't ask questions or make moral judgements would make the masters of such devices invincible...the machines lose nothing when they cease to function.

Humans on the other hand...

That aside, it's not the technology itself but how it has been and is likely to continue to be used that creates cause for concern.

There is yet another question begged by these developments: Where is the line between `expendable' and `menace'?

The wealth of the nation has become concentrated into fewer hands. Thanks to our fait currency  these people can now afford to automate pretty much every field imaginable in what may turn out to be a comparatively short time frame.

What to you do with billions of starving, useless humans?

Altruism doesn't seem to be the elite class's strong suit...and no one is accusing them of being stupid either.

It's one thing to embrace a technology and quite another to ignore the consequences.

This piece was likely printed as a techno-fluff piece, a little glimpse at what may be coming soon to stores...or workplaces nationwide.

Couple this scenario with the potential for human hybrids and genetic engineering and we have to wonder how long it will be before we become `obsolete'...

With all the problems facing our society this is what the investor class is spending their money on, machines that will (not might) replace humans...
This is not a question of `if' but `when'.

Don't take this as an absolute, not all humans are in danger of being replaced...just the poor ones followed by the professionals once the technology is perfected.

If you're rich you can click your heels with joy! Never again will you have your instructions questioned nor will you be required to give them twice.

If you're not rich, be afraid, be very afraid...because the days of the `surplus' population will definitely be numbered.

Thanks for letting me inside your head,


Originally posted to Gegner on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 09:49 PM PDT.



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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    for those so inclined...

    Parties divide, movements unite.

    by Gegner on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 09:48:47 PM PDT

  •  stop watching sci-fi movies (6+ / 0-)

    And I'd suggest that for lame-ass journalists, too.

    The sort of decision-making AI required to be really flexible may never happen.  It's not just a question of computing power... software is inherently mechanical, brains are not.  They work DIFFERENTLY.

    For example, a dog catching a frisbee in the air is performing a differential equation in its head.  It cannot, however, understand differential equations.  A computer must be programmed to understand differential equations in order to operate a robot to catch a frisbee.  It probably won't be so good at landing after catching it, though.  Or catching a tennis ball instead of a frisbee.  Or distinguishing a frisbee from a falling leaf.

    Computers can calculate very precisely and repeatably, but can't estimate or make decisions worth a shit.  Humans (and animals) can estimate and make decisions easily, but aren't precise or repeatable. That barrier isn't likely to be broken, in either direction.

    "True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."

    by Leggy Starlitz on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 09:52:53 PM PDT

    •  'dumb' automation has already (0+ / 0-)

      replaced millions of workers. 'Smart' automation, currently only slighty more advanced but both the hardware and the software have come a long way, represents the expansion of an existing threat.

      The future is coming, dismiss it at your own peril.

      Parties divide, movements unite.

      by Gegner on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:16:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  dumb automation keeps me employed (4+ / 0-)

        Any human doing a job that can be replaced by a robot is in dire need of a better job.  Something so repeatable and simple that it can be performed by a robot would be stultifying beyond belief.  It would make one insane. To be replaced by a robot would be a blessing.

        Back to my original point... humans and machines (including computers/robots) are COMPLETELY different things, with nearly opposite strengths and weaknesses.

        The "smart" automation of which you speak is simply "dumb" automation, but cheaper and faster.  There is simply no difference between the basic functionality of the most sophisticated robots in the world and a 1950s vintage vacuum tube computer.  Seriously, automation is my profession.  I spend my days manipulating software development tools and enterprise application systems that make the best robots pale in comparison.  And they are DUMB DUMB DUMB. Unless you are a software professional with deep hardware and CS theory knowledge, you have no idea how dumb computers are.

        "True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."

        by Leggy Starlitz on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:38:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We are more in agreement than at odds (0+ / 0-)

          but if we consider how mundane a majority of what we do is, a machine has a decided advantage over a doesn't get bored.

          No machine is capable of creating in the way a human mind is yet little of what we do calls for creativity, much of it calls for tolerance of mindnumbing boredom and repetition.

          What a glorious day if we could put and end to drudgery and share the bounty the machines could produce for us...but that's not how things currently work.

          The people who own the machines sell the who seems to be the problem when most things become automated, not because it's better but because it's cheaper.

          Parties divide, movements unite.

          by Gegner on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 11:34:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You could have used this argument 40 years ago (0+ / 0-)

            about the prospects of what would be done with computers and electronic communications.

            Yes, people did own them and did get rich off their machines.  For a while.

            But then something happened that no one expected.  The personal computer was born, and then the internet came to ordinary people. And with that any possibility of locking down the wealth to a group of plutocrats was forever lost.

            So I disagree with you.  That IS how things currently work.  The initial adopters get wealthy, but eventually, greed itself undoes the wealthy and control of the technology is lost.

            Help keep America a one party state - vote Republican! (-6.25, -6.92)

            by AndyS In Colorado on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:07:21 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  If resources were set to infinite (0+ / 0-)

              we'd all be living in capitalist utopia! What of the 'surplus population' sir?

              Every one of us needs a way to support ourselves...saying tough shit to those commerce doesn't need is not only heartless but reckless!

              Retraining takes both time and money, if people have neither, what are their alternatives?

              Implementing new technoligies without regard to their impact on society invites disaster.

              Again, it's not the technology but how it's used that presents the problem.

              Like that old Bill Cosby bit," long can you tread water?"

              Those displaced by new technology under our current economic system are cut loose to fend for themselves.

              Never ONCE have I been offered retraining or outplacement services and I've CLOSED THREE GE's!

              I tend to think my personal experiences trump your IT background.

              But feel free to think all the happy thoughts you like!

              Parties divide, movements unite.

              by Gegner on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:29:19 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  On that note (0+ / 0-)

                I tend to think my personal experiences trump your IT background.

                I think I'll close out the evening with you.

                I believe you simply can't control how the technology is used (especially in a top-down way) the way you wish you could.  And attempting such control would invite disaster, rather than the reverse.  

                But things like retraining and outplacement (which by the way I'm entirely in favor of) have nothing to do with controlling the technology itself, and everything to do with mitigating the consequences of change of all kinds.

                So I think we are now talking past each other. I wasn't sniping at you, just trying to have an entertaining give and take on the merits of your diary topic, but it appears you now want to make me the target of some bad personal misfortunes you have had.

                I'm genuinely sorry you have had such experiences and also sorry I set you off.  But I don't think your experiences in any way invalidate my views.

                Good night and be well.

                Help keep America a one party state - vote Republican! (-6.25, -6.92)

                by AndyS In Colorado on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:46:34 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Thank you for your understanding (0+ / 0-)

                  It was getting on quarter to five AM when I wrote this and according to the system this post failed...which, in retrospect, I thought was a good thing because you're right, I was just being cranky.

                  I'm surprised to see this posted and apologize if it offended you.

                  We are discussing 'potentials' and rampant 'robotization' is likely to be the least of our problems given the energy situation and current political climate.

                  So apparently 'post failed', doesn't mean post failed after all...sorry.

                  Parties divide, movements unite.

                  by Gegner on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 09:21:10 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

    •  Yep ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...I read this line A half-century after the term was coined, both scientists and engineers say they are making rapid progress in simulating the human brain... and thought to myself: how many times in the past half-century have I heard that rapid progress was being made in this arena?

      I would never say never, but I will say never in my lifetime.

  •  I'm torn by this diary. (7+ / 0-)

    On the one hand, you're right.  Anything that can be used to save labor costs, will be used to do so.  

    On the other hand, I really, really want a robot slave.

    I'm not rich, certainly... but I still want a robot slave.

    (I just want one!)

  •  I don't think man...... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is ever going to be too happy owning a machine that is capable of learning how to be smarter than he is.  But then I use to read a lot of sci fi about 'bots And 'droids eliminating 'stupid' humans and taking over the world.
    We seem to have enough trouble getting along with our own species!

  •  All automation has ever done (3+ / 0-)

    is make humans work harder.

  •  Luddites are badly misunderstood (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, Leggy Starlitz
    Their issue wasn't MACHINES, it was the bosses of the factories that took control away from individual craftsmen and turned skilled people into de-skilled assembly line workers.

    As for having a robot my case it would never work unless they find a way to program it to prompt me to finish my sentence when giving commands. I tend to trail off. Example:  put it in the closet. . .  .[which of three closets?].

    •  I used the term Luddite (0+ / 0-)

      because of what they did in reaction to this development, which was to smash the machines!

      In common usage, referring to someone as a 'Luddite' today is saying the person is resistant to change...

      Like the Luddites of old, the changes that are coming may well cost you your livelihood...

      What will the average person's reaction to this development be?

      Parties divide, movements unite.

      by Gegner on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:26:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I blame 'Lost in Space' n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lunacat, Gegner

    Happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous. - Thucydides

    by Clive all hat no horse Rodeo on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:19:10 PM PDT

  •  I have often asked this question... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but I am a huge scifi reader.  Once everything is automated, there will only be a need for people to maintain those automations and then there will the "owner class".  The rest of use will be ass out.

    There are bagels in the fridge

    by Sychotic1 on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:22:42 PM PDT

  •  a world without workers (0+ / 0-)

    Y'know, even though I think the idea of robots doing everything is sci-fi bullshit fantasy, the idea of most people not having jobs is pretty damned appealing!  Why is a job GOOD?  All it does is eat your time and quite possibly your body for most of the best hours of your life, in order to be permitted to survive.

    The jobs that are genuinely interesting and engaging cannot and will not be replaced by robots.  Robots will not put musicians out of work (at least, not any more than jukeboxes did).  Robots won't put doctors out of work.  If they put soldiers out of work, so much the better.  Think about it!  So you lose the opportunity to put tab A in slot B until you get laid off?  Big deal!


    "True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."

    by Leggy Starlitz on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:44:58 PM PDT

    •  Who does a musician play for... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...if nobody else works for money to pay them?

      •  My point exactly! (0+ / 0-)

        Parties divide, movements unite.

        by Gegner on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 10:58:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The robots play the instruments (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          They also do the dancing. There is not a technology we have that does not have a downside. We just keep upping the ante. I think it's dangerous, but who listens to me? Ever talk to a techno nut? Sure, pollute away, build nuclear when the gas runs out, eat bad food: somebody will "invent" some amazing "new technology" to solve it all!

          I love the internet, and dKos especially, but in another era I would have known my neighbors and canned strawberries with my daughter. Now I'm here growing an ulcer and she's on MySpace.

          I'll give technology lovers the safety pin. After that, I'm pretty much your wistful neo-Luddite. Great diary, Gegner!

          Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else? - James Thurber

          by JuliaAnn on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 02:33:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I Robot. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The whole capitalist system stops when you don't have consumption, so the worker being replaced by robots has a problem. Not that you're wrong and it won't happen, but just in terms of what happens next.

    And if AI is complicated enough to replace us all, then aren't we dealing with a rival for dominant species on earth?

    Sometimes, when I played SimEarth, an animal would develop sentience and progress thru the bronz and iron ages to the information age. They would invent robots. If they were warlike, they'd get in a nuclear war and kill eachother off leaving only dumb robots running around. At that point, I'd usually hit the robots with the 2001 monolith and give them sentience.

    Civilized robots didn't from nuclear war or climate change. They were really hard to kill off if you wanted to go back to animals again. They often polluted the planet until they were the only species alive - not even phytoplankton. Some times the robots were peaceful and went into space.

    I never got the robots and animals to have simultanious civilizations.

  •  Labor saving devices (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JuliaAnn, Gegner

    There are two different ways that "labor saving devices" can be used:

    They can allow you to produce the same amount with less time or effort.

    Or, they can allow you to produce more with the same time or effort.

    For the most part, our society has chosen the latter, with has led to overproduction and overconsumption.

    "Like the mirror told me this morning, it's all done with people" - Wavy Gravy

    by offgrid on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 11:37:27 PM PDT

  •  You sound like the Unibomber. (0+ / 0-)

    Technology and progress is a good thing imo.

    With your kind of attitude I think the only people youre going to find any common ground with are the religious right, theyre luddites too.

    •  Unibomber indeed! (0+ / 0-)

      I'd like to point out up front that I'm all for labor saving devices...the `problem' I have with this `gee whiz' article concerns the `logical outcome' of such developments.

      I fail to see how this diary in any way supports the idea that we should all go 'back to the land'.

      I point to the danger of the elite using technology to eliminate out ability to make a living, this is not technologies fault but a failing of our economic system.

      You need to earn dollars to live. If the technology is used in a way that prevents you from earning're out of luck.

      It's not the technology, it's how it's being used!

      Parties divide, movements unite.

      by Gegner on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 12:20:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Religious Right not Luddites (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        They have all the latest gadgets round here. Shit, when Jesus comes back, they're gonna love showing him their iPods, their SUVs, and their Bible Camp power point presentations.

        Luddites (or neo-Luddites, really) tend to be educated and thoughtful, and able to reflect more deeply on the potential outcomes of technology, rather than necessarily accept/worship it on face value.

        Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else? - James Thurber

        by JuliaAnn on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 02:37:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  LOL, well, I'm a business automation specialist (0+ / 0-)

    and programmer.  So I'm admittedly biased.

    Automation in my world has nothing to do with robots, it has more to do with using computers (writing software and designing processes) and occasionally other business devices like printers and scanners to automate business processes that are tedious and previously had to be done by hand.

    So it's not fancy Star Trek like AI and gee-whiz robotry, but it is automation in the truest sense nonetheless.

    I'm certainly not going to make any grandiose claims but in my admittedly narrow experience, the work I have done has never caused anyone to lose his or her job by making the persons themselves obsolete.  (Though, in fairness, there may have been a small number who lost their jobs due to not being able to keep up with either the technology or the necessary changes in their job descriptions -- mainly being incapable of being -- or more often unwilling to be -- elevated to more creative tasks).

    The people I work for grow their businesses and add jobs.

    Now, things can obviously work out in the manner you describe them.  But I don't see the increase in technology and automation as either being inherently new or inherently dangerous, but more as being an extension of a long running continuum that didn't begin yesterday with talking androids.  It all depends on the way technology is used and the choices people make.  These things are tools, and always tools can be used for good or ill.

    Done in a callous manner, indeed, increasing reliance on automation can displace people, but the people who are most threatened by that possibility aren't "the poor" as a class, in my opinion.  Indeed, overall the poor stand to benefit the most from the wisest implementations of these technologies, or even rampant technological change without a care in the world.

    The people most at risk are people who do not mind doing tedious work for a living and have no ambition to grow into something that requires a great deal of creativity or intelligence as a work function.  Mind you, as someone who believes in the nobility of work I'm not knocking those people at all.  I'm just saying, these are the people most at risk of being displaced by automation in general.  You divide the world up into "the poor" and the "the professionals", but I feel what you don't see is that in a highly automated world, the poor BECOME the professionals.

    But, overall, I am kind of doubtful things will work out as you fear.  Machines won't replace humans in my lifetime or yours.  It may be a scenario for a future of 100 or 200 years down the road (and we will barely be able to imagine THAT technological leap) but by that time, the "machines" will be US.

    Help keep America a one party state - vote Republican! (-6.25, -6.92)

    by AndyS In Colorado on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 12:36:14 AM PDT

    •  P.S. (0+ / 0-)

      what is hard to quantify, but seldom factored in, is the benefit created by automation in creating economic niches and expanding growth opportunities into different areas by its wielders.

      In other words, people benefitting from automation are both freed up to pursue greater or more diverse things, and at the same time, the increasing complexity engendered by the technology automatically creates increasing number of niches that people can exploit economically.  It's very much like creating a coral reef for fish.  Things get wonderfully interesting in a very positive way.

      I've seen it happen -- while I've never seen the "Midas World" scenario play out.  It's subtle, but the overall effect is hammer-like decisive.

      Help keep America a one party state - vote Republican! (-6.25, -6.92)

      by AndyS In Colorado on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 12:50:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This topic (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the "machines" will be US.

      Is also addressed here.

      I have a manufacturing background. In my fifty years I've seen the shops go from an average of twenty men to lost largely to automation.

      CNC can do the work of many men faster and cheaper. It used to be one man, one machine but now it's one man, three or four some places it's one man, a dozen machines.

      The same can be said of farming which only employs a half million of our 130 million person workforce.

      I don't know if your profession has put you 'out of touch' with how things are done but the danger presented by automation and the improvements in AI (including computers that write code.)

      The population is growing much faster than the need for human labor.

      You also seem to subscribe to the notion that we can all become 'professionals'...

      How many doctors can operate on a patient at once? Ten or a thousand? How many lawyers does it take to get a case ready for trial, a hundred of a hundred thousand?

      What of the 73 MILLION people the BLS claims don't want a job? Claiming this is the same as saying these people don't want to live!

      I think I plainly state that since the reason anything gets done under our current economic system is so it earns someone a profit, this new technology has a high probability of being abused.

      What you seem to be ignoring is what those displaced by this technology will do about it.

      I've 'lost' my trade to automation/free trade. I'm working but I don't make anywhere near what I used to make...and such will be the fate of many whose jobs are lost due to the irresponsible application of new technology.

      Parties divide, movements unite.

      by Gegner on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:02:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, I never said that 'everyone' could become (0+ / 0-)

        a professional.  What I am saying is that the demand for creative and intelligent people is as high as it has ever been and will only increase.  

        This has the effect of undermining class barriers.  If you're poor, but creative and intelligent, you have an excellent chance of succeeding, more so now than at any time in history.

        And, I'm sorry.  In no way am I trying to dismiss the plight of people displaced by technology through no fault of their own.  I am simply saying that opportunity on balance tends to increase in my experience.  You and I don't work in the same fields, so I don't think either of us is "out of touch".  I think we are simply looking at two different sides of the same coin from different life experiences.

        But, barring us all going back to tilling the fields or having the infrastructure destroyed, the technology train is effectively unstoppable, so ludditism (or neoludditism, or whatever) is simply impossible to make work.  So being a luddite, or ludditism in general, from that perspective, is entirely academic.  Sure, you can be one, but you're not going to stop the technology train for others.

        But I don't think that's even your true argument -- however much it may be putatively "anti-technology".  Your argument is about how the underpinnings of our current system make economic abuses like the ones you've endured possible.  But that's an entirely different topic that seemed to be tangential to your diary.

        For what it's worth, I think, as I believe you do, many problems can be attributed to uncreative applications of technology.  But in your field (manufacturing?) the ubiquitousness barrier has not been broken.  Once a given technology becomes ubiquitous and cheap - to the point where most middle class people can afford it, the economic abuses (and yes, they are real) tend to become harder to engage in effectively.  And there's an incentive for anyone to make any given technology as ubiquitous as possible.

        It's not automation itself that is your enemy, therefore, but who controls its use.

        Help keep America a one party state - vote Republican! (-6.25, -6.92)

        by AndyS In Colorado on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:29:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Daisy, Daisy,,, (0+ / 0-)

    give me your answer do.

    "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!" President Merkin Muffley

    by irate on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:01:35 AM PDT

    •  I heard this (0+ / 0-)

      back in 1982 as the demo to a product called the SLC2, an automated call sequencer that was one of the first applications to use voice synthesis.

      Shortly afterwards it was the voice of 'Carlos' the WBCN automaton sidekick of DJ Charles Laquidera.

      Parties divide, movements unite.

      by Gegner on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 01:06:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A moot question, really (0+ / 0-)

    Just about the time they get these robots to the point where they can truly do something useful (like load the dishwasher, vacuum, etc), is likely going to just about match up with the point where we have no energy left to drive them (OR the dishwasher, OR the vacuum...).

    In today's world, this is research wasted.


    GOP: Gigantic Oil Party - ITMFA! Orwell was years ahead of his time - 16, to be exact.

    by grndrush on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 08:31:00 PM PDT

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