tv PBS News Hour PBS January 2, 2014 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> reporter: the winter storm that sacked the midwest with heavy snow and bitter cold to start the new year barrels through the northeastern u.s. good evening. i'm judy woodruff. gwen ifill is away. also ahead, with health coverage under the affordable care act kicking in for millions of americans, we update the rollout, the state of healthcare.gov, and more. plus, amazon's delivery drones, google's robotic ambitions-- what does all this new technology from the private sector mean for society going forward?
>> woodruff: those are just some of the stories we're covering on tonight's pbs newshour. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: ♪ ♪ moving our economy for 160 years. bnsf, the engine that connects us. >> and by the alfred p. sloan foundation. supporting science, technology, and improved economic performance and financial literacy in the 21st century.
>> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: the northeastern united states braced for a wallop of winter on this second day of 2014, as the midwest dug out and faced frigid temperatures. kwame holman has our weather look. >> reporter: the first major snowstorm of the new year began shutting down cities across the midwest today. arctic winds brought thick snow-- as much as 12 inches in some places-- with more to come in new england. residents there started preparing yesterday for the storm, although the worst isn't expected to hit until later tonight.
more than 22 states and about a hundred million americans are in the storm's path. >> we've been here before. >> reporter: at a news conference today, boston mayor thomas menino said residents should take precautions. >> i'm urging everyone to stay indoors, check on your elderly neighbors and homeless individuals, call police or emergency services. >> reporter: schools and state offices across boston were set to be closed tomorrow. and new york city awaited the storm with snow plows on hand, the first storm under new mayor bill de blasio. residents in the midwest already have been hit by the winter weather. streets blanketed with snow in cleveland created tough driving conditions with low visibility. and in the windy city, residents who deal with blizzard conditions regularly still found the foot of snow hard to deal with. >> got to improvise. >> it's horrible. i guess it's chicago weather. >> reporter: along with the snow, frigid temperatures struck several parts of the country.
earlier today, temperatures fell well below zero, reaching minus- 20 in parts of north dakota and minus-30 in northern minnesota. the cold extended east to maine and vermont, where snowfall is expected to top a foot, even more in massachusetts. holiday travelers heading home were grounded after more than 1,800 flights were canceled. officials also are concerned about power outages from heavy snow and winds, and flooding along the eastern coast of massachusetts, where the waves already are growing. >> woodruff: heavy snow is expected to continue through tonight and into tomorrow across new england. tensions flared in iraq today as sunni militants linked to al qaeda battled for control of two key cities. the insurgents have ties to syria, more evidence the civil war there is crossing borders. today's clashes centered around fallujah and ramadi. thousands of anti-government fighters stormed government buildings and police stations, and freed prisoners from jail.
elsewhere, a truck bomb north of baghdad killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more. a blast also went off today in beirut, lebanon, killing at least five people. the bomb targeted a shiite hezbollah stronghold in the southern suburbs of the capital. the force of the explosion tore the front off of nearby buildings and littered the street with the smoldering wreckage of burnt cars. the health minister reported more than 66 people were wounded. secretary of state john kerry said finding peace between israel and the palestinians is not "mission impossible." he arrived in israel today to press leaders from both sides to make tough choices, and acknowledged there are challenges to overcome in the quest for two-state solution. >> the time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions.
we are close to that time, if not at it, and i think we understand the circumstances within which we are working. >> woodruff: but today, israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu criticized the actions of palestinian president mahmoud abbas. he said it was an "outrage" that abbas glorified recently- released palestinian prisoners by calling them heroes. doctors in israel reported former prime minister ariel sharon is clinging to life after suffering from a "critical malfunction" of various organs. sharon had a stroke while still in office in 2006 and has been in a coma ever since. he's never regained full consciousness, but his family says that he occasionally blinks his eyes and moves his fingers. 52 passengers aboard a russian research ship stranded in the antarctic ice were finally rescued today. they had been stuck since christmas eve. we have a report narrated by sangeeta kandola of independent television news.
>> helicopters to take us home! >> thanks, everyone! >> it's 5:30 on 2nd of january and we've just heard... that the that the helicopters are coming in just behind me. if all goes well we'll be off in an hour's time. >> 52 passengers have been transport from the russian street which has been trapped by thick ice sheets since christmas eve. the crew have remained with the vessel while the team of scientists are now safely on the australian icebreaker the aurora. the task to free them from the frozen ice has been plagued by a number of problems. three icebreakers were initially dispatched to try to crack their way through the thick ice
surrounding the ship, but all failed. the rescued group's view has remained the same for days, until now. the australian vessel they've boarded will take them on a scenic route to tasmania, arriving around mid-january before they head home. >> woodruff: an undocumented mexican immigrant can now be licensed to practice law in california. the state supreme court made that unanimous ruling today in favor of sergio garcia. his case was seen as a test of the new california law that authorizes the court to let qualified applicants into the state bar regardless of their immigration status. changes to the g.e.d. exam rolled out today in the first overhaul to the high school equivalency test in more than a decade. the revamped test now focuses more on the skills needed for college and the workplace, and it will only be offered on the computer. more than 700,000 people took the g.e.d. in 2012. the new year of trading on wall
street got off to a sour start, with technology stocks slumping the most. the dow jones industrial average lost 135 points to close at 16,441. the nasdaq fell 33 points to close at 4,143. oil also plummeted by nearly $3 a barrel in new york trading as libya prepared to reopen a major oil field. still to come on the newshour: millions start health coverage under the affordable care act; the recent release of some guantanamo bay detainees; silicon valley's push toward robotics; the fight over veterans' pensions; plus, the obama administration's new year's resolutions. >> woodruff: january 1 marked the first day of coverage for many americans under the affordable care act. jeffrey brown updates the health
care law's roll-out. earlier this week the obama administration released official enrollment figures showing at 1.1 million people have signed up for health insurance using the federal exchange, with more than 975,000 of those coming during the month of december. another 900,000 people registered through the individual state exchanges for a total of 2.1 million. a quick surge but short of an early administration estimate of 3.3 million people would sign up by the start of 2014. julie appleby of kaiser health news joins me now for an update. welcome back. >> thank you. >> brown: first, after all that's happened it's probably useful just to remind people what actually happened when this all kicked in? what were the important changes? >> this is a key date because it was a milestone in a way. a lot of the key provision of the health care law kicked in so things like insurers can no longer reject people who have medical conditions. they can no longer charge
men or women more than men. they can no longer set annual lifetime dollar limits on coverage. so a lot of these things went into effect. the other dee thing that went into effect yesterday was that starting this year americans who don't have coverage could face a penalty fine if they don't get that coverage by march 31z. >> brown: now the overall incomes that i just referred to, we saw this jump in the last month, last week, actually, how is all that being read? >> the administration had a press conference earlier this week and they touted the fact that 975,000 people signed up for coverage in december. and that's a big number. they say that shows that they resolved many of the problems that were plaguing their web suite since it started in october. but that number is still well short, you know, even when you add them all together you have 2 million people between the federal exchange and state exchanges, when you add those together as you mentioned we're still short of what the administration was estimating they would have by this time. and we're still short of that 7 million that they are hoping to get by the end of this year. >> brown: what about the mix of people signing up? how much can we tell at this point, especially young
people? >> that's i key thing. we want to know how many young people are signing up because they will presumably offset the cost of older people. reporters have asked the administration many times on the age, the health status of folks signing up, whether they had insurance before. we don't have that information. they haven't given it to you us yet. some states have posted this information. so in california, for example, in november they said about 22% of the people signing up were younger people, ages 18 to 34. and that tracks pretty closely with their share of the population in that state. but that was november. we don't knows what's happened since then. many health policy experts are telling reporters that it's not simply the age that's important. they want to get people insurancers and actuaries want to get people signed up who are healthy. they could be older healthy people as well. but we'll just have to wait, i think, until the end of march to know a little bit more about the final number. >> brown: what about, there had been a belief, even a concern that there would be like a surge, a floods of appointments and people going to the doctors right away. what do you know about that?
what do you know so far, i know it's early so maybe a lot of this is anecdotal about things like that, things about surprises people may have found when they tried to use their insurance. >> this is the big concern. what's going to happen in january, right. will people show up at the doctor, the hospital, the pharmacy and find out they're not enrolled. will they be able to get an appointment. >> brown: thinking that they will. >> and a that forsome reason they aren't. the white house is worried about this. because if people don't pay their first month premium they are not official officially enrolled. many people have until january 10th to pay that premium but not all cases. so the white house is sayings call your insurer, make sure are you enrolled. this is going to be a key thing. how will this play out in january. what is going to happen with folks, this will play into the narrative as we go forward this year year as to how well this law is working out. >> brown: i saw that there were some pharmacies offering extended supplies of prescription drugs to tide people over during this uncertain period s that it. >> both walgreen's and cvs say they will help some folks who perhaps don't have their permanent i.d. card
yet from their insurer or are still caught up in some of the technical difficulties in getting enrolled, with some transitional coverage of 15 to 30 day supply, in certain circumstances. so those two pharmacies say they will help some folks. >> brown: in the meantime one provision involving contraception has been-- it was put on hold really by the supreme court. tell us about that. >> right, right, under the law employers are required to cover contraceptive as preventive care without a copay for the enrollees. this is obviously been very controversial particularly among some catholic institutions. so some religiously affiliated employers were offered a compromise. and this compromise basically says that they don't directly have to pay for this contraceptive coverage. they can certify that this is opposed to their religious beliefs and the insurer will then cover that for their employees. a number of religious groups including this group of nuns that brought there case before the supreme court said that is an inadequate compromise. because in effect it still
requires them to say that, you know, we are authorizing contraceptive coverage so they brought this to the court. the court has said we're going to temporarily stay this for this group of nuns and a few other groups. and they've given the obama administration until tomorrow to respond. >> brown: and very briefly as you say, we're going to watch, i mean this battle continues, right, with every side watching what happens right now, through january, certainly. >> right. we're going to hear a lot. so this law is very broad and complex, so there are some people who have gotten coverage. they're paying less, some have gotten a subsidy, some have gotten coverage that never had it before because they had a medical condition. so we will hear those stories but we will also hear people are paying more, doctors not in their network. are surprised by the amount of the deductible and they will be unhappy. so we will hear those stories as well. this will be a battle i think we'll hear the rest of the year particularly as we get closer to the november elections and we'll have to stay tuned. >> brown: a battle of health care stories. julie appleby of kaiser health news, thanks so much. >> okay, thank you.
>> woodruff: the pentagon announced a "significant milestone" was reached this week in the long saga to close the prison in guantanamo bay. the last three ethnic uighers from china were released and sent to slovakia. a total of 22 uighers were captured after the u.s. invaded afghanistan in 2001. they were found not to be a threat, and a judge ordered them freed in 2008, but the u.s. struggled to find a place to send them. all told, nine detainees were transferred in december. so, just who has been released and under what conditions? and what will happen to the remaining 155 prisoners? for that, we turn to the state department's special envoy for guantanamo closure, cliff sloan. >> thank you, happy to be here. >> woodruff: so there was a swamp in the release of prisons for a period of two
years until you came in this summer. just in the last month as we said, several released. what's changed since you've been there? >> well, judy, as you know in may the president gave a speech at the national defense university. and he strongly reiterated and renewed his commitment to close guantanamo. and he's been very committed to closing it from the beginning. and in this speech he said we are going to move forward on transfers. we're going to move forward on closing the facility. he announced the appointment of special envoys at the state department and the defense department who would be focused and moving forward on closure. i started the beginning of july. paul lewis, my counterpart at t defense department started in november. and so we are moving full speed ahead. and i'm also pleased that we are able to work with congress in the last few months to change the law in a way that remove some of the obstacles and restrictions that had lead to that slump that you referred to. and i think that's also going to be very helpful to
us. >> is that what made the difference. and how did you prioritize who was going to be released first among these. >> in terms of changing the law and the law will be different in 2014, i think that is going to help us very much in moving forward with the transfers. in terms of prioritizing the transfers, let's step back for a second and have an overview of the facility. 155 detainees are there right now. 76 now are approved for transfer. 79 are not approved for transfer. and when i say a trov-- approved for transfer, there's a very important point that i think people don't realize, which is that the executive branch in 2009 and 2010 undertook a very rigorous review by the national security agencies and departments. and those who are approved for transfer were unanimously determined that they should be transferred, subject to appropriate security arrangements and humane treatment. >> woodruff: but they were no longer a threat. >> well, that they should be transferred subject to appropriate security and humane treatment, assurances
and agreements with other countries, that there was no need to continue to hold them. and so those are the priority. and we have been moving forward as aggressively and quickly as we can on those approved for transfer. now let me just say-- . >> woodruff: can i just say, has the holdup then in finding the countries, the places that will take them? >> well, it's a-- it's a complicated process which includes, as i said, the congressional restrictions which we think were far more burdensome than necessary and helpful. there's the question of the countries they're going to. and in some cases it's to their home countries. and in some cases if that's not possible for security or humane treatment reasons, it would be to third countries. and that takes negotiations. and it is a complicated process. but one thing that i think is very important, judy, and that i've tried to emphasize and paul lewis at the defense department has tried to emphasize, we don't want to relitigate the old battles. we don't be looking at the old battles, we want to look
ahead. and fee feel there an new era on possibilities, on moving -- moving forward and clog the facility. that is what we are focused on. we don't want to go over what happened in the last several months when there was that slump. we feel very good about moving ahead now. >> woodruff: so of the 155 left you said 70 some are cleared for-- how long is it going to take to get those detainries out of the country to a new location? >> well, i can't give you an exact time frame but what i can tell su we are working just as hard as we can. we are moving forward as aggressively as we can. as you mentioned nine were transferred in the month of december alone. 11 in the last couple months. we are working very hard on all those approved for transfer. the other point i want to make which is also important, is the 79 who are not approved for transfer, we've also started a new administrative process for them, a new hearing where they have the opportunity to show that they now should be approved for transfer. they get a fresh look. and that's important as well in moving forward. >> woodruff: so they may not necessarily stay at guantanamo, because right now it looks as if you've
got several dozen of them who will be there indefinitely? >> well, as i said, we have 79 who are not approved for transfer. 8 of those are facing criminal charges. so of the remaining 71, they now will have this new administrative hearing. that's already started. that's going to accelerate on a rolling basis and that is going to be very important moving forward. >> woodruff: dow believe that guantanamo will close within the foreseeable future, and that all detainees will be taken care of one way or another? >> absolutely. we are going to close the guantanamo detention facility. i have no doubt about that. and president obama is very strongly committed to this. >> woodruff: by when. >> i'm to the going to give you a time frame on it but i am absolutely convinced that we going to close the facility. >> woodruff: why are you convinced if you can't say how long it's going to take? >> well, i can't say how long it's going to take because there are variables and i don't want to give an artificial time line. i don't want to just pluck a date out of the air and say it. but those who have been approved for transfer we'll
do everything we can to transfer those. those who are not approved for transfer will have the new administrative hearing. now there is more work to be done with congress. because there currently is a ban on bringing any detainees to the united states, including for prosecution in our courts. and we think that is unwise. and we think that restriction should be lifted. but we are going-- . >> woodruff: and you think you can be successful changing that? >> i think so. and i think you are saying a new recognition across the spectrum that is time to move on. it is time to put this problem before us. when you look at the facts and when you just take a sort of reasoned view of it, there is a much better solution out there than just to say keeping them at guantanamo. and we can and we will close the gain tan to -- guantanamo detention facility. >> woodruff: cliff sloan, we thank you. >> thank you, appreciate it >> woodruff: when congress reached a budget deal last month
to fund the federal government, one of the controversial things they agreed to do was to reduce the cost of living adjustments for retired military personnel. this has set off a battle over pensions, with some members of congress who have vowed to repeal this provision. jeff is back with that. >> brown: the new pension cuts affect military veterans under age 62 who've retired after serving 20 years or more in the armed forces. they would see their annual pension increases trimmed by one percentage point. authors of the budget deal say this would save $6 billion over the coming decade. we take up the matter now with: retired vice admiral norbert ryan, president and c.e.o. of the military officers association of america; and lawrence korb, former assistant secretary of defense during the reagan administration-- he's now a senior fellow at the center for american progress. welcome to both of you. >> glad to be with you. >> admiral, this has become almost the most controversial piece of this
new budget deal, why? you can summarize the objection? >> sure, it's a very, very big deal to the health, moral and readiness of our all volunteer force force. this 1% cut was made in a back room by people that i don't think understood the impact that this would have in the all volunteer force. for the typical retiree, sergeant first class in the army, an e-7, an noncommissioned officer, this is $-- $83,000 from the time he or she may retire at 40 until 62. $83,000 is a lot of money. that's three years of their pay when they retire, 23,000. so part of it is financial. but the other part that the families and currently serving and those that are retired feel strongly about is it's breaking faith with the promise that was made to these folks that have waged war for this nation for the last 12 years. >> brown: those are the two key areas, start with the first one, the impact that
is the first area of debate. >> it's to the going to have any impact on recruiting and retention. back when i was there the retirement thing was getting way out of hand. what we did is we said if you join after august-- july 31st, 1986, you're going to get 40% instead of 50%. the last, those years of time were up back when admiral ryne was running navy personal. he saidive's got more people than i need. but what happened basically was the military lobby, the veteran's lobby, i happen to be a member of both. so i know exactly what worked. they said no, we have to go back to 50%. okay so, they want back to 50%. to a lot of people, the people are going to retire were promised 40 when they came in, didn't hurt them. now they go up to 50%. >> brown: so your sense is that the numbers-- is not going to affect that many people and that much. >> basically if a man or woman came in after august of 1986 and then retired in
2006 or they came up until 1999 when they-- undid this, basically they're going to make out better than they would have even if you take the 1% reduction. for example, if you retire at 38 years old, i mean you get in at 18, you're 28 and you live to be 82, you are doing all this kind of stuff, you will be $200,000 better than you were under this 40% even with this 1% reduction. >> all right, do you want to respond to that, because there are a lot of numbers thrown around here. so what is the case for why this has a real impact on people who have-- may have served for that long, and then gone on and have other jobs as well. >> i couldn't have a different version of history than dr. qo-- korb. his secretary of defense, secretary weinberger wrote a letter to the congress when they wanted to do this and said even if you grandfather these people this is going to have a severe impact on retention and recruiting. and guess what, 15 years later the joint chiefs of staff came over to the congress, not the lobbyists
and said we need this fix. we need this repaired. this program that the congress did the back room is even worse than that. it doesn't grandfather the current reserving to start with, which is a broken promise from the past secretary, secretary panetta and the current chairman of the joint chiefs, who both said we should grandfather any changes to the retirement system. so i couldn't disagree more with dr. korb. >> i was there as the chief naval personnel when i would go over and say we need a new aircraft carrier. and they would say why. the so retention was heck in a hand basket during that time. and that's why the chiefs went over and said we need this thing fixed. >> but what about -- >> when you retired, the chief of nal all operations said that we have-- naval operations said we have more people than we need, you were there from '98 to 2002. and what was happening back when the chiefs went over and said that, we were cutting the force. we were throwing people out. you were throwing people out so don't give me this stuff-- .
>> brown: then what about, larry korb, what about the promise part, i mean the people that want into the service and they were told here's what is going to happen. >> well, they were told 40%. and then halfway through they changed it to 50, for no good reason. and let me get to some other things which has happened. they were told in 1995 you're going to have tricare. you know, if you don't want to go to a military base you retirees. >> brown: health care. >> right, we will have the family is going to be $460 a year and we're going to raise it every year to reflect the cost of medical inflation. they didn't raise it until 2012. in 2001 think put in another program called tricare for life which means you don't have to buy medicap insurance when you get old. when you add all of these things up you're much better off than the day you joined. so this idea you're breaking promise, and you know, the interesting thing, it wasn't a book room deal. paul ryan is the chairman of the house budget committee. this man want, and what he said is, this $6,000 you're saving i could use basically to buy more flight hours.
i can do, you know, more training. >> brown: this is after all part of a much larger debate, right, about military comprehension, salaries, health benefits that's affecting, of course, all sectors. >> it is. but this is a-- a heart and core of our military is the all volunteer force and the heart and core of the all-volunteer force is that 17% of noncommissioned officers and officers that stay in, that are mid grade officers that have known nothing but war for the last 10, 12 years. they are wondering is it worth it if this is the way the country is going to keep their word to me and my family. and so when these people leave at 20 years or 25 years, most of the time it's an up or out system where they are told okay, you have made it to e-7. you are allowed to stay this long. now it's time for you to leave, or they're exhaustive ared from deployment or their family is exhaustedment so they're leaving. they're not expecting to retire. they get $23,000, that sergeant first class which is a typical person retires.
that with a family of four is poverty level. and that's before taxes and that's before-- so all of these folks know they need to go back into the workforce. a lot of them need to go through training, extra education so this is a big deal financially. and it's an even bigger deal because they're not keeping the promises. >> brown: we have about 30 seconds. i see there are legislators want to overturn this. >> this is nonsense. 40% of the people on active duty today have never deployed, okay. only 11% have deployed more than once. the kids who fought in iraq and afghanistan, the enlisted people, they are not retiring, okay. basically half the officers do, 17% of the marines and army less than 10%. so don't give me this, these people, this is not these people. it's different people. >> brown: congress is coming back, they're going to take another look at this. >> hopefully they're going to fix it with the defense committee.
73% of the people that are retired are noncommissioned officers, so it does impact tremendously on a noncommissioned officers. >> brown: vice admiral norbert ryan and lawrence korb, thank you. >> you're welcome >> woodruff: the latest gadgets and electronics are perennially best-selling holiday gifts. our science correspondent miles o'brien had a more ambitious wish list but he didn't yet get what he wanted for christmas. >> reporter: in december, google >> that's how he came to be in your service, if you take my meaning, sir. >> you know, a robot servant to do my bidding, my dirty work. seems like that idea is languishing in around the corner purg tore with the flying car, fusion power and the jet pack. a lot has changed over the
years. robotic devices are everywhere. assembly lines, disarming bombs, helping the disabled, even sucking up dust bunnies, they are smarter than ever but unlike hollywood's robots, they only excel when the task is very narrow and clearly defined. >> a robot it is really easy to do repeated motion. it's very hard to deal with variation like this, where, every time, it is looking at the towel and seeing something different. >> reporter: this really hit home for me when i saw this robot in pieter abbeel's lab at u.c. berkeley. >> i'm going to outfold this robot, darn it. he has taught the device to fold clothing. in the world of robots, that's a big deal. it takes about 20 minutes to fold one measly towel. why? computers are smart enough to beat the world's greatest chess master. why are robots flummoxed by a dirty rag? well, it's complicated. >> there's still no machine that can solve everyday
commonsensical problems. >> reporter: marvin minsky helped create the field we call artificial intelligence, you know, making computers think like us. over the years, he has stumbled on a surprising paradox: what's hard for us is simple for robots, and vice versa. >> if somebody is very good at some skill, it's because they know about 20,000 fragments of knowledge or process or whatever. >> reporter: but to have common sense, the mundane skills you need to get through the day and fold the clothes, you need a few million fragments of skill, knowledge and insight. >> so, this advanced mathematics came easily, and then the high school-type mathematics was a little later, and we are still not at the age of the four or five-year-old. >> reporter: humanoid robots are also having a hard time learning to walk. how difficult a problem is it?
>> it's-- it's difficult, because we don't know what we don't know. >> reporter: rob playter is with a company called boston dynamics. this is the home of "bigdog." "bigdog" was built at the behest of the pentagon's defense advanced research projects agency. they're seeking a mechanical mule for foot soldiers in the next four years or so. powered by a two-stroke engine, hydraulic actuators, a gyroscope, and some breakthrough software, this prototype can slog through some pretty rugged terrain. it has a remarkable sense of balance and the ability and agility to break a fall. >> reporter: so, what do you do? what is the way to, how do you, how do you teach a machine to walk? >> you have to you have to build them. you have to experiment with them. you have to push them. you have to kick them and see how they respond. rather than try to build a response to stepping on a rock or stepping on ice, what we try
to build is a fundamental sort of core concept of balance and how to behave in-- in the gravitational field. >> reporter: boston dynamics is now developing at a two-legged robot called "petman" for the army. and, in florida, at the institute for human and machine cognition, they're working on some legs with a keen sense of balance that may one day be connected to robonaut. but, to get to this point, well, let's just say it's been a long, slow, stroll. >> what most people today are doing is saying, first, let's get the robot so that it can do the simple things, and then we will make it do the harder ones. i think we should just turn it opposite. >> reporter: while others try to solve the ambulation equation, at mit's media lab, cynthia breazeal is focused on this question: >> should it be a human device? how humanlike should it be? what do we even mean when we say humanlike? what's your name? >> reporter: nexi is just the latest robot in her menagerie that breazeal has programmed to
engender trust by bridging the gap between machine and mankind with expressions, nonverbal communication, body language, if you will. >> so things like when i finish speaking and i look at you, that's a very implicit prompt that now i'm expecting you to respond. >> reporter: and this is when the kids go wild, right? breazeal is also fascinated with ways to make robots a better learning tool for children. the more expressive and empathetic and, frankly, cute the face is, the better. now, here is a face anybody could love. looking at leonardo, it is easy to forget what is behind him. >> here are my, all my little robots. >> reporter: so these are robots you like? >> yes. well, you know, i'm obsessed with robots. >> reporter: really? sherry turkle is a colleague of breazeal's at mit. her latest book is "alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other." she says humanoid robot builders are leading us down a slippery
slope. >> the moment you make a robot in human form, and the moment it can make eye contact, track your motion and gesture toward you, you're kind of toast, because you believe that there is somebody home, in other words, a consciousness, even potentially something with feeling and that is like you. >> reporter: but it isn't, of course. turkle worries about another paradox: machines that act like humans can dehumanize the real thing. >> and a lot of the fantasies about nanny-bots and elder-care- bots are really about being company, being companions for people who, quite frankly, we think sometimes we don't have time for. and there, i think we get into a lot of trouble because, you know, why are we doing this? >> reporter: so, this is love's labor lost? >> love's labor lost. it diminishes us. it diminishes us as people.
>> now, i-- i have faith that people are actually pretty savvy about relationships. and the relationship i have with various people, whether it's my children or my husband or my pets, these are all of very, very different kinds of relationships. the relationship i have with pets is a very different kind of relationship. i think people are pretty savvy. >> reporter: so when am i going to get my robot butler? the makes of big dog say all the pieces are finally coming together, intelligence, expressions dexterity and mobility. since he first filed that piece google bought the company in december t was the 8th robotic company the tech giant purchased in the past year. hari via de la valle looks at the perils of silicon's valley push's into a realm once dominated by government contractors. >> the >> sreenivasan: this race in the private sector for the "next big
thing" is well under way. google calls them "moonshots" like the driverless car, a computer you wear as glasses, to these advanced robots. amazon founder and c.e.o. jeff bezos fueled the buzz last month when he announced his company is working on using drones to deliver packages. to help us move beyond the "gee whiz" of all this to the broader questions these projects raise about changes to society, i'm joined by: jaron lanier, a computer scientist and a pioneer in the field of virtual reality- - he is author of several books, including "who owns the future?," a look at how network technologies affect our culture and economy; and andrew mcafee-- he's associate director of the center for digital business at the sloan school of management at m.i.t. and co-author of "the second machine age: work, progress and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies." so andrew, you want to start with you. how different is this moment? is the pace of change and technological change accelerating? >> it sure feels that way to
me and my co-author. and the reason we're calling our book, the second machine age a is it feels to us like we are at an inflection point. the early stages of one where we're starting to see digital gear do stuff that it could never, ever do before. hemingway has a great quote about how a man goes broke. he said it's gradually and then suddenly. and that reminded me of the kinds of progress that we're seeing in robotics and artificial intelligence and augmented reality. and a lot of these different fields have really gradual, uninspiring progress for a long timement and now they're becoming every day reality. i got a ride in the google car last summer. it was an amazing experience and i walked away without a scratch. >> jaron lanier, is technology facilitating change to our humanity faster than it used to? >> you know, it's a little hard to say. if you look at the early part of the 20th century the waves of change from, you know, automobiles, and
telephones, television, all these things are were really amazingly dram you can. and they happened in a way more rapidly than change comes to us today. so i'm a little hesitant to make these comparisons. but whatever the comparison might properly be, we can say that there are huge changes going on that could really change how people live and work. and could completely change our economic and social roles. and that's something we have to focus on. >> andrew, is the technology primarily about increasing productivity or the economy of consumption? >> sure, yeah, i think that is what's going on am but i want to put it in slightly different terms. what we want are society's economic engine to do is trim out more goods and services. and when you say it that way, it's easy to make it sound trivial like we're just talking about cheap plastic gear and empty calories. but that's the wrong way to think about it. when i say more goods and services, i mean things like more education, better health care, better entertainment options. all of these kinds of
things. what we want our economic engine to do is turn out lots of goods and services, more over time, higher quality over time and lower prices all the time. that's the miracle of the capitalist systems that we've set up. when i look at what the technology producing sector is doing these days, i think it's doing by far the best job of accelerating that economic engine, and i think it's fundamentally great news. >> jaron? >> you know, i think there's something kind of tricky going on. which is that we're creating more services and we're lowering the prices of those services, which is wonderful. but we're doing so in a way that we pretend that a lot of people aren't contributing economically when they really are. a great example is the automatic translation between languages. and the truth is that to translate from english to spanish automatically requires taking as examples a constant influx of real translations done by people. and yet professional translators are seeing their
job prospects decline just like musicians and journalists. and so there's something funny going on. we're using human labor in a way that we race the value of the people. so i mean we want to have a productive economy. but if it's one that also negates human roles, it's all for naught. i mean we have to also preserve great roles for people or the society will suferb. >> i'm with jaron, there are some really interesting new wrinkles going on in how we create these goods an services, and how we take into account the contributions of different people. i want to return to this concept of an economic engine, and the role of an economic engine is not to insurance full employment for everybody. that would be very easy to do if, for example, we suddenly mandated that you have to plant and harvest all the crops in america by hand. you would immediately have full employment, a lot of those jobs would be miserable and the prices we pay for food would go up. so it's really the wrong thing to focus on. >> jaron, you outline some of this in your book about
who owns the future. what are these destabilizing forces that technology brings with it? >> well, you know, you can go to two extremes. you can either say let's make work for everybody like a maoist regime. and i think we all know that that is a road to ruin. no one abdicates that, but we're doing something that is in a way stupid in the other direction, in that we're precontinueding people aren't contributing economically when they are. we're pretending that just making things cheaper is enough to make economic viability. and you can't do that. i mean people have to be valued for what they actually do. the economy has to be honest. and so what i am concerned about is that by getting everybody to input all their productivity for free to these silicon valley companies, including the one that funds my lab, by the way, so i'm a beneficiary of what i'm criticizing. but in order to pretend that all this stuff, it comes in for free and what we give people in exchange is access to services. we're taking them out of the economic cycle. we're putting them into an
informal economy which is an unbalanced way to grow a society. and that's also a road to ruin. i'm not asking for artificial make work projects. i'm asking for honesty where we acknowledge when people generate value, and make them first class economic citizens. and then i think that all of these amazing schemes of automation, the self-driving cars, the 3d printers, these will lead to a world of happy, meaningful lives as well as great economic growth. you know. that's the ticket, is honesty. >> i have some trouble putting those ideas into practice. so for example, jerry would you charge my brother to upload pictures of his daughters to facebook or would you charge me to look at my nieces? >> you know, given what i have been seeing on facebook, lately, i think anything that sort of decreases people's tennessee to upload everything might actually be a good thing. so i think we should economically incentivize less uploading so i would say let's charge you both, how about that. >> i think that is absolutely a terrible idea it takes us in exactly the
opposite direction that we want from our economic engine. facebook is doing this amazing feat where they are delivering a service that is valued by on the order of a billion people around the world. and they're not charging them hard, cold cash for using that service. and yet they're a very profitable company. now it's not a deep secret how they do that it's called advertising. and i done think many of facebook's users are unaware of how that works, just like i wasn't unaware when i sat around as a kid and watched network television, about what was funding that business model. so i done think there's anything either opaque or deeply sinister about what is going on. these are just some nice economic models whereby these technology companies can put things in front of us that we value, that we use, and charge us no money for them. i don't see that as bad news. >> jaron lanier and andrew mcafee, thank you so much for your time.
>> woodruff: finally tonight, we look ahead to the challenges facing president obama as he approaches the second year of his second term in office. mr. obama finished 2013 with his job approval rating near an all- time low, following the botched rollout of the health care law. what are the prospects for a turnaround in 2014? we consider that question with: susan page, washington bureau chief for "u.s.a. today"; and jerry seib, washington bureau chief for the "wall street journal" welcome to you both. >> so susan, just what shape is the president ins he begins this new year. >> i think he's if pretty sorry shape and it's bad news for him because the first year of your second term is really the opportunity to get things launched if you are's going to get new legislative proposals through. you've just got a little winnow there before campaign politics starts to take over again. an much that time is gone. he still has a little time left, a little time next year in the early part of the year. but this year has been quite a disappointing one for the
white house and it leaves him with some real vulnerabilities. >> woodruff: jo jerry, given that, what the white house thinking they need to do. let's start with health care because that overwhelmed everything else. >> i think we are beyond the does the health care web site work phase and into will the policy work phase. in a way that is much more important. let's convince people that not only the web site will work but the policy will work. it will get people enrolled, draw in young people, bring down the costs. that is really important and that hangs over everything. i think beyond that they have a really interesting strategic choice to make at the white house. is the road back to cooperate with congressional republicans, and did the budget deal that was reached at the end of 2013 suggest there's a path forward and cooperation? or do they simply confront congressional republicans and make clear the differences between the two sides going into the midterm elections this year. >> susan, do you think they've made a decision about that. of course there are different issues that they're talking about, immigration, others s this something they're going to decide on a case-by-case
basis. >> i think on some things they cooperate and immigration is probably the best example of that. because there is perhaps the possibility of getting some immigration legislation to the house. you know, bipartisan bill did get through the senate last year. there's some hope of building on that. although it's a tough issue and an issue in which the parties are divided. but have have an issue like chime at change or another issue, hard to see republicans especially in the house going along with this, and therefore he needs to policy on those issues maybe more confrontation or executive orders and other executive powers to bring about change. >> and in fact, jerry seib the president has brought in somebody who was a former chief of staff to president clinton in john podesta who was known for working executive action, executive, in other words, taking steps, doing what i a president can do without going through congress. >> that's right. >> woodruff: what does that say? >> i think that is an interesting question. you sort have to be in president obama's head to know what he thinks that
says but as recently as 2010 when republicans took back control of the house, john poddesta was in fact writing, look, you can do more through executive actions than people think. that that is a way to enact democratic policy even when congress is recalcitrant. so we'll see. judy, we get an early test of the atmosphere on this, which is the debt ceiling which could be either a crisis or simply something where both sides compromise at the end of february, early march. will that be a moment of confrontation or a moment in which both sides decide they're going to approach the question in a civilized way. >> woodruff: susan, how much of all this does depend on whether the republicans are ready to play so to speak, will they want to work with him on a few things. clearly this is a congressional election year. they're going to have their-- as are democrats, on what happens this spring in the primaries and then in the fall. >> so republicans need to calculate what will serve their interests in the 2014 midterm elections. but the republicans are divided. you know, there is a civil war going on in the republican party between
between those tea party conservatives who really had the upper hand since 2010 and more establishment republicans, mainstream republicans including some of the business interests, some of the big donors without want to steer a different path. and that may make-- that may create opportunities for president obama to make deals with that part of the party. but it also may create problems in trying to deal with a divided enemy. >> woodruff: and will that backdrop, jerry, we've been talking about domestic issues, are there also international issues. they may not be working their way through the congress but the president is going to be dealing on the side with what, with iran, a potential nuclear deal with iran, with the middle east, perhaps, john kerry, the secretary of state. how much do international issues come into play at a time like this? >> you know, in every second term international issues increasingly take over the agenda for the president. as his power at home is restricted, his ability or desire to move abroad increases. and that will probably be the story of the next three years. i think in the next year the big question on that agenda is the nuclear deal with
iran. will it come to, you know, there is a temporary deal in place, that will expire in a few months. will there be a permanent deal in place to restrict the iranian nuclear program. will it go down well in congress where there is a lot of skepticism about it. will it go down well with the allies, with the israelis. i think that is the big international economy, it is a tough one for the president in the first few months. >> woodruff: susan, do you have a reed on-- read at this point of lessons learned by the white house. 2013 has been a really tough year for them. what is your sense of that? >> well, obviously they learned lessons. there's been a kind of minor staff shake-up at the white house with some new people being brought in. but at this point i'm not sure that i think our strategy or even a big speech like the state of the union on january 28th is enough to reset things. it seems to me that what will determine the success of president obama this year is going to be the reality. the reality of the iranian, the reality of whether the affordable care act ends up working. the reality of do we have a
smooth transition out of afghanistan at the end of the year, that is another big issue this year. i think this is a time when pr will only take you so far. >> and meanwhile, jerry there was yet another pole out today showing the american people have their lowest, they hope not just congress and the white house but government in the lowest, at the lowest level ever seen. how much does that affect a president's ability to get something done? >> you know, i really think it's become the story of this phase of public life in the united states. and somebody has to change that. somebody has to convince people they can trust people in washington and government again. you know, and there are constraints on both parties because of this. you know, the president has to worry about will my democratic base allow me to compromise. republicans have to worry will the tea party wing of our party allow us to compromise. and then they have 20 worry will people in the mid whole clearly want there to be compromises in washington, will they stand for more gridlock? i mean this is a really, that poisonous period in washington. i think we've all been here long enough to agree, it's way up there on the poisonous scale right now. i don't think that's going
to change rapidly. i think it changes only over time. >> surely you both want to leave us with some uplifting note here. >> you do see the state's doing more and more. there is this state of dysfunction in washington. we all see that. but you see states moving ahead on issues with experimentation, on health care, on mandatory minimum sentences and a variety of things. and that's been one of the interesting things to see, as you look at the politics of the country as a whole. >> and the economy is doing better. >> woodruff: that's right, and -- >> less's not foreget we sppbt a lot of time talking about that for the last five years and it's better. >> jerry seib, susan page, thank you both. >> thank you. >> sure. >> woodruff: again, the major developments of the day. a major winter snowstorm shut down parts of the midwest and northeast, bringing arctic temperatures, heavy snow and high winds with it. more than 2,000 flights were canceled, and schools shut down ahead of the worst of it. sunni militants in iraq took
hold of parts of two key cities as they battled government forces. and secretary of state john and that's the newshour for tonight. i'm judy woodruff. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening with mark shields and david brooks, among others. for all of us here at the pbs newshour, thank you and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
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