When Nevada made driverless cars legal in the state last year, we armchair futurists sat up a little straighter. All of a sudden a number of meandering philosophical questions about how our society would have to change to embrace such technology seemed quite a bit more urgent. This question seemed especially pressing: Driverless cars are safer than those piloted by humans, but how would we feel about deaths caused by machines rather than people?
In our post on the topic we considered the ethics of the situation, but we think this recent short piece from Popular Science nails the liability angle on the issue: the real question, as far as car manufacturers are concerned, is not whether the cars are fundamentally safer, but who will should take legal responsibility for the accidents:
When a company sells a car that truly drives itself, the responsibility will fall on its maker. “It’s accepted in our world that there will be a shift,” says Bryant Walker Smith, a legal fellow at Stanford University’s law school and engineering school who studies autonomous-vehicle law. “If there’s not a driver, there can’t be driver negligence. The result is a greater share of liability moving to manufacturers.”
Like this…only on your face.
Wearing glasses that superimpose a layer of information—nearby pizza places, the local bus line, or, if you’re the Terminator, the amount of ammo left in your weapon—over reality is a long-held techie fantasy. Fighter pilots already use such “heads-up” displays to keep track of vital info while keeping their eyes ahead of them, but despite the constant low buzz about such augmented reality glasses for the rest of us, actual products have been few and far between. Now, though, Google employees speaking to the NYT’s Bits blog have confirmed that Google’s experimental lab is indeed building such a device. Due to come out at the end of the year, these “Google Goggles” are said to function basically as a smartphone you can wear on your face.
According the the Bits blog, users will be able to scroll around on the glasses’ tiny screen using small head motions. The glasses will also feature a low-res camera that monitor the world in front of the user and take pictures, but there are obviously privacy issues at stake with such a feature: apparently the team is currently discussing how to make it obvious to a bystander if the camera is on. The Google employees say that the glasses will not be released as a serious commercial product with a business plan, per se. At first, they will simply be an experiment that users can join. And if the glasses take off, well, then we’ll see about the money side of things.
Image courtesy of plantronicsgermany / flickr
What’s the News: To much fanfare, Google has released a preview version of Google+, their long-anticipated move into the social-networking space dominated in the U.S. by Facebook, whose meteoric growth challenges Google’s dominance over the Web itself. The new service lets users send messages and pictures to each other, like Facebook, but puts more emphasis on grouping and communicating with different groups of people, as with email or in meatspace (i.e., the real world).
The two consensus early reactions (from the small group of people who have access) are that the service is mostly smooth and functional, a welcome change after Google’s social flops Buzz and Wave; and that it sure looks a heck of a lot like Facebook. Will that be enough to challenge Facebook, whose enormous base of users have uploaded much of their lives to one social network and may not want to invest time in another?
What’s the News: Your phone can now be a credit card, thanks to Google Wallet, announced yesterday with great fanfare. With this system, when you swipe your phone over a sensor, a near-field communication (NFC) chip gives the merchant your credit card information. You punch in your PIN, and: cha-ching.
Google has partnered with 20,000 companies who will take payments this way, including Macy’s, American Eagle, and Subway.
What’s the News: Google’s self-driving cars have been generating buzz lately, with the news that the company has been lobbying Nevada to allow the autonomous vehicles to be operated on public roads. But it remains to be seen whether hordes of self-driving cars really going to work in the real world.
What’s the News: Many evaluations of scientific excellence singling out specific universities or departments, but two European researchers have taken a different approach: They rated the top scientific cities by looking at what proportion of published science articles are highly cited. Cambridge, Massachusetts, came out as the winner in physics and chemistry (no surprise there—MIT and Harvard) for having lots of influential papers; London was tops in psychology; Moscow was the chemistry and physics loser; and Taipei, Taiwan was the low achiever in psychology.
How the Heck:
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast: As the researchers note, the study fuzzes over any distinctions that emerge on a smaller scale than a city—for instance, the maps don’t show any difference between a city with one superstar who publishes 10 influential papers and another city with a group of 10 researchers who each publish 1. And since the scoring is based on citations, it’s subject to biases based on renown, language, and resources; the same paper published by a famous researcher at Oxford will get more notice than if it were published in Nigeria.
Reference: arxiv.org/abs/1103.3216: Lutz Bornmann and Loet Leydesdorff, Which Cities Produce Worldwide More Excellent Papers Than Can Be Expected? A New Mapping Approach—Using Google Maps—Based On Statistical Significance Testing
Last year, Google raised the ire of many when it confessed that its city-mapping Street View vehicles unintentionally gathered unencrypted Wi-Fi data as they rolled past people’s abodes. To fix its image and to fend off lawsuits, the company soon tightened its privacy policies and ensured that its Street View cars stopped collecting that information. But the controversies just won’t stop. Google is now trying to convince privacy-conscious Swiss officials to drop the country’s tight Street View restrictions, while security-conscious Israeli officials are concerned that the technology will help terrorists.
Twenty-seven countries have been partially mapped via Street View, a Google product that provides 360-degree panoramic views from ground level. The company creates these images by sending groups of camera-studded vehicles to various parts of the world to snap pictures as they drive.
Although Switzerland is home to one of Google’s largest offices outside the United States, the country has strict privacy laws that have prevented Google from loading new Street View images of Switzerland for the past year. On Thursday, Google petitioned a Swiss court to lift this ban. The search engine company told Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court that its technology automatically conceals the identity of faces and license plates, and that it is no different from rival services.