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June 7, 2024 19 mins

Two different consumer products with AI integration have flopped recently, and even big companies like Google have had to backtrack on AI implementations. Is AI just not yet ready for the public? And if so, who the heck will tell AI companies? Plus lots more.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to tech Stuff, a production from iHeartRadio. Hey there,
and welcome to tech Stuff. I'm your host, Jonavan Strickland.
I'm an executive producer with iHeart Podcast Send. How the
tech are you? It's time for the tech news for
the week ending on Friday, June seventh, twenty twenty four.

You know, there have been a couple of products that
hit the market recently that really aim to either augment
or outright replace smartphones. And these products initially generated a
decent amount of buzz, but upon actual release, the reception
hasn't been universally positive. So one of these was the
Rabbit R one and maybe you've seen one of these,

maybe you haven't. It's a little orange do hickey. Let's
got some interesting user interface features on it, and it
got some folks excited back at CES early this year,
but media outlets like The Verge brought reality crashing down
on the R one with headlines like Rabbit R one
review nothing to see here by David Pierce. Another device

that has also seen critical dismissal is the Humane AI pen.
So I thought it would start this episode with a
quick compare and contrast of these two products, paired with
some commentary about where we are with AI when it
comes to incorporating it into consumer goods. So first up
the Rabbit R one. So this device wasn't intended to

be a replacement for a smartphone, even though a lot
of people were talking about it like that, because for
one thing, you can't make calls on an R one.
You were supposed to be able to set up your
various apps on this device, like to connect to your
various accounts, things like ride hailing apps and delivery services

and ticket apps, that kind of thing. And then the
idea was you could give a complex command to the
R one and it would take care of, you know,
pretty much all the rest. So you could say something like,
in an ideal situation, maybe you tell the R one
that you need a car to take you Tier hotel
from the airport. You've flown into a new city. You're

using the R one to call a an uber or
lift or something to pick you up from the airport,
take it Tier a hotel. Also to go ahead and
place an order for a pizza place you learned about
that's going to be near your hotel, so that can
be delivered, so you get that shortly after you've checked in,
and that you also want to buy a couple of
seats to a sporting event that's happening down the street

from the hotel. But according to reviews like the one
in The Verge, the reality was that R one was
not nearly so versatile or useful, and it had issues
with a lot of stuff, including delivering accurate weather forecasts.
You know, sometimes the R one would pin your location
to being a place that was like thousands of miles away,
and the image recognition that was built into the device

also left a lot to be desired. R one could
frequently misidentify stuff that you were pointing it at, and
that's not really useful either if you need to know, like, hey,
is this safe for me to eat? Or whatever it
may be. And while the price tag of one hundred
and ninety nine dollars wasn't as crazy as you know,
like the cost of an Apple Vision Pro, two hundred
bucks is still a lot to pay for a gadget

that doesn't work very well. Then you have the humane
aipen that's a wearable smart device. Although smart might be
generous a going to hey, hey, look it's David Pierce
of the Verge again who David Pierce had a rough
like April slash early May reviewing these kinds of devices.
But back in April, Pierce said that the Humane aipen

was quote not even close end quote to what was promised.
So this is a pin you wear it like it's
like a little Lavalier microphone or something. It doesn't have
a screen on the device, but it did have or
does have a little projection laser, so you can hold
your hand out and it will project a little interactive

menu on your hand and you can, you know, use
touch it's not really touch like, it's it's gesture commands
to be able to tell it what you want to do.
So if you were playing a music track, you could
do that to change the volume, that kind of stuff.
You could also interact with it through voice commands, and
it was supposed to lead fore you from the shackles
of your smartphone, so that you didn't have to have

your head down looking at a screen. You could be
keeping your phone in your pocket walking around using this
device to do the stuff that you would typically whip
your phone out to do, and you'd still have your
phone on you, so you could use that if you
needed to and the problem is it just didn't work
very well. It cost six hundred ninety nine dollars and
has an ongoing twenty four dollars subscription fee so that

you can use the cellular network, which is Tea Mobile,
by the way, in order for this thing to work.
And Pierce was pretty brutal in his review. He essentially
said it was a totally broken device. Now, the New
York Times reports that Humane has quietly been looking around
for a potential buy for the company, and allegedly one
of those entities they've looked at is HP. I recommend
that article in the New York Times, by the way,

it's titled this is going to be painful How a
Bold AI device flopped. Anyway, I think the R one
and the Humane aipen both help illustrate why we're not
really at a spot where AI is useful enough to
be the primary interface for a consumer product just yet.
Not saying that AI isn't impressive, not saying that there

hasn't been a ton of incredible work done in that field,
but it's not fully baked. And when you're talking about
really expensive consumer gadgets that end up not being reliable
or useful, that's a problem, right, Like you would kind
of want to see it continue to go through development
for a while, maybe have some limited beta testing and

go that route before releasing a full consumer product that
could potentially scuttle an entire company. Now, it's not just
consumer electronics that are struggling with AI, of course. Late
last week, Google reportedly eased off a little bit with
its AI Overviews tool. That's the feature that uses AI
to provide summaries and answers to queries in a web search,

with the idea being that if the AI can answer
whatever your question is, then you don't have to do
all that pesky clicking through to a reputable source to
dig through you know, edited and vetted information, which I mean,
I guess I can understand that a bit in some cases,
because goodness knows. I hate the trend that websites will
bury the lead of a story three cores of the

way down a page in order to serve you more ads,
so that you have to scroll past a lot more
ads before you get to what it is you're looking for.
I see that in a lot of like pop culture
news sites, where like the first five paragraphs are like
Star Wars originally came out in the nineteen seventies, like
I know this, I just want to know what the
next project is or goodness knows recipes. That's been a

problem for years, right, recipe sites do this all the time. Anyway.
The New York Times tested some searches last Friday and
found that overview AI was only popping up about once
in every six queries or so. So why is that? Well?
The conclusion that Nico Grant of The New York Times
arrived at is the answers provided by overview AI are

not always reliable or even safe. This is nothing new.
If you've been following news about generative AI for a while,
of course, I mean you likely know AI can hallucinate
or confabulate, or you just make stuff up. In other words,
that's not a good thing, particularly when you're using it
to augment search, and in some cases it can lead

to huge problems if the AI is recommending stuff that
just isn't safe. Google is continuing to develop the tool,
and the company has started to build in some protections
around certain categories of queries, such as stuff relating to
health matters. I'm honestly surprised at how aggressive companies like
open Ai and Google have been when it comes to
pushing these AI models out to the public, simply because

when things go wrong, they can go spectacularly wrong. But
I guess if you snooze, you lose. Over the years,
I've mentioned a lot of threats that AI poses, from
potentially taking work away from well just about everyone, to
the science fiction disaster scenario of a malevolent AI determined
to wipe out humanity. That last one is still well

within the realm of science fiction. Thankfully, we're not at that.
We haven't been putting AI in charge of potentially devastating weaponry,
for example, so hopefully we continue that trend. But one
threat AI definitely poses relates to electricity and resources. AI
requires a lot of power to operate, and with more

AI companies launching and then the big AI companies growing rapidly,
this means that any large entity that's serious about being
a definitive AI company has to start to think about
where is that juice going to come from. Over at
open Ai, that seems to include a company called Helium,
which aims to use nuclear fusion to generate electricity. That's

an amazing goal. Nuclear fusion would truly transform our world.
But it's a goal that's not currently viable. We've only
had a couple of cases where a fusion reaction even
produced more electricity than it took to start the reaction
in the first place, and when you take a real
step back and you consider the whole picture, we're still
not really there yet. So forging a deal with Helion

seems a tad premature since fusion is not yet a
viable method for power generation here on Earth. So why
would open Ai consider making such a deal. Well, one
factor that could have something to do with it is
that Sam Altman, who is the CEO of open Ai,
also happens to be the chairman of Helium's board of directors,

and he has nearly four hundred million dollars invested in
the company. Now, to be fair to mister Altman, he
has said that he has recused himself from these negotiations.
That's a good thing, because it sounds like there's more
than just the potential for a conflict of interest here
when the head of your very power thirsty company also

has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in a startup
power company, and then those two companies start to chat
with each other, Obviously, eyebrows will naturally rise as a result.
I'm actually kind of reminded of the story of We Work,
in which the CEO of that company would end up
leasing properties he personally owned to the company he ran
as CEO, which seemed shady to me then, and it

seems kind of shady to me now. But then, I
guess it's all academic at the moment, since Helium is
not currently generating electricity through fusion, and open ai reportedly
doesn't even have any data centers of its own. Instead
it relies on Microsoft's platforms. But still, it's a thing
that makes me go, hmm, Okay, before I make any
more references to outdated nineties music, we're gonna take a

quick break to thank our sponsors. We're back, so next up.
A watchdog group in the European Union is calling on
regulators to pass an order that would force Meta to
stop harvesting user data for the purposes of training AI

without first seeking user consent. Now, you might have heard
me talk about how Meta's policy on Instagram allows the
company to train AI models on user data without asking
permission first. In fact, you cannot opt out of that
if you are anywhere other than the European Union. But
the EU is different, right, you know, the EU has

these these laws in place that require companies to give
people more options. So in the EU, users would get
a little pop up about the matter to opt out
of it, and that was only if they actually read
the thing and saw the little hypertext link that would
let them go to a form where they could opt out.
The whole process was complicated and, in my opinion, misleading. Anyway,

it seems like Meta has purposefully designed a system to
discourage people from opting out. And from Meta's perspective, I
get it because training AI is hard. You need a
lot of material to train your AI, and Meta has
access to a treasure trove of user generated content, and
it sure is a hassle to have to secure permission

from each user in order to use all their stuff.
A Meta spokesperson responded to the Watchdog by saying that
Meta quote complies with privacy laws and our approach is
consistent with how other tech companies are developing and improving
their AI experiences in Europe. End quote. Now, I'm not
sure that last bit is going to be that much
helpful because I suspect watchdog organizations are equally concerned about

these other tech companies. I don't think they just have
it out for Meta. The watchdog group argues that Meta
has failed to comply with EU law that an opt
out form is not the same thing as an opt
in form, which is absolutely true. It's one thing to
skip over opting out. It's another one. You're asking point
blank do you consent to this? Because I need you

to indicate you do by clicking this box, and then
if you click the box, well then that's on you. Anyway,
I'm sure this story will continue to develop, so I'll
keep an eye on it. The US Department of Justice
and the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, are opening investigations
into three large tech companies in the AI space. Those
are open Ai, Microsoft, and Nvidia, and the investigations are

of an anti trust nature, you know, looking into monopolies
and such. Broadly, the concern is that Microsoft, Open Ai,
and Nvidia have dominant positions in the AI space and
perhaps have used that position to disadvantage would be competitors. Reportedly,
the Department of Justice will investigate in Nvidia, while the
FTC will actually look into Microsoft and Open AI. This

follows on the heels of other anti trust investigations into
big tech like Meta, Amazon, and Google, and those investigations
spawned various lawsuits, and now it looks it's like the
era of regulators attempting to check the power of these
tech companies is at least continuing for the moment. This
is an election year, so who knows how long that
will last. We'll have to see. Thomas Clayburn of the

Register reported this week that Microsoft was laying off another
one thousand or so employees, which seemed like a slap
in the face after the company's CEO just told shareholders
in April that Microsoft had experienced a record third quarter.
You know, hey, y'all, we're doing better than we ever
have in the third quarter, so let's celebrate by laying
off people across the company. Clayburn reported that Microsoft reorganized

its mixed reality division this week, and that these cuts
wouldn't necessarily concentrate on just one division or department, but
instead would come across the entire company. One potential reason
for the cuts is that Microsoft is obviously making a
huge investment in AI, and when a company spends a
lot of money that company often looks at other places
where it can cut costs, and one surefire way to

cut costs, at least in the short term, is to
reduce the headcount. A bit can be a brutal business, y'all.
Matt Burgess of Wired has a great article titled the
Snowflake attack may be turning into one of the largest
data breaches ever. Since I did a pair of episodes
this week about largest data breaches in US history, I
thought it was good to include this news item today.

So Snowflake is a cloud storage firm mostly catering to
other businesses. Reportedly, the Ticketmaster data breach is, when you
get down to it, a Snowflake data breach, as Ticketmaster
uses Snowflake to host enormous databases like lots of other companies.
And that's Burgess's point. While only a couple of companies

have recently acknowledged they've experienced a data breach, and while
Snowflake reps have said only a quote unquote limited number
of customer accounts were accessed, the potential for truly massive
data breaches is daunting. Burgess rights that hackers are claiming
to possess millions of records belonging to other Snowflake customers,
which includes big companies like Advance Autoparts and Quote Wizard,

which is a subsidiary of Lending Tree. Not everything is
confirmed yet, but it should certainly raise more concerns about
the issue. And this is one of the huge risks
of cloud computing and storage because as cloud companies grow
and attract larger customers, they become ever more tempting targets
for hackers. It's a constant battle between security experts and

hackers to keep those systems safe. And vulnerabilities are really
just an employee who gives away too much information due
to social engineering can really put everything at risk. Anyway,
I highly recommend the article if you want to learn
more about how the hackers targeted Snowflake in the first place.
Reuter's reports that the startup Archer Aviation says the Federal
Aviation Administration or FAA here in the US has given

the company a certificate that will allow Archer Aviation to
begin commercial operations. So what does Archer Aviation do. Well,
it's an electric air taxi company, so it's got a
vertical takeoff and landing electric vehicle that looks a lot
like a huge drone. It's called Midnight, and it's a
piloted aircraft, and it's meant to provide transportation in densely

populated urban areas by conveniently popping up over all that
congestion and whisking passengers to whatever destination they're going to.
So a lot of these companies are focusing on a
business model that would take passengers from like a downtown
location to the closest airport. Archer Aviation is now the
second air taxi company in the US to get such

a certificate from the FAA. However, Reuters also points out
that the FAA has yet to actually certify the Midnight
Aircraft itself, which will have to happen before the FAA
can say, yeah, this aircraft meets our standards. Okay, I
got a couple of space news stories to wrap things up.
First up, after several delays and some malfunctions, a fully
crude Boeing star Liner spacecraft has docked with the International

Space Station this week for the first time with a
crew aboard. That is, Previous attempts to launch a Starliner
with a crew inside it were scuttled after some problems
cropped up. This trip had its own share of technical issues,
mostly stemming from the helium lys but helium is non toxic,
it's not flammable, it's not combustible. So despite some issues
with those leaks, the decision was made to go ahead

with the mission. It's been a really long journey for
the Boeing Starliner that Boeing has been developing this spacecraft
for like a decade, and it's good news for NASA.
NASA always wants to have options when it comes to
spacecraft to go to various locations. Obviously, Boeing will have
to address any issues that were revealed during this operation,
but so far you should be able to call this

one a successful test. Meanwhile, at SpaceX, that company launched
a Starship rocket yesterday and completed a successful test to
take the upper stage into orbit. Before it returned back
to Earth, it climbed to one hundred and thirty miles altitude.
The booster for the launch vehicle, after it separated from
the upper stage, came back down and landed in the

Gulf of Mexico. The upper stage would return and land
in the Indian Ocean. There were some technical issues during
the launch. It wasn't perfect. Upon re entry. The upper
stage lost some tie and also suffered some other damage,
but the general goal of testing the vehicle and having
both stages retrievable worked out. The SpaceX Starship is part

of the long term SpaceX plan that includes the lofty
goal of taking human astronauts to Mars one day, and
there's still a ton to do before that can become
a reality, but still pretty cool, space News. That's it
for the Tech News this week on Friday, June seventh,
twenty twenty four. I hope all of you out there

are well, and I'll talk to you again really soon.
Tech Stuff is an iHeartRadio production. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio,
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