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Facebook translates ‘good morning’ into ‘attack them’, leading to arrest

Palestinian man questioned by Israeli police after embarrassing mistranslation of caption under photo of him leaning against bulldozer.

Facebook sign

 

Facebook has apologised after an error in its machine-translation service saw Israeli police arrest a Palestinian man for posting good morning on his social media profile.

The man, a construction worker in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, near Jerusalem, posted a picture of himself leaning against a bulldozer with the caption , or yusbihuhum, which translates as good morning.

But Facebook’s artificial intelligence-powered translation service, which it built after parting ways with Microsoft’s Bing translation in 2016, instead translated the word into hurt them in English or attack them in Hebrew.

Police officers arrested the man later that day, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, after they were notified of the post. They questioned him for several hours, suspicious he was planning to use the pictured bulldozer in a vehicle attack, before realising their mistake. At no point before his arrest did any Arabic-speaking officer read the actual post.

Facebook said it is looking into the issue, and in a statement to Gizmodo, added: “Unfortunately, our translation systems made an error last week that misinterpreted what this individual posted.

“Even though our translations are getting better each day, mistakes like these might happen from time to time and weve taken steps to address this particular issue. We apologise to him and his family for the mistake and the disruption this caused.”

Arabic is considered particularly difficult for many machine translation services due to the large number of different dialects in use around the world, on top of Modern Standard Arabic, the international form of the language.

The Israeli Defence Force has been open about monitoring the social media accounts of Palestinians, looking for lone-wolf attackers who might otherwise slip through the net. It reportedly does so automatically, using algorithms to look for terms such as sword of Allah.

Machine translation mistakes are a regular occurrence for anyone using AI to translate languages, particularly ones with little relationship. Earlier this month, Chinese social network WeChat apologised after its own machine translation system translated a neutral phrase meaning black foreigner as the n-word.

“When I ran the translator, the n-word came up and I was gobsmacked,” said Ann James, who had been texting back and forth with a friend when the faulty translation appeared.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/24/facebook-palestine-israel-translates-good-morning-attack-them-arrest

End of the road: will automation put an end to the American trucker?

Americas 2 million truckers have long been mythologised in popular culture. But self-driving trucks are set to lay waste to one of the country’s most beloved jobs and the fallout could be huge.

 

Jeff Baxters sunflower-yellow Kenworth truck shines as bright and almost as big as the sun. Four men clean the glistening cab in the hangar-like truck wash at Iowa 80, the worlds largest truck stop.

Baxter has made a pitstop at Iowa 80 before picking up a 116ft-long wind turbine blade that hes driving down to Texas, 900 miles away.

Baxter, 48, is one of the 1.8 million Americans, mainly men, who drive heavy trucks for a living, the single most common job in many US states. Driving is one of the biggest occupations in the world. Another 1.7 million people drive taxis, buses and delivery vehicles in the US alone. But for how long? Having disrupted industries including manufacturing, music, journalism and retail, Silicon Valley has its eyes on trucking.

Google, Uber, Tesla and the major truck manufacturers are looking to a future in which people like Baxter will be replaced or at the very least downgraded to co-pilots by automated vehicles that will save billions but will cost millions of jobs. It will be one of the biggest changes to the jobs market since the invention of the automated loom challenging the livelihoods of millions across the world.

“I’m scared to death of that,” says Baxter, an impish man with bad teeth that he hides behind his hand as he laughs. “I can’t operate a pocket calculator!”

But Baxter is in the minority. Iowa 80 is a great place to check the pulse of the trucking community. Interstate 80 the second longest in the country runs from downtown San Francisco to the edge of New York City. The truck stop, about 40 miles east of Iowa City, serves 5,000 customers each day, offering everything they could need from shops and restaurants to a cinema, chiropractor, dentist, barber and a chapel.

Every week, a major tech company seems to announce some new development in automated trucking. Next month, the Tesla founder, Elon Musk, will unveil an electric-powered semi that is likely to be semi-autonomous. But most of the truckers I spoke to were not concerned by the rise of the robots. “I don’t think a robot could do my job,” says Ray Rodriguez, 38, who has driven up a batch of cars from Tennessee. “Twenty years from now, maybe.”

Nor do the managers of the Iowa 80 see their jobs changing any time soon. The infrastructure just isnt there, says Heather DeBaillie, marketing manager of Iowa 80. Nor does she think that people are ready for autonomous trucks. Think about the airplane. They could automate an airplane now. So why dont they have airplanes without pilots? She also argues that the politics of laying off so many people will not pass muster in Washington.

The family-run Iowa 80 has been serving truckers for 53 years, and is so confident about its future that it is expanding to secure its claim to being the worlds biggest truck stop, adding more restaurants and shopping space to the Disneyland of truckers.

But not everyone is so confident that truck stops will survive the age of the algorithm. Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul, the story of his life as a long-distance truck driver, says the days of the truck driver as we know him are coming to an end. Trucking is a $700bn industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers, and, he says, if the tech firms can grab a slice of that, they will.

Left to right: Iowa 80, known as the Disneyland of truck stops; Jeff Baxter, 49, with his truck after having it washed; Douglas Berry, 55, with his truck and trailer. Composite: John Richard for the Guardian

The only human beings left in the modern supply chain are truck drivers. If you go to a modern warehouse now, say Amazon or Walmart, the trucks are unloaded by machines, the trucks are loaded by machines, they are put into the warehouse by machines. Then there is a guy, probably making $10 an hour, with a load of screens watching these machines. Then what you have is a truckers lounge with 20 or 30 guys standing around getting paid. And that drives the supply chain people nuts, he says.

The goal, he believes, is to get rid of the drivers and have ultimate efficiency.

I think this is imminent. Five years or so. This is a space race the race to get the first driverless vehicle that is viable, says Murphy. My fellow drivers dont appear to be particularly concerned about this. They think its way off into the future. All the people I have talked to on this book tour, nobody thinks this is imminent except for me. Me and Elon Musk, I guess.

The future is coming. Arguably it is already here. Several states have already laid the groundwork for a future with fewer truckers. California, Florida, Michigan and Utah have passed laws allowing trucks to drive autonomously in platoons, where two or more big rigs drive together and synchronize their movements.

The stage has been set for a battle between the forces of labor and the tech titans. In July, the powerful Teamsters union successfully pushed Congress to slow legislation for states looking to broaden the use of autonomous vehicles. After arm-twisting by the union, the US House of Representatives energy and commerce committee exempted vehicles over 10,000lb from new rules meant to speed the development of autonomous cars. Many truckers came into the industry after being displaced by automation in other industries, and the transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, has said she is very concerned about the impact of self-driving cars on US jobs.

The Budweiser cans driven by self-driving truck.

But Ryan Petersen sees the Teamsters move as a speed bump at best. Petersen, the founder of Flexport, a tech-savvy freight logistics company, says fully operational self-driving trucks will start replacing jobs within the next year, and will probably become commonplace within 10.

Labor accounts for 75% of the cost of transporting shipments by truck, so adopters can begin to realize those savings. Beyond that, while truckers are prohibited from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an eight-hour break, a driverless truck can drive for the entire day. This effectively doubles the output of the trucking network at a quarter of the cost. Thats an eight-times increase in productivity, without taking into account other benefits gained by automation, he says.

Larger trucks making highway trips, like those occupying the 900-truck parking spots at Iowa 90, are the lowest-hanging fruit and will be automated first, Petersen says.

Last year, Otto, a self-driving truck company owned by Uber, successfully delivered 45,000 cans of Budweiser in a truck that drove the 130-odd miles from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs. A semi-automated platoon of trucks crossed Europe last year in an experiment coordinated by DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.

But the automation that seems to most concern drivers at Iowa 80 concerns their log books. Truck firms are shifting drivers over to computerized logs and they hate it. The new system adds another layer of oversight to an industry that is already heavily regulated, and will limit where and when drivers can stop. A driver looking to add an extra 30 minutes to his ride in order to make it to the truck stop rather than rest up in a layby might find that option gone, under a system that is centrally controlled rather than filled in by him in the log books that occupy a long shelf in Iowa 80s giant trucker store.

The trucker holds a special place in American mythology: sometimes a symbol of freedom and the open road, sometimes a threat. Truckers entered popular culture from all directions, from the existential horror of Spielbergs Duel, to Convoy, the bizarre trucker protest song that became a global hit and introduced the world to CB radio slang Let them truckers roll, 10-4!

Left to right: Ray Rodriguez puts wheel-bolt covers on his truck; promotional material for Smokey and the Bandit; the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum. Composite: John Richard/The Guardian/Universal Pictures

In the 1970s, Hollywoods he-men wanted to be truckers: Kris Kristofferson in Convoy, inspired by the song; Burt Reynolds CB-slanging his way through Smokey and the Bandit I and II. Thelma and Louise took their revenge on a cat-calling trucker in 1991. Hollywood, presciently, had a cyborg drive a big rig in Terminator 2, and went full robot with Optimus Prime in the Transformers franchise. At the turn of the 21st century, the ever nostalgic hipsters love of trucker hats and T-shirts revived Americas fetishization of the long-distance driver.

But its a nostalgia out of sync with a reality of declining wages, thanks in part to declining union powers, restricted freedoms, and a job under mortal threat from technology, says Murphy. Truckers made an average of $38,618 a year in 1980. If wages had just kept pace with inflation, that would be over $114,722 today but last year the average wage was $41,340.

The myth is that the long-haul truck driver is the cultural evolution of the free-range cowboy from the 19th century, says Murphy. In fact, trucking is one of the most regulated industries in the United States. Every move the trucker makes is tracked by a computer. We have logs we need to keep every time we stop, pull over, take a leak. The trucks speed, braking, acceleration is all recorded. This is not a cowboy on the open range. This is more like 1984 than 1894.

Douglas Barry has been driving trucks since 1990. A wiry firecracker of a man, Barry says those pushing for automation are failing to see the bigger picture. The general public is just not ready to see 80,000lb of 18-wheeler flying down the highway with no one at the wheel.

“That big old rig could blow sky-high, slam into a school. It needs a human being. There isn’t a machine that can equal a human being,” he says. “Artificial intelligence can be hacked … Who is ready for that? I wouldn’t want my family going down the road next to a truck that’s computer-operated.”

He says the involvement of the tech companies has stopped people from looking for more holistic solutions to transportation problems. The answer is better roads, more delivery points for trains, streamlining the supply system not just looking for ways of cutting manpower.

A lot of these people at Google and so forth are very intelligent. But in a lot of ways they are out of touch with reality, Barry says.

Yet computers don’t get tired, don’t drink or take drugs, and dont get distracted or get road rage. Murphy, the author, says the argument that people are better than machines will not hold for long especially as more and more people get used to autonomous cars.

“The assumption is that we are living in some kind of driver utopia now and machines are going to destroy that,” he says. “The fact is that we have 41,000 highway deaths in America every year. If we piled those bodies up, that would be a public health crisis. But we are so used to the 41,000 deaths that we dont even think about it.”

“Virtually all those deaths are from driver error,” he says. “What if we took that number down to 200? Here’s how it looks to me. Thirty years from now my grandchildren are going to say to me: You people had pedals on machines that you slowed down and sped up with? You had a wheel to turn it? And everybody had their own? And you were killing 41,000 people a year? You people were savages!

“They are going to look at driver-operated vehicles the way people now look at a pregnant woman smoking,” he says. “It’ll be the absolute epitome of barbarism.”

It will also be a change in the workplace of historic proportions. “I watch a lot of Star Trek,” says Baxter, as he prepares to get back on the road. “The inventions of an innovative mind can accomplish a lot of things. I just dont want to see automated trucks coming down the road in my lifetime.”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/10/american-trucker-automation-jobs

Fury at ‘Bodega’ tech startup that aims to put corner shops out of business

Bodega, which markets glorified vending machines where users can buy groceries, boasts: “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary.”

Bodega co-founders

 

A tech startup called Bodega that hopes to replace mom-and-pop shops with unmanned boxes that rely on an app and artificial intelligence is facing a massive backlash from immigrant business owners and skeptics across Silicon Valley.

The company, founded by two former Google employees and launched on Wednesday, is marketing five-foot-wide pantries that users can unlock with their smartphones to pick up non-perishable items. There are no humans at the stores which are already stationed in spots like apartment buildings, offices and gyms and a computer program automatically charges customers credit cards, according to Fast Company, which first reported on the startup.

Although the boxes appear to be little more than glorified vending machines, the company’s executives have been widely mocked, and criticized for explicitly stating that their mission is to displace neighborhood corner stores and put family-owned shops out of business.

“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” co-founder Paul McDonald, a former Google product manager, told Fast Company. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 ft away from you.”

McDonald backtracked on Wednesday, claiming in a blogpost that he is not trying to put bodegas out of business despite his earlier statements to the contrary: “Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal.”

The goal of disrupting a long-running industry and eliminating human interaction from the process of shopping at a convenience store is embedded in the roundly ridiculed Bodega name, which appropriates a commonly used term in the US for corner stores typically run by immigrants.

“It’s sacrilegious to use that name, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to fight this,” Frank Garcia, chair of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, told the Guardian. “It was devastating to find out and it’s not fair to the local bodegas now that don’t have the angel investors that these guys have.”

McDonald and co-founder Ashwath Rajan have secured funding from high-profile players in the tech industry, including investors from First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures and Homebrew and senior executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter and Dropbox, Fast Company reported.

Garcia said his grandfather was the head of the Latin Grocery Association in the 1960s and helped coin the term bodega, a name widely used for stores in New York City today.

“It’s his legacy and the legacy of these immigrants who came here with nothing to start a little grocery store, and came up with a concept to really help the community against racism,” he said, noting that existing grocers often would refuse to serve Puerto Ricans. “Don’t use our community to make a fast buck.”

McDonald claimed that the company conducted surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations and alleged that 97% said no.

Bodega co-founders
The founders of Bodega hope there will eventually be thousands of boxes with one always 100 ft away from you. Photograph: Ellian Raffoul for Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Bodega did not respond to an interview request and did not answer questions about the nature of the survey and how much funding the startup has raised.

In his blogpost, McDonald praised existing bodegas as fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations that stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. He also said he was surprised by the social media outrage about the name, offering an apology to “anyone we’ve offended.”

“Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores or worse yet, a threat we intended only admiration.”

He did not respond to a question about whether he was reconsidering the name.

Critics have also condemned Bodega as the latest example of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs attracting large sums of money to provide a service for which there is little demand, aimed at catering to a wealthy population. Juicero, a startup that raised $120m to sell $400 juicer machines that were revealed to be the equivalent of two hands squeezing a juice box, recently shut down.

McDonald told Fast Company he was unveiling 50 new locations on the west coast and plans to spread across the country, with more than a thousand Bodegas in place by the end of 2018. The boxes are supposed to use machine learning to assess which items are most in demand and adjust the supply accordingly, but some critics are already questioning whether the business model will be sustainable.

“Even if Bodega rapidly grows, many shoppers won’t want to abandon their local stores,” said Trisha Chakrabarti, senior program and policy manager at Mandela MarketPlace, a nonprofit that supports local grocery stores and is based in Oakland, California, where Bodega is headquartered.

“It’s about having neighbours in your community who know you, who have lived there and been in business for a long time, who have seen changes in the neighborhood and are responsive to customers needs,” she said. “That kind of personalization of service, you will never be able to find with an automated service.”

“Bodega is launching at a time when local bodegas are barely scraping by,” said Chakrabarti. These are marginalized business owners to begin with in places like Oakland, New York and San Francisco. Their businesses are threatened by ever increasing rents.

She said she was particularly shocked to see the startup founders openly boasting about striving to wipe out this industry: “I hope that they fail.”

“In New York, where there are a large number of Yemeni-owned corner stores, some are known for using honour systems in which they let regular customers pay at a later date if they are low on cash and have immediate needs,” said Debbie Almontaser, board president of the Muslim Community Network.

“They work with communities when they don’t have money, people living paycheck to paycheck that need milk and diapers,” she said. “All of their customers are just so grateful that they have this kind of trust in them … I can’t imagine they would want to see these manufactured little kiosks in their communities.”

Garcia said his organization would explore any legal options it may have to challenge Bodega’s name, adding that he hoped lawmakers would regulate this kind of business and not let the startup bypass government rules existing stores have to follow.

He noted that even when 7-Eleven, the chain of convenience stores, has moved into neighborhoods with small businesses, executives have met with community leaders and representatives of bodegas.

“At least they respected the community,” he said. “These guys have not.”

At one residential skyscraper in San Francisco where a Bodega box is, tenant Nripesh Koirala said he would consider shopping from one since it’s convenient, but that he didn’t think the startup would threaten retail shops.

“It’s just their arrogance if they’re saying they are going to replace stores,” said Koirala, a 23-year-old student. “At a corner store, there are a lot of things you can choose from and you can ask them questions … You can’t talk to a vending machine.”

Contact the author: sam.levin@theguardian.com

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/13/tech-startup-bodega-corner-stores

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