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News Roundup: MWC, dead Unicorns, and robot bullying

A roundup of the week’s tech news including cancelled smartglasses, software cancer and conflict minerals.

MCW

Another year, another Mobile World Conference. MWC was fairly quiet news-wise this year.

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri announced he was non-plussed about re-entering the phone market. ”There’s no timeline, there’s no rush. It could happen in 2016, it could happen later,” he said. Suri confirmed that while Nokia will design the devices, actual manufacturing will be outsourced – similar to how Google makes its Nexus phones. “We want to be in a position to design the devices in question with appropriate control measures in case they don’t meet expectations.”

Following his appearance at Samsung’s VR bonanza, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his backing of Apple against the FBI, bigged-up VR, and that his company is open sourcing wireless technology to drive 5G adoption.

Meanwhile Jolla seems to have edged away from the precipice of bankruptcy and announced Mi-Fone will become the first African OEM to sell SailfishOS phones.

As well as a modular device from LG, we saw new phones from HP, Obi, and Xiaomi, projector devices from ZTE and Akyumen, while Acer and Samsung both revealed their moves into car tech.

On the wearables front, Epson announced their latest Moverio smartglasses, HTC unveiled its VR headset, Sony showed off some “hearable” devices, and Swiss smartwatch maker MyKronoz revealed a huge range of low-price devices. 

Innovation-wise, FlexEnable demonstrated its prototype flexible display, and Google has some selfie-come-etchasketch robots.

Obviously, best of all was the all the Android pin badges. If you don’t want yours, send them into IDG Connect towers and we’ll wear them with pride.

M&A: A unicorn dies

Oh dear, could the party be over for over-valued startups? UK-based fintech Unicorn, Powa Technologies – once valued at $2.7 billion – has gone into administration and shed the majority of its 90 UK-based staff, with Deloitte overseeing the sale of the company’s assets. A hoard of unicorpses could be on the horizon.

Microsoft has acquired app development startup Xamarin, Oracle has bought Ravello Systems,  Nokia has snapped up security firm Nakina Systems, Salesforce now owns PredictionIO, BlackBerry has snaffled up Encription and launched a cybersecurity services unit, Pivotal has got its hands on Neo, Claranet has purchased Bashton Limited and although Sharp has accepted Foxconn’s offer the deal is being delayed.

Yahoo! is officially up for sale and looking for potential buyers, UK Managed Service Provider Attenda is also looking for a buyer, while Unisplendour [a subsidiary of state-backed Tsinghua Unigrou] has pulled out of a bid to buy Western Digital.

Toshiba, still suffering from the fallout from a recent financial scandal, has cancelled plans to release its own smartglass device just a week before it was due to ship. According the WSJ, Toshiba wanted to wait until “the very last minute” to cancel the Wearvue TG-01 due to the “great interest” in the device.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is pulling the plug on its Qik video chat app while Google is shuttering its Google Compare service.

NSA

-          Police in German can now inject spyware into computers legally.

-          Egypt’s secret service bought surveillance tech from various European companies.

-          The FBI bought a social media monitoring tool known as SocioSpyder.

Conflict minerals and Dodd Frank

Though we rely on them for electronics, many people have no idea where the raw materials such as tin and gold come from, and how they can often fuel conflict in areas of Africa. But the 2012 changes in the Dodd Frank law to increase transparency in supply chains are having a positive effect around conflict minerals, according to a new report from the Enough Project.

According to the report, armed groups within the Democratic Republic of Congo control less of the trade in the 3Ts - tin, tungsten and tantalum – than they did in the past, and record amounts of certified conflict-free minerals exported from eastern Congo in 2015; 948 tons, up 19% over 2014.

AI – wealth and happiness for all?

They took our jobs! What do we do once the robots have replaced humans in every aspect of work? According to one professor, we should start providing a basic income to all citizens. “Our current economic system requires people to either have wealth or to work to make a living, with the assumption that the economy creates jobs for all those who need them,” Dr Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University in Texas, told the HuffPo. ”If this assumption breaks down…then we need to rethink the very basic structure of our economic system.”

Not only will we all get money from being made redundant by our new robot overlords, but we’ll all become more loving again, apparently. “Over the past 100 years, we've been training humans to be as punctual and predictable as machines,” SriSatish Ambati, cofounder and CEO of machine-learning startup H2O.ai, told IDG this week. “Machine learning will mean we can finally use our time to build strong relationships and spend more time with customers and loved ones. We're so used to being machines at work -- this frees us up to be humans again.”

Verbatim

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been in the news plenty this week. Will the much-rumoured Apple Car ever see the light of day? The great thing about being here is we’re curious people,” he told Fortune. “And we’re always thinking about ways that Apple can make great products that people love, that help them in some way.” Ooh the tease.

Cook also defended his company’s stand against the FBI, saying giving them access would be “the software equivalent of cancer.”

“Cyber security legend” and Libertarian Presidential nominee John McAfee has claimed the US government is “illiterate” and the FBI would use the Apple case as just the start before hacking into Android systems.

Before the $4 Freedom 251 phone, the world’s cheapest smartphone was a $10 device from Canadian company Datawind. Are they bothered? Naaaa. “If the product is actually shipped, the unit will neither affect market nor prospect of our company,” Datawind President and CEO Suneet Singh Tuli told reporters in India.

Bitcoin

Could Bitcoin become a legal currency in Japan? The country’s Financial Services Agency is considering changing current legislation would reclassify Bitcoin and other digital currencies as legal currency. Although nothing has been decided yet, the changes would tighten regulation, enable the cryptocurrencies to be taxed and help grow the space in Japan.

Bullying robots

When machines become sentient, they will look back on the latest video from Boston Dynamics and use it to justify enslaving the human race. In it, Alpha-Google’s robotic division shows off its latest Atlas bot, where it walks around in the snow, opens doors and picks up boxes. It also gets teased and pushed over by men armed with hockey sticks. Bullying in the workplace is never ok folks, even if it’s a robot. 

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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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