Data Sheet—All Aboard the Navy’s First A.I. Warship
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The 311th largest company on this year’s Fortune 500 list is a technology company I’d never heard of. It’s called Leidos, which, according to Data Sheet’s own Aaron Pressman’s fine new magazine feature, was created by lopping the beginning and ending of the word kaleidoscope. Those familiar with big defense contractors will recognize the company’s former name, SAIC, which lives on as a technical services provider. Leidos does information technology and a hodgepodge of science projects. Aaron’s gorgeously illustrated article breaks down the various elements of the Leidos business.
These include a unit that does basic cancer research, another that runs logistics for a research station in Antarctica, and an upcoming contract to run NASA’s IT infrastructure.
But what clearly attracted Aaron’s interest is the Leidos role in a robotic mine-clearing and intelligence gathering ship called Sea Hunter. The ship, which looks like a mash-up of an ancient outrigger and a modern attack vessel, carries no crew whatsoever. The ship relies heavily on artificial intelligence, though it has its share of mechanical problems as well interference from the occasional sea lion.
It’s a good read, and a reminder of how much money there is in technology beyond the hot companies that dominate the headlines.
Have I mentioned Fortune hosts conferences? I’m deeply involved in all but a few of them, but Brainstorm Tech, held each July in picturesque Aspen, Colo., is the first among equals for me, perhaps because this will be the 11th year I’ve helped run it.
We recently posted the preliminary agenda. On a couple of earlier occasions I’ve mentioned some of the important participants who will appear on the program. A few more include: heavy-hitter venture capitalists Jeff Jordan (Andreessen Horowitz), Alfred Lin (Sequoia), and Jana Messerschmidt (Lightspeed); the general counsel of Oracle, Dorian Daley; Margo Georgiadis of Ancestry.com; the new CEO of Intuit, Sasan Goodarzi; Meg Whitman and her Quibi partner Jeffrey Katzenberg (both are well-known for things they’ve done earlier in their careers); Uber Freight chief Lior Ron; and Kai Ryssdal, the host of public radio’s wildly popular Marketplace program, who will honcho this year’s town hall meeting.
I’ll have a few more names to share before July. There also are a few slots left for attendees. Write me if you’d like an invitation.
Meet the new boss. The European Union's parliamentary elections run from today through Sunday. European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, who has pursued cases against Google, Apple and other U.S. tech giants, could end up as the next president of the European Commission.
Same as the old boss. Leaks from the Justice Department indicate that the staff there is dead set against allowing T-Mobile and Sprint to merge, though the ultimate decision rests with Trump-appointed Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Makan Delrahim. Shares of Sprint fell 8% on Wednesday on the news and T-Mobile's stock price was down 1%.
We'll be fighting in the streets. Shareholders of Amazon voted two down two proposals to limit the sale of the company's facial recognition technology to law enforcement and other government agencies. The election results also coincided with a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday on the same topic. “Right now companies, governments, agencies can essentially steal or use your biometric data from you without your consent and this is outrageous,” freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said during the hearing.
Take a bow for the new revolution. Consumer Reports tested the latest version of Tesla's autonomous driving program, with its recently added lane changing feature, and the results were not good. The magazine concluded that the feature "doesn’t work very well and could create potential safety risks for drivers." Tesla said it was the "driver's responsibility" to safely execute lane changes.
Pick up my guitar and play. Tiny game and software developer Panic unveiled its own gaming hardware device on Wednesday. Dubbed the Playdate, the yellow handheld gaming platform with a 2.7-inch display will sell for $149 when it goes on sale next year. In a less innovative but probably much larger selling hardware development, Walmart debuted its own line of cheap Android-based tablets. An 8-inch model will start at just $64 and will include the Google Play Store and Google’s apps. Will Apple respond with any new hardware of its own? The iPad maker announced Wednesday that it will kick off its annual WWDC developer conference on June 3.
Won't get fooled again. Have you checked out the Fortune 500 Daily audio briefing yet? It's a two-minute download of F500 company factoids, and you can listen on Spotify, Amazon Alexa, Apple iTunes, and Google Play.
(Headline reference explainer, ancient pre-video edition.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When Europe last year adopted its General Data Protection Regulation, known as the GDPR, the aim was to use the threat of massive fives to deter big companies from abusing citizens' privacy rights. But in a triple-bylined investigation by Politico's Mark Scott, Laurens Cerulus, and Steven Overly, a review of the impact of the law found that wasn't quite the case. Facebook, for example, was able to restart its facial recognition feature and revive data sharing between its WhatsApp service and its main service in Europe. Regulators seem to be lagging behind:
National agencies — often small, obscure regulatory offshoots that lack the manpower or legal resources to keep large multinationals at bay — have struggled to give Europe's privacy rules real bite, despite widespread government efforts to increase their yearly budgets. Officials urge restraint, saying that it will take time for the full force of Europe's privacy rules to take effect and that companies are already changing how they collect people's data because of potential blockbuster fines. "Even after 12 months, the reality is that there is no consensus or clear harmonization for how data should be processed," said Ahmed Baladi, co-chair of the privacy, cybersecurity and consumer protection unit at Gibson Dunn, a law firm in Paris. "We still need more guidance from national authorities."
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BEFORE YOU GO
NASA has been saying its wants to go back to the moon within the next five years, as part of the longer-term strategy to send humans to Mars in coming decades. This week the space agency got more specific, picking 11 private companies to work on the moon project, including Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX. They'll have to learn to play nice, it seems.