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News Roundup: AI luddites, children mining cobalt, and Alphabots

A roundup of the week’s tech news including US tech lobbying, poor passwords and Croydon.

Lobbying

The lobbying figures of the final quarter of 2015 have just been released. Google again topped the list, splashing out $16.7 million to influence Washington, actually representing a small decline compared to the year before. Although the search giant’s spending stayed flat compared to 2014, other tech companies ramped up their efforts. Amazon doubled their lobbying spend up to $9.1 million, while both Qualcomm and Oracle saw their spending rise by $2 million each. Issues on Big Tech’s agenda over the last 12 months include trade agreements, IP protection, privacy, cybersecurity, immigration and skills, tax reform, spectrum allocation, autonomous vehicles, drones, and more.

AI luddites

Congratulations to Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, they’ve just won the 2015 Luddite Award. “It is deeply unfortunate that luminaries such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have contributed to feverish hand-wringing about a looming artificial intelligence apocalypse,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson. “If we want to continue increasing productivity, creating jobs, and increasing wages, then we should be accelerating AI development, not raising fears about its destructive potential. Raising sci-fi doomsday scenarios is unhelpful, because it spooks policymakers and the public, which is likely to erode support for more research, development, and adoption.”

President and tech

Another week, more Presidential candidates making big claims about tech this week. The loudest shouting as ever came from Donald Trump, who wants to get the US manufacturing again. ”I was saying make America great again, and I actually think we can say now, and I really believe this,” he said during a speech at Liberty University this week. “We're gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries.” It’s not the first time he’s made noises about where Tim Cook & Co. produce their products, but it’s still a daft statement to make.

Cyber-security expert and Libertarian candidate John McAfee has again warned of an upcoming cyberwar and if elected POTUS would “Put up a booth at Def Con, and I’d say, ‘We, as the U.S. government, are hiring.’” As well as suggesting “The Obama administration has no real grasp of what “privacy” really means,” he also claimed he was something on a reluctant hero just doing his duty:

“I’m 70 years old. If you think I want to be president, then you are wrong. I don’t have the time, and I don’t have the time to waste spending a year campaigning fruitlessly, so I’m campaigning to win. Why? Because the largest problem facing America today… is the threat of cyberwarfare that is on the horizon….that is going to be many times more devastating than the worst possible nuclear scenario you can ever imagine.”

Children & cobalt

Children as young as seven are being used to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a new report from Amnesty. The human rights group claims the cobalt has made its way into lithium batteries used by companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and Samsung.

The report found children working for up to 12 hours a day in poor conditions for just a dollar a day, and suffering health problems as a result. It accused companies of failing to do proper checks to ensure the minerals in their products were not mined by children. “The glamourous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage,” said Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

NSA

-          The NSA claims its new bulk data collection system doesn’t infringe on your privacy.

-          Blackberry says its devices have no backdoors and are “as secure as ever” in the face of claims police can crack encrypted emails on BB devices.

-          The US government reportedly wants Silicon Valley to create “terrorist-spotting” algorithms.

Xiaomi, Sina Weibo, HTC

Xiaomi, the company known as China’s answer to Apple, is potentially entering the Virtual Reality market. During a press event, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun said “the company already laid down the foundations of its VR and robotics development labs, and claimed that the theme for 2016 will be “bold exploration”.” Meanwhile, HTC has denied rumours that it plans to spin off its VR business into a separate company.

Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, has beaten Jack Dorsey’s company to the punch and expanded its 140-character limit. The microblogging site plans to increase its limit to 2,000 characters, around a fifth of Twitter’s proposed 10,000 character limit.

Alphabots

The reshuffle of Google’s disparate ventures under the Alphabet umbrella continues. This week the company’s robot division – which includes Boston Dynamics – has been put inside X (formally Google[x]) after the company failed to find a suitable CEO to head up the unit.

M&A

IBM has acquired Cloud-video streaming startup Ustream, Microsoft has purchased MinecraftEdu, General Motors has bought Uber-rival Sidecar, Fire Eye has splashed out for security intelligence firm iSight, Docker has got its hand on Unikernal Systems, Riverbed has snapped up Ocedo, Axway now owns Appcelerator, Telstra has snaffled Kloud, and PwC has taken over Outbox.

Chinese chipmaker Foxconn is in a bidding war to buy Sharp, UK-based data centre and hosting company Onyx is putting itself up for sale, Lifesize has split from parent company Logitech, and RBC Capital believes 2016 will be the year AWS overtakes its parent company’s retail business, something which will increase clamour to split the two.

Croydon

How great is Croydon Tech City? Really great, according to Minister for the Cabinet Office Matt Hancock. Hancock this week hailed CTC as “a blueprint for the future.”

“The Croydon Tech scene is really going full throttle. Tech City is reaching out into the community and helping young people learn the right skills to start and grow a business, and to connect to a network.”

No word on how Hancock or the government feel about Lewisham Tech City.

AZERTY

QWERTY may be the keyboard of choice in the English-speaking world, but there’s more than one way to arrange a set of letters. The 100 year-old AZERTY layout, the standard in France, may soon be on its way out. According to the BBC, the French culture ministry has commissioned a consultancy to draw up a list of possible replacements, due to the current layout becoming inconvenient. Given France’s resistance to English words like Hashtag and email, don’t be expecting a QWERTY layout with a few extra accents thrown in.

Verbatim

Amazon’s Paul Misener isn’t a fan of drone propaganda when discussing the company’s Prime Air delivery UAVs: “It’s not gonna be some science fiction, Hitchcock scenario; that’s a bit of an exaggeration.”

Last week you may have read about the Wiccan witch who removes malware with spells. The Daily Dot asked a couple of security experts what they thought: “"We've never tried stones or spells to get rid of viruses,” said a spokesperson for Symantec’s Norton. “Exorcising your PC will do it no harm," said another from Sophos. "But I'd run a virus scan as well, just to be sure."

How will the advent of driverless cars affect our kids’ learning? “Eventually, we might have a generation that never learns how to drive at all,” says Richard Wallace, a director at the Centre for Automotive Research.

Crashing autonomous cars

It’s finally happened! There’s been a driverless car crash! According to the IDG News Service, a Nissan Leaf autonomous vehicle operated by Cruise Automation hit a parked Toyota Prius. ”The vehicle began moving in its lane to the left, then began correcting to the right at which point the driver decided to take over manual control,” the company reported. ”After taking over manual control, the operator did not change the path of the vehicle and it collided with an unoccupied Toyota Prius.” Luckily no one was hurt (overexcited sub-editors will have to put that headline away for another day) and the car suffered only minor damage.

CEOWho?

All those who worship at the altar of the great Steve Jobs, despair, for you have failed in your task of spreading the word of your Lord and Saviour. According to a new study from Edelman, almost 60% of people can’t name a single CEO. Of the remaining 40% who could name a CEO, just 4% said Steve Jobs. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg came out top with 10%, while 8% could name Bill Gates (despite the fact he’s no longer a CEO). Other names on the list include Tim Cook, Jack Ma, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai.

Poor passwords

Another year, another list of bad passwords. “password”, “123456”, and “qwerty” are not secure people. “football”, “monkey” and “starwars” are unoriginal. Try harder.

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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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