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Welcome to your mid-week Data Sheet. Aaron in for a vacationing Adam today, fresh off a viewing of the year’s most popular superhero movie, Black Panther.
The film, directed by Ryan Coogler, has been rightly praised as not just another entertaining romp through the Marvel universe, but also as a commentary about black history, black empowerment, and the politics of race over the past few hundred years. It’s also a gorgeous piece of moviemaking, with designer Ruth Carter borrowing looks from tribes across Africa.
But there are also some parallels between the all-powerful, high-tech kingdom of Wakanda and a couple of tech superpowers from the real world. Like fictional King T-Challa, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Larry Page have commanding positions over our society and culture—thanks not to the super-powered metal Vibranium, but super-voting shares of stock in their companies. Atlantic writer Vann R. Newkirk II frames the key question posed by the movie: “What will they do with the power they do have to make the world livable for those without it?”
Historically, the answers have been formulated by the CEOs and their advisers without enough input from the many other parts of our diverse society. Without giving away any spoilers, T-Challa’s final speech could be advice not just to some prominent American politicians, but for business leaders as well: “In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”
The Incredible Hulk. Too many cooks in Google’s mobile payments kitchen? The search master consolidated its offerings on Tuesday, folding Android Pay and Google Wallet into Google Pay, which seems like where it should have started all along.
The Winter Soldier. With its merger strategy in tatters, Sprint is looking to expand on its own. Building a 5G network will be costly, so the #4 wireless carrier is borrowing $1 billion in the junk bond market at rates close to 8%, Bloomberg reports. Competitor AT&T revealed its initial 5G network will be offered in parts of Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco, Texas by year end.
Thor: The Dark World. Startups aren’t the only ones cashing in on the cryptocurrency craze. With hyperinflation crushing its official bolivar currency, Venezuela launched its “petro” token for pre-sale, seeking to raise as much as $6 billion, CoinDesk reports. In Japan, digital currency firms are trying to reassure investors after hackers stole over $500 million from one exchange. Sixteen exchanges are forming a self-regulatory agency to police their own industry and ensure best practices are followed. And speaking of hacking, crooks broke into Tesla’s Amazon cloud services account and used the computing power to mine digital currencies. No word yet on how much they made off with.
Guardians of the Galaxy. Billionaire businessman Richard Branson is the latest to warn about the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on society. The tech may lead to a massive loss of jobs, requiring government to provide a minimum income to the displaced, he says, echoing comments by Elon Musk and others. Branson says he favors “a basic minimum earnings for everybody so that there is nobody that is having to sleep on the street—100%, I think that is really important.”
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Toymaker Mattel introduced a series of Barbie-branded computer coding lessons at the annual International Toy Fair in New York this week. Mattel has previously integrated educational programming tools from startup Tynker in its Hot Wheels and Monster High lines. Now it’s Barbie’s turn.
Doctor Strange. Apple has long had a strategy of using its financial might to guarantee access to critical supplies. Now the iPhone maker is in talks directly with cobalt miners to arrange a long-term supply agreement for the crucial ingredient in lithium ion electric batteries.
Ant Man and the Wasp. Do we need another entrant in the smart speaker space? Or even the speaker space? Perhaps to counter the Apple Music-only* HomePod, IPO-bound Spotify may be close to creating its own offering, according to some job listings at the company. “Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products and set up an operational organization for manufacturing, supply chain, sales and marketing,” one listing noted. (*Yes, yes, I know you can play other services, but only via AirPlay.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The key players in the dramatic legal battle that led to a complete redrawing of Pennsylvania’s heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts weren’t the lawyers. It started with the data scientists. As Issie Lapowsky writes for Wired, the core of the case was studies by people like John Kennedy, a political scientist at West Chester University, and Carnegie Mellon mathematician Wes Pegde. It was the scientists who uncovered and dramatized the degree of partisan bias built into the districts that the Republican-controlled legislature had created in 2011 and convinced Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court to draw a new map:
After conducting his trillion simulations, Pegden found that the 2011 Pennsylvania map exhibited more partisan bias than 99.999999 percent of maps he tested. In other words, making even the tiniest changes in almost any direction to the existing map chiseled away at the Republican advantage.
“You can almost hear the mapmakers saying, ‘No don’t do that. I wanted that right there just like that,’” Pegden says. “It gets at the basic question of what citizens, judges, and courts want to know: Did these people go into a room and design these maps to suit their purposes?”
Until now, researchers have struggled to find truly random maps to compare to gerrymandered maps; the number of possible maps is so astronomically high, it’s impossible to try them all. But Pegden’s theorem proves you don’t have to try every restaurant in town to know you got a raw deal. You just need to take a walk around the block.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Watch This Video of Jeff Bezos’s 10,000 Year Clock Being Built By Jonathan Vanian
How Twitter Users Pushed Back Against Trolls’ Fake ‘Black Panther’ Assault Stories By Tom Huddleston Jr.
Inside Uncle Sam’s Secret Bitcoin Hoard By Jeff John Roberts
Top Cybersecurity Firm Carbon Black Names Chief Cybersecurity Officer By Robert Hackett
Here’s When Uber’s Flying Taxis Might Actually Take Flight By Don Reisinger
Apple Is Officially Taking Over the Watch Business By Grace Donnelly
BEFORE YOU GO
Binge-watching TV shows isn’t exactly bad for you, but it means you’re less likely to remember the details compared to someone who waited a few days between viewings. That’s just one of the interesting tidbits in Julie Beck’s piece on memory and remembering in our digital, online age.
This tidbit certainly sums up my current practice: “Research has shown that the Internet functions as a sort of externalized memory.” Most of those song lyrics, movie quotes, and other snippets I use as headlines here were “refreshed” online. What’s the famous Philip K. Dick short story? Oh, yeah: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. (And I remembered that one on my own.)