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Tech industry takes big wallop as coronavirus continues to spread

(TECH NEWS) The spread of the coronavirus is rattling tech industries, as they struggle to produce or deliver their devices so the tech giants’ stock value plummets.

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As more cases of coronavirus, COVID-19, appear in yet more countries, people are starting to freak out about catching it. The problem doesn’t stop there, though. The corresponding punch in the gut to the tech industry will have far-reaching effects–beyond not being able to buy the latest version of your favorite device.

Besides bringing health protocols to a high alert status, the coronavirus is creating a secondary scare in the tech industry. Some companies have massive portions of their supply chain and production based in China, some in Wuhan, where the virus first began to spread. The tech industry is definitely taking a painful hit. The virus is affecting supply, production, delivery, and sales.

In turn, tech company stocks are starting to tank, at least temporarily. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft. Facebook, Google reportedly lost more than $230 billion in a day. Ouch, buddy. That’s gonna leave a mark.

The fear remains that this is only the beginning. With coronavirus having landed in at least 48 countries, the fear is not unfounded. As countries scramble to deal with containment, treatment, and educating their populace, Wall Street and other major stock markets are predicting a global economic slowdown.

As of this writing, the coronavirus is not yet an official pandemic, according to WHO. This may change. A lot is riding on getting the spread of the virus under control. Doctors and scientists frantically work on a way to treat or cure it. Meanwhile, news agencies, public health organizations such as the WHO and the CDC work to dispel rumors, replacing them with timely and practical information. The big takeaways: wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you cough, stay home if you’re sick.

Smartphone producers are bound to be the worst impacted, with production predicted to decline 12 percent this quarter compared to previous years, reaching a 5-year low. The Mobile World Congress cancelled their annual phone show in Barcelona due to the virus. The MWC is one of, if not the, the biggest phone show in the world.

Apple announced they will not meet their quarterly goals, due to the impact of the coronavirus, hitting the tech giant on a few levels. Factories have been closed, though some are already reopening. Apple isn’t only feeling the impact due to supply and production concerns, but also because their global sales goals include sales within China, and sales are down.

Predictions are similarly dismal for smartwatches, laptop PCs, and smart speakers. The DRAM and NAND flash markets will likely stay on top of things, as they have production largely automated.

Amazon has not yet voiced much about their own issues, but we know from the stock market that it can’t be pretty. Amazon also has an estimated half of its products coming out of China. Like the other big companies, they are poised to lose a lot and see their stock value stripped of its sheen.

Video game console manufacturing is another industry to watch. However, they seem fairly protected for now, with the bulk of their business taking place toward the end of the year. New product launches, the PS5 and Xbox Series X will launch closer to the winter holidays, which gives the science industry pros time to fight and contain the spread of COVID-19 before it causes too much chaos in the gaming industry.

We have yet to see where this will all end. COVID-19 is on the move, and it’s taking these tech giants–and our global economy–on a scary, roller coaster ride. Despite the stock market taking a nosedive and tech labor and supply streams being hard-hit, you’re still more likely to catch the flu than the coronavirus. While we watch for better news, cross your fingers and remember to wash your hands. This one’s coming in hot.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Tech News

The newest booming business: Hiding from facial recognition

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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Tech News

Australia wants Facebook and Google to pay media royalties

Australia seeks to require Facebook and Google to pay royalties to media companies for use of news content on their platforms.

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Australia is in the process of requiring tech giants, Facebook and Alphabet, to pay royalties to Australian media companies for using their content. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the move the day after the US Congressional antitrust hearing that put the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple back in the regulatory spotlight.

In addition to the pressure from the United States investigation into market control by these companies, global leaders are calling for similar regulations. Though none have been successful, media companies in Germany, France, and Spain have pushed for legislation to force Google to pay licensing fees to use their news content. Some companies have been pushing for this for years and yet, the tech giants keep dragging out their changes, even admitting their actions are wrong.

In 2019, the Australian government instructed Facebook and Google to negotiate voluntary deals with Australian media to use their content. The Australian government says the companies failed to follow through on the directive, and therefore will be forced to intervene. They have 45 days to reach an agreement in arbitration, after which the Australian Communications and Media Authority will create legally binding terms for the companies on behalf of the Australian government.

Google claims the web traffic that it drives to media websites should be compensation enough for the content. A Google representative in Australia asserts that the government regulations would constitute interference into market competition – which would be the point, Google!

According to a 2019 study, an estimated 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in the last decade. The previous generation of media companies has paid substantial advertising fees to Google and Facebook while receiving nothing in return for the use of its news content. Frydenberg asserts the regulatory measures are necessary to protect consumers and ensure a “sustainable media landscape” in the country.

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Onboarding for customers and employees made easy

(TECH NEWS) Cohere enables live, virtual onboarding at bargain prices to help you better support and guide your users.

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Web development and site design may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean your customers won’t get turned around when reviewing your products. Onboarding visitors is the simplest solution, but is it the easiest?

According to Cohere–a live, remote onboarding tool–the answer is a resounding yes.

Cohere claims to be able to integrate with your website using “just 2 lines of code”; after completing this integration, you can communicate with, guide, and show your product to any site visitor upon request. You’ll also be able to see what customers are doing in real time rather than relying on metrics, making it easy to catch and convert customers who are on the fence, due to uncertainty or confusion.

There isn’t a screen-share option in Cohere’s package, but what they do include is a “multiplayer” option in which your cursor will appear on a customer’s screen, thus enabling you to guide them to the correct options; you can also scroll and type for your customer, all the while talking them through the process as needed. It’s the kind of onboarding that, in a normal world, would have to take place face-to-face–completely tailored for virtual so you don’t have to.

You can even use Cohere to stage an actual demo for customers, which accomplishes two things: the ability to pare down your own demo page in favor of live options, and minimizing confusion (and, by extension, faster sales) on the behalf of the customer. It’s a win-win situation that streamlines your website efficiency while potentially increasing your sales.

Naturally, the applications for Cohere are endless. Using this tool for eCommerce or tech support is an obvious choice, but as virtual job interviews and onboarding become more and more prevalent, one could anticipate Cohere becoming the industry example for remote inservice and walkthroughs.

Hands-on help beats written instructions any day, so if companies are able to allocate the HR resources to moderate common Cohere usage, it could be a huge win for those businesses.

For those two lines of code (and a bit more), you’ll pay anywhere from $39 to $129 for the listed packages. Custom pricing is available for larger businesses, so you may have some wiggle room if you’re willing to take a shot at implementing Cohere business-wide.

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