Tech Revolution

By Martin SFP Bryant

why World War III might have already started

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Tech Revolution
Issue #1009 • View online
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Hello there!
Firstly, news this week has got me wondering if we’re actually already in World War III - it’s just that 21st century wars are a whole lot different to the tanks and bombs we’re used to. More on that below…
In happier news, it looks like iPhones could finally catch up with Android on one thing they’ve sorely lacked: always-on displays.
As the kind of ‘phone floozy’ who loves trying different handsets, the way Samsung smartphones show the date, time, weather and an idea of what notifications you have without you having to switch on the screen is something that almost stopped me going back to iOS. I’m really hoping this particular report (via the highly reliable Mark Gurman) proves true later this year.
This week I have been:
  • Wondering how Jeff Bezos made it into space and back in the time it took me to buy some stamps at the post office (although the smile on 82-year-old Wally Funk’s face as she arrived back on Earth was almost worth all the debate over whether billionaires should spend their cash on this kind of thing)
  • Enthused by Mike Masnick’s call for a more optimistic view of the future of the internet
  • Hoping Twitter hasn’t wrecked TweetDeck with its new overhaul (there’s a shortcut to trying it if you’re keen)
  • Grimacing at the idea of people paying $500 for a ‘Freedom Phone’ that appears to just be a budget Chinese device running a skinned Google Play store rather than a ‘patriotic’ American phone with its own ‘uncensored’ app store
  • Despairing at people who use Google Maps navigation to climb a mountain
  • Applauding whoever came up with Ford’s gasoline ‘premium fragrance’ publicity stunt
❗ DON’T MISS: This morning, Matt and I interviewed Shopify’s Shimona Mehta about the social shopping revolution. If you missed it live on Twitter Spaces, the recording will be up on our podcast feed on Monday.
Last week’s interview with WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart is already up there. Give it a listen!
Right, let’s dig into the most important news of the past week…
— Martin

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🤔 BIG QUESTIONS...
🔫 Is the future just one long, quiet world war?
Cyberattacks between nation states really do feel like the secret world war being waged right now without anyone ever really admitting that’s what it is.
This week, Chinese attacks against the US were big news. As the New York Times reported:
On Monday, the United States again accused China of cyberattacks. But these attacks were highly aggressive, and they reveal that China has transformed into a far more sophisticated and mature digital adversary than the one that flummoxed U.S. officials a decade ago.
The Biden administration’s indictment for the cyberattacks, along with interviews with dozens of current and former American officials, shows that China has reorganized its hacking operations in the intervening years. While it once conducted relatively unsophisticated hacks of foreign companies, think tanks and government agencies, China is now perpetrating stealthy, decentralized digital assaults of American companies and interests around the world.
China hit back, denying the accusation it had hacked Microsoft software, and “claiming through state media that it was the victim of cyber warfare and alleging three specific attacks on China originating from the US,” as Australia’s ABC put it.
There’s always going to be a whole heap of propaganda and misdirection when it comes to making sense of who’s doing what in cyberwarfare. Unlike physical combat, it can be far harder for the general public to do anything other than believe whoever they trust most about what happened. But it’s safe to assume Western countries fling their fair share of attacks towards countries like Russia and China - it’s just that we don’t hear about them.
Countries like the US might have a problem, though. As the New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth explained in a Twitter thread, authoritarian countries have an advantage in how they can deploy their country’s resources on cyber attacks. “The US faces a huge talent shortage. It can’t force engineers at Lockheed into its ranks, or force Google’s engineers to moonlight for Cyber Command. That’s not how it works in a free market economy, one whose IP has been raided for years.”
In the 21st century, we might have to rethink what a ‘world war’ is. What if World War III is just countries constantly hacking each other without a bomb ever being dropped? And if authoritarians are better geared up to fight the 21st century’s dirty behind-the-scenes battles, Western democracies are going to struggle to compete.
Case in point: this week it emerged that authoritarian governments have been using spyware from Israeli company NSO to hack the phones of as many as 50,000 opponents and journalists around the world. The Guardian found 180 journalists on the list, including the editor of the Financial Times and reporters from some of the world’s best-known media outlets.
You’re probably not a victim (these were targeted attacks) but TechCrunch reported on a tool you can use to find out if your phone (iOS or Android) has been affected.
🚗 How far will car subscriptions go?
Tesla has launched a subscription version of its ‘Full Self Driving’ feature. It is not really ‘full’ self driving at all of course, but it does do a bit more of the driving for you than simpler cruise control systems. The feature used to cost a $10,000 lump sum, but is now far more accessible to more people at $199 per month.
I’m wary of a feature that experts say is dangerous being allowed out on public roads. Elon Musk himself said drivers should be “paranoid” about safety while using it. But the whole idea of cars as subscription services is far more exciting.
We’ve seen cars available for a rolling monthly fee for a while, but even for those who buy a car outright or lease it over a number of years, the idea of unlocking advanced features when you want or need them is incredibly appealing. No more having to plan years in advance for features you might eventually need and figuring out whether it’s worth the additional cost - just unlock them whenever you need them.
It’s a reminder that as the growth of electric vehicles bring us to a situation where cars have almost no moving parts, software is the important thing. Give it a few years and most of us will be traveling around in huge computers on wheels.
By that point, let’s just hope the most common car ‘crash’ anyone experiences is a software one you can safely reboot out of before driving away.
🥵 Is anti-tech rhetoric getting overheated?
I’m all for governments getting tough on regulating social platforms. But after Joe Biden seemed to declare that Facebook was “killing people”, only to have to walk it back a few days later, it’s clear the rhetoric has got a bit overheated.
Biden was referring to the problem of vaccine misinformation being spread on Facebook. While it certainly is an issue, and it could feasibly lead to some people dying of Covid-19, there’s no data to back up the idea that false information on Facebook really has directly killed anyone.
In his walk-back Biden claimed he was talking about misinformation spreaders killing people rather than Facebook itself, but even then… where is the evidence?
Biden continues to get tougher on big tech. He’s appointed a noted tech critic in a key antitrust role following a similar appointment at the FTC, where Lina Khan’s appointment has led to pushback from Amazon and Facebook.
But baseless accusations of killing will do nothing to strengthen the White House’s arguments, and will only help the big tech companies’ narrative that they’re being treated unfairly.
👀 ICYMI
  • Netflix is officially getting into games. The company has revealed that it will initially focus on mobile games as an added bonus for subscribers. I reckon you can expect more advanced games on your TV eventually though. The news came as the company reported a slump in user growth. [Sky News]
  • Tesla’s much-loved supercharger network is going to be opened up to drivers of other electric vehicles later this year, Elon Musk said in a tweet. Musk claims many things that don’t always come true but I can’t imagine many Tesla owners will be happy if their exclusive charging points get overrun by other drivers. [TechCrunch]
  • The decentralised finance movement got a boost with the news that Square will launch a new division “focused on building an open developer platform with the sole goal of making it easy to create non-custodial, permissionless, and decentralized financial services.” [The Verge]
  • A documentary maker faced a backlash after he admitted to deepfaking the late Anthony Bourdain’s voice. “You probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know.” [Variety]
🌟 Thing of the week
Steam Deck
🏭 Future of work
Apple employees say the company is cracking down on remote work
Biosafety startup R-Zero acquires CoWorkr to create an ‘OS for the workplace’
It seemed the pandemic could kill Silicon Valley’s dominance of the Western tech world, with many big names from the area moving to cities like Austin and Miami, where existing tech ecosystems welcomed them with open arms. But it appears the draw of the Bay Area was too strong for some of them.
📰 Big reads
The Race to Leave Planet Earth
Just walk out stores: how UK retailers are responding to this hot concept
What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson?
More big reads:
🐣 Tweet of the week
An excellent thread that turns a lot of the arguments drivers have against electric cars back on themselves. Tap through to read it all. 👇
SEE_Sustainability
I am thinking of replacing my electric car with a petrol car and have some questions.
1. I have heard that petrol cars can not refuel at home while you sleep? How often do you have to refill elsewhere? Is this several times a year? Will there be a solution for refueling at home?
(Incidentally, this week the myth that electric vehicles don’t have much of an environmental benefit over their traditional counterparts was busted by a new report.)
Bonus tweet:
That's all for now...
…and we’re done! Thanks for reading. Before you go though…
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See you next week for more.
— Martin
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