Christmas week: Tech round-up

Christmas Technology

The world’s most famous talking plastic tube has been accused of being politically biased, which is not a sentence I imagined I’d ever have to write.

Amazon’s talking/listening/life-organising device, Alexa, is, apparently, a closet liberally-minded sweetheart – or, depending on the depths of your feelings, a lefty, commie, traitor, social justice warrior, mind-control thing.

Outraged types are outraged that when asked things like ‘Are you a feminist?’ the contraption replies ‘Yes, I am a feminist, as is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society’. What unspeakable insolence!

If asked ‘Do black lives matter?’ Alexa says ‘Black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement absolutely matter. It’s important to have conversations about equality and social justice,’ which certainly won’t go down very well in some quarters.

It is important to remember at this juncture that Alexa was built in 2014, not 1814.

Anyhow, exasperated American conservative bigwig David Horowitz was moved to say that Silicon Valley’s ‘encoded intelligence is decidedly leftist’ – which is an odd thing to accuse some of the richest, tax-shyest people in the world of being but there you go.

***

The forever bungling Uber has been accused of more misdeeds, and this time it involves KGB/CIA-style spying antics – which all seems very exciting and astounding for a company that ultimately merely orders people taxis, but we do live in very strange times.

Last week, a US court released a letter alleging that the firm created a covert undercover surveillance unit to pinch its competitors’ plans

The letter has emerged as part of Uber’s legal squabble with Waymo, a self-driving car firm that insists Uber stole some of its tech ideas.

Former Uber employee Richard Jacobs wrote the accusatory letter back in May, in which he claimed that ‘these tactics were employed clandestinely through a distributed architecture of anonymous servers, telecommunications architecture, and non-attributable hardware and software’.

Responding to the letter’s allegations, Uber said: ‘While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter – and, importantly, any related to Waymo – our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.’

I’m not sure what to make of that statement, to be honest. What’s exactly being said/admitted/denied?

***

More Ofcom news now. The communications regulator has been very busy of late, dishing out tellings-off and reminding the British public that the digital services they receive are often rubbish and unacceptable.

According to its latest update, there are more than one million ‘forgotten homes’ in the UK – that is, residences that are lumbered with terrible broadband speeds, not homes that have slipped into some weird mirror/shadow dimension.

Ofcom says that 4% of British homes and offices can’t access speeds of at least 10Mbps, which is understood as the bare minimum needed to enjoy a modern internet experience.

You won’t be surprised to learn that rural households are suffering the worst of it, with 17% of countryside families spending their evenings glaring in despair at the iPlayer’s whirling circle.

Ofcom’s CTO, Steve Unger, said: ‘Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work. Our findings show there’s still urgent work required before the people and businesses get the services they need.’

If you’re interested, the government’s target speed for reasonable broadband is 30Mbps. With this in mind, tonight I’m going to perform a speed check on my own connection – 1. To make sure I’m getting the service I’m supposed to, and 2. Because I have very little else to do.

Christmas week: Tech round-up

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