The Lede, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018
By David Royse
Happy birthday to Peter Tork of the Monkees. He’s 76. Which reminds me – if you have something that you think should be in this newsletter – well, ideally, I’d like to make it a little bit me, a little bit you.
Reminder: Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Act accordingly.
Welcome to tomorrow, today. Exploring What’s NEW in the news and how it will affect our lives.
Selfies went airborne this morning.
But a cool new creation’s public debut this morning also brings into our lives the ability of the robots to watch us, even if we run away from them.
Like many stories we try to bring you at LedeTree about how things are changing in our world and how they impact our lives, this one is exciting and cool, but also complicated and thought-provoking.
So what’s new?
A company called Skydio, just the kind of world-changing, smart company I like to write about, told the world this morning that it has created a camera-carrying drone for taking video that’s got a new feature other drones don’t have.
It can follow you without someone piloting it. It knows where you go. It takes your picture.
So if you read this newsletter regularly, you know it can sometimes come off as a bit of a cheerleader for self-driving cars and other autonomous technology. Robots don’t make the same deadly mistakes humans make, usually. It’s why airline travel is so safe – because we’ve taken pilots out of much of the equation. But the one thing many humans are nervous about when it comes to autonomous tech is the introduction of artificial “intelligence.” It’s fine when we program things to do their thing. But when the things start doing their thing on their own, well … that’s 78 percent of every science fiction horror movie you’ve seen.
OK, I’ve already embedded the creepiness in your brain by writing it that way. So, in fairness to Skydio, let’s go in with an open mind and take a look at the thing first – because it’s brilliant.
So first, let me say, I want to hang out with the dudes at Skydio. Because they appear to spend their time doing a lot of really cool stuff. And we know this, because they invented a flying video robot to capture how awesome their lives are. I definitely want to hang with a guy who does pull ups on a streetlight.
NOW THE RAMIFICATIONS
For me, the awesome applications – beyond even “more rad” social media posts – are readily apparent. Hard to imagine live TV sports photography getting even better, but here you go. And you imagine how much more at ease parents could be if there’s a video drone following their kids around when they’re in places just a bit dangerous? TRUE HELICOPTER PARENTING!
It doesn’t take Robert Ludlum to see the sinister possibilities here, though.
Cameras flying around the streets filming people going about their lives is something that may draw a bit of skepticism. As a military or police tool, the notion of taking human control away from the robots may be good, may be bad – I’m not sure, but I know it’s worth thinking about.
Privacy advocates have been nervous about drones since they first were able to fly, and for a couple of years have made compelling warnings about the possibilities for more and more pervasive surveillance. This certainly will add to their concerns.
It’s not just government who we might need to watch carefully if this technology … um, takes off.
Filming robots let loose to follow us where we go might be problematic if they’re put up to it by anyone.
As I noted a couple days ago in my rundown of drone laws out there in the states, there’s usually at least a hint of a problem if some legislator has cooked up a solution (though not always). The fact that the state of Indiana feels the need to have on the books a “sex offender unmanned aerial vehicle offense,” which is when a sex offender uses a drone to follow, contact, or capture images or recordings of someone, might make you a little concerned.
But most negative use of technology up to this point has been negative because of the depravity of humans (see the tech savvy Hoosier pervs above). But what if the robots are following us on their own?
Again, maybe it’s like with cars and airplanes, and the robots are better at deciding what to do with video than we are. I just don’t know.
Skydio’s founders, as evidenced by the selfie nature of their unveil videos, see this as a way to advance the social media life under the microscope we’re all living now. If you summit Mount Kilimanjaro, but you don’t post some video, well, it didn’t happen, brah.
The MIT guys behind Skydio say this is their goal: “Basically to create a film crew that lives in your backpack,” says CEO Adam Bry.
Here’s more very interesting video from Skydio on how this thing works.
We started LedeTree in part with the idea that the drone (drones again?) of daily coverage of incremental arguing and posturing over out-of-context news isn’t really reflective of what’s going on in the world. So it is with efforts to tackle some of the world’s most difficult problems. We live in an era that favors chaos and doom for the TV cameras that leads us to miss exciting and interesting news of progress. That’s part of my mission here, to cover progress.
And one of the most optimistic couples in the world, Bill and Melinda Gates, lives up close to some of that progress. With the usual caveat that there’s much to be done, the couple is always good for a reality check on some of the progress being made.
From the letter:
“Compare today to the way things were a decade or a century ago. The world is healthier and safer than ever. The number of children who die every year has been cut in half since 1990 and keeps going down. The number of mothers who die has also dropped dramatically. So has extreme poverty—declining by nearly half in just 20 years. More children are attending school. The list goes on and on.
“But being an optimist isn’t about knowing that life used to be worse. It’s about knowing how life can get better.”
If you want to feel a little better about the world, give it a read.
TUESDAY TAX DAY:
How to pay for everything is the subject of our once-a-week look at tax policy. Today, rather than look at a proposed tax policy, I just want to add something to the discussion of current tax policy. The tax cut passed recently by Congress, and the current Congress’ general appetite for lower taxes, are certainly being well received on Main Street.
No matter what the real impact of the tax policy might be – and it’s often hard to know for years – but no matter what it is, the perception is always important. That is, if people (in this case business owners) think something is good for them economically, then they’ll behave as if it is. With no judgement on the most recent tax cut’s policy, it’s worth noting that, at a minimum, the perception of lower taxes has small business owners optimistic and ready to expand.
For a long time, small business owners have said taxes and regulations were their main concern. As of last month, many now say how to find enough qualified employees for their needs is now their biggest concerns.
(Disclosure: Our publisher is married to an NFIB employee, but she had no idea I was including this – and she says she has no idea what her husband does anyway.)
One other interesting tax story
A 4 percent tax on Airbnb bookings in Chicago has raised $6 million, about half of which goes to help with the city’s homeless problem. Curbed.
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION:
Wired has a story on the two years that shook Facebook. Wired
Is ramping up its hospital supply business, spooking everybody else. CNBC
And the Georgia legislature is looking at its decisions through the lens of Amazon. AP
Has a new low-risk approach under new CEO. WaPo
The “Air BNB of RVs” has raised $25 million. TechCrunch
Happening Today: The Goldman Sachs Tech Conference starts today and goes through Thursday. Among the companies making presentations today are Alphabet (Google); Twitter; Xerox (Who knew they were still around?); PayPal; Adobe; GoPro and Expedia. The conference is in San Francisco but you can register to watch by webcast here
LEDE ON LEARNING – NEWS FROM THE SCHOOLS
NOW, THAT’S INVESTING IN EDUCATION
A lawsuit filed last week by Ivy Coach revealed that it charged a woman in Vietnam $1.5 million to help her daughter apply to 22 elite colleges, as well as seven top boarding schools she sought to attend in high school, before applying to college. Inside Higher Ed
ROAD WARRIORS, NEWS FOR COMMUTERS
From the WSJ: “The taxi ride to and from LaGuardia Airport is taking quite a bit longer. In June 2013, the average travel time for a weekday trip from LaGuardia, in Queens, to Manhattan below 60th Street between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. was 35 minutes, according to a new analysis of taxi data. Last year, that same ride took 50 minutes.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It knows what people look like and for every person it sees, it builds up a unique visual identifier that it can use to tell people apart so that it can stay locked on to the right subject.”
Skydio CEO Adam Bry on the Skydio autonomous camera drone
Take us out, Alan Parsons