While we are still a long way from ending up like Gertrude the pig — subjected to a brain implant with no choice in the matter — technology continues to be insidiously embedded in ways that can reduce our control over our health and bodies.
On Tuesday, Apple and Google announced a new contact-tracing tool that doesn’t depend on us installing an app. The most it seems we will have to do is read an alert that tells us about the tool when it is automatically installed in an upgrade to a smartphone’s operating system.
This actually seems a good thing in terms of tackling coronavirus — the jointly developed Exposure Notifications Express sets a standard and is likely to be widely used compared to the plethora of apps with different approaches that have suffered low adoption rates to date.
Of more concern may be the launch last week of the Coefficient Insurance Company, a new venture for Google’s life sciences and healthcare subsidiary Verily.
While it aims to help refine employers’ risks in health insurance, a Bloomberg report quoted a Verily executive as saying the company also plans to work to identify specific employees who may be at risk of developing certain conditions and intervene. “That could, for example, involve monitoring an employee’s vital signs via their smartphone and setting them up with a virtual coach to help manage a chronic condition like diabetes or heart disease,” it said.
In an FT opinion piece, Evgeny Morozov of knowledge curation platform The Syllabus says plenty of smaller players have also been pitching employers sophisticated workplace surveillance systems as a way of lowering healthcare costs. This might result in a healthier workplace, he says, but we would have to be extremely naive to believe that the growth of such systems is likely to benefit the weak and the destitute.
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. Quantum duo leapers
The UK is doubling down on its quantum commitments with two significant advances announced over the past couple of days. First, Cambridge university spinout Riverlane announced successful trials of its universal operating system software for use across a range of quantum computers. Then today, a £10m consortium said it would create the UK’s first commercially available quantum computer. Both initiatives have benefited from government grants.
2. Facebook tackles more fake news
The social network says it has taken down new disinformation campaigns, including one carried out by the Russian group accused of meddling in the 2016 election. According to Facebook, Russia’s Internet Research Agency created a fake leftwing news outlet, as well as online personas with computer-generated photos to post on divisive topics, such as the QAnon conspiracy group. Izabella Kaminska says QAnon amounts to a sophisticated and weaponised live-action role playing game.
3. Chinese EV makers bask in Tesla’s afterglow
There is a halo effect in China from Tesla’s soaring stock price. Electric carmakers there such as Li Auto, Nio and Xpeng are seeing big share price rises as well, although rebounding sales have also helped.
4. Alibaba steps up logistics investment
Alibaba is stepping up efforts to tighten control over its logistics network, paying nearly $1bn to double its stake in Chinese courier group YTO Express. Like Amazon in the US, the ecommerce group has been moving to establish its own delivery platform to achieve a goal of delivery anywhere in China within 24 hours.
5. Facebook and Google’s battle Down Under
With Facebook joining Google in increasing pressure and lobbying against having to pay for media content in Australia, Jamie Smyth in Sydney and Alex Barker have an in-depth analysis of what’s at stake. Paying for news content would help support an industry whose decline has been exacerbated by Facebook and Google grabbing an increasing share of digital advertising dollars. (Also, don’t miss our tribute to the humble newsstand)
Tech tools — Slinger Bag
If you’ve been inspired to get back on the tennis court by Andy Murray’s comeback win overnight in the US Open, the £780 Slinger Bag might be the ideal accessory. Jonathan Margolis reports this is a snug, portable tennis-ball machine compared to the usual ball-firing beasts. It is powered by a rechargeable battery, which gives up to five hours of ball flinging, and has a capacity of up to 144 balls, firing them at you from two to 10 seconds apart and at speeds of up to 72.5kph. There’s also a useful ballboy mode that lobs balls from courtside, so you can practise your serve.
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