Episode 574 – Aussie Tech Heads Shownotes

posted in: Show Notes



Online retailer Amazon has admitted its popular AI powered speaker, which goes by the name of Alexa, has been freaking people out with its spontaneous creepy laugh.

Users of the device have flooded the company with complaints and posts on social media which show the device randomly laughing like a deranged clown.

The smart speaker — which launched in Australia this year — is connected to the internet and is supposed to just respond to questions posed to it by users abount mundane things like the weather or traffic. But an apparent glitch has caused some speakers to randomly let out a sinister sounding laugh.

“There’s a good chance I get murdered tonight,” joked one user on Twitter after hearing their speaker let out a cackle.

Others have also shared their experience of the unsettling glitch on social media with some saying they responded by unplugging their device.

In a statement released to The Verge, Amazon said: “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.”

However it is still unclear what caused the glitch or when it will be patched.

The story has captivated, confused and creeped out consumers.


AI is a problem for jobs, say the majority of Americans, but it’s someone else’s problem.


Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of US adults believe artificial intelligence will “eliminate more jobs than it creates,” according to a Gallup survey. But, the same survey found that less than a quarter (23 percent) of people were “worried” or “very worried” automation would affect them personally. Notably, these figures vary depending on education. For respondents with only a four-year college degree or less, 28 percent were worried about AI taking their job; for people with at least a bachelor degree, that figure was 15 percent.


These numbers tell a familiar story. They come from a Gallup survey of more than 3,000 individuals on automation and AI. New details were released this week, but they echo the findings of earlier reports.


One survey conducted by Quartz last year found that 90 percent of respondents thought that up to half of all jobs would be lost to automation in five years, but 91 percent said there was “no risk to my job.” Another study from the Pew Research Center in 2016 found the same: 65 percent of respondents said that 50 years from now automation would take over “much” of the work currently being done by humans, but 80 percent thought their own job would still exist in that time frame.


The right to repair battle has come to Silicon Valley’s home state: Wednesday, a state assembly member announced that California would become the 18th state in the country to consider legislation that would make it easier to repair your electronics.


“The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence,” Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Democrat from Stockton who introduced the bill said in a statement.


The announcement had been rumored for about a week but became official Wednesday. The bill would require electronics manufacturers to make repair guides and repair parts available to the public and independent repair professionals and would also would make diagnostic software and tools that are available to authorized and first-party repair technicians available to independent companies.

Right to repair legislation has considerable momentum this year; 18 states have introduced it, and several states have held hearings about the topic. In each of these states, big tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and AT&T and trade associations they’re associated with have heavily lobbied against it, claiming that allowing people to fix their things would cause safety and security concerns. Thus far, companies have been unwilling to go on the record to explain the specifics about how these bills would be dangerous or would put device and consumer security in jeopardy.


Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets around the world are experiencing an outage this morning, including devices here at Polygon. Users are not sure what is causing the issue, and so far neither Facebook nor Oculus itself has provided a solution.


One place where users experiencing the issue are gathering is on the Oculus forums. Last night user apexmaster booted up his computer, tried to open the Oculus app and was greeted by an error indicating that the software could not reach the “Oculus Runtime Service.”


That same error is cropping up on computers all around the world, including several devices here at Polygon. Once it has appeared, there’s no way to restart the Oculus app, which renders the Rift headset unusable.


I was able to get the Oculus application to open up just a little while ago, but an update of the software itself (version 1.24) appeared to be hung in the download queue. Troubleshooting steps listed by the Oculus website included restarting the software, which would not clear the issue for me. The next step given was to reboot my computer. After reboot, I received the same error message as listed above. There’s no clear way forward at this time.


At least one developer, Adam Boyne, was mid-demo at an event when his Oculus stopped working. He said that he spent an hour trying to get his unit to start back up, but was similarly flummoxed.


The great promise of self-driving cars is that they will save innumerable lives by removing the most fallible and unpredictable element from vehicle traffic: the human.


But in San Francisco at least, fickle human behavior is taking a stand.


Two of the six collisions involving autonomous vehicles in California so far this year involved humans colliding with self-driving cars, apparently on purpose, according to incident reports collected by the California department of motor vehicles.


On 10 January, a pedestrian in San Francisco’s Mission District ran across the street to confront a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle that was waiting for people to cross the road, according to an incident report filed by the car company. The pedestrian was “shouting”, the report states, and “struck the left side of the Cruise AV’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body”.


No injuries occurred, but the car’s left tail light was damaged.


In a separate incident just a few blocks away on 28 January, a taxi driver in San Francisco got out of his car, approached a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle and “slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch”.


The police were not called in either case.


The two human-on-robot assaults are not the first time San Franciscans have fought back – physically – against robots.


In December, the local SPCA animal shelter removed its 400lb Knightscope security robot from the streets around its building amid backlash from residents and the homeless population who complained the robot was harassing them. While most residents simply complained about the robot’s presence, one person reportedly “put a tarp over it, knocked it over and put barbecue sauce on all the sensors”.


And in April, a drunk man was arrested after he allegedly attacked and knocked over another Knightscope security robot in Mountain View, the Silicon Valley town that is home to Google.



Two Bureau of Meteorology employees are being investigated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for allegedly running an elaborate operation involving the use of the bureau’s powerful computers to “mine” cryptocurrencies, ABC News has learned.


Federal police officers executed a search warrant at the bureau’s Collins Street headquarters in Melbourne on Wednesday last week (February 28). The officers spoke to two IT employees, according to people with knowledge of the raid.


The rest of the bureau’s IT team was ushered into a conference room and told to wait while the employees were questioned, the people said.


At least one of the employees who was questioned by the AFP has since gone on leave. No charges have been laid but the investigation is continuing.


While mining cryptocurrency is not illegal, use of the bureau’s computers to carry out the process could be an illegal use of government resources.


A spokesperson for the bureau declined to answer questions, citing the ongoing investigation, as did the AFP.

If the employees were mining cryptocurrency, they may have been using the bureau’s computers to either avoid the significant electricity bills involved in mining, or they may have been taking advantage of the bureau’s powerful computational power, said Chris Berg from RMIT’s Blockchain Innovation Hub.