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Should digital assistants have empathy? Big investors say yes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Bonding with your digital assistant might be more likely than you expect with ElliQ. The rising numbers of AI assistants have created unique interactions.

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ElliQ assistant

It sounds crazy to think that you could form an actual bond with something like Siri or Alexa, but actually, humans are pretty dang good at forming emotional connections to machines. For instance, a Canadian company threw an entire retirement party for five mail delivery bots. People will use Roombas as a substitute for companionship, not unlike a cat or dog. Humans just seem to enjoy connection – even if it’s with a lifeless robot.

Intuition Robotics is taking this desire for emotional connection a step further by working to create digital assistants that can more easily bond with their human companions. At the moment, their biggest product is ElliQ, a robotic digital assistant designed to bond with eldery users. In fact, according to Intuition Robotics, their average demographic falls between ages 78 – 97.

And ElliQ seems to be doing its job. The company reports that customers interact with ElliQ regularly throughout the day, even holding conversations with the machine, and are more likely to listen to ElliQ’s suggestions, which often include proactive behavior like getting outdoors or eating more vegetables.

By working to create a more empathetic and emotional digital AI, Intuition Robotics has started to discover a whole world of new possibilities. And they’re just getting started, having recently raised another $36 million to continue research.

One of their plans? Combining these empathetic digital assistants with the automotive industry.

Imagine an assistant that could suggest you pull over when it senses you’re getting drowsy, or provide something to talk to during longer drives. Plus, unlike ElliQ, which stays put while you move around, you and the assistant will be together in a car, making it easier for the AI to learn your preferences and habits.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Intuition Robotics, which has recently majorly expanded its workforce. A digital assistant that can provide a better emotional connection to humans has a world of possible applications, from nursing homes to elementary schools.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about a more empathetic AI – the marketing capabilities alone are something I’m side-eyeing. That said, humans have been befriending vacuum cleaners and we’ve turned out alright, so for now, let’s focus on the positive possibilities that could come with tech from companies like Intuition Robotics.

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

Real Estate Technology

Google Maps’ new default route will prioritize green over speed

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) Sorry commuters, but Google Maps will be updating their routes’ priority from ‘fastest’ to ‘greenest’ route within the next year.

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Google Maps ready to plot a new route inside of a car.

Google is making it easier for you to offset your carbon footprint. The Google Maps app will soon default to the greenest route instead of the fastest one.

To find the most environmentally friendly route, Google is taking insights from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab. Its navigation algorithm will consider factors like slopes, inclines, road type, and traffic congestion to find the most eco-friendly route.

For those in a rush, this might be a cause for worry, but there is no need for that. You have the option to adjust your preference settings to turn this feature off. Also, the app will default to the greenest route only when the estimated travel time of the fastest route is about the same. If the most fuel-efficient route is longer, Google Maps will give you other options to compare ETAs and carbon emissions.

“What we are seeing is for around half of routes, we are able to find an option more eco-friendly with minimal or no time-cost trade-off,” Russell Dicker, a director of product at Google said.

The feature is set to launch on Android and iOS in the U.S. later this year and will expand to other countries.

Also, Google is supporting cities that have established low emission zones by alerting a driver when they will be passing through a low emission zone that restricts some vehicles from passing through them. These warnings will inform users if their car is allowed in that area so they can choose another form of transportation or select a new route if they need to. In June, these low emission zone alerts will launch in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and the UK.

In addition, Google Maps is making it easier to compare different routes and modes of transportation with a “comprehensive view”. Instead of switching between tabs to view different destination times, you’ll be able to compare car, cycling, public transportation, etc. all in one place.

Google’s new eco-friendly navigation option, along with the other Google Maps app updates, is part of the company’s commitment to reduce and help its users reduce their environmental footprint. Since 2007, the tech giant has been carbon neutral, and it plans on being carbon-free by 2030. With these changes, the company seems to be making strides in the right direction to get there.

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Real Estate Technology

How fake images are infiltrating suburban geography

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) The rise in quality of deepfakes has even lead to the development of fake images in geography and housing. Here’s what to look out for.

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A digital map open on a computer, where one has to be wary of fake images.

With the onset of the computer age, we have seen a great deal of false information spreading around the world. From photoshopped images to presidents broadcasting fake information, there is a lot to be wary of. The internet is rife with data that truly needs to be verified at any given turn. The dangerous part is not only what people can do with that information, but also how they can hide things with it.

Satellite imagery has been on the rise for a few decades. An image that is already grainy and hard to see would be child’s play to alter. Maybe even to create from scratch. Tagging GPS coordinates are a simple alteration inside of photoshop too. Fakes, upon fakes, upon fakes.

In 2019, the US military warned about the possibility of fake geographical information being perpetuated across the internet. It then actually came true to the embarrassment of the Chinese government. Satellite “evidence” was used to report detention camps hidden away in the countries. The “camps” turned out to be re-education facilities for China’s mentally deviant populace. However, that’s another rabbit hole to run down. The point here is that the images that were released in 2015 showed absolutely no facility and then pictures in 2018 showed a massive facility.

An assistant professor, Bo Zhao, with the University of Washington decided to illustrate this again with a study. His opinion was “the first step to tackling these issues is to make people aware there’s a problem in the first place”. He and his colleagues published a paper on “deep fake geography”. They conducted experiments in generating and detecting imagery for suburban homes, which clearly demonstrated the affect of this technology on our economy. They were able to easily convert the shape and layout of a neighborhood in their images.

From this work we have a few new terms to be aware of. Threats of “paper towns” and “trap streets” are two of the new resounding terms. These new ideas can lead to a modicum of potential issues. The team actually created a software that has the ability to create these fake images. They did the work themselves, leading one to believe that the basic knowledge is there for anyone with a little know-how.

The moral of the story is, don’t trust anything from the internet. It’s all an opinion coming from some other flawed human being, and you don’t ever really know why people are putting that information out there. Always know and check your sources.

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Real Estate Technology

This company puts robot legs on buildings to ‘walk’ them to new locations

(TECH NEWS) China is balancing preserving its architectural heritage with rapid modern expansion, using unique technology inspired by 19th century.

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Looking up at a building in a city environment.

It’s a big enough pain to rearrange the furniture in my living room. Whether permanent, or looking for that cookie I swore I dropped behind the couch, even something that might take me 30 seconds of exertion is usually above my tolerance threshold.

Let’s magnify that problem by about a billion and start asking questions on how an entire building might be moved.

Not a shed in your neighbor’s backyard (which makes odd sounds some nights), not something designed to be portable on a trailer, and not a glorified tent or collapsible structure. We’re talking about a concrete structure weighing hundreds of tons and the need to have it move to a new permanent location.

Shanghai Evolution Shift has developed support that act as robotic legs, and a few hundred of them together can be placed under a building and literally have it walk to a new location. I’m simplifying it a bit here, so don’t let it sound too insane – there’s still a lot of physics and real world and astronomically heavy things involved, so it’s not exactly some miracle fix that can be deployed in one afternoon. But it is still remarkable – half the supports lift, the other half move into place, the load-bearing first group shifts the building forward a few feet, the second half rise to hold, and this process repeats.

Ultimately, a structure can be moved across the ground and be placed elsewhere; in this case, it was the Lagena Primary school – an 85 year old building weighing 7600 tons built in 1935 by the former French Commission – moved 62 meters (203 feet) along a curved path over the course of 18 days, turning 21 degrees in the transition. More impressive, the historical building is not a standard square/rectangle, but instead an odd T-shape. This was done to make room for new commercial and office space, which is set to be completed by 2023.

Some of you are thinking crutches don’t sound too awful right now.

This has set off a debate about conservation of architectural history, as there is a concern to keep storied buildings of the past in the ever-increasing march toward modernized expansion. Former Chinese Emperor Mao Zedong even waged a cultural war on “The Four Olds” in an attempt to erase previous examples of earlier Chinese civilization, prompting the destruction and razing of monuments and numerous buildings. Even with this type of mandate no longer in place, urbanization has become relentless and threatens to erase entire cultural cornerstones.

There have been attempts to draft plans to ensure conservation of such sites is achieved, and in doing so, this has brought about the need to see building relocation as a viable option. Shanghai has especially been a strong example of this preservation, setting itself as a leader in making sure the past is represented, saved, and respectfully maintained.

Interestingly, some of the ideas here are literally from over 150 years ago, and were deployed en masse in Chicago. At the time, there was a drainage problem – the city had no clearance above Lake Michigan, making all of its roads and buildings at water level. This meant that water and sewage would not run off, causing stagnant pools to appear across all roads, leading to outbreaks of diseases yearly.

Here, too, was an outlandish solution proposed and then executed – raising Chicago itself several feet. Trenches would be dug under a building, thousands of giant jackscrews would be placed in a giant grid pattern, and hundreds of workers would turn them in unison until the building was suddenly well above its original footprint. Interestingly, not only did this work, but there were no fatalities and only a small handful of incidents.

This process went on for twenty years, and despite some hiccups with sidewalks being hilariously uneven during that time, the results were a resounding success. The increase in height meant that a sewer system could be installed on the roads and buried, which fixed the original problem. Maybe the craziest thing about this is that so few people remember it, despite Chicago having always been a hub of American history.

There’s actually an entire history involved with moving houses using logs and animals and other means, in case anyone is interested. Apparently it is much more common than you’d think; we’ve got better technology today, but sometimes people just made do.

Last joke because I would be disappointed in anyone who didn’t reference this (including myself): Howl’s Moving Castle anyone?

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