Battery Powered Tool Sales Soar
The Home Depot reported that sales of battery-powered tools are skyrocketing, but customers are not necessarily buying them to help the environment. THD reported that hand-held battery powered tools have been widely adopted and now people are buying battery-powered lawn equipment, including blowers and trimmers. Most people are motivated by performance and price, according to THD. THD has been focusing on sustainability since 2008. A joint study from McKinsey and NielsenIQ released earlier this year showed products that claim to be environmentally and socially responsible, especially for food and personal care items, averaged 28% growth over the past five years, compared to 20% growth for products that didn't make those claims.
No Recession on the Horizon
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen no longer expects the economy to go into a recession this year. She was addressing an international audience when she noted that the US is doing a great job of bringing down inflation while still maintaining a healthy job market. Yellen did note that slower-than-expected growth in China could have a spillover effect on the US and the rest of the global economy. The April Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) showed a substantial increase in job openings and the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed persons, which is one of the best measures of slack in the job market, rose to 1.79, more than three times the long-run median. And the May Consumer Confidence survey showed that consumers say that jobs are getting harder to get. These are all indications of the job market moving back into balance. The latest GDP, Consumer Prices and Consumer Spending reports caused many economists to lower chances of a recession even further. More analysts believe the elusive “Soft Landing” for the economy may be possible.
Too Hot to Work?
As extreme heat blankets much of the country, companies are taking extraordinary measures to keep workers safe and allow them to keep working. Some construction companies are adding wearable smart monitors that alert managers when someone is getting overheated well before the individual may notice any symptoms. Target is allowing employees to wear shorts as the extreme heat persists. Their only requirement is that they be solid-colored capris, shorts, skirts, skorts and pants in good condition.
OSHA requires employers to provide workplaces free of known safety hazards, which includes heat hazards. Many municipalities are now appointing managers who are responsible for preparing for and dealing with heat emergencies.
The government declared its first-ever Heat Alert in late July when nearly 150,000 million people were under heat warnings and advisories and announced a series of measures meant to help people keep their cool.
The US Forest Service is awarding more than $1 billion in grants for the planting of trees that is aimed at helping to bring down temperatures in the long term.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide billions of dollars to make buildings more efficient and more heat-resistant, as well as for the opening of cooling centers.
The Department of Interior is using infrastructure funding to expand water storage capacity to deal with future droughts.
NOAA is working on improving the nation’s weather forecasts and accuracy by partnering with universities and impacted communities.
AI Leaders Agree to Safeguards
Seven US companies have agreed to adhere to voluntary standards meant to ensure their AI products are safe before they release them. Amazon, Google, Meta, Microsoft and other companies that are leading the development of artificial intelligence technology have agreed to meet a set of AI safeguards brokered by the Biden administration. Some of the commitments call for third-party oversight of the workings of commercial AI systems, though they don't detail who will audit the technology or hold the companies accountable.
Both fear and interest in AI are surging. Commercial investment in generative AI tools that can write convincingly human-like text and churn out new images and other media has brought public fascination as well as concern about their ability to trick people and spread disinformation, among other dangers. The four tech giants, along with ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and startups Anthropic and Inflection, have committed to security testing "carried out in part by independent experts" to guard against major risks, including risks to biosecurity and cybersecurity. The companies have also committed to methods for reporting vulnerabilities to their systems and to using digital watermarking to help distinguish between real and AI-generated images known as deepfakes.
Regulating the use of AI in television and films is also one of the key issues that contributed to the Screen Actors Guild, the Association of Television and Radio Artists and the Screenwriters’ Guild to go on strike, bringing most union production to a halt.
A number of countries have been looking at ways to regulate AI, including European Union lawmakers who have been negotiating sweeping AI rules for the 27-nation bloc.
Amazon One Palm Checkout Expands
Shoppers at Whole Foods stores in the United States won't have to bring their wallets to go grocery shopping. All 500 US Whole Foods locations will soon be outfitted with Amazon One’s palm payment system. Amazon One is a palm-based identity service that lets shoppers verify their identity and pay by holding their hand over a scanner at stores and venues. Amazon began rolling out the technology at Amazon Go stores in Seattle in 2020 and has already expanded to include some Panera Bread locations and Denver's Coors Field. Amazon One uses biometrics to scan palms as a way to authenticate an individual's identity, similar to how law enforcement departments collect and store fingerprints. Amazon’s handling of biometric data has raised privacy and security concerns and New York City sued Amazon in March for failing to post signs warning people of biometric surveillance. Amazon maintains that palm prints are not stored on the devices and that palm data is kept secure by both technical and physical means.
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