When AI is not smart enough for the job

I was wondering what to write about this week and then I saw the Japanese Amazon story and how it relates to artificial intelligence. Labour unions in Japan have been a thing since World War II, but delivery drivers for Amazon Japan were not unionised, until recently.

Amazon implemented AI software that gave plans and routes to delivery drivers. The problem was that the routes could not be completed in the planned time. So, the drivers in Nagasaki unionised, the second group to do so after Amazon workers in Yokosuka. In a statement, the workers said: “The AI often doesn’t account for real-world conditions like rivers or train tracks or roads that are too narrow for vehicles. The results are unreasonable demands and long hours.”

– In the AI world, there are some key elements here. The AI should have been trained to recognise narrow roads that delivery trucks cannot pass. It should also have better maps that warn of rivers and railways. This would seem obvious to us, but if the AI has not been trained for these conditions, it will find the most efficient route according to the rules that can turn out to be the least efficient one. The AI doesn’t care that the drivers will end up with 12-hour-or-more days as it is just doing route programming. Examples like these are common where poor training has been applied to a problem. As a side note, publicly available maps in many Asian countries are not always as accurate as system developers might like, so that may be a contributing factor.

– For many, the concept of a database is of no interest because things just happen. Hotels and flights get booked, orders are taken, processed and delivered and the government can tell us how many single-bedroom houses there are in a given area. Going back through time starting with ERMA, we have seen products like Oracle, Microsoft and DB2 then Object Oriented and multidimensional databases like Essbase. After that came the NoSQL products like HBase, MongoDb and Neo4J, followed by the search engine-focused products like Elasticsearch. The original products have added a columnar store and other functionality to try and keep up but the wider programming community wants open-source products.

– If you are mostly transaction based, ie single items that require the support of table joins to perform, then the open-source relational database management system (RDBMS) of choice is either PostgreSQL or MySQL. The latter lost some interest when it was corporatised by Oracle. Postgres has many flavours from the individual to the enterprise. It can come down to economics, and in general, Oracle is more expensive than Postgres to implement. The newer start-ups are also not tied to the old corporate ways of thinking so they can think beyond the older databases. These aren’t as “exciting” as the newer stuff. Postgres and MySQL now have a lot of history and development behind them and they have most of the modern feature set. I’ll cover more on this in stages.

– Some believe that a cyber-attack won’t affect them, perhaps because they don’t have a computer at home. The InterContinental Hotels Group manages 17 brands with over 6,000 hotels and a bit under 900,000 rooms in more than 100 countries. In a recent attack, their IT systems were compromised affecting worldwide bookings and other services. This meant many could not book rooms in their usual hotels. By the time you read this, I expect the issues have been resolved but this is an example of a cyber-attack that can unexpectedly directly affect you.

– Apple has received a small slap-on-the-wrist fine of US$2.38 million (86.4 million baht) from Brazil for removing chargers from their newer phones since 2020. Apple claims this is good for the environment but Brazil has said it is not good for their customers. I assume that companies like Samsung will also face this issue as they recently dropped chargers from their packs. Brazil has also suspended the sale of any iPhone 12 or newer which will hurt Apple more. There may be more judicial action taken if Apple doesn’t come into line.

– With the continued threat to Taiwan, the Commerce Department in the US has decided that having 10% of global chip capacity but just 3% of global packaging, assembling and testing services may not be good for the long term. To that end, they are offering a 25% investment tax credit (ITC) on domestic fabrication projects. Along with the tax credits, there will also be grants, loans, loan guarantees and co-operative agreements in the mix as part of the recently passed CHIPS Act.

– Finally for this week, we have Instagram. Owned by Meta, previously known as Facebook, Instagram has been fined close to $400 million for mishandling children’s data. Instagram exposed children’s email addresses and phone numbers because minors could easily upgrade their accounts to business accounts, presumably to see their analytics for their blog sites and other postings. At the same time, this made more of their info available to others. Meta intends to appeal this decision which possibly exposes more about the organisation’s attitudes to such things than concern.


James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years’ standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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