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Big Revolution - Rolling your eyes at Facebook's blockchain

Hello and welcome to a particularly packed Big Revolution... – Martin
May 9 · Issue #73 · View online
Big Revolution
Hello and welcome to a particularly packed Big Revolution…

Big things you need to know today
Google I/O
- Google I/O kicked off yesterday with an epic keynote. The highlight was Google Assistant making phone calls on a user’s behalf. This ‘Duplex’ feature will launch in a limited form to some users this summer.
- Other new Google features worth noting: Gmail Smart Compose will help you write emails faster by suggesting ways to finish sentences – one step closer to Google writing your emails for you! Google Photos has learned a bunch of new tricks and an API to let developers tightly integrate with your photo library.
- Meanwhile the open beta of the next big version of Android has gone live. If you have one of a select range of handsets, you can install it now – if you don’t mind having a potentially buggy phone for a few months. The Verge has a deep dive into the new features.
- Facebook Messenger chief David Marcus is leaving his current post to focus on blockchain technology. He’ll now look at how the company can make use of decentralised tech. More on that below. It’s part of a big executive reorganisation.
- The next version of iOS will have a clever security feature offering peace of mind for iPhone users. It will deactivate the Lightning port if a device hasn’t been unlocked or connected to a paired compute for seven days. This will scupper software designed to hack into encrypted phones. 
- Sad news for Nintendo Switch fans of a certain age. The retro-focused Virtual Console is not coming to your console. Fear not though, Nintendo’s upcoming online subscription service for the Switch will allow you to stream a limited number of NES games. Hopefully SNES games will follow, says this gamer whose heart still belongs to that console.
The big thought
Facebook's new blockchain chief, David Marcus. Credit: Facebook
Rolling your eyes at Facebook’s blockchain
Eyes will no doubt roll at the news Facebook is investigating ways to use blockchain technology. I understand. The hype around blockchain is draining – especially when there’s so little actual progress from the hype to any meaningful products.
Just yesterday, I received five blockchain-related press releases in the space of half an hour, and I’m not even a proper tech journalist anymore. If you cover technology full time for a living, the bombardment of rubbish you must receive each day will definitely be enough to make you despair whenever anyone utters ‘the b-word’ with even an ounce of enthusiasm.
And yet two things hold true. Firstly, interest in blockchain is huge. Events on the topic for developers and interested non-techies alike do huge business. At a recent property tech event I attended, the blockchain session was the busiest of the day, despite the fact 90 percent of people in the room had no idea what it was. And a blockchain event I MCed recently was rammed with developers asking intelligent questions related to projects they were working on.
The other truth about blockchain is that even if there’s nothing of great impact happening with the technology right now, the potential of decentralised systems is huge. Next-generation distributed ledger technologies (the Bitcoin and Etherium blockchains are examples of DLT) are on the horizon and poised to offer greater scale while solving some of the key problems of existing platforms.
And so Facebook has to do something in this space. It may lead to nothing and be a total waste of time, but the company can’t sit back and do nothing.  It might just launch a token for Facebook-based commerce, but that seems so unnecessary right now that I don’t know why it’d bother unless there was a threat of someone else doing it first.
Normally, if someone else figures out something before Facebook, Facebook just buys them, But decentralised social networks might not have an owner in a traditional way. And that leaves Facebook vulnerable, so it needs to move fast, decentralise things, and see what happens.
I posted a slightly different version of this on Medium late last night. I hope you don’t mind.
One big read
Inside Amazon’s Fake Review Economy Inside Amazon’s Fake Review Economy
A look at the underworld that fuels Amazon’s rife problem of fake reviews.
One big tweet
A timely question.
Steven Levy
Is it ethical to have a human-sounding robot interact with someone without informing the other party that he or she is in conversation with an it? Real question.
2:48 AM - 9 May 2018
That’s all for today...
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