Industry News The Week That Was

The Facebook fiasco, Pia launches at UK Fintech Week and the crash of driverless cars

Harriet Green
Written by Harriet Green

 THE ROUNDUP

The Facebook fiasco. “Shame if you missed it” tweeted billionaire investor Jim Mellon on Monday, talking about the weekend trading idea of shorting Facebook. That was when news started breaking about Cambridge Analytica, the British company that harvested data from the Facebook profiles of more than 50m individuals.

Consequently, Facebook’s value dropped by $37bn in one day – almost as much as it made in ad revenues in 2017. By the end of day two (Tuesday), it was down $60bn – more than the market cap of Tesla. And #DeleteFacebook started trending across social media.

How much do we care? If Google Trends is anything to go by then a lot of people (in the West, where Facebook is a disposable luxury and not a proxy internet) are deleting their accounts. But is that because they don’t like their data being used, or because they don’t like what they think it was used for – Trump’s election, etc etc? We spread our data far and wide because doing so gives us access to products and services that improve our lives. The advent of GDPR (effective from 25 May) is touted as heralding the era of permission-based data-use. In reality, you’ll have a couple of extra clicks to make before you can access something.

What is Facebook’s future? This millennial mass migration (it’s suddenly become uncool to be on Facebook) could be a boon for other social media platforms. But with the company possibly facing fines of up to $2 trillion, the episode could ultimately spell existential disaster for the swathes of tech titans either owned by Facebook, or that rely on it to reach and retain users.

Here’s an interesting piece from economist Tyler Cowen on how people are trying to “re-establish the feeling of control”.

From one car crash to another: a driverless vehicle (belonging to Uber) has now killed someone. Uber suspended its driverless programme in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, which saw 49 year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg lose her life.

Will anyone actually get in a driverless car? Perhaps a question that isn’t asked enough about driverless vehicles. A recent survey from the AAA found that 63 percent of Americans are frightened to do so. That’s a significant drop from the almost 80 percent who said they wouldn’t last year, but few of us are gagging to get in. Let’s see what the terrible incident in Arizona will mean for public sentiment, and regulatory response.

It is UK Fintech Week this week, with several events, like the Treasury’s International Fintech Conference and the Innovate Finance Global Summit taking place across the capital. A huge well done to the OFF3R team for launching Pia, a new AI investment companion, at the latter.

One crypto event I was at saw someone ask about the threat quantum computers pose to cryptography. The argument is that the cryptosystem used across the world for secure data transmission (called the RSA cryptosystem) – and which underlines most blockchains – could be decimated by quantum computers. The response was a firm “no”. One, because quantum isn’t at the stage yet where it can pose an existential threat to other technologies and, two, because blockchains resistant to quantum are already being built.

AI is the big theme at this year’s events. And quantum is likely to be next year’s darling, appearing in IBM’s “Five In Five” (years’ time) predictions this week. We have the computers now; in five years, they’ll be everywhere, says the tech giant. We just need to work out how to use them.

Meanwhile, at Amazon’s annual robotics conference this week, Jeff Bezos took a robotic dog for a walk – it wasn’t on a lead. In other robotics-related news, Tencent, the Chinese giant behind WeChat, is opening a robotics lab in Shenzhen, the area of the country known for manufacturing. Robotics X will support the company’s AI aspirations (it already has an AI lab), and particularly in the medical sector. Incidentally, Tencent is, at the time of writing, worth over $70bn more than Facebook.

CAUGHT OUR EYE

Company

Aim-listed Beeks Financial announced a tie-up with crypto-exchange Gemini this week. Gemini is owned by none other than the Winklevoss twins.

Person

British businessman and billionaire Sanjeev Gupta is building the biggest battery in the world – in Australia. The 140MWh energy storage plant will be less than 100 miles away from Elon Musk’s enormous Australian battery which, if Gupta’s project goes ahead, will become the second largest in the world. Gupta, who comes from a line of Indian businessmen, founded metals firm Liberty House Group in 1992, aged 21.

Quite a bit of battery-related activity at the moment. Last week, VW bought $25bn worth of batteries to supercharge its move into electric cars over the coming years. Also bad news for Elon.

Tech

I noticed that the Babel fish (which, for those of us who haven’t got round to reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, can understand any language and translate it straight into your ear), appeared on MIT Technology Review’s Breakthrough Technologies 2018.

The first was built by a Manchester inventor called Danny Manu, whose Clik could translate 37 languages in real time. Then Google came along with its Pixel Buds, which cover 40 languages and translate fast enough to hold a conversation. While this removes the main incentive for language learning, it might also see fewer languages become extinct as the need for a lingua franca dissolves.

About the author

Harriet Green

Harriet Green

Harriet Green is a former financial and business journalist. She left City AM earlier this year to set up a company that creates new forms of ownership in public services. She covered fintech, alternative finance and entrepreneurship for four years, but now you’ll more likely find her in a public convenience north of Birmingham. Harriet also works as a consultant for venture-stage tech firms.