3 Lesser Known App Marketplaces for Entrepreneurs Seeking to Build an App Business

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Think that Google Play and the App Store are your only options? Think again.


7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Chances are, when you think of app marketplaces, Google Play and Apple’s App Store are the first that come to mind. And well they should.

Both platforms have been highly lucrative for entrepreneurs and developers alike, after all. Revenue paid to app business owners from the App Store totaled $26.5 billion in 2017, according to Apple. Gross revenue from Google Play apps came to $20.1 billion over the same period, per SensorTower.

Related: Getting Started With Small Business App Development

Approximately $14 billion of that went to app business owners, based on the 70/30 revenue split that both Google Play and the App Store offer on paid apps and in-app purchases. Total revenue for both app stores topped $58 billion — a year-over-year increase of 35 percent over 2016. For 2020, Statista has predicted that mobile app revenue will jump to $188.9 billion.

Fierce competition in the app space

Alongside these staggering revenue projections comes fierce competition in the mobile app space. As of Q3 2018, there were over 4 million apps available in Google Play and the App Store combined, per Statista. Why so many? The relatively low barrier to entry to mobile app development — and the potential rewards if an app meets with success — are at least partly responsible for the glut.

All this presents a challenge for you if you’re developing an app of your own. Even if — through marketing and positive reviews — you’re able to distinguish your app from the millions of others, and convince a consumer to download it, Statista shows that the struggle to gain traction with users is far from easy. Close to 25 percent of apps downloaded in 2017 were used just once in the first six months after they were downloaded.

Given that a large proportion of mobile apps rely on freemium pricing or in-app purchases for revenue, persuading a customer to download a particular mobile app is often only the first step on the road to meaningful revenue.

Still, while the potential rewards of developing a successful iOS or Android app are enormous, the Play and App Stores are far from the only options for entrepreneurs looking to build, monetize and sell an app.

Here, then, is a look at three lesser-known marketplaces for entrepreneurs seeking to build an app business.

Shopify App Store

Since launching in 2004, Shopify, the Canadian ecommerce software giant, which was initially founded to hawk snowboards, now commands almost 10 percent of global ecommerce market share, according to Statista.

Related: 6 Big Challenges Faced By Startups When Developing Mobile Apps

Shopify is actually the most popular stand-alone ecommerce platform. WooCommerce, which powers a staggering 28 percent of ecommerce sites worldwide, is a plug-in that adds ecommerce functionality to sites running on WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system.

Shopify’s App Store is home to almost  1,200 paid apps that extend the functionality of the platform. Many Shopify app purveyors, such as ShopStorm, offer a suite of products, each aimed at solving a different problem for merchants.

If you happen to be a Shopify merchant, and you’ve come across an issue that an existing app doesn’t address, consider doing some research in the heavily trafficked Shopify merchant forums. If other users are experiencing the same issue, an app that solves the problem might just have a significant audience. If you’re brainstorming app ideas, the forums are an ideal place to start.

Shopify offers developers a variety of monetization options for apps, including one-off and recurring payments, and usage-metered charges. Shopify app developer ASoft offers an amazingly insightful resource featuring a plethora of Shopify App Store metrics that is updated daily.

It’s a must-read for any entrepreneur considering developing a Shopify app, as is this blog post. Shopify charges a 20 percent commission on app sales billed through the Shopify App Store, whether the commission is a one-time payment or recurring subscription revenue.

Salesforce AppExchange

Salesforce was one of the world’s first pure software as a service (SaaS) companies, and it remains one of the most valuable, with a market cap that exceeded $100 billion in November 2018. Salesforce is the market leader in customer relationship management  and it’s widely employed by small business and the world’s largest companies alike.

As with Shopify, a diverse ecosystem of apps has emerged to extend the functionality of Salesforce’s core offering. Launched in 2005, the Salesforce App Store predates the Apple App Store’s launch by three years, making it a true pioneer in the app marketplace vertical.

Related: Top Principles to Follow For Sustainable App Development

With an estimated subscriber base of 3.75 million, according to SalesInside, there’s a good chance that a substantial number of these people are seeking solutions to issues not addressed by Salesforce out of the box.

The platform is also remarkably developer-friendly: It provides an extensive learning resource for developers called Trailhead. Salesforce also offers the Lightning app builder, which allows users to build their own simple apps without any coding required. Lightning is aimed at making it easier for Salesforce users to develop in-house solutions. Building apps for the Salesforce App Store will likely require proficiency in one of the following: Node, Ruby, Java, PHP, Python, Go, Scala or Clojure, as well as use of the Heroku development environment.

There are also up-front costs associated with listing an app in the SalesForce app store, as well as a 15 percent commission. These costs may be higher than on some other app marketplaces, but the rewards just might outweigh the additional outlay. Steve Cummins, founder of AppSelekt, has estimated that the average AppExchange paid app generated revenue of well over $900,000 per annum in 2015.

Alexa Skills

Amazon’s virtual assistant has become so ubiquitous that one friend, a partner at a large law firm, recently recounted that the first word her infant daughter spoke was “Alexa.” Since launching four short years ago, Amazon’s Alexa-powered “smart speakers,” like the Echo Plus, have almost a 65 percent market share in the United States, according to data from Voicebot. Considering that Voicebot found in a separate study that 57.8 million adults, or 23 percent of the U.S. population, own at least one smart speaker, there is already an enormous market for Alexa apps.

Amazon has dubbed these Alexa apps “Skills,” and created a dedicated Skills marketplace.

Although it’s early days for the Amazon Skills marketplace, Voicebot, the oracle of all things Alexa, recently revealed that Alexa has 50,000 Skills and works with 20,000 different devices, with 3,500 brands using it,

Amazon rivals Salesforce in the depth of learning resources it offers to developers, but there’s a catch. While Skill developer success stories abound, Amazon is currently being opaque about how it incentivizes developers, according to CNET. Watch for the terms to become more transparent in the near future.

Final thoughts

The three app marketplaces explored in this post should be carefully considered by entrepreneurs hoping to launch an app business. Other app marketplaces to check out include WordPress Plugins, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft AppSource.

Clearly, there’s a world of opportunities beyond the AppStore and Google Play for app creators and entrepreneurs. Keep them in mind for your own project.

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New Book Claims Women Have A Harder Time Staying Monogamous Than Men

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Women Cheating

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When a relationship between a man and woman finally comes crashing down, it’s usually because the dude was spending too much time chasing tail elsewhere and not showing his soul mate of the week, his queen of the now, the attention she requires to remain in a physical entanglement of lust meets love, right? After all, it has been this way since the beginning of time. Men are designed to bang everything in sight, while women long for commitment and security.

It’s a cruel joke played on us a zillion years ago by the Master of the Universe – whoever the fuck that is. It’s the reason books like “Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus” go on to become New York Times Bestsellers. Everyone is searching for an explanation as to why their relationships are so fucked up. The real battle of the sexes is that men and women both want two completely different things out of life, yet we are supposed to coexist with one partner til’ death do us part. It’s no wonder guys flip out occasionally and bone somebody else. We have to. It’s written in our DNA. But would you believe women actually have a harder time staying faithful than men?

Sorry to break it to you, fellas, but it appears to be true.

Author Wednesday Martin’s latest book UNTRUE: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free reveals that women are just as horny, devious and dog-like about their sexual escapades than men. The female persuasion wants and needs one night stands, orgies, and other unscrupulous affairs to stay sane, and they’re continually looking for the next piece of man meat to crawl under. Martin’s book attempts to set the record straight on the reasons why women cheat on their significant others as well as resolve other misconceptions about females and sex that have been perpetuated for decades by bible-thumping moralists and misogynistic ass bags. Infidelity is one subject we’ve gotten wrong.

women cheat more

iStockphoto

When it comes to screwing around on spouses, women are just as guilty as men, maybe even more, Martin says. In fact, women are actually out there getting a lot more side action that most men might would care to believe.

“There is still asymmetrical stigma about female infidelity—that is, there’s still a double standard in which we think it’s more “natural” for men to cheat—women are likely to underreport infidelity and to report preferences and behaviors that conform to social expectations,” Martin told Tonic. “Some sources suggest that 13 percent of women have stepped out on a spouse. On the higher side, there are reported rates of 50 percent of women admitting they have had intercourse with someone other than their spouse while married. I was surprised to learn that, among people in their 20s, married women outpace married men when it comes to infidelity. Also, in several US studies, male and female rates of infidelity are much closer than we’d imagine.”

Although the majority of men are convinced that the only reason their sweet baby girl would ever cheat on them is if they were no longer providing them with the “emotional connection” that all women need to stay committed, Martin says this is ego-driven bull. She says that women will step out on their spouses just to get a little swift dickin’ from some strange – the same as men. Contrary to popular opinion, women are not always searching for their next baby-daddy, sometimes it’s just about getting laid.

“They want great sex,” she said. “The women I observed and spoke with at sex parties were certainly not seeking emotional connection. They told me, “I’m here for no-strings-attached sex.” We need to account for this reality in our thinking about female sexuality, and keep learning more about it.”

Martin told Tonic that a third of women who cheat on their spouses describe their relationships as either “happy” or “very happy.” So no matter what a man does to uphold the age-old motto of “Happy wife, happy life,” chances are his love muffin is scanning the office, the bars and maybe even checking out his friends in search for a sexual partner that isn’t him.

The reality is, neither men nor women are built for long-term commitments. But “Long-term relationships are particularly hard on female desire,” Martin said.

Even though science has told us for years that women are more monogamous than men, Martin says that’s just not real. Sadly, none of us want to come home to the same person night after night, and, no matter how good the sex is with that special someone, neither men nor women are crazy about pounding it out to the same face and body for the rest of our lives. Harmonious unions are just something that society has programmed us to think is the “right” thing to do. But in reality, men and women are just animals on the prowl for the next meal and orgasm.

“We’re not naturally anyway when it comes to sex,’ Martin explained. “And there’s not one type of sex we evolved to prefer. We evolved as highly flexible sexual and social strategists. It’s one of the reasons Homo sapiens are still around.”

This is only bad news for those guys who believe there is that one and only out there waiting to be swept off her feet. She’s not. Maybe that is a cynical way to view this thing called romance, that gnawing feeling in the gut of wanting to be near that special someone at all times, but we don’t think so — at least not the author of this piece. Still, this blow to the male ego is no reason to go around slut-shaming the fairer sex. On the contrary, it is a reason to celebrate them. Now, every woman you meet, you can know, with all the confidence in the world, that she is having as many dirty thoughts as you.

Just don’t marry any of them, okay boys?

*****

Mike Adams is a freelance writer for High Times, Cannabis Now, and Forbes. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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Porsche just unveiled the all-new 911 sports car with 443 horsepower and night vision

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Porsche 911 Carrera S 992

  • The 2020 Porsche 911 sports car made its world debut at the 2018 LA Auto Show on Tuesday. 
  • The new eighth generation 911 or 992 will be available first in mid-grade Carrera S and all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S trim.
  • The Carrera S and 4S will be powered by a 443 horsepower, turbocharged boxer six-cylinder engine.
  • According to Porsche, the Carrera S can do 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds while the 4S can do it in 3.2 seconds.
  • The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S starts at $113,200 and $120,600 respectively. 

Porsche unveiled the eighth generation of its 911 sports car at the 2018 LA Auto Show on Tuesday. The new 911 is the first all-new version of the Porsche icon since 2011.

The next generation Porsche 911 will launch with the mid-grade Carrera S and all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S models. According to Porsche, the base Carrera model will be unveiled early next year. And with all the spy shots of Porsche prototypes running coming out of Europe, expect the Turbo model to follow shortly after. Eventually, the 911 lineup will be filled out with as many as two dozen different variants

Known internally as the 992, the 2020 Porsche 911’s looks are evolutionary, building upon the aesthetics of past 911s while taking elements from other Porsche models such as the Panamera’s continuous light bar that runs the length of the rear end.

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 992

Consequently, it allows the automotive journalists to continue the long-running joke that all Porsche 911s since 1964 look the same.

The interior of the 992 draws heavily from the second generation Panamera sedan that was introduced back in 2016 and won Business Insider’s 2017 Car of the Year award.

Read more: 23 hot cars we can’t wait to see at the 2018 LA Auto Show.

The highlights of the interior include the 10.9-inch widescreen infotainment display and the use of touch panels on the center console instead of buttons. 

However, the biggest shocker is the addition of a center console-mounted cup holder. Not that long ago, the Porsche didn’t even bother to include cup holders at all on the 911. The current generation had collapsible units that fold away into the dash on the passenger side of the car. While ingenious in design, it always felt a bit too flimsy to handle a venti iced coffee. The new console-mounted unit takes the 911’s cup holder game to new levels. 

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 992Now for the truly important bits. 

Mounted behind the rear axle is a 3.0 liter, turbocharged boxer six-cylinder engine that produces 443 horsepower, up 23 horsepower from the outgoing Carrera S. 

Power flows either to the rear wheels or all-four-wheels through a new eight-speed Porsche dual-clutch or PDK transmission. Fear-not traditionalists, a manual transmission will be available at a later time. 

According to Porsche, the 911 Carrera S can do 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds and a top speed of 191 mph when equipped with the PDK transmission and the Sport Chrono package. With the same options, the Carrera 4S can to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds and reach 190 mph. 

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 992New tech features will include a new Wet Mode system that detects waters on the road and preconditions the stability and traction controls for less grip, an optional night vision system, and an updated version of the Porsche Communication Management infotainment system. 

The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S starts at $113,200 and $120,600 respectively. The cars will reach US showrooms next summer but are available for order now. 

SEE ALSO: GM will kill off these 6 Chevy, Buick, and Cadillac sedans when it idles select factories in 2019

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Join the conversation about this story »

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Sylvester Stallone Might Have Just Revealed He’s Played Rocky For The Final Time

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Sylvester Stallone retiring rocky

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In 1975, a struggling actor (and one-time adult film star) managed to convince someone in Hollywood to give him $1 million to make a movie in an attempt to turn a fictional rags-to-riches story into an actual one.

That actor was Sylvester Stallone and the movie in question was Rocky, which would go on to gross $225 million and spawn a series of films that would help turn him and his shredded muscles into box office stars over the next couple of decades.

It also revolutionized the art of the montage and in the process inspired a song that gets me more amped than “Eye of the Tiger” ever will.

After Rocky V came out, it became clear that the franchise was beaten to death harder than Apollo Creed at the hands of Ivan Drago. However, after a fifteen-year hiatus, Stallone decided to resurrect the character and kick off a brand new era with Rocky Balboa. 

A little under a decade later, Stallone realized he was getting way too old for this boxing shit and handed over the reins to Michael B. Jordan, who’s done a great job honoring his legacy after stepping into the role of Apollo Creed’s son.

Stallone had a supporting role in both of the Creed films, and even though he doesn’t play a boxer anymore he sure as hell works out like one.

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Creed 2 hit theaters last week and has performed well enough to virtually guarantee it’s going to turn into (at least) a trilogy at some point but I regret to inform you it looks like there’s a chance we might have seen the last of Rocky Balboa.

On Wednesday, Stallone posted an Instagram video that seems to suggest he’s hanging up the gloves (or, if you’re in the mood for another boxing analogy. throwing in the towel) when it comes to playing the character.

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Stallone said he assumed the franchise was finished after he reprised the character in 2006 and said he’s thrilled to have the opportunity to pass the torch to Jordan, who’s shown he’s more than capable of carrying it.

Let’s all pour out a glass of raw eggs in his honor.

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NASA sent an $850 million hammer to Mars and it could uncover clues to an outstanding mystery in our solar system

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  • Insight Lander successfully touched down on Mars yesterday and it’s the largest drill NASA has ever sent to space. 
  • The $850 million drill is designed to study the interior structure of Mars, digging deeper than ever before. 
  • Watch the video above to find out how the Insight will uncover clues to one of the most outstanding mysteries in our solar system

Following is a transcript of the video. 

NASA’s about to break new ground like never before, by sending a giant drill to Mars. It’s the largest drill NASA has ever sent to space, and it will dig deeper into Mars than ever before. The mission? Uncover clues to one of the most outstanding mysteries in our solar system.

NASA’s $850 million InSight Lander is the first designed to study the interior structure of Mars. Until now, NASA’s landers mainly focused on exploring Mars’ surface for signs of potential life. They’ve touched down near volcanoes, valleys, and canyons. But InSight won’t be going anywhere like that, since InSight is not a rover and can’t move around. NASA has one shot to land it in the perfect spot, here! Elysium Planitia, sometimes referred to as the biggest parking lot on Mars. It’s one of the plainest spots NASA could find and the perfect place for InSight. For one, it’s close to the equator, guaranteeing the solar panels that power InSight’s instruments will work year-round for its nearly two-year mission. But most importantly, that smooth surface will make it easier for InSight’s drill to bore deep into the Martian soil.

The drill works like a motorized nail, hammering itself into the ground. Over the course of 40 days, the drill will reach 16 feet into the planet. That’s roughly the length of a car. For comparison, NASA’s Curiosity Rover only dug about half an inch deep. That’s the length of an aspirin pill. As InSight digs, it will occasionally shoot out bursts of heat. By calculating how quickly that heat warms the ground around it, InSight can measure the chemical makeup of the soil. But InSight’s drill pulls double duty. As it hammers away, it also sends vibrations through the ground, which are sensitive to different layers that might be hiding under the surface. For example, if Mars has underground lava flows, those vibrations will find them. But this only gives NASA clues to the shallower layers of Mars. To understand the deep inner core, InSight has another tool that will measure how much Mars wobbles on its axis. It works similar to an egg. If you spin an uncooked egg, the liquid yolk will slosh around making the egg wobble. But if the inside is cooked, there’s less wobble. Similarly, how much Mars wobbles can tell us whether its core is molten liquid or solid metal.

And all these clues can help scientists solve a bigger mystery of how rocky planets like Mars and Earth formed in the first place. By studying the interior of Mars, scientists can get a better grasp on how Mars has evolved over billions of years from a warm, wet world to the desolate landscape it is today. But there’s an even bigger objective on the horizon. Ultimately, the more we know about our own solar system, the better we get at searching for other planets beyond our solar system that may have the potential to harbor life.

Join the conversation about this story »

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You can now add VST support to VCV Rack, the virtual modular

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VCV Rack is already a powerful, free modular platform that synth and modular fans will want. But a $30 add-on makes it more powerful when integrating with your current hardware and software – VST plug-in support.

Watch:

It’s called Host, and for $30, it adds full support for VST2 instruments and effects, including the ability to route control, gate, audio, and MIDI to the appropriate places. This is a big deal, because it means you can integrate VST plug-ins with your virtual modular environment, for additional software instruments and effects. And it also means you can work with hardware more easily, because you can add in VST MIDI controller plug-ins. For instance, without our urging, someone just made a MIDI controller plug-in for our own MeeBlip hardware synth (currently not in stock, new hardware coming soon).

You already are able to integrate VCV’s virtual modular with hardware modular using audio and a compatible audio interface (one with DC coupling, like the MOTU range). Now you can also easily integrate outboard MIDI hardware, without having to manually select CC numbers and so on as previously.

Hell, you could go totally crazy and run Softube Modular inside VCV Rack. (Yo dawg, I heard you like modular, so I put a modular inside your modular so you can modulate the modular modular modules. Uh… kids, ask your parents who Xzibit was? Or what MTV was, even?)

What you need to know

Is this part of the free VCV Rack? No. Rack itself is free, but you have to buy “Host” as a US$30 add-on. Still, that means the modular environment and a whole bunch of amazing modules are totally free, so that thirty bucks is pretty easy to swallow!

What plug-ins will work? Plug-ins need to be 64-bit, they need to be VST 2.x (that’s most plugs, but not some recent VST3-only models), and you can run on Windows and Mac.

What can you route? Modular is no fun without patching! So here we go:

There’s Host for instruments – 1v/octave CV for controlling pitch, and gate input for controlling note events. (Forget MIDI and start thinking in voltages for a second here: VCV notes that “When the gate voltages rises, a MIDI note is triggered according to the current 1V/oct signal, rounded to the nearest note. This note is held until the gate falls to 0V.”)

Right now there’s only monophonic input. But you do also get easy access to note velocity and pitch wheel mappings.

Host-FX handles effects, pedals, and processors. Input stereo audio (or mono mapped to stereo), get stereo output. It doesn’t sound like multichannel plug-ins are supported yet.

Both Host and Host-FX let you choose plug-in parameters and map them to CV – just be careful mapping fast modulation signals, as plug-ins aren’t normally built for audio-rate modulation. (We’ll have to play with this and report back on some approaches.)

Will I need a fast computer? Not for MIDI integration, no. But I find the happiness level of VCV Rack – like a lot of recent synth and modular efforts – is directly proportional to people having fast CPUs. (The Windows platform has some affordable options there if Apple is too rich for your blood.)

What platforms? Obviously Mac and Windows; confirming how this works on Linux. (Also try optional support of JACK as a way of integrating support with other tools, which will make particular sense to Linux users!)

How to record your work

I actually was just pondering this. I’ve been using ReaRoute with Reaper to record VCV Rack on Windows, which for me was the most stable option. But it also makes sense to have a recorder inside the modular environment.

Our friend Chaircrusher recommends the NYSTHI modules for VCV Rack. It’s a huge collection but there’s both a 2-channel and 4-/8-track recorder in there, among many others – see pic:

NYSTHI modules for VCV Rack (free):
https://vcvrack.com/plugins.html#nysthi
https://github.com/nysthi/nysthi/blob/master/README.md

And have fun with the latest Rack updates.

Just remember when adding Host, plug-ins inside a host can cause… stability issues.

But it’s definitely a good excuse to crack open VCV Rack again! And also nice to have this when traveling… a modular studio in your hotel room, without needing a carry-on allowance. Or hide from your family over the holiday and make modular patches. Whatever.

https://vcvrack.com/Host.html

Friendly advice – watch out for some wrinkles! Host is new to VCV Rack and this is still testing software, not release software. So expect some bugs (though a recent release did iron some issues out) – as with any new plug-in support in any software. Jim Aikin offers this tip:

“Since Host only plays one note at a time in any case, switch any VST presets to monophonic. This will usually have no musical effect, and you won’t encounter a subtle but troublesome issue with extra notes.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Rack eventually handles polyphony, but for now that’s a reasonable (possibly even interesting) limitation in some fairly unlimited software. Thanks for the tip, Jim!

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Luminar and Volvo use LiDAR to figure out pedestrian activity

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Luminar / Volvo

Trying to figure out what a vehicle or pedestrian is about to do is tough enough for human drivers. But it’s something that the AI systems that end up in autonomous vehicles will have to figure out. Luminar and Volvo announced that they’re closer to figuring that out using high-resolution LiDAR.

Volvo announced back in June that it would be partnering with LiDAR company, Luminar. At the LA Auto Show, they announced that they would be using the high-resolution long-range sensor to figure out what the intentions of pedestrians.

Luminar’s high-resolution LiDAR is able to pinpoint the appendages of pedestrians. That data is used to create an articulated version (stick person) of the human — essentially their pose. That information can be used to determine what that person is about to do. For example: Are they walking or leaning into a crosswalk about to cross? Luminar and Volvo want to be able to determine that.

luminar

Luminar’s LiDAR has a range of 250 meters and perceives an incredible amount of detail. Working with an established automaker like Volvo (a company that’s built its reputation around safety) is a good fit for the two companies. The research will also focus on highway driving, but when it comes to creating an autonomous car the hardest environment is the city and the people that populate it.

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A scientist claims to have made the world’s first gene-edited babies — Sharp Science

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Professor He Jiankui claims that he successfully altered the DNA of twins in order to make them immune to HIV. The scientist from China made the announcement through a YouTube video earlier this week, and has subsequently sparked moral concerns.  Read more…

More about Mashable Video, Hiv, Crispr, Gene Editing, and Sharp Science

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The ‘slow food’ approach to AI — why every ingredient matters

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By Kim Rees, head of data experience design at Capital One

CapOne_Kim Rees Headshot

As a practitioner of data visualization and the design of data systems, I appreciate how the choices we make about data collection, curation, extraction, and transformation impact the outcomes of our analyses and algorithms. The way we choose to frame a question can sometimes yield vastly different results. With these considerations — and their far-reaching implications — in mind, it becomes of critical importance that they are factored into algorithmic development to help set the vision for, and more accurately inform, ultimate intended outcomes.

As we look at the future of AI, machine learning (AI/ML), and autonomous systems — and their increasingly outsized role across businesses, public agencies, educational institutions, and society broadly — we should be aware that models are trained on our past behaviors, not on our values or ideals. For instance, say an airline creates an algorithm to upgrade passengers trained on past upgrades given by gate agents. We could view those agents’ choices as an expression of the company values. While the airline doesn’t have an explicit value of a certain type of customer, perhaps gate agents’ unconscious bias led to more affluent passengers getting this perk.

The “problem” with AI and machine learning.

The problem with AI/ML isn’t that it "gets it wrong" or that it’s built with malice, it’s that the technology has gotten really good. Most of the negative headlines we read about algorithmic outcomes or bias are referring to the fact that the machine actually got really darn good at its job. The machine being a machine, this means that it excelled at executing a very narrowly defined set of tasks based on prior actions and decisions (for example, a more robust set of training data on a certain set of passengers may yield preferential treatment for that group on future algorithmic outputs). The hard part about what I think of as “responsible AI,” is that it forces us to take a hard look at ourselves and recognize that our data is not neutral, because we aren’t neutral.

To me, this begs the question of whether we use the word "bias" too liberally. There are many ways algorithms can single out a particular group of people without having biased data. For instance, the mere quantity of data available for a specific person in any given use case may cause an algorithm to rank them higher than someone else. People with a more robust digital presence may enjoy favorable treatment simply because the machine knows more about them.

In order to ask the machine to make the right decision, we can’t just give it our data and have it learn from our actions. Just as a mom, I can’t let my kids learn from me in a vacuum. Because I’m not perfect, and I let my exasperation come out while driving in rush hour traffic. I need to course correct and tell them I made a poor choice and how it could have been handled better.

Humans are naturally flawed.

Presuming we won’t suddenly start making flawless and fair human decisions, so the models can learn our values properly, we need to start by admitting that our past human decisions are flawed. From there, we can perhaps go back to clarify what our values look like when we make certain decisions and start embedding the appropriate levers in the models and algorithms to ensure that those values are reflected throughout the entire system, outputs included.

To help us uncover our flawed past and understand the possible long-term ramifications if proliferated through AI, we need a diverse approach. A diversity of perspectives, whether the perspective stems from socioeconomic, racial, gender, physical ability, professional discipline, or other, is essential to exploring the potential futures created by this technology. And to avoid the possible negative outcomes.

A humanity-centered approach.

It will take a decidedly human-centered approach — or even humanity-centered approach — to ensure confidence in our machine-generated decisions. I fear many of our technological advances will be wasted if we don’t look at human well-being first. If we take a humanity-centered approach, we can start with a crisp view of an ideal outcome and align our algorithms and models to serve that end state. If we simply start with the data at hand, we’ll merely promulgate and intensify the inequalities we already have.

Taking a “slow food” approach with AI, and being mindful of every ingredient, source, and construction, will serve us far better than the “move fast and break things” approach. As machines make more and more of the decisions in the world, we simply can’t accept ill-designed, myopic systems bred in a vacuum of values.

This post is sponsored by Capital One. | Content written and provided by Capital One.

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