Tag Archives: Tech
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which has investigated Alphabet’s Google in the past for abuse of web dominance, said on Wednesday he would take a close look at Europe’s recent decision to fine the company 4.34 billion euros ($ 5 billion).
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a news conference on Google in Brussels, Belgium, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Speaking at a hearing in Capitol Hill, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons said he had spoken on Tuesday with EU antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager.
“We’re going to read what the EU put out very closely,” Simons told a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
In addition to the fine, equal to about two weeks’ revenue, EU antitrust regulators ordered Google to stop using its Android mobile operating system to block rivals. The U.S. tech company said it would appeal.
Asked about the dominance of Google and Apple in the smartphone market, Simons said: “There is the two of them so they compete pretty heavily against each other.”
He added that markets dominated by few companies are where antitrust enforcers often expect to find “problematic conduct.”
The FTC had previously investigated Google for abusing its huge market share in web search, but ended the probe in early 2013 with a mild reprimand.
Also at the hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers from both political parties pressed the five agency commissioners to do more to stop robocallers and to ensure better security for sensitive data.
To tackle these and other issues, the commissioners – three Republicans and two Democrats – said the agency needed more resources and more authority, specifically the ability to create rules relatively quickly.
Simons and others also called for legislation to give the FTC the authority to seek civil penalties in the case of a data breach.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Bernadette Baum
(Reuters) – Retail giant Walmart Inc said on Tuesday it entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft Corp for wider use of cloud and artificial intelligence technology, in a sign of major rivals of Amazon.com Inc coming together.
The five-year agreement will leverage the full range of Microsoft’s cloud solutions, including Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365, to make shopping faster and easier for customers, the Bentonville Arkansas-based company said.
As part of the partnership, Walmart and Microsoft engineers will collaborate to migrate a significant portion of walmart.com and samsclub.com to Azure, Walmart added.
While Walmart is doubling down on its e-commerce presence to better compete with Amazon, Microsoft has been working on a technology that would eliminate cashiers and checkout lines from stores, Reuters reported last month.
Microsoft’s technology aims to help retailers keep pace with Amazon Go, the ecommerce giant’s highly automated store format.
The Windows software maker has also shown the sample technology to retailers from around the world and has had talks with Walmart about a potential collaboration, Reuters reported.
Through the partnership, Walmart plans to defend itself from Amazon’s retail ambitions and expertise in data, and boost its online presence.
Reporting by Rishika Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier
Things have been looking up for customers of Office Depot since last year, when the commercial-messaging startup, Quiq, came to their rescue. According to Mike Myer, Quiq’s founder and CEO, Office Depot customers no longer have to call or fill out an online inquiry form to find out, say, what a particular location has in stock or the status of an existing order. Today, that customer can send a text and have it answered by a helpful Office Depot employee almost immediately. (The first text reply generally gets to the customer within a minute, and the entire back-and-forth is usually completed in less than ten).
Skiers in Jackson Hole are in luck as well, says Myer, who spoke to me from Quiq’s offices, located in the improbably booming tech hub of Bozeman, MT. Wondering about snow conditions or tram hours? All that’s needed is to text the resort for an immediate and up-to-the-minute response. For the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Company, whose entire customer base is a certifiably mobile-only whenever they’re on or headed toward the slopes, this makes a lot more sense, Myer tells me, than a desktop- and email-based support approach.
Overstock.com has also recently implemented Quiq’s solution and is now providing up-to-the minute order information via text. According to Overstock, the most quantifiable “aha” they’ve enjoyed from the new approach is the open rate: 98% for text messages as opposed to “in the single digits” for email.
Micah Solomon, Forbes.com: Tell me what Quiq is and what makes it special.
Mike Meyer, CEO and Founder, Quiq: Quiq is a company in Bozeman Montana that’s focused on making people’s lives easier. You, me and nearly all the consumers out there lead a digital-first lifestyle, where we are always connected. People love text messaging (SMS, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Web chat, etc.) because it’s convenient and fits in with the crazy pace of our lives. By bringing text to business communication, Quiq makes it as easy to talk with companies as it is with friends.
No one likes to make phone calls (let alone to customer service!) and waiting for an email response is like waiting for paint to dry. Messaging is also more efficient for companies since one agent can serve multiple customers concurrently, unlike phone calls, and there’s no seemingly endless back and forth with to solve even a single issue, like there can be with email.
Who are some of Quiq’s marquee clients?
Pier 1, Brink’s Home Security, Tailored Brands (Men’s Wearhouse, Joseph A. Bank), Overstock, Office Depot, Tile, Insikt, and about 80 other great companies.
If my readers want to see your technology in action, where can they look?
Here’s an example they can see for themselves. Go to http://officedepot.com on your mobile phone, you’ll see a Text Us link right next to the phone number at the bottom of the page, which is powered by Quiq. If you were to have a question about a product or order with Office Depot, all you have to do is use that link to get assistance.
There’s a lot of excitement (and apprehension) about AI and chatbots. Your solution takes a different tack. Is this a philosophical choice on your part, a practical one, or both? Tell me your thoughts here.
The hype curve for AI and chatbots is nearing the apex. But I wouldn’t say that these technologies are much help by themselves to true customer service at the moment. Most consumers (me included) can’t point to a satisfying interaction they’ve had with a chatbot that has solved a true, actual customer service issue. Getting the weather from Alexa is perfectly suited for a chatbot. Checking payment status or getting account info is harder, but within chatbot capabilities. Getting an actual customer service issue that requires troubleshooting resolved is orders of magnitude harder.
Quiq is in a great place at a great time because our success isn’t dependent upon how fast AI research is able to solve the chatbot problem. There is a ton of ROI and customer satisfaction to be gained from just adding messaging into existing contact centers with human agents serving customers via text messaging.
This doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to AI and chatbots, when properly deployed I think where they excite me most is in the realm of “bot fusion”: the fusion of chatbots and human agents. A lot of people think about chatbots as first handling the conversation and then passing it to a human if the bot can’t handle it. But we think that agents and bots can work together. There may be a specific dialog that a bot can handle during a conversation between the agent and customer. For instance, identity verification or return address confirmation. If the bot gets confused in its task, it can tap the agent for help. The fusion is the seamless transition of the conversation back and forth between the human agent and their bot assistant without the customer’s awareness.
What role will telephone and email support have in the contact center of the future?
In the future, I believe the majority of interactions in the contact center will be messaging, rather than phone or email. Frankly, I don’t see a need for email to continue to be offered for much longer as a channel in the contact center, since it is so prone to laggy, circular conversations. The phone will still have a place but only in a minority of interactions, and even these will likely start with messaging. Why will the phone still have value? Because there are, and will continue to be, situations in which the consumer wants to be solely focused on troubleshooting a problem. In these cases, speaking is likely to continue to be more efficient than typing. But, the voice conversation will be multimedia, meaning that the agent and customer will be able to text back and forth and view images and video at the same time that they’re on the phone call.
Any advice you can share for other entrepreneurs?
The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is finding and hiring the right people who can stand side-by-side to build a business from the ground up. It isn’t easy work. My advice for entrepreneurs is 1) find a great market opportunity, 2) hire amazing people, and 3) set the direction. Then, get out of the way and let the magic happen!
What about working with investors and partners?
When working with investors and partners, you need to make sure you keep your focus. While investors and partners are important, they’re not building your product and they are not the ones buying it, so be sure to allocate focus to them in the appropriate proportion.
What is the competitive landscape for Quiq?
We think about our competitive landscape in three broad buckets: 1) legacy chat vendors, 2) CRM vendors with a messaging option, and 3) social vendors adding messaging. Quiq is the first messaging platform built from scratch for asynchronous messaging, as opposed to adding messaging onto their synchronous systems.
[Author’s Note: LivePerson’s messaging solution, LiveEngage, was also built from the ground up for asynchronous communications, to the best of my knowledge. Read about LiveEngage in my previous article.]
Our goal isn’t to displace existing CRM or customer support systems. Quiq integrates seamlessly with Salesforce, Zendesk, Oracle and internal systems. So, we’re only competing against other messaging solutions, not the incumbent systems.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he will use a strengthened national security review process to thwart Chinese acquisitions of sensitive American technologies, a softer approach than imposing China-specific investment restrictions.
The Treasury Department has recommended that Trump use the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), whose authority would be enhanced by new legislation in Congress, to control investment deals. The legislation expands the scope of transactions reviewed by the interagency panel to address security concerns, Trump said.
The decision marks a victory for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a fierce White House debate over the scope of such curbs.
Mnuchin had favored a more measured and global approach to protecting U.S. technology, using authority approved by Congress, while White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, the administration’s harshest China critic, had argued for China-specific restrictions.
“We are not, on a wholesale basis, discriminating against China as part of a negotiation,” Mnuchin said on CNBC on Wednesday.
The investment restrictions are part of the administration’s efforts to pressure Beijing into making major changes to its trade, technology transfer and industrial subsidy policies after U.S. complaints that China has unfairly acquired American intellectual property through joint venture requirements, unfair licensing and strategic acquisitions of U.S. tech firms.
“I have concluded that such (CFIUS) legislation will provide additional tools to combat the predatory investment practices that threaten our critical technology leadership, national security, and future economic prosperity,” Trump said in a statement that did not specifically name China.
U.S. stocks rose after Trump announced the new approach to U.S. investment restrictions but reversed gains in afternoon trading.
Senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call that sticking with CFIUS, a process companies are familiar with, would ensure strong inward investment into the United States while protecting the “crown jewels” of U.S. intellectual property.
Trump said in his statement that upon final passage of the legislation, known as the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, he will direct his administration “to implement it promptly and enforce it rigorously, with a view toward addressing the concerns regarding state-directed investment in critical technologies.”
If Congress fails to pass the legislation quickly, Trump said, he would direct the administration to implement new restrictions under executive authority that could be applied globally.
The decision to stick with CFIUS was a pragmatic move because the new CFIUS legislation “will put a crimp in China’s efforts to move up the value chain in high tech,” said Scott Kennedy, head of China studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
But it will likely do little to stop the activation of U.S. tariffs on $ 34 billion worth of Chinese goods, scheduled for July 6, or jump-start trade negotiations between the two economic superpowers, Kennedy said.
And the mixed messages from the administration do not help Trump’s negotiating position, he said.
“It shows the Chinese that the Trump administration is still undependable and can be moved back from the most hardline positions,” Kennedy added.
Mnuchin on CNBC downplayed the dissent within the administration, saying that Trump wants to hear differing views on important issues, but the administration’s economic team typically comes together on major recommendations such as the investment restrictions.
Mnuchin said the new CFIUS legislation, passed 400-2 in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, would broaden the types of transactions that could be reviewed by the panel on national security grounds, including minority stakes, joint ventures and property purchases near U.S. military bases.
“This isn’t a question about being weak or strong, this is about protecting technology. We have the right tools under this legislation to protect technology,” Mnuchin said.
COMMERCE EXPORT CURBS
Trump also said that he has directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to examine U.S. export controls and recommend modifications that may be needed “to defend our national security and technological leadership.”
A Commerce Department spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on the study.
The CFIUS legislation is headed for negotiations between U.S. House and Senate lawmakers in the coming weeks to craft a final version, with guidance from the Treasury.
A sticking point that could emerge is language in the Senate version that would reinstate the ban on Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp (000063.SZ) from purchasing U.S. components for a year. The Commerce Department ban had effectively shut the Shenzhen-based company down, angering Beijing.
The House version has less stringent language prohibiting the U.S. Department of Defense from purchasing any ZTE communications gear.
Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Steve Orlofsky
Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.
A month ago I was milling about a hotel room in New Orleans, procrastinating my prep for on-stage sessions at a tech conference, when I received a startling iMessage. “It’s Alan Murray,” the note said, referring to my boss’ boss’ boss.
Not in the habit of having Mr. Murray text my phone, I sat up straighter. “Please post your latest story here,” he wrote, including a link to a site purporting to be related to Microsoft 365, replete with Microsoft’s official corporate logo and everything. In the header of the iMessage thread, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri offered a suggestion: “Maybe: Alan Murray.”
The sight made me stagger, if momentarily. Then I remembered: A week or so earlier I had granted a cybersecurity startup, Wandera, permission to demonstrate a phishing attack on me. They called it, “Call Me Maybe.”
Alan Murray had not messaged me. The culprit was James Mack, a wily sales engineer at Wandera. When Mack rang me from a phone number that Siri presented as “Maybe: Bob Marley,” all doubt subsided. Jig, up.
There are two ways to pull off this social engineering trick, Mack told me. The first involves an attacker sending someone a spoofed email from a fake or impersonated account, like “Acme Financial.” This note must include a phone number; say, in the signature of the email. If the target responds—even with an automatic, out-of-office reply—then that contact should appear as “Maybe: Acme Financial” whenever the fraudster texts or calls.
The subterfuge is even simpler via text messaging. If an unknown entity identifies itself as Some Proper Noun in an iMessage, then the iPhone’s suggested contacts feature should show the entity as “Maybe: [Whoever].” Attackers can use this disguise to their advantage when phishing for sensitive information. The next step: either call a target to supposedly “confirm account details,” or send along a phishing link. If a victim takes the bait, the swindler is in.
The tactic apparently does not work with certain phrases, like “bank” or “credit union.” However, other terms, like “Wells Fargo,” “Acme Financial,” the names of various dead celebrities—or my topmost boss—have worked in Wandera’s tests, Mack said. Wandera reported the problem as a security issue to Apple on April 25th. Apple sent a preliminary response a week later, and a few days after that said it did not consider the issue to be a “security vulnerability,” and that it had reclassified the bug as a software issue “to help get it resolved.”
What’s alarming about the ploy is how little effort it takes to pull off. “We didn’t do anything crazy here like jailbreak a phone or a Hollywood style attack—we’re not hacking into cell towers,” said Dan Cuddeford, Wandera’s director of engineering. “But it’s something that your layman hacker or social engineer might be able to do.”
To Cuddeford, the research exposes two bigger issues. The first is that Apple doesn’t reveal enough about how its software works. “This is a huge black box system,” he said. “Unless you work for Apple, no one knows how or why Siri does what it does.”
The second concern is more philosophical. “We’re not Elon Musk saying AI is about to take over the world, but it’s one example of how AI itself is not being evil, but can be abused by someone with malicious intent,” Cuddeford said. As we continue to let machines guide our lives, we should be sure we’re aware how they’re making decisions.
Have a great weekend—and watch out for imposters.
Maybe: Robert Hackett
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’sdaily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Smartphone and connected device maker Xiaomi [IPO-XMGP.HK] filed for a Hong Kong initial public offering on Thursday that could raise $ 10 billion and become the largest listing by a Chinese technology firm in almost four years.
Xiaomi’s IPO, which will be one of the first in Hong Kong under new rules to attract tech firm listings, is a major win for the bourse as competition heats up between Hong Kong, New York and the Chinese mainland.
The listing is expected to raise about $ 10 billion via the public offering, giving Beijing-based Xiaomi a market value of between $ 80 billion and $ 100 billion, people familiar with the plans told Reuters.
Those targets, if achieved, will make it the biggest Chinese tech IPO since Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) raised $ 21.8 billion in 2014.
Xiaomi’s prospectus gave investors the first detailed look at its financial health ahead of the much-hyped IPO, which could be launched as soon as end-June, according to the people close to the process who requested anonymity as the details were not yet public.
The numbers underscore how Xiaomi has remained resilient even as the global smartphone market has slowed, helped in part by a push overseas into markets like India.
The company said its revenue was 114.62 billion yuan ($ 18 billion) in 2017, up 67.5 percent against 2016. Operating profit for 2017 was 12.22 billion yuan, up from 3.79 billion yuan a year ago.
It made a net loss of 43.89 billion yuan versus a profit of 491.6 million yuan in 2016, though this was impacted by the fair value changes of convertible redeemable preference shares.
Alongside smartphones, Xiaomi makes dozens of internet-connected home appliances and gadgets, including scooters, air purifiers and rice cookers, although it derives most of its profits from internet services.
Xiaomi doubled its shipments in 2017 to become the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker, according to Counterpoint Research, defying a global slowdown in smartphone sales.
It is also making a big push outside China’s borders, with 28 percent of its sales derived from overseas markets last year, up from 6.1 percent in 2015.
Yet margins on its smartphones are razor-thin. Xiaomi posted a gross profit margin of just 8.8 percent for its smartphone business in 2017 compared to 60 percent for its internet services business.
According to some analyst estimates, Apple’s flagship iPhone X and iPhone 8 have gross margins of around 60 percent.
The company makes the lion’s share of its profit – 60 percent – from internet services, including gaming and advertising linked to its homegrown user interface, MIUI, which had 190 million monthly active users as of March 2018.
Xiaomi’s listing plans come as the company and its investors look to capitalize on a bull run for the Hong Kong market, which has seen the benchmark Hang Seng Index rise about 27 percent over the past year.
Armed with the new rules allowing the listing of companies with dual-class structures, Hong Kong is eyeing several tech listings that are expected in the coming two years from Chinese firms with a combined market cap of $ 500 billion.
Xiaomi said in its IPO application the company would have a weighted voting rights (WVR) structure, or dual-class shares. The WVR give greater power to founding shareholders even with minority shareholding.
The structure would allow the company to benefit from the “continuing vision and leadership” of the dual-class share beneficiaries, who would control the company for its “long-term prospects and strategy”, it said.
Dual-class shares have been a contentious topic in Hong Kong since the city’s strict adherence to a one-share-one-vote principle cost it the float of Alibaba, which instead listed in New York.
Xiaomi is also likely to be among the first Chinese tech firms seeking a secondary listing in its home market, using the planned China depositary receipts route, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
CLSA, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc are sponsoring Xiaomi’s IPO.
($ 1 = 6.3610 Chinese yuan renminbi)
Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing, Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Rushil Dutta in Bengaluru; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing Stephen Coates
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that pretty much every metropolis in the country is claiming to be the next Silicon Valley. In a previous Inc piece I wrote, titled The Advantage Chicago Has Over Silicon Valley, I threw Chicago’s hat in the ring to be considered next in line.
Many Chicagoans have responded positively to the piece, validating Chicago’s entrepreneurial excitement. A handful of people, however, responded with some resistance to the constant comparisons to to Silicon Valley, like this Medium post by Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp: Chicago, be Chicago.
And for good reason–following another city’s playbook limits the space for originality. But on the other hand, resisting to target other cities is problematic and, to a some extent, dangerous.
Why? I’ll get to that in a second, but first I need to share a small part of my story:
I’m a twenty-something entrepreneur born and raised in Chicago. I founded MSTQ, a Chicago-based design and innovation firm, which has afforded me the opportunity to have a hand in some of Chicago’s most exciting tech startups. My work has given me a front row seat to Chicago’s growing tech scene, seeing first-hand this city’s immense potential for innovation.
But there was once a time where I felt a deep sense of wanderlust. Not too long ago, I had dreams of packing a single suitcase and buying a one way ticket out. Admittedly, I felt like there was something bigger than what Chicago had to offer, that Chicago wasn’t forward-thinking enough and that I had outgrown it.
The problem is I’m most definitely not the only aspirational, bright-eyed entrepreneur that has felt this way. Many of my most talented friends–friends with incredibly promising creative potential that I admired–have left Chicago for cities like New York, Los Angeles and, you guessed it, Silicon Valley.
Moreover, Chicago’s population has decreased for the third straight year. Meanwhile, urban populations are increasing everywhere else. While Chicago is still the third-most-populous metropolitan area in the US, it was the only one in the country’s top ten cities that saw a decrease rather than an increase in population, according to the Census Bureau.
So when influential figures in Chicago like Jason Fried resists comparisons to the very cities that are siphoning Chicago’s best native talent, they’re maintaining the status quo.
The crazy irony is that it was Fried himself who once preached the value of illuminating comparisons to competitors. In his book REWORK, here’s what he had to say about “picking fights”:
“If you think a competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you’ll find that others who agree with you will rally to your side. Being the anti-_____ is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers. Taking a stand always stands out. People get stoked by conflict. They take sides. Passions are ignited. And that’s a good way to get people to take notice.”
So, why then, would you shy away from picking a fight with the biggest competitor?
The reality is, Silicon Valley is regarded as the tech and innovation capital of the world, bar none; it’s the modern day Rome of technology and innovation. And you know what they say–all roads lead to Rome, including the one from Chicago.
Insisting that young, ambitious Chicagoans like me ignore the success of the Valley hinders the ability to stand out and develop a sense of pride–a key ingredient in motivating the next generation of talent to stay in Chicago.
Shouldn’t there be a target to aspire to? A vision to rally around?
Look, I get it. Let’s build something that’s our own. Let’s stop copying other cities. Let’s be original. Let’s not inflate our rent prices. Let’s make Chicago winters cool.
But instilling the belief that Chicago can be better than the best requires learning from and acknowledging the best. If today’s leaders in Chicago are going to preach a philosophy to its next generation of tech leaders, let it be Kobe Bryant’s perspective on comparisons to Michael Jordan:
“When you’re looking at players out there now, you’re saying, ‘OK, there’s not a next Michael Jordan.’ It’s not about the surface stuff. It’s about: Are they approaching the game the way he did?”
That way, the next generation of tech talent can not only better understand the formula for success, but also the Chicago’s unique strengths in comparison. And in Fried’s words, picking a fight with the best might inspire them to rally around the potential for the Second City to be first in innovation.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration this week will unveil the list of Chinese imports targeted for U.S. tariffs to punish Beijing over technology transfer policies, a move expected to intensify trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
The list of $ 50 billion to $ 60 billion worth of annual imports is expected to target “largely high-technology” products and it may be more than two months before tariffs take effect, administration officials have said.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office needs to unveil the list of products by Friday under President Donald Trump’s China tariff proclamation signed on March 22.
The tariffs are aimed at forcing changes to Chinese government policies that USTR says results in the “uneconomic” transfer of U.S. intellectual property to Chinese companies.
The agency’s “Section 301” investigation authorizing the tariffs alleges China has systematically sought to misappropriate U.S. intellectual property through joint venture requirements, unfair technology licensing rules, purchases of U.S. technology firms with state funding and outright theft.
China has denied that its laws require technology transfers and has threatened to retaliate against any U.S. tariffs with trade sanctions of its own, with potential targets such as U.S. soybeans, aircraft or heavy equipment.
On Sunday, Beijing slapped extra tariffs of up to 25 percent on 128 U.S. products including frozen pork, as well as wine and certain fruits and nuts in response to steep U.S. tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel announced last month by the Trump administration.
Fears have arisen that the two countries will spiral into a trade war that will crush global growth.
TARGETING ‘MADE IN CHINA 2025’
U.S. technology industry officials said they expected the Trump administration’s list to target products that benefit from Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” program, which aims to upgrade the country’s domestic manufacturing base with more advanced products.
The state-led program targets 10 strategic industries for replacing imports with Chinese-made products: advanced information technology, robotics, aircraft, shipbuilding and marine engineering, advanced rail equipment, new energy vehicles, electrical generation equipment, agricultural machinery, pharmaceuticals and advanced materials.
“Foreign technology acquisition through various means remains a prime focus under Made in China 2025 because China is still catching up in many of the areas prioritized for development,” USTR said in its report justifying the tariffs.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said that preserving America’s technological edge is “the future of the U.S. economy.”
Reports that the tariff list may also include consumer goods such as clothing and footwear drew strong protests from U.S. business groups, which argued that it would raise prices for U.S. consumers.
LIMITED TIME FOR TALKS
While there have been contacts between senior members of the Trump administration and their Chinese counterparts since Trump announced his intention to impose tariffs, there has been little evidence of intensive negotiations to forestall them.
“The administration is following the Japan model from the 1980s,” said a tech industry executive. “They’ll publish a Federal Register notice of tariffs on certain products, then try to reach a negotiated settlement over the next 60 days.”During his first stint at USTR in the Reagan administration, Lighthizer employed similar tactics to win voluntary Japanese export restraints on steel and autos.
Wendy Cutler, a former deputy USTR in charge of Asia negotiations, said that addressing the sweeping intellectual property allegations identified by USTR would require major changes to China’s industrial policy. A 60-day settlement may not be realistic in that case.
“I think they’ve set up a high bar for what they need to achieve, in order not to impose these types of tariffs and investment restrictions,” Cutler said.
Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Every time a tech company does something patently ignorant or offensive, it’s rarely worth asking the question: “What were they thinking?”
Almost always, the answer is: “They weren’t.”
And they certainly weren’t feeling.
An example is an ad released by Snapchat last week for its “Would You Rather!” game. It asked whether you’d rather “Slap Rihanna” or “Punch Chris Brown.”
In 2009, Brown and Rihanna were involved in a much-publicized incident of domestic violence. Brown was charged with battery.
And this is something to “joke” about?
Please, take a look.
Rihanna responding to Snapchat’s ad. I can’t believe they did this. pic.twitter.com/TpHQIXTm4j
— Gennette Cordova (@GNCordova) March 15, 2018
Oh, Snapchat finally took the ad down and offered some sort of apology.
“The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines. We immediately removed the ad last weekend, once we became aware. We are sorry that this happened,” the company said.
You might have thought that it had somehow slipped out without anyone noticing.
Yet this statement suggests that actual human beings examined it and decided it was appropriate for publication.
For her part, Rihanna has now offered a response — remarkably measured, in the circumstances.
She said: “I’d love to call it ignorance, but I know you ain’t that dumb! You spent money to animate something that would bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it!!!”
This is surely the point. You can’t blame a rogue algorithm here. You can’t blame a malevolent piece of code.
Someone designed this execrable item. Someone animated it and then someone looked at it and approved it.
And no one stopped to think: “This is so thoroughly vile and tasteless that we should all be ashamed of ourselves?”
Shouldn’t all those someone‘s face consequences?
“All the women, children and men that have been victims of DV in the past and especially the ones who haven’t made it out yet…you let us down!,” continued the singer. “Shame on you. Throw the whole app-oligy away.”
Snapchat tried again with, yes, an apology.
A company spokeswoman told me: “This advertisement is disgusting and never should have appeared on our service. We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again.”
But it will happen again. And again.
Tech companies rely so much on machines that many of their employees think exactly like those machines.
To reinforce the fatal loop, the people who create the code and algorithms behind the machines tend to think like machines, too.
So when decisions are made, any actual human emotions are cast aside. Or never even engaged.
Worse, too many have grown up — sort of — with the belief that you move fast, break things and apologize later.
Well, your PR people pen your apology, while you’re too busy coding.
Apologizing is easy.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, has made an art form out of it.
For example, after he and a colleague performed a VR promotion while staring blankly at the suffering homeless of Puerto Rico and high-fiving.
Will this complete blindness when it comes to understanding, appreciating and, frankly, even feeling human emotions ever change?
The mood around tech is dark these days. Social networks are a cesspool of harassment and lies. On-demand firms are producing a bleak economy of gig labor. AI learns to be racist. Is there anyplace where the tech news is radiant with old-fashioned optimism? Where good cheer abounds?
Why, yes, there is: clean energy. It is, in effect, the new Silicon Valley—filled with giddy, breathtaking ingenuity and flat-out good news.
This might seem surprising given the climate-change denialism in Washington. But consider, first, residential solar energy. The price of panels has plummeted in the past decade and is projected to drop another 30 percent by 2022. Why? Clever engineering breakthroughs, like the use of diamond wire to slice silicon wafers into ever-skinnier slabs, producing higher yields with less raw material.
Manufacturing costs are down. According to US government projections, the fastest-growing occupation of the next 10 years will be solar voltaic installer. And you know who switched to solar power last year, because it was so cheap? The Kentucky Coal Museum.
Tech may have served up Nazis in social media streams, but, hey, it’s also creating microgrids—a locavore equivalent for the solar set. One of these efforts is Brooklyn-based LO3 Energy, a company that makes a paperback-sized device and software that lets owners of solar-equipped homes sell energy to their neighbors—verifying the transactions using the blockchain, to boot. LO3 is testing its system in 60 homes on its Brooklyn grid and hundreds more in other areas.
“Buy energy and you’re buying from your community,” LO3 founder Lawrence Orsini tells me. His chipsets can also connect to smart appliances, so you could save money by letting his system cycle down your devices when the network is low on power. The company uses internet logic—smart devices that talk to each other over a dumb network—to optimize power consumption on the fly, making local clean energy ever more viable.
But wait, doesn’t blockchain number-crunching use so much electricity it generates wasteful heat? It does. So Orsini invented DareHenry, a rack crammed with six GPUs; while it processes math, phase-changing goo absorbs the outbound heat and uses it to warm a house. Blockchain cogeneration, people! DareHenry is 4 feet of gorgeous, Victorianesque steampunk aluminum—so lovely you’d want one to show off to guests.
Solar and blockchain are only the tip of clean tech. Within a few years, we’ll likely see the first home fuel-cell systems, which convert natural gas to electricity. Such systems are “about 80 percent efficient,” marvels Garry Golden, a futurist who has studied clean energy. (He’s also on LO3’s grid, with the rest of his block.)
The point is, clean energy has a utopian spirit that reminds me of the early days of personal computers. The pioneers of the 1970s were crazy hackers, hell-bent on making machines cheap enough for the masses. Everyone thought they were nuts, or small potatoes—yet they revolutionized communication. When I look at Orsini’s blockchain-based energy-trading routers, I see the Altair. And there are oodles more inventors like him.
Mind you, early Silicon Valley had something crucial that clean energy now does not: massive federal government support. The military bought tons of microchips, helping to scale up computing. Trump’s band of climate deniers aren’t likely to be buyers of first resort for clean energy, but states can do a lot. California already has, for instance, by creating quotas for renewables. So even if you can’t afford this stuff yourself, you should pressure state and local officials to ramp up their solar energy use. It’ll give us all a boost of much-needed cheer.
Write to email@example.com.
This article appears in the January issue. Subscribe now.