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Science has confirmed our greatest hope about autonomous vehicles

(TECH NEWS) New research confirms people’s greatest hope and desire for the use of autonomous automobiles.

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The bane of existence

There is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of commuters worldwide- a word so terrible, so vile, so incomprehensibly irritating that merely typing it makes my brow furrow and lips curl back into a vicious snarl. That word, my friends, is… traffic.

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A chill ran down my spine at the mere mention of it.

Let’s go!

But fear not, brothers and sisters! According to a research study led by Daniel B. Work, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that foul beast that has terrorized commuters for, well, essentially as long as people have had to commute, may soon be stripped of much of its power. How, you ask? Have poorly designed roads begun to make sense? Have other drivers, aside from yourself, learned how to drive?

Alas, no. Instead, it will be fought tooth and nail by the (occasional) champion of justice known as Technology!

Remember those autonomous vehicles that seemingly every technology and automotive company seems to be working on? Well, according to Work, their “experiments show that with as few as 5 percent of vehicles being automated and carefully controlled, we can eliminate stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behavior.” The experiments, performed in Tucson, AZ, featured a single autonomous vehicle continuously circling a track while sharing the road with at least 20 other human-driven vehicles.

Interesting takeaways from the experiment?

According to Work and his research team, “human drivers naturally create stop-and-go traffic, even in the absence of bottlenecks, lane changes, merges or other disruptions”. Which I guess gives credence to the outraged epithets you may yell with your windows rolled up. This phenomenon even has a name, being called the “phantom traffic jam”. Work’s experiment was the first to be able to demonstrate, however, that a small percentage of autonomous vehicles (which in this case was one), can help to bust the nefarious “phantom.”

Not only would they help to eliminate waves of traffic, but they also could help to reduce fuel consumption by 40 percent.

The results of this experiment also seem to suggest that current automotive technology, such as adaptive cruise control, can also positively affect traffic conditions. This in turn suggests that the cruise control function is useful outside of road trips and extremely long drives. You learn something new every day!

Hypothetical until put into play

Though these results are very exciting, and bring with them hope for the relatively near future, it is important to note that the experiment was performed in a very controlled environment with only a small number of drivers. We will have to wait and see whether autonomous vehicles will have the same amount of success in terms of the chaos that is real-world driving. In the meantime, Work and his team suggest the next step in their research would be to study how the effects of autonomous vehicles in denser traffic, as well as with more freedoms granted to human drivers.

After all, this study did not even allow the human drivers to change lanes!

(Making the concept of a “phantom traffic jam” even more jarring. What could possibly cause a traffic jam if you can’t even change lanes?)

Let’s get autonomous cars goin

Still, as one from the San Francisco Bay Area, whose roads have been in traffic’s deadly stranglehold for quite some time, it is hard not to get overly excited about these results.

Plus, you know, they beat the alternatives. Robot apocalypse and all that.

#AutonomousAutomobiles

Andrew Clausen is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and when he’s not deep diving into technology and business news for you, he is a poet, enjoys rock climbing, monster movies, and spending time with his notoriously naughty cat.

Tech News

New stats behind mobile addiction and how people are coping

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Addiction to our screens is now accepted, and while younger generations are glued more tightly to them, many people are finding ways to fight back.

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I’d probably get this article done faster if I wasn’t checking my phone every couple of sentences. Even if I’m not expecting a message and know that everyone I was talking to is currently busy, it’s likely I’ll still neurotically check my phone every few minutes just in case.

Turns out I’m not alone in my mobile addiction.

A study from Deloitte of 2,000 U.S. internet users aged 18 to 75 found most people check their smartphone roughly 47 times a day.

Younger users nearly double this stat, checking their devices around 86 times a day, up from 82 times reported in the 2016 study.

The study also assessed which activities drove users to check their smartphones. Patterns of use compared to the previous year remain relatively unchanged except for self-reports of checking the phone while driving, which has fortunately decreased.

More than nine out of every ten respondents confess they use their phone while shopping or “spending leisure time.” Over eight out of ten reported checking on phones while watching TV, eating in a restaurant, and even while talking to family and friends.

When watching a show that’s longer than eleven minutes, I put my phone on the opposite side of the room if I want any hope of paying attention. I know if I keep my phone next to me, I’ll miss crucial chunks of episodes. This is a partial attempt to manage the addiction.

Likewise, around 47 percent of respondents said they’re trying to limit their usage, and are actively taking steps to reduce time spent on their phones. Some people report success by simply keeping their phones out of sight, turning it off during meals, or while spending time with friends.

A third of those surveyed turn off audio notifications, while around a quarter even went as far as putting some apps the chopping block. Another quarter could only part with their phones at bed time, turning their devices off at night.

Having a smartphone is fun (an addiction), but you don’t want to end up being that sad woman in the “Selfie” episode of High Maintenance only interacting with your phone.

Sometimes it can be much healthier to just put your phone away for a while. This can be a few hours of no phone time, or if you cans swing it, a few days of “business only” phone time.

Let people know if you’re going radio silent for a significant amount of time though, because otherwise your mom will think you’re dead if you stop responding to texts. Now please excuse me while I fail to follow my own advice and continue the technology loop of checking my Snaps, texts, and Instagram feed.

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Tech News

Turn your FAQ page into a chatbot without knowing how to code

(TECH NEWS) An easy way to add a chatbot to your site and automate some of your work is through this new simple tool that doesn’t require any tech know-how.

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Reduce your workload and personalize customer service engagement with Faqbot, the tool that turns your online FAQ into a customized chatbot.

Co-founded by Denny Wong and CEO Mathis André, Faqbot uses machine learning to streamline frequently asked questions into a handy chatbot pal.

Based on your existing FAQ content, Faqbot builds a database that learns from every conversation to improve responses. Faqbot can also be used to automate sales and lead generation.

You get to design the conversation flow, mapping out a custom path to guide users to a desired outcome. Set predefined choices or free text, customize the bot’s responses, and determine what leading questions the bot should ask.

For example, on the Faqbot site, I was given two pre-set choices to click after each response from the bot. Clicking “Thanks for helping” gets the polite response “You are welcome! ;-)” complete with an old-school emoji featuring a nose.

If you select “not my question,” Faqbot uses its general response to any unanswerable question: “Sorry, I’m a chatbot. I am constantly learning and have answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for leaving your email and we will get back to you shortly.”

Choose your own responses based on already defined FAQ or come up with new messaging to better engage and inform your customers as needed. The free text option is also available if customers wish to continue asking questions.

Of course, I had to try out some less than frequently asked questions. When I asked Faqbot “are we friends?” it kindly replied, “Absolutely. You don’t have to ask.” So I’m smitten.

However, when I tried to take it to the next level by asking “Do you love me?,” which seems to be the internet’s favorite way to harass a bot, I got the “Sorry, I’m a chatbot” response.

That’s okay. I’ll recover. Faqbot isn’t here to love, it’s here to answer questions.

You can easily install the chatbot by either copy/pasting the snippet of codes directly into your webpage, or connect Faqbot to your company’s Facebook page. No coding skills required.

Pricing is based on number of users per month, but all levels include the same service offerings of FAQ database management, messaging interface, a ticketing system, and DIY guided conversation flow. You can try out Faqbot free for 7 days by signing up on their site.

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Ex-Facebook President, Sean Parker says they knew they were creating addictions

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Sean Parker, a long-time player in tech, says that Facebook was aware they were creating something addictive but “did it anyway.”

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Oh snap, there’s some Facebook drama going on, and like most Facebook drama, it’s a little awkward and over-exaggerated.

During an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Sean Parker, first president of Facebook, co-founder of Napster, Mother of Dragons, and now founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, lamented openly during a candid discussion about his role in creating the social media giant.

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them… was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” said Parker, likening the cycle of posting and receiving likes and thus posting more to being given a “little dopamine hit.”

That’s right folks, Facebook was designed to be enjoyable and addictive.

While tycoons Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg remain large players in the current social media sphere, social media was already an addicting form of communication with old schoolers Friendster, Myspace, LiveJournal, and even Second Life. As mobile technology advances and marketing makes the tech seem less daunting and more fun, naturally, social media would begin to proliferate over time.

Arcade machines, pinball machines, theme park games, you name it; all were designed to be both fun and addicting.

But those things couldn’t really be carried around, because the tech wasn’t quite there yet. Now all of these things can be done from a phone, installed from the app store for free, to be used at any spare moment’s notice with sporadic pop-ups encouraging you to buy more in-game currency to keep playing.

Even better, Facebook gives us a platform to sick brag about our high scores and pester relatives to help out our digital farms.

During the discussion with Axios, Parker refers to his and his colleagues’ knowledge of media addiction and time consumption “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating a social feedback validation loop… something a hacker might come up with.

“[W]e understood this consciously,” Parker said, concluding with a harrowing, “And we did it anyway.”

Selfies have been around since I can remember getting the internet at 13. Filters had to be applied manually or via Photoshop, and there were more dirty bathroom mirror photos with a hot white flash in half the shots, but they were there.

This just happens to be an age of selfies. More people are getting into the tech. It’s getting better, cheaper, and more obtainable, so yeah, people are going to get more creative and more use out of it than they used to.

Though it’s not entirely clear that rabid selfie-sharing is Parker’s uneasiness, but what makes Facebook and other new social media platforms different than some of their predecessors is the automation of things through algorithms, the collection of data for targeting advertising, and privacy concerns.

So let’s not simply assume using Facebook and social media platforms will do weird things to our brains, rather let’s be smart about how we use them.

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