National News

How did 'driverless' cars become 'self-driving' cars, and should we be worried?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 19:51

A futurist named Brad Templeton got mad at me some months ago. We don't say "driverless cars" anymore, he told me with a hint of scolding in his voice. We say "self-driving" cars.

OK, I thought. I didn't know the computer-navigated cars had feelings. But as much as the moment felt like a weird discussion of political correctness on behalf of sensors and data-crunching algorithms, it also made some sense to me. After all, it is true that the cars are being driven. Just not by humans. So, fair enough, I thought, and made the switch. Ever since then I've called them by the preferred nomenclature. 

But now that Google has released a new self-driving car prototype, I'm thinking more about it. While self-driving maybe more accurate than driverless, there's a lot more that comes with that, right? Driverless suggests unhinged. Nobody at the helm. A carriage out of control. But self-driving suggests independent, efficient--even magical. A self-driving car is something we want, because it does the work for us. 

Could it be then, that this is really about marketing? The new self-driving prototype we got to see this week has some interesting changes from past vehicles: no brake pedals and no steering wheel. It doesn't look like a car really, either. It's more of a pod. Maybe it's an owl. Whatever it is, it looks like its own thing, and that is also part of the plan. Because if you started seeing Priuses driving around without anyone in the driver's seat, you might not feel so good about it. Like some of Google's other recent inventions, this thing makes some of us a little nervous. If you've been keeping up with HBO's show "Silicon Valley," you might have caught the scene where the cowardly Jared gets screwed by a self-driving car's malfunctioning computer.

 

It's a really funny bit, in part because that feeling of helplessness hits so close to home. None of us want to be in the backseat, do we? This is America gosh darn it. Where we want the right to benefit from the endless permutations of human error. An even more cynical way of saying it, according to the unnamed futurist: We'd rather let drunk drivers kill people on the road than even entertain the thought of letting a computer do it at what is likely to be a far lower rate.

If you can't tell already, I support the idea of self-driving cars. I think they'll make our world more efficient, less polluting, and safer. But that doesn't mean I will ignore the possibility that we're being sold a product; that we're being conditioned. Words and designs carry meaning, and these vehicles are no different. That meaning is born in motivations both virtuous and unnerving. If you think companies like Google aren't thinking about how to deliver us video advertisements once we can all kick back and veg out during the road trip, you're not being cynical enough. So I'll do it--I'll call them self-driving cars. But I'll also leave you with another scene I'm reminded of while mulling all of this. It's from the movie "Wall-E," and it's a fate I hope we avoid.

 

How did 'driverless' cars become 'self-driving' cars, and should we be worried?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 19:51

A futurist named Brad Templeton got mad at me some months ago. We don't say "driverless cars" anymore, he told me with a hint of scolding in his voice. We say "self-driving" cars.

OK, I thought. I didn't know the computer-navigated cars had feelings. But as much as the moment felt like a weird discussion of political correctness on behalf of sensors and data-crunching algorithms, it also made some sense to me. After all, it is true that the cars are being driven. Just not by humans. So, fair enough, I thought, and made the switch. Ever since then I've called them by the preferred nomenclature. 

But now that Google has released a new self-driving car prototype, I'm thinking more about it. While self-driving maybe more accurate than driverless, there's a lot more that comes with that, right? Driverless suggests unhinged. Nobody at the helm. A carriage out of control. But self-driving suggests independent, efficient--even magical. A self-driving car is something we want, because it does the work for us. 

Could it be then, that this is really about marketing? The new self-driving prototype we got to see this week has some interesting changes from past vehicles: no brake pedals and no steering wheel. It doesn't look like a car really, either. It's more of a pod. Maybe it's an owl. Whatever it is, it looks like its own thing, and that is also part of the plan. Because if you started seeing Priuses driving around without anyone in the driver's seat, you might not feel so good about it. Like some of Google's other recent inventions, this thing makes some of us a little nervous. If you've been keeping up with HBO's show "Silicon Valley," you might have caught the scene where the cowardly Jared gets screwed by a self-driving car's malfunctioning computer.

 

It's a really funny bit, in part because that feeling of helplessness hits so close to home. None of us want to be in the backseat, do we? This is America gosh darn it. Where we want the right to benefit from the endless permutations of human error. An even more cynical way of saying it, according to the unnamed futurist: We'd rather let drunk drivers kill people on the road than even entertain the thought of letting a computer do it at what is likely to be a far lower rate.

If you can't tell already, I support the idea of self-driving cars. I think they'll make our world more efficient, less polluting, and safer. But that doesn't mean I will ignore the possibility that we're being sold a product; that we're being conditioned. Words and designs carry meaning, and these vehicles are no different. That meaning is born in motivations both virtuous and unnerving. If you think companies like Google aren't thinking about how to deliver us video advertisements once we can all kick back and veg out during the road trip, you're not being cynical enough. So I'll do it--I'll call them self-driving cars. But I'll also leave you with another scene I'm reminded of while mulling all of this. It's from the movie "Wall-E," and it's a fate I hope we avoid.

 

10 Thoughts On Obama's West Point Policy Address

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 17:02

From his focus on peace instead of war to his praise for the U.S. stance in Ukraine, the president took a different tone Wednesday than he did in his 2009 commencement speech at the military academy.

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Holder Urges Prosecutors To Back Criminal Justice Changes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 16:43

At a closed-door conference, the attorney general made his case for reducing some drug sentences and opening up the clemency process.

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American Said To Have Carried Out Suicide Bombing In Syria

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 16:22

Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebel group, says a U.S. citizen known as Abu Hurayra al-Amriki helped carry out a suicide attack on Sunday.

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Georgia Looks To Reopen Some Closed Hospitals As ERs

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 14:21

Financial problems have led many hospitals to shut down completely. Georgia is issuing licenses to rural hospitals that would allow them to become nothing more than free-standing emergency rooms.

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In College Lacrosse, Two Brothers Flirt With Making History

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 14:15

Miles and Lyle Thompson are finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse's highest honor. Either would be the first Native to win it — an irony for a sport created by Natives.

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Apple confirms it will buy Beats for $3 billion

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 14:00

Apple on Wednesday confirmed the previously-reported acquisition of Beats Electronics for $3 billion. The deal will make Dr. Dre even wealthier.

And the $3 billion price tag for the headphone and streaming music company is also the equivalent of...

10,001,666

Beats Studio headphones.

103,448,275

 Apple ear buds.

300,300,300

Copies of Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" available on iTunes.

Apple confirms it will buy Beats for $3 billion

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 14:00

Apple on Wednesday confirmed the previously-reported acquisition of Beats Electronics for $3 billion. The deal will make Dr. Dre even wealthier.

And the $3 billion price tag for the headphone and streaming music company is also the equivalent of...

10,001,666

Beats Studio headphones.

103,448,275

 Apple ear buds.

300,300,300

Copies of Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" available on iTunes.

Solving Detroit's blight, one scary poster at a time

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:46
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 14:43 Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A dramatic example of an abandoned home in Detroit.

Good news has been in short supply in Detroit, of late.

There’s the bankruptcy, of course. And then there is the blight. Which, according to a new federal report, is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars more to clean up than anyone thought. Its a huge challenge, but you don’t need to tell that to Erica Gerson.

“It’s 330 pages, that is a lot of digesting,” said Gerson, Chair of the Detroit’s Land Bank Authority, which is in charge of dealing with the broken down properties the city owns. “One of the problems here is there are houses that having been sitting empty for three to five years and they are not getting any better. So we have to get our hands on them faster.”

Gerson says sometimes a direct approach is the best way to deal with neglectful landlords.

“I have a staff of attorneys who go out and put big posters on [abandoned] houses that say ‘Call this number within 72 hours or your property will be seized by the Detroit Land Bank.' That tends to get the landlord’s attention.”

Gerson says that, yes, the task before her can seem daunting. But she doesn’t have to look far for signs that the city is getting better.

“Yesterday people saw a man who they thought was scrapping--tearing down the gutters on a beautiful old house that seemed abandoned. When the police got there, instead of arresting the man, they started laughing...turned out that it was one of the houses we had postered. And [the man] was putting up brand new gutters. A lady in the neighborhood said she hadn't seen anyone do that in 20 years.  That’s what keeps you going.”

Marketplace for Wednesday May 28, 2014Interview by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title Solving Detroit's blight, one scary poster at a timeStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

America's Strength Extends Beyond Its Military, Obama Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:44

"We don't face an existential crisis," the president told NPR in an exclusive interview. He said the U.S. is blessed with a growing economy and no prospect of war with another nation-state.

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A Cholera Vaccine Halts New Cases In A Guinea Epidemic

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:35

The study is the first to test an oral vaccine in the middle of an outbreak — in Guinea in 2012. And it offered a remarkable degree of protection against this deadly disease.

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Apple Buys Dr. Dre's Beats Electronics For $3 Billion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:34

Apple's acquisition of the audio equipment and subscription streaming music service co-founded by Dre and record-producer Jimmy Iovine is the computer-maker's largest-ever such purchase.

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Data brokers set the price tag on your head

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:25

Big data is the topic at issue in a report issued by the Federal Trade Commission this week.

To be more specific, the FTC took a deep dive into the business of data brokers. Data brokers collect information on us, create profiles using that data and sell those profiles to marketers and other entities. The facts the FTC collected were pretty mind boggling—one data broker it looked at had 3,000 pieces of data on nearly every U.S. consumer; another had more than 1 billion transactions in its data bases. 

Data brokers gather up or buy bits of information about us: public records, online purchases, social media posts, trips to the drug store.

"There’s thousands and thousands of data elements on each consumer," says Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau for Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission. She says data brokers use the information to slot us into categories, which they sell to marketers. "The level of specificity and detail are mind-boggling. They have 'Urban Scramble', which is a category referring to low income and minority consumers; they have 'Thrifty Elders'; they have 'Diabetes Interest'; 'Bible Lifestyle'... 'Biker Lifestyle'."

This information is used in all kinds of ways--to show us ads for things we're likely to be interested in and to set insurance premiums and interest rates. Good luck getting life insurance if you fall into the 'Biker Lifestyle' category," says Rich.

"More and more, the stories that are told about us are told through numbers and the collection of data about us," says Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and author of "The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth""Some of those stories help people--some prevent fraud, but, like the FTC report says, a lot of them may be dangerous for us and for the kinds of opportunities we have in life." 

The FTC report calls on Congress to require data brokers to be transparent and allow consumers to see the data that's been collected on them. They're also supposed to have the ability to opt out of having that data sold and used for marketing.

"At the end of the day, The FTC makes some pretty good points," says Russell Glass, CEO of Bizo, a data-profiling company that specializes in business professionals. It sells those profiles to more than 1,000 clients, including American Express and UPS. Bizo gets its information from about 2,000 sources, and it shares its revenue with them. Glass says a little regulation in the industry would be a good thing.

"Nobody really knows what the rules are," says Glass. "There’s this self-regulation that some people follow and some people don’t. Some degree of smart regulation, I think that would be a net positive for the industry. Right now a lot of this is the monster under the bed syndrome. Right? Where everything seems really scary in the dark."

Bizo lets the 190 million businesspeople it profiles see the data it’s collected on them and gives them the choice of opting up. Glass says fewer than 1 percent of the people who look at their profiles opt out. He says the rest want the convenience and the tailored marketing that comes with a data profile.

If you want to see your Bizo profile, check it out right here.

Data brokers set the price tag on your head

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:25

Big data is the topic at issue in a report issued by the Federal Trade Commission this week.

To be more specific, the FTC took a deep dive into the business of data brokers. Data brokers collect information on us, create profiles using that data and sell those profiles to marketers and other entities. The facts the FTC collected were pretty mind boggling—one data broker it looked at had 3,000 pieces of data on nearly every U.S. consumer; another had more than 1 billion transactions in its data bases. 

Data brokers gather up or buy bits of information about us: public records, online purchases, social media posts, trips to the drug store.

"There’s thousands and thousands of data elements on each consumer," says Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau for Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission. She says data brokers use the information to slot us into categories, which they sell to marketers. "The level of specificity and detail are mind-boggling. They have 'Urban Scramble', which is a category referring to low income and minority consumers; they have 'Thrifty Elders'; they have 'Diabetes Interest'; 'Bible Lifestyle'... 'Biker Lifestyle'."

This information is used in all kinds of ways--to show us ads for things we're likely to be interested in and to set insurance premiums and interest rates. Good luck getting life insurance if you fall into the 'Biker Lifestyle' category," says Rich.

"More and more, the stories that are told about us are told through numbers and the collection of data about us," says Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and author of "The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth""Some of those stories help people--some prevent fraud, but, like the FTC report says, a lot of them may be dangerous for us and for the kinds of opportunities we have in life." 

The FTC report calls on Congress to require data brokers to be transparent and allow consumers to see the data that's been collected on them. They're also supposed to have the ability to opt out of having that data sold and used for marketing.

"At the end of the day, The FTC makes some pretty good points," says Russell Glass, CEO of Bizo, a data-profiling company that specializes in business professionals. It sells those profiles to more than 1,000 clients, including American Express and UPS. Bizo gets its information from about 2,000 sources, and it shares its revenue with them. Glass says a little regulation in the industry would be a good thing.

"Nobody really knows what the rules are," says Glass. "There’s this self-regulation that some people follow and some people don’t. Some degree of smart regulation, I think that would be a net positive for the industry. Right now a lot of this is the monster under the bed syndrome. Right? Where everything seems really scary in the dark."

Bizo lets the 190 million businesspeople it profiles see the data it’s collected on them and gives them the choice of opting up. Glass says fewer than 1 percent of the people who look at their profiles opt out. He says the rest want the convenience and the tailored marketing that comes with a data profile.

If you want to see your Bizo profile, check it out right here.

Lost in translation? Skype hopes not

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:13

It’s one of those “living in the future” technologies. Microsoft is unveiling a live translation feature coming to its Skype service later this year. You have a conversation with someone in another language, and a moment later, the software translates it.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, a Microsoft Vice President, demonstrated the technology on stage at Re/code’s Code Conference this week, and the company says an early version of Skype Translator will debut later this year.

“It has some syntax problems, but yeah, wow, it’s good,” says Alice Leri, who teaches at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, and speaks German. 

Her colleague, Ken Erickson, a business anthropologist at the school, was a bit more skeptical. This kind of electronic translation, good as it is, “lulls you into a sense of comfort where you should be not so comfortable,” he says. 

A lot can get lost in translation in international business. Computer translations can send the opposite meaning than you intended in languages like Chinese. Skype Translator might be useful for simple things like scheduling a meeting, but, “if you want to negotiate a contract, you better not rely on something like this,” Erickson says.  

Microsoft admits the technology is still not ready for primetime. It will likely first be used by regular Skype users, who don’t have the same demands for accuracy as business customers. 

“It makes more sense to introduce the technology is through consumer applications,” says Raúl Castañón, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group. 

And, the tech giants are all becoming more interested in translation services. Google recently bought Word Lens, an app that uses a smartphone's camera to translate text on signs and menus. 

Law & Order: tech edition

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:07
Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 04:00 NBC/Jeff Thompson

An early appearance of a computer in Season 1 of Law & Order

For those who have spent an entire day on the couch letting Netflix dominate the tv or laptop screen, binge watching is not such a new phenomenon. Artist Jeff Thompson is certainly no stranger to the concept: he has watched all 456 episodes of the original Law & Order franchise. But unlike the rest of us, he was getting paid to do it.

That's because Thompson received a grant from Rhizome to track the use of technology throughout the show's 20 year history. The fact that the show thrived on being "ripped from the headlines" (i.e. as current as possible), produced a weekly episode, and ran for such a long time make it a particularly useful series for such a project. 

Aside from maintaining a blog of screenshots of every computer that makes an appearance on the show, Thompson used the opportunity to track other technology-related data. For example, he maintained a list of every URL used throughout the series, as well as a chart that tracked the parallels between the drop off of computer useage on the show in tandem with the burst of the dot-com bubble. The chart below shows the number of computers used per season, while the following chart tracks the closing price of the Nasdaq (in light grey) over the same years.

A chart of the computer count in every episode of Law & Order

The light grey portion charts the closing price of the Nasdaq

Thompson also saw an opportunity to track the evolution of our attitude towards technology as well. In the beginning of the series, computers generally sat in a corner, eventually making their way onto individual's desks as their use became more ubiquitous. It's these minute details that really interested Thompson. He points out that while a lot of people document and write about the history of technology, the seemingly boring details are not as thoroughly documented. In fact, when asked about his favorite bit of technology in the series, he points to a pretty mundane piece of furniture: the computer desk. 

Marketplace Tech for Thursday, May 29, 2014by Podcast Title Law & Order: tech editionStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Pakistani Taliban Reportedly Split Over 'Un-Islamic' Practices

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:07

After months of bloody clashes between the two factions, one group says it has left because bombings of public places, extortion and kidnappings are "un-Islamic."

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What Google's driverless car actually means

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 13:01

Imagine for a moment that it is the year 2050. You are watching TV, a movie from the early 2000s. It’s a rom-com and a couple is at the end of a date, about to kiss awkwardly in their car, when your eight-year-old grandkid walks into the room, looks at the screen and says, “What’s that round thing?” That, you answer, is a steering wheel.

This scenario is not entirely unlikely. Google just unveiled the second generation of its self-driving car. The big difference between Google’s new driverless car and the old one is that the new version has no brake pedal and no steering wheel. So passengers are controlled completely by Goggle’s software.

“Now for some people, this might not be a big deal. For some people, this might be a benefit,” says Thilo Koslowski, an analyst with Gartner.

The self-driving car presents us with all kinds of opportunities. The elderly would be less isolated, blind people could hop in a car and go anywhere, at any time. The designated driver could get hammered. And everyone would be on safer roads because traffic could be coordinated.

“The question we will have to ask ourselves as a society,” says Koslowski, “is are we willing to give up some of that freedom in exchange for fewer accidents and improved traffic flow.”

Along with that freedom, we would also be giving up even more of our privacy. Tech companies would not only know our movements at all times, they would have control over them.

Eric Noble is with The Car Lab. He believes the best estimates about the growth of autonomous vehicles is a report by IHS titled "Emerging Technologies: Autonomous cars-Not if But When". “By 2035 they predicted 54 million automated vehicles [will be] on the road,” says Noble.

To put that in perspective, that’s roughly a quarter of all the cars on the road. The IHS report predicted that nearly all of the vehicles in use are likely to be self-driving sometime after 2050.

Increase your v-o-c-a-b-u-l-a-r-y

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-28 12:43
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 13:26 Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nathan J. Marcisz of Marion, Indiana, tries to spell a word during the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in Washington, DC. Spellers participate in the annual competition to become the best spelling bee of the year.

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Thursday, May 29:

John F. Kennedy was born 97 years ago. He was the youngest man elected President.

In Washington, the Commerce Department releases its second estimate for first quarter domestic product.

The National Association of Realtors issues its April Pending Home Sales Index.

Wisconsin joined the Union on May 29th, 1848.

And kids compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship Finals. You can watch it live on ESPN while gripping your dictionary.

Marketplace for Wednesday May 28, 2014by Michelle PhilippePodcast Title Increase your v-o-c-a-b-u-l-a-r-yStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

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