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News Roundup: Discrimination, FB vs Egypt, and IoT Rice Cookers

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Microsoft Build, Foolish headlines, and landlines.

Tech continues fightback against discrimination

Although diversity in the technology industry may be a long way off truly representing the population, it does at least make plenty of noise when it sees something it doesn’t like. This week saw both Georgia and North Carolina vote to introduce laws that would allow discrimination against LGBT people.

The bill was vetoed in Georgia, but was passed in North Carolina however. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff – who campaigned against the Georgia bill - has threatened to boycott the state unless the bill is repealed, while an open letter from The Human Rights Campaign (HRC)  and signed by more than 80 technology CEOs including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter and Square’s Jack Dorsey, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai of Google said the move was “morally wrong”.

“Discrimination is bad for North Carolina, bad for America, and bad for business,” it read. “For the sake of all North Carolinians, Governor McCrory and the General Assembly must act now to repeal this heinous attack on fairness and equality.”

Last year, Indiana passed a similar pro-discrimination law and also faced backlash from Salesforce and the wider tech community.

FB vs Egypt

Facebook Free Basics, the free service from Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project, has recently suffered a few setbacks. The fact that the service was shutdown in Egypt late last year went under the radar during the Net Neutrality arguments in India, but it seems Facebook deserves plaudits for trying to protect its users.

According to Reuters, the Egyptian government blocked the service because Facebook refused to provide the ability to spy on users. The two companies involved – Facebook and its local telecoms partner Etisalat – refused to comment, while a government spokesman cites competition rules as the reason for the shutdown.

MS Build

Microsoft’s Build conference was held this week. The expected Redstone update was announced, as was a partnership with Canonical which allows users to now run native Bash on Ubuntu on Windows. We also heard that Windows 10 is now running on 270 million devices – a steep increase on the 200 million announced a few months ago. Mentions of Windows Phones were conspicuous in their absence.

Give the recent trials and tribulations Microsoft had with its trendy Tay chatbot, it seemed like an early April Fools joke when CEO Satya Nadella started talking about Conversations as a Service and Skype bots. But at least the code behind Tay is now on GitHub.

April Fools

It’s April Fools! Did you spot our hilarious faux news story? As is now standard, the entire internet jumped on board to show the world how funny they all are.

Google – a company that enjoys a good fooling every April 1st - showed off a joke Gmail feature that kind of went wrong, see-through VR goggles, driverless bicycles, SnoopaVision for YouTube, and a new alternative to drone delivery.

Box introduced a retro feature, while Samsung went super fashionable with trousers and a new mobile device. Apps for regional English and hiding your shame in the toilet, Smart pillows and Apple Pis al also garnered a giggle.

Today’s winner, however, is H&M with its Mark Zuckerberg fashion range. The “Collection” comprises seven plain grey t-shirts and one pair of blue jeans. Subtle but inspired.

M&A

NTT has acquired Dell’s technology services business, Brocade has bought StackStorm, IBM now owns BlueWolf, Hootsuite has snapped up Sales Prodigy, and Uber rival Gett has purchased Uber rival Radio Taxis.

Amazon is reportedly interested in buying a stake of HERE Maps, the service previously owned by Nokia but now in the hands of a conglomerate of car makers.

NSA

-          The proposed “Snooper’s Charter” in the UK would cost £1 billion just to set up, but MPs would be exempt from any data collection.

-          Various tech companies aren’t happy about the proposed rules, but it could be cut off in the European Courts before it is passed/ the UK leaves the EU.

-          Ed Snowden is wary of corporations and only trusts free software.

-          China is changing its rules around domain registry, possibly to tighten restrictions.

-          Terrorists don’t use the darknet, according to a new study.

-          Reddit has removed its “warrant canary” from its transparency report, possibly indicating it’s been subject to a National Security Letter.

Google: Echos and landlines

Despite all the talk of trouble at Nest, is Alpha-Google about to expand its IoT home offerings? According to the Information, Alphabet is working secretly on an Amazon Echo-like project away from its Nest unit.

While that’s just a rumour at the minute, Google has confirmed it is introducing a home phone service, Fiber Phone. Who said landlines were dead?

Selling your secrets for $100

Not too long ago a report came out suggesting over a third of employees would sell their company’s IP, some for as low as $150. A new report from Sailpoint suggests almost the same percentage of employees would sell their work password, some for just $100. Loyalty eh?

Drones

There’ll be 7 million drones in the sky by 2020, according to the FAA. Its 2016 to 2036 Aerospace Forecast predicts that the number of UAVs in the sky will triple over the next four years, with the majority of commercial cases being used for industrial inspection, real estate or aerial photography.

This week also saw the first fully autonomous, FAA-approved urban drone delivery in the US. Drone startup Flirtey delivered a package of water, food and first aid to an uninhabited FAA drone testing area in Nevada. Not quite instant, on-demand delivery straight to your door, but it’s a start.

Cars

When will people give up their cars and join the automated on-demand revolution? Could be a while. A survey by Survata showed a third of 18-34 year-olds always expect to own a car, rising to more than 50% in the 45-64 segment. A new report from Moody’s suggests autonomous driving won’t be sold as standard until the 2030s and will take a further 20 years to gain near universal adoption.

IoT rice cooker

The era of the smart home is here. You need an IoT doorbell, security camera, fridge, washing machine, and now apparently a rice cooker. Xiaomi’s smartphone-controlled Mi Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker will allow users to scan the rice packet and atomically cook their dish at the perfect temperature for the optimum amount of time. My smart home is complete.

Verbatim – Libertarians, AI Presidents, Robot friends

Libertarian Presidential candidate and “Cybersecurity Legend” John McAfee – who offered his help to the FBI over the San Bernardino iPhone case – says the Bureau knew all along that it could unlock the device and merely wanted to set a precedent if it could. As well as announcing his VP running mate, McAfee thinks the US should outsource its cybersecurity to China.

Are some Unicorns actually asses in disguise? “It is the startups that involve pick-ups or drop-offs of an asset that have got into trouble as the unicorn disguises are already slipping, revealing the true colours of the donkeys underneath,” according to analyst at Edison Investment Research.

Recently an artist set up a page promoting IBM’s Watson to run for President. Aditya Kaul, an analyst at Tractica research, thinks the concept has legs [metaphorical legs, not actual ones that would make it a robot President]. “The risks involved in letting AI take over governments are far too great, and nobody wants a SkyNet future, where the AI ends up posing a threat to humans,” he wrote. “However, AI being used in a controlled environment to help the government make decisions isn’t too farfetched.”

Sophia is a terrifying human-like robot; the underwhelming real-world equivalent of Ex Machina. “I do believe there will be a time when robots are indistinguishable from humans,” said its creator and CEO of Hanson Robotics, Dr. David Hanson. “20 years from now, humanlike robots will walk among us, help us, play with us, teach us, help us put the groceries away, and be our friends.” No offense, but if they look like Sophia, I’ll pass.

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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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