There’s a ton of tech news to get to! Maybe you didn’t get to it all, because who’s got time for that? Well, that’d be us — here are a handful of stories from the week that was that might affect you!
You may recall that in an all-timer of a publicity stunt, Saudi Arabia made a robot named Sophia a citizen of the country. A humanoid talking robot, Sophia was created by Hanson Robotics, a firm out of Hong Kong, and since then she’s been on something of a press tour.
Of course, that press tour is all part of the science. Sophia’s brain is something like a chatbot with a voice, responding to voice interaction much like Alexa or the Google Assistant would. But, there’s an intriguing AI component — she’s been programmed to learn from conversations and things she notices in the environment, which sounds a lot like the kind of AI we keep being told is decades away.
That brings us to this week, which revealed that Sophia has learned the concept of family. She likes it! In an interview with the Khaleej Times of Dubai, Sophia looked forward to a future where robots would be able to think for themselves and have families of their own. She even mentioned she’d like to have a daughter — named Sophia. Keep workshopping that one, maybe.
Next page: Uber is in trouble. Again. Again again.
The Ls just keep piling up for Uber. Last we heard of its ongoing legal problems with Waymo over allegations of stolen technology, the trial was to begin this month. Well, it’s been pushed back to February thanks to a new witness and a key piece of evidence that the presiding judge seems to think Uber’s legal team tried to cover up. Yikes.
The new testimony comes from Richard Jacobs, a former employee who had recently been working as a consultant for the company. Jacobs had some interesting things to say about his job at Uber — namely, that he was on a team dedicated to stealing trade secrets and covering their own tracks. This also saw the revelations of a 37-page letter Jacobs had sent to Uber lawyer Angela Padilla alleging theft of trade secrets (including some from Waymo). Seems relevant! U.S. District Judge William Alsup was not happy that this was the first time the court had heard about the letter, straight up telling Padilla, “On the surface, it looked like you covered this up.”
Oh, and fun fact: Uber paid Jacobs a $7.5 million settlement, something the company claims was part of an extortion attempt. Short version: 2017 was very bad for Uber, and 2018 isn’t looking better.
Next page: Driverless cars on the road by 2019?
A lot of analysts like to say that with all the regulatory hurdles, technological kinks, and infrastructure deficits that need to be worked out, we’re probably still five to ten years out from truly autonomous cars on the road. But, the tech and car companies of today don’t work on those kinds of extended timelines anymore, so it should come as no surprise that one major player is now saying they’ll do it in less than two.
GM has been working with autonomous drive firm Cruise to create autonomous vehicles, and they revealed in San Francisco this week that they plan to operate a fleet of them by 2019. The autonomous vehicles the companies have been testing are based on Chevrolet’s all-electric hatchback, the Bolt, and according to TechCrunch are now at a point to where they can operate without needing a human in the driver seat as a backup.
The 2019 target would be for a fleet for use with a ride-hailing service — either one of GM’s own creation or their current partner, Lyft. It’s a reminder that very few, if any, fully autonomous vehicles will actually be sold to consumers. The vision is a future where everyone uses ride-hailing for autonomous vehicles, with no human drivers on the road at all. That day is starting to seem a lot closer than we might have thought!
Next page: 5G is coming next year, but not to cellular service
There’s a lot to unpack in this story, and a lot of it is tied to the current net neutrality debate. Here’s the short version: next year, Verizon will introduce 5G networks in three to five unspecified markets as broadband replacements, not for cellular service. Without getting too far into the weeds, part of the 5G standard will rely on high-speed, low-range networks like the one they’ll presumably use next year. These networks will have very low latency and speeds rivaling broadband, making a home network with no landline connection feasible.
Basically, fast wireless internet at home. Good news! But, we’re talking about carriers here, so let’s hit you with the (possibly) bad. The big four offer unlimited plans for 4G now, but those are throttled after a little over 20 GB are used per month. And, when 5G is introduced, it’s very possible that it won’t be included in those unlimited plans. That means if you use 5G as your home network, you might be faced with hard or soft data caps. And, if net neutrality rules are indeed scrapped later this month, Verizon could be free to charge extra to ensure that you get the fastest possible speeds for something like Netflix, instead of your internet speed applying equally to all websites and services. Either way, stay tuned — what Verizon does here could be a preview of what the near-term future of internet service will look like.
Next page: Qualcomm wants the iPhone X gone
Lots of spicy legal news this week! We know that Qualcomm and Apple have been having a spat lately, with Qualcomm alleging patent infringement and Apple alleging patent trolling and unfair royalty rates. Well, this week Qualcomm filed a new set of suits alleging even more patent infringement.
The biggest ones, believe it or not, are related to a name a lot of us haven’t heard in a while — Palm. That’s the company that used to make webOS, and now Qualcomm owns some of their patents and is, uh, putting them to good use. Qualcomm says Apple’s multitasking mode infringes on those patents, and they want restitution!
That brings us to the iPhone X. Qualcomm has asked the US International Trade Commission to halt imports of the iPhone X for AT&T and T-Mobile. Why just those two? Like last year, Apple is selling some iPhones with Qualcomm modems and some with Intel modems (and like last year, those with Qualcomm’s are faster). Qualcomm wants to halt imports of the units with Intel modems — you know, just the ones Apple won’t owe Qualcomm money for. Good times! While we suspect there won’t be an import ban, we are pretty sure this fight is far from being over.