Tech Revolution

By Martin SFP Bryant

touchdown! time to make a scene...

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Tech Revolution
Issue #1022 • View online
Hello there,
It seems like ‘making a scene at touchdown’ was the theme of the week.
First William Shatner gave a profound speech upon his return from the edge of space, and then Russian actors, fresh from doing the first filmmaking ever aboard the International Space Station, had to shoot the end of their movie as soon as they landed. Impressive acting chops to remember all your lines in a situation like that!
Meanwhile, this week I have been:
  • Eyeing the pricey but very impressive new MacBook Pros. Apple has really put the ‘Pro’ back into its high-end laptops, and I could be swayed back from Windows next time I need a new machine.
  • Grimly laughing at the $19 cloth Apple also put on sale
  • Cheering on the lawsuit against Canon for allegedly making printer-scanners stop scanning if you run out of ink. Printer ink is one of the biggest cons in tech.
  • Nodding along as Netflix’s co-CEO admitted he ‘screwed up’ communication around the Dave Chapelle controversy. Listen to and respect your employees!
  • Weirdly lusting after this posh GameBoy/synthesiser hybrid.
  • Gripped by this real-life story that is part Succession, part Knives Out.
Okay, shall we dive in to the newsletter proper? Let’s do that…
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
📛 What will Facebook rename itself?
The Verge got a scoop and a half today: Facebook is reportedly planning to rebrand itself as soon as next week. While the blue Facebook app will keep its existing name, the parent company that also runs WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and Oculus, will apparently soon have a new one.
The company’s big new focus on the metaverse is ostensibly the reason for the change, but it’s fair to say that the company has other reasons for disassociating itself with the Facebook brand, which is increasingly toxic in certain politics and media circles.
As others have pointed out, people still refer to Alphabet as Google, so a name change might not be that effective, but it might help evade some of the kneejerk stock price drops that happen when bad news about the company breaks. It seems that might happen again very soon, as the company puzzlingly signposted itself this week.
All this is not to say that Facebook isn’t going big on the metaverse. On Monday it announced plans for 10,000 metaverse development jobs in the EU. That’s… a lot of people (and when the EU is looking at tech regulation, it’s a shrewd move).
But the big question is… what will Facebook rebrand itself as? There are plenty of joke suggestions out there, but ‘Meta’ is not a bad serious suggestion. We may well find out next Thursday, when the name will supposedly be revealed.
😁 Is facial recognition really a bad thing in schools?
The FT broke news at the weekend that facial recognition was being tested in a few Scottish schools as a way of taking payments to speed up lunch queues. The move has not proved popular.
As the Guardian reports:
The Information Commissioner’s Office is to intervene over concerns about the use of facial recognition technology on pupils queueing for lunch in school canteens in the UK.
The ICO, an independent body set up to uphold information rights in the UK, said it would be contacting North Ayrshire council about the move and urged a “less intrusive” approach where possible…
The director of Big Brother Watch, told the news outlet: “This is highly sensitive, personal data that children should be taught to protect, not to give away on a whim. This biometrics company has refused to disclose who else children’s personal information could be shared with and there are some red flags here for us.”
It certainly sounds like there are some data protection concerns here, but we should be wary of rejecting all facial recognition technology regardless of its implementation, even when children are involved.
As anyone who has used Apple’s FaceID or Microsoft’s Windows Hello will know, facial recognition can be a huge boost to efficiency and convenience. Yes, it can be used poorly, but our reaction to stories like this—even when they involve children—should be ‘is this tech being implemented responsibly?’, rather than ‘eww, facial recognition, kill it with fire’.
📣 What's Apple Music's new Voice plan all about?
Alongside its new MacBook Pros, Apple had something a little less conventional to announce on Monday: a discounted Apple Music plan that can only be used via Siri. Yes, it’s voice control only.
While many were baffled by the idea, it does act as a way of getting more people to use the much-ignored Siri, and more broadly it’s a high-profile ad for how good voice control can be these days.
The Verge described it as a good fit for “casual listeners who don’t spend hours carefully curating playlists and just want to listen to some music on the fly.”
I just think it’s useful reminder that there’s more than ever we can do without looking at screens these days, and we should take advantage of it to give our eyes a break.
👀 ICYMI
  • Facebook is finally ready to bring its cryptocurrency wallet to market, although its own stablecoin is still not cleared for launch. [Coindesk]
  • UK retailer Tesco is taking on Amazon with its own ‘just walk out’ stores, initially in London. [The Guardian]
  • Google seems to have got its smartphone mojo back, judging by its new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, which were formally revealed yesterday. [The Verge]
  • Amazon-owned Zoox will test self-driving cars in rainy Seattle, to help train the A.I. on slightly less pleasant weather than it’s used to. [The Verge]
  • Square might get into Bitcoin mining, its crypto-enthusiast CEO Jack Dorsey says. [CNBC]
  • Meanwhile, Bitcoin mining activity in China has dropped to almost zero in the space of three months as the government cracks down on cryptocurrency activity in the country that was home to 75% of mining activity just two years ago. [Wired]
  • Malware can spread through NFTs, so be careful out there. [The Register]
🌟 Thing of the week
Block Party has been widely praised for helping people avoid organised harassment campaigns.
As the Verge explains, it “automates the time-consuming process of moderating your Twitter feed, filtering out content from people you don’t want to see for later review and, starting today, blocking accounts that retweet or like a bad tweet of your choice with blocklists.”
Now it’s out of beta, you can sign up for one of the plans, which range from free to $13 per month, depending on how many features you want.
🛸 Almost sci-fi
This week the New York Times took a look at the companies pushing to make nuclear fusion a practical reality for energy creation. It sounds like funding is the main bottleneck, and this technology could be a boon for tackling the climate emergency.
Choice quote: “During the test, Tokamak’s prototype machine, which cost 50 million pounds (about $68 million) to build, reached 11 million degrees Celsius. The scientists figure they need to reach 100 million degrees Celsius, or about seven times the temperature at the core of the sun. They expect to get there by year’s end.”
Hot stuff.
🏭 Future of work
WFO (Working From Office)
Tech investors should start backing worker-owned co-operatives
📰 Big reads
I get abuse and threats online - why can't it be stopped?
Legitimacy Lost
It’s Time to Stop Talking About “Generations”
More big reads:
🐣 Tweet of the week
The horrific killing of a British MP on Friday has quickly been used as an opportunity for other MPs to call for the completely unrelated (and incredibly dangerous for society) move of banning online anonymity.
Marie Le Conte
every politician coming out in favour of banning anonymity on the internet should also give up the right to ever give an unattributed quote to the press, IMO
⌚ The past was good too
Fisher-Price launches a working Chatter telephone for adults
That's all for now...
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