Technology

Waymo's Self-Driving Cars Are Near: Meet the Teen Who Rides One Every Day

Tom Randall and Mark Bergen, writing for Bloomberg:

The Jackson family, along with some 400 neighbors in their Phoenix suburb, are volunteers in an ongoing test of Waymo’s autonomous ride-hailing business, which is expected to launch for paying passengers in the area by the end of the year. The Jacksons, who Waymo made available for this story, have largely ditched their own cars and now use self-driving vehicles to go almost everywhere within the 100 square-mile operating area: track practice, grocery shopping, movies, the train station.

Kyla acts like a diva with a private chauffeur, laughs her mom, Samantha Jackson, in an interview in Chandler last week. Access to robotaxis has even managed to convince this 17-year-old to put off an American rite of passage: getting her driver’s license. As Kyla puts it, “What’s the point?”

What's the point, indeed. I'm almost twice as old as Kyla, but I have felt the same way for a long time. This comprehensive update on autonomous vehicles is well worth a read.


Why Westerners Fear Robots and the Japanese Do Not

Joi Ito, writing for WIRED:

As a Japanese, I grew up watching anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, which depicts a future in which machines and humans merge into cyborg ecstasy. Such programs caused many of us kids to become giddy with dreams of becoming bionic superheroes. Robots have always been part of the Japanese psyche—our hero, Astro Boy, was officially entered into the legal registry as a resident of the city of Niiza, just north of Tokyo, which, as any non-Japanese can tell you, is no easy feat. Not only do we Japanese have no fear of our new robot overlords, we’re kind of looking forward to them.

It’s not that Westerners haven’t had their fair share of friendly robots like R2-D2 and Rosie, the Jetsons’ robot maid. But compared to the Japanese, the Western world is warier of robots. I think the difference has something to do with our different religious contexts, as well as historical differences with respect to industrial-scale slavery.

The Western concept of “humanity” is limited, and I think it’s time to seriously question whether we have the right to exploit the environment, animals, tools, or robots simply because we’re human and they are not.

A fascinating take. The Japanese are really onto something here.


People Are Using Fitbits and Apple Watches to Monitor Their Heart Rate When Binging on Drugs

Christina Farr, writing for CNBC:

It isn't likely to come up in casual face-to-face conversation, but scores of users on Reddit forumsTwitter and other social media sites write about the value of their Fitbit or Apple Watch in tracking their use of cocaine, ketamine, speed, and other drugs. Dozens of these threads have popped up in the past few years on the topic, some focused on cocaine and others on MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

This is the first I've heard about people employing wearable technologies like Fitbits and Apple Watches to monitor their vital signs while under the influence of mind-altering substances. I would argue that this is a good thing, because it obviously highlights the potential negative physical effects of using some of these drugs, and if it helps a drug user understand what is happening in their body, that's a step in the right direction.

There's even a YouTube channel called DrugsLab with more than half a million subscribers. Three hosts perform on-camera tests of drugs suggested by commentators, while their heart rate and body temperature are tracked on a board behind them. The idea, they say, is to promote drug education for millennials.

I haven't mentioned it on the blog before, but DrugsLab is excellent—you should definitely check it out if you haven't already.

But don't expect your doctor to condone the practice. Academics and medical professionals told CNBC that people who rely on a heart rate monitor to protect them from overdosing or from other ill effects of hardcore drugs are giving themselves a false sense of security.

No surprise there. Doctors are simply not going to suggest that patients use these consumer-grade technologies to prevent drug-related casualties, just like they don't encourage or support the use of illicit substances in general. They have reputations to maintain and must protect themselves and their institutions from being sued by patients (or family members of deceased patients) who place so much faith in their Apple Watches that they think it will enable them to safely use drugs without experiencing harm.

However, that doesn't mean that this form of harm reduction should be avoided altogether—just that academics and medical professionals are not going to endorse this practice. At least not for now.


China's All-Seeing Credit Score System

Charles Rollet, writing for WIRED:

In the UK, credit scores are mostly used to determine whether people can get a credit card or loan. But in China, the government is developing a much broader “social credit” system partly based on people’s routine behaviours with the ultimate goal of determining the “trustworthiness” of the country’s 1.4 billion citizens.

It might sound like a futuristic dystopian nightmare but the system is already a reality. Social credit is preventing people from buying airline and train tickets, stopping social gatherings from happening, and blocking people from going on certain dating websites. Meanwhile, those viewed kindly are rewarded with discounted energy bills and similar perks.

China is going full-blown Black Mirror with its social credit system. It's pretty fucked up to outright ban people from buying airline and train tickets due to unpaid debts or prevent them from getting loans because they cheat in a video game.


Book Review - Virtually Human

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The times they are a-changin'. Advances in technology have brought us the Internet, smartphones, the sharing economy, cryptocurrencies, and automation. Every day, people all around the world are uploading their thoughts, memories, preferences, beliefs, and history to social media websites, essentially creating "mindfiles" of themselves. Software engineers across the globe are working to create "mindware" that will combine this mindfile data with humanlike consciousnesses in computer software to create "cyberconsciousness". Within the next few decades, the combination of mindfiles and mindware will result in something called "mindclones", which will essentially be an extension of our own human consciousnesses. That is the premise of Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, and Martine Rothblatt goes into great detail about the societal implications of this technological innovation.

This is the sort of book that needs to be read multiple times to fully comprehend. I would definitely recommend it to others, but would caution them that it can be a bit slow to get into. For the first third of the book, I just wasn't hooked. But things definitely picked up and I became really interested in the discussion. It seems like Rothblatt has a deep understanding of where things are headed in the future, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence. Her arguments are well thought-out and thoroughly-researched, and definitely worth considering. If you have any interest in the concept of extending our consciousness past physical bodies and into the realm of computers, this is a must read.

4/5 stars. 350 pages.