Too Long; Didn't Read
  • BlackBerry is suing¬†Facebook with every patent it can
    • The company alleges it created basic ideas like notification dots and timestamps in threads
    • BlackBerry now amounts to a patent troll: it sold the phone business to TCL last year
    • Facebook acquired $500M of patents to protect against this, previously
    • Software patents are sorta bullshit
  • Google's consulting work for the Pentagon raises questions
    • The DoD¬†is using open-source Google libraries to interpret drone imagery at scale
    • Googlers are understandably upset about this¬†
    • It appears Google is a consultant helping configure Tensorflow, which is an open-source library
    • A.I is going to raise more questions on a regular basis; should Google be blocking such use?

BlackBerry slaps Facebook with lawsuit

What to do if you're a dying phone maker that's only a pivot or two away from irrelevance? Create arbitrary patent lawsuits! 

BlackBerry is doing exactly this with a new lawsuit that alleges Facebook infringes on its messaging patents with WhatsApp, Instagram and other messaging services. It's so absurd that it's difficult to know where to start: BlackBerry is essentially asserting the right to basic messaging service features.

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The suit leverages a patent hoard the company has been sitting on for a long time, and claims that Facebook infringes on:

  • Showing timestamps in a messaging interface¬†
  • Tagging people in photos
  • Playing games with friends over messaging¬†
  • Showing the number of notifications in a red dot¬†
  • Showing verification ticks for users
  • Muting conversation threads

It's obvious to any observer from the outside that BlackBerry  is not much more than a patent troll making a punt with a bunch of patents it gained legitimately years ago, and hopes to profit from the process. It should be noted that BlackBerry the company is no longer in the phone business; it sold the rights to its name to Chinese manufacturer TCL last year.

Having read the suit, this is a prime example of why software patents are a tenuous proposition at best and why even technology juggernauts are opposed to them. Facebook actually acquired more than $500M worth of patents in anticipation of some sort of attack.

Facebook's response is telling too: "Blackberry’s suit sadly reflects the current state of its messaging ibusiness. Having abandoned its efforts to innovate, Blackberry is now looking to tax the innovation of others." Unfortunately for Facebook, this may be an expensive distraction like the Oracle v Google lawsuit was, ultimately resulting in a small amount of money changing hands to kill the lawsuit. 

Stay tuned, it'll be a wild ride. For a laugh, enjoy the raw content of the BlackBerry lawsuit here.


Google + Department of Defense = ?

A big story swirling yesterday is that Google has supplied TensorFlow APIs to the U.S. Department of Defense, which are used to help to help analyse the contents of drone footage at scale.

Here's what the machine learning in question does: it looks over drone footage at scale to flag images that need human review, a process which is essentially not done right now because human reviewers can't keep up with the volume of data. Google says the project was restricted to 'unoffensive' images only, meaning surveillance footage, and not actual military exercises.

Googlers are outraged that its technology is being used by the secretive organization, after it began to circulate on an internal mailing list. The issue: Google is technically a part of creating technology for war by providing this technology, and hasn't previously disclosed such relationships. 

I don't think that's entirely what's going on here. Tensorflow is a free, open-source machine learning library that Google put on the internet last year. The DoD is using this in its own projects, without Google, but the search company comes into the equation because it was called in to assist with understanding how to implement it correctly. 

The counterargument here, in my mind, is that by providing these APIs, Google has much more control over what can and can't be done than if the government was occupied with creating its own instead. What's missing is oversight, transparency, or some sort of framework around this: how do people know where this begins and ends? Drone footage is one thing, but it's not difficult to imagine natural next steps.

This raises an important ethical question: when will we have a serious conversation about A.I.? Technology leaders are already arguing about the implications, but it's clear the consequences are already here well before we have even an idea of how to regulate or control such technology.

It also makes you think: Google creates a bunch of technology for its cloud platform GCP, as does Amazon, and I have a feeling such consulting work is more common than we know. It makes me moderately uneasy to imagine Google with involvement here, but it's also hard to extract the identity of the entire company from this division's work because it seems scary as a story that the search giant is involved in such work. 

Still, welcome to our A.I. future. This is just the beginning.


Tab Dump

Coinbase launches an index fund
If you like investing in cryptocurrencies, but have no idea what you're doing, Coinbase has something for you: pay for someone else that also has no idea but has marginally more experience to do it for you. This is a fascinating move, and will likely be a roaring success, even if it doesn't seem like the point of cryptocurrencies in the first place.

Uber has burnt $10B to date, can it turn it into a business?
My guess: yeah. The number seems staggering, but this is a capital intensive business that must spend escalating amounts of cash until it owns the market or face the fate of auction sites, which struggled to scale beyond their own local markets as clones popped up everywhere.

Analysts believe Facebook will push into music streaming
Licensing deals with major record labels under the guise of licensing for video is almost certainly a ruse. Fun fact: Spotify listed Facebook launching a music service as a major risk in its IPO filing.

Self-driving cars offer huge benefits, but there's a downside

How Amazon can blow up asset management