The Drill Down 432: Ten Laws of Robotics?

This week, the tech world responds to BREXITMicrosoft revises Asimov’s laws of robotics, Facebook and YouTube use AI to filter out extremist content, and Facebook wants you to see more of your loved ones’s content rather than upworthy shares. Also, we show you why the car in that ad may not be what you think it is, and Boston Dynamics brings a robot to the home, so keep those bananas around

Find the episode on iTunesStitcher, or on Geeks of Doom.

The Americas are doing Incredible Things with Cars

While Germany has long been the place for auto innovation, it's clear that over the last decade, there's been a resurgence in US auto engineering. Unfortuneately, the Big 3 aren't leading the charge, but being dragged by Tesla, Google and even Apple these days.

Germany's big 3 are being dragged as well, but today it's interesting to see how it's not just the US that's making waves. As Alina Selyukh reports for NPR, a 24 year old Columbian man just used 3D printing techniques to create a cheap, autonomous minibus-- the sort of thing that could be made incredibly quickly, cheaply, and, in its capacity as a part of public transportation, take cars off of the road, rather than chasing a consumer play that inevitably leads to more traffic.

It's impressive. Click or tap on this blog post's title for the link that'll get you the images of this adorable minibus, it's inventor and the full story.

Fear the Robot Revolution

So here's the headline, from Luke Dormehl for Digital Trends, which was published in all caps:
THIS ROBOT SALAMANDER CAN SWIM AND CRAWL, JUST LIKE A REAL AMPHIBIAN

And here's the video:

 

We spoke about Asimov's three laws of robotics this week on The Drill Down, along with another ten "musts" that MS CEO Satya Nadella is promoting. These ideas are becoming less and less abstract by the month. The idea of some advanced model of this slithering thing coming up behind you is terrifying. Terrifying.

Driver Distraction Casts Doubt on Autopilot as the Culprit

Sam Levin and Nicki Wolf writing for The Guardian:

“The truck driver, Frank Baressi, 62, told the Associated Press that the Tesla driver Joshua Brown, 40, was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” during the collision and was driving so fast that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him”.”

If this is the case, then the details of this matter become both disturbing and absurd, while moving away from mechanical failure, and into an indictment of our screen-addicted and screen-distracted society.

"Baressi, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, said the Harry Potter movie “was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road”. He told the AP, however, that he heard the movie but didn’t see it."

Aside from the social implications, if this account is true, we can expect that the victim's loved one will have an exceedingly difficult time processing their loss. 

NPR regarding the Tesla AutoPilot Crash

Sonari Glinton, reporting for NPR's Morning Edition:

"Well, the company put out a statement saying that Brown, who was an advocate of Tesla's, that, saying, quote, that "he was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community." And earlier in the statement, though, the company points out that this was the first accident. And then when drivers - and also they say that when drivers activate autopilot, they have to acknowledge that, among other things, it's an assist feature and it requires you to keep your hands on the wheel and steering at all times.
You have to remain in control. And before you engage, it pops up and says that. And but - and also, in a way, this accident seems inevitable because, you know, I have watched many, many videos on YouTube of Tesla drivers engaging the autopilot feature and, you know, not behaving responsibly."

A note on the media-- the announcer, Steve Inskeep, stated that the vehicle in question was a self-driving car. It's not, and while Glinton clears this up in his quote, it's important to realise that by setting the stage with his opening comments, and that makes the story harder to understand for people not in the know about Tesla, autopilot, and the other key bits of this situation.

Tesla Autopilot Implicated in Death of Model S Driver

Autopilot, the series of technologies used in conjunction that allow a Tesla Model S drive semi-autonomously, was in use when one 2015 Model S crashed, killing the driver. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ("NHTSA") is looking into the crash and thus, looking into Autopilot.

Tesla remarked on the situation on their blog:

We learned yesterday evening that NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Model S. This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.

It's heartbreaking to think that someone thought their car was taking care of the driving and then, presumably all of a sudden, they end up in a crash that takes their life. Autopilot thought it may be called, Tesla expects people keep their eyes open and their hands on the wheel when using the feature. Still, there's no way to tell right now exactly what happened. 

Regardless of fault, we can expect some for some draft regulations around autonomous vehicles to come out of this inquiry.

Netflix Sued over Price Increase

Netflix offers extraordinary value to US consumers for the money they expect. I'm happy to pay a bit more-- especially since I understand that prices for the IP they stream are going up.

Still, it wouldn't be America without a little litigious love, as a man who thought he was locked into the $8/mo price was outraged when his bill came in at $10/mo.

"For a period of time, Netflix solicited persons to subscribe to Netflix's streaming service by guaranteeing that Netflix would not increase monthly subscription prices as long as the subscribers maintained the subscription service continuously," states the complaint. "Netflix has broken its contract with these subscribers by unilaterally raising monthly subscription prices."

Google's Mobile Maps Get Even BETTER with multi-stop

Jillian D'Onfro, writing for Business Insider:

"The feature has long been available on the desktop version, which made its absence on the app even more annoying for those of us (like me) who like to plan roadtrips on a computer but rely on a phone for navigation. Not being able to add multiple stops on the app was incredibly frustrating."

What's similarlly interesting, is that Waze, a mobile navigation app which Google has owned since 2013, has had this same functionality for at least a couple of years now-- even allowing passengers of moving cars to insert a stop into an established route. I really wonder what took so long.

Business Insider on the Headache of iPhone Wireless Connectivity

It's not a BIG deal....
but it's a big deal, considering the pseudo-marketing line "it just works" that my fellow iPhone users tend to bellow every time Apple's mobile devices are contrasted with Google's 

The Drill Down 431: At Least I (Still) Have Chicken

This week, the guys and I discuss how Microsoft goes green (sort of), BitTorrent's legitimate attempt at a news channel, why Tesla decided to invest in solar, and how big-name musicians are attempting to rally against YouTube. Also--  Star Wars hits VR...or is it AR?

Find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, or on Geeks of Doom.

Should Robots Pay Taxes?

Over in Europe, where they hate technology, Charles Riley, writing for CNN Money, reveals findings from a new draft policy report that seeks to penalize corporations by taxing them on robotic manufacturing techniques. The report, headed by Mady Delvaus, a Luxumbourg representative to the EU Parliment, states in part that the EU should secure tax revenue from not people, nor corporations, but from the machines that corporations use to generate goods: Robots. Here are some choice quotes:

"The proposal suggests that robots should have to register with authorities, and says laws should be written to hold machines liable for damage they cause, such as loss of jobs."

"If advanced robots start replacing human workers in large numbers, the report recommends the European Commission force their owners to pay taxes or contribute to social security. The establishment of a basic income, or guaranteed welfare program, is also suggested as a protection against human unemployment."

Switzerland's government just held an open debate and referendum on a "basic income" and it was roundly rejected.

Back to the point-- taxing companies for their gains at efficiency is problematic. For nearly a century, the Western World has dreamt and worked toward an agenda of productivity that frees humans from the sort of physical toil that can lead to workplace injuries and long-term health problems by building machines that can take over those roles and perform them more efficiently. These efforts, in turn, lead to (1) better quality of life for workers, (2) positive economic growth as productivity rises and (3) fuels growth in the standard of living as manufactured goods and devices become cheaper.

Amazon.com uses just such robots to make sure they can deliver purchased items to users quickly, while saving valueable space in warehouses.

In the case of autonomous cars, we'll see less taxis on the road, and less drivers taking the wheel, which will likely lead to less costly accidents, less traffic, and less injuries. Stopping manufacturers from pursuing this course of action by throwing a new tax in the way of the efficiency incentives tied to this new technology is a bad idea.

Let's not forget what happened when Google was told by Spain that their service of helping people find news stories was going to be taxed: Google News went away leaving Spain's public  less informed than the rest of their fellow EU citizens. 

There is some good news nestled deep within this report. It suggests we implement Asimov's three laws on all new artificial intelligence devices. They're simple to understand and are as follows:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Considering that the governments of the world have agreed to such pacts regarding Antarcticachemical weaponslasers, and even outer space, the above three principles shouldn't be too hard to agree upon.

Taxes, however, are an entirely different story.

 

Tesla shares crater as Wall Street reacts to bid for SolarCity

This one's simple: the headline IS the story. 

Summary? Tesla shares lost 10% in today's trading as shareholders felt unconvinced that the $2.9 billion bid to purchase SolarCity, a leaser and developer of solar power generation and power generation devices, was a good idea.

Musk is going to have to come out from behind the desk and sell this one hard. Also-- it looks like it's an all-stock deal** that some thing undervalues SolarCity's potential

 

**In an 8-K filing, Tesla proposed exchange from 0.122 to 0.131 shares for each share of SolarCity stock. 

Tesla Makes Offer to Acquire SolarCity

There's not much to say about this, but here's my initial reaction:

It's  important to understand that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is the chairman of Solar City, which is run by his cousin. 

Given some takes on Tesla's cash flow situation, this gambit will allow the automaker to further diversify revenue, which is currently not limited to just car sales, but battery sales and sales of carbon credits to big polluters. Investors could be intrigued to put down more money now that it's clear Tesla is in fact much more than a one-trick pony that's focused in the risky business of manufacturing and selling autos. 

On the flipside, those autos are a huge draw for the business, especially now that Tesla has taken VolksWagen's place as one of the top ten auto brand values. Considering that VW is the second largest automaker in the world, that's pretty significant.

But back to Solar City. If this $2.9 billion bid is successful, Tesla is essentially an Electric Company that leases and sells devices for power generation, storage, and consumption. That's called vertical integration, and it's a principle that has long gotten the attention of investors.

Beijing Regulator Orders Apple to Stop Sales of Two iPhone Models

Eva Dou for the Wall Street Journal: 

"Beijing’s intellectual property regulator has ordered Apple Inc. to stop sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the city, ruling that the design is too similar to a Chinese phone, in another setback for the company in a key overseas market."

 

I was in Beijing a couple of weeks ago and on the subway I was surprised by the look of one Android phone that at first glance, looked like an iPhone 6/6S. It was white and it was everywhere.  

The Drill Down 430: WWDC & E3 2016

This week, Andrew, Tosin and I discuss how the internet is legally free for all, but not for Gawker, the Microsoft buyout of LinkedIn, and all the latest from two huge tech industry events: Apple‘s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

Find the episode on Geeks of Doom.

Microsoft in the Weeds

Nathaniel Popper for the new York Times: 

"But Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale,” as the pot industry puts it.

The software — a new product in Microsoft’s cloud computing business — is meant to help states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana keep tabs on sales and commerce, ensuring that they remain in the daylight of legality."

Between LinkedIn and this, Nadella is forging ahead by noticing new, different and exciting opportunities for Microsoft. 

Court Backs Rules Treating Internet as Utility, Not Luxury

An important example of when it's important to maintain the status quo. still, while this is definitely a desired outcome in the view of the public interest, this won't be settled until it's been looked at by the Supreme Court.

Cecilia Kang of The New York Times wrote a great article about this and their video (below) is exceptionally informative.

The Death of the Period.

An interesting take on how technology is changing the way we communicate. As Dan Bilefsky writes for the NYTimes, I find myself taking on that "get off my lawn" feeling when it comes to the apparent lost of the period. Things like apps within messaging apps (#8) aren't helping.

It's not made any easier by the fact that his piece doesn't use periods. 

"Professor Crystal’s observations on the fate of the period are driven in part by frequent visits to high schools across Britain, where he analyzes students’ text messages

Researchers at Binghamton University in New York and Rutgers University in New Jersey have also recently noted the period’s new semantic force

They asked 126 undergraduate students to review 16 exchanges, some in text messages, some in handwritten notes, that had one-word affirmative responses (Okay, Sure, Yeah, Yup) Some had periods, while others did not

Those text message with periods were rated as less sincere, the study found, whereas it made no difference in the notes penned by hand"