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IMAGE: Zoox

The US regulator for automotive safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has just announced a change in the rules covering driving inspired by the predictable growth of autonomous vehicles.

The changes come from an open consultation in which many of the companies working in this field have participated. From now on, for example, it will no longer be compulsory for a vehicle to have rear-view mirrors, since they benefit nobody when driving is carried out by an algorithm that perceives its environment through cameras, lidar, radar and other similar sensors. Logically, an autonomous vehicle will not have to have a steering wheel, pedals or other components a human would require. …


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IMAGE: Real time bidding by Wichai Wi from the Noun Project (CC BY)

The Jedi Blue case, exposed by The Wall Street Journal and followed up on by The New York Times, is a clear example of the abuse of Google and Facebook’s dominant positions, and definitive proof as to why the tech giants need regulating. It’s pretty much a textbook case of everything that can go wrong an industry.

What is Jedi Blue? Basically a quid-pro-quo scheme that starts with Google’s 2007 acquisition of Double Click, and ends with Facebook, in 2018, agreeing not to challenge Google’s advertising business in return for a very special treatment in Google’s ad auctions.

To understand the significance of Jedi Blue, you have to understand how programmatic advertising works: mediated by the use of algorithms or platforms instead of humans, and in most cases, using the real-time bidding system. Basically, every time we enter most websites, the advertising spaces on them are auctioned in real time among all those interested in displaying those ads there for us to see. This auction is carried out in an ad exchange, and the winning bid is delivered via an ad server, and everything takes place in a matter of milliseconds to avoid the page slowing down. This type of advertising already represents around 70% of the worldwide total (more than 80% in UK or US), and is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with Google totally dominating it. …


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The work carried out by the Vaccination Credential Initiative, a coalition of technology and health companies to develop a vaccination passport, is increasingly being seen as essential if we are to return to normality. The passport would be an electronic document in an app (with the possibility of generating a hard copy with a QR code for verification) that would prove that the holder has been immunized against COVID-19.

The document, equivalent to the so-called Yellow Card (International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis) used for travel to countries that require proof of yellow fever vaccination, would be required for activities ranging from travel to work, study, or for access to all kinds of events, and would provide details about the holder’s immunization status: type of vaccine, dose or date of inoculation, thus ensuring that registration is carried out with a standard model for organizations that administer COVID-19 vaccines, so that the credentials can be made available in an accessible and interoperable digital format. …


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IMAGE: Pxhere (CC0)

I was delighted to see this reference in Boing Boing to a viral Twitter thread (here archived with comments) from a student horrified to discover that the subject he was taking remotely at a Canadian university was actually being taught by a professor who died in 2019. …


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IMAGE: TikTok, by Solen Feyissa, on Flickr (CC BY SA)

Finally, a little over four years too late, TikTok has decided to change the default privacy options for accounts of underage users, an issue many of us have criticized it for and proof of its failure to assume its responsibilities.

From now on, all accounts for minors under sixteen years old will be private by default, so that the videos they upload cannot be downloaded by third parties. Only commentators who have been previously approved will be able to comment on them, and their contents cannot be suggested or recommended to other users. Third parties will not be allowed to automatically download videos from the accounts of 16- and 17-year-olds: to do so will require authorization. In addition, third parties will not be able to use duets and similar functions with children aged under sixteen, while 16- and 17-year-olds will have to expressly enable it. …


Apple charger (Central European model)
Apple charger (Central European model)

When the first reliable leaks announced, in June 2020, that Apple’s upcoming iPhone 12 lacked a charger and headset sockets, many, even the brand’s own customers, were unhappy. When the company launched the phone without them, in a significantly smaller box, and citing environmental reasons, a tsunami of complaints was unleashed: this was just a way to squeeze more money out of customers, it wouldn’t reduce electronic waste … Meanwhile, brands like Samsung or Xiaomi even made ads laughing at Apple’s move, and pretty much suggesting that this was one road they wouldn’t be following the company down.

What happened? Guess what the next model that Xiaomi has brought out doesn’t have? Or Samsung’s latest and the next generation? What a surprise! No charger socket, citing precisely the same environmental reasons as Apple: to reduce waste and to be able to pack more units in each box, thus lowering the carbon footprint from shipping costs. …


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If you use Brave as your browser, as I recommended some time ago, you will know that its newest update, 1.19, is now available. You won’t notice anything special about it, but you will have installed the first version of the browser that supports a new protocol for a distributed web, called InterPlanetary File System, or IPFS: an alternative network and protocol to HTTP.

Initially designed by Juan Benet and open sourced, an idea shared enthusiastically by many in that environment, IPFS tries to do something similar to what BitTorrent did in its time by decentralizing the distribution of files, or Bitcoin with the decentralization of money: while HTTP is designed for browsers to access information located on centralized servers, IPFS accesses that information on distributed node networks: you type an ipfs:// address in your browser, and the network is able to locate the nodes that have the content you’re looking for, content that can be anywhere that works as a server, and regroup to be served on demand. …


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Netflix and Disney have both announced their programming for 2021, underscoring increased home consumption, partly as a result of a year of lockdowns, but also as part of a long-term trend.

Almost the entire industry is trying to ensure that these changing trends don’t catch them out of step: Warner has said all of its 2021 releases will be simultaneously available on HBO Max, Disney has more than one hundred projects for Disney+, while Netflix, the solid leader in the streaming industry, will release at least one new film every week throughout the year, in addition to its usual series.

There’s clearly a transition underway here, as more and more movies are premiered on television, leaving behind the big screen releases that differentiated ‘the movies’ from TV movies or telefilms, which until recently were considered the poor relative. But 2021 will see top actors and directors on the small screen, in many cases with contracts that commit them to a number of projects, while the subject of those movies and series is increasingly decided on the basis of algorithms that take into account viewers’ consumption preferences. If we add the increasing availability of broadband connections, large-screen TVs and quality home sound systems, it’s easy to see how an an entire industry is being transformed.


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IMAGE: Moderna, Inc.

The huge push for a vaccine based on messenger RNA (mRNA) against Covid-19 is beginning to bear fruit, and promises to be a revolution in the fight against infectious diseases.

Moderna, a biotechnology company dedicated exclusively to mRNA-based vaccine development (its original name was written ModeRNA and referred precisely to its work with modified RNA), says it is applying the same techniques it developed to obtain its Covid-19 vaccine — already approved around the world — to develop new vaccines for seasonal flu, HIV and the Nipah virus, along with combination vaccines for both flu and Covid-19.

What does the work with mRNA that is behind both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccine with its German partner BioNTech mean technologically, and how does it differ from the development of vaccines using traditional methodology? In simple terms, mRNA is the chain of nucleotides formed when our cells want to synthesize a protein from our genetic material: a strand of our DNA is replicated by creating another, made of complementary mRNA. That strand passes to the ribosomes, and in them, the protein is created. This “photocopier” system allows cells to synthesize the proteins they need, and is also used by viruses to take control of a cell and turn it into a protein factory to replicate themselves. …


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The umpteenth lawsuit by a group of publishers against the Sci-Hub scientific shadow library has been brought in India, and promises some interesting conclusions.

Sci-Hub, created by Alexandra Elbakian in 2011, is a free online archive that makes available a huge number of scientific papers otherwise kept behind paywalls on the sites of the main academic journals. It is used by millions of people in countries around the world, who download some two hundred thousand scientific articles every day, and survives through donations made by the users in recognition of the enormous value it provides.

Elbakian, who has been dubbed science’s pirate queen, has been compared to Aaron Swartz or Edward Snowden, and has been found guilty by courts on several occasions as a result of multi-million-dollar copyright infringement lawsuits by publishers such as Elsevier, Wiley, the American Chemical Society and others, but since she lives in Russia and does not own property in the countries where she has been sued, she remains safe and is unlikely to be extradited anytime soon. Nature magazine named her as one of the ten most important people in the world of science in 2016. …

About

Enrique Dans

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School, blogger at enriquedans.com and Senior Contributor at Forbes

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