All Automation and AI stories

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 2, 2021 - Technology

Programs that write programs

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new AI tool can work with human programmers to analyze computer code they've written and generate new matching code to complete programs.

Why it matters: The tool can help take some of the scutwork of programming off human experts' hands, leaving them freer to focus on the more creative parts of their jobs. But it also opens the door to a world in which programs could one day fully write programs, which may be bad news for some of the humans that currently do it.

Jun 30, 2021 - Technology

Thermal cameras are the new eyes for automated driving features

FLIR's thermal imaging sensors can detect objects ordinary cameras might not see. Photo: courtesy of Teledyne FLIR

New imaging technology is designed to address a dangerous blind spot when it comes to today's assisted driving systems: they don't always brake for pedestrians.

Why it matters: About 6,200 pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles every year, according to federal statistics, accounting for 16% of all traffic deaths. Three-fourths of those deaths occur at night.

  • Millions of cars are equipped with automatic emergency braking systems, which are supposed to detect and avoid pedestrians. But they are often "ineffective" at night, AAA testing found.
  • These systems are powered by radar and visible cameras, which have trouble seeing in low-light, glaring sun or bad weather.
  • Adding thermal sensors could greatly improve pedestrian safety in these situations, as recent tests performed by VSI Labs, a technical advisor to self-driving car developers, found.

What's happening: Oregon-based Teledyne FLIR Systems, a maker of thermal-imaging and night-vision technology for the military and others, has developed a new type of sensor that can simultaneously detect both light and heat.

  • In a recent demo, I saw how well the so-called "thermal camera" picked up vulnerable road users like a woman crossing the street carrying a child's slide or smokers taking a break in the shadows of a parking garage.
  • The "blended thermal/visible technology" can also help detect humans and animals for forthcoming augmented reality systems in cars, FLIR's John Eggert told me.

How it works: Regular cameras make pictures from visible light but can struggle in high-contrast light/dark environments.

  • Thermal cameras make pictures from heat energy, not visible light, so they're largely unaffected by sun glare and shadows.
  • Heat (also called infrared, or thermal, energy) and light are both parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect visible light won’t see thermal energy, and vice versa.

The bottom line: Sensor fusion — combining multiple perception systems into one — will help improve how cars of the future will see.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jun 29, 2021 - Technology

A Hippocratic Oath for your AI doctor

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A broad new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) lays out ethical principles for the use of artificial intelligence in medicine.

Why it matters: Health is one of the most promising areas of expansion for AI, and the pandemic only accelerated the adoption of machine learning tools. But adding algorithms to health care will require that AI can follow the most basic rule of human medicine: "Do no harm" — and that won't be simple.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jun 17, 2021 - Technology

How automation led to stagnant wages and inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Automation technology has been the primary driver in U.S. income inequality over the past 40 years, according to a new paper by two prominent economists in the field.

Why it matters: Offshoring, the decline of unions, and corporate concentration have all played a part in widening the gap between lower-skilled and higher-skilled workers, but automation is the single most significant factor, and will likely grow even more important in the years ahead.

Jun 15, 2021 - Technology

Self-driving car design: Less Frankenstein, more iPhone

Luminar imagines Blade, a "golden halo" of sensors, will replace ungainly tech currently on AV test vehicles. Photo: Cruise, Luminar.

It's easy to spot an autonomous test vehicle in your neighborhood: it looks a bit like Frankenstein, with sensors bolted to the sides and roof. But as self-driving technology matures, sensor design is streamlining, too, bringing AVs closer to market acceptance.

Why it matters: The AV industry is waiting for "its iPhone moment — where everything comes together, and it’s clear, and nobody goes back again," says technology designer Gadi Amit.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jun 15, 2021 - Technology

Nudging our way to better remote work

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The HR startup Humu is using "nudges" from behavioral science to help companies to better manage the more permanent transition to remote or hybrid work.

Why it matters: Adopting remote or hybrid work after the emergency of the pandemic will require unlearning the psychological habits of the office and harnessing tools that guide us to making the human connections that used to be automatic.

Jun 15, 2021 - Technology

Your hands-free car drives way more politely than you

2021 Cadillac Escalade with Super Cruise technology allows hands-free highway driving. Photo: GM

Assisted-driving features are supposed to make cars safer and relieve some of the monotony of driving, but if your robot sidekick's driving style doesn't match your own, it could lead to unexpected dangers.

The big picture: Reliable, fully driverless cars are still a long way off. Until then, motorists will share driving duties with partially automated, assisted-driving systems, and they need to know what to expect from them.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jun 5, 2021 - Technology

Grimes: Artificial intelligence is the pathway to "genuine equality"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Musician Grimes is ready to drop some knowledge: AI is the pathway to the workers' utopia.

The big picture: Grimes' vision has a name — Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) — and it kind of makes sense, provided you forget about the meaning of all of those words.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
May 26, 2021 - Technology

Automation puts a premium on decision-making jobs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new paper shows that as automation has reduced the number of rote jobs, it has led to an increase in the proportion and value of occupations that involve decision-making.

Why it matters: Automation and AI will shape the labor market, putting a premium — at least for now — on workers who can make decisions on the fly, while eroding the value of routine jobs.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
May 19, 2021 - Technology

The disinformation threat from text-generating AI

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new report lays out the ways that cutting-edge text-generating AI models could be used to aid disinformation campaigns.

Why it matters: In the wrong hands text-generating systems could be used to scale up state-sponsored disinformation efforts — and humans would struggle to know when they're being lied to.