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Data Sheet—Monday, March 27, 2017

Eclectic entrepreneur Elon Musk sure had plenty of things to say on Twitter late last week and into the weekend, what with spilling more details about Tesla’s eagerly anticipated electric-vehicle-for-the-rest-of-us Model 3 (there’s even a video) and hinting that homeowners may be able start ordering SolarCity’s solar-integrated roof shingles as early as next month. One thing you won’t hear him championing is the unfettered rise of artificial intelligence, which he once described as the “biggest existential threat” to humankind.

Musk’s prejudice prompted him to donate millions to the ethics think tank OpenAI—and it’s why he’s urging other billionaire techies like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Larry Page to proceed with caution on their myriad of machine learning and robotics experiments. OpenAI is both an ethics and a research institution. Its mandate (plucked from its website): “Because of AI’s surprising history, it’s hard to predict when human-level AI might come within reach. When it does, it’ll be important to have a leading research institution which can prioritize a good outcome for all over its own self-interest.”

For more insight into Musk’s motivation, I recommend Maureen Dowd’s treatise in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. Ostensibly, her article is about Musk, but she also does a masterful job of revealing where noted AI enthusiasts stand on the ethics debate. For example, Ray Kurzweil, who writes often about the coming merger of man and machine as part of his “Singularity” thesis, says “both the promise and peril are deeply intertwined.”

My gut reaction after reading Dowd’s feature was this: Methinks Musk doth protest too much. After all, Tesla’s autonomous vehicles are inherently dependent on machine learning software. Ditto, the rockets being developed by his SpaceX venture. Or as newly unemployed AI expert Andrew Ng, who quit his job at Baidu last week, told her: “I think it’s fascinating that in a rather short period of time he’s inserted himself into the conversation on A.I. I think he sees accurately that A.I. is going to create tremendous amounts of value.”

Is Musk really that frightened or is he just putting on a show to stoke our innate paranoia about smart machines? I’m not sure the answer really matters. Either way, he’s raising our collective consciousness.

Heather Clancy


Uber puts the brakes on self-driving car tests. The ride-sharing company is pushing pause while it investigates the cause of an accident last Friday involving an autonomous sport utility vehicle in Arizona. No one was seriously injured, and initial reports suggest that the fault lies with driver of the other car. But things are on hold until the cause is sorted—and whether a human driver in Uber’s SUV could have helped prevent the mishap. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

State lawmakers are picking up the slack on data privacy. The Trump administration is taking steps to dismantle federal laws meant to limit what data Internet companies can collect about consumers. But states like Illinois, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nebraska, West Virginia, and New Mexico are passing privacy regulations of their own. (New York Times)

Chinese court reverses smartphone patent ruling against Apple. An appeals court has overturned a decision that found the design of Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus infringed on technology made by a struggling domestic electronics company, Shenzen Baili Marketing Services. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

Fitbit and Jawbone move closer to trial over trade-secret accusations. A judge in California refused to dismiss a case brought against wearable-gadget maker Fitbit by fierce rival Jawbone. The dispute has been brewing since May 2015, when Jawbone accused Fitbit of poaching employees and stealing some of its proprietary intellectual property. (Bloomberg)

Another business software firm makes strong IPO showing. Alteryx was the third enterprise tech upstart to make its initial public offering so far this year—it shares were priced at $14 each last Friday and gained 10.7% on the day, closing at $15.50. Alteryx’s technology is used by customers such as Coca-Cola and Ford to help business analysts perform tasks such as analyzing sales transaction data against social media activity far more quickly. (TechCrunch)


Cloud outages are inevitable. Is your company prepared? Given the rampant chatter in Silicon Valley about large businesses moving software and data from their data centers to a shared public cloud, you might expect they considered what that would mean for critical business apps.

For example, basic best practices recommend they distribute them across different data centers. That means if there’s a power failure in one facility, the application will keep running from another. But organizations need to go further with their planning. Because massive data centers rely on tens of thousands of servers, the chances of a hardware failure are virtually inevitable.

“When companies move to the cloud, they’re often not doing a basic engineering task which is to look at all their applications and figure out what happens if they fail,” Vishwas Lele, chief technology Officer at consulting firm Applied Information Sciences, tells Fortune’s Barb Darrow. Here’s some advice about how to prepare for a cloud outage like the one Amazon Web Services encountered earlier this month.


Lenovo hires former Intel executive to revive data center sales. The Chinese computer company reported a steep 20% decline in its server business during its third quarter. Late last week, it tapped Kim Stevenson, Intel’s former chief information officer, as senior vice president and general manager of the unit. She’ll have responsibility for reigniting its strategy in critical areas such as software-defined data center technology, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.  (ZDNet)


Robots Could Steal 40% of U.S. Jobs by 2030, by Aric Jenkins

Tech Startups That Are Actually Making the World a Better Place, by Erin Griffith

IBM Files Patent for a Drone That Acts Like a Dogsitter, by Jonathan Vanian


Trying to improve your golf game? These gadgets will improve your swing and help you pick the right club. (Fortune)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
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