U.S. publishes self-driving car guidelines

This week saw the U.S. government thinking hard about self-driving cars, and the British thinking hard about robot ethics. It saw radio waves that know how you feel, and Silicon Valley tech firms that don’t seem to care. Read all about it in our tech roundup.

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It was mostly a great week for self-driving cars. Tesla updated its in-car autonomous control software to try and avoid more car crashes, and tech experts have proposed a driverless highway lane on the I5 between Seattle and Vancouver. The U.S. Department of Transportation also published an Automated Vehicles Policy that laid out 15 principles for self-driving cars, including best practices for handling security and protecting data. It also said self-driving cars should carry black boxes that could be analyzed in the event of a crash.

It wasn’t all good news, though. Researchers demonstrated the ability to take control of a Tesla Model S from 12 miles away and control its brakes and indicators, while also opening the trunk. Tesla fixed the bug in an over-the-air software update.

Robots get code of conduct

As we develop more autonomous moving things like self-driving cars, more ethical questions are going to come up. For example, all things being equal, should your autonomous car swerve left and hit one person, or swerve right and hit another? Questions like these depend on software programming. The British Standards Institute (BSI) has published a guidebook on ethics in robot design.

The manual deals with ethical scenarios that are already emerging and which are likely to become more acute over time. These include whether we should create robots that can form an emotional bond with a person, and how we can prevent robots with artificial intelligence from deceiving people and carrying out their own plans.

This takes some of the questions posed by sci-fi films from 2001 to Ex Machina and makes them real, which is a smart thing to do, because we may have to deal with such issues more quickly than we think.

Radio waves could analyze your feelings

Researchers at MIT have developed a technology that uses wireless signals to read a person’s emotions. The tech, dubbed EQ-Radio, analyzes the reflection of wireless waves from a person’s body to determine how they’re feeling. There’s no detail on whether or not it’ll work over Wi-Fi, and whether your router will be able to tell your ISP how angry you are when your Internet goes down, although that would be awesome.

Microsoft in $40B share buyback

Microsoft announced that it was buying back US$40 billion of its own shares over an undisclosed period. It follows the firm’s last $40B buyback, announced in 2013, which finishes this year. The company, which recently shelled out US$26B for LinkedIn, bolstered its share price with the buyback announcement. It rose one per cent in after-hours trading.

Canadians take tiny step for humankind

Canadians like to think small. Really, really small. And that’s no bad thing. Scientists at the University of Waterloo printed a Canadian flag around 1/100th the width of a human hair. Perhaps more practically, The University of Calgary teleported the properties of a photon six kilometres away, taking advantage of Einstein’s famous ‘spooky action at a distance’. This means that one day, we could be able to send information without transferring actual particles at all.

Dingbat of the week

This week’s dingbat award goes to U.S. private equity firm Trion Properties, which is reportedly cashing in on California’s tech bubble in a particularly cavalier way. The firm is gradually evicting tenants of Silicon Valley-based Buckingham Apartments, a building that it recently purchased. The firm plans to renovate it and raise the rent. The target audience? Higher-paying young working professionals from local tech firms.

This is the latest and most blatant example of tech elitism in the Valley as the chasm between super-rich technology professionals and low-income workers in the area continues to grow. Famed venture capitalist Tom Perkins penned a diatribe aimed at the poor. Clueless tech pros broadcast tweets that ignore low-income workers and show a complete lack of sympathy for the region’s homeless. Californian residents have mounted protests, blocking corporate tech shuttle buses and breaking their windows. Stunts like Trion’s are only going to make the divide worse.

Image: iStock

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