Layoffs killing innovation, AI-cloning technology that shows President Biden reading transphobic text and data brokers selling your mental health data – cheap.
It’s Tuesday, February 14th. These stories and more on Hashtag Trending–today’s top technology news stories. I’m your host, Jim Love.
Layoffs have shattered dreams and sidelined the intriguing and potentially valuable projects.
As they struggle to reign in costs and shore up share values, Big Tech has been reconsidering their approach towards funding moonshot projects with uncertain returns.
Will there be Microsoft’s a third iteration of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset after the company cut 10,000 workers? And what about Amazon’s robotics and drone delivery, or Meta’s vision for the metaverse after their drastic reductions in headcount?
It’s no surprise that risk takers and innovators will bear the brunt of economic challenges. But in fact, slashing the workforce and doubling down on profitable departments does make investors very happy.
There is still a great deal of innovation funding aimed at Artificial Intelligence. In fact, investors have been flocking to AI stocks. But we can easily forget that at one point, AI was a moonshot that required years of investment that might or might not pay off.
That being said, it’s important to note that the biggest tech companies launched by people who were part of previous downsizing, such as the famous tech bubble that burst in the early 2000’s.
Could the silver lining be that layoffs translate into a new group of innovators and entrepreneurs?
These are key questions, especially since spate of layoffs is far from over.
Cloud communications company Twilio Inc (TWLO.N) said on Monday that it was eliminating about 17 per cent of its staff and closing some offices as part of a restructuring effort to focus on profitability.
Streaming service Disney has yet to announce the details of its 7,000 job cuts. But the company’s chief technology officer, Jeremy Doig packed his bags before the cuts could be made official. Hopefully, when others pack their bags they don’t take future innovation with them.
Source: Axios & Bloomberg News & Reuters
Voice cloning tools could be an alarming misuse of AI technology.
We watched in amazement as President Joe Biden’s Jan.25 news report on tanks has been doctored to make it appear he gave a speech that attacks transgender people. The doctored video garnered thousands of views on social media.
Digital forensics experts say that the video was created using a new generation of AI tools which allow anyone to quickly generate audio, simulating a person’s voice, with a small sample and a few mouse clicks.
The video failed to fool most users, but raised the alarm on how easy it is to create deep fake videos filled with misinformation and hateful content.
Hafiz Malik, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan who focuses on multimedia forensics said that “Tools like this are going to basically add more fuel to the fire. He added “The monster is already on the loose.”
Accordingly, following the Biden’s video, other such videos surfaced including Hillary Clinton reading the same transphobic text, Bill Clinton saying the Covid-19 vaccine causes AIDS and actress Emma Watson reading Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf”
At least one company, ElevenLabs’ whose voice synthesis platform allows users to reproduce such kind of content said that it is exploring safeguards to clamp down on the misuse, following the surge of deep fake videos
However, the startup maintained that the technology was developed to dub audio in different languages for movies, audiobooks and gaming to preserve the speaker’s voice and emotions, not to be used to fuel hate speech and disinformation.
Source: AP News
The fourth quarter of 2022 saw the biggest fall in PC processor shipments in three decades, according to Mercury Research. The company says that CPU sales are suffering their biggest year-on-year slump since they started recording that data in 1994. The company notes that this is part of a trend, where every quarter the decline breaks the previous record.
Excluding ARM processers, which seem to be defying the trend, around 374 million CPUs were shipped in 2022 which is 21 percent less than in 2021. 2022 CPU revenues saw a 19 per cent drop to $65 billion.
One reason for the slump is inventory adjustments which might mean that although shipments dramatically plummeted, it might not indicate a drastic decline in sales to end users.
As noted, the decline is not across the board. While x86 processors have slumped ARM processors are gaining market share in the laptop market, and have not suffered the same decline x86 units suffered last year.
Analysts at Mercury predict that the decline in CPU shipments could continue through the first half of 2023 will persist before turning around in the second half of the year.
New data from Counterpoint Research, reported that it takes $464 US to manufacture the iPhone 14 Pro Max with 128 GB according to a story in industry blog 9to5Mac.
The article notes that while Apple doesn’t disclose its profit margins or production costs on a per device basis, it does report its overall profit margin – which Apple claims is about 37 per cent which the authors note is historically very stable for apple.
So how is it that the iPhone 14 Pro Max costs the same as the previous iPhone 13 Pro Max?
The cost to make iPhone 14 Pro Max is roughly 3.4 per cent more expensive than the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The main reason for this difference is the new 48MP rear camera as well as the new “always-on” display.
The new A16 Bionic chip costs Apple around $11 more per unit than the older A15 Bionic chip. But external costs are apparently not the only factor. Some other components, such as those in the 5G cellular technology have fallen in cost as 5G cellular becomes more popular.
Apple’s self-designed components account for 22 per cent of the overall bill of materials cost of the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Apple works very closely with its suppliers to finalize costs well in advance of production. So even with these cost increases, and inflationary pressures on production, assembly, packaging and distribution – Apple has kept the line on prices avoiding a repeat of prior relatively high increases in costs between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12.
Now if only someone could do that to the price of eggs.
You can buy mental health records of 10,000 people for as little as $0.20. And you get a discount if you buy in bulk.
Lots of companies will line up to sell these to you. They will even include the names, emails, home addresses, income and ethnicity of people with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or OCD.
At least that’s what a study published by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy has reported. The researchers found at least a dozen data brokers were offering to sell mental health data at cheap prices, often with no resistance from the person trying to buy the data and little to no restrictions on how the information is used.
The data brokers scavenge the information coming from from personal devices and health tracking. But they also scavenge web traffic data, some of which is sold to advertisers. Even a search on WebMD compromises your medical data.
Incredibly, this of not covered by The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
HIPAA’s health data rules are limited to “covered entities” including doctors and health care providers, insurance companies, and businesses who work with them directly.
Regulators are only just starting to investigate, but it isn’t certain whether US law gives them the authority to interfere.
Thank heaven that Congress always moves quickly to deal with technology challenges.
That’s the top tech news stories for today.
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I’m Jim Love – and with this last name, I’m the perfect person to say – happy Valentines Day. Talk to you tomorrow.