Weekend Thoughts - 7.15.17

Image  by  J Aaron Farr , courtesy of  Creative Commons  licensing.

Image by J Aaron Farr, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Happy Saturday y'all! Below, I have rounded up some things for you to think about this weekend:

1. Microsoft must be on an environmentalist bent of some sort lately, as the company has recently announced an "AI for Earth" initiative. The program will attempt to use artificial intelligence to solve the major environmental issues that we are currently facing. Ultimately, Microsoft's President Brad Smith said, "Our goal is to empower others in new and more impactful ways to help create a more sustainable future. This program expands our commitments to democratizing AI and advancing sustainability around the globe." So far, the company has focused on creating more detailed land maps to aid conservation, improving agriculture with smart technology, and using drones to collect mosquitos to track and prevent potential emerging infectious diseases. Considering the state of affairs that our world is in, Microsoft deserves a big round of applause.

2. Elsewhere in the technosphere, Amazon has been considering allowing third-party developers to access the private transcripts of Alexa-powered devices so they can build better voice apps for the device. This is something that Google Home already allows. If Amazon moves forward with this decision, it would raise privacy concerns for its customers. At this point, Alexa developers can only see non-identifying information, like the number of times you use a specific command, how many times you talk to your Amazon Echo, and your location data. This change would potentially allow third-party developers access to actual transcripts, although we do not know the method that would be used and how much data would be divulged.

3. Audi is concerned that millenials will be bored in self-driving cars, so the company has developed a research product called The 25th hour, which is designed around the issue of what people will do to avoid boredom while riding in their fully-automated vehicles. The idea is that people will have extra time in their busy days to spend doing something other than focusing on the road. My initial reaction was, "Why wouldn't people use that time to read books?!" But while it's probably more likely that people will be watching television or scrolling through Facebook than reading, this project's existence means that automobile manufacturers are already thinking of ways to keep their customers entertained (and probably market to them, as well). In my opinion, the riders' recovered time would be best spent producing content rather than consuming it, but that's a whole other conversation altogether.

That's all for this week's edition of Weekend Thoughts. Until next week, keep thinking wilder.