The Self-Driving Future: Part 5

Once we have self driving cars, will there be any privacy left? Probably not. We will have to go to extreme measures to prevent Grandma Google and Frère Facebook from following every journey.

It used to be that you were anonymous in a cab. The driver didn’t know your name and you paid with cash.

Then they started letting people pay for cabs with credit cards, and your anonymity was left at the curb. Still, they weren’t really tracking where you went.

Then Uber came along and tracked everything. Where you came from, where you went, what time of day you traveled and more. But if you didn’t take Uber and drove yourself you still had a chance at privacy.

Self driving cars are likely to be unlocked by a phone app, so the car will know who you are. The car manufacturers are going to track how and where the car drives itself to protect themselves from liability if there is an accident. At this point, the car will know your identity and where and when it went. Do you really think they won’t be linked?

Even if you drive the car manually, all of the sensors required to track you will still be there. Services like Amazon’s Alexa will be riding shotgun with you.  Do you really think you’ll be able to turn them off? Even if you could, your insurance company will probably give you a big break on rates if you leave them on.

Especially if you buy it from Amazon Auto Insurance.

 

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Gun Securement Insurance

The discussion about guns has unfortunately been twisted into a right vs. left identity politics debate: if you are on the left you are ‘against’ guns and if you are on the right you are ‘for’ them. While this is nonsense, it is a testimony to the effectiveness of the NRA that they have been able to turn the question of gun ownership into “us vs. them” at a gut level.

The reality is that the issue is not about whether you are for or against guns. The issue should be about responsible ownership. No one is against cars, even though they kill tens of thousands of people every year. Ooops – cars don’t kill people, drivers kill people. The NRA is right – guns don’t kill people, shooters kill people.

If you want to drive a car, you need to prove that you are a proficient driver. The same should be true for guns. Local governments administer driving tests and issue driving permits (licenses). They should do the same for firearms. Oh wait, they already do, but only if you want to carry a concealed weapon. This should be expanded to owning any gun. In addition, it should be tightened up. In some jurisdictions all you have to do to get a permit is squeeze one round off and you are “qualified.”

You cannot drive if you are under age, mentally impaired or a convicted bad driver. The same is true for guns – the federal government has a program to check the background of gun purchasers. It is imperfect and should apply to private sales, but it exists.

The one thing that has no parallel in gun ownership is insurance. Drivers are required to have a minimum amount of liability insurance in case their car damages a person or property. The private sector provides this insurance.

The private sector offers insurance to gun owners, but it is about replacing their guns if they are stolen which is not the same thing. Gun owners should be required to secure their guns, and the private sector should sell insurance to cover this.

High risk drivers have high premiums. Gun owners with a high risk of being careless about securing their firearms would also have high premiums. How do you define high risk? Let the private sector work it out the same way they worked out who are high risk drivers.

The bottom line is that gun owners should have to show that they have firearms securement insurance, just like drivers have to show that they have automobile liability insurance.

The Next Surgeon General’s Warning

Back in the 1990’s Microsoft was the Wicked Witch of the tech world. The techies were upset that the company made substandard software and then forced everyone to use it. For example, Internet Explorer was not as good as Netscape Navigator, but because Microsoft had tremendous clout in the market it could cut business deals that made it hard for consumers to use anything else and muscled Netscape out of business.

The government finally got involved went after Microsoft and got very close to breaking the company up, just like it did with Ma Bell in the early 1980s.

The current captains of tech learned their lesson. Google, Facebook and Twitter make pretty decent software. More importantly, they (mostly) don’t cut business deals that force you use it.

Instead, they work on your addictions. The employ behavioral physiologists and their techniques to get you hooked on their services. The smartphone and ubiquitous internet was a godsend to these companies, because you can feed your addiction to these services anywhere, not just at your desk – in your car, walking down the street, in the toilet, .

What they did not learn from Microsoft’s experience is that anything that gets too big and indispensable will eventually generate backlash. First, politicians from the left railed against these companies for allowing themselves to be used by fake news to influence the election of Donald Trump. Next, politicians from the right are upset that these companies are over correcting.

When both sides of the political aisle have you in their sights, it cannot be good.

It is not clear what the politicians will come up with, but it is clear that the underlying problem is the addictive nature of these services. If people were not so compelled to use them, they wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Maybe a Surgeon General’s Warning would help:
Social media and search are highly addictive. Quitting greatly reduces serious risks to your mental and political health.

The Self-Driving Future: Part 4

So I am driving down the highway in my self driving car and the driver in the next lane pulls a bonehead lane change. We crash. Who is liable?

Of course the self driving car should be smart enough to avoid bonehead moves by other drivers? But how smart? What will the standard be?

On the one hand, the self driving car would probably have a camera recording everything that happens around it, and would be able to show the cops and insurance company the reckless and probably illegal move the other car made that ‘could not be avoided’.

On the other hand, the manual driver might say, “Look, maybe it was an idiot move, but people make idiot moves all the time – that’s part of driving. An alert driver would have been able to avoid an accident and your self driving car is obviously not as good as an alert manual driver.” Sue the manufacturer.

Inventively there will be horror stories in the press about people with unexpected hits on their insurance due to self-driving crashes. Eventually, the government, the lawyers and the insurance companies will work it out. But until they do, look for many folks to be reluctant to turn on the autopilot.

 

Google Steals Your Face

A few years ago, Google came out with an Arts and Culture app that gave users access to artwork from a multitude of worldwide museums. Want to see paintings or sculptures? Here’s your app.

In the past month, Google added a new feature to the app. Upload your face and it will try to find a ‘match’ with a piece of art. Want to tell your friends that you look like a famous painting? Google can help.

Of course, one has to remember the first rule of the internet: When the service is free, the product is you. Google gives you a ‘match’ (most of the ones I’ve seen are pretty iffy) to a museum piece and you give them a face to add to their database. They then analyze your facial characteristics with your search habits, browsing habits, shopping habits, email habits and any other habit they can get their greedy little tentacles on to figure out what you should be seeing, doing, buying, etc.

If the National Security Agency or the FBI tried to collect this kind of information there would be huge outrage. But in exchange for a little social media fun, it looks like millions of people will voluntarily give it up to Google. What ever happened to “Don’t be Evil”?

Westin – Upscale Cheap Trick

I recently stayed at a Westin hotel and was completely underwhelmed. On check in, they asked if we wanted to go green, which of course you say yes to, right? In many hotels, this means that they conserve water and energy by not changing your bath towels every day. At the Westin, this is a trick. It means that they don’t enter your room at all.

There is nothing environmentally green about not making your bed or emptying your trash bins daily. The only green thing about it is the color of the money Westin saves by not hiring the staff to make up your room. It is another name for what the airlines are now calling basic economy.

Speaking of which, I called for a shuttle to the airport, and they informed me that they are not running shuttles “at this time” because they don’t have the staff. Looks like more labor savings to me . . .

Westin charges for the internet at $10 / day for three devices. If you are a couple each with a laptop and iPad, you are going to pay for four devices or $20 / day. Yes, anyone with a certain status at Westin may not have to pay, but why charge more for internet than Motel 6 does? Because they can.

They also had one of those directly overhead ‘rain storm’ shower heads to make the shower seem upscale. Unfortunately, it makes one contort into Cirque de Soleil positions in order shower without getting one’s hair wet or let the hair conditioner soak in while scrubbing the rest of one’s body.

I could go on, but you get the point. I used to think Westin was an upscale treat, but this seemed like more of a cheap trick.

Siri: “You’re Looking A Bit Sad”

With its latest iPhone, Apple introduces Face ID. With it, users can unlock their phones by just looking at them. Microsoft has had a similar feature called Windows Hello for a few years, so Apple is playing catch up here, but Apple has been copying others for a few years now so this is nothing new.

Now that Apple has this capability, the question is how it plans to use in the future. Microsoft has pretty much left it to unlocking devices. But Apple wants to be an innovator and it is hard to believe that is as far as it will take it.

There are already algorithms that can tell your mood from your picture. If you look sad, will Apple automatically open your phone to a happy news story or iTunes song? Or automatically add an emoji to your texts when you are angry? Talk about autocorrect fails – sending a angry by mistake could really hurt!

On the other hand, if the phone detects that you are angry, Siri could pop a warning for you to cool down before pressing send on that email or text.

The algorithms can also make a pretty good guess of your gender, age, weight, etc. Maybe Apple will use this to ‘help’ you shop. Or find a date.

The worst would be Siri automatically sending a text to you parents if it detected something amiss. Who wouldn’t want their mother calling all the time asking what’s wrong?

What if Apple starts making your face, or some data gleaned from it, available to others, like it does with location? It could all get very creepy very quickly, appropriate for a phone with a Halloween release date.