Read for Later - “Voice is natural”

This week’s headline quotes John Brownstein, Boston Children’s Hospital’s chief innovation officer, on a new feature that lets the parents of heart-surgery patients use the hospital’s new Alexa feature to report whether their children are experiencing pain or diminished appetite after surgery (The Wall Street Journal “Amazon wants you to use Alexa to track health care”).

You can always check out the Center's trend collection to see how this scanning comes together to identify trends relevant to our futures.

What new information has sparked your interest? Drop me a line to let me know what you're reading or discovering that helps you consider the future of libraries.

Five Highlights

TechCrunch “Europe to pilot AI ethics rules, calls for participants”
The European Union published a set of guidelines on how companies and governments should develop ethical applications of artificial intelligence – developed with a group of 52 experts the seven guidelines include human agency and oversight; technical robustness and safety; privacy and data governance; transparency; diversity, non-discrimination, and fairness; environmental and societal well-being; and accountability.

The Verdict “Starship Technologies completes 50,000 commercial deliveries”
Starship Technologies, which uses small self-driving robotic vehicles for deliveries in over 100 cities, announced that it has completed over 50,000 commercial deliveries. See also Digital Trends “Delivery robots are poised to invade our cities, but are we ready for them?” and The Wall Street Journal “Who comes to the rescue of stranded robots? Humans”

The Outline “Are the kids all right? These school surveillance apps sure want to tell you”
A look at the growing network of educational technology programs and apps designed to supervise students online, but which often surveil students and limit their sense of privacy and agency.

Engadget “Google opens a pop-up learning center in New York City”
Google announced a new temporary learning center, the Google NYC Learning Center, that will offer hands-on workshops and courses as well as one-on-one training and coaching sessions to members of the community.

The Wall Street Journal “Amazon wants you to use Alexa to track health care”
Amazon is positioning Alexa, its artificial-intelligence assistant, to track consumers’ prescriptions and relay personal health information using software that meets health-privacy requirements under federal law – five companies, including insurer Cigna Corp., diabetes-management company Livongo Health, and major hospital systems, said they developed new Alexa features for consumers using the federal protocol.

Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Learning Machines

The Wall Street Journal “Walmart is rolling out the robots”
Walmart is expanding its use of robots in stores to help monitor inventory, clean floors, and unload trucks, as the company seeks to control labor costs as it spends more to raise wages and offer new services like online grocery delivery – 300 stores will add machines that scan shelves for out-of-stock products; 1,500 stores will receive autonomous floor scrubbers; and 1,200 stores will receive conveyor belts that automatically scan and sort products as they come off trucks. See also TechCrunch “The startup behind Walmart’s shelf-scanning robots” and Vox “Walmart says its new robots will make human employees happier”


The Guardian “Google's world-first drone delivery business wins approval in Canberra”
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has approved plans from Alphabet’s Project Wing service for drone delivery of food and medicine in suburbs around the capital city of Canberra.

The Environment

CityLab “'100 Resilient Cities' is no more. Now what?”
The Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S.-based philanthropy devoted to promoting “the well-being of humanity throughout the world,” announced plans to wind down financial support for its 100 Resilient Cities resilience program, which had become one of the largest privately funded climate-change initiatives in the world with a goal to fund 100 chief resilience officer (or CRO) positions in municipal governments around the world.

The Verge “Thousands of Amazon employees ask the company to adopt a climate change plan”
In an open letter to Amazon’s board of directors and CEO Jeff Bezos, thousands of employees have asked the company to adopt a wide-ranging plan to fight climate change, the latest example of tech industry employees going public to pressure leadership into action.

Restaurants, Retail, and Spaces

CNBC “Amazon exec tells employees that Go stores will start accepting cash to address 'discrimination' concerns”
Amazon Go stores, which let customers buy items without waiting in checkout lines, will start accepting cash, amid intensifying criticism that the company is discriminating against the unbanked – at an internal all-hands meeting, Steve Kessel, Amazon's senior vice president of physical stores, highlighted new payment methods Amazon has recently added to its site, including a pilot that accepts government subsidized SNAP benefits and a new program called Amazon Cash, which lets users add cash to their digital accounts by bringing money to a local store like 7-Eleven or CVS.

Streaming Media

Bloomberg “YouTube is developing choose-your-own-adventure programs”
A new unit within YouTube will develop interactive programs and choose-your-own-adventure-style shows, exploring a new storytelling format that could increase viewers and ad sales for the world’s largest video website.

The New York Times “Disney Plus streaming service is unveiled to Hollywood fanfare”
Disney Plus, a new subscription video service dedicated to movies and shows from Disney, Pixar, the Star Wars franchise, National Geographic, and Marvel will cost $7 a month (Netflix’s cheapest plan is $9, and its standard plan is $13) and launch in November – the service will feature 10 original films and 25 original series, including three Avengers spinoffs.

Billboard “Amazon in talks to launch ad-supported music offering: Exclusive”
According to sources, Amazon has entered into discussions to launch a free, ad-supported music service through its voice-activated Echo speakers, intensifying its competitive threat to global streaming leader Spotify.


TechCrunch “Bird will launch electric scooters in 50+ European cities”
Electric scooter service Bird is gearing up to launch in more than 50 additional cities throughout Europe this spring, increasing its European fleet size more than ten-fold.

Voice Control

Bloomberg “Amazon workers are listening to what you tell Alexa”
To help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers, Amazon employs teams of contractors and employees who listen to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices, transcribing, annotating, and then feeding back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.