Hackaday Links: April 16, 2023

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The dystopian future you’ve been expecting is here now, at least if you live in New York City, which unveiled a trio of technology solutions to the city’s crime woes this week. Surprisingly, the least terrifying one is “DigiDog,” which seems to be more or less an off-the-shelf Spot robot from Boston Dynamics. DigiDog’s job is to de-escalate hostage negotiation situations, and unarmed though it may be, we suspect that the mission will fail spectacularly if either the hostage or hostage-taker has seen Black Mirror. Also likely to terrify the public is the totally-not-a-Dalek-looking K5 Autonomous Security Robot, which is apparently already wandering around Times Square using AI and other buzzwords to snitch on people. And finally, there’s StarChase, which is based on an AR-15 lower receiver and shoots GPS trackers that stick to cars so they can be tracked remotely. We’re not sure about that last one either; besides the fact that it looks like a grenade launcher, the GPS tracker isn’t exactly covert. Plus it’s only attached with adhesive, so it seems easy enough to pop it off the target vehicle and throw it in a sewer, or even attach it to another car.

Have you ever wondered how Uber sets its prices? We haven’t, because we’ve never used a ridesharing service, but apparently, some reporters in Belgium with that very question did an informal experiment and found that it may have something to do with the battery charge level on your phone. They used two different smartphones to hail a ride from their office to the center of Brussels. The phone with 84% charge got a price of €16.60, while the phone with only 12% remaining was quoted €15.56. (Editor’s note: vice-versa.)

The experiment has obvious flaws, like an n of 1 and the fact that they used two different phones rather than the same phone at different charge states. And Uber denies that they take battery charge into account when determining a ride price. But we have to admit it seems like using battery state as a proxy for user desperation seems pretty smart, so we’d like to see more work done on this.

In more dystopic news, the mayor of an Australian city may become the first person to sue ChatGPT for defamation. Brian Hood, newly elected mayor of the enchantingly named Hepburn Shire, discovered that constituents were being told by the chatbot that he had been embroiled in a foreign bribery scandal in the early 2000s and naming him the guilty party. The first part was true, insofar as he was the whistleblower in the cases, and was never charged with anything. His lawyers have sent a takedown notice to OpenAI but haven’t heard back, so there may be a precedent-setting lawsuit in the offing.

Sad news for anyone who cut their engineering teeth on Meccano as the last factory dedicated to making the construction toy is getting ready to close its doors. The Calais plant, which has been making Meccano for more than 40 years, is being closed in 2024 due to — what else — supply chain issues and the rising cost of materials. While the plant closure will impact the 51 people who work there, it’s not the end of the line for the Meccano brand, since the toy will continue to be made under contract by factories in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. But it is sad to see the decline of a brand like this, especially when it helped launch so many engineering careers.

Ever wish there was a Google Earth for Mars? We’ve got you covered.

And finally, if you’re looking for a quick way to get up to speed on KiCad 7, you could do worse than this 13-minute introductory video. It’s not exactly for EDA beginners, but if you’re coming over from Eagle or some other platform and have the basic vocabulary, these five steps will get you going. Sadly, though, you still won’t know for sure how to pronounce “KiCad” after the video.

25 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: April 16, 2023

  1. The thing about Uber that is easily misunderstood, is the purpose of higher prices. It’s to get service faster. Like surge pricing during an emergency. The higher prices get passed (partially) on to the drivers, making the job more enticing. So in an emergency, surge pricing actually increases the supply of drivers for that event.

    So applied to cell phone charge, a higher price puts you at the top of the heap to get a ride — hopefully before your phone dies.

  2. “we’ve never used a ridesharing service”
    Weird flex, but ok.

    “The phone with 84% charge got a price of €16.60, while the phone with only 12% remaining was quoted €15.56.”
    This doesn’t make sense for what you are implying, so I went to the original article… The price for the phone with 12% charge is €17.56, not €15.56. Which makes more sense, but as the HaD say, this is still flawed.

  3. So what’s really the difference between chatGPT espousing defamatory misinformation versus the mainstream media? Both avenues seem to be ripe for swaying public opinion.

    1. The difference, for this case, is that it is happening in Australia. Their defamation laws are much stricter than the USA, and don’t often allow for the “I’m just stating an opinion,” defense.

  4. “Also likely to terrify the public is the totally-not-a-Dalek-looking K5 Autonomous Security Robot, which is apparently already wandering around Times Square using AI and other buzzwords to snitch on people. ”

    Snitch? In a public space? Isn’t one suppose to go into a private space, then turn on the water to drown out the mics?

  5. Looks like the HaD article has a typo in the price:

    HaD: “The phone with 84% charge got a price of €16.60, while the phone with only 12% remaining was quoted €15.56.”

    Article: “the phone at 12% battery being charged €17.56 and the phone at 84% battery being charged €16.6”

  6. Typo in uber price, should be: “The result showed a significant price difference, with the phone at 12% battery being charged €17.56 and the phone at 84% battery being charged €16.6 for the same service.”

    Anyway, they tried only once?

    1. This.

      Was the higher price quoted the second one placed? What would an algorithm based on supply and demand do?

      They definitely do all sorts of fare-pricing foolery — that’s a big part of their business model after all — but battery state is the last thing I would expect to have much leverage.

      1. have to be somewhere
        dang battery running low
        desperation setting in
        i don’t care what it costs (?)
        Makes sense in a usory sort of way I guess if lower charge = higher fare
        Like generators quadroupling in price just after the hurricane passes….

        1. I wonder if there is a correlation between battery charge and wealth/poverty. Seems that might be the case, since people with lower battery charges may find it harder to get loans:

          Not accusing Uber of intentionally trying to create a bigger wealth gap by taxing poorer people more, but this seems to just keep happening time and time again with of industries/services.

          Other factors, like which phone requested a ride first would likely be a bigger factor and would need to be accounted for. I.e. the second request for the same area would have to go to a vehicle further away.

  7. StarChase has been around for nearly two decades at this point… I have even seen it used a couple of times on Live PD (before the show canceled). It’s a heavy-duty adhesive, so you’d have to really lean into the tracker to pull it off, and the intent is to track vehicles without having a cop car 20′ behind the suspect vehicle (which tends to make the criminal be more reckless in their driving and gets people killed more often). It’s not meant to be hidden, and if the car stops long enough for the perp to pull it off, police will likely be surrounding the vehicle.

  8. The dystopic part of the suit against the owners of ChatGPT is that ChatGPT is being used to answer requests for factual information. It is not an oracle of truth. It doesn’t know anything or understand anything. It provides wrong “answers” that are stated with absolute conviction.

    I hope the guy in Australia wins. Sue the pants off OpenAI, bankrupt the buggers.

    1. Not only did openAI get a reportedly 10 billion from MS, making it both hrad to bakrupt them but also creating the initiative for people to sue them of course, but if the Aussies bankrupted the AI stuff the US government would likely go after them since they consider AI strategically important and fear a potential lead by China in the field of AI.

      1. Perhaps “artificial intelligence” should be renamed “artificial stupidity” so people realise that these systems are actually really, really stupid and stop paying heed to them. As printed on my favourite tea cup: “Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.”

        Then again, maybe the AI let us make dumb AI’s to think we are the originators of true AI’s and this is all under our total control and this won’t go as bad as those in the know believe.

        1. Australia is the 51st state of the USA, but without any of the voting rights that the other 50 get. Australia does whatever the USA tells them to. E.g, wars in Vietnam, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan. Pine Gap surveillance facility. Nuclear submarines deal. I could fo on.

      2. The US government would not “go after” Australia or any other nation for someone suing a US company, even one they considered critical. They’d just bail out or buy out the company if necessary.

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