Tech news roundup: 18th August

Aug 18, 2023
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In this week's tech news, we cover Snapchat’s AI glitch, OpenAI’s acquisition of Global Illumination, NYC Bans TikTok, YouTube Music’s new feature, Kenya vs Sam Altman’s Worldcoin, Amazon’s new AI, Mastercard partners with MTN Group and PayPal’s new leadership

Snapchat's AI Glitch: A Cautionary Tale

In a recent twist, Snapchat experienced an unexpected hiccup with its AI system, which led to unapproved content being featured on users' Stories. At first glance, there was a whirlwind of speculation that the platform's AI might have acted autonomously in a rogue manner. However, Snapchat was quick to douse these flames of concern by confirming that this anomaly was merely a technical glitch and not a deliberate AI misstep.

Many users were alarmed to find unfamiliar content on their Stories without their green light. Such an occurrence fueled discussions around the increasing sophistication of AI and the potential risks attached to it. Snapchat's AI, lovingly termed "My AI," thankfully hadn't gone rogue, but the situation still emphasized the immense responsibilities that come with integrating AI systems into digital platforms.

Snapchat's transparent and prompt clarification showed a commitment to their user base. Their declaration that the mishap was due to a programmatic error, not a premeditated AI deviation, reminds us of the increasing necessity to prioritize user trust and data security, especially as AI continues to weave itself into the fabric of our digital experiences.

Incidents like this underscore a pivotal takeaway: as we hurtle towards an even more AI-driven digital world, the importance of stringent testing, quality assurance, and real-time oversight cannot be understated. Snapchat's rapid response might set a precedence, encouraging tech giants to champion clarity and swift communication whenever glitches arise.

To wrap it up, while Snapchat's recent AI glitch caused a stir by inadvertently posting content, it served as a pertinent reminder of the critical balance between technological innovation and ensuring user trust remains uncompromised.

OpenAI Acquires Pioneering AI Design Studio

OpenAI has just announced an exciting acquisition: Global Illumination, the renowned AI design studio. This bold move cements OpenAI's dedication to propelling the AI industry forward, especially in the areas of creative design and content production.

For those unfamiliar, Global Illumination has become synonymous with state-of-the-art AI-driven design tools. Industries across the spectrum have utilized their solutions to craft captivating visual content. This recent union with OpenAI represents a harmonious merging of visions, where both entities seek to leverage AI for an array of innovative applications.

The underpinnings of this acquisition tell a bigger story about OpenAI's vision. By joining forces with Global Illumination, OpenAI is not only aiming to consolidate knowledge in AI design but also nurture innovation in the space. The overarching goal? Develop AI systems capable of autonomously producing stellar creative content.

But what does this mean for industries like advertising, graphic design, and content creation? Quite a lot, actually. As AI technology matures, so does its knack for mimicking human-like creativity. With the integration of Global Illumination's tools, we might soon see AI-produced designs that are indistinguishable from those crafted by human hands.

To sum it up, this acquisition is not just a transaction—it’s a pivotal moment for the future of AI-driven design. By blending OpenAI's robust AI research with Global Illumination's design prowess, we’re inching closer to a world where creativity is a shared endeavor between humans and machines. This partnership signals a promising shift in the digital creative landscape, propelling us towards uncharted territories of innovation and expression.

NYC Bans TikTok on Government Devices

New York City has officially entered the arena of places putting their foot down on the use of TikTok over potential security concerns linked to its Chinese origins. City agencies received a directive: they have just a month to remove the popular social media app from any city-owned gadget. Behind this decision is NYC Cyber Command, a part of the city's tech-focused division, which conducted a comprehensive security audit.

It's not just NYC. The globally beloved app, which is a ByteDance product, has been under the microscope for a while. Reasons? Worries over whether its Chinese connection might be a chink in national security armor. States like New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and even Georgia have taken similar cautionary steps, limiting the app's use on state devices.

The concern isn't restricted to the state level. Just last December, the U.S. House of Representatives sounded its own alarm bell with a similar embargo. Plus, the Biden-led administration is playing hardball, nudging TikTok to break away from its Chinese guardian. In the thick of it all, TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, stood firm in Congress, emphasizing that ByteDance doesn't double up as a Chinese spy.

In an interesting twist, Montana's making an even broader sweep. By 2024, TikTok will be a no-go for everyone in the state, not just officials. Unsurprisingly, this move has triggered a legal tug-of-war, with tech giants rallying behind TikTok.

Despite TikTok's endeavors to tighten its security protocols, past blemishes, like tracking journalists to plug internal news leaks, haven't helped its case. However, some critics highlight a bigger question: Is the TikTok threat really an outlier, considering China's sway over its corporates?

Zooming out, this unfolding drama around TikTok spotlights the juggling act we face today—blending the joys of tech advancements with the imperatives of data privacy and national defense.

YouTube Music Unveils "Samples" to Boost Music Discovery

Diving deep into the realm of short-form video feeds, YouTube Music has unveiled a fresh feature named "Samples." Drawing inspiration from the swipeable format made popular by TikTok, this feature promises to give users bite-sized insights into recommended tracks, their associated artists, and the accompanying music videos. The aim? A richer, more immersive music discovery experience.

With younger generations veering towards short videos to unearth new music, YouTube Music isn’t staying behind. In fact, Brandon Bilinski, their director of product management, points out that these short snippets have emerged as a significant tool for musical discovery, coming second only to recommendations from loved ones.

YouTube Music, with its vast repository of official videos and live gigs, isn't just stopping at swiping. They're pushing users to delve deeper. Upon coming across an intriguing clip, users are nudged to check out the entire music video or the full-length live performance. The goal is a harmonious blend – making room for the current love for brevity while nudging users towards longer content. As users navigate through the Samples feed, they can engage in a multitude of actions – be it curating playlists, sharing songs, or even whipping up "Shorts."

Bilinski envisions this feed as an expansive musical repository, tuned finely to resonate with individual user preferences. It doesn’t just stop at new discoveries. Previously listened-to tracks and their videos find their place too. Drawing parallels with Spotify’s approach to music discovery, YouTube Music’s initiative beautifully marries sound with visuals, offering sneak peeks into albums, playlists, and solo tracks.

While there's buzz around more video-based features, YouTube Music's current game plan is to commence with a straightforward feed and then broaden their horizons. The idea is to weave in these short discovery snippets across the app and make room for new artist discovery experiences.

Currently, the Samples tab is making its debut for YouTube Music aficionados across iOS and Android. It signifies a renewed commitment to redefine how we engage with and discover music, adding another feather to YouTube Music's already impressive hat.

Kenya Puts Brakes on Worldcoin's Biometric Data Collection

In the lead-up to an official ban on iris scans by the crypto startup Worldcoin, the Kenyan Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) was already waving red flags. Earlier in the year, the ODPC had told Worldcoin's parent entity, Tools for Humanity, to put a halt to their data collection efforts. By May, the message was clear: stop the iris scans and quit gathering facial recognition and personal data, all because of brewing privacy worries.

Yet despite this stern cautioning, Tools for Humanity went full steam ahead, collecting biometric details right up until the Kenyan Ministry of Interior and Administration hit the brakes post-Worldcoin's official rollout. And what a rollout it was, drawing scores of folks with the allure of "free money" in exchange for an iris scan, an offer that certainly didn't slip past the vigilant eyes of officials.

The ODPC didn't mince words in their correspondence with Worldcoin. In no uncertain terms, they communicated the startup's overreach, gathering biometric data without solid reasons or the needed permissions. Plus, there was a glaring omission in letting people know about data safety and its purposes. The directive from the ODPC? Stop collecting, start securely storing.

The details of this saga became public when the ODPC voiced its concerns in the High Court. The outcome? A firm no to Worldcoin on any Kenyan data collection, with an order to safely keep all data collected during a specified period. Following close behind, Kenya's interior chief enacted a ban while looking deeper into the project's data security, privacy aspects, and the ethical quandaries of luring people with financial perks for their biometric details.

But Worldcoin's ambitions reach further, with visions of a "World ID" and a financial web spun from iris scans and its cryptocurrency, "WLD". However, there's a shadow over this vision. Questions about the project taking advantage of those less privileged and misleading marketing ploys, as pointed out in an earlier analysis by MIT Technology Review, are proving hard to shake off.

Amazon's Generative AI: A New Era for Product Reviews

Amazon is making waves in the tech world this week with its fresh approach to decoding product reviews for customers using generative AI. Think of it as a friendly assistant breaking down numerous customer feedback into a handy snippet, emphasizing both the product's selling points and what users feel about it. If you've ever been overwhelmed by countless reviews on a product page, this feature is your savior.

Imagine you're browsing a product and, right there on the detail page, you see an AI-crafted summary of what most reviewers are saying. Sounds convenient, right? Well, there's more. Amazon isn’t stopping at these nifty summaries. They’re also introducing clickable buttons highlighting essential product traits. So, if you're curious about how well a gadget performs or its ease of use, a simple click will lead you to reviews highlighting that exact feature. This seems to be a natural evolution of Amazon's previous effort that presented commonly mentioned terms in reviews as clickable features.

Now, there's a caveat. Initially, only a select group of U.S. mobile shoppers will experience this AI magic, spanning across various product categories. Based on how users interact, Amazon aims to optimize its AI and introduce the feature to more product types.

Naturally, there's a cloud of skepticism regarding fake reviews. Addressing these concerns head-on, Amazon assures that their AI will source summaries from verified purchases only. They're not new to the battle against unauthentic reviews and are doubling down with machine learning to spot any fishy activity. Besides AI, Amazon's arsenal against fake reviews includes specialized investigators and advanced fraud-detection techniques.

Even as AI gets craftier at emulating human expression, Amazon's latest endeavor shows its commitment to enhancing user experience, making shopping simpler and more insightful by giving customers a clearer view into genuine feedback.

Mastercard Jumps into Africa's Fintech Scene with MTN Group Partnership

In a move that underscores the rising importance of Africa's fintech landscape, global payments giant Mastercard is on the brink of securing a minority stake in the fintech arm of MTN Group, the continent's leading mobile network operator. With the division holding an impressive $5.2 billion valuation, this venture reinforces Mastercard's ambition to tap deeper into African fintech opportunities.

Ralph Mupita, MTN Group's CEO, shed light on the nature of this investment, highlighting its focus on bolstering the payments and remittance sectors. While the specifics of the stake remain undisclosed for now, both parties are rapidly progressing with formal agreements, awaiting only the customary closing conditions.

This strategic collaboration was prompted by MTN Group's announcement to invite minority investors into its African fintech subsidiary. By carving out a distinct space from its core telecom business, MTN aspires for more concentrated growth. The results are evident – MTN's mobile money wing saw transactions soar by 37%, raking in a whopping $8.3 billion in the first half of 2023 alone and servicing over 60 million users. This surge was further fueled by MTN's acquisition of a mobile banking license in Nigeria, its largest market.

Interestingly, Mastercard's hefty valuation of MTN's fintech arm surpasses its prior investment in Airtel Africa's mobile money segment, hinting at the premium placed on MTN's promise and potential. This deal might grant MTN the financial agility to offset its projected capital expenditure for 2023.

MTN isn't alone in this fintech endeavor. Telecom bigwigs like Safaricom and Vodacom are following suit, transitioning from traditional telecom services to carve out their fintech wings. As Africa moves beyond conventional mobile offerings, this dynamic landscape sets the stage for fierce competition with entrenched fintech giants such as Interswitch, Flutterwave, and Chipper Cash. The future looks bright, and digital, for Africa!

New Leadership at PayPal: Intuit’s Alex Chriss Steps Up

PayPal has unveiled its next big move in the corporate chess game, announcing Alex Chriss, former senior exec from Intuit, as its new President and CEO. This leadership transition is slated for September 27, 2023, with Chriss succeeding the formidable Dan Schulman.

Having clocked nearly two decades at Intuit, Chriss isn’t new to steering big ships. His latest stint there, as the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Intuit's Small Business and Self-Employed Group, witnessed impressive customer and revenue upticks. Not to forget, Chriss was the guiding hand behind Intuit's substantial $12 billion Mailchimp acquisition in 2021.

PayPal's board, in their pursuit of the perfect leader, seemed to have left no stone unturned. After a meticulous search process, the decision to bring Chriss onboard was unanimous. Selected from an array of nine potential candidates and having engaged with 20+ investors during the selection saga, the company’s faith in Chriss' leadership prowess is evident.

Chriss is walking into a challenging atmosphere, with PayPal amidst a significant restructure. The company is shedding 7% of its staff, a move to channel approximately $600 million towards avant-garde projects such as passwordless checkout and AI-powered checkout experiences.

While Schulman's leadership chapter concludes, his legacy remains. Under his watch, PayPal's numbers catapulted to the likes of a whopping $27.5 billion revenue in 2022, from a modest $9.2 billion in 2015. Schulman is not completely bidding adieu and will remain a pillar in the company's board till May 2024.

The financial streets seem abuzz with Chriss' appointment. PayPal's stock experienced a nearly 2% uptick post the announcement, reflecting a positive market sentiment.

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