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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.

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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.

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Make it harder for Facebook to track you around the web

(TECH NEWS) Facebook remains in hot water, but you can make a simple choice that puts you in control of your data. Check it out.

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facebook container

Firefox has long been an industry leader in security, which is why it’s no surprise that they’re the first large browser to roll out an anti-tracking add-on geared toward making life difficult for everyone’s favorite social media platform: Facebook.

Facebook Container is a deceptively powerful add-on, allowing you to prevent Facebook from tracking and analyzing your browsing behavior while you navigate around the Internet. After installing it in Firefox like any other add-on, you log into your Facebook account inside of the container; from that point on, any Facebook tracking will be confined to the Container tab in which you’re using FB.

The primary purpose of the add-on is, of course, to limit the amount of information that Facebook can extrapolate from your browsing history. There’s still plenty of information that you can give to Facebook simply by scrolling through your News Feed page, but at least they won’t know what size of underwear you’re buying.

Another obvious ramification of using Facebook Container is its ad-blocking capabilities. Unlike a traditional ad-blocker, it won’t force-hide ads; instead, it will hide your activity, meaning you’ll see fewer targeted ads based on your browsing activity and habits. This is likely to cut down on frustration from users who feel inappropriately targeted or singled out by the social media giant’s often-invasive ads.

In addition to its numerous qualities, it also comes with a few downsides—though for the privacy-minded, they’ll probably not feel like game-changers. The main issue is that sharing buttons and those cute little “Like” buttons you see all over the Internet won’t work when you use the add-on since you’ll be logged out of FB everywhere else in Firefox.

Naturally, using the social media buttons outside of the Firefox add-on kind of defeats the purpose of using the add-on to begin with, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem.

You also won’t be able to log into websites that use your FB login information as a credential automatically, which—as Mozilla puts it on the product page—is “to be expected.”

If you’re the kind of person who says “I’d delete my social media accounts, but I need it to stay in contact with so-and-so,” at least once a week, this add-on for Firefox may be for you—and, even if you aren’t a Firefox user, their browser updates over the past six months make switching worth a try.

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Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.

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Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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This app takes a picture of who stole your device, we are in love

(TECH NEWS) Prey is the ultimate answer to combat a stolen device – going on the offense is sometimes the best defense.

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stolen device report

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to worry about your phone or computer being stolen – and, in the event that it was stolen, your device’s “Find My Device” app would be enough.

Unfortunately, prophylaxis is the best (and often only) defense against smartphone thieves, which is why an app called Prey is a head above the pack.

Prey takes the process one step further: it takes a picture of the person who stole your phone and uploads it to a server for your viewing “convenience” (we’re assuming that not much about your current situation is convenient if your smartphone’s gone). This both alerts you to the identity of the person if you know them, or at least gives you a face to show to law enforcement.

Prey’s packed with other features as well, including the ability to entirely wipe your device or pull up coordinates on a world map.

Perhaps the coolest side effect of Prey is its ability to generate far more data for a police report than related apps.

While Find My iPhone and similar services can generate a location and allow you to wipe your device, Prey can use the front and rear cameras for thief identification, retrieve files, take screenshots, and pull up local IP addresses and Wi-Fi networks.

Unlike proprietary device GPS apps, Prey works on all four of the major operating systems (and even Linux, if that’s the kind of person you are), making it much easier for you to streamline your recovery efforts should you lose more than one device at a time.

We wouldn’t wish losing a bag full of your precious electronics on many, but it’s not impossible.

As with any technology, there’s a downside to Prey, and in this case, it’s the sheer potential for damage, should Prey’s data access be compromised. The ability to find one’s location and details such as IP addresses and networks is extremely concerning, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica incident – and while Prey asserts that your device’s data won’t even be examined unless you request the service, it’s still a troubling potentiality.

If you’re worried about losing your device(s) and you’re looking for that extra nail in the coffin should you need it, you can check out Prey’s pricing on their website.

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