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Tech Revolution
Issue #1015 • View online
Hello there,
“Supply chain shortages are the new normal” the New York Times explained this week. And it’s not just the semiconductor shortage and the shipping industry’s slow recovery from the pandemic that’s to blame.
Just-in-time supply chains have fallen over all across the world; workforces continue to be affected by Covid-19 quarantines, recruitment is difficult in some industries (including crucial HGV drivers), and Brexit is screwing up UK labour supply and trade with the EU… It’s an unpredictable series of butterfly effects fluttering across the world economy, causing delays and shortages for everything from games consoles to animal feed and your favourite fast food.
The expert view is that it’ll get worse before it gets better, so prepare for many frustrating shopping trips over the next couple of years. Grr.
Meanwhile, this week, I’ve been:
  • Amused by the negative reaction on Twitter to Douglas Coupland’s fawning praise of Elon Musk this week. Billionaires cause a lot of problems in this world, but Musk—for all his flaws—is far from the worst. Coupland probably wouldn’t have been quite so gushing if he wasn’t trying to counter the weight of bad press Musk gets.
  • Poring over the list of almost 200 new startups in the first part of TechCrunch’s roundup of Y Combinator’s summer 2021 Demo Day event. There’s no doubt another list of around the same length still due to drop, too. 😮
  • Wondering if the rumours that the next iPhone will feature satellite calling capability are true. If they are, it’s probably just for emergencies, but I like the idea of being to use an iPhone out in the middle of the ocean, standing on a shipwrecked boat. Just don’t drop it.
Okay, there’s lots packed into this week’s newsletter, so let’s get on with it. Onwards!
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
🍎 Will a new law change app stores forever?
One of the biggest complaints about the big tech app store model is how almost everything to do with selling is out of the hands of the people who make the apps. Developers take their 70% or 85% cut of the revenue and have little say over anything else, no matter how much of a pain it may be for their overall business model.
But while the Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit is still awaiting a conclusion that may eventually lead to changes in the US, South Korea has gone ahead and passed a law that could have big implications. As The Register explains:
South Korea’s parliament has passed a law that requires Apple and Google to offer third-party payment options in their app stores…
As we’ve previously reported, the law prevents tech giants with dominant market positions from restricting payment options in their software, either to pay for apps or for in-app purchases.
As such, it is aimed squarely at Google and Apple.
There’s some concern that this law might contravene US/South Korean trade agreements, but the fact it is a formality away from passing into law will no doubt embolden the regulators running competition investigations into Apple’s practices in the US, EU, and Australia.
Apple settled a dispute with developers in the US late last week, throwing in some token gestures of changes to its policies that do nothing much to loosen the company’s grip over the the entire iOS app economy.
The news from South Korea shows that Apple’s hand can be forced, and it probably will be, eventually. But as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber notes, more choice for developers isn’t necessarily a good thing for consumers.
🚰 Will the UK hurt the fight for safer data?
GDPR is the gold standard for data protection. While it’s certainly not perfect in every detail, it sets a clear standard for making sure that in most cases you have to opt in to having your data collected for a specific purpose, and if your data is stolen or exposed, the company concerned must disclose the fact to you and data protection regulators promptly.
These EU data protection rules should be paving the way to similar standards around the world, but now it seems the UK wants to start making our data less safe.
While the UK is no longer in the EU, it has GDPR-compatible data protection laws. That might not be the case for much longer.
As TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas (always worth reading on this stuff) reports:
For months, now, ministers have been eyeing how to rework the U.K.’s current (legacy) EU-based data protection framework — to, essentially, reduce user rights in favor of soundbites heavy on claims of slashing “red tape” and turbocharging data-driven “innovation.” Of course the government isn’t saying the quiet part out loud; its press releases talk about using “the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards.” But those standards are being reframed as a fig leaf to enable a new era of data capture and sharing by default.
And the whole idea is ridiculous unless the UK wants to do even less trade with the EU. Scrapping GDPR will lead to even more ‘red tape’ for businesses who want to transfer data to and from the EU, as the UK will lose its ‘equivalency’ status.
There’s no doubt that GDPR compliance is a burden on businesses, but a modern-day government wouldn’t argue that car seat belts are an unnecessary manufacturing burden. Carmakers got used to it. So why is our data so easy to disregard?
🤑 How does an NFT get a Hollywood agent?
This story has caused bafflement around the internet:
The CryptoPunks are going Hollywood.
The red-hot NFT crypto-art project from Larva Labs has signed with United Talent Agency for representation across film, TV, video games, publishing, and licensing. UTA will also represent Meebits and Autoglyphs, two other crypto-art projects created by Larva Labs.
While nonfungible tokens have become an area of focus in Hollywood (see Fox’s nascent efforts or Lionsgate’s deal to bring its IP to the blockchain), CryptoPunks looks to be one of the first pieces of crypto-native IP to make the jump to more traditional forms of media.
There aren’t many details of the deal available, but it seems likely that this could lead to a CryptoPunks cartoon TV show or a comic book series, for example. But while Larva Labs will profit from these products, there’s nothing to say that the people who purchased individual CryptoPunk NFTs will get a cut if ‘their’ design is featured.
And while that might be entirely above board, I can imagine some of the community around the little pixelated punks being upset at a missed opportunity if blockchain-tracked royalties don’t flow back to them so they can profit from their investments.
👀 ICYMI
News you shouldn’t miss…
  • A pair of Facebook’s prototype AR glasses has leaked. They’re still very much a work in progress. [Protocol]
  • Windows 11 will launch on October 5th but you might not get the chance to upgrade for months, even if your PC can easily run it. Microsoft is being very cautious with the rollout of this free upgrade. [The Verge]
  • Lyft says it will let some Americans order a self-driving taxi in 2023, although the modified Hyundai Ioniq 5 looks more like a self-driving police car. Lyft already offers a limited autonomous service in Las Vegas. [The Verge]
  • Snapchat is now a visual search app. Its Scan feature has been upgraded to identify real-world objects and animals. [The Verge]
  • Chinese online gaming has taken a severe hit thanks to a new law that limits kids to just three specific hours per week when they can play online. It’s supposedly to protect their physical and mental health. [CNBC]
🌟 Thing of the week
A little over five years ago, Azeem Azhar—who I knew from his time as a startup founder—came up to me at an event and asked if he could add me to the mailing list for his recently launched newsletter, Exponential View. What started back then as a refreshingly cerebral and broad look at the challenges facing us in the future as technology and the climate crisis transform our world, has evolved into a brand. Azeem produces Exponential View podcasts and essays, and fosters a paywalled community.
And now there’s a book, too - and it’s an inspiring read.
‘Exponential’ explores the problem of technological development accelerating at a pace humans can’t match. From jobs to politics and beyond, a lot of the confusion and chaos we see in the world today is a result of the time it takes us—as individuals and society—to come to terms with what technology now makes possible. And the thought of trying to keep up in the future as the tech continues to accelerate ever faster is intimidating, to say the least.
But rather than just look on in horror, like a lot of commentary on these massive changes does, Azhar puts meat on the bones of the idea that the human race can and will adjust. And simply by framing our period in history as ‘the Exponential Age’ he can hopefully help some of those in power get their heads around the scale of the challenges we face, so they can begin working on better solutions that account for the fact that change is likely to become ever more rapid.
‘Exponential’ is out next week on September 7th, but you can preorder it now.
🏭 Future of work
When I spoke with an entrepreneur in the business travel space about a year ago, he was incredibly optimistic that his industry would bounce back quickly. Travel powers business, after all. But maybe it doesn’t anymore.
“A Bloomberg survey of 45 large companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic.
"Business travel as we’ve known it is a thing of the past. From Pfizer Inc., Michelin and LG Electronics Inc. to HSBC Holdings Plc, Hershey Co., Invesco Ltd. and Deutsche Bank AG, businesses around the world are signaling that innovative new communications tools are making many pre-pandemic-era trips history.”
The uneven levels of Covid-19 vaccinations and infections around the world will be a big factor impacting business travel for years to come. Why put your staff at risk when a video call will suffice in most cases?
And while some may crave a return to business class flights to fancy destinations on the company dime, when it finally is safe to fly all around the world again, those trips will likely seem like a wild extravagance from a forgotten age.
More future of work:
  • Apple employees are pushing back against the company’s policy of mushing their personal iCloud accounts in with their work data. [The Verge]
  • And Slack is the reason for Apple employees finding a voice lately. The company’s trademark secrecy has been a casualty of easier collaboration between teams. [The Information $$$]
  • But an Apple employee-run channel about pay equity has been shut down by bosses who say it breaches the company’s rules around Slack use. [The Verge]
  • Auto-transcription could transform meetings. Popular A.I.-powered transcription service Otter.ai now supports Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Cisco Webex, so you can get a text version of your meeting with no effort. The feature was already available for Zoom [TechCrunch]
📰 Big reads
Britain’s economy is already seeing a rapid shift due to climate change
Here are the companies building hyperloop technology
This is the real story of the Afghan biometric databases abandoned to the Taliban
More big reads:
👋 Before you go...
Just a quickie to share with you… It may not be the shape of the future but I’m mightily impressed that someone apparently managed to port Google Maps to the NES.
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