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5 pending House bills that could break up Big Tech

(TECHNOLOGY) As Big Tech flails about with lobbying, legislators are forging ahead with bills to regulate their mere existence – can you name any of the five pending bills? If not, keep reading.

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The US House of Representatives has its sights set on Big Tech heavy hitters like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple as it considers a group of five bills to tackle these giants in anti-monopoly legislation.

This has good sides and possible down sides. More competition in the market drives prices down. Amazon says if it has to separate out core functions it will make it harder on small businesses who rely on their platforms and could compromise free two-day shipping. It is impossible to predict what changes may or may not come to pass at this stage, but it is clear that change is inevitable. As a leaked document from Facebook in October of 2020 made clear, preparations have been underway for a while.

In late June 2021, the DC federal court threw out two antitrust suits against Facebook.

US District Court Judge James Boasberg needed the suits to answer two critical questions they couldn’t provide sufficient clarity on. What were the two asks the suits couldn’t meet? Define a social network– specific bounds and features outlining the market in consideration. Determine Facebook’s share in said market – the lawsuit cited 60+% percent, but the judge declared their arguments “vague,” which in this instance can be taken to mean insufficient to develop case law.

Also in June 2021, the House Judiciary Committee considered 5 bills and gained nigh unheard of bipartisan backing, outlined below.

You can sign up for updates for legislative actions on each of the bills directly from Congress.gov by clicking each of the headings.

1. Ending Platform Monopolies Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Jayapal as House Bill 3825.
  • “To promote competition and economic opportunity in digital markets by eliminating the conflicts of interest that arise from dominant online platforms’ concurrent ownership or control of an online platform and certain other businesses.”
  • This bill would provide definitions for unlawful conflicts of interest, enforcement actions and limitations on board membership and other service by interested individuals.

2. American Choice and Innovation Online Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Cicilline as House Bill 3816.
  • “To provide that certain discriminatory conduct by covered platforms shall be unlawful, and for other purposes.”
  • Does “and for other purposes” make your skin crawl a little? Don’t worry, the other section headers include Judicial Review (guidance for judges), Bureau of Digital Markets (creating an oversight entity), Enforcement Guidelines, and Suits By Persons Injured.

3. Platform Competition and Opportunity Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Jeffries as House Bill 3826.
  • “To promote competition and economic opportunity in digital markets by establishing that certain acquisitions by dominant online platforms are unlawful.”
  • This bill would outline what constitutes an unlawful acquisition, provide guidance to judges, and define enforcement actions and procedures.

4. Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act

  • Not to be confused with its 2019 predecessor, this bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Scanlon as House Bill 3849.
  • “To promote competition, lower entry barriers, and reduce switching costs for consumers and businesses online.”
  • This bill would define what unfair method of competition means, look at portability and interoperability of services, and authorize the establishment of a technical committee to oversee the development and implementation of the Act’s policies.

5. Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act

  • Introduced in the Senate on February 4th, 2021 by Senator Klobuchar as Senate Bill 228.
  • “To promote antitrust enforcement and protect competition through adjusting premerger filing fees, and increasing antitrust enforcement resources.”
  • This bill make it more expensive for corporate mega-mergers to occur and provide funding to the Federal Trade Commission ($418m) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice ($252m).

How these bills will evolve as they move through the legislature is anyone’s guess. Whether any of them will make it to the President’s desk at all is even questionable at this stage. Big Tech is imminently going to see changes in regulation and oversight, as these major players touch all of our lives in some facet or another.

I am going to be keeping a close eye on the progress of this legislation. We’ll keep you posted.

Rev. Delilah Redfield (she/her) is a queer, neurodivergent nerd with disabilities who spends her time writing, reading, voice acting, and making art when she isn't at her day job saving the environment. She is a career scientist, ordained minister, and cat mom.

Tech News

AI technology is using facial recognition to hire the “right” people

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has made its way into the hiring process and while the intentions are good, I vote we proceed with extreme caution.

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Artificial intelligence technology has made its way into the hiring process and while the intentions are good, I vote we proceed with extreme caution.

A UK based consumer goods giant, Unilever, is just one of several UK companies who have begun using AI technology to sort through initial job candidates. The goal of this technology is to increase the number of candidates whom a company can interview at the initial stages of the hiring process and to improve response time for those candidates.

The AI, developed by American company Hirevue, analyzes a candidate’s language, tone, and facial expression during a video interview. Hirevue insists that their product is different from traditional facial recognition technologies because it analyzes far more data points.

Hirevue’s chief technology officer, Loren Larsen, says, “We get about 25,000 data points from 15 minutes of video per candidate. The text, the audio and the video come together to give us a very clear analysis and rich data set of how someone is responding, the emotions and cognitions they go through.”
This data is then used to rank candidates on a scale of 1 to 100 against a database of traits identified in previously successful candidates.

There are two main flaws to this system. First, unless this AI technology is pulling from a huge diverse data pool it could be unintentionally discriminating against people without even being aware of it. Human bias is not as easy to remove from the equation as AI proponents would have you believe.

As an example, how does this AI handle people who are disabled or whose facial expressions that read differently than the general population, such as people with Down Syndrome or those who have survived traumatic facial injuries?

Second, seeking to hire someone who possess the same qualities as the person who was previously successful at a role is shortsighted. There are many ways to accomplish the same task with above average results. Companies who adopt this low-risk mentality could be missing out on great opportunities long-term. You will never know what actually works best if you don’t try.

The big question here is whether or not AI technology is ready to influence the job market on this scale.

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Tech News

The ‘move fast and break things’ trend is finally over

(TECH NEWS) Time is running out for this decade — and for a popular Big Tech phrase responsible for a lot of collateral damage. What’s next?

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Time is running out for the decade. With less than 20 days left, it’s got us reflecting on the journeys of different economic sectors in the United States. And no industry has had a more tumultuous time of it than Big Tech.

A lot has changed in ten years. For starters, Americans have become increasingly disillusioned with Silicon Valley. The Pew Research Center found that only 50 percent of Americans believe technology firms have a positive effect on the country. That statistic is not too bad on its own, but that’s down 21 percent from only four years ago. Gallup found in 2019 that 48 percent of Americans also want more regulations on Big Tech. And The New York Times called the 2010s as “the decade Big Tech lost its way”.

Maybe that’s why big wigs at these tech firms have been quietly ditching a concept that was their Golden Rule in the early part of the decade: Move Fast and Break Things.

This concept is a modern take on the adage “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” For most of these firms, any innovation justified some of the collateral damage within its wake. And this scrappy “build it now and worry about it later” philosophy was a favorite of not just Facebook and Twitter, but also of many venture capital firms too.

But not anymore. Outlets from Forbes to HBR are saying this doesn’t work for Big Tech in the 2020s. Here are some reasons why it’s over.

Stability

The Move Fast and Break Things manta encouraged devs to push their coding changes to go live and let the chips fall where they may. But bugs pile up. Enter technical debt.

“Technical debt happens every time you do things that might get you closer to your goal now but create problems that you’ll have to fix later,” said The Quantified VC in an article on Medium. “As you move fast and break things, you will certainly accumulate technical debt.”

If enough technical debt comes into play, any new line of code could be the thing that topples a firm like a house of cards. And now that the consumer is used to tech in their daily routines, interruptions in service are extremely bad news for everyone.

As Mark Zuckerburg himself said it: “When you build something that you don’t have to fix 10 times, you can move forward on top of what you’ve built.”

Trust

To get back some of the trust that has ebbed from Big Tech over the years, firms can’t just keep with the Move Fast and Break Things status quo.

“The public will continue to grow weary of perceived abuses by tech companies, and will favor businesses that address economic, social, and environmental problems,” said Hemant Taneja in his article for Harvard Business Review. “Minimum viable products must be replaced by minimum virtuous products that … build in guards against potential harms.”

It’s not about chasing the bottom dollar at the cost of the consumer. Losing trust will hurt any company if left unchecked for long.

Innovation

There’s a cap on advancement in our current technological state. It’s called Moore’s Law. And we’re rapidly approaching the theoretical limits of it.

“When you understand the fundamental technology that underlies a product or service, you can move quickly, trying out nearly endless permutations until you arrive at an optimized solution. That’s often far more effective than a more planned, deliberate approach,” said Greg Satell in his article for HBR.

Soon enough, Big Tech will be in relatively new waters with quantum computing, biofeedback and AI. There’s no way to move as fast as these technology firms have in the past. And even if they could, should they?

Big Tech has experienced major growing pains since the dawn of our new Millenium. And now that some firms are entering their 20s, there’s a choice to be made. Continue to grow up or keep using an idea that’s worn out it’s welcome with the consumer and that has no guarantee will work with future technologies.

Maybe that’s why Facebook’s motto is now “Move Fast with Stable Infrastructure.”

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Tech News

Computer vision helps AI create a recipe from just a photo

(TECH NEWS) It’s so hard to find the right recipe for that beautiful meal you saw on tv or online. Well computer vision helps AI recreate it from a picture!

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Ever seen at a photo of a delicious looking meal on Instagram and wondered how the heck to make that? Now there’s an AI for that, kind of.

Facebook’s AI research lab has been developing a system that can analyze a photo of food and then create a recipe. So, is Facebook trying to take on all the food bloggers of the world now too?

Well, not exactly, the AI is part of an ongoing effort to teach AI how to see and then understand the visual world. Food is just a fun and challenging training exercise. They have been referring to it as “inverse cooking.”

According to Facebook, “The “inverse cooking” system uses computer vision, technology that extracts information from digital images and videos to give computers a high level of understanding of the visual world,”

The concept of computer vision isn’t new. Computer vision is the guiding force behind mobile apps that can identify something just by snapping a picture. If you’ve ever taken a photo of your credit card on an app instead of typing out all the numbers, then you’ve seen computer vision in action.

Facebook researchers insist that this is no ordinary computer vision because their system uses two networks to arrive at the solution, therefore increasing accuracy. According to Facebook research scientist Michal Drozdzal, the system works by dividing the problem into two parts. A neutral network works to identify ingredients that are visible in the image, while the second network pulls a recipe from a kind of database.

These two networks have been the key to researcher’s success with more complicated dishes where you can’t necessarily see every ingredient. Of course, the tech team hasn’t stepped foot in the kitchen yet, so the jury is still out.

This sounds neat and all, but why should you care if the computer is learning how to cook?

Research projects like this one carry AI technology a long way. As the AI gets smarter and expands its limits, researchers are able to conceptualize new ways to put the technology to use in our everyday lives. For now, AI like this is saving you the trouble of typing out your entire credit card number, but someday it could analyze images on a much grander scale.

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