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News Roundup: Facebook vs. India, Watson for President, and Chinese chips

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Fiorina no more, diversity, and Siri’s accents.

No more free internet anymore

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has seen his plan to bring his internet to the world’s poorest hit a snag, after India’s telecoms regulator effectively banned the Internet.org/Facebook Basics service. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will now prohibit service providers charging different tariffs for different content – essentially ruling out Basics – in order to protect Net Neutrality. Zuckerberg was understandably unhappy with the result. “While we're disappointed with today's decision,” he said in a FB post. “I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world.” Sounds almost ominous.

Facebook investor Marc Andreessen – normally a source of insightful tech opinion – vented his frustration at the move and made some uncomfortable (and now deleted) comments about colonialism. Cue another FB post from Zuckerberg distancing himself and his company from Andressen’s comments, though he has now apologised and promised to think before he tweets.

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Watson for President

It’s good at Jeopardy, it predicts the weather, it can even cook. Is there anything IBM’s Watson can’t do? What about run for President?

Watson2016 is a site advocating for Big Blue’s AI supercomputer to run for President of the United States of America. “It is our belief that Watson’s unique capabilities to assess information and make informed and transparent decisions define it as an ideal candidate for the job responsibilities required by the president,” reads the website – which states it has no official affiliation with IBM. Would you vote for an AI computer or Donald Trump?

One candidate you won’t be able to vote for come Election Day is former HP CEO Carly Fiorina. After a poor outing in both the Iowa and New Hampshire Primaries, the Republican candidate has announced she ended her run to become the GOP nomination. “While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them,” she said in a Facebook post.

 

This campaign was always about citizenship—taking back our country from a political class that only serves the big, the...

Posted by Carly Fiorina on Wednesday, 10 February 2016

London Mayor

The candidates for the London Mayoral election took to the stage this week to debate technology in the capital. All of the candidates were in favour of appointing a Chief Data Officer for London, the Lib Dem’s Caroline Pidgeon and Conservative Zack Goldsmith both called for the internet to be classed a utility, UKIP’s Peter Whittle called for a STEM representative in every school, while Labour’s Sadiq Kahn promised to address skills and visas in the capital.

Diversity

Intel has published it latest diversity figures for the whole of 2015. The company is overwhelmingly male – just 25% of the workforce is female – while just over half of the company white. However, the report said that 40% of all new hires were from diverse backgrounds, and the same figure women. However, the company did find there is zero disparity in pay between men and women.

Other companies to publish their diversity details recently include Slack and Accenture. The messaging platform is 60% white and 42% female, which is quite a good ratio compared to many other tech firms. Accenture meanwhile, has a workforce that is 50% white and 35% female.

NSA

-          A new study claims banning encryption simply drives people to use different, secure products and service.

 

-          Theresa May’s “Snooper’s Charter” has come under fire from another parliamentary committee for being unclear.

-          Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg compared the proposed bill to Russian dragnet surveillance.

-          The British Government may be telling the public one thing and US tech firms another when it comes to what the bill will entail if it goes through.

 

-          In the US, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted the government could (and possibly would) use the IoT to spy on people.

-          Senator John McCain is calling for tech companies to be legally required to install government backdoors.

-          Ed Snowden is allowed to vote in the upcoming US elections.

 

M&A

Mere weeks after social network dinosaur Friends Reunited is retired for good, MySpace potentially gets a chance at revival. Time Inc. has announced that it has acquired a majority stake in Viant, the parent company that owns MySpace.

Amazon Web Services has acquired NICE, Microsoft has purchased music app Groove, Panasonic now owns Quick Service Software, tech toy maker VTech has bought tech toy maker LeapFrog, and Kingston Digital has snapped up IronKey from Imation.

Finnish web browser Opera has been offered a large takeover offer from a Chinese consortium that includes Qihoo and Kunlun.

China wants chips

That Opera deal is but one of many examples of Chinese companies expanding outwards; Qihoo recently bought dating app Grindr, Foxconn is in talks to acquire Sharp, China’s state-backed semiconductor manufacturer Tsinghua Holdings has its eye on any number of targets. Apparently this trend is causing worry amongst US officials. “There is a belief in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States community that China has become innately hostile and that these aren’t just business deals anymore,” James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the WaPo. Apparently some officials are worried about the Chinese getting their hands on gallium nitride technology, a material that could supplant silicon in semiconductors.

Google VR – definitely, maybe

Another week, another set of rumours about the big boys and virtual reality. Last week it was Apple and the “hundreds” of staff they’ve got working on prototype devices. This week it’s Google, who are not only working on a plastic version of Cardboard to rival Samsung’s Gear VR, but also “an all-in-one virtual reality headset that doesn’t rely on a smartphone, computer or game console, according to people familiar with the matter.” There’ll probably be plenty more VR rumours until their i/o conference in May.

Isle of Cars

A major legal milestone may have been passed over the use of autonomous vehicles this week. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – the US’s transport regulator – has said that autonomous AI systems in Google’s vehicles can be considered as the vehicle’s driver under federal law.

Meanwhile, Google has been awarded a new patent for self-driving delivery trucks. Will this put the search giant – who are also working on drone delivery - on a collision course with Amazon, who are themselves working on creating their own delivery empire?

It’s already becoming something of a Bitcoin haven, but now the Isle of Man wants to become a hotbed for driverless cars. The small island, located between the coasts of the UK and Ireland, is reportedly in discussion with several companies and is planning to speedily pass through new laws around the technology.

It seems people in Europe and the US have different views of driverless cars. In the UK, 78% of people would feel comfortable driving in an autonomous car, with people in Denmark (83%), Germany (81%) and the Netherlands (83%) even more accepting of the technology. Only half of Greeks would feel comfortable. A similar study of the US found that only a third people in the US feel the same way.

Porsche’s Chief Exec is one of those people unimpressed by the technology. CEO Oliver Blume has said that his company have no plans to create an AI car because people wanted ”to drive a Porsche by oneself”.

Speak up for Siri

It’s long been said that the dominance of English online is killing off foreign languages – while simultaneously the rise of internet slang and emojis are killing off the English language. But is rubbish voice recognition software sterilising the world’s accents? According to the Guardian, Siri’s inability to understand regional accents is leading to people using their best neutral voices, which is bleeding into the rest of their interactions.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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