Google can spin the "Duplex" calling agent in a much more positive way

Most of the world was wowed by the Google Duplex demo, where their system was able to cold-call a hairdresser and make an appointment with her, with the hairdresser unaware she was talking to an AI. The system included human speech mannerisms and the ability to respond to the random phrases the hairdresser through back.

No, ads won't pay for your robotaxi ride -- but your employer might, and that has big consequences

Most of the press reported a research report from UBS securities claiming Waymo is now worth $75B to Google because it is poised to dominate the robotaxi business. In addition to this, it claimed that business would be $1.2 trillion by 2030, with an additional $472 billion for "in car monetization." (Total Google revenue was $110 billion in 2017.)

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The improbable secret Kim conspiracy to reunify Korea

Everybody loves a good secret conspiracy theory. Here's mine for North Korea. Of course, it is probably not true. But is it impossible?

Seoul Subway stations are equipped with gas masks, ready for attack by the North

Kim Jong-Un is a tyrant, perhaps the last of his kind, and living in the new modern era. With this Swiss education, unfettered access to the internet and a love of foreign media, what sort of mindset might he hold? We don't know a lot.

Solve the Proposition 13 problem by paying off the difference when you sell

Even if you are not in California, you may have heard of Proposition 13 the ballot measure which changed property tax rules.

It was part of a tax revolt, and it changed how the value of your real estate is calculated for property taxes. As California property started zooming up in price, there were people who owned homes but had minimal incomes. They were facing growing tax bills even though they had not realized the gains on their house. Some were being forced out of houses they had lived in for decades, the story went.

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Safety Drivers for Robocars -- the issues and rationale

The wake of Tesla's incident has caused a lot more questions about the concept of testing prototype robocars on public roads supervised by "safety drivers." Is it putting the public at risk for corporate benefit? Are you a guinea pig in somebody's experiment against your will? Is it safe enough? Is there another way?

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How to fly to Europe Biz Class for $2800 this summer, and in the future

I'm off in June to do some speaking in Europe. I'm flying to Milan in business class from San Francisco for $2,800 on UA and Air Canada, which is about the lowest price I've ever seen for biz class to Europe in summer on the major airlines. The coach fare can be as low as $600 for those not able to splurge. Let me tell you how to use these fares, even if it's not Italy you wish to visit.

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Second driver's revenge: Why does car rental pricing suck so much?

As a customer, the pricing plans of the car rental companies baffle me. I mean I understand about the goals for differential pricing -- finding ways to charge richer customers more money -- but still, I find it very frustrating, and I am curious why one of the majors doesn't have the courage to break out of the current pricing models and win over customers.

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Flyover: Is the left's vocabulary meaner than the right's?

Like many, I have been highly interested in understanding the rift in US and global politics that has resulted in the rise of Trump, LePen, Ford and Brexit.

While I run mostly in left/urban/secular/keen circles, I try as often as possible to talk to people in other circles to understand their view. My own politics match neither side, which gives me some extra perspective. However, living in left circles, I have encountered more of their terms.

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Waymo has a crash in Chandler, but is not at fault.

A crash today with a Waymo van is getting attention coming in the same area just a short time after the Uber fatality, but Waymo will not be assigned fault -- the driver of the car that hit the Waymo van veered out of his lane into oncoming traffic because of somebody else who was incurring on the intersection. Only minor injuries, but higher energy than prior crashes for Waymo.

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What if teams were forced to contribute robocar incident data?

At teams around the world attempt to build safe robocar systems, one key asset has stood out as a big differentiator -- experience. For a company to be willing to certify their vehicle as safe, it needs experience with all the strange circumstances that it might encounter driving the roads.

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Can we verify plea deals and make them better?

Various sources suggest that just 3-5% of inmates in prison are there because of a trial. The vast bulk of them got there due to a guilty plea, part of a plea agreement.

This seems shocking, but in fact it is to be expected. Trials are long and expensive and risky. The vast majority of commercial disputes are settled out of court.

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Robocars, Flying Cars and Hyperloops, oh my! The not so fictional future of the city

The primary purpose of the city is transportation. Sure, we share infrastructure like sewers and power lines, but the real reason we live in dense cities is so we can have a short travel time to the things in our lives, be they jobs, friends, shopping or anything else.

Sometimes that trip is a walking one, and indeed only the dense city allows walking trips to be short and also interesting. The rest of the trips involve some technology, from the bicycle to the car to the train. All that is about to change.

How to attack the social media incentive and privacy problems

A huge opportunity awaits a young social media company that is poised to take advantage of the fall of Facebook (and Twitter). Is somebody out there ready to carry the ball and make it happen. It probably has to be somebody already with most of this done, or even operating.

HODL is bad for Bitcoin

You've probably heard the catchword in the bitcoin/crytpocurrency world of "HODL!" Based on somebody's typo, it is an encouragement to hold on to your bitcoins rather than sell them as the price ramps up to crazy levels. If you're a true believer, you will HODL. Don't cave in to the temptation and pressure to sell (SLEL?) but be sure to HODL. (Previously I wrote about the issues which occur should Bitcoin's price actually stabilize.

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The decline of blogging, and what replaces it?

You, by definition, read blog posts. But the era of lots of individual personal web sites seems to be on the wane. It used to be everybody had a "home page" and many had one that updated frequently (a blog) but I, and many other bloggers, have noticed a change of late. It can be seen in the "referer" summaries you get from your web server that show who is making popular links to your site.

Can we reduce "fake news" with anonymous group shaming?

I have many things to discuss on the problem of "fake news" (which is to say, deliberately constructed false reports aimed to be spread to deceive) and the way it spreads through social media. This hot topic, seen as one of the largest threats to democracy to ever arise -- especially when combined with automated microtargeting of political propaganda -- is causing people to clamour for solutions.

Blog now using HTTPS/TLS secure web by default

Boring administrative announcement: In a move long overdue for me, access to this blog and my other large sites will now be exclusively through "https" (ie. encrypted web.)

I set up this, of course, using the great tool Let's Encrypt which was created with support from the EFF. This project and the tools around it take a big step towards making the internet encrypted by default. Let me know if you experience any problems. But then I guess you aren't reading this if you are. Oh well!

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