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help us tech gods, you're our only hope...

Tech Revolution
Issue #1025 • View online
Hello there,
Is technology our last hope if politicians fail us on the climate? More on that below.
It’s been a busy week for me so far. Last night I was at the Northern Tech Awards, celebrating the best of tech in the North of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Judging by all the big investment numbers, IPOs and acquisitions in the North of England over the past year, it seems international investment bank GP Bullhound, which organises the awards every year, placed a savvy bet when it opened a Manchester office a few years ago.
And then this morning the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Google in a case that could have led to compensation for everyone in England and Wales affected by alleged illegal tracking of internet activity on iPhones between 2011 and 2012.
Whatever your view of that specific case, today’s ruling will carry implications for consumers seeking a route to obtain redress when affected by data and privacy breaches. Thinking about my case against Marriott, we are reviewing the decision handed down by the Supreme Court today with great interest and will carefully consider its implications.
Meanwhile this week, I have also been:
  • Rolling my eyes at how, for all the talk of levelling the playing field, there’s so much gatekeeping and exclusivity in the Web3 enthusiast community.
  • Enlightened after reading about why much of the world shrugged at the Facebook papers.
  • Relieved that Instagram and Twitter have ended a silly nine-year stand-off over image previews.
  • Disappointed to hear that Sky’s first TVs have combined great features with a pretty poor display.
  • Astounded that a scammer convinced Instagram that its own boss was dead. Adam Mosseri is still very much alive. There are clearly some processes in dire need of reform!
Okay, let’s tuck into this newsletter’s main course…
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
⚛ Is nuclear fusion nearly a reality?
As COP26 approaches its climax, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the significant, breakthrough global action we need to tackle the climate emergency. But just as MRNA vaccine tech came to the rescue to help us deal with the pandemic, could bold, ambitious investment in big technological ideas help the environment just when we need it most?
Nuclear fusion could provide vast amounts of energy without the radioactive waste produced by traditional nuclear powerplants.
As CNBC reported on Friday:
Nuclear fusion is the ephemeral holy grail of climate technology… It’s also the biggest bet Silicon Valley luminary Sam Altman has ever made.
“This is the biggest investment I’ve ever made,” Altman told CNBC of his $375 million investment in Helion Energy, announced Friday. It’s part of a larger $500 million round that the start-up will use to complete the construction of a fusion facility near its headquarters in Everett, Washington.
Peter Thiel is among the other investors in Helion, and no matter your view of Thiel, he’s undoubtedly a smart investor. The company is using a different approach to other nuclear fusion projects, and it hopes it can move fast to reach a point where clean, cheap, plentiful energy for the world is a reality. Its big breakthrough could arrive as soon as 2024, it says.
Helion hasn’t got there yet, but alongside the companies pushing to develop carbon capture technology that could remove carbon from our atmosphere, tech really could save the world as we know it.
Too many politicians seem unwilling to make the brave decisions we need them to right now, so although it’s something of a shot in the dark to pray to the tech gods for help when these projects could still fail, it could be the best hope we have.
👓 Can Niantic build a nicer metaverse?
Everyone wants to get in on the metaverse hype, from Nike to Tinder but for now it really does feel like nothing more than a checkbox big brands feel they need to fill to show investors that they have their eyes on the future. Mark Zuckerberg has a lot to answer for there.
But one company that has played the metaverse bandwagon game well is Pokémon Go developer Niantic. It this week revealed an augmented reality, rather than virtual reality, flavoured version of the metaverse. As the Verge’s Alex Heath reports:
Niantic is releasing a platform for building what it calls “real-world metaverse” apps. Called Lightship, the platform is “built around the parts necessary to stitch together the digital and the real world,” CEO John Hanke tells me.
According to Hanke, Lightship will let mobile apps identify whether a user’s camera is pointed at the sky or water, map the surfaces and depth of an environment in real time, or place a virtual object behind a physical one.
It’s worth watching Niantic’s video that accompanied the launch of Lightship, as it manages to summon up a vision of a metaverse that enhances the world around us, rather than sending us away into a virtual 3D realm to escape what’s actually around us. John Hanke’s interview with Wired’s Steven Levy is worth a read, too.
As I discussed last week, the exact definition of a ‘metaverse’ is still very much up for debate, but Niantic has at the very least managed to score PR points for turning the launch of its long-planned SDK into a compelling vision of something most people didn’t care about until Zuckerberg started talking about it a few months ago.
😡 Are billionaire hijinks on Twitter more serious than they look?
I try not to get sucked too much into billionaire hijinks on Twitter as they’re usually nothing more than inconsequential nonsense that tech journalists and their audiences lap up as a light entertainment sideshow.
But news about Elon Musk’s childish retort to a US politician, and Jeff Bezos’ similarly ridiculous ‘joke’ about Leonardo DiCaprio really got to me.
Most people who tweet dumb jokes have very little power; they’re just venting or being silly. Even if they’re inexcusably abusive to the targets of their tweets, at the root of the situation is usually little more than ‘dumb person says dumb thing on Twitter’.
By sh*tposting (I’m not a prude, but your email filters might be), Musk and Bezos might think they’re showing how they’re just normal, social-savvy geeks like anyone else. But their individual net worth and their influence on the world tell a different story.
Just look at how cities and countries bend over backwards to offer tax breaks and other sweeteners to get a new Amazon facility or Tesla factory built in their region… or how one unexpected word from the lips of Musk or Bezos can move markets.
Musk is far more often the offending party here than Bezos, but by failing to give the power their own words can have a decent level of respect, the billionaires are being gross… and grossly irresponsible.
More news you shouldn’t miss…
  • Twitter has expanded its subscription offering, Blue, to the US and New Zealand as it tests whether people really will pay for a ‘pro’ version of a major consumer social network. Blue now has a bunch of features that might tempt power users. There’s no UK launch yet, but I understand the company is working on it. [The Verge]
  • Electric bikes are greatly outselling electric cars in the USA, as assisted pedal power gains lots of new fans. [New York Times $$$]
  • Israel is reportedly using face recognition to build a database of Palestinians in the West Bank, raising fresh human rights concerns in the region. [The Verge]
  • Meta may still use facial recognition in the metaverse, despite Facebook announcing last week that it was closing its feature that uses the tech and deleting more than a billion users’ face data. [Vox]
  • The US government has banned trade with NSO Group, the company behind the Pegasus spyware used to spy on journalists, government officials, activists, and others around the world. [The Verge]
  • Clubhouse now lets creators record and download audio from their shows. This is a big step forward for social audio, bringing the medium better in line with the needs of traditional podcasters. Twitter Spaces is testing recording but doesn’t currently allow downloads - playback is entirely native. [TNW]
🏭 Future of work
'The way my boss monitored me at home was creepy'
📰 Big reads
What I learned building a fact-checking startup
Discord: Imagine a Place
These Parents Built a School App. Then the City Called the Cops
More big reads:
⌚ The past was good too
Because living in the future can be exhausting.
‘I Could Never Abandon Them’: Neopets Users Play On
That's all for now...
I’ll be back next week with more for you. See you in your inbox then.
In the meantime, drop me a line by hitting ‘reply’ to this email if you’ve got any feedback on the newsletter, or if there’s anything you’d like to see more or less of. It’s always good to hear from readers with an opinion!
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