I moderated a panel Tuesday night at a Fortune dinner during the LA Auto show. It was on the ethics of autonomous vehicles, a subject so broad it could fill a Ph.D. thesis, let alone a 30-minute discussion.
The short version is this: Humans react to crises, and no one faults them much for the consequences. Machines, aided by artificial intelligence, may well be held to a higher standard because they will be programmed to think through the ramifications of their actions, including killing one person to save many. Panelist Patrick Lin of CalPoly created this marvelous video to illustrate the conundrum. Stanford professor Chris Gerdes, on loan for the past year to the Department of Transportation, points out that deeper, more meaningful ethical solutions exist, like asking if adequate backup systems exist when machines fail. (Fortune’s Andrew Nusca covers the panel in more detail.)
Ethical quandaries won’t blunt the advancement of AI, of course. The key is in managing the machines. At Fortune, for example, we’ve paired journalists with IBM’s Watson to spot key trends in 2017, published today in our annual “Crystal Ball” package. The responsible, if not ethical, thing for me to do will be to check back in a year to see if the robots helped us any.
I feel compelled to weigh in on Facebook and the “fake news” hullabaloo, given that my appreciation of Mark Zuckerberg and his management skills is on the current cover of Fortune. I explain how clearly and effectively Zuckerberg communicates. His Saturday evening post (get it?!) on Facebook addressing his company’s responsibility for the veracity of the information it publishes stands as anything but clear. It is as perfect an example of corporate cop-out-ery as I’ve ever seen.
Example: “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic.” That’s just not good enough. Facebook makes too much money and is too powerful to sidestep what used to be the responsibility of the free press. It is time for Mark Zuckerberg to move beyond platitudes and step up. Perhaps he could re-assign his personal, AI-driven assistant, Jarvis, to the case.
BITS AND BYTES
Intel pledges $250 million for autonomous vehicle technology. The commitment by its venture capital arm covers the next two years. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich plans to prioritize software and sensors for gleaning more data from connected cars, trucks and such—with the aim of improving safety and efficiency. (Fortune)
Koch Industries plunks down $2.5 billion for stake in business software firm Infor. The company, run by former Oracle bigwig Charles Phillips, specializes in financial management and manufacturing applications that are very specific to the needs of certain industries, such as automotive suppliers or chemical manufacturers. The infusion, which was rumored last week, values Infor at more than $10 billion. (Fortune)
It looks like Snapchat’s parent has filed its IPO papers. The Wall Street Journal reports that Snap Inc. submitted its paperwork confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission before the U.S. election. The offering could value the messaging software firm between $20 billion and $25 billion, and could take place by March. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Microsoft appeases EU regulators. The European Union’s antitrust agency said the software giant has made concessions (no specifics, though) to convince it that Microsoft’s $26 billion takeover of social network LinkedIn should proceed. Rival Salesforce has complained about the deal, sounding the alarm on potential data privacy concerns and calling it a threat to innovation. The EU should make a decision by Dec. 6. (Reuters)
Jeff Immelt talks up GE’s digital overhaul. The industrial conglomerate aspires to become a top 10 software company by 2020. This week alone, it announced the $915 million takeover of field software upstart ServiceMax and the acquisition of two artificial intelligence specialists, Bit Stew Systems and Wise.io. (Fortune)
Mobile payments may not take off for decades. Since Apple introduced a mobile wallet on the iPhone in 2014, analysts have predicted that shoppers in brick and mortar stores would soon routinely pay for jeans, groceries, and super-sized TVs with their phones.
But adoption of mobile payments by retailers has been slower than expected. Here’s why the transition could take years, much like the rise of e-commerce.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
IBM CEO makes case for “new collar” jobs in open letter to Donald Trump. Ginni Rometty wants the president-elect to realize that up to a third of the employees at some of IBM’s corporate centers don’t have college degrees. She wants the administration to focus on building knowledge in cybersecurity, data science, and artificial intelligence—skills that don’t necessarily require traditional two- or four-year degrees. (Fortune)
Google hires more artificial intelligence hotshots. The company’s cloud division is adding a new machine learning team led by researchers Fei-Fei Li, the director of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab; and Jia Li, the head of research for Snap, the parent company of popular social messaging app Snapchat. (Fortune)
Female programmers still earn 30% less than men. An analysis by job site Glassdoor, based on 505,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees, reveals that the adjusted pay gap for women who hold software development jobs can range as high as 28.3%. That’s far larger than the average adjusted gender pay gap for all workers, which Glassdoor found to be 5.9%. (Fortune)
Twitter doubles down on fighting harassment. The social media company on Tuesday rolled out new controls, including one that will block tweets that contain certain words. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Driverless Cars Won’t Mean the End of High-Performance Vehicles, by Kirsten Korosec
Microsoft’s Scheme for Getting More Bots to Run on Its Cloud, by Barb Darrow
Verizon Acquires Space Age Wi-Fi Kiosk Maker LQD, by Aaron Pressman
Facebook Says This New Feature Will Help Small Businesses, by Jonathan Vanian