Car repossession: Big Data +AI tools are not value-neutral

Does recent technology inherently favor capitalists over workers?

There is a lot of concern about AI potentially causing massive unemployment. The question of whether “this time will be different” is still open. But another insidious effect is gaining speed: putting tools in the hands of large companies that make it more expensive and more oppressive to run into financial trouble. In essence,  harder to live on the edges of “The System.”

  •  Cars with even one late payment can be spotted, and repossessed, faster. “Business has more than doubled since 2014….”  This is during a period of ostensible economic growth.
  • “Even with the rising deployment of remote engine cutoffs and GPS locators in cars, repo agencies remain dominant. … Agents are finding repos they never would have a few years ago.”
  • “So much of America is just a heartbeat away from a repossession — even good people, decent people who aren’t deadbeats,” said Patrick Altes, a veteran agent in Daytona Beach, Fla. “It seems like a different environment than it’s ever been.”
  • “The company’s goal is to capture every plate in Ohio and use that information to reveal patterns. A plate shot outside an apartment at 5 a.m. tells you that’s probably where the driver spends the night, no matter their listed home address. So when a repo order comes in for a car, the agent already knows where to look.”
  • Source: The surprising return of the repo man – The Washington Post

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Why Elon Musk’s New Strategy Makes Sense — Really??

Claim: “The history of architectural innovation is on his side. Source: Why Elon Musk’s New Strategy Makes Sense” by Joshua Gans

I’ve seen many people encouraging Musk’s integration of Solar City with Tesla, but it strikes me as a weak move. There is some synergy between electric cars and home PV, but electric energy is mostly fungible. Only if local utilities use really dumb pricing schemes for solar power would it be useful to bypass them if you have an EV. (Admittedly, many utilities do exactly that.)

Second, his closing argument contradicts a lot of other analysis.  I have not read Gans book. But he writes that:

As I outline in my book, The Disruption Dilemma, the companies that have thrived in the face of architectural disruption of this kind are those that have kept all the parts close and in control rather than spread them out.

But, “keeping all the parts under your control” rules out 99% of startups. And it also seems historically incorrect. IBM, when it started the IBM-PC revolution, did so by surrendering control of almost everything, including the OS, processor, hard drive, and applications. IBM made all of these things for its mainframes, but it revolutionized the industry by NOT controlling them for personal computers. And this was certainly architectural disruption – the shift from a closed to an open architecture.

I’ll have to look at his book. Or ask my friend Liz Lyons down the hall, who was his student.

Google/Alphabet continues toward Total Person Awareness: tracking every vehicle + person.

Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google (from The Guardian)

Documents reveal Sidewalk Labs is offering a system it calls Flow to Columbus, Ohio, to upgrade bus and parking services – and bring them under Google’s management.

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The emails and documents show that Flow applies Google’s expertise in mapping, machine learning and big data to thorny urban problems such as public parking. Numerous studies have found that 30% of traffic in cities is due to drivers seeking parking.

Sidewalk said in documents that Flow would use camera-equipped vehicles,…. It would then combine data from drivers using GoogleMaps with live information from city parking meters to estimate which spaces were still free. Arriving drivers would be directed to empty spots.

Source: Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google

Notice that this gives Google/Alphabet a legitimate reason to track every car in the downtown area. Flow can be even more helpful if they know  the destination of every car AND every traveler for the next hour.
The next logical step, a few years from now, will be to track the plans of every person in the city. For example Mary Smith normally leaves her house in the suburbs at 8:15AM to drive to her office in downtown Columbus. Today, however, she has to drop off daughter Emily (born Dec 1, 2008, social security number 043-xx-xxxx) at school, so she will leave a little early. This perturbation in normal traffic can be used to help other drivers choose the most efficient route. Add  together thousands of these, and we can add real-time re-routing of buses/ Uber cars.
For now, this sounds like science fiction.  It certainly contains the ability to improve transit efficiency and speed, and “make everyone better off.” But it comes at a price. Yet many are already comfortable with Waze tracking their drives in detail.
Tune back in 10 years from now and tell me how I did.

Drones Hunt Down Poachers in South Africa | Flying Magazine

The Lindbergh Foundation’s Air Shepherd initiative uses drones to catch poachers in South Africa.

My comment: Flying at night, up to 40km away, is technically difficult. But smart autopilots, using GPS and accelerometers, mean that the operators (pilots) don’t have to do hands-on flying except landing and takeoff.  Probably every component in the system except the ground vehicles is hobbyist level, although some of the specialized long-range radio gear might need to be hand built.  Nothing from aerospace companies.  Battery powered, so essentially noiseless. Also, the aircraft itself is the cheapest part of the system.

The article mentions flights of “up to 4 hours.” That is a very long duration, and would require lots of batteries. 2 hours or even less sounds more realistic. Efficient cruising speed is probably is probably around 40 kph (25 mph). If anyone finds other discussions of this project, please let me know.

Source: Drones Hunt Down Poachers in South Africa | Flying Magazine

Death by GPS | Ars Technica

Why do we follow digital maps into dodgy places? Something is happening to us. Anyone who has driven a car through an unfamiliar place can attest to how easy it is to let GPS do all the work. We have come to depend on GPS, a technology that, in theory, makes it impossible to get lost. Not only are we still getting lost, we may actually be losing a part of ourselves. Source: Death by GPS | Ars Technica

As usual, aviation is way “ahead.” Use of automated navigation reduces pilots’ navigation skills; automated flight reduces hand-flying skills. Commercial aviation is starting to grapple with this, but there is no easy solution.

Self-driving cars may take decades to prove safety: Not so.

Proving self-driving cars are safe could take up to hundreds of years under the current testing regime, a new Rand Corporation study claims. Source: Self-driving cars may not be proven safe for decades: report  The statistical analysis in this paper looks fine, but the problem is even worse for aircraft (since they are far safer per mile than autos.) Yet new aircraft are sold after approx 3 years of testing, and less than 1 million miles flown. How?

From the report:

we will show that fully autonomous vehicles would have to be driven hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles to demonstrate their reliability in terms of fatalities and injuries. Under even aggressive testing assumptions, existing  fleets would take tens and sometimes hundreds of years to drive these miles.

How does the airline industry get around the analogous statistics? By understanding how aircraft fail, and designing/testing for those specific issues, with carefully calculated specification limits. They don’t just fly around, waiting for the autopilot to fail!

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