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Push For Self-Driving Car Rules Overlooks Lack Of Federal Expertise In AI Tech

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Uber Self-Driving Car

A House subcommittee approved critical legislation for the fast-developing driverless car movement this week that sets specific rules for how many such vehicles can be on U.S. roads and the federal government’s role in regulating them. While it would give companies developing the technology the national framework they want, it also raises questions over who is best-suited to ensure this cutting-edge technology is safe.

Under proposed rules that will come before the full House for a vote in September, manufacturers could put up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles per company on U.S. roads every year, with a requirement that they certify the safety of those vehicles with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. If approved, the proposal would preempt the current patchwork of state-level rules for operating self-driving cars and trucks. They build off a basic set of guidelines issued by President Barack Obama’s Transportation Department last September.

“The need for this legislation was laid out by the Obama Administration,” said Rep. Bob Latta, the Ohio Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection. “From the front bumper to the back bumper, whether it is a car, a pickup truck or a van, how the vehicle works and is designed should be the province of the federal government as has been the case for more than 50 years.”

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California, which has issued permits to 36 companies testing about 200 autonomous vehicles in the state, would no longer be able to set its own guidelines if the federal proposal becomes law. But whether federal safety officials ultimately are better-suited to validate manufacturers’ safety claims for the artificial intelligence, algorithms and next-generation vision and sensing technologies that go into self-driving cars remains in question.

“There’s this whole gray ground about who is in the best position to regulate these new cars, which go beyond the traditional car into almost driving a computer and software,” said attorney Sharon Klein, a partner in the autonomous vehicle practice for Pepper Hamilton LLP. “There’s been this debate about whether NHTSA as an agency should continue to be involved in deployment as well.”

The new rules rely on companies to certify the safety of their systems. The concern is that NHTSA, the country’s primary auto safety regulator, lacks the software and computer science expertise needed to validate their technical claims, Klein said.

“It comes down to a question of who is going to be watching the manufacturers?” she told Forbes.

Along with the growing number of robotic vehicles in California, states including Michigan, Massachusetts and Nevada are home to ever larger test fleets. Waymo, the Alphabet Inc. unit created last year to commercialize Google’s self-driving car technology, has already begun a large-scale public test in Arizona that may eventually grow to hundreds of driverless vehicles ferrying people around Phoenix.

General Motors, Uber, Lyft, Ford companies are following suit, and Tesla intends to give its electric vehicles full autonomous capability within the next year or two via over-the-air updates.

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In 2016, NHTSA and the Transportation Department defined 15 areas that manufacturers need to comply with when they put self-driving vehicles on the road. That basic framework will put the agency in an administrative role, ensuring certain benchmarks are met, despite lacking specific knowledge of the software and algorithms powering autonomous systems.

“There’s no way NHTSA has the technical capability to do this right now,” said Mike Ramsey, an automotive tech analyst with Gartner Research in Detroit.

“NHTSA is really the arbiter of ‘does it appear that you have done all the things you need to do?’ It’s counting on the fear of deaths and lawsuits that could arise to prevent carmakers from doing something egregious,” he said.

Insurance companies will also act as a “shadow regulator” to keep manufacturers honest in their technical claims, Ramsey said. “The fact is unsafe (autonomous) technology would quickly become uninsurable.”

Consumer Watchdog, a safety advocacy group, called on congress to give NHTSA more resources to better address this major technological shift and opposed the reduced role of individual states to regulate robotic cars and trucks.

“Lost in the hyperbole over robot cars is a realistic assessment of the likely costs to both consumers and taxpayers particularly over the coming decades, when robot cars and human drivers will share a ‘hybrid highway,’ John Simpson, director of the Santa Monica, California-based group’s privacy project, said in a statement.

“Pre-empting the states’ ability to fill the void left by federal inaction leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish with no safety protections at all,” said Simpson, who called on California House members to oppose the subcommittee proposal.

For its part, the California DMV said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation. The department has been tasked with setting regulations for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on state roadways since 2014. – Written by 

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The Efficiency Of Mining With Drones

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Can mines become more efficient – and safe – through tech? Robots, drones and virtual reality tools are now being used for sophisticated drilling operations.

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The Fight of a Bot Named Madiba

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For one of the biggest robotics competitions on earth, a team of Generation Z-ers from South Africa made their way to Mexico accompanied by a robot with the fists and fury to fight.

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MultiChoice, Africa’s Biggest TV Operator, To Be Listed By Naspers, Africa’s Largest Public Company

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Koos Bekker, billionaire and chairman of Naspers Ltd., reacts during an interview at his office in Cape Town, South Africa, on Thursday, May 7, 2015. South Africa lacks a coherent economic policy and government departments are failing to work together, said Bekker, chairman of Africa's biggest company. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Naspers, the emerging markets internet and media giant which is the largest public company in Africa, will list its satellite television subsidiary MultiChoice, it has announced.

MultiChoice’s DStv service is the biggest TV operation in Africa, broadcasting to some 50 countries, and was one of the first satellite companies to pioneer the then newly-minted digital broadcasting when it began in 1996.

The spun-off company will be listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and will be known as MultiChoice Group. It will include MultiChoice South Africa, MultiChoice Africa, Showmax Africa, and Irdeto. Naspers will retain its primary listing on the JSE.

“This marks a significant step for the Naspers Group as we continue our evolution into a global consumer internet company,” said Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk. “Listing MultiChoice Group via an unbundling aims to unlock value for Naspers shareholders and at the same time create an empowered, top-40 JSE-listed African entertainment company.”

MultiChoice has been part of Naspers’ Video Entertainment division, which had revenue of ZAR47.1-billion ($3.1-billion), a trading profit of R6.1-billion ($401.6-million) and added 1.5-million subscribers in the last financial year, according to Naspers figures. It “is one of the fastest growing pay-TV operators globally. Its multi-platform business entertains 13.5-million households across Africa.. and employs more than 9,000 people in Africa,” it said. A further 20,000 people are employed by its partners and suppliers on the continent.

MultiChoice offers online streaming services called ShowMax (which offers a pure-play service in Poland) and DStv Now.

“The Video Entertainment business is an African success story. This unbundling and listing is expected to deliver value to the South African economy as well as to Naspers and Phuthuma Nathi shareholders. Naspers will continue to invest in South Africa through our interest in e-commerce business such as Takealot, Mr. D Food, PayU, OLX, Property24, and AutoTrader, amongst others,” Van Dijk added.

Phuthuma Nathi is a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) scheme in South Africa, BEE is government policy designed to redress the injustices of Apartheid. The unbundling is subject to regulatory approval in various African countries.

“Listing and unbundling MultiChoice Group is intended to create a  leading entertainment business listed on the JSE that is profitable and cash generative. WE offer an unmatched selection of local and original content, as well as a world-class sports offering. Our leadership team is diverse, experienced and well-positioned to take the company forward,” said Video Entertainment chief executive Imtiaz Patel. “There are growth opportunities for MultiChoice Group in Africa. The combination of MultiChoice’s reach, Showmax and DStv Now’s cutting-edge internet television service, alongside Irdeto’s 360-security suite will provide a unique offering. Our customer focus, international and local content, and pioneering technology places MultiChoice Group at the forefront of African digital transformation.”

Earlier this year Naspers sold a 2% stake in Tencent for nearly $10-billion to fund its internet growth and offloaded its share in Indian e-commerce business Flipkart to Walmart. In mid-2016, Naspers became the first South African company to reach the magical R1-trillion valuation.

For decades MultiChoice was the crown jewel of the Naspers stable, until its internet interest – especially Tencent – became the group’s focus. The first channel, called M-Net, was the brainchild of Koos Bekker, now Naspers chairman, who was studying for an MBA at Columbia University. At the time it launches in 1986 M-Net was one of only two pay-TV channels in the world.

Bekker told me that he had seen the success of HBO during his studies and approached Ton Vosloo, then CEO of Nationale Pers (Naspers), a large newspaper group with Afrikaans-language publications, with his idea. Vosloo was keen to find another revenue stream for Naspers which had been awarded a broadcast license by the South African government to compensate them because significant advertising revenue was being spent with the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

DStv’s first broadcast in October 1986 was the final of a provincial rugby competition, called the Currie Cup, between provinces then known as Western Province and Transvaal.

But, with massive capital investment and huge overheads, within a year it faced severe financial pressures as it struggled to attract customers.

“By Feb [19]87 our viewing audience was so pathetic we had to give make-good ads to advertisers on the basis of one-paid, two-free,” Bekker told me at the 30th anniversary of M-Net in 2016, where a holographic depiction of Trevor Noah reminisced how integral and influential the channel had been to South African culture.

“By March [19]87 our trading results were turnover of half a million Rand, loss of ZAR3,5m for the month. Since our backers were newspaper groups of small to moderate size, they couldn’t bear that sort of bleeding. We were a few weeks away from the end.”

MultiChoice’s strategic advantage was its choice of new technology (well-made decoders) and a clever change in strategy (from selling to apartment complexes and to single homes), something Bekker would prove adept at doing when he bought a one-third stake in 2000 for $30-million in a then-unknown Chinese messaging company called Tencent, whose QQ instant messaging service now has over 1-billion customers.

The decoders “sold sweetly, since we now needed to persuade only a single guy and it didn’t matter what his neighbors thought”.

M-Net “scraped through by the skin of our teeth, and by the end of [19]88 were breaking even on a monthly basis” and became profitable in 1990. It was listed a year later and Bekker took over as Naspers CEO in 1996, a decade after his big gamble on the nascent digital television market had become a roaring success.

Bekker is now one of South Africa’s best – and best-known – businessman. His gamble on Tencent has made Naspers the most valued listed company in Africa, after AB InBev bought South African Breweries. It is the most valuable media company outside of the US and China and the seventh largest internet company in the world.

Naspers growth and status, as well as its entrepreneurial culture, is because of Bekker, who also brought “equality to this business right in the beginning, thanks to Koos. He set the pace for how the public company in the new coming South Africa would have to look. No discrimination whatsoever.”

He added: “The outlook of being together and all being equal, and no discrimination, set the pace and the scene like no other public company had done up to that time. So in that sense, M-Net is the great pioneer that led us into the new South Africa.”

Vosloo repeated a mantra that has defined both Naspers’ risk taking and Bekker’s first-name leadership style: “Of course he was known as Koos, and everybody says Koos Says So.”

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