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Why we find companies creepy

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People feel increasingly polarized by unrest, upheaval and other changes taking place in the world, and more than 60 percent of adults globally say they feel overwhelmed by things happening around them.

Ford’s 2018 Looking Further with Ford Trends Report examines not only the issues dividing the world, but also the coping mechanisms that are emerging as a result.

“We’re clearly living in interesting times,” said Sheryl Connelly, Ford global consumer trends and futuring manager. “Shifting global priorities, rampant political upheaval, and a spotlight on social inequity have upended the status quo and left many disoriented. But out of the chaos and conflict, a new energy and creativity is motivating people like never before. From compassion and guilt to heightened activism, most adults believe their actions have the power to influence positive change.”

As societies cope with the rising demands of urbanization, serious threats to the environment and economic instability, Ford continues its work as a trusted mobility company developing smart transportation solutions for all. Amid concern for world suffering, a widening gap between rich and poor, and worries that  artificial intelligence will do more harm than good, Ford remains committed to the belief that freedom of movement drives human progress—and is designing sustainable, meaningful technologies to help make people’s lives better.

Each year, the company focuses on global trends to understand how consumers are changing, and how companies must respond.

Key insights from Ford’s sixth annual report include:

39 percent of adults say they do not mind sharing their personal information with companies, but 60 percent say they are frustrated by how much of their information has become public

76 percent of adults around the world say they find it creepy when companies know too much about them

52 percent of adults say they believe artificial intelligence will do more harm than good, but 61 percent say they are hopeful about a future of autonomous vehicles

68 percent of adults say they are overwhelmed by suffering in the world today, and 51 percent say they feel guilty for not doing more to make the world better

81 percent of adults say they are concerned about the widening gap between the rich and the poor

73 percent of adults say they should take better care of their emotional well-being

54 percent of adults globally say they feel more stressed out than they did a year ago, and among 18- to 29-year-olds, that number is even higher, at 65 percent

What all this means for 2018 and beyond
This report serves as a blueprint for understanding how key trends are expected to influence consumers and brands in 2018 and beyond. Ford has identified and explored these 10 trends:

The Edge of Reason: Global upheaval is evident in everything from politics to pop culture, and people are responding to these changes in polarized fashion. As divisiveness grows, a sense of being overwhelmed intensifies. Consumers are hungry for inventive ways to cope and adapt.

The Activist Awakening: This culture of polarization means consumers are being jolted out of complacency. Conventional wisdom and expectations are being toppled as individuals debate the change we need.

Minding the Gap: Worldwide, the spotlight is on inequality. Activists and entrepreneurs are experimenting with new ways to improve access to quality education, increase productive employment, close wage gaps, and provide everyone with affordable access to basic living standards and infrastructure.

The Compassionate Conscience: With an omnipresent news cycle, we are more aware than ever of the challenges consumers face around the world. People are becoming more reflective of their roles in society and more focused on how they can be more engaged.

Mending the Mind: Consumers and institutions are realizing that you cannot have a healthy body unless you have a healthy mind. As such, mental health and well-being are moving to the forefront for individuals, governments and companies to address.

Retail Therapy: Many consumers are on an endless hunt for something new and different – seeking material goods or experiences that bring happiness. As services aiming to provide efficiency experiences proliferate, consumers now find they can buy the one thing that was never for sale – time.

Helplessly Exposed: Big Data claims to be able to interpret our behaviors, which in theory should help consumers. But with Big Data can come Big Bias, and once personal information is relinquished, all consumers can do is hope companies use it responsibly.

Technology’s Tipping Point: Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and autonomous technology – long far-fetched notions – are now being incorporated into our daily lives. Worldwide, humans are wondering what the onslaught of intelligent technology will mean for society.

Singled Out: Are marriage and parenthood still the desired norms for happy living? Couples today – with more choices and longer life spans to consider – are rethinking commitment and fulfillment.

Big Plans for Big Cities: By 2050, nearly 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. To capitalize on the full potential of cities – ensuring they are happy and healthy places in which to thrive – we must smartly plan for transportation, employment, housing, wellness initiatives and an infrastructure that can accommodate booming populations.

Building a smarter future

With an astounding 87 percent of consumers agreeing cities need better transportation options, Ford is uniquely positioned to provide meaningful solutions for consumers everywhere. As connected, sustainable and autonomous technologies rapidly transform transportation, Ford is committed driving progress that consumers can trust.

“In today’s fast-moving world, consumers have less patience for the frivolous, and they demand greater emphasis on what’s meaningful and impactful,” said Connelly. “This ethos is reflected in the work we do at Ford, and our relentless focus on providing trustworthy solutions that make consumers’ lives better.”

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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