Automation and AI

The big picture

The disinformation threat from text-generating AI

A new report raises alarms over the power of systems like GPT-3 to generate vast quantities of deceptive content.

May 19, 2021 - Technology
AI is industrializing

The challenges AI faces are shifting from what the field can do to what it should do

Mar 3, 2021 - Technology
How the automation economy can turn human workers into robots

Automation isn't destroying warehouse work, but it is shaping it in challenging ways.

Feb 27, 2021 - Technology
AI and automation are creating a hybrid workforce

But without changes to tax regulations and training, human workers will lose ground over time

Oct 31, 2020 - Technology
The next wave of job automation will be virtual

Virtual agents could augment human workers in online services at a time of mass unemployment

May 2, 2020 - Technology
Automation is 2020's least understood issue

It deserves more attention than it's getting in the 2020 presidential race.

Dec 8, 2019 - Economy & Business

All Automation and AI stories

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Sep 21, 2021 - Technology

Giving AI-generated voices human-like emotion

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A startup is developing AI voices that can be edited to present different emotional intonations.

Why it matters: The voiceover industry — including everything from video games to audiobooks — stands to be disrupted if tech companies can deliver AI-generated text-to-speech voices that can truly mimic human speech.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Sep 18, 2021 - Technology

When AI breaks bad

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A new report about artificial intelligence and its effects warns AI has reached a turning point and its negative effects can no longer be ignored.

The big picture: For all the sci-fi worries about ultra-intelligent machines or wide-scale job loss from automation — both of which would require artificial intelligence that is far more capable than what has been developed so far — the larger concern may be about what happens if AI doesn't work as intended.

Sep 15, 2021 - Technology

Safety advocates push tech to save kids trapped in hot cars

Photo: SolStock via Getty Images

All vehicles could soon be equipped with warning systems aimed at preventing children from dying in hot cars, but safety advocates say a law working its way through Congress won't do enough to save lives.

Why it matters: Nearly 40 children die every year of heatstroke because they were left in the back seat by a parent or caregiver — or climbed inside a car on their own. Since 1990, approximately 1,000 kids have died nationwide, according to KidsAndCars.org.

  • Four have died this month to date, including a baby who suffocated in a car after her mother was shot and killed in Orlando, Florida, and twin toddlers who died in a hot car in South Carolina.

Driving the news: The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month would require new motor vehicles to have an alert system that would remind people to check the back seat upon exiting the car.

  • The House expects to take up the bill this month.
  • The law would replace a voluntary commitment by automakers to equip virtually every new car with a rear-seat reminder system by the 2025 model year.

Where it stands: Many new models now come with such reminders via a text message in the instrument cluster, typically accompanied by a chime, when the engine is turned off.

  • I drove a 2022 Nissan Pathfinder recently that annoyingly honked six times at me whenever I walked away from the vehicle; I finally realized it was the rear-seat reminder.
  • I repeatedly dismissed the warning on the steering wheel, but to permanently shut it off, I would have had to tinker with the car's settings.

How it works: Most rear-seat reminders are triggered by "door logic" — that is, the system recognizes that the driver opened a rear door at the beginning of the trip.

Yes, but: that technology doesn't know whether the driver opened the door to put groceries or a purse in the back seat — or to buckle in a child.

  • And it doesn't address the issue of unattended children climbing into a car by themselves — about 25% of all hot car deaths.

What's needed: Cars need more than just a dashboard reminder that can be easily ignored or dismissed by the driver, says Emily A. Thomas, automotive safety engineer at Consumer Reports.

  • They need technology that can actually detect the presence of a car occupant.
  • So far, only Korean models sold under the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands have ultrasonic sensors that can detect movement inside the vehicle — but they are not standard on all models.
  • The new Genesis GV70 SUV goes a step further with a more sensitive radar sensor that is able to detect a baby's breath.

What they're saying: Carmakers can — and should — do more, said Janette E. Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org.

  • "You can't purchase a vehicle today that doesn't automatically turn off your headlights when you get out of the car. Who decided it's more important not to have a dead car battery than a dead baby?"

What to watch: The occupant detection systems that could prevent children from dying in hot cars operate on the same technology that autonomous vehicles will need in the future to detect and monitor passengers, she noted.

Tech's double-edged sword in the job market

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Technology that automates recruiting and hiring can be partly to blame for the current labor shortage, according to a new Harvard Business School and Accenture study.

Driving the news: More than 90% of employers in the U.S., U.K, and Germany surveyed said that they use automated systems to filter or rank candidates first. Those systems often eliminate candidates that could be a good fit for jobs with training, but whose resumes don’t precisely match the pre-set criteria.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Sep 8, 2021 - Technology

A massive regional gap is opening around AI

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A handful of superstar U.S. metro areas are leading the way in AI, while much of the rest of the country is at risk of being left behind.

Why it matters: AI can enhance productivity and growth in multiple sectors, but as a technology that tends to centralize around a handful of talent hubs, it could also increase regional economic disparity across the country.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 28, 2021 - Technology

The case against taxing robots

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Taxes targeted at firms that employ robots over human workers would be counterproductive, a new article argues — and no, it wasn't written by a robot.

Why it matters: A growing number of technologists have argued that taxing companies that invest in robots would help reduce inequality and cushion job losses caused by automation, but such a tax could cost more than its worth by slowing economic growth, WSJ's Richard Rubin writes.

Federal agencies to expand use of facial recognition

Joan Cros/Corbis via Getty Images

Ten federal agencies plan on expanding the use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) by 2023, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: How to use these technologies ethically and how to regulate related products will become major questions as more government agencies begin using them.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Aug 24, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Energy giants stake infrastructure risk-cutting startup Urbint

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Major power and oil companies are funding a tech startup that helps detect risks to critical infrastructure — including energy networks.

Driving the news: Urbint just announced $60 million in Series C funding to scale its platform that uses AI to "stop failures, damages, and worker injuries before they happen."

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 23, 2021 - Technology

The AI adman

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Marketing and advertising companies are increasingly using AI models to track trends and generate slogans.

The big picture: Marketers and advertisers focus on two things: identifying and predicting trends that indicate what consumers want, and shaping messages that will appeal to them.

Aug 19, 2021 - Technology

Aurora offers an open book test for self-driving cars

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you can pass a driver's test, you can get an operator's license. But there is no corresponding test for autonomous vehicles.

Why it matters: Unless Congress acts, it'll be up to tech companies and carmakers — not the government — to determine when self-driving cars are safe for public roads. "Just trust us" isn't a viable answer to earn public acceptance.

What's happening: One self-driving tech company, Aurora, argues that publicly sharing its work — through a series of layered safety claims along with detailed evidence to back up each one — is the best way to determine when the technology is safe.

  • This "safety case framework" is a structured argument that gives engineers a roadmap for developing the tech while also offering much-needed transparency to the public.
  • "It's like saying you're going to climb a mountain, but you don’t know how high the mountain is or how many steps it will take to get there," explains Nat Beuse, Aurora's vice president of safety. "The safety case tells us how high it is and how many steps it will take to make the ascent."

Between the lines: The approach is also more meaningful, Beuse says, than other proxies for AV safety, such as counting how many times a backup safety driver had to take control during testing (California's so-called "disengagement reports") or how many millions of road miles an AV developer logs (the basis for Waymo's leadership claim).

Of note: Beuse, a former official at the U.S. Department of Transportation, was instrumental in establishing a new approach toward safety at Uber's autonomous vehicle unit after one of its self-driving cars killed a pedestrian in 2018.

  • Aurora acquired the Uber unit in January.
  • Other industries, including aviation, nuclear and medical, also use a safety case-based approach to assess their performance.

Go deeper: Explore Aurora's interactive framework here and an explanation of how it works here.

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