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Archive for the category “government”

When airport efficiency can potentially cause airports to LOSE revenue

Let’s start by getting all the disclosures out of the way. My employer, (presently) known as OT-Morpho, is very active in providing technological solutions for airports, and a former sister company (now independent) presently known as Smiths Detection is very active in this area also. These companies, their competitors, and others are actively seeking ways to make the airport experience less painless.

But this can have negative ramifications.

I like to get to airports early – two hours before my flight at a minimum. This allows me plenty of time to check in, walk to security, partially disrobe (just the shoes and the belt), go through security, put my clothes back on, and then wait for my flight. And if everything goes well, I’ll be waiting for a while.

But what if the airport experience becomes more seamless? What if I could walk into the airport, drop off my suitcase without stopping, and walk through security without stopping? It’s conceivable that present technologies could allow us to do away with all of the lines at airports without sacrificing security.

Well, one ramification is that rather than getting to the airport two hours before my flight, I might be able to get to the airport a half hour before my flight.

This set off the alarm bells for the Roland Berger consultancy:

New entrants and innovative offerings coming into the market could put airports at risk of losing significant revenues – potentially between USD 2.5 and 5 billion over the next five years unless airport operators take action to counter the threat. That translates into a 3 to 6 percent hit on their operating margin….

How would this happen? Well, there are two ways.

I don’t do it much any more, but I used to park my car at the airport for a few days when I went on a trip. But as mass transit routes link to airports and ridesharing services get permission to drop off and pick up at airports, fewer and fewer people are going to bother parking at the airport – and paying the airport those parking fees.

And it gets better. If you breeze through security so quickly that you delay your arrival at the airport, then you won’t be spending as much time there – and at the airport’s restaurants and shops. While I’ve ended my parking routine, I’ve retained some of my other airport routines. More often than not, I grab a bite to eat. (It’s included in the per diem, so why not?) And then I might get a fifteen-pack of gum and a Mounds bar before setting off on my most important airport task – finding a power outlet and decent wi-fi.

And if you’re spending less time in the airport, the airport takes a financial hit:

Passengers spent an average of $3.52 on news, gift and specialty retail and $6.32 on food and beverage per enplanement in 2015, compared to $3.45 and $6.30 respectively in 2014….

Airport data reported to the FAA showed that total revenue from terminal concessions (food, beverage, retail and services) was $1.9 billion in 2015. Revenue from food and beverage programs at U.S. airports represented 35 percent of the total 2015 terminal concessions revenue; retail represented 40 percent.

And if airports lose this revenue, they’re in a world of hurt.

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Swiss rescue operations mix old and new

We’ve all heard about the Swiss dogs who venture forth in the Alps to rescue people.

Well, these days the dogs have a little bit of help.

Capo, a golden retriever wearing a bright orange rescue harness, runs with his handler in tow towards a body sprawled in the high grass as a giant drone whirrs overhead.

The scene was part of a simulated dog rescue operation this week aimed at highlighting the rapidly growing use of drones to help speed up and expand such searches in Switzerland.

The exercise took place on Wednesday, the same day as a massive landslide on the Piz Cengalo mountain in the Swiss Alps that left eight people missing and triggered a search-and-rescue mission where dogs and drones were deployed.

The article states that there are cooperation efforts between the dog people, represented by the Swiss Association for Search and Rescue Dogs (Redog), and the drone people, represented by the Swiss Federation of Civil Drones. (Almost sounds like ham radio there.)

In fact, one Redog person put it this way:

This allows us to have an eye in the air and a nose on the ground.

Can the @AINowInitiative achieve its goals?

Confession – when I first saw Marshall Kirkpatrick’s tweet, I thought that it sounded too much like Newspeak. Most of you probably won’t react that way, but I did.

AINowMarshall

“Preventing fascism through AI?” After the recent Wikileaks revelations about purported CIA listening technology, you kinda wonder if the AI would be used to IMPLEMENT “fascism” – whatever “fascism” is.

But when I went to the AI Now Initiative website (which, as far as I can tell, does NOT use the f-word), it looks like they have a valid point. But can they get where they want to go? And where DO they want to go?

First, let me introduce the AI Now Initiative itself.

Led by Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, AI Now is a New York-based research initiative working across disciplines to understand AI’s social impacts….

The AI Now Report provides recommendations that can help ensure AI is more fair and equitable. It represents the thinking and research of the experts who attended our first symposium, hosted in collaboration with President Obama’s White House and held at New York University in 2016.

The thing that struck me in the details was their discussion of bias.

Bias and inclusion

Data reflects the social and political conditions in which it is collected. AI is only able to “see” what is in the data it’s given. This, along with many other factors, can lead to biased and unfair outcomes. AI Now researches and measures the nature of such bias, how bias is defined and by whom, and the impact of such bias on diverse populations.

I wanted to read the report (PDF) of the first symposium – since the second symposium hasn’t yet been held, its report has (I hope) not yet been written – but the definition of bias is a key step here. If you’re wearing a MAGA hat or have one of North Korea’s approved hairstyles, then anything involving Barack Obama and the city of New York is already hopelessly biased, infused with New York values – one of those values being the Constitution and laws of the United States.

While reading the report, it appears that “bias” is defined as “lack of fairness.”

As AI systems take on a more important role in high-stakes decision-making – from offers of credit and insurance, to hiring decisions and parole – they will begin to affect who gets offered crucial opportunities, and who is left behind. This brings questions of rights, liberties, and basic fairness to the forefront.

While some hope that AI systems will help to overcome the biases that plague human decision-making, others fear that AI systems will amplify such biases, denying opportunities to the deserving and subjecting the deprived to further disadvantage.

An example will illustrate the issues involved.

Person A and Person B are applying for health insurance. What data is required to evaluate the risks from insuring each person? Do we need to know their ages? Their genders? Their races? What they ate for dinner last night? Their genetic test results? Some will argue that all of this data is not only desirable, but necessary for decision-making. Others will argue that collection of such data is an affront to the aforementioned “New York values” enshrined in the Constitution.

So should an AI system have access to all data, or some data? And should it be neutral, or “fair”?

One sentence in the report, however, justifies the common scientific plea that more research (and funding for research) is needed.

It is important to note that while there are communities doing wonderful work on these issues, there is no consensus on how to “detect” bias of either kind.

 

Good old government workers

Fedscoop recently published an article criticizing the federal government hiring freeze, and cited three reasons why this was a bad idea. I’m going to concentrate on one of them.

More than 60 percent of the federal workforce is over the age of 45: Public sector workers are significantly older than their private sector counterparts. And nearly two-thirds of the government’s senior executives are already eligible to retire. As federal employees retire en masse over the coming years, agencies will need to fill critical roles. That means recruiting more new talent, not less, and finding and grooming the next generation of career civil servant leaders.

Now certain segments of the private sector – (cough) tech (cough) have the opposite problem. Even after years of complaints, articles such as Silicon Valley’s Peter Pan Syndrome vs. the Aging of Aquarius are still appearing. The Fortune article made a point of quoting Vinod Khosla:

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

When Khosla made that statement in 2011, he was over 55 years old. Obviously that idea wasn’t worth discussing. And after 2011, Khosla advanced oter ideas that can easily be ignored, such as ideas about meat and ideas about medicine (twice).

Government is having the opposite problem. Rather than jettisoning people when they get “too old,” they’re having problems getting people to join in the first place. Even under the best of circumstances, government salaries are capped because voters don’t like it when government workers make more than they do. On the state level, they complain when a state university head football coach makes over $1 million a year, but they’d really complain if they had a coach that made less than the governor. Good coaches don’t come cheap.

Therefore, your cybersecurity grads are more often than not going to skip that job application process with a federal agency. With student loans to pay, they’re better off going into the private sector.

But what happens when the 60% of federal employees over age 45 retire – and there are few people left to fill the empty requisitions?

Will our robot overlords come with payment dispensers? (Obama and AI inequality)

As I write this, people in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are approaching a major holiday. While the holiday itself falls on a Sunday, many people will celebrate the holiday on Monday.

For these people, this will be a paid holiday, in which they will get money even though they don’t do any work.

But what if this situation becomes permanent, as robots come in and do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do?

The concept of guaranteed income has been bandied about for a while. As I noted in a 2013 post, the theory is that as robots take over jobs and massive unemployment results, governments will be forced to pay guaranteed income to keep citizens afloat.

There’s a second point of view – one that I expressed in 2013, and still hold today. I believe that as the robots are implemented, new jobs will be created.

Well, now a third point of view has been expressed, by a guy named Barack Obama. In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the President of the United States. Yes, I know that if you read Twitter, you’d get the idea that Donald Trump is President of the United States, but technically he won’t take power for nearly a month. So in the meantime, Obama gets to do Presidential things and say stuff:

In a report examining the economic impact of AI, the Obama administration trumpeted the technological advances that are expected in the coming years, but warned that automating mass amounts of jobs could exacerbate wealth inequality.

“AI should be welcomed for its potential economic benefits,” the report reads. “Those economic benefits, however, will not necessarily be evenly distributed across society.”…

Tuesday’s report laid out a number of recommendations for Congress and the next administration to help mitigate any negative economic impact that AI could have on the workforce. The recommendations include strengthening the social safety net, raising wages and investing in retraining and education to keep up with the shifting demands of the economy.

Now a “safety net” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “guaranteed income.” We’ve had a safety net for a while, which was described by the noted NGO The Clash in a multimedia presentation entitled “Know Your Rights”:

You have the right to food money
Providing of course
You don’t mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers
Rehabilitation

And it could be argued that “raising wages” would have the effect of actually INCREASING the use of robots to replace people. Think about that the next time that your favorite food establishment provides a super cool app to let you place your order. That app is cheaper than a $15 minimum wage order taker.

The report is addressing present concerns as expressed by voters. But what’s the chance of the report being consulted a month from now, when (as I noted) we have another President?

Donald Trump was propelled during the campaign by his argument that free trade agreements were depriving Americans of manufacturing jobs, but he spoke little about the threat that automation posed to employment.

So what’s going to happen? The federal government isn’t going to do anything, blue states are going to jack up the minimum wage, red states are going to give tax breaks to corporations, the corporations are going to continue automation, low wage workers are going to be unemployed, no guaranteed income will be implemented at the federal level, and even California and Washington won’t implement it at the state level. And then in 2020, we’ll get two Presidential candidates that will make the 2016 ones look like massively adored heroes. (Michael Moore vs. Michelle Malkin?)

That’s my prediction, and my predictions are always right.

Usually.

OK, not so much.

As modern distribution channels are swiftly trumped

When I first read the story that I’m about to share with you, I didn’t know if it belonged here in tymshft, in my music blog, or my business blog.

But first I had to figure out the truth behind Dave Schilling’s article in the Guardian on Taylor Swift’s new channel.

Millennials! Don’t sell your TVs just yet. You might be bored silly with the wasteland that is cable programming, but DirecTV’s new cord-cutting over-the-top service, DirecTV Now, will feature a 24-hour channel dedicated exclusively to the work of pop star Taylor Swift….

…the Guardian has obtained the launch day lineup for Taylor Swift Now in a journalistic coup that will surely be criminalized as soon as Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January.

It’s one of these articles that states that the information in the article WON’T BE FOUND ANYWHERE ELSE. Yeah, one of those.

(Excerpts from Schilling’s piece: the 6am show will be called #SquadGoals, and the 11am show will be called Bad Blood.)

So just when I was starting to doubt the whole thing, I ran across Lanre Bakare’s tweet about the article.

swift-channel

So Schilling didn’t make up the entire thing. I subsequently confirmed via MTV that Swift had launched the Taylor Swift Now channel in partnership with AT&T/DirecTv.

Swift is one of the biggest brands in music today, and she is the one who is best equipped to create her own channel. And while she’s still working through intermediaries such as AT&T, the time will eventually come when major musical artists will be able to sell their music directly without any intermediaries. Prince tried to do this, but was ahead of his time (and also past his former commanding stance in the industry).

Swift is making this move at the right time, which should make for some interesting negotiations when her contract with Big Machine expires. Will she opt for her own label partially owned by someone else (a la Madonna’s former label Maverick Records), or will she try going completely independent?

Well, if Swift wants to look for a model, she can look outside of the musical realm. There’s a man who has determinedly avoided the middlemen and roadblocks in his industry, and who is carrying his message directly to his customers.

You know who I’m talking about.

trump-twitter

Say what you will about him, Donald Trump has been the most innovative Presidential candidate since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt used the radio to speak directly to the American people. Trump uses Twitter, a service that allows people to send short messages directly to other people. I mean, things like that didn’t exist in the days of Trump’s father Fred Trump – or did they?

Now Twitter, of course, is its own company, so Trump is dependent upon someone else to provide his megaphone. But Twitter is having its own problems as of late, which raises an interesting question – could Trump, in partnership with some other rich people, buy Twitter himself?

Now that would be really interesting.

I was writing about “perpetual lineup” in 2014 – sort of

[DISCLAIMER: I am employed in the biometric industry. The views expressed in this post are my own, and are not necessarily the views of any present or previous employer, or of any organization with which I am presently or previously associated.]

For those who completely skipped over the disclaimer because they’re boring, I am employed in the biometric industry, and have been so employed for over two decades. There have been a number of changes in this industry over the years, both from a procedural standpoint (witness the varied effects of the 2009 NAS report) and a technological standpoint.

One of the more recent contributions to the discussion is a report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. Obviously the report has its own hashtag – #perpetuallineup to be precise.

It should be noted that the report is not a 100% complete slam on facial recognition technology itself.

The benefits of face recognition are real. It has been used to catch violent criminals and fugitives. The law enforcement officers who use the technology are men and women of good faith. They do not want to invade our privacy or create a police state. They are simply using every tool available to protect the people that they are sworn to serve. Police use of face recognition is inevitable. This report does not aim to stop it.

Rather, this report offers a framework to reason through the very real risks that face recognition creates.

Among other topics, the report touches upon privacy issues. For example:

If deployed pervasively on surveillance video or police-worn body cameras, real-time face recognition will redefine the nature of public spaces. At the moment, it is also inaccurate. Communities should carefully weigh whether to allow real-time face recognition. If they do, it should be used as a last resort to intervene in only life-threatening emergencies. Orders allowing it should require probable cause, specify where continuous scanning will occur, and cap the length of time it may be used.

Because, of course, the public is demanding that the police NOT implement body-worn cameras, or use them pervasively.

Whoops, I seem to have run across another article.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is right that public safety could have been at risk had the officers paused to turn on their body cameras; Tuesday’s incident unfolded rapidly. But we wonder about the wisdom of her suggestion that there could be a technological fix in which body cameras automatically turn on when an officer pulls his or her gun. Police conduct isn’t only an issue when officers shoot people. When a patrol officer is on duty, his or her body camera should be on by default. If this means SDPD has to buy more expensive batteries that last longer, so be it.

So on the one hand, you have people declaring that body cameras are wonderful things that should always be turned on, and on the other hand you have people declaring the body cameras infringe on civil liberties and should only be turned on in certain circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about this contradiction for years. In fact, I wrote about it in this very blog in December 2014.

However, [Sterling] Crispin’s project doesn’t really touch on a basic conflict in our thinking about surveillance.

In a reactive manner, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in many calls for police to always wear video recording equipment, so that all encounters between police and civilians are recorded….Many are elated at the fact that the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured by a number of cameras in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the same time, some of the same people who are demanding that the police record things are also demanding that the police NOT record things. Crispin is disturbed by the fact that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system can possibly be used on civilians. Many are disturbed by all of those video cameras out there – stationary ones installed by governments and private businesses, and mobile ones on Google Glass and on our own telephones.

You can’t simultaneously demand that things be recorded, and that things not be recorded.

In fact, the all bodycam all the time movement has already resulted in one lawsuit threat:

At issue is body cam video the [Spokane Police] department posted to its Facebook page Wednesday that showed how [Sergeant Eric] Kannberg was dealing with one drunken individual when another person approached him and intervened. That video subsequently went viral on Facebook, racking up tens of thousands of views in the first 24 hours.

The man who contacted Kannberg, who was arrested on a third-degree assault charge, the arrest captured on video, says the police department shouldn’t have posted the video. The man’s attorney said the department should not have posted the video before the man who was arrested had his day in court.

The police department, however, says the video they posted wasn’t private, and they did it to show the patience Kannberg displayed in trying to peacefully resolve the situation.

But now let’s lighten up, because the Sterling Crispin post was partially inspired by a futuristic fiction story that I had written in September 2014. My fiction dealt with the ramifications of unintended consequences. I’ll give you an example – before I was born, people thought that television would become the great educator, bringing audiovisual education into our own homes. By the time I was born, TV was being called a vast wasteland.

In my fiction story, I postulated that unintended consequences may also affect the movement to expose bodycam footage.

While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

What would Jim Conley say?

Whatever happens, 2016 won’t be like 1968 – or 1800

As I write this, it is becoming increasingly likely that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will become the respective Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees in 2016. At the same time, there are predictions that people opposed to these candidates will wreak havoc at the national conventions, and that the Republican Party and possibly the Democratic Party will end up in disarray as a result.

Not so fast.

If you want to see disarray, go back to 1968 in Chicago, when the Democrats gathered. Nominating processes were very different than they are today. While some Democrats worry about the number of “superdelegates” that will be at their convention, there were certainly superdelegates in 1968. There weren’t that many, but you knew who they were. And Richard Daley was the chief superdelegate at that convention.

Outside of the Chicago convention, things were chaotic. And while things weren’t that chaotic inside the convention itself, there was certainly tension.

Inside the Amphitheater, many delegates learn of the violence outside when Senator Abraham Ribicoff, in a speech nominating George McGovern, denounces the “Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.” During the roll call, Wisconsin delegate Donald Peterson announces that people are being beaten on the streets of Chicago….

Peterson asked that the convention be adjourned and moved to another city, but he was ruled out of order. (More on Donald Peterson here.)

To see some of the happenings during that week, view this film. Peterson appears at about 6:35.

And although it didn’t have network television coverage, the 1800 election makes Trump and Cruz look like bosom buddies.

Are bike-share stations the future…or the past?

If you’ve been in urban areas throughout the world, you might have noticed a bicycle rack with a bunch of bikes, and a credit card reader. These “bike-share” points allow passersby to use a bike for a few hours, and then return the bike to that station – or perhaps to another station managed by the same organization.

While I first noticed this in the French suburban town of Cergy, you can also find them in the United States, as the U.S. Department of Transportation notes:

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released a study revealing that since 2010, bike-share systems have been introduced in over 30 U.S. cities and riders have taken over 36 million bike share trips. These bike-share stations are a critical link for commuters. Some 2,291 stations are located within one block of a scheduled public transportation mode such as intercity bus stations, ferry terminals and passenger rail stations. This means that these stations are providing connections that extend the reach of our nation’s transportation network and simultaneously making scheduled public transit much easier to access.

The Department says that this is “previewing the future of transportation.”

Or is it?

While the bike-share stations are, at times, run by entities separate from the mass transit organizations mentioned by the Department of Transportation, they presently require coordination with the mass transit agencies. If you are in Anytown, USA and want to set up a bike-share station, you and/or the owner of the land on which the station will reside have to go to the Anytown Planning Commission, request a permit, assess the impact of the report, and coordinate with all affected entities. It can get involved:

The process for selecting a Capital Bikeshare station location is comprehensive and can take a couple of months to a couple of years, depending upon community support, property ownership, and whether constructing a concrete pad is needed. Arlington’s approval process includes:

•Identifying funding for the proposed station’s capital and operating expenses.
•Selecting a location which meets a list of siting criteria, as well as staff review and public input.
•Developing a station plan.
•Researching property ownership and obtaining a permit if on private property. The site could be owned by Arlington County, the State of Virginia, or a private entity. Each scenario requires a different permitting process.
•Fabrication and delivery of bikes and stations. Equipment is typically delivered within 4 months after ordering.
•Installation of stations and bikes.

But wait – there’s more:

Criteria for station locations include:
•4+ hours of direct sunlight daily;
•at least 11’ x 42’ of space;
•between 2 – 5 blocks (500′ – 1,250′) from the nearest station;
•if on a sidewalk, minimum pedestrian clearance of 6’ is needed;
•if on-street, preference for being adjacent or near a bike lane;
•would not block utility access, such as a manhole cover; and
•would not create a dangerous situation for street users.

Now try telling this to some of the denizens of Silicon Valley. You know, the kind that believed that government shutdowns are good things because government is an unnecessary evil and we can just let Amazon and Apple and Google and Microsoft run things and everyone will be happy.

These types are presumably applauding those people who don’t want for the guvmint.

In 2013 it seemed like a citywide bike share was moving forward. Then, somehow, it fell apart. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking to create a countywide bike share. The plan calls for finding an operator and starting with a pilot program centered in Downtown Los Angeles in 2016, and for the Central City to get 65 stations and 1,000 shared bikes. We’ll remain hopeful that things roll forward.

Fortunately, some in the private sector are doing more than hoping and waiting. They are digging into their pockets, buying bicycles, helmets and locks, and creating private bike sharing systems for their residential or office tenants. So far the operators of at least two housing complexes and one office building in Downtown have taken the step. Ideally, others will recognize the worth of such an effort and follow suit.

The idea is attractive. If a building owner wants to share bikes, but only has 10′ x 41′ of space rather than 11′ x 42′ of space – the business owner can share bikes anyway. And the world will not fall apart.

I will be wrong (I think), but no one will notice

I derive a perverse glee from identifying instances in which I was wrong – for example, my prediction at the beginning of the football season that if any team in the NFC East did well, it would be the New York Giants. As it turns out, my Washington (team name that cannot be mentioned in polite company redacted) came out on top in the NFC East…for what that’s worth.

Over the last few years, I have felt that as jobs disappear during the current technological change, new jobs will appear. As I noted in a recent post, not everyone shares this view.

If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time…

Well, Donaghe isn’t the only one that believes that many jobs will be lost. In fact, Rob Atkinson paints a rather dire future for those who want to work:

In fact, these new technologies are so awesome and amazing that they won’t replace most jobs; they will replace all jobs, save one. That job will be held by Zhang Wei, who is now a 15-year-old boy studying computer science at his local high school in Nanjing, China. He will invent the best artificial intelligence system ever and then run the company that puts all other companies out of business.

However, not all will go well for Zhang Wei:

“Well, on the one hand, it will be really cool having an annual income of 150 quadrillion yuan, but it will really suck that I will have to be the one person on the planet who is working when all my friends are out drinking.”

But after that…well, you have to read Atkinson’s article. And yes, it’s satirical. I think.

Incidentally, regarding that prior post of mine in which I talked about essentials not changing, Jim Ulvog has contributed another example: “Compare a successful siege by the Roman Empire to a nuclear war.”

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