Autonomous Vehicles: The Empty Re-positioning Challenge

Over the next 10 years it is estimated that the number of autonomous vehicles on U.S. roads will become a mainstream force. The rate of progress to this goal is accelerating, building on the success of technology-enabled safety features such as lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and emergency braking. We first saw these technologies come together with self-parking features, and 15 years of continual innovation and evolution are now at a point where self-driving vehicles are a reality.

The stress that will be exerted on already stretched infrastructure will be significant because of the very nature of this leap forward in capabilities. Roads, enforcement, regulations, and the legal system are all designed to work within the framework of a human-controlled automobile. Roads in particular are organized to protect us from ourselves, with speed limits fixed irrespective of the road conditions and flow patterns designed to move a person from A to B.

There is a consensus that car sharing services will continue to expand and with autonomous vehicles go into overdrive as car owners turn loose their vehicles when not in service of the owner. I would not rule this out but it is an overreach to assume that people will do this by default. Personal property is just that and I, for one, would not take kindly to having my vehicles used by strangers unattended. I also don’t think people realize how much the cost of maintenance and depreciation is per road mile, therefore the economic proposition of car sharing may not be a good deal for everyone.

For people leasing vehicles, the mileage restrictions alone prove onerous to car sharing use cases. This is important because lease penetration broadly is about 27% of the total U.S. car market, but as you move up the price tiers the lease penetration increases to 50%. Self-driving technology is an expensive add-on, even more when coupled with EV and hybrid drive systems. It is predictable that over half of all self-driving vehicles will be leased.

So let’s assume that the majority of the market for self-driving vehicles, acquired for personal use, will be strictly for personal use.

Putting aside the obvious challenges that autonomous vehicles present to the legal system – liability – let’s take a look at something not often talked about in the context of autonomous vehicles. Empty repositioning, the process for moving vehicles that do not hold passengers in order to retrieve and transport passengers.

I was first introduced to this problem while looking at an investment in the ocean shipping industry. The flow of trade between countries is rarely equal, the U.S. brings a massive number of full shipping containers from China while sending a much smaller number to China. Left unattended, China would eventually run out of shipping containers, so there exists a well understood process of empty shipping container repositioning. Container ships returning to China carry empty containers in addition to loaded containers. The process is not that complicated, made easier by the fact that shipping containers are standardized in size and configuration and a shipper doesn’t care whether they get a Maersk or APL branded container, they are all the same.

The empty repositioning problem in shipping is solved by loading empty containers on ships headed back to Asia. This is complicated by the fact that empty containers have to be loaded at ports which are not the final destination, but port operators and shipping companies have developed processes to ensure that empty containers are loaded optimally for weight and unloading of full containers at other ports. None of this applies to cars though.

The challenge to public infrastructure comes from the loading of roadways with vehicles that do not contain passengers. For 4 decades the investment in transportation infrastructure has favored incentives to high occupancy vehicles (HOV) over single occupant vehicles (SOV) and public transportation. As HOV lanes, which in CA see about $2.5 billion of investment each year, have proven to not increase carpooling and remain underutilized (LAO report link), toll roads have gained favor.

Unfortunately, car sharing and HOV lane utilization continues to lag projections and the typical HOV lane carries fewer passengers per mile than a non-HOV lane. The challenge that self-driving vehicles presents is enormous because in that scenario a typical SOV will be making 4 trips per day instead of 2.

Autonomous vehicles represent a cataclysmic tipping point for how governments allocate funding for roadways. The entire public transportation system is designed around a premise that increasing congestion will drive people from their cars on to mass transit. In dense regions that are land constrained, the Bay Area being representative, public officials don’t even bother to obscure the strategy increasing the pain of driving.

Here we see a technology that massively disrupts not only traditional businesses, but also public policy on mass transit. Drivers don’t have to drive during their commute, and can send their vehicles home when they are not using them, avoiding the cost of parking. Transportation planners are wholly unprepared for this future, and given the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent on public transit systems that are inflexible and capital intensive hub-and-spoke systems, I forecast a lot of pain ahead.

Convenience as a Service

I hate going to the gas station. It not a painful experience but it’s never convenient, it’s one of those things that I’ll do at odd hours to try to make it as painless as possible.

For a few months now I have been using Filld. This startup has a fleet of roaming gas delivery trucks that will show up between 9pm and 4am to fill your car for you. Instead of going to the gas station, the gas station comes to you. Use this promotional code to get $15 off your first order, H9X2TQ

Each order comes with a $3 delivery charge and there is a small markup on the price of gas per gallon, using Costco as my benchmark price. I am typically a penny pincher when it comes to gas, and will go to Costco to get the best price even if it means suffering through a line. However, the interesting behavior I exhibit is that when commodities are being delivered to me, I care less about the price. Amazon doesn’t have the lowest prices but you would have to pry Prime from my cold dead hands. 

Because this service works for me does not mean it will scale. A couple of things stand out, the first being the nature of cars parked overnight. I live in a suburban neighborhood and my car is always parked in my driveway at night, and in order to fill the car up Filld has to find the gas cap open. Not a problem for me but if I lived in a San Francisco neighborhood and parked on the street, leaving my car unlocked would be no bueno. I could lock the car and leave the gas cap open, but I wouldn’t want to do that in San Francisco either. Parked in a garage with a security feature, you are out of luck. 

On balance I am probably an ideal customer target for Filld. Our cars get low MPG so we go through a lot of gas on a monthly basis, and the aforementioned pain of going to a gas station is acute for me. I don’t mind paying the markup and delivery charge for the convenience, and our physical location is well-suited for this type of service. The vehicles are parked in the driveway, and we don’t have an issue leaving the gas cap open at night, and our street.

I am skeptical that Filld will work outside of the evening hours. The optimal time to fill you car when the delivery window is 4 hours is at home, a fixed location that is constant. Surprisingly, this is one of the annoying behaviors their app exhibits, it insists on using the map to guess my location rather than have a default “home” address that is used unless overridden with a map-driven feature.

Filling a vehicle parked at a work location is not impossible but brings a lot of complexity. If parked in a garage, access to the garage and locating the vehicle is going to be an issue, if parked in a street or with a valet lot, there are accessibility issues. I just don’t think filling a vehicle as a place of employment will have the same convenience of doing it at a home location.  

I definitely recomend this service. In addition to providing a lot of utility relative to the expense, I have had a couple of interactions with the support team due to deliveries that were missed because their map function was way offbase, and in each case they were very accomodating. Use this promotional code to get $15 off your first order, H9X2TQ

Microsoft Acknowledges the Obvious with Their Smartphone Business

Kaput. That’s the best word to describe what is left of Microsoft’s smartphone business in light of today’s announcement that they are pulling back and reducing the workforce in this business area. This comes on the back of an announcement last week that they were selling off their feature phone business.

Microsoft has a long history in mobile, going back to 2004 but it was the release of Windows Mobile in 2008 that demonstrated the strategic intention. It was well thought out and put the user first in terms of features and functions, a departure for Microsoft at the time. Looking back, the fundamental flaw in Microsoft’s strategy was viewing the smartphone as an extension of the desktop experience, and arguably the iPhone worked in this same mode in early generations but with each successive release, it was evident that the desktop was being left behind by Apple. Microsoft never really did.

Microsoft highlighted that they are focusing on business customers, but herein lies the problem. Businesses are increasingly not the buyer as a result of BYOD and dual-use realities.

According to an email sent on March 26 to all employees, Windows and Devices chief Terry Myerson said Microsoft’s phone business, moving forward, will be “more focused” and targeting companies that are most interested in security, manageability and Continuum.

Essentially what Microsoft is saying is that they are bundling Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) with hardware and an OS. That’s not a strategy but a product aspiration and it’s not likely to happen. Mobile Device Management (MDM) is a market in disarray right now thanks to BYOD and commodization of features into the mobile OS’es. Pricing for MDM has gone to dollars per device from over $100 per device, and it’s entirely probable that it will go to cents per device. There is not “there” there and Microsoft knows it, but what other strategy do they have?

Continuum is another hail mary, a me-too feature against Google Cast and Apple Airplay. This is not something that a growth market makes. It’s a feature that copies what the smartphone duopoly of Android and Apple has made available as a platform feature.

There is one area where Microsoft could find a niche that will keep it in the smartphone game. Hourly workers are subject to an array of regulations that effectively prohibit the use of personal devices. If companies can’t effectively regulate hourly workers on BYOD, then the logical alternative is to provide devices to them with stringent usage guidelines managed by a centralized service.

At any rate, the smartphone market is a duopoly and, ironically, it is dominated by one company that vertically integrates everything in the premium-priced stack while the other is committed to running on everyone’s hardware and targeting price points low-to-high.

Living with the iPad Pro

ipadpro_pencil-hand-printI’ve been using the 12″ iPad Pro for 5 months. Targeted to a business professional, this iPad hits the mark on many levels. It is not without flaws, a few which I will detail here.

Along with the Microsoft Surface, this is the closest to a laptop replacement that I have experienced. My decision to go with the iPad Pro is based on form factor and app selection on each platform. Admittedly, I am already attached to Apple, relying on my Macbook Pro as the center of my professional existence, but I have not had a similar affection for iOS devices and this iPad is the first one I have owned. I use an Android Nexus device and lean heavily on Google Apps.

The Surface is bulkier and at some point, it just becomes a laptop derivative rather than a tablet that you can use as a laptop. Subtle but different. Microsoft does have pretty good coverage for must-have apps but as the #3 platform in a duopoly market, Windows isn’t getting the best apps first and some, e.g. Airbnb, are still missing.

Apple-iPad-Pro-pencil_dezeen_468_5One of the compelling aspects of the iPad Pro is the Pencil and that has been a completely altering experience for me. I’ve had a stylus before, with a Samsung Galaxy tablet and I know the Surface also gets good marks for their stylus, but the Apple device is just operating at a different level and Apple does deserve credit for packing so much in it. However, it’s not perfect and the Lightning connector sticking out of the end along with the cap that is just begging to get lost is a departure from the usual Apple approach to tight usability.

While not a true pencil-on-paper experience, it lacks the tactile friction that you experience while writing, it is remarkably better than one would expect for dragging a stylus on glass. I now use the iPad and Pencil for notetaking, very rarely going back to my paper notebook. This is a big deal for me because I have to write things down to remember them and that is why I don’t use my laptop for notetaking, but now I can have the best of both. Effective handwriting recognition would be the bow on the box, giving users good search technology on handwritten notes.

Page 0 2016-05-11 - 15-26Not all note taking apps are the same when it comes to the Pencil experience, and in my evaluations, I settled on Notability. This app offers a good tool palette and organizational features, and I noticed a distinctive improvement in the Pencil experience with this app versus others. Notes Plus, Notepad+, and Paper are also good apps but I prefer the feel of writing with Notability, and the eraser tool is just better on Notability. Shapes and graphics, as well as annotating graphics, is a pleasure on the iPad with Pencil, and I wouldn’t overlook Microsoft Office for Pencil capabilities.

Outside of drawing apps, there isn’t a lot of interesting apps for the pencil, and I hope that more developers take up this challenge to use the input device for something other than the obvoious things.

The Apple Smart Connector is a true killer feature and most people won’t realize how much better this is than a Bluetooth connector until they use it. The primary problem with Bluetooth is that it is always connected, even when you don’t want it to be. A keyboard needs to be connected while using it but when I flip it down to use it purely as a tablet I want the keyboard disconnected so I can use the on-screen keyboard. Also noteworthy is that Bluetooth devices need power while Smart Connector devices draw power from the connection.

I tried the Logitech keyboard and the Apple, preferring the Apple for a couple of reasons. The first is that the connector is more reliable than the Logitech, which I noticed would act strangely if the iPad was not firmly seated in the connector dock. The Logitech keyboard also doubles as a case, and a very good one, but it adds significant weight and mass and is actually heavier than a Macbook Air. The Apple keyboard and cover is lightweight while the keyboard itself is actually quite nice to type on, my only complaint is that the keys are not backlit.

IMG_20160511_085326 (1)The large screen on the iPad Pro is welcome and unwieldy at the same time. Reading a book on the Kindle app results in a presentation that is so absurdly large that it is comical, while streaming video content never looked better. The split screen feature in iOS is actually useful with a large screen and I now have a handy second screen for my laptop thanks to an app called Duet. Not all is perfect with the large screen, I have two specific downsides from experience and the first is that it is so large that you almost always have to manage it with both hands. I’ve noticed that people tend to stare at me when I am using it at a tablet while on the keyboard it just looks like another laptop. I would also highlight that Apple makes terrible use of the large screen with the standard 5×4 and 4×5 icon layout.

There are two major #fails with the iPad Pro and iOS, and one of these is easily fixed today. The included 12w power supply included with the 12″ iPad Pro is capable of charging the iPad, eventually, but not if you are also using the iPad Pro. With all of the juice consumed by the device and that large screen, none is left for charging the battery. 0010887

IMG_20160425_170721Apple sells a 29w charger that is capable of fast charging the battery, even if you are using the iPad. $49 is what that charger will set you back, arguably the charger that should have been included with the iPad Pro to begin with. You will notice that this charger has a USB-C port on it and I will note that it does not include a cable. After buying a USB-C to Lightning (because we need yet more cable standards) cable that was not MFI-certified and being told by the iPad that is was no bueno, I had to fork over $25 for the Apple cable. $25 for a cable. It makes you wonder if someone at Apple is deliberately trying to piss off their cusotmers with the price of their necessary accessories. The combined cost of the charger and cable that should have been included with the iPad Pro to begin with adds almost 10% in cost to what is already the most expensive iOS device that Apple offers. This is really unacceptable.

My second complaint is that iOS is not organized around a universal file system and when you have devices with 128-256gb of storage being used for business apps and purpose-specific functions, well you need a file system. Connecting cloud storage is fine but I rely on files that are local as well as stored in the cloud, and not all apps treat cloud storage as first class citizens. You also need to separately authenticate cloud services to apps, and in the final equation, it all becomes a bit of a challenge for business users.

On balance, this is a great device and I find myself using an increasing amount of time. I still carry my laptop with me when traveling but it’s not inconceivable that I will soon go to iPad Pro all the time as a laptop replacement for mainstream use cases and go to the Macbook Pro when I need something specific. Apple continues to ignore the Macbook laptops, which are woefully lacking in features like a touchscreen, fingerprint sensor, and detachable screen, therefore it is not inconceivable that with improvements in multitasking that iOS could become the de facto OS for consumer Apple hardware. The iPad Pro is close to hitting the mark.

Dawn of the Emotional Machine

sexbots I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago, and a group discussion broke out about machine intelligence. It was thought-provoking, and it’s lingered. Today I saw this article posted by @lisapadilla about sex robots replacing men in relationships. Certainly it is a topic that will elicit a full spectrum of jokes and guffaws, but there is a sober angle to this that I find interesting. As Lisa asked, “can you emotionally bond with a robot?”.

The short answer, I believe, is yes.

To explain why I believe this is possible, I want to detour and look at something unrelated, the human brain. I read this great article about the brain boom that human evolution experienced. In summary, humans split off from apes and chimps as much as 8 million years ago but 3 million years ago our brains went through a dramatic expansion.

Three million years ago the human brain began a period of expansion and in this period human brains have expanded almost 4x in size compared to all predecessors over 60 million years. Anthropologists theorize that the use of tools, complex social relationships, and expansion to climates not particularly well suited for human habitation forced the human brain to evolve in overdrive.

Now let’s come back to the topic at hand and the collection of technologies that are responsible for driving more innovation today than at any point in modern history. Machine learning.

We are witness to sophisticated machine learning frameworks that are dramatically improving the ability of machines to have human intelligence. Natural language interfaces are remarkably adept at understanding not just what we are saying but what we mean. Image technology is capable of replicating aspects of human vision with remarkable accuracy, along with speed and accuracy beyond human vision.

We see all of this come together with things like autonomous vehicles that develop behaviors that achieve not what is optimal performance but human performance. For example, the Google cars now cut a turn in a manner that replicates what human drivers naturally do. Human intelligence is being created in machine frameworks.

The next natural question to ask is whether or not machine learning can be used to accelerate machine learning. Much in the way that humans are interacting with other humans forced an expansion of our mental capabilities, leading to a machine-brain boom that follows the human evolution.

However, a machine with human intelligence and capacity still lacks something incredibly important about man-machine interfaces. Emotional capability.

I don’t believe we want machines to have emotions, for example, a robot that is sad or angry does not exactly get me excited. I believe that what we want machines to have is not an emotion at all, but rather the ability to interpret and adjust according to our emotions. Empathy, which is one of the most interesting of human capabilities and certainly not limited to humans as other animal species have demonstrated empathy in their social interactions.

In reading up about innovations in the automotive world, I learned of an interesting concept developed by major auto components supplier Faurecia. While not exactly what I envisioned, it is nonetheless an example of machines developing emotional intelligence that becomes a focus on the human interaction.

The result is the Active Wellness seating system, developed to improve the comfort and well-being of passengers. It’s the first system of its kind, detecting heart and breathing rates to determine an occupant’s stress level. Working in conjunction with a tablet inside the car, the seat can alert riders when it believes stress levels are too high, offering remedies such as therapeutic massage or increased seating ventilation.

Think of Siri having the capacity to adjust responses according to my mental state, sensing if I am sarcastic, happy, humorous, sad, or stressed. Go beyond the interaction style and consider the ability to alter responses based on emotional state. In this scenario, along with humanoid machine forms, I believe we can interact with machines on intellect and emotion.

To answer Lisa Padilla’s question: yes, I believe we will form emotional bonds with robots.

 

The Fascinating Implications for Autonomous Vehicles

I absolutely love intersecting public policy with technology trends, and if one thing is clear in my years of covering this it is that public policy reacts rather than anticipates technology advances. Politicians and bureaucrats alike, no matter how well-meaning, rarely take into account the 2nd order consequences of technology innovation, which I define as those consequences that are not obvious but often have a bigger impact than the immediate ones.

AVAutonomous, also known as driverless, cars present just such a scenario to consider. It’s easy to reflect on the safety implications and how we regulate the human intervention aspects, but let’s go a level deeper and consider what could happen with the single biggest impact on transportation since the invention of the automobile itself.

  • Traffic laws: Today’s laws are designed to accommodate distinctly human behavior, such as the fact that roadway speeds are discounted to take into account the fact that people will drive faster than the posted limit. In fact, the legal speed for any public road is the speed which is safe for the conditions. Machines are not bound by the limits of humans and it is reasonable to suggest that posted speed limits should be eliminated in favor of a network system of dynamic speeds set by the vehicles themselves based on accepted safety standards.
  • Driver licenses: If the car is doing the driving and I’m merely a passenger, do I need to have a license? Okay, human intervention will be mandated in this early period, so maybe we should have a different class of license that does not grant the right to drive, but rather to intervene. Removing age and license restrictions introduces a different set of consequences related to ownership and registration/licensing. More on that later.
  • DUI: Do we need DUI laws for autonomous vehicles if the software rather than the person is doing all the work?
  • Parking: An autonomous vehicle could drop me off at work and return home rather than having me pay for parking. Combine that with fleet-based ride-hailing for short hops and parking lots along with street parking get radically reduced.
  • Tolls: If an autonomous vehicle doesn’t require a person, how can the bridge and road tolls be collected on traditional toll booth manned infrastructure?
  • Liability: Who assumes it? We’re handing over operational responsibility to the vehicle itself, therefore it would be natural to assume that liability also transfers to the manufacturer. No? Sure, they could attempt to transfer it via EULA but at the end of the day a bug is going to have serious consequences that go beyond just being inconvenient.
  • Traffic infractions: Similar to liability, if the vehicle does create an infraction, who gets the ticket?
  • License plates: Need them? The autonomous vehicle is inherently connected, why does it need a license plate if, presumably, it won’t get pulled over and the registration information could be transmitted to an authenticated requester electronically?
  • Configurable roadways: Networked vehicles present an amazing opportunity to convert a fixed and inflexible infrastructure to a dynamic and reconfigurable one. Heavy traffic going northbound on 280, take one of the southbound lanes and use it for northbound traffic for 30 minutes.
  • First responders: Autonomous vehicles will reduce accidents, which suggests we will need fewer first responders. A self-managed fleet of vehicles will not require traffic enforcement.
  • Shifting revenue: Take away towing fees because cars are not parking, traffic fines, DUI fines, etc., and a large chunk of revenue going to the government goes away. Of course, the necessary manpower used to enforce regulation also goes away so maybe it balances out.

As you can see, fascinating to consider the implications and yet public officials rarely even go there…

Operation Email Purge

I’ve been on a crusade against my gmail inbox and am happy to report deleting over 100k unread emails in just a month. 100k unread emails… something is wrong with the state of email marketing when that happens.

Gmail provides a bunch of really good tools for managing email:

  • Unsubscribe link: If the sender has an unsub link in the footer you will likely see a handy link that Gmail inserts in the header. Use it.
  • Filters: Wow, where to start? Is:unread is a favorite.
  • Search Terms: Searching on terms like “casino” and “viagra” yields a massive number of emails I never wanted. Think about terms you never use in conversation and you will be amazed at how prevalent they are in email. Search on names other than your own, in my case Judy, James, John, Jennifer Nolan all resulted in hundreds of unwanted emails. Search on punctuated forms of your email that you don’t use, e.g. j.nolan@gmail.com. Search on phrases like “media briefing” and “embargo” will result in thousands if you are on PR lists. “Webinar” is another solid term to search on.
  • Search on sender. By far the biggest offender in email is notification email. Fortunately, they are easy to identifier based on subject verbage, but also sender. For example, “from:noreply@youtube.com” will yield all notif emails from YouTube.
  • Block. If a sender isn’t behaving well on email, e.g. bestbuy.ca, then block them. Now, nothing gets through.

Now here’s a couple of annoying email behaviors that marketers should be aware of:

  • Unsubscribe takes 10 business days… it takes a company just seconds to subscribe me, it should not take them longer than seconds to unsubscribe me. This is annoying because it reminds me how antiquated your infrastructure is.
  • Long messages. If your email exceeds the display length for Gmail, don’t send it.message too long
  • No unsubscribe. For a reason I cannot explain, PR agencies in Europe and Australia don’t use marketing automation to send emails, while U.S. based agencies do. The result is that U.S. agencies have unsub while the others get blocked.
  • Multi-click unsubscribe. Systems like Mailchimp and Constant Contact have really well constructed unsubscribe features. One click, maybe two and I’m out. If you unsubscribe requires more than 2 clicks, entering your email, or confirming and then sending another message to me after I unsubscribed telling me that I unsubscribed… you blew it.

I used all of the above to pare down my inbox. It didn’t happen quickly but now I’m in a rhythm and just 15 minutes every morning cleans things up. I target deleting a couple hundred email each day, which is more than I get each day so my inbox continues to shrink.

Artist Series – Naomi Edelberg Janches

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote about an artist I like. Today I’d like to get back in the habit of writing about something other than tech, and the subject of my attention is Naomi Edelberg Janches.

I can’t say that I have ever had a particular focus on stained glass but a couple of years ago we were replacing the doors on our garage with traditional carriage house doors and needed something special for the mahogany swing out doors. I went to Custommade.com and posted a general description for what I wanted.

P1000538Naomi was the first artist to respond out of over 40 in total and was very agreeable to the style I was pursuing. However, when I visited her website I was instantly captivated by her unique style and after some consideration I wrote Naomi that I wanted to trust to her the project and whatever she shipped to me would be what got installed. I gave her dimensions and a rough cut on the color palette we were designing around. Over the months that she was working on this glass, she honored my wish to not send any progress pictures, and the first time I viewed the design was when I unpacked them.

The crates arrived and much to my disappointment one of the panels had 2 cracks in it. Naomi was very accommodating to repairing the cracked glass. We also expanded the project to include 2 additional pieces of glass for the entry door and sidelight, for 6 panels in total. A picture does not do these stained glass pieces justice, in person they come alive and appear to dance with the light.

After 2 years of working together, it’s safe to say that not only did we connect but we also became good friends. She joined her husband on a business trip to the Bay Area and we hosted them at our house for dinner. It was a lovely evening.

It is safe to say that I am enthusiastic about her work not only out of the admiration for her creative ability but also because I am so fond of her personally. But it is the work that graces our house and in the glass you can see the  inspiration of the cosmos and nature with free-flowing lines of glass, impeccable placement of each pane, and celestial bodies represented in the glass orbs. We’re fortunate to have her work in our house, check out her website and facebook page for more info.

Fingerprint Technology is the Next Privacy Catastrophe

OPMNew fallout today from the gift that keeps on giving, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack. The news reports on this have focused on the standard PII elements along with the salacious possibilities associated with the disclosure information that is collected for security clearance applications.

 

FingerprintAn angle that has not been widely covered is the initial disclosure that 1.1 million fingerprints were also hacked. Today it is being reported that OPM has increased that number to 5.6 million fingerprints.

The nearly universal response to suggestions that people could be at risk is that the fingerprints are encrypted. Fair point, they are.

According to OPM, “federal experts believe that, as of now, the ability to misuse fingerprint data is limited.” The office acknowledged, however, that future technologies could take advantage of this information.

The government also said salt and fat were bad, and healthcare costs would go down.

Coincidentally, the NSA put out an advisory last month on Suite B elliptic curve cryptography that is widely used in the government, and is suitable for general national security use. Unlike Suite A, Suite B is widely used and available as a public standard.

According to the NSA, Suite B cryptography is not capable of withstanding advances in quantum computing.

Until this new suite (to replace Suite B) is developed and products are available implementing the quantum resistant suite, we will rely on current algorithms. For those partners and vendors that have not yet made the transition to Suite B elliptic curve algorithms, we recommend not making a significant expenditure to do so at this point but instead to prepare for the upcoming quantum resistant algorithm transition.

Well, this is reassuring… but let’s get back to the issue of fingerprint biometrics. The problem goes to the very nature of the biometric attribute itself, it is literally something about you and it is immutable. When someone hacks your fingerprints they have them forever. Forever.

I do have a horse in this race, having recently joined a speech biometrics company. Active speech verification has vulnerabilities, clearly, but one advantage over competing biometric technologies. In the event of a data breach that gives hackers the voice model data, an organization can simply force a re-enrollment for the participants and the integrity of the system is maintained. It’s the equivalent of forcing a password reset for your voice.

No system is without some vulnerability, but a system that does not provide for a reset capability is one that I have serious reservations about. With Apple TouchID and the upcoming Android M release with fingerprint support, fingerprint technology is mainstreaming. We are entering a period where fingerprint biometric data volume will explode and become an attractive target for hackers.

We’re building a speech verification and authentication service for developers who want to build speech biometrics into their apps using simple and reliable APIs. Sign up for news and launch updates, as well as early access, at knurld.io.

The Uncontrolled Implosion at VW

volkswagen_logo_bleeding_by_greenbob1986VW has been embroiled in a massive controversy. Here is the summary:

  1. VW has been marketing “clean diesel” technology on the basis of being environmentally friendly while also being fun to drive.
  2. Independent testing done by West Virginia University revealed that VW diesel cars were not in fact clean when compared to competitors, and exceeded EPA regulations governing emissions.
  3. VW asserted that the tests were inaccurate and offered to perform voluntary recalls to address specific issues.
  4. The EPA threatened to withhold certification for 2016 models – meaning VW would not be able to sell them.
  5. The company then admitted that they had engineered a defeat device which detected when the vehicle was undergoing emissions testing. In normal driving, the required emissions equipment was turned off.

The EPA has threatened the company with $18b in fines, which won’t come to fruition. BP paid just a 1/3 of that for their massive environmental disaster in the Gulf. It is hard to see how VW would be subject to a fine that equates to $37,344 per vehicle affected.

Samsung

The damage to the VW brand is incalculable right now, but I predict it will be a death blow to them in the U.S. market. Their problem is twofold, the first is that their market share here has been stuck in perpetual single digits across categories. With the U.S. being the most competitive car market globally, every point of share comes at great cost.

The second problem is that they are now on record admitting to a conspiracy to deceive regulators and consumers alike. They have been marketing a clean diesel product that they knew was not, and worse, had engineered components in the vehicles themselves to perpetuate that deception.

This scandal is spreading, fast. The company has already admitted that they know 11 million vehicles globally have this defeat mechanism installed. Countries are opening up their own investigations daily, the damage to the brand is no longer contained the U.S.

For the foreseeable future every news story about VW will be about a scandal, every car review, even in the bought off automotive media, will be compelled to append articles about VW cars, and current customers will have to navigate recalls and sarcastic comments about their choice of vehicle.

What reason does anyone have to buy a VW in light of these revelations? While not alone in the annals of recent car company scandals, the VW one is the most brazen in concept. Toyota and GM have both suffered scandals of incompetence with air bags and ignition switches respectfully, and in all fairness a lot of people died as a result of those failures, which is not the case with VW. Toyota and GM also have market leader positions while VW is a third tier player in the U.S. market, which doesn’t provide the company with much inertia to ride this out.

I think they are done. Call the moving company and buy your tickets back to Wolfsburg. At least they still have Audi and, thus far, they have not been implicated in this scandal.