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Data Sheet—Even As Google’s AI Blows Your Mind, Think Critically About Reining It In

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Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?

Good morning. Aaron in for Adam, contemplating computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing’s famous conjecture to test whether a machine could think.

The wow factor was quite high, maybe off the charts, this week when Google debuted recordings of its Duplex AI app making phone calls and conversing with regular people at restaurants and a nail salon. Duplex sounded amazingly human, smoothly navigating the minor inconveniences of booking appointments and even uttering the occasional “um” and “mmhm” to make sure the person on the other end knew it was still there. It sure seemed like Duplex had aced the “imitation game.”

But somewhere between the “um” and the “mhmm,” the creepiness factor started to rise and people began to imagine how this creation could be used for ill. Would robocallers, scam artists, and hackers start employing Duplex the better to dupe unwitting consumers? Would interactions with workers in the service industry be further dehumanized? Was the service just the latest “invasive” and “infantilizing” development from the clueless coders of Silicon Valley?

Most of the concerns revolved around how Duplex works and how it will be used. Most could also apply to virtually any AI app intended to interact with humans. Perhaps a deeper question, then, is how should society regulate the coming wave of artificial intelligence, if at all. Will we rely on self regulation by industry, as we have in so many other areas? Perhaps just a further evolution of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics is required? Or should laws be passed setting out acceptable and unacceptable AI practices?

Whatever choices are made, they should be made intentionally and with serious consideration. We are almost 20 years out from Harvard Professor Larry Lessig’s groundbreaking essay “Code Is Law,” and it still feels like one of the most important texts guiding us into the future.

Our choice is not between “regulation” and “no regulation.” The code regulates. It implements values, or not. It enables freedoms, or disables them. It protects privacy, or promotes monitoring. People choose how the code does these things. People write the code. Thus the choice is not whether people will decide how cyberspace regulates. People—coders—will. The only choice is whether we collectively will have a role in their choice—and thus in determining how these values regulate—or whether collectively we will allow the coders to select our values for us.

Let us know what you think of the debate.

Aaron Pressman


Over par. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into a Tesla crash on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. that killed two teenagers. Tesla said the crash was a “very high-speed collision” that did not involve its autopilot software. The probe is the fourth by the safety agency into accidents involving Elon Musk’s company’s electric cars.

Meet George Jetson. At a two-day summit devoted to flying cars (how did I miss this?) organized by Uber, five manufacturers including jet maker Embraer and Bell Helicopter explained how they were helping develop flying taxis. Embraer, for example, debuted a concept for an electric powered craft that can land and take off vertically the better to squeeze into urban environments. Separately, the U.S. Department of Transportation selected 10 test projects for new uses of drones. Among the winners were Zipline, which has been using drones in Africa to deliver medical supplies, and PrecisionHawk, which uses the cameras on drones to evaluate farmland and construction sites. Some of the projects included well known partners like Apple, Intel, and Google’s parent Alphabet, but a proposal from Amazon was not selected.

Things that go boom. Set-top box and streaming video platform Roku reported strong results for the first quarter that beat Wall Street expectations. Revenue rose 37% to $137 million and a net loss declined 13% to $7 million. Revenue from advertising on video channels exceeded hardware sales for the first time. “That shows clearly that our business model is working,” Roku CEO Anthony Wood told Variety. Roku shares, which had gained 9% on Wednesday before the report, jumped another 7% in pre-market trading on Thursday.

David and Goliath. An electrical engineer in Ireland is taking on big tech companies and winning. Apple said it was abandoning plans to build a massive cloud data center in Athenry after engineer Allan Daly raised environmental objections potentially tying up the project for years. Next up on Daly’s hit list is a $1 billion Amazon data center planned for Dublin.

Who’s listening. In the age of Spotify and Apple Music, it’s not the record sales that pay the most royalties, it’s the number of streams. But what happens when a musician owns a streaming service? Accusations are flying that Tidal, largely owned by Jay-Z, has exaggerated the numbers of plays of the album Lemonade by Jay-Z’s wife Beyonce. Tidal called the charges “a smear campaign.”


Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, doesn’t do many interviews so when he does, it’s always worth paying attention. This week, he’s spoken to Hodinkee, the online bible of the luxury watch industry. It’s an appropriate pub to win Ive’s time, as interviewer and Hodinkee CEO Benjamin Clymer notes: “Apple isn’t just a tech company—it’s potentially the greatest luxury brand in the world.” Of course, they discussed the genesis of the Apple Watch. Ive explained:

At that point in the journey, we were all routinely carrying around incredibly powerful products, in terms of their technical ability, in our pockets. And it seemed, I think, that an obvious continuation of this path that we’ve been on for so many years was to make technology more personal and more accessible.

What’s interesting is that I think there is a strong analog to timekeeping technology here for our own products and computational devices. Think about clock towers, and how monumental but singular they are. They are mainframes. From there, clocks moved into homebound objects, but you wouldn’t have one in every room; you might have one for the whole house, just like PCs in the 1980s. Then maybe more than one. Then, time-telling migrated to the pocket. Ultimately, a clock ended up on the wrist, so there is such a curious connection with what we wanted to do, and that was a connection we were really very aware of.


One of the World’s Biggest Phone Firms Is Stopping Operations Because of a Ban on Buying U.S. Parts By David Meyer

Why It Makes Sense for Facebook to Move Into the Brave New World of Blockchain By Polina Marinova

Amazon Alexa Will Come Built-In to All New Homes From Lennar By Grace Donnelly

Walmart Investors Anxious About Its $16 Billion Flipkart Deal By Phil Wahba

Google to Buy Startup Velostrata as It Builds Cloud Computing Business By Jonathan Vanian

HQ Trivia Is Going to Let You See Your Friends’ Answers to Questions By Emily Price

Amazon’s Twitch Prime Members Are Getting Free ‘Fortnite’ Loot By Don Reisinger


Lego bricks come in sets to make everything from rocket ships to fantasy castles, but a Lego fanatic named Bre Burns had another idea. She used 15,000 bricks to build a working pinball machine she calls “Benny’s Spaceship Adventure.” Now that’s a constructive hobby.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.