Tech crashes Hollywood's party
Your five-minute guide to what's happening in tech this Monday, from Elon Musk's disdain for Facebook to the rise of ransomware.
Good morning! This Monday, the Trump administration is ready to spend on quantum and AI, Nevada has a new plan for its caucuses, and Bill Gates goes shopping.
People Are Talking
Huawei's North American CSO Andy Purdy got a chilly reception at the Suits & Spooks security conference in D.C. Starting with this line from conference organizer Jeffrey Carr:
- "I think there is legitimate anger toward you personally and the company because you are a U.S. citizen and have a background in U.S. government, and now you're working for the enemy."
Tech companies must help pay for societal problems they cause, a Seattle housing lobbyist told Protocol's Lauren Hepler:
- "Homelessness used to be a sign of urban decline. Now it's a sign of urban success."
Elon Musk tweeted his disdain for the big blue app:
- "#DeleteFacebook It's lame"
There's no way we're going back to the moon in 2024, according to retired ISS commander Leroy Chiao:
- "They've set things up so that there's a somewhat believable story that if the money shows up, they can do it if everything goes perfectly. But we know from history that that doesn't usually happen."
Rebekah Neumann was a driving force behind WeWork, says an anonymous former exec:
- "Adam was sort of wayward before, a failed entrepreneur slash party boy. Whatever it was she saw in him was incredibly productive. Arguably, she harnessed it to such a degree that it went too far."
The Big Story
The White House doubles down on AI, quantum
- The budget will earmark nearly $2 billion for AI research by 2022, up from $973 million today.
- It also includes $860 million in "quantum information sciences" spending within the next two years, double the 2020 number.
- The budget is also expected to include a windfall for the National Science Foundation, "for AI-related grants and interdisciplinary research institutes, rising to more than $850 million."
U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios, without confirming the exact figures, said in a statement that the budget will "ensure America continues to lead the world in critical technologies like AI and quantum. America's economic strength and national security depend on it." The Trump administration has repeatedly expressed that it will do whatever it takes to keep up with China on AI, quantum, 5G, and any other technology that smells like the future.
- At the same time, Reuters reported the White House will propose a cut in overall federal R&D spending: $142.2 billion, down from the Congress-approved $155.9 billion in 2020.
- Last year, the administration cited "security of the American people" and "American leadership in the industries of the future" as its top two R&D priorities. Expect something similar this year.
Tech crashes Hollywood's party
"Jeff Bezos is here!" Chris Rock said early on at the Oscars. "He's got cash. When he writes a check, the bank bounces." The crowd laughed, Bezos smile-grimaced, and Rock kept going. When he asked Steve Martin if he had anything to add, Martin just said no. "I like getting my packages on time." Smart guy, that Steve Martin.
The Oscars has become an annual assessment of whether tech (and Netflix in particular) is truly eating Hollywood. But this year, tech was omnipresent.
- Rock blamed Twitter for the Oscars' ongoing hostlessness … which of course sparked a big debate on Twitter.
- Taika Waititi, the director of "Jojo Rabbit" and "Thor: Ragnarok," took issue with Mac keyboards: "They are impossible to write on — they've gotten worse. It makes me want to go back to PCs."
- Samsung teased its not-yet-announced foldable phone with a couple of ads in the show.
- In addition, I saw ads from Google, Adobe, Quibi, Verizon, more Quibi, Microsoft, Apple, Quibi we get it already, Comcast, Facebook, and I swear Quibi I'm gonna lose my mind. And I bet I missed some! The overall message was clear: Some tech companies build tools, some make content, but they all want the creative class to love them.
- Netflix was nominated for 24 Oscars but won just two: for best supporting actress (Laura Dern in "Marriage Story"), and best documentary feature ("American Factory"). It had two Best Picture nominees, but lost to the night's big winner, "Parasite."
My favorite Oscars tech story: In 2016, Matthew Cherry tweeted, "Any 3D artists follow me? I got an Oscar worthy short film idea to go with this image. Get at me 😳." In 2017, that tweet became a Kickstarter. On Sunday night, Cherry won the best animated short Oscar for that idea, which became "Hair Love."
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Caucusing? There's an(other) app for that
After the app-related chaos in Iowa, Democrats in Nevada were left scrambling to find a new way to run their own caucuses. Rather than use Shadow's app, as they'd originally planned, party officials landed on … a different app. Just don't call it that.
- Party officials told the Times, "we are not using something you can download on your phone." Which may just be a technicality: The Nevada Independent reported that Democrats will instead be loading apps onto iPads and running their caucuses that way.
- In a training video viewed by the Independent, a Dem staffer said that the "tool" — they took great pains to avoid calling it an app — will be used to collect and process data.
- As for how results would be transmitted, the feature that became such a problem in Iowa? "We're still working out the details," the staffer said.
- CBS News reported that the app — sorry, the tool — will work offline, and in fact the iPads used at precincts around Nevada won't be connected to the internet at all.
After Iowa, calls for a return to low-tech options were everywhere. How things go in Nevada will help answer a key question: Was Iowa a one-off disaster, or are high-tech elections a bad idea?
COMING UP THIS WEEK
A House panel wants to talk autonomous cars. On Tuesday, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hear from trade groups, safety advocates and transit officials as they continue to work on self-driving legislation.
Samsung has a big event in San Francisco on Tuesday. The company will announce that foldable phone — called the Z Flip — it teased during the Oscars, along with the Galaxy S20 and new AirPod-style Galaxy Bud headphones.
Lyft, Cisco, Shopify, Alibaba, Nvidia, Cloudflare and Roku all report earnings this week.
In Other News
- Amazon and Sony are the latest companies to pull out of Mobile World Congress, the annual mobile jamboree to be held in Barcelona next week, for coronavirus-related reasons. LG, Nvidia, Ericsson and others have done the same. The GSMA, which puts on the show, sent a not-terribly-reassuring note to attendees describing the many safety precautions in place for those who do show up.
- TCL captured the U.S. TV market, and now it's gunning for Samsung. Protocol's Janko Roettgers profiles the Chinese company as it takes on its next task: phones.
- A new video is testing content policies on Twitter and Facebook. President Trump shared an edited video of Nancy Pelosi ripping his State of the Union speech, which some are saying was deceptively edited. Twitter and Facebook both have policies about misleadingly edited content, but neither has taken action on the video. Yet.
- Ransomware is on the rise. A security firm told the Times that 205,280 organizations submitted ransomware-affected files last year, up 41% from 2018. In the last quarter of the year, the average price to free those files was $84,116.
- Thank Travis Kalanick for today's buzzword-soup investment: He is backing a startup building "Club Med for Millennials," which was created at Burning Man and is planning to build 3D-printed hotels all over the world. The pitch is a cross between a hostel and a five-star hotel. Whatever that means.
- Google might be in trouble with the EU again. The Financial Times reports that a group of 34 travel companies — including Expedia and TripAdvisor — have complained to the EU's competition commissioner, saying that Google unfairly promotes its own vacation rental search tool.
One More Thing
Bill Gates hits the open water
A couple of years ago, Bill Gates told Ellen Degeneres that his two craziest billionaire purchases were a plane and a Porsche. Fairly tame for the second-richest person in the world! His latest splurge is a little wilder: a $644 million superyacht. The Telegraph reports that the 370-foot ship, which looks like something not even a Bond villain could dream of, powers its luxe amenities and space for 45 people with "two 28-ton vacuum-sealed tanks to store liquid hydrogen at minus 252 Celcius." Given that Gates is an investor in at least one energy startup, and a big proponent of a world without fossil fuels, it's practically a business expense, right?
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A correction to Friday's newsletter: In my write-up of Charles Levinson's story about Facebook's privacy settlement in Illinois, I mischaracterized the results of the lawsuit. In fact, the settlement is being used to argue in favor of a right to sue in privacy laws being debated elsewhere; it did not end any private citizens' right to sue. Sorry for the mistake.