Lawmakers, child development experts, and privacy advocates are expressing concerns about two new Amazon products targeting children, questioning whether they prod kids to be too dependent on technology and potentially jeopardize their privacy. In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, two members of the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus raised concerns about Amazon's smart speaker Echo Dot Kids and a companion service called FreeTime Unlimited that lets kids access a children's version of Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled digital assistant. "While these types of artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology offer potentially new educational and entertainment opportunities, Americans' privacy, particularly children's privacy, must be paramount," wrote Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), both cofounders of the privacy caucus. The letter includes a dozen questions, including requests for details about how audio of children's interactions is recorded and saved, parental control over deleting recordings, a list of third parties with access to the data, whether data will be used for marketing purposes, and Amazon's intentions on maintaining a profile on kids who use these products. Echo Dot Kids is the latest in a wave of products from dominant tech players targeting children, including Facebook's communications app Messenger Kids and Google's YouTube Kids, both of which have been criticized by child health experts concerned about privacy and developmental issues.
But when Sonos started working on integrating Alexa into its multi-room wireless music system a year and a half ago, though, that setup posed a problem. Most Sonos users have more than one speaker, and a surround sound system full of blinking lights would turn their homes into an ersatz light show. Plus, it felt wrong: Sonos is an audio company, betting its future on sound as the interface for all the tech in your home. There had to be an audible way for Alexa to let you know it's listening. The team seized on a setting buried in the Alexa app, which enables what Amazon calls "sound cues."
Google once had a reputation for bankrolling moonshots. It spent billions creating a self-driving car, started Google Fiber to bring ultra-high-speed internet to the masses, and acquired the Darpa-backed robotics company Boston Dynamics. But since restructuring itself as a holding company called Alphabet in 2015 and moving many of its bigger ideas outside the core Google business structure, Mountain View's ambitions have become a little more sober and its investment strategy more restrained. As Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat put it during an earnings call last year: "We continue to rationalize our portfolio of products to ensure we efficiently and effectively focus our resources behind our biggest bets across Alphabet." In practical terms, that's meant scaling back Google Fiber and selling off some of its wilder projects, and it's also opened the door for another company–the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank–to take the lead on some of today's most audacious bets in global tech.
Kameron Hurley's science fiction novel The Stars Are Legion almost never saw the inside of a book store. She came up with the idea in 2012, but she and her agent didn't think anyone would buy it. But two years later, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice swept the major science fiction awards, Guardians of the Galaxy became a surprise box office smash, and Syfy announced plans to make The Expanse into a TV show. Hurley's book soon found a home at Saga Press. "Publishers started snapping up space operas, leading to a huge demand that needed to be filled," she says.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich promised $7 billion today to resume construction of a chip factory near Phoenix that could one day employ 3,000 people. But he didn't make the announcement at the job site or on stage during a Silicon Valley keynote. Instead, Krzanich stood in the Oval Office holding a sheet of microchips next to President Trump. The photo-op played into Trump's #AmericaFirst promise of more US manufacturing jobs, and the president didn't waste time exploiting the PR moment. But everything was not as it looked.
When you finally get your chance to ride in an autonomous Uber, you may find yourself clambering into a Mercedes-Benz. That's because Daimler, which owns Mercedes, announced today that it will use Uber's immense network to deploy its own robocars. Last year, it struck up with Volvo, which built Uber's autonomous tech into a fleet of XC90 SUVs for testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco (until the California DMV kicked it out). But the Daimler deal marks a new approach for Uber. Until now, its public plan called for stuffing its homegrown tech into vehicles built by an established manufacturer like Volvo, then deploying it.
Ford's plan to shift the production of small cars from Michigan to Mexico dismayed those people worried about the demise of American manufacturing. Donald Trump--who has called the factory Ford already operates south of the border a "disgrace"--took to Fox News last week to make the bogus assertion that the automaker "plans to fire all its employees in the United States." Of the 11 new car factories built in North America since 2011, nine are in Mexico. But that does not equate to cutting jobs in the US. In fact, Ford building small cars in Mexico allows the automaker to ramp up production of trucks and SUVs in the states, which is good news locally and more widely.
Today is Amazon's second annual Prime Day, the made-up shopping holiday where Amazon makes hundreds of thousands of discounted deals available to Prime members. And chances are it will go even better for Amazon this year than it did the last. Amazon launched Prime Day a year ago to commemorate its 20th anniversary, and in spite of what many subscribers viewed as a rather lame product lineup, the company said it sold more on Prime Day than on Black Friday in 2014--34.4 million items sold, or 398 per second. Beyond the sheer number of deals, Prime Day reveals much about Amazon's deeper strategy for selling more. Amazon keeps oiling its logistics machine to make delivery faster: this year customers in more than 25 US metro areas will be able to get their Prime Day hauls in an hour or less via Prime Now, Amazon's superfast same-day delivery service.
The press release said that the chipmaker was cutting 11 percent of its global workforce in order to "accelerate its evolution from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices." Considering that the PC market is dying and that Intel had never really been successful as a chipmaker for mobile phones, Intel is right to restructure (and remarket) itself as a cloud company--and, per the press release, as a data center company. According to research firm IDC, Intel controls 99 percent of the market for chips that drive computer servers. In short, Intel is pretty much telling the truth when it says that "the data center and Internet of Things (IoT) businesses are Intel's primary growth engines."