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Say Hello to Target’s New Satanic AI Helper

Plus MN great for college grads, Up North gets major rain, and debunking a highly cited paper in today's Flyover news roundup.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Satan's Little AI Helper

Minneapolis-based Target Corp. just announced that by August, it'll introduce a new generative artificial intelligence tool at nearly all of its 2,000 stores. It's called Store Companion—a hauntingly nondescript name ripped right from a sci-fi movie where the AI eventually revolts against its human masters—and its job is to "answer on-the-job process questions, coach new team members, support store operations management and more," according to a press release. I suppose HAL9000, David 8, and Terminator were taken.

Because Target is the first major retailer to unleash a staff aid tool like this, Store Companion has made headlines from the Star Tribune to the New York Times, with the former referring to it as an "AI sidekick" and the latter noting its "potential to eventually make in-store shopping feel more like online shopping," a thing some people apparently want.

We'll say what no one else is brave enough to say: Store Companion seems evil. Possibly cursed or demonic. Satanic even. Vibes definitely off at a minimum. And Target's release notably does not include a contingency plan for if it becomes too powerful. How long until the retailer uploads its psyche to one of those nightmarish Boston Mechanics dogs? Have none of you people seen Chopping Mall???

Speaking of weird vibes and unfettered bots, be sure to check out our recent dispatch from St. Paul's bungled, AI-boosted networking conference.

We're #1!

Elsewhere in the New York Times today, Matt Yan asks, "What's the best city for new college graduates?" Topping the list: Minneapolis, with its "reasonable" median one-bedroom rent ($1,150/month) and an unemployment rate of just 5.2 percent.

Now, that data comes from something called Zumper; do what you will with that information. Zumper (sorry, it sucks to hear time...) also analyzed factors including restaurants per capita, Census Bureau data on the population of 18-to-34 year olds, the number of 25-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees, number of single people, and median income of younger residents to determine the best big cities for recent grads. San Francisco and Seattle both make the top 10—where median rents are wildly high, the median income tends to be, too—but then so do much more affordable cities that are full of young people like Columbus, Ohio, and Oklahoma City.

Have any gripes about the list? Take it up with Zumper!

Up North, MN Region of Great Debate, Gets Washed Out

Freak storms hammered northern Minnesota this week, leading to rising rivers, flash flooding, and washed-out roads that have stranded some in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness area. For MinnPost, Jana Studelska reports that some campers and canoers found themselves trapped near Ely, where between three and seven inches of rain fell Tuesday night.

“This storm was tropical in nature, just saturated with water,” National Weather Service meteorologist Cory Rothstein tells MinnPost. “The storm cells lined up in what is known as ‘training,’ like a train of cars, one after the other. The Boundary Waters took on a lot.” 

In other words... you could perhaps say... Mother Nature ran train on the Boundary Waters.

But seriously folks, we hope everyone gets out of there OK. The U.S. Forest Service hasn't reported how many forest roads have been washed out or destroyed, but St. Louis County said 32 roads in the northern third of the county were closed. That includes the 70-mile-long Echo Trail connecting Ely to the edges of the BWCAW.

We're... #1?

Good local angle spotted by the Minnesota Reformer's Christopher Ingraham: The "most-cited retracted paper ever" was written by a local professor. That's according to Retraction Watch, which reports that the scientific journal Nature has retracted a widely cited 2002 study from Catherine Verfaillie's lab at the University of Minnesota.

The retracted article, “Pluripotency of mesenchymal stem cells derived from adult marrow,” has long been controversial, according to Retraction Watch's Ellie Kincaid. New Scientist raised questions about its findings—the study essentially claimed that adult stem cells could become any type of cell—as early as 2007, and in 2008 the U found that another paper of Verfaillie's, published in the magazine Blood, contained falsified images.

But that hasn't stopped the stem cell paper from being cited 4,500 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. Verfaillie is no longer at the U; she's now an emeritus professor at KU Leuven in her home country of Belgium—and no, she did not respond to Retraction Watch's request for comment.

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