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Who’s kissing who? Self driving cars edition

(TECH NEWS) With so many players, partnerships and rivalries in the self driving car game, we thought we’d try to put everything in one place for you.

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We begin with a story.

In the grim darkness of the 2000s, when I was but a little Matt, cocooned in higher learning, intent on writing the Man and sticking it to the Great American Novel and/or vice versa, a friend showed me a remarkable object.

This friend, and her friends, and their friends, had joined in fearsome female conspiracy to produce a list of who, in the… “complicated” is underselling it. Who, in the lunatic “Game of Thrones with twice the beer, half the IQ and no sharp objects” social congress of a co-ed dorm full of liberal arts majors, had been canoodling with whom.

My entry appeared 18th. High midfield – there were about 80. I never got up the nerve to ask how we were ranked.

You wouldn’t believe how useful that list has been to my life. Not the list itself, beyond a healthy infusion of self-doubt (18th?). But the concept, friends. Who’s smooching whom? It’s the universal question. Money and math are just ways to track it. Map the relationships, you’ve mapped the thing.

Let us therefore speak of self-driving cars. Because they’re coming, we all know it, and like any reasonable person you would like to acquire a giant Scrooge McDuck money pool to swim in thereby.

First, for our purposes, assume every car manufacturer has an in-house outfit at least looking at autonomous cars, because duh. For our purposes, they’re celibate. Nothing wrong with that.

Second, for the sake of their self-image (18th? Really? I mean, it was 80-some, but… really?) I’ll keep my smoochers alphabetical.

Now. Who, amongst the people actually building autonomous cars, is smooching whom?

Daimler, or Mercedes to be all American about it, is smooching..

…Smart. Yep, just Smart, which is a Daimler brand. Daimler is quite monogamous in its autonomous automotive endeavors. Aww. And seriously, the self-driving Smart Car is freaking adorable.

…Lyft, which is branching out of the X-as-a-service business to actually build stuff. At least, it says it is. Fair dues, it says it emphatically, like “by 2021 a majority of our rides will be in self-driving cars, and by 2025 personal car ownership won’t be a thing.” To that end, they’re smooching…

…Ford, because, you know, Ford makes cars and Lyft doesn’t.

…themselves. We’ve all been there.

But there’s more to Lyft. I ain’t saying Lyft is a gold digger, but it is not frequently seen in the company of partners with less than substantial means. They’re looking to be network of choice for other people’s self driving cars. That is, Lyft seeks to be smooched. Big-name volunteers currently include GM and Jaguar.

Uber. I’m almost hesitant to write about Uber, because, my Deity of Choice, Uber is a hot mess right now. Like, really. But they do theoretically have a business model other than litigation, and they have made a commitment to actually making, not just contracting, self-driving cars. To that end, they’ve been doing some hopefully less-skeezy-than-usual smooching with…

…Otto. Otto was Uber’s Waymo, their in-house startup. Unfortunately, they’re currently in court arguing that it’s not Uber’s Waymo in the sense that a Waymo executive stole a bunch of stuff from Waymo, then hooked up with Uber. Oh my, the drama. Poor Otto, like so many third wheels, appears to have been dropped, but there was smoochin’ going on. Litigious smooching! That is the worst kind of smooching.

…Volvo. Volvo was going to be to Uber what Fiat Chrysler was to Waymo. You may be sensing a pattern. Also, the Uber Volvo self-drivers are back in testing after smacking into somebody in Arizona. See aforementioned “mess, hot.”

Volvo. What’s to say about Volvo? My first car was a Volvo wagon (of course it was, I am, as noted elsewhere in my oeuvre, a painfully stereotypical fluffy hippie) and I can think of nothing exciting to say about Volvo. That (un)said, Volvo has a rep for surprisingly forward thinking techwise, given its cars are best known for safety, reliability and other unsexy things. That’s borne out in its smooching, which includes…

…Autoliv, which, world’s largest auto safety supplier. Sounds like Volvo.

…Nvidia, which, what? Nvidia’s definitely the “s/he’s hooking up with who?” entry on this list. For non-nerds in the audience, Nvidia’s main consumer-focused business is graphics processing for PCs. Gamer stuff. They make sure you can see the individual folds of brain tissue off the zombie you just domed. As an Nvidia customer myself, I’d never lower myself to a stereotype-laden joke like “Nvidia’s doing cars? Nvidia customers don’t go outside!” but, well. On the other hand, chipsets. They are very good at them.

Waymo, the Alphabet-owned (read “Google, but for things we don’t want to call Google”) startup that’s all autonomous cars, all the time, is smooching…

…well, mostly Google. They would be. But – can we be real a second? Google’s a slut. We all know it. Get a little entrepreneurial Natty Light in ‘em and they’ll go home with anything. So in practice, Waymo is smooching…

Fiat Chrysler Automotive to get the cars on the road. That’s already happened with their Early Rider Program, which has put 500 robo-Chryslers on the streets of Phoenix, something I still find vaguely intimidating. If the satnav says “Exterminate!” I’m moving to Mars.

Intel for hardware. Waymo still does its development entirely in-house, but Intel, being noted for building nice chips, is building the chips.

The great thing about “who’s smooching whom” is that, when you map that one aspect, you get a sense of the whole. That list from the first paragraph? An alien could be given that and no other information about h. sapiens collegiensis and determine “these organisms have little impulse control, no understanding of consequences, and should probably consume less of a mysterious resource called ‘beer.’”

The Spock analysis of automotive smooching yields similar results. For all the crazed Lannister decadence above, the relationships people are building in order to make self-driving cars a reality come down to three things: a business plan for their use, top-tier tech, and a whole bunch of actual cars.

As yet, nobody has all three, hence the smooching. Lyft has a business plan, but no cars, so smooches for Ford, GM and Jag. Volvo has cars, but no tech or business plan, so Nvidia and Autoliv get their smooches.

The question is, who will get all three in one place in a way customers care about?

That’s where you come in. Read the above, read this (that goes into far greater detail). It has maps!

After that, your call. It’s your money. Like any good smooch, you don’t know how it’s gonna go until it’s gone.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

The newest booming business: Hiding from facial recognition

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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Tech News

Australia wants Facebook and Google to pay media royalties

Australia seeks to require Facebook and Google to pay royalties to media companies for use of news content on their platforms.

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Australia is in the process of requiring tech giants, Facebook and Alphabet, to pay royalties to Australian media companies for using their content. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the move the day after the US Congressional antitrust hearing that put the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple back in the regulatory spotlight.

In addition to the pressure from the United States investigation into market control by these companies, global leaders are calling for similar regulations. Though none have been successful, media companies in Germany, France, and Spain have pushed for legislation to force Google to pay licensing fees to use their news content. Some companies have been pushing for this for years and yet, the tech giants keep dragging out their changes, even admitting their actions are wrong.

In 2019, the Australian government instructed Facebook and Google to negotiate voluntary deals with Australian media to use their content. The Australian government says the companies failed to follow through on the directive, and therefore will be forced to intervene. They have 45 days to reach an agreement in arbitration, after which the Australian Communications and Media Authority will create legally binding terms for the companies on behalf of the Australian government.

Google claims the web traffic that it drives to media websites should be compensation enough for the content. A Google representative in Australia asserts that the government regulations would constitute interference into market competition – which would be the point, Google!

According to a 2019 study, an estimated 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in the last decade. The previous generation of media companies has paid substantial advertising fees to Google and Facebook while receiving nothing in return for the use of its news content. Frydenberg asserts the regulatory measures are necessary to protect consumers and ensure a “sustainable media landscape” in the country.

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Tech News

Onboarding for customers and employees made easy

(TECH NEWS) Cohere enables live, virtual onboarding at bargain prices to help you better support and guide your users.

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Web development and site design may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean your customers won’t get turned around when reviewing your products. Onboarding visitors is the simplest solution, but is it the easiest?

According to Cohere–a live, remote onboarding tool–the answer is a resounding yes.

Cohere claims to be able to integrate with your website using “just 2 lines of code”; after completing this integration, you can communicate with, guide, and show your product to any site visitor upon request. You’ll also be able to see what customers are doing in real time rather than relying on metrics, making it easy to catch and convert customers who are on the fence, due to uncertainty or confusion.

There isn’t a screen-share option in Cohere’s package, but what they do include is a “multiplayer” option in which your cursor will appear on a customer’s screen, thus enabling you to guide them to the correct options; you can also scroll and type for your customer, all the while talking them through the process as needed. It’s the kind of onboarding that, in a normal world, would have to take place face-to-face–completely tailored for virtual so you don’t have to.

You can even use Cohere to stage an actual demo for customers, which accomplishes two things: the ability to pare down your own demo page in favor of live options, and minimizing confusion (and, by extension, faster sales) on the behalf of the customer. It’s a win-win situation that streamlines your website efficiency while potentially increasing your sales.

Naturally, the applications for Cohere are endless. Using this tool for eCommerce or tech support is an obvious choice, but as virtual job interviews and onboarding become more and more prevalent, one could anticipate Cohere becoming the industry example for remote inservice and walkthroughs.

Hands-on help beats written instructions any day, so if companies are able to allocate the HR resources to moderate common Cohere usage, it could be a huge win for those businesses.

For those two lines of code (and a bit more), you’ll pay anywhere from $39 to $129 for the listed packages. Custom pricing is available for larger businesses, so you may have some wiggle room if you’re willing to take a shot at implementing Cohere business-wide.

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