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Ride share issues leaving SXSW goers immobile

(TECH NEWS) Price gouging and lack of availability has left SXSW goers up creek without a paddle – or ride.

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Feeling the void

Uber and Lyft left Austin in 2016 and during regular times of the year, the ride share apps native to Austin, can probably handle the demand with ease but during festivals, the apps are failing, and failing miserably.

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With SXSW in full swing and an influx of 72,000+ people (stats from 2016), the void created when Uber and Lyft departed is being felt.

Not so fast, Fasten

On Saturday March 11th, the first day of the festival, Fasten, the most widely used app crashed. The CEO, Kirill Evdakov, stated that the app was poised to be able to handle a 5x increase but that the app had seen a 12x increase and couldn’t keep up with demand.

Evdakov said in his statement on Facebook that “Hopefully ~1 hour of intermittent service issues (out of the 240 total hours of SXSW) won’t ruin your (and that of local riders and SXSW visitors) experience.

What’s being over shadowed by the crash (the subsequent crashes), are the massive price surges that are taking place.

Crashing our wallets

In images and tweets shared on facebook and twitter by pissed off users such as Amanda Coolong (@acoolong), a 7 minute/2 mile ride was estimated at between $10 and $12 dollars, but when booked jumped to between $43 and $51 dollars.

Another user Roeland Pater (@roelnd) showed his 8 minute ride estimate at between $70 ad $83 dollars.

Fortunately for Evdakov and Fasten, since the normal users of Austin have no real choice in the matter, as Uber and Lyft opted to leave the city, Fasten and a few lesser used apps will be sticking around.

Bad press

Unfortunately for Evdakov, in a post written by Richard Bagdonas, posted in Austin Tech Alliance, Bogdonas states:

“This was posted today from a friend who came to Austin from SFO. He has 29K followers on Twitter and 4k on FB. Moreover he is a writer.Fasten, the local, popular ride service that has replaced Uber and Lyft, has essentially gone to surge pricing and seems to be screwing drivers. My driver saw that I was being charged $14 for my $2 ride but it was 25 on PayPal that is 12x the usual rate, worse than Uber ever overcharged me.”

“We need to get mainstream ride sharing back.”

And this isn’t the only influential person to complain.

Pedicabs be petty

For those festival goers staying downtown or simply those too tired to walk, there have always been the option of pedicabs – which typically run off of tips.

Now all pedicab providers seem to be charging a fee plus optional tips but the fee schedule isn’t posted anywhere and it’s leaving users feeling swindled.

Benn Rosales, CEO of The Real Daily/The American Genius was taken THREE BLOCKS and the driver demanded $10 per person, and another longer ride said it would be $5 per person with tips optional). After googling all the pedicab services in Austin, not one website states a fee schedule.

Car2Go is a no-go

Car2Go, which has a fairly decent footprint in the city is seeing an uptake in sign-ups and use as an alternative to cabs and ride shares for it’s relatively low cost. Their 2 person, smart car version is $.41 a minute with a 23-minute trip costing $11.92 including the $1.08 driver protection fee.

The company, owned by Mercedes Benz also has the option of using a Mercedes Benz 4 and 5 seater CLA or GLA at just $.47 a minute.

Car2Go has been great for locals who want to drive downtown but not pay the fees to park, especially during SXSW when parking rates can get as high as $100.

Back to the basics

As a last resort, many people are going back to cabs.

With Austin holding a number of world acclaimed festivals each year, something needs to happen and it needs to happen fast.Click To Tweet

Either Fasten and it’s cohorts need to step up or the city council need to reevaluate the regulatory decisions that led to Uber and Lyft opting out.

#WeWantOptions

Pam Garner is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas, currently pursuing her master's degree in graphic and web design. Pam is a multi-disciplined creative who hopes to one day actually finish her book on all of her crazy adventures.

Tech News

Chatbots: Are they still useful, or ready to be retired?

(TECH NEWS) Chatbots have proven themselves to be equally problematic as they are helpful – is it time to let them go the way of the floppy disk?

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Man texting chatbots leaning against a brick wall.

All chatbots must die. I’d like to say it was fun while it lasted, but was it really?

I understand the appeal, truly. It’s a well established 21st century business mantra for all the side hustlers and serial entrepreneurs out there: “Automation is the key to scaling.” If we can save time, labor, and therefore money by automating systems, that means we have more time to build our brands and sell our goods and services.

Automation makes sense in many ways, but not all automation tools were created equal. While many tools for automation are extremely effective and useful, chatbots have been problematic from the start. Tools for email marketing, social media, internal team communication, and project management are a few examples of automation that have helped many a startup or other small business kick things into high gear quickly, so that they can spend time wooing clients and raising capital. They definitely have their place in the world of business.

However promising or intriguing chatbots seemed when they were shiny and new, they have lost their luster. If we have seen any life lesson in 2020, it is that humans are uniquely adept at finding ways to make a mess of things.

The artificial intelligence of most chatbots has to be loaded, over time, into the system, by humans. We try to come up with every possible customer-business interaction to respond to with the aim of being helpful. However, language is dynamic, interactive, with near infinite combinations, not to mention dialects, misspellings, and slang.

It would take an unrealistic amount of time to be able to program a chatbot to compute, much less reply to, all possible interactions. If you don’t believe me, consider your voice-activated phone bot or autocorrect spelling. It doesn’t take a whole lot to run those trains off the rails, at least temporarily. There will always be someone trying to confuse the bots, to get a terse, funny, or nonsensical answer, too.

Chatbots can work well when you are asking straightforward questions about a single topic. Even then, they can fall short. A report by AI Multiple showed that some chatbots were manipulated into expressing agreement with racist, violent, or unpatriotic (to China, where they were created) ideas. Others, like CNN and WSJ, had problems helping people unsubscribe from their messages.

Funny, shocking, or simply unhelpful answers abound in the world of chatbot fails. People are bound to make it messy, either accidentally or on purpose.

In general, it feels like the time has come to put chatbots out to pasture. Here are some helpful questions from azumbrunnen.me to help you decide when it’s worth keeping yours.

  1. Is the case simple enough to work on chatbot? Chatbots are good with direct and short statements and requests, generally. However, considering that Comcast’s research shows at least 1,700 ways to say “I want to pay my bill,” according to Netomi, the definition of “simple enough” is not so simple.
  2. Is your Natural Language Processor capable and sophisticated enough? Pre-scripted chatbots are often the ones to fail more quickly than chatbots built with an NLP. It will take a solid NLP to deal with the intricacies of conversational human language.
  3. Are your users in chat based environments? If so, then it could be useful, as you are meeting your customers where they are. Otherwise, if chatbots pop up whenever someone visits your website or Facebook page, it can really stress them out or turn them off.

I personally treat most chatbots like moles in a digital whack-a-mole game. The race is on to close every popup as quickly as possible, including chatbots. I understand that from time to time, in certain, clearly defined and specific scenarios, having a chatbot field the first few questions can help direct the customer to the correct person to resolve their problems or direct them to FAQs.

They are difficult to program within the expansiveness of the human mind and human language, though, and a lot of people find them terribly annoying. It’s time to move on.

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Tech News

Get all your digital organization in one place with Routine

(TECH NEWS) Routine makes note-taking and task-creating a lot easier by merging all your common processes into one productivity tool.

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A desk with a laptop, notepad, smartphone, and cup of coffee settled into an organized routine.

Your inbox can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Without organization, important emails with tasks, notes, and meetings can become a trash pile pretty quickly. Luckily, there are a lot of tools that aim to help you improve your efficiency, and the latest to add to that list is Routine.

Routine is a productivity app that combines your tasks, notes, and calendar into one easy-to-use app so you can increase your performance. Instead of having to switch between different apps to jot down important information, create to-do lists, and glance at your calendar, Routine marries them all into one cool productivity tool. By simply using a keyboard shortcut, you can do all these things.

If you receive an email that contains an actionable item, you can convert that email into a task you can view later. Tasks are all saved in your inbox, and you can even schedule a task for a specific day. So, if Obi-Wan wants to have Jedi lessons on Thursday, you can schedule your Force task for that day. Likewise, chat messages that need follow-up can also be converted into tasks and be scheduled.

To enrich your tasks, notes can be attached to them. In your notes, you can also embed checkboxes, which are tasks of their own. And if you have tasks that aren’t coming from your inbox, you can import them from other services, such as Gmail, Notion, and Trello.

To make sure you can stay focused on the events and tasks at hand, Routine makes it easy to take everything in. By using the tool’s keyboard-controlled console, you can access your dashboard to quickly see what tasks need to be addressed, what’s on your calendar, and even join an upcoming Zoom session and take notes about the meeting.

Routine is available for macOS, iOS, web, and Google accounts only. Overall, the app centralizes notes and tasks by letting you create and view everything in one place, which helps make sure you stay on top of things. Currently, Routine is still in beta, but you can get on a waitlist to test the product out for yourself.

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Tech News

The paradox of CAPTCHAs: Too smart for humans vs AI?

(TECH NEWS) AI is catching up to our cybersecurity technology and often tricking humans too — so what’s next for CAPTCHAs and the internet?

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Person using phone with laptop to verify CAPTCHAs and code.

We’ve all encountered it before: The occasional robot test that feels impossible to beat. If you’ve felt like these tests, also known as CAPTCHAs, have gotten harder in the last couple of years, you aren’t wrong—and the reason is as ironic as it is baffling.

Simply put, AI are just as good as—and often better than—humans at completing CAPTCHAs in their classic format. As machine learning and AI become more advanced, the fundamental human attributes that make consistent CAPTCHA formats possible become less impactful, raising the question of how to determine the difference between AI and humans in the future.

The biggest barrier to universal CAPTCHA doctrine is purely cultural. Humans may share experiences across the board, but such experiences are typically basic enough to fall victim to the same machine learning which has rendered lower-level CAPTCHAs moot. Adding a cultural component to CAPTCHAs could prevent AI from bypassing them, but it also might prevent some humans from understanding the objective.

Therein lies the root of the CAPTCHA paradox. Humans are far more diverse than any one test can possibly account for, and what they do have in common is also shared by—you guessed it—AI. To create a truly AI-proof test would be to alienate a notable portion of human users by virtue of lived experience. The irony is palpable, but one can only imagine the sheer frustration developers are going through in attempting to address this problem.

But all isn’t lost. While litmus tests such as determining the number of traffic cones in a plaza or checking off squares with bicycles (but not unicycles, you fool) may be beatable by machines, some experts posit that “human entropy” is almost impossible to mimic—and, thus, a viable solution to the CAPTCHA paradox.

“A real human being doesn’t have very good control over their own motor functions, and so they can’t move the mouse the same way more than once over multiple interactions,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, a former click fraud expert from Google. While AI could attempt to feign this same level of “entropy”, the odds of a successful attempt appear low.

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