Amazon delivery staff 'denied bonus' pay by AI cameras misjudging their driving

Plus: Why trans gamers are turning to deepfake voices, and more bits and bytes


In brief AI cameras inside Amazon’s delivery trucks are denying drivers' bonus pay for errors they shouldn’t be blamed for, it's reported.

The e-commerce giant installed the equipment in its vehicles earlier this year. The devices watch the road and the driver, and send out audio alerts if they don't like the way their humans are driving.

One man in Los Angeles told Vice that when he gets cut off by other cars, the machine would sense the other vehicle suddenly right in front of him, and squawk: “Maintain safe distance!” Logs of the audio alerts and camera footage are relayed back to Amazon, and it automatically decides whether drivers deserve to get bonuses or not from their performance on the road.

These workers, who are employed via contractors, claim they are unfairly denied extra pay for errors that were beyond their control or for things that don’t necessarily mean they’re driving recklessly, such as tuning the radio or glancing at a side mirror.

“When I get my score each week, I ask my company to tell me what I did wrong,” the unnamed driver said. “My [delivery company] will email Amazon and cc me, and say, ‘Hey we have [drivers] who'd like to see the photos flagged as events, but they don't respond. There's no room for discussion around the possibility that maybe the camera's data isn't clean.”

An Amazon spokesperson said alerts can be contested and are reviewed by staff at the internet giant to weed out incorrect judgments by the software.

Trans gamers are using AI to alter their voices

Deepfakes aren’t all bad. The technology is helping trans people feel comfortable with communicating in gamer communities by changing the sound of their voice with AI algorithms.

It can be difficult for trans gamers to speak in group chats when the pitch of their voice doesn’t match their gender identities; some may want to sound more feminine or masculine, typically.

A startup called Modulate is helping them generate new voices or so-called “voice skins” by using machine-learning software that automatically adjusts the sound of their speech. Some trans people have started testing the algorithms but haven’t yet used it in the wild, according to Wired.

“We realized many people don’t feel they can participate in online communities because their voice puts them at greater risk,” Mike Pappas, Modulate’s CEO, said. He claimed the software only has a 15 millisecond lag when transforming someone’s speech in real time to a different pitch.

Early testers said they were impressed with the software’s capabilities, although Modulate declined to provide a live demo for the magazine.

Self-driving Argo AI to deliver goods for Walmart

Walmart is working with Argo AI and Ford to launch a delivery service using fleets of self-driving cars in three cities: Miami, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Washington DC.

Ford will provide the vehicles, Argo will install its self-driving software, and Walmart will load the cars with groceries, electronics, clothes and the like and get them to customers. “Argo and Ford are aggressively preparing for large-scale autonomous vehicle operations across a broad footprint of U.S. cities,” said Scott Griffith, CEO, Ford Autonomous Vehicles & Mobility Businesses.

“Pairing Walmart’s retail and e-commerce leadership with Argo and Ford’s self-driving operations across these multiple cities marks a significant step toward scaling a commercial goods delivery service that will ultimately power first-to-scale business efficiencies and enable a great consumer experience.”

Walmart is hoping that a better delivery service will help it better compete with other physical and digital retailers, like Target and Amazon.

AI experts weigh in on what’s changed in the field from 2016-2021

The second issue of Stanford University’s project to map a hundred years’ of AI progress every five years was published this month, describing the biggest trends, changes, and risks since 2016.

The first report was published a little after DeepMind’s success in building AlphaGo, a reinforcement-learning agent capable of beating the world’s best Go player at the time Lee Sedol. What’s changed since then?

Well, natural language processing has exploded thanks to the now-popular transformer architecture. Large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-2 or GPT-3 are now capable of performing multiple various tasks from machine translation and question answering to text autocomplete. These capabilities weren’t as advanced five years ago, and were often restricted to one singular model trained to do a specific task. Now, these giant systems are more general.

Computer vision has matured and is becoming more widespread commercially. There are all sorts of applications from object classification to facial recognition being rolled out across the world. Machine learning algorithms are also experiencing a boom in the medical industry amid stricter regulations. Perhaps the most interesting thing, however, is the shift in people’s attitudes towards AI.

We’re now more wary of the technology compared to before. The effects of biases in the data and deployment of AI algorithms is becoming more apparent in everything from predictive policing to college admissions. Despite all this, the field continues to grow.

You can read the full report here [PDF].

The UK government’s ten-year AI plan

The British government has promised to invest more in the AI industry and review semiconductor supply chains to make sure it has enough computational resources to support the growth of the technology.

“This is how we will prepare the UK for the next ten years, and is built on three assumptions about the coming decade,” the report's summary began.

"1. Invest and plan for the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem to continue our leadership as a science and AI superpower;

"2. Support the transition to an AI-enabled economy, capturing the benefits of innovation in the UK, and ensuring AI benefits all sectors and regions;

"3. Ensure the UK gets the national and international governance of AI technologies right to encourage innovation, investment, and protect the public and our fundamental values.”

The first point involves funding more scholarships to help more people obtain postgraduate education in machine learning and data science. Researchers are encouraged to collaborate with others from European and US institutions.

Other parts of the plan, however, are a little bit more wishy-washy. There isn’t strict actions or policies in some parts, for example, a lot of inter-agency collaboration involves formulating yet more reports to understand “strategic goals” in supporting the AI economy or algorithmic transparency.

FedEx to begin testing autonomous delivery trucks

Aurora, the self-driving car software biz, has started testing autonomous heavy duty Class 8 trucks capable of hauling over 14,969 kilograms with shipping giant FedEx.

The trucks will be monitored by a safety driver as they drive the 500-mile round trip from Dallas and Houston, Texas, along the I-485 interstate highway, Aurora announced this month. The company is aiming to operate fleets of fully autonomous trucks without the help of safety drivers by 2023.

You can read more about it here. ®

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