Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

The anti-robot sentiment of travellers


Anne says: We’ve written about robots in airports for a number of years. And it’s certainly been one of the early adoption areas where airports have used customer service robots. But now, OAG have released a report about travellers opinions of automation – including robots. Sorry robots – you’re fired! 

“…only 19% see value in interactive robots for concierge services and travel information.”

There really wasn’t a lot of surprises in the report – essentially, what people want is a seamless use of technology that reduces any friction, like queues. Here are the top areas that travellers want automation:

  • GPS directions for navigating terminals and gates (54%)
  • More loading zones for preparing bags for scanning (40%)
  • Flight delays and cancellation predictions (78%)
  • Real-time updates on expected boarding times (75%), security wait times (77%) and walking times between terminals and gates (55%)

It looks like experimentation with automation at airports is valued in some aspects of the experience, but when we want customer service – we want a real person. These results don’t mean we won’t be seeing more advances in robot technologies in airports, after all, this is just the beginning. However, it is important to balance the use of automation that provides a company with efficiencies to the expectations and sentiments of the end-user. 


The second coming of the robot pet


Whoopi says: Was there a first??!! Of course there was – the first wave of robopets introduced us to TamagotchiFurby, and Aibo. All of these had limited functionality, but interactive cuteness that made pet-less people able to have a pet. 

Now – hold on, I’m a dog – a real one. I’m not a pet, I’m a companion. There’s a big difference. And this is where the second wave of robopets is heading – into the companion/friendship/carer role. Do I feel threatened? No – not at all. A robot won’t be replacing me anytime soon! My ability to show empathy and care is counter-balanced by my independence, or ability to ignore requests (some people call them commands!!) using carefully honed selective hearing qualities. My unpredictable nature and enthusiasm for exploring won’t be easy to program into a robot.

However, I do understand that not all people are not able to look after someone like me – and I love spending time in cafes sitting with these people. Perhaps a robot can give them the early owner-training they need before delving into a real pet? Perhaps they could become accredited pet owners!!

The other option as a carer/companion is super interesting – there’s certainly a lot I can’t do (or wouldn’t want to) around the house. I see this development as a wonderful extension to my offering – we could become a great team. 

The article introduces you to some research on how people interact with these pet/friendship robots – Anne thought they were interesting. But for now, as I sit here sharing my thoughts with Anne as she transcribes them – I can’t see myself being replaced by a robot. Can you?


How Costco gained a cult following — by breaking every rule of retail


Helen says: I find it interesting and somewhat refreshing to read about businesses bucking trends and succeeding. My review last month on a business owner asking for 1-Star yelp reviews falls into this category. When Costco hit our shores in 2011, I recall doubting whether it would succeed in Australia. Ten warehouses later across SA, VIC, ACT, NSW and QLD it appears they have, so when I came across a headline with the words Costco and cult following I had to read on. Costco does a number of things differently to their competitors which, the author of this article attributes to their success. He explains why they are winning strategies in the article.

  • They have a fixed and not inflated product mark up.
  • They charge people to shop at their stores (by 2018 they had over 58 million members generating $3.18B in annual revenue).
  • They limit excess choice but carry a wide range of products.
  • They work with producers to reduce prices but also improve product quality.
  • They pay their staff double the average national retail wage (US).

As a public company, Costco is under pressure to reduce costs and increase margins which, theoretically, maximises returns to shareholders. Management has resisted dancing to this tune yet Costco has become one of the world’s leading retailers and consistently achieved gains in stock market prices.  Costco hasn’t followed the pack, just look at their stores – there’s no makeover of a Costco warehouse coming anytime soon. Nevertheless, their break from tradition has been a win for the company with its customers, staff and shareholders all sharing in the fruits of success. 


Cockroaches are evolving and may soon be immune to bug spray


A terrifying new study has revealed that cockroaches might soon evolve into superbugs that are nearly impossible to kill with bug spray.

Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana have discovered that the common German Cockroach is becoming much harder to eradicate stating that it could soon be “almost impossible” to control their population with the pesticides we currently possess. The study had the researchers attempting to eradicate the roaches from 3 apartment buildings using 3 different professional-grade pesticides on a monthly rotation over a period of 6 months.The results showed that only one of the pesticides, a gel-based bait was slightly effective. In one of the buildings, the population remained flat and in the other, they seemed to love the spray mix and flourished.Further research showed that cockroaches that survived being sprayed would become immune to that type of pesticide. That’s not the worst part though, their future offspring would be born immune also. And with many of the different pesticides carrying the same active ingredients, they now have a pretty strong chance against that treatment too. 

They mentioned that the resistance can increase 5-6 fold in just one generation, and due to the female German Cockroach’s ability to produce 50 offspring every 3 months it could become a pretty big problem quite quickly.

Lead researcher, Michael Scharf mentioned that chemicals alone will soon not be enough to control the problem and that a mix of traps, improved sanitation in housing developments, and bug vacuums will be the most effective methods moving forward.

Cockroaches already well outnumber us humans on Earth, with the ratio being 7:1 in New York. How does this news make you feel? Is this your worst nightmare? Or could you live side by side with our insect buddies?

We best hope they don’t find a way to evolve and become larger with each generation or we may soon have to bow down to our roach overlords when they find a way to eradicate us . 


A public DNA database led to a murder conviction, but innocent people may pay the price


Jakkii says: You’ve probably heard at least one story before about online DNA databases being used to help find a murder suspect in a cold case, the most ‘famous’ of which is the case of the Golden State Killer, in which a distant relative uploaded their DNA results to an online database that was later probed by law enforcement officials, eventually leading them to Joseph James DeAngelo who currently awaits trial on murder charges. In this week’s piece, another example, but with some good discussion about what the implications may be (it’s not the first article to do so, but is one of the most recent!). 

Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of handing over the keys to your biological identity to a for-profit company on the basis of learning your ancestry, the claims of which are dubious at best, let alone then uploading those results to a public online database. One of the many, many career paths I considered while studying my biomed degree was that of genetic counsellor – a person whose role is to explore and discuss with you what genetic testing results maymean. No such counselling – or, indeed, pragmatic advice – accompanies the results people receive from companies like 23andme and Whilst I understand the lofty goals of 23andme which ultimately seeks to use inexpensive and accessible DNA profiling to facilitate preventative medicine (and let’s not forget “make shitloads of money”), without greater transparency questions will always linger, and without appropriate guidance and education, people may make decisions based on incomplete information and understanding of what their results really mean.

More pressing and troubling, however, are the privacy and ethical concerns involved in submitting your genetic code to anyone – especially a for-profit company. Not only is informed consent often murky where online databases choose to turn over access to law enforcement, it is not possible for a relative – distant or otherwise – to consent to their identity being available or traceable via the choice of another individual to make use of such a database. Whilst some (perhaps many or even most) would think this a small price to pay for violent and/or sexual offenders to be identified and face justice, the ethical considerations and rights of individuals don’t go away simply because a very small number of individuals’ actions cause harm in our society.

There are a great many technologies in use and in development that reduce the privacy and right of free movement of individuals, and this should concern all of us. There is a great need to balance what technology can do for us with what technology can take from us, and we must be thoughtful and considered in where we draw those lines, and as a society we can’t just keep saying “we need to consider the ethics” then ignore what our ethicists and technoethicists are telling us. 


This Week in Social Media

Politics, democracy and regulation

Privacy and data

Cybersecurity and safety

Society and culture

Extremism and hate speech

Moderation and misinformation

Marketing, advertising and PR


Facebook’s Libra

I note with interest this week the US Congress committee asking Facebook to “pause development” on Libra while they figure out what cryptocurrency is and what to do about it. The portions of the letter quoted in the Guardian article (link below) suggest they didn’t feel the need to take much action on determining a view and position on crypto including its potential impact until a company with the scale and reach of Facebook got involved. 

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