Distracted Walking Is Now Illegal in One California Town

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iStock

Texting while walking makes you a slower and more distracted pedestrian, whether you realize it or not. Now, one small town in California is enforcing legislation that encourages people to put away their phones before stepping outside. As Business Insider reports, being charged with “distracted walking” in Montclair, California can land you with a three-figure fine.

The law went into effect in the Los Angeles suburb on January 3 and recently made headlines after city officials came out in defense of it. They claim that the increased use of cell phones, especially among younger people, presents a public safety issue on the roads.

Anyone who talks on their phone, looks at their phone, or has headphones on while crossing the street is breaking the new rule. The law excludes people making 911 calls, on-duty first responders, and people with hearing aids. Fines start at $100 for the first offense and rise to $200 for the second, then reach $500 for every offense after that.

Other places, like Honolulu, Hawaii and Stamford, Connecticut, have enacted similar laws, but experts are still skeptical of how effective they actually are. Research shows walking while texting isn’t necessarily the scary public safety hazard it’s made out to be, and that distracted drivers and urban street plans that prioritize cars over pedestrians are much bigger problems. Regardless of whether the law reduces accidents, it might at least make walking a little less annoying for pedestrians, even if they’re guilty of texting on the go themselves.

[h/t Business Insider]

Google Now Lets Parents Manage Their Kids' Phone Time Remotely

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iStock

Setting screen time limits on teenagers was much easier in the pre-smartphone era. Modern parents often have to choose between taking their kids' phones away or letting them text through family game night—but now Google is offering a different option. Beginning today, September 18, Android phone owners are able to set restrictions on their teens' devices, either by setting time limits, locking their phones remotely, or subjecting app downloads to parental approval, The Verge reports.

These features are rolling out through Family Link, an app Google released in 2017 that lets kids create Google accounts that their parents can access. With the new changes, minors over age 13 can create similar Google accounts, or update their old ones to enable parental controls.

As is the case with Family Link for kids, parents can use Google's software to manage how—and how much—their kids use their phones as well as track their location. The biggest difference with the Family Link apps for teens is that both account holders must consent before parents can start monitoring their kids' phones. And if teens ever decide they want to make their phone activity private, they can choose to turn off the supervision mode. The catch is that doing this will lock them out of their phones for 24 hours and send a notification to their parents.

The new features are now available on all Android phones, and will be coming to Chromebooks soon. Users in the U.S. will also be able to use their Google Assistants to manage their Family Link accounts starting next week.

[h/t The Verge]

AI Is Tackling Yet Another Creative Medium: Improv Comedy

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iStock

AI-generated fan fiction, music videos, and film scripts are often so bad that they’re hilarious. Could an AI program get the same number of laughs if it attempted improv comedy in front of a live audience? As Inverse reports, artificial intelligence researcher Kory Mathewson created an algorithm to find out.

Mathewson, from Canada’s University of Alberta, teamed up with London-based researcher Piotr Mirowski to create a chatbot, A.L.Ex, which stands for Artificial Language Experiment. They fed subtitles from 100,000 films into a neural network in the hope that A.L.Ex would be able to come up with jokes and carry on a conversation with a live human performer. (They also applied a filter to the robot to stop it from saying “politically incorrect” things, and presumably to prevent a disaster akin to Tay, Microsoft’s Twitter bot.)

Once A.L.Ex was sufficiently prepared for the spotlight, a performer interacted with the chatbot (who was given a robot body) on stage in an improv scenario. Audiences were asked to participate in a Turing test: During some scenes, a human backstage was controlling the robot's responses, while in others, A.L.Ex was doing all the work. Audience members were later asked to guess whether the dialogue was coming from the bot or an actual human. The experiment was repeated in three locations: Stockholm, Sweden; London, England; and Edmonton, Canada.

The result? The bot failed to fool humans and pass the Turing test, but it still garnered a few laughs. For one thing, the system was unable to tell complete stories. “If you want to tell a story, humans tend to have to pick up the arc and carry it through, since the Cyborg rarely brings arguably important characters or plot items back,” one of the improv performers wrote, according to a paper that Mathewson and Mirowski uploaded to the preprint platform arXiv [PDF].

Mirowski told The New York Times that the bot is like a “completely drunk comedian” who is only “accidentally funny” on occasion. Fortunately for comedy lovers, machines probably won’t be taking over the stage anytime soon. “We do not think that machines will replace human actors or comedians,” Mathewson told Inverse. “We aim to build new tools and techniques for human storytellers to share their human experience. This work aims to test the development of a new form of medium.”

[h/t Inverse]

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