Stories by Alison Snyder

What Matters 2020

Automation is 2020's least understood issue

Photo illustration of a robot & automation digital workshop, a group of Detroit autoworkers, and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang
Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Yu Haiyang/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images and Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Automation is one of the big sleeper issues of the 2020 presidential campaign. Most candidates aren't focusing on it by name, even though it profoundly shapes key themes in the race: the U.S. economy, jobs and friction between the haves and have-nots.

Why it matters: "If we stay on the trajectory we're on currently, we're going to have greater income inequality, less social mobility, greater political unrest and greater income insecurity," says Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future.

An obstacle course to make AI better

Illustration of a robot jumping over a hurdle
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

AI is better at recognizing objects than the average human — but only under super-specific circumstances. Even a slightly unusual scene can cause it to fail.

Why it matters: Image recognition is at the heart of frontier AI products like autonomous cars, delivery drones and facial recognition. But these systems are held back by serious problems interpreting the messy real world.

"Giving Circles," which pool money for a cause, are on the rise

Illustration of an origami heart made from paper money.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Philanthropy tends to center on a small number of affluent donors, but a grassroots movement known as "giving circles" — in which more modest donors pool their resources — has been gaining popularity.

The big picture: Giving circles are still a drop in the philanthropic bucket, but proponents say they open the field to younger and more diverse donors — and broaden the reach of giving.