ProjectBlog: “Botyoncé” or Beyoncé, Automated Firing, 1M Robo-Taxis, China-style surveillance rolling out…

Blog: “Botyoncé” or Beyoncé, Automated Firing, 1M Robo-Taxis, China-style surveillance rolling out…

Every Sunday Morning I send out a short note by email covering 10 fascinating stories and 10 further links which I have found interesting. It’s free! Generally, the coverage surrounds stories in the emerging technology space (AI / Future of Work / New Business models / Disruptive Products / Blockchain / Edtech etc. ) made accessible so that anyone can understand where our world is fast moving to.

Below is what I sent out this morning. If you want to sign up, you can do so at If you already receive Box of Amazing, share this post with your colleagues or let them know how much you hopefully like it in the comments!



1. Things that perturb you in tech: seeing a monkey use a smartphone to scroll Instagram.

2. I’m worried about my own ethics: check yours versus AI with self-driving cars.

3. What if you loved music by Beyoncé: would you care for Botyoncé or

Have a great week!

Onward! — Rahim

What’s Amazing

1. Amazon’s Automated Firing for Low productivity

Are you ready for the tech overlords robots judging you? “Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity,” according to the letter, “and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.” (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process.) Critics see the system as a machine that only sees numbers, not people. “One of the things that we hear consistently from workers is that they are treated like robots in effect because they’re monitored and supervised by these automated systems,” Mitchell says. “They’re monitored and supervised by robots.” Link

2. A Sort of Live Streaming Tinder in China

China’s largest date-to-marry matchmaking apps are experimenting with leveraging live-streaming to help users find love. industry powerhouse Shijijiayuan launched a streaming video feature meant to facilitate live conversation between multiple participants, a sort of talk show where app users are both the hosts and the audience.

1. “James” opens a chat room and sets a topic, automatically becoming the room’s first host. He waits for another person to join as the second host.

2. “Jessica” sees that James’ chat room needs a host, and thinks James is cute, so she applies to host with him.

3. James accepts Jessica’s host application, and Jessica becomes the show’s second host. James and Jessica talk to each other, and their conversation is broadcast publicly across the app.

4. Any number of other users can browse a list of all live streams. Those other users can then listen in. While they’re listening, they can use a text chat window to communicate with each other, and with the hosts.

4. If any other user likes James or Jessica, they can contact them privately, or even offer them virtual gifts. So while James and Jessica are courting each other, they’re also showing off their stuff for the rest of the room.

– This kind of experimentation doesn’t really happen outside of China at scale, but if it succeeds, then, and only then do concepts like these get tested elsewhere.


3. Bio-robots that eat, grow and die

Scientists from Cornell University have successfully constructed DNA-based machines with incredibly life-like capabilities. These human-engineered organic machines are capable of locomotion, consuming resources for energy, growing and decaying, and evolving. Eventually, they die. “We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before.” Basically, the Cornell team grew their own robots using a DNA-based bio-material, observed them metabolizing resources for energy, watched as they decayed and grew, and then programmed them to race against each other. Link

4. Brain control

At the TED conference last week, MIT Media Lab’s Arnav Kapur showed that we might be one step closer to becoming cyborgs. For the first time, the 24-year old intelligence augmentation researcher conducted a live public demo of AlterEgo, his wearable device that allows users to access the internet or any computing device without typing or using our voice. With the help of researcher Eric Wadkins, he showed how one could search the internet silently. “What is the weather in Vancouver right now?,” Kapur asked aloud. Wadkins then silently repeated Kapur’s query internally and about 15 seconds later, he correctly reported back: “It’s 50 degrees and rainy here in Vancouver.” Kapur explained that AlterEgo works by picking up the user’s internal vocalizations — normally undetectable neuromuscular signals from the tongue and the back of the palate — and translating them to computer commands. Signals are transmitted through a “sticker,” as Kapur describes the silicone device, worn along the user’s neck and jawline, and the answers are fed through an earpiece. Link

5. Google Maps to become your must-have App…for restaurants

Google Maps could be on its way to becoming a one-stop shop for consumers’ online interactions with restaurants. In the U.S., this looks like a large amount of restaurant data — hours, address, location, popular times, images, reviews — coupled with support of third-party restaurant actions: reserve a table, call ahead, or order takeout or delivery. Reservations services are an easy example. Most now integrate directly with Google, allowing diners to book reservations via OpenTable and similar services directly within the Maps application. Link

6. Fooling AI

The rise of AI-powered surveillance is extremely worrying. The ability of governments to track and identify citizens en masse could spell an end to public anonymity. But as researchers have shown time and time again, there are ways to trick such systems. The latest example comes from a group of engineers from the university of KU Leuven in Belgium. In a paper shared last week on the preprint server arXiv, these students show how simple printed patterns can fool an AI system that’s designed to recognize people in images. If you print off one of the students’ specially designed patches and hang it around your neck, from an AI’s point of view, you may as well have slipped under an invisibility cloak . Link

7. Last Mile Delivery still needs humans

At least in the near term, these last-mile applications are a distraction. Many of them will fail. The trouble here is that robots do better in structured — that is predictable and simple — environments, and delivery is very unstructured. Part of this is the “hard” environment: things like changing weather, lighting, surfaces, sounds, and moving objects. Those of us in the Human-Robot Interaction community have known for years that navigating these kinds of jobs involves social complexity too. Humans have many changing expectations for appropriate robo-behavior, and these systems would have to accommodate both the technical and social issues — and do that very cheaply — in order to become anything but a symbolic sideshow in the global economy. We’re just not there yet, and probably won’t be for a while. Link

8. One million Robo Taxis by 2020

Two days ahead of its first-quarter earnings disclosure, Tesla had an event to explain its autonomous technology to investors. The talks were probably denser than the average shareholder was expecting but it was an opportunity to see how Tesla will deliver a self-driving car and it announced that Tesla robo-taxis will be available next year. To kick things off, the company shared that it had built its very own computer for self-driving cars. The neural network chip was built from the ground up; the project started back in 2016. Each computer (which is stored behind the glove box) has redundancy so that if one chip fails, the second chip can take over. This is the company’s first time building its own silicon. CEO Elon Musk was quick to boast that Tesla “ which has never designed a chip, designed the best chip in the world.” Musk reiterated what he’s said before about the hardware available in Teslas. “All Tesla cars right now have everything necessary for self-driving available today. All you need to do is improve the software.” As for full autonomy, Musk noted: “the software problem should not be minimized.” He continued that, “it’s a very difficult software problem.” Still, he promised that Teslas will be capable of self-driving by the end of this year and self-driving robo-taxis will be on the road in 2020. Also, in two years, the company will be making cars without steering wheels or pedals at all. Link

9. How to Innovate Education

Last year, education technology companies raised $1.45 billion in their continued push to help move the nation’s education system into the next age of learning. Over the past decade, many of these investments have put technology-driven solutions at the center of a response to the education market’s demand to prepare our nation’s young people so they can thrive in an unpredictable future. And, as a result, we have seen a rapidly growing number of technological innovations that include the latest apps, online assessments, whiteboards and “tech tools of the month.” While these innovations may appear to move us forward, too many actually serve economic and educational goals from a past age. Memorization and regurgitation of facts no longer ensures success, especially when that is defined as young people effectively contributing to their communities and living fulfilling lives. In this new age, students need to develop agency and dynamic skills that include creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. What we ultimately need are new systems and supports, guided by a new vision for education. Innovations, like online learning platforms that let students navigate classwork at their own pace, are designed to make the current educational system more efficient. Inventions, by contrast, support an entirely new vision for education, transcending the boundaries of the school day and building. They allow students to learn anywhere and at any time, accessing a new ecosystem of flexible, hands-on and inquiry-based educational opportunities. At its core, this requires a fundamental shift in thinking: Learning can’t be done to kids; it must be done by and with kids. Link

10. China-style Surveillance being rolled out globally

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has vastly expanded domestic surveillance, fueling a new generation of companies that make sophisticated technology at ever lower prices. A global infrastructure initiative is spreading that technology even further. Ecuador shows how technology built for China’s political system is now being applied — and sometimes abused — by other governments. Today, 18 countries — including Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and Germany — are using Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems, and 36 have received training in topics like “public opinion guidance,” which is typically a euphemism for censorship, according to an October report from Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group. With China’s surveillance know-how and equipment now flowing to the world, critics warn that it could help underpin a future of tech-driven authoritarianism, potentially leading to a loss of privacy on an industrial scale. Often described as public security systems, the technologies have darker potential uses as tools of political repression. Link


Top of the News

Below is a selection of recommended reading that you can get by following Box of Amazing on Twitter.

  • Here’s How Google Knows in Less Than 5 Minutes if Someone Is a Great Leader Link
  • The new digital divide is between people who opt out of algorithms and people who don’t Link
  • How hackable is your password? Link
  • 27 incredibly useful things you didn’t know Google Sheets could do Link
  • Emotional Intelligence: The Social Skills You Weren’t Taught in School Link
  • The Dangerous Misspeak of Digital Transformation Link
  • The nutrition study the $30B supplement industry doesn’t want you to see Link
  • Ready for 6G? How AI will shape the network of the future Link
  • Walmart unveils an AI-powered store of the future, now open to the public Link
  • How Amazon Uses Agile Team Structures and Adaptive Practices to Innovate on Behalf of Customers Link

Before you go: If you enjoyed this, you will love receiving Box of Amazing in your mailbox every Sunday morning. Subscribe for free and join a select group of like-minded individuals looking to stay ahead of the game.

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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