RIP Facebook M, the end of retail, and a better way to arm wrestle (Issue 10)

This picture shows a person pressing a tablet on a robot

Welcome to Issue 10 of the All Turtles newsletter, sent on January 11, 2018. Each week, we bring you carefully chosen news and analysis about AI, startups, and happenings at the All Turtles startup studio. If you like this newsletter (we hope you do!), please subscribe or share with a friend.

Greetings! This week we’ve been thinking about the future of retail, check out this week’s podcast below to hear our discussion. If you know someone who might be interested by it, forward this newsletter onto them.

Here are some highlights from what we’ve been reading this week:

Try Aga-M

When Facebook launched M, an ask-me-anything virtual assistant for its Messenger platform, it was seen as a major step forward into the realm of AI for the social network. Fast forward two years, and M is looking long in the tooth and is being shut down. Its need to be bolstered by a team of humans to facilitate requests made it a resource-intensive service, and made it unlikely to achieve its lofty goal of being a fully- automated chat assistant.

While we agree with this article’s thesis that M was overly ambitious, it’s wrong to think this spells doom for all chatbots. Conversational interfaces that fulfill very specific user needs (narrow AI) can provide great user experiences, but seeing them as path to general AI remains a fool’s errand. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, when it comes to applied AI, think sheepdogs, not omniscient uber-robots.

Read: Facebook’s Virtual Assistant M Is Dead. So Are Chatbots (WIRED)

Buy Hard

The new year began with an ominous forecast: 12,000 U.S. retail stores are predicted to close in 2018, a 33-percent increase from 2017. Hosts Phil Libin, Jessica Collier, and Blaise Zerega examine what this means for jobs, shopping, and the proverbial Main Street full of mom-and-pop stores. They manage to agree that online advertising has never been more annoying and pervasive, and debate whether AI will improve things anytime soon. Listener questions include hyper-personalization and differences between Japanese and American entrepreneurs.

Listen: All Turtles Podcast Episode 10: Buy Hard (iTunes)

To regulate or not to regulate?

That was the question. At least, it was a question asked by many in 2017, with big name proponents and opponents on either side of the AI aisle. But the wholesale regulation of AI may be a bit premature. Rather than regulate an entire field (that isn’t very well defined) this op-ed argues for the regulation of individual problems rather than the whole industry. This is what we did in the case of credit history reporting in the early ages of computing, where we treated computing as a collection of separate technologies. What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Read: Leave A.I. Alone (NY Times)

Take me to your high-score leader

We’re keen observers of the intersection of AI and games, both of the board and video varieties. Games provide AI programs with neat, bounded environments and clear winning objectives that make for great AI training fodder. It’s no wonder then, that the development of many an AI approach has been honed with games such as chess, Go, and Starcraft, as well as 3D modeled environments that run on everything from the the Unity AR/VR engine to driving sims such as Grand Theft Auto (yes, really). Here’s an example of how an AI program can teach itself to master a game through sheer volume of practice.

Watch: Artificial Intelligence: When a machine discovers an environment on its own(YouTube)

We may finally win an arm wrestle

If you work in manufacturing, the spectre of robots seemingly looms large. Then it may come as a surprise that the latest addition to the assembly line isn’t a human-replacing robot, but a human-enhancing exo-suit. Worn around the back and arms, it lightens loads and shoulder stress for assembly line workers, reducing weight by more than half. Check it out for yourself.

Watch: Ford is giving its factory workers robot exo-suits to ease the burden of building cars (Quartz)

Thanks for reading. We’d love to hear from you — really! Please email us with feedback or articles, videos, and papers we should consider for future newsletters.