The next Machine Age will not just augur job losses and the transformation of some professions. The future could be a lot worse. It may also let loose an army of needy robots.
This week, the MIT Technology Review described a new generation of Cobots – collaborative robots – made by a team under Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These are autonomous intelligent mobile robots capable of performing service tasks and interacting with humans.
The robot is as polite as Star Wars’ C-3PO but there the similarities end. It has no arms and no legs. In fact, the article describes it as “a laptop and a cluster of sensors sitting atop a wheeled bar-stool”.
Unfailingly civil; it also turns out to be demanding of its human co-workers’ attention. Prof Veloso maintains that it is hard to program a robot to decode conversation but it can understand simple instructions. Therefore, when it has run out of tasks it will nag the nearest human. If that does not work, it will send out an office-wide email asking for assistance. Read more
Taylor Swift, the singer-songwriter, has removed her entire catalogue from Spotify, the music streaming service founded in Sweden. Ms Swift’s new album 1989 sold nearly 1.3m copies in the US this week, and she has written that: “Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”
Traditionally, one thing upon which the British could rely was that they never heard anything about, or from, the security services, apart from in James Bond films. That has changed. First, Sir John Sawers, the new head of MI6, has Lunch with the FT and now Robert Hannigan, left, the new head of GCHQ, has written an op-ed for the paper.
Apart from indicating that the FT has become the communications channel of choice for British spies, it shows that the security services have decided that it is no longer enough to fight in the shadows. They have to get their message across loudly, in parliament and in public. Read more
The worst-kept secret is out: Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, is gay.
“For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation,” he wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek. “Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky. Read more
There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.
If you are wondering where your transformational merger is going wrong, you may want to look in the toilets. After Lenovo bought IBM’s personal computer business in 2005, the Chinese company replaced traditional squat toilets in its Beijing headquarters with western-style sit-down bowls to put non-Chinese colleagues and customers at ease.
Technology has its eyes on banking. Apple is expected this week to launch Apple Pay, its touchless payment system for iPhones; venture capital funds are pouring money into “fintech” start-ups; and Marc Andreessen, the technology entrepreneur, talks of “a chance to rebuild the system. Financial transactions are just numbers; it’s just information.”
Drones are a useful tool for delivering flags to football pitches, as Albania’s supporters demonstrated on Tuesday night during their national team’s match against Serbia, but they remain an extreme option for same-day parcel delivery. Click-and-collect is the mundane but potentially disruptive approach favoured in the UK – an approach that Amazon, predictably, is about to take to the next level.
Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.
And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? Read more
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images
What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. Read more
It is just about possible to regard Meg Whitman’s decision to split Hewlett-Packard in two as consistent. Her first move when appointed three years ago was to keep the whole thing together but now may simply be a better time to attempt a separation than the rushed effort by Léo Apotheker, her predecessor.
All the same, despite the greater discipline and focus that Ms Whitman has brought to HP since Mr Apotheker’s unhappy period at the helm, the underlying logic was relentless. HP is no longer the technology growth stock it once was so all roads tend to lead to corporate re-engineering. Read more
Every so often, a company announces that it is considering its “strategic options” for one of its businesses, which means that it wants to ditch it as soon as possible. This would be a good time for technology companies to consider their strategic options for their global tax arrangements.
Most people can identify their top priority at work. Generally, it will be the part of the job that is most productive for their employer: for a merger and acquisitions banker, it could be landing a big deal for a client; for a lorry driver, the punctual delivery of an important consignment; for a hospital doctor or nurse, giving vital treatment to a patient.
Two predictions: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, out this week, will be a bestseller; How Google Works will be rapidly forgotten. In fact, its publication may turn out to mark the peak of popular excitement about, interest in, and support for, almost everything Google touches.
In the last months of the current European Commission, Google is in deep trouble. Its effort to reach an antitrust deal with Joaquín Almunia, the competition commissioner who is to be succeeded by Margrethe Vestager, is failing amid an outcry from politicians and rivals that it is being let off the hook.
Dan Doctoroff might have known what was coming when Michael Bloomberg decided on the location for his new desk upon returning “part-time” to his eponymous company after three terms as mayor of New York City.
Mr Doctoroff, the man Mr Bloomberg chose to lead Bloomberg in his political absence, told employees in January that the founder would “most likely spend a few hours a day working from his new desk on the fifth floor,” at Bloomberg’s offices on Lexington Avenue in New York. Read more
Another week, another regulatory battle for Uber, the Silicon Valley private car hire network with a German name. This time it is in Germany, where a Frankfurt court has banned its Uber Pop “ride-sharing” service that introduces passengers to unlicensed drivers through a smartphone app.
There is no longer much call for poetry at Microsoft’s devices division, the bulk of which consists of Nokia’s old handset business.
Stephen Elop, former Nokia chief executive, now heads the Microsoft unit and on Thursday had the task of announcing 12,500 job cuts (out of 18,000 in total). The axe will fall on many former Nokians who remember the flights of fancy in Mr Elop’s 2011 “burning platform” memo, in which he urged them to make a leap into the unknown to help turn the company around: Read more
Rupert Murdoch is not exactly putting his money where his mouth is with 21st Century Fox’s unsolicited $80bn offer for Time Warner. By offering non-voting Fox shares as part of the cash-and-stock bid he has made clear that he will not risk his voting grip on his family-controlled company. Read more
The problems erupting over Google’s implementation of the EU’s new “right to be forgotten” rule were predictable. And I say that because I, among many others, predicted them in May after the European Court of Justice delivered its ruling:
A line will soon form to knock out revealing photographs, bits of tawdry gossip, legal orders, past convictions and anything that anyone finds an embarrassment. Before long, people’s search results will start to resemble official biographies, recording only the facts that they want other people to know, and not the remainder of reality . . . Read more