American public fears AI’s impact on employment, says Syzygy

American public fears AI's impact on employment

Over two-thirds (70 percent) of the American public fear artificial intelligence’s impact on employment, reveals a new study from digital company Syzygy.

The impact of AI on our day-to-day lives has been a hot topic in IoT news of late. The wider public are aware that AI, robotics and automation are combining to shake up the world in which we live.

These are justifiable concerns that tabloid newspapers love to feed, with proclamations that the rise of robotics signals the end of humanity – especially when the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk weigh in on the subject.

It’s important, therefore, that a more considered discourse takes place, which measures and responds to public concerns and questions, as well as taking steps to protect the people and economies affected by emerging technologies, when necessary.

A report from digital agency Syzygy, led by Dr Paul Marsden, has gauged the prevailing attitudes of the American people, in a paper titled Sex, Lies and A.I.

In an attempt to clarify a term that marketing has rendered virtually meaningless, Syzygy defines AI simply as, “technology that behaves intelligently, using skills we normally associate with human intelligence, including the ability to hold conversations, learn, reason and solve problems”.

Read more: Opinion divided on impact of AI on jobs market, says BT survey

AI hopes & fears

Most of the participants appear open to AI playing a greater role in their lives, particularly in how they interact with businesses and brands – with over two thirds accepting the idea. However, there is widespread scepticism about the benefits of AI technology, with 88 percent of Americans believing that AI in marketing should be regulated by an ethical code of conduct.

The report concludes that businesses employing automated solutions must communicate the practical and personal benefits of AI, stressing how it will make people’s lives easier.

This comes with the caveat that we want to know when an AI is being used. Eighty-seven percent of the American public supports a new ‘Blade Runner law’ that makes it illegal for AI applications such as social media bots, chatbots and virtual assistants to conceal their identity and pose as humans.

This is despite the fact that we generally prefer AIs to reflect human emotions and appearances. ‘Conscientiousness’ was elected the most important personality trait for an AI application, conveying the sense of dependability, dutifulness and efficiency.

According to the report, the emotions evoked by AI are mixed – the most dominant being: ‘interested’ (45 percent), ‘concerned’ (41 percent) and ‘skeptical’ (40 percent). Many people (52 percent) in the US believe AI technology is already influencing their lives; 41 percent remember seeing AI in the media in the last month; and 55 percent use a virtual assistant such as Siri or Alexa.

AI's impact on employment

US public’s greatest AI fears (credit: SYZYGY)

Read more: Lost jobs but happier customers — insurance embraces AI and IoT

AI’s impact on employment

While participants, generally hope that AI will make their lives easier, there are fears that job automation will have repercussions for employment in the US (with 30% labelling it as their top fear). Those surveyed also predict that over one-third (36 percent) of their current job duties could be replace by AI in the next five years.

The report also revealed strong support for ‘LAWS’ – lethal autonomous weapon systems, popularly referred to as ‘killer robots’.

“Seventy-one percent of Americans believe that this AI technology should be permitted in armed conflict. This US sentiment stands in stark contrast to the call for an outright ban on these weapons by Elon Musk, Neuralink CEO and chairman of OpenAI, along with over 100 leaders in AI research.”

The American public seems generally open to the adoption of AI in their day to day lives. However, the report highlights the desire for greater regulation and transparency in how artificial intelligence is employed by businesses, particularly when it comes to the potential for AI to mislead and manipulate. This feeling of helplessness is epitomised in the participants fears around AI’s impact on employment.

Read more: Research reveals potential dangers of ‘prejudiced’ AI

The ethical challenges of AI

Even when we accept emerging AI technologies, difficult ethical questions remain. The survey raises a moral conundrum that has been increasingly debated since the advent of autonomous cars: how should the AI react in the split seconds before an accident? Syzygy’s report presents the dilemma like this:

“The autonomous vehicle rounds a corner and detects a crosswalk full of children. It brakes, but your lane is unexpectedly full of sand from a recent rock slide. It can’t get traction. Your car does some calculations: If it continues braking, it will almost certainly kill five children. The only way to save them is to steer you off the cliff to your certain death. What should the car do?”

It’s a difficult moral position and any answer will need to be pre-programmed into the vehicle. Mercedes-Benz execute Chistoph von Hugo revealed to Fortune Magazine last year that it’s autonomous cars will save the car’s drivers and passengers, even at the expense of pedestrians’ lives.

Given that only 30 percent of Americans would travel in a car programmed to minimize fatalities, even at the expense of its own passengers, it’s a seemingly impossible marketing situation. Yet these are the sorts of questions that businesses must answer if they are to provide the clarity the American public is demanding and reassure them that a future with AI is one that stands to benefit humankind more widely than they fear.

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Are North American utilities safe against cyber attacks?


Last month, public reports from ESET and Dragos outlined a new, highly capable Industrial Controls Systems (ICS) attack platform — the one reportedly used in 2016 against critical utilities infrastructure in Ukraine.

CRASHOVERRIDE (alternately named Industroyer), the malware framework used on a cyberattack on the Ukraine electric grid in 2016, hit an electric transmission station near Kiev, blacking out a sizable portion of the city. Attackers overwrote firmware on critical devices at 16 substations, leaving them unresponsive to any remote commands from operators.

As a result of the attacks, 80,000 customers went without electricity for six hours in winter, and workers had to control the substations and breakers manually. The attack itself only lasted an hour, but cybersecurity experts are concerned that the attack was used as proof of concept, rather than a full demonstration of the malware’s capability, which suggests that a more complex, serious attack may be in the works. The Kiev attack is only the second-known case of malicious code used to disrupt physical systems — the United States and Israel employed the first, Stuxnet, to destroy centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in 2009.

See also: How is the new age of digital transformation affecting utilities?

A company in the United States called Full Spectrum Inc. has come up with a way to mitigate the risks of such attacks through the provision of private broadband cellular data networks to utility companies. 

Full Spectrum’s network radios enable wide-area intelligence networks for smart grids, smart pipes, smart fields, and any other mission-critical networks that need internet protocol connectivity. In the United States, there are roughly 3,300 electric utility companies and each of them has to manage its assets securely and reliably. The physical communications network is a “critical component of the connectivity,” according to Full Spectrum CEO Stewart Kantor. 

“[We developed] our technology … so utility companies could, with very little infrastructure, cover huge portions of their service territories,” Kantor said. “4G and 5G technology offered by the commercial wireless industry is short-range … and very expensive. We designed our broadband digital wireless technology … to use very tall tower sites with high power radios at both the base stations and remote radio sites using licensed VHF and UHF frequencies. One of our base stations provides coverage up to 8,000 square kilometers, versus 80 square kilometers with 4G and 8 square kilometers with 5G.”

The company uses several different licensed VHF and UHF frequencies in adaptable channel sizes — a capability that is unique to its radio technology. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), one of the world’s leading utility research institutions, has even proposed using Full Spectrum’s technology as a new worldwide wireless standard for industrial networks.

Kantor said that the deployment of utility smart meters in the 2000s provided visibility into real-time customer usage but did not provide the utilities with the ability to “adjust” supply and demand in the grid in real time. Full Spectrum’s new private wireless technology bridges that gap by providing a secure and reliable network for higher-level grid functions like substation automation and distribution automation (DA), including circuit breakers, switches, capacitor bank controllers, and even solar inverters.

In a private network, the utility companies own, operate, and control the system, and can keep it either completely off the public internet or with only very short periods of secure internet connectivity.



What happens with a utility cyberattack?

An attack like CHRASHOVERRIDE is capable of directly controlling electricity substation switches and circuit breakers. It manipulates globally-common industrial communication protocols in power supply infrastructure, transportation control systems, and other critical infrastructure. The potential impact may range from simply turning off power distribution, triggering a cascade of failures, to more serious damage to equipment.

“There are a variety of vehicles for malware to infiltrate a network,” Kantor said. “A co-worker could introduce a thumb drive that has the virus that then gets distributed to the network controlling the RTUs. It can be hidden in the controller software from the vendor, and so on. The bottom line is that the combination of physical and digital isolation creates a higher level of security and protection and can also reduce recovery time.”

Let’s take an attack of multiple major fiber cuts to the commercial providers, like what happened in the Bay Area in 2009 or during the Coyote Point Substation attack.  The fiber cuts revealed that much commercial internet traffic was carried over the same fiber points of presence for all providers. Such attacks would have a huge, disastrous impact on a utility company if they were relying on a commercial network.

Securing areas through private networks

Full Spectrum recently announced that it will begin deploying its own private network service for companies that require secure and reliable networks but are not capable of running the network themselves.  The first private network service will launch in the Metropolitan New York Area, followed by one in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Our network in the New York Metro Area will initially cover up to 52,000 square kilometers with the ability to originate and terminate IP traffic without ever touching the public Internet,” Kantor said.

Private data networks will overlay an area with secure technology in case of an attack on a public network. 

“So imagine someone begins to jam frequencies used by automated vehicles,” Kantor said. “Our network can serve as a backup safety network allowing things to come to a reasonable stopping place.”

Kantor envisions a private nationwide network with a variety of secure and reliable applications — conducting autonomous vehicle traffic, sensor traffic for perimeter security, radiation sensors with high-end sensing, and data networks for specific applications. 

Mass adoption of Full Spectrum’s technology will be revolutionary in improving reliability and efficiency, and in replacing aging infrastructure.

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Sinergia Tech finds investors for first Latin American hardware accelerator

Montevideo cityscape  from port district

Uruguay — best known for its art deco buildings and many steakhouses — will now add leading tech hub to its many great titles.  

Sinergia Tech raised $ 500,000 to launch the very first hardware accelerator in Latin America. The firm, known for its technological development, digital fabrication, and prototyping laboratory, can offer a unique environment for aspiring hardware startups.

See also: Readwrite Labs launching their new incubation program

The accelerator, based in Montevideo, Uruguay, plans to fund close to 500 tech startups with a focus on IoT, smart cities, smart agriculture and smart hemp.  The chosen startups will receive investment sizes of between $ 25,000 to $ 100,000. 

Montevideo is looking to position itself as a melting pot for tech leadership due to its highly sought-after tech talent, free exchange market and a stable social, legal and political environment.

First cohort will have 20 startups

Sinergia Tech will be selecting 20 startup finalists into the first batch, with a goal of choosing 5 winners to continue the program and assist with international growth.  A network of 15 local mentors, as well as more than 80 international profiles, will form a support network to assist the startups.  The mentorship of these startups will include personalized feedback, and a tailored approach based on the needs of each team.

The startups chosen to participate in the accelerator will have access to state of the art equipment — such as a laser cutter, 3D printers, CNC router, circuit printer, cut plotters, and traditional tools.  Moreover, startup teams will also have access to robotics and electronics gear. 

The goal of Sinergia Tech, aside from creating a hardware accelerator to assist entrepreneurs and startup teams within the hardware space; is to empower young men and women by helping them achieve their dreams.  By doing so, Sinergia Tech hopes to motivate and inspire others to take up the entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs and startup teams requiring more information should visit Sinergia’s website.

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Why many major American companies have struggled in China: A final word

iStock-508210240 (1)

This is the final installment of an eight-part series about the importance of cross-cultural design which examined several attempts by large, well-known American companies to expand their reach by marketing in China. As this series exposed, the bulk of those attempts have failed to achieve much success, even though China is the second largest economy in the world, and it described some primary reasons why they failed.  Set forth below is a summary of the primary lessons which can be drawn by other American companies to help them successfully sell there.

See AlsoChina planning massive innovation for state-operated companies

China holds promise for most American businesses. It is a large market that inherently desires high tech and luxury goods. Globalization is not only a trend, but a reality of how future business will be done. In response to some protectionist governments, Xi Jinping, the President of China, has come out urging all nations to actively welcome globalization. Fear of doing business in China is natural, but this should never stop an American business from trying to expand there. While there are many examples of businesses that have lost money (several of which are discussed in prior installments in this series), the ones that do make it in China reap great rewards. IKEA has dominated the home improvement market and Fitbit has inspirationally been able to learn from its past mistakes and even overtake its primary, initially more China-savvy, competitor.

See AlsoIn a world worn out on wearables, China still likes them

The examples discussed earlier (in prior installments in this series) demonstrate a few key things that all American businesses should be mindful of in attempting to put their best foot forward in China.

  • A lack of understanding about Chinese society and its realities.
  • Never have assumptions about how Chinese consumers will act based on experiences in other markets.
  • Find homegrown Chinese partners with which mutually beneficial guanxi is possible.
  • Never give the Chinese government a reason to root against your company.

Although this series has focused on attempts to enter China by large American companies, the lessons drawn are applicable to any attempt by an American company to do business in China, even those who have plenty of cash to invest in the attempt. And for those which must be more careful about or limited in their use of funds, the stakes of ignoring these lessons are even higher. More limited funding will no doubt mean a shorter runway for the attempt, and therefore less time to learn, and the consequences will likely be greater to the overall company. Companies that intend on banking on only the luxury aspect and brand name recognition of its product must be the most careful as short term success could cause complacency and failure to follow the lessons described above. Given the size of the Chinese market though, a smart attempt to sell there is likely to pass the risk-reward threshold for many companies.

祝你好运!(Good luck!)

The author is Clayton “CJ” Jacobs, who is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with, and the Head of Cross-Cultural Design at, ReadWrite. An area of focus for him is helping American companies understand and enter the Chinese market through taking a modern user-centric product design approach. You can contact him directly at clayton.michael.jacobs(at) or find him on Twitter & LinkedIn.

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Why many major American companies have struggled in China: Fitbit


This article is part of a series about the importance of cross-cultural design, other installments of which have been published over the last month.

Fitbit is a story of hope. After its entry into China in 2014, it had a lackluster two years.  But then it completely changed its strategy to be more China-specific and has been rewarded for doing so.

See AlsoDid Fitbit try to buy longstanding rival Jawbone for Christmas?

In the beginning, Fitbit really did nothing special to sell its products there and was instead riding the hype and “cool factor” that was associated with its product being a new concept in America. While this is not an awful strategy to sell gadgets, it can very easily turn a company into a “one hit wonder” with little prospect of long-term sustainability.

Beyond the standard struggles Fitbit was having, wearable exercise technology was an over- saturated market in China with the heavy majority of the options being significantly less expensive than a Fitbit of any model. One advantage which allowed Fitbit to survive long enough to change its strategy and eventually thrive was that the Chinese market has a huge bias towards recognizable brands for reasons of quality and status. With the continuing middle-class growth in China, more consumers are able to purchase brand name items as a status symbol. And many Chinese consumers feel pressure to do so.

While Fitbit never came out and acknowledged that its Chinese market share was falling near the end of 2015, its primary competitor, Misfit, a company heavily invested in by Xiaomi (owner of, made sure to let the world know how rapidly its products were gaining market share against Fitbit. Misfit was playing China the right way with its Xiaomi partnership since Xiaomi was using to spoon feed Misfit to Chinese consumers. As discussed earlier in connection with WalMart (see the fourth installment), is China’s largest e-commerce site. Even though Misfit is a company based in San Francisco with only a few dozen employees, it conducted a $ 40 million USD Series C funding round in which Xiaomi was a large investor. After this funding, Misfit began to quickly gain traction in China with the help of its new partner, Xiaomi.

Learn from Fitbit’s pivots

Every American company thinking about going to China should take notes from Fitbit’s ability to learn and pivot. Seeing Misfit’s success, Fitbit worked hard to find the right partnership and develop guanxi with another major player in China. It did this by partnering with a subsidiary of Alibaba, Tmall (discussed in the sixth installment of this series). The reason this move was so incredibly clever is that Alibaba is a natural competitor of Misfit’s investor, Xiaomi. And the purpose of Tmall is to provide a channel for luxury brand items that are verified to be legitimate and sold directly to the Chinese consumer. This, of course, is very helpful to Fitbit.

See AlsoFitness wearables bulk up as consolidation trends build

In addition to its efforts to develop corporate guanxi, Fitbit has developed a good relationship with the Chinese government. It joined in an effort important to the Chinese government by being one of the partners for Alibaba’s government-sponsored initiative “China is Getting Fit.”

There is an enormous difference between the companies described earlier (in the second through the sixth installments of this series) who failed in China and Fitbit, who developed strategic partnerships with Chinese companies and befriended the Chinese government through helping to represent its health initiative. It cannot be stressed enough that while Fitbit is incredibly innovative and smart for its approach, any company could follow a similar path.

The author is Clayton “CJ” Jacobs, who is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with, and the Head of Cross-Cultural Design at, ReadWrite. An area of focus for him is helping American companies understand and enter the Chinese market through taking a modern user-centric product design approach. You can contact him directly at clayton.michael.jacobs(at) or find him on Twitter & LinkedIn.

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