Happy Monday, Aaron in for a vacationing Adam this week.
I slipped into a back booth at Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge near Harvard University last week to meet with former Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs. I was expecting to talk about the latest mobile phones, chip designs, and maybe the company’s lawsuits with Apple. Jacobs stepped down as CEO more than three years ago from the company his father helped found, but he is still executive chairman of the board.
After a little chit chat about travel and families, though, what was on Jacobs’ mind was more science fiction-esque.
Jacobs is working with a project to create real life avatars, à la the James Cameron movie, or for deeper sci-fi buffs, the Neal Stephenson conception from his 1992 novel Snow Crash. This is virtual reality plus—not just seeing and hearing another place with goggles and headphones, but adding gloves or a suit to control the movements of a robot that is physically located in the other place and transmit touch sensations back to the wearer.
“You project your consciousness into a robot somewhere else,” Jacobs explained. “Before you think that sounds weird, it actually works.”
When Jacobs tried the set up recently, just with a robot across the room, he suddenly found himself looking back at his own body and feeling disjointed and separated. But the robot could be much, much farther away, limited only by high-speed data links. “You’ll be able to travel and do all sorts of stuff without actually being there,” he told me.
Sounds crazy, but then again, it could save huge amounts of travel expense and time. Jacobs isn’t the only one thinking about it, either. Sci-fi author Stephenson was just interviewed by Vanity Fair on the 25th anniversary of Snow Crash. He’s hoping that the evolution of virtual reality and other tech will be a little more warm and fuzzy than the isolation brought on by smartphones. We shall see.
More privacy. Google is going to stop scanning the contents of messages on its Gmail service for the purpose of targeting advertising. The company says it doesn’t want corporate customers who use the service as part of its G Suite to be confused, as their messages weren’t being scanned in the first place. Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, says the scanning “has been biggest hit against the service since it began. Big change that this will stop.”
And less privacy. Speaking of scanning, a German company called Echion has installed facial recognition camera systems in supermarkets and post offices to scan everyone in line and determine their ages and genders. The data is used to…target ads played to the people in line. Privacy advocates object but Echion says it doesn’t save any of the information.
Speaking out. After all the disturbing news emanating from Uber lately, last week ended with the added sexist kicker of extensive sexual harassment claims being made against a prominent venture capitalist named Justin Caldbeck, who then took an indefinite leave of absence from his firm. Among the many reactions that followed, one of the best was from New York VC Joanne Wilson, a.k.a. the Gotham Gal. “There should be repercussions for bad behavior and it appears in the past week there was,” she wrote. “The power is shifting”
Just get the battery right. Evan Blass, a.k.a. EvLeaks, has seen the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the one that’s coming after the one that had the exploding battery problem. Blass reports that the battery in the new model will be slightly smaller, the better to fit in its case. The Note 8, coming in September, will also be the first Samsung phone with two cameras on the back, he says.
Sonic the Hedgehog returns. Console video game maker Sega is going mobile in a big way. The company introduced a new website, where it is putting converted versions of games from its original Master System, Genesis/Mega Drive, and Dreamcast systems that can be played on Android or iOS for free. For free, with ads.
Opening at the top. Struggling music service Pandora Media is reportedly getting a new CEO. It just doesn’t know who yet. Recode reported Sunday that current boss and co-founder Tim Westergren plans to step down after only about a year at the top. The award-winning jazz pianist with a degree in computer acoustics from Stanford may be hard to replace for the online radio-like service as it suffers battling Spotify, Apple Music, and others in the crowded space.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If I write Willy Wonka, do you picture the late great Gene Wilder in a purple tuxedo? Or maybe Johnny Depp in a maroon velvet number? Either way, I hope you remember that one of Wonka-creator Roald Dahl’s classic fictional inventions was the great glass elevator, the Wonkavator, which didn’t just go up and down, but also “sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways…”
Such crazy talk is no longer just in the realm of fiction, thanks to the real life elevator makers at ThyssenKrupp. They’ve created a test model of a maglev elevator that can, you guessed it, move in all directions. Like maglev trains that float above a track using powerful magnets, the new elevator uses the same technology to glide along rotating tracks inside a building.
The biggest use may not be imitating Willy Wonka, though. Standard, cable-driven elevators suffer from a maximum rise of about 1,600 feet. The maglev elevator can go up and down a virtually unlimited distance.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Millennials Use Public Libraries More Than Other Generations by David Z. Morris
British Parliament Hit by Cyberattack by Lisa Marie Segarra
Why ‘Peak TV’ Is Further Away Than We Think by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
Why Blackberry Shares Just Dropped 11% by Aaron Pressman
Google Home Outsmarts Amazon Alexa in 3,000 Question Quiz by John Patrick Pullen
Beware the Hype of Artificial Intelligence by Jonathan Vanian
BEFORE YOU GO
You may have heard that a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian aircraft a week ago, the first such air combat downing since 1999. You may not have heard that it took the cutting-edge Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet two missiles to down the 30-year-old Syrian Air Force Su-22M4 ‘Fitter’ plane.
The Syrian pilot evaded a shot from an AIM-9X Sidewinder with simple flares. It took an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, to bring the Fitter down. The Syrian pilot’s simple defenses outsmarted our vastly more expensive, high-tech heat seeking hardware and required a radar-guided strike.
And there may be a lesson in that. “This engagement will surely have a few Top Gun and Weapons School graduates scratching their heads,” the newsletter Combat Aircraft notes. The United States tested its missiles against its own counter-forces, not necessarily the counter-forces that enemy aircraft will actually deploy, it seems.