Axios Future

A robotic hand with the palm facing upward.

April 23, 2019

Have your friends signed up?

Any stories we should be chasing? Hit reply to this email or message me at [email protected]. Kaveh Waddell is at [email protected] and Erica Pandey at [email protected].

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: Detecting date rape drugs

A cocktail

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In the U.S., 37 states require schools to teach abstinence as part of sex education. Zero states mandate that they address drug-facilitated sexual assault, otherwise known as date rape.

Axios' Alexi McCammond writes: This isn't like getting struck by lightning. Having a tasteless, colorless rohypnol — a "roofie" — dropped in your Merlot is a pervasive problem for women and men of all ages, yet students aren't taught about it. So tech companies are stepping in to help people identify and handle the problem.

Context: The number of drug-induced date rapes in the U.S. appear to be on the rise although absolute numbers don't exist, according to the Department of Justice.

  • The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services asserts that "75% of acquaintance rape involve drugs or alcohol."
  • And, in a 2015 study of one hospital, 33% of sexual assaults involved date rape drugs given without the victim's knowledge.

Numerous companies are offering devices to detect a contaminated drink. They market straws, drink stirrers, coasters, and strip tests, among other products, to allow people to test on the spot whether their drinks have been spiked.

  • The SipChip is a quarter-sized plastic chip that operates like a pregnancy test, but which screens for 6 different common date rape drugs.
  • The person places a drop of liquid on the chip (or submerges it in their drink) and gets the result in as little as 30 seconds. The appearance of two pink lines means the drink is good; one line shows it's been spiked.
  • The products aren't perfect. They're single use, have an expiration date, and don't say what exactly (or how much) is in your drink.

Alexi writes: Drug detection products, despite their flaws, are especially helpful when you have a pretty short time frame to handle being drugged. When it happened to me in college, for example, the cocktail of drugs that was slipped into my drink didn't leave my system for 72 hours. That's longer than usual, the doctor told me.

The big picture: The practice of predators — who are sometimes known to the victim — of slipping drugs in alcoholic drinks to incapacitate and take advantage of someone is more common than known because it is rarely discussed.

  • But the subject of rape has only slowly made its way into U.S. education, partly explaining why the use of drugs and alcohol in sexual assault hasn't. Rape law, for instance, wasn't taught in law schools until the mid-1980s, according to Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen.
  • There is no bottom line explanation why date rape, given its prevalence, hasn't become a mandatory part of sex education in any state.
  • But Dr. Jennifer Wider, a women's health expert who has written two books on the prevention of date rape, said it should be taught. "There are people that do not want to discuss this; they don’t even want to name body parts in sex ed."

"It’s starting to become more a part of the conversation because more individuals are sharing their experiences with having been affected by rape drugs and drug facilitated crimes," said Danya Sherman, a student at George Washington University who founded KnoNap, which makes napkins to detect various drugs in drinks.

2. Your lunch is watching you

Illustration of a lunch shaped like a smiling face

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One unexpected byproduct of the robotization of food — an accelerating trend we reported on last week — is an explosion of data about eaters' habits and preferences.

Kaveh writes: Companies often use this information to personalize food or ads to individual preferences. But seemingly trivial information about what and when you eat is also a gold mine that companies share with other interested parties — like your employer.

The same tradeoff at the center of the internet — personal information for convenience — is at play with trendy new food robots. When that data reveals something about employee work habits, their bosses get very interested.

Two companies that are selling drinks and food inside offices are also gathering valuable information on who buys them, and when.

  • Briggo, a robotic barista, prepares specialty coffees ordered on an app, so that you can grab a nice cappuccino rather than scorched office coffee as you arrive at work.
  • Byte places large, fancy vending machines in offices, offering employees easy access to healthy lunches and snacks while keeping them near their desks.

"We know everything about you, everything about the drinks you ordered," said Charles Studor, Briggo's founder, said at a food robotics conference last week. "We blow [employers] away with how much data we have about customers," he said.

  • Briggo collects information about employees — like when they arrive at work, and their circadian rhythms, according to Briggo VP of Marketing Mike Westgate — and shares anonymous patterns with employers. The bots have been slinging beans at Dell's Austin-area headquarters for three years.
  • Byte convinced one law firm of the machines' worth when it revealed how many more hours were billed because lawyers stayed at the office during lunch, the company's co-founder, Lee Mokri, said at last week's conference. Mokri later told Axios he estimates Byte saves employers 140 hours of productivity a month, on average.

What they're saying: Both companies say they share aggregate usage data, not individuals' habits, with employers.

  • The one exception: Briggo found that an employee was gaming its promotions and sign-up bonuses. The company tattled on the employee, who was fired.
  • Briggo says it's never heard privacy concerns from employees. "I suspect most folks can deduce the amount of information we know about them," said Westgate.

Go deeper: Automating food from farm to front door

3. The distracted driving epidemic

Photo of a driver texting

Photo: Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald/Getty

Depending on where you are in the U.S., as many as 43% of the drivers around you may be distracted by their phones.

Kaveh writes: That's one finding from a new report from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a company that uses smartphone sensors to monitor how people are driving. It's used by owners of large fleets, or insurance companies that want to set rates based on how customers drive.

By the numbers:

  • In Portland, D.C. and Baltimore, drivers speed on more than half their trips.
  • In New York City, more than one quarter of the time drivers are distracted is at speeds between 60 mph and 70 mph.
  • The least distracted city is Seattle; the most distracted is Miami.

4. Worthy of your time

Adapted from Climate Change in the American Mind; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from Climate Change in the American Mind; Chart: Axios Visuals

The history of AI bias (Oscar Schwartz - IEEE Spectrum)

Americans are worried about climate change (Ben Geman - Axios)

Come clean, Facebook (Carole Cadwalladr - TED)

Facial recognition, from scratch (Jessica Ma, Drew Jordan, Sahil Chinoy - NYT)

Capitalism in crisis (Greg Jaffe - WP)

5. 1 foodie thing: When the world eats

People eat outside, under tents

A late dinner in Toledo, Spain. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty

Here's one more thing that separates Americans and Europeans: People are much more consistent about when they eat lunch and dinner on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

Erica writes: The Financial Times mapped out when the world likes to eat. While there are clear chunks of the day when it seems every Spaniard is taking a lunch break (2 pm to 3 pm) or every Frenchman is sitting down for dinner (7 pm to 8 pm), there's no stark trend among Americans.

Our thought bubble: We've all had days when a combination of 3 or so snacks from the office kitchen ends up taking the place of lunch. This should not, however, come to sum up the American lunch.