The Atlantic


Waymo's Robots Drove More Miles Than Everyone Else Combined

The Atlantic

Self-driving cars promise to change cities, mint billionaires, and push robots into the everyday lives of millions of people. The only problem is, no one knows quite when or how. And with all the research and development locked up inside private companies, the public has little information to judge the progress of the technology, aside from the occasional PR reveal or disaster. We have one (imperfect) yardstick, however: the numbers that the California Department of Motor Vehicles requires that any company testing an autonomous vehicle in the state file every month. Those are rolled up and released in January of each year.


San Francisco Wants to Ban Government Face Recognition

The Atlantic

A San Francisco lawmaker is proposing what would be a nationwide first: a complete moratorium on local government use of facial-recognition technology. Introduced by San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance would ban all city departments from using facial-recognition technology and require board approval before departments purchase new surveillance devices. The bill regulates only local use, not use by private companies: The face-unlock feature included on the latest iPhone model, for example, would still be legal. Neighboring cities Berkeley and Oakland have passed similar rules, requiring public input and a privacy policy before officials implement new tech, but nowhere in the United States is facial recognition outright banned. Texas and Illinois require consent before collecting facial data, but don't ban the practice.


The Quiet Heroism of Mail Delivery

The Atlantic

On Wednesday, a polar vortex brought bitter cold to the Midwest. Overnight, Chicago reached a low of 21 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, making it slightly colder than Antarctica, Alaska, and the North Pole. Wind chills were 64 degrees below zero in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and 45 degrees below zero in Buffalo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service. Schools, restaurants, and businesses closed, and more than 1,000 flights have been canceled. Even the United States Postal Service stalled mail delivery, temporarily.


Parkland Is Embracing Student Surveillance

The Atlantic

In the 11 months since 17 teachers and students were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, campuses across the country have started spending big on surveillance technology. The Lockport, New York, school district spent $1.4 million in state funds on a facial-recognition system. Schools in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles have adopted artificial-intelligence software--prone to false positives--that scans students' Facebook and Twitter accounts for signs that they might become a shooter. In New Mexico, students as young as 6 are under acoustic surveillance, thanks to a gunshot-detection program originally developed for use by the military to track enemy snipers. Earlier this month, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission released its report on the safety and security failures that contributed to fatalities during last year's shooting.


Trashy Robots

The Atlantic

There's nothing, it would seem, that Peter Kokis can't turn into a robot. The Brooklyn performance artist makes cyborgs out of 100 percent recycled materials--oftentimes salvaged from the trash. He builds the 170-pound costumes on his kitchen table. When he's done, Kokis parades through the streets, a veritable Transformer among mortals. "I look for complexity in everyday objects," Kokis says in Aaron Craig's short documentary One Man's Trash.


The Quiet Ways Automation Is Remaking Service Work

The Atlantic

When blue-collar workers go on strike, demands such as wage increases and better hours are usually the objective. But when nearly 8,000 Marriott International employees marched outside hotels for two months in late 2018, one request stood out among the rest: protection against the automated technology that's remaking the hotel industry. Marriott employees are right to worry. Over the past few years, the service industry has started hacking worker schedules by outsourcing human duties to machines. Automated experiments include robots that take over bartending and salad-making duties on cruise ships and in airports, and that deliver food to hotel guests' rooms.


Intimacy in the Early Days of Online Dating

The Atlantic

Gus, a 19-year-old homeschooled Christian from Joliet, Illinois, is trawling Facebook. He's just recovered from a debilitating bout of depression, and he's looking for someone to talk to. Through an online personality test, he finds a match: Jiyun, a 20-year-old from Korea, who moved to New York City with her family for her brother's cancer treatment. Gus messages her, and they begin chatting. "I started to fall for him when I saw these tagged videos on Facebook," Jiyun reveals in Nancy Schwartzman's short documentary, xoxosms.


How AI Found Flint's Lead Pipes, and Then Humans Lost Them

The Atlantic

More than a thousand days after the water problems in Flint, Michigan, became national news, thousands of homes in the city still have lead pipes, from which the toxic metal can leach into the water supply. To remedy the problem, the lead pipes need to be replaced with safer, copper ones. That sounds straightforward, but it is a challenge to figure out which homes have lead pipes in the first place. The City's records are incomplete and inaccurate. And digging up all the pipes would be costly and time-consuming.


Who Wins When Cash Is No Longer King?

The Atlantic

Of the most popular coffee shops in San Francisco's Financial District, only one is manned by a robot. Every morning, in a glass-and-wood booth on the corner of One Bush Street, customers queue around a whirring hydraulic arm, waiting for it to serve them cappuccino. Cafe X has three San Francisco locations, and all are cashless and fully automated, with orders taken via app. The one I pass on the way to work each morning is mere steps away from Amazon's cashless Go store, where human cashiers and baggers have disappeared, and juice and milk are dispensed by wanding your phone over a sensor. Human attendants hover in the lobby to aid shoppers, mostly newcomers confused by the entire cashless scheme.


There's No Real System to Counter Rogue Drones

The Atlantic

Aeromexico Flight 773 from Guadalajara was just about to land last week when crew members heard a "pretty loud bang," according to a cabin recording. A mysterious aerial collision had left the nose of the passenger jet badly mangled. By the time it landed safely in Tijuana, there was no confirmed culprit but one likely suspect: a drone. If confirmed, the incident would represent one of a very small but growing number of mid-air crashes involving the small flying robots. The potential for tragic accidents--or deliberate attacks--has grown as drones have proliferated among hobbyists and businesses.