Morning Brew - ☕ ‘Brussels effect’

The EU passes the AI Act.
March 15, 2024

Tech Brew

Altair

It’s Friday. The European Union this week passed the AI Act, which has been in talks for years. While now the law of the land in the EU, we all know the internet is borderless. How will it affect AI companies across the globe? Tech Brew’s Patrick Kulp sought to find out.

In today’s edition:

Patrick Kulp, Kelcee Griffis, Jordyn Grzelewski, Annie Saunders

AI

Hold up

A map of Europe with a chip reading "AI" and a gavel superimposed. Tanaonte/Getty Images

Perhaps the world’s most substantial set of AI rules yet is on its way to becoming the law of the land (well, the European Union, at least).

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the AI Act on Wednesday, bringing with it a slew of implications for businesses operating in EU countries. The far-reaching legislation covers everything from facial recognition to chatbots and could serve as something of a blueprint for other countries looking to regulate the technology.

“Today is again, an historic day on our long path toward regulation of AI,” Brando Benefei, a parliament member and co-rapporteur of the AI Act, said at a press conference. “[This is] the first regulation in the world that is putting a clear path toward a safe and human-centric development of AI.”

What the law says: The legislation bans outright the “untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial-recognition databases” (though certain law enforcement exceptions are carved out), use of “emotion recognition” AI in school or the workplace, and AI that “manipulates human behavior or exploits people’s vulnerabilities.”

Keep reading here.—PK

     

PRESENTED BY ALTAIR

Now introducing…

Altair

…the next huuuge disruptors in the tech industry. Yep, we’re talkin’ about the company working at the center of rocket science and data science—the company that already changed the game in everything from automotive lightweighting to golf clubs.

Okay, we’ll spill the deets. Drum roll, pls . Say hi to Altair. They’re shaping the future with truly next-level tech, from design and simulation tools to HPC and AI innovation. You’re gonna wanna know all about ’em.

Luckily for you, we teamed up with Altair to write an article that breaks down everything you need to know about the company and how they’re working at the cutting edge of all things technology. It’s a must-read, really.

Get the scoop on the future.

CONNECTIVITY

You’ve got mail

Smart doorbell Catherine Mcqueen/Getty Images

Knock, knock. It’s the FCC.

Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks wants answers about how and why low-cost smart doorbells that allegedly contain glaring security vulnerabilities are commonly available on e-commerce sites like Amazon.

On March 8, Starks sent letters to the online retail giant—as well as Sears, Temu, and Shein—asking the sellers to explain how they vet the gadgets they list on their sites.

“Consumers have embraced the internet of things to make their lives better to the point that a large majority of American homes now have at least one or two IoT devices,” Starks said in a statement. “Working together, we must find better ways to stop risky and unlawful products from entering the commerce stream—and from seeing their sales irresponsibly boosted when they are listed online.”

The inquiries were driven by a late-February investigation by Consumer Reports, which found that smart doorbells sold under brand names including Eken and Tuck could grant strangers easy access to the devices and the data they collect, as Tech Brew previously reported.

CR also pointed out that the devices didn’t display a visible FCC ID, which is assigned to devices that are approved to emit radio frequencies, and that some of the devices sold on Amazon under the “Amazon’s Choice: Overall Pick” badge.

In his letter to Amazon, Starks questioned how the “selection process works” for the badge and whether that label tends “to increase sales of products bearing that label.” He also asked whether the products in sponsored listings are vetted in any way.

Keep reading here.—KG

     

FUTURE OF TRAVEL

Two steps forward

A Waymo vehicle stopped in front of a MetroRail track in Austin. Waymo

Autonomous ride-hailing company Waymo is expanding its operations despite recent setbacks in the robotaxi sector.

The Alphabet-owned company recently shared two milestones: that it received the OK from California regulators to expand its commercial service to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Peninsula, and the commencement of fully autonomous testing in Austin, bringing driverless rides to its fourth US city.

Earlier this month, Waymo started driverless rides across 43 square miles of the Texas capital that’ll initially be open only to Waymo employees. They’ll open up to the public “later this year,” per the company.

“Our maturing operations in Austin builds on over 15 years’ experience we’ve carefully built driving autonomously across the US,” Saswat Panigrahi, Waymo’s chief product officer, said in a statement. “Our disciplined deployment in Texas’ capital brings us one step closer to safely delivering the benefits of fully autonomous driving to many more people.”

That news followed the nod earlier this month from the California Public Utilities Commission to expand the commercial ride-hailing services Waymo currently operates in San Francisco to a larger portion of the Bay Area and to LA, clearing the way for Waymo to charge riders there. Waymo announced this week at SXSW that starting this week, it’ll open up its riding-hailing service to “select members of the public” in LA, with plans to start charging for rides “in the coming weeks” and to scale up the service from there.

Keep reading here.—JG

     

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BITS AND BYTES

Stat: 20%–60%. That’s how much organic search traffic could decline amid Google’s introduction of its AI-powered search engine, Adweek reported, citing interviews with SEO experts and media execs.

Quote: “If it’s hot, there should be water, and they should be able to take breaks…What does that hurt?”—Laurie Giordano, the mother of Zachary Martin, a Florida high school football player who died from heatstroke. According to a Grist story, Giordano successfully lobbied Florida lawmakers to pass a bill to protect student athletes from heatstroke and is now collaborating with WeCount, which advocates for immigrant workers in South Florida, to pass similar legislation to protect outdoor workers.

Read: Twitter’s former trust and safety chief is trying to clean up your dating apps (Wired)

Innovation sensation: There’s a tech company doing absolutely mind-bending stuff at the edge of rocket science and data science. Who? Get the scoop here.*

*A message from our sponsor.

COOL CONSUMER TECH

Apartment with closed windows and door, one window open with Airbnb logo. Hannah Minn

Usually, we write about the business of tech. Here, we highlight the *tech* of tech.

Wait, this *just* became a rule? The Verge reported that Airbnb announced this week that, in an effort to “prioritize the privacy” of guests in vacation rentals, it will ban hosts from installing security cameras in “common areas”—think living rooms, entryways, etc. Airbnb always banned cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms, The Verge noted, “but now, hosts can’t use indoor security cameras at all. The change comes after numerous reports of guests finding hidden cameras within their rental, leading some vacation-goers to scan their rooms for cameras.”

Knitting together our climate anxiety: Heatmap detailed a distressing trend among the crafty set—knitting or crocheting “temperature blankets,” in which the color of the yarn represents the temperature on a given day in the place where they live. It’s a tangible way to visualize the climate crisis right in your lap—even if, most days, a blanket is the last thing you need.

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