5 takeaways from the HUBweek forum on work, data, and robotics

Driverless cars are coming, but there's still a ways to go.

Developing the technology behind self-driving cars is one thing, but getting people to trust them? Well, that’s a whole other barrier to work through.

Karl Iagnemma, president of Aptiv Automated Mobility, spoke in depth about the driverless cars the company’s developing during an afternoon forum at HUBweek, where technology and innovation meet art for a week in a festival-type fashion set within Government Center.

On Thursday, HUBweek fused together the worlds of driverless cars, robotics, analytics, and workplace diversity, and featured a conversation with Boston City Councilor and congressional candidate Ayanna Pressley — including details of her (almost) singing career.

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While the day’s events were complex and diverse, here are some of the key points of interest and takeaways.

1. Getting people to trust the safety of driverless cars is a hurdle companies are working through — along with developing the technology.

Driverless cars are already transporting the public in some cities, including Lyft service on the Las Vegas Strip.

And Iagnemma believes that, eventually, autonomous vehicles will be rolled out in different communities throughout the country, starting with the easiest places to implement the technology and progressing to the more difficult.

One of the benefits of driverless cars is the elimination of human error.

“Over a million people die on the road every year worldwide,” Iagnemma said. “And the fact is that nearly all the accidents, not some of them or most of them, but nearly all of the accidents have as their root cause human error.”

But one of the hurdles is getting people to trust them.

A survey from a couple of years ago showed that only half of the participants felt comfortable riding in a driverless car, while about half said they wanted to “be in control of that vehicle at all times,” Iagnemma said.

“We might develop a system that’s safe, that can save many of those million-plus lives that are lost every year, but people might not want to use it because they don’t feel comfortable in the technology,” he said.

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But the technology isn’t ready for what Iagnemma called “the real test” — putting yourself and your children into one of the cars.

Even being able to see driverless cars is limited right now — there’s only some in cities like San Francisco and Phoenix, and the test cars Aptiv uses in Boston’s Seaport.

“There’s very few cities in the world where you can see these systems on the road, and they’re on the road in fairly small scale,” Iagnemma said.

2. Whether asking Siri to look up song lyrics or talking with a friend, people speak the same way to artificial intelligence as they do to humans.

Obviously people know they’re speaking to a machine, but, subconsciously, the brain processes things like emotions, whether or not the machine is friendly, and other aspects of conversation, in the same way, according to Gillian Armstrong, a technologist with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

“That’s true even if the technology isn’t that good,” she said. “That means that your brain activates all of the assumptions, biases, and extraction of social cues in the words and voices the computer uses in the exact same way you would for a human speaker.”

Armstrong said all of these questions came about while working on the company’s digital assistant.

It’s very different than building a website, she noted.

“We’re creating computers that connect with people in ways they never could before,” she said. “It changes the way we need to build our software.”

3. Hollywood depends way more on the appetite of its consumers than one might think.

Though Hollywood feels larger than life, the industry actually depends on its consumers much more than one might think.

Considering whether or not a movie will top the box office or if it will flop largely has to do with attracting the right audience, according to Matt Marolda, the president of WarnerMedia Applied Analytics.

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“It’s like a game-theory thing of where do you put your movie and how’s it going to compete with other movies,” he said.

For example, Marolda described the development of the “Godzilla vs. Kong” movie, set to hit theaters in 2020. 

“We’d already made Godzilla and the idea was, should we bring the two together?” he said. “The question was, ‘Is there an appetite for that?’”

Television advertisements are important, too, Marolda said.

“We also want to make a very aggressive digital approach,” he said. “We want to make sure we drive impressions.”

4. Diversity attracts diversity in the workplace.

A group of Boston business leaders, who are also people of color, spoke in depth about how feeling comfortable in a workplace includes having a diverse group of coworkers.

“That’s the thing, you can’t get the talent you actually want because it doesn’t feel like a place where they can thrive and be productive,” said Corey Thomas, CEO of Rapid7.

Thomas was speaking in response to forum moderator Diane Hessan’s story about offering a position to an African-American man. Hessan, currently the C Space chairman, described how in walking the prospective employee through the company she was working for at the time, she realized that there were only two black employees. The man she offered the job to turned it down.

Carol Fulp, The Partnership Inc.’s president and CEO, noted that by the 2040s, most Americans will be people of color

5. Ayanna Pressley originally pursued singing before public service.

While Pressley joked that her singing is now limited to the shower, at one time she pursued professional singing, she told Linda Pizzuti Henry, The Boston Globe’s managing director, in an interview.

Pressley’s grandfather was a Baptist minister, and church was where she developed leadership skills and began to sing.

“I did briefly sort of dabble in professional singing doing voiceover work and commercials and things like that,” she said. “And pursued it in earnest until I was about the age of 15, and then politics and government and public service won out.”

Pressley also took other steps at a young age to build a foundation for a future in politics.

She was class president and debated competitively, she said.

Pressley doesn’t like the idea that she’s part of some sort of wave of women running for office. Rather, she believes society is moving toward “celebrating and embracing a diversity of narratives of what it means to be (a) woman,” she said, noting that this includes women of all ages and backgrounds.

She said political issues and government policies will reflect the diversity of society and experiences, and that “what we’re lifting up is the value of leadership parity” as well as diversity of perspective, and “lifting up a valuing of lived experience,” she said.

Pressley said those are the things she’s “celebrating.”

“If there is a wave, it’s not one we’re riding, it’s one we created,” she said.

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