Google-bred Waymo aims to shift robotic cars into next gear


By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer

ATWATER, Calif. (AP) — Google's self-driving car spin-off is accelerating efforts to convince the public that its technology is almost ready to safely transport people without any human assistance at all.

Waymo, hatched from a Google project started eight years ago, showed off its progress Monday during a rare peek at a closely guarded testing facility located 120 miles (193 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco. That's where its robots complete their equivalent of driver's education.

The tour included giving more than three dozen reporters rides in Chrysler Pacifica minivans traveling through faux neighborhoods and expressways that Waymo has built on a former Air Force base located in the Californian Central Valley city of Atwater.

The minivans smoothly cruised the roads — driver's seat empty and passengers in the back — at speeds of up to 35 mph (56 kph). By contrast, the Waymo-powered minivans that have been driving volunteer riders in the Phoenix area still use safety drivers to take over control if something goes wrong.

But Waymo's real goal is to get to the point where people in cars are nothing but passengers.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik told reporters that the company will be making some cars and freight trucks totally driverless fairly soon, though he didn't provide a specific timetable. "We are really close," he said. "We are going to do it when we feel like we are ready."

Since Google began working on self-driving cars in 2009, dozens of established automakers such as General Motors and Ford Motors have entered the race, along with other big technology companies, including Apple and ride-hailing service Uber. The competition is so fierce and the stakes so high that Waymo is currently suing Uber, alleging that one of its former managers stole its trade secrets and took them with him when he joined Uber in 2016 as part of an elaborate scheme. The trial in that high-profile case is scheduled to begin in early December.

Waymo is hoping to infuse its technology into ride-hailing services such as its current partner, Lyft, and big-rig trucking companies. It also intends to license its automated system to automakers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobile, which is already using it in 100 Pacifica minivans.

iPhone X: Face Recognition Privacy Alert!


Remember when everyone was waiting in line for the first iPhone?

Being able to easily grab any information you wanted is amazing. Now, however, it's beginning to feel like the opposite with tech companies pushing surveillance through new gadgets whether we like it or not. 


Double-Edged Tech Sword

While we have more and more information in the palm of our hand, our very own personal information is being collected simultaneously. There's a thin line separating servant and suspect. With a complex non-transparent labyrinth of automation algorithms enshrouding such technologies, their purpose and function can quickly deviate from the rule of law and moral codes.

"Absolutely people should be concerned."

Do we really want Alexa, Google, or Siri listening to every word we say to in our homes and on almost every smart device? Are the costs of these conveniences acceptable?



Always On

Unlocking your iPhone with only your face may sound cool but this leads to serious security risks.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz doesn't like the sound of this either. 

"In general, 'always on' products raise special concerns. Once the always-on device gathers information, it may be available to many kinds of people, contrary to the user's intentions. These include external data thieves, who may break into the device or the data farm where content is stored; or internal employees of the company that makes the device, who improperly misappropriate customer content; or the police, by means of a subpoena or search warrant (depending on what the police are demanding). So, before technology users activate their always-on devices, they should think long and hard about the privacy implications." 


Ease-of-Use (and Hackability)


The problem with a face recognition password is that, well, everyone can see your face. So all those selfies you've been posting online for years... yeah, now big tech companies want to make that your master password. 

"The more we rely on our face to serve as key to our phones, bank accounts, and digital life at large, the more corporations and government agencies we must permit to scan, categorize, and store one of the few remaining things that make us unique. And the more copies that exist out there, the easier it will be for hackers to exploit the impending wave of FaceID." —Jack Morse, Mashable

Samsung's Galaxy S8 face unlock is hackable with nothing more than a photo! And since, unlike a password, you can't easily change your face, why are tech companies like Apple, Google, Samsung, and Qualcomm pushing for always-on facial recognition and audio surveillance?


One Ring to Rule Them All...


I can't help but be reminded of J.R.R Tolkien's prophetic tale The Lord of the Rings with an evil lord giving gifts of power to which he has a kind of backdoor overwrite hack to enslave them. 

Could there be another reason for this aggressive reach of technology into our personal lives other than merely providing consumers with convenient access to digital services? 

If you value your privacy and security, then beware the new face recognition trend and protect yourself against smart device visual, biometric, and audio scans.