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Here’s what tech companies have said they’ll do to fight racism in wake of George Floyd protests

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Thousands across the nation have gathered, donated or voiced their support of the Black community following the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Tech companies and their leaders have been no exception, with several announcing large donations and making other concrete changes.

CNBC compiled a list of what the top tech companies, or their leaders, have said they’ll do to combat racial injustice: 

Airbnb will donate a total of $500,000 to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter Foundation and will match employee donations to both groups.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said Google will give $12 million in funding to organizations working to address racial inequities. It also is providing $25 million in ad grants to organizations fighting racial injustice. The company is also matching employee donations, which contributed an additional $2.5 million. Sister company YouTube committed $1 million for the Center for Policing Equity. 

Amazon is donating a total of $10 million to the ACLU Foundation, Brennan Center for Justice, Equal Justice Initiative, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, National Bar Association, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Urban League, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and Year Up. “The inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country must stop,” Amazon said in a tweet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an employee memo three days after George Floyd died, in which he condemned the killing and acknowledged that racial injustice exists in the U.S. Cook said Apple will match employee donations, on top of its own commitment to a variety of groups, though it’s unclear how much money the company donated. Cook added in the letter to employees that the company will “reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored.”

Box CEO Aaron Levie said he was committing $500,000 of his own money, asking on Twitter for recommendations for organizations working to eliminate racial injustice.

Cisco will donate $5 million to groups including Equal Justice Initiative, Black Lives Matter and “our own fund for Fighting Racism and Discrimination.” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said in a tweet that “we need ACTION to eradicate racism, inequality, and injustice.” 

Comcast announced it is developing a multiyear plan that will allocate $100 million to fight injustice and inequality. The company said $75 million in cash and $25 million in media will be distributed over the next three years.

Facebook will donate $10 million to “groups working on racial justice,” and will work with advisors and employees to find organizations in need, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on the social media platform. The company is also working on new products to advance racial justice and reviewing certain internal processes, including how the company treats content dealing with the use of police or state force, Zuckerberg said in a message to employees.

Intel CEO Bob Swan said the chipmaker is pledging $1 million “in support of efforts to address social injustice and anti-racism across various nonprofits and community organizations.”

Lyft co-founder Logan Green said the company will provide $500,000 in ride credits to the National Urban League, NAACP, National Action Network, Black Women’s Roundtable and National Bail Fund Network. The company also is donating ride credits to Lake Street Council in Minneapolis to help volunteers assisting with rebuilding efforts.

Microsoft will donate a total of $1.5 million to the Black Lives Matter Foundation, Equal Justice Initiative, Innocence Project, The Leadership Conference, Minnesota Freedom Fund and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The company will also match employee donations to eligible organizations. “We all have a role to play. I will do the work. The company will do the work. I am asking each of you to do the work,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated $1 million to the Center for Policing Equity. It’s unclear if the company made a donation. Netflix tweeted May 30: “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.”

Peloton said it will make a $500,000 donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. 

Reddit
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the company’s board, urging the company to replace him with a black candidate. The company quickly honored that request and named venture capital investor Michael Seibel to its board. The company will also update its content policy in the coming weeks. 

Shopify will commit $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Black Health Alliance and Campaign Zero, CEO Tobias Lutke said. “No matter the arc of history as it’s taking, there is so much to be done yet. These things absolutely do not have any space in a company like Shopify. The entire company is a company built around helping people to improve their lot. The equality of opportunity is fundamental to the way we think,” he told employees. 

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and his partner, Away CEO Jen Rubio, said they were donating $700,000 and would match $300,000 to about 10 groups.

Snap will no longer promote President Donald Trump’s content within Snapchat’s Discover feature. The decision came after Trump took to social media to address riots in the aftermath of the death of Floyd. “We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover,” the company said in a statement. “Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America.”

Softbank is creating a new $100 million Opportunity Fund that will invest only in companies led by people of color. It’s being led by CEO Marcelo Claure and two Black leaders from the tech world: TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot and Pindrop cofounder Paul Judge. 

TikTok, which has been accused of suppressing Black creators, laid out a series of steps it will take to ensure it highlights diversity. The company is establishing a creator diversity council, will reassess its moderation strategies, create a new creator portal that expands communications and build a new appeals process. Tiktok will also donate $3 million to nonprofits that help the Black community and another $1 million toward fighting racial injustice and inequality. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who is also Square CEO, is donating $3 million to former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s organization Know Your Rights Camp.

Uber will donate $1 million total to the Center for Policing Equity and Equal Justice Initiative, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said. 

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC.

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Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/12/george-floyd-protests-tech-company-responses.html

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Pinterest is reportedly in talks to acquire VSCO

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So what can Pinterest do to jump higher up the list of social networking sites? According to a report by the New York Times, one possibility is acquiring the owner of VSCO, the app for editing / sharing photos and videos that has brought in-depth tools to mobile users for years. Neither side directly confirmed the negotiations, and there’s no word on a possible price, but maybe combining forces can bring some Instagram-like glow. 

As it is, Pinterest is still mostly known for planning and organizing, and as the NYT article points out, other than some recent acquisitions, VSCO is currently best known for the “VSCO girls” meme.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/vsco-pinterest-014258107.html

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A sealed copy of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ just sold for $660,000

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A nearly perfect copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES has sold for $660,000 at auction. In what turned out to be a 13-bidder contest, $550,000 went to the game’s original owner. The copy was one of the earliest shrink-wrapped versions of the games you could buy in the US (Super Mario Bros. eventually had 11 different box variants, according to WATA Games).

Heritage Auctions, the firm that oversaw the sale, told Ars Technica it dates back to late 1986. It was reportedly bought as a Christmas gift and sat unopened in a desk drawer for the better part of four decades. “I never thought anything about it,” the seller, who asked to remain anonymous, told the auction house.

The $660,000 this copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for is crazy when you consider the Nintendo PlayStation, a one-of-a-kind prototype representing a unique piece of gaming history, sold for $360,000 at auction last year. More recently, someone paid $156,000 to buy a pristine copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It makes you wonder how much the owner would have walked away with had they simultaneously tried to cash in on the NFT craze somehow.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/super-mario-bros-auction-000001095.html

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‘Lost Tapes of the 27 Club’ used Google AI to ‘write’ a new Nirvana song

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Were he still alive today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain would be 52 years old. Every February 20th, on the day of his birthday, fans wonder what songs he would write if he hadn’t died of suicide nearly 30 years ago. While we’ll never know the answer to that question, an AI is attempting to fill the gap.

A mental health organization called Over the Bridge used Google’s Magenta AI and a generic neural network to examine more than two dozen songs by Nirvana to create a ‘new’ track from the band. “Drowned in the Sun” opens with reverb-soaked plucking before turning into an assault of distorted power chords. “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan sings in the chorus. In execution, it sounds not all that dissimilar from “You Know You’re Right,” one of the last songs Nirvana recorded before Cobain’s death in 1994.

Other than the voice of Hogan, everything you hear in the song was generated by the two AI programs Over the Bridge used. The organization first fed Magenta songs as MIDI files so that the software could learn the specific notes and harmonies that made the band’s tunes so iconic. Humorously, Cobain’s loose and aggressive guitar playing style gave Magenta some trouble, with the AI mostly outputting a wall of distortion instead of something akin to his signature melodies. “It was a lot of trial and error,” Over the Bridge board member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone. Once they had some musical and lyrical samples, the creative team picked the best bits to record. Most of the instrumentation you hear are MIDI tracks with different effects layered on top.

One thing neither AI gave direction on is how exactly Cobain would have sung the song. Outside of cadence and tone, Hogan had to interpret how the grunge star, who famously suffered from crippling stomach pain, would have channeled his anguish into the lyrics.

Over the Bridge isn’t the first group to use AI to emulate a dead artist. But the intent here is different from similar past projects. “Drowned in the Sun” is part of the organization’s Lost Tapes of the 27 Club initiative. They set out to record AI-generated songs by musicians who died at the age of 27 to raise awareness about mental health resources musicians, and people more generally, can turn to when they feel they need help. The Toronto-based non-profit has a Facebook page where it offers support. It also offers online sessions and workshops.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over an online chat.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/over-the-bridge-lost-tapes-of-the-27-club-223000315.html

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Microsoft’s online-only Build conference starts on May 25th

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Spring is fully upon us, which means the calendar is starting to fill up with high-profile tech events. And the latest addition? Microsoft confirmed today that its online-only Build developer conference will run between May 25th and May 27th, though there’s still no word on when registration will open. (If last year is any indication, our money is on “the end of April.”)

“Microsoft Build is where developers, architects, start-ups, and students learn, connect, and code together, sharing knowledge and expanding their skillset, while exploring new ways of innovating for tomorrow,” the company’s events page explains. 

Unfortunately, Microsoft has yet to update its Build-specific webpage with information about this year’s priorities or schedule, but we’re almost certainly looking at another packed event. Last year, Microsoft went on (among other things) about improved collaboration tools for its suite of Office productivity apps, an AI-focused supercomputer running on its Azure cloud platform, and new cloud tools designed specifically for healthcare practitioners. 

Historically, spring and summer are been jam-packed with large, in-person events where app and software developers get their first glimpse at upcoming platform and strategy updates, attend workshops and code reviews, and generally mingle with their colleagues. Starting last year, though, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has forced companies that stage these events to rapidly rethink their approaches.

Some, like Microsoft and Apple, quickly pivoted to informative online-only affairs that include full days worth of sessions, demos and fireside chats. (For what it’s worth, Apple announced this week that its own Worldwide Developer Conference will also proceed as an online-only event from June 7-11.) Meanwhile, Google has not yet confirmed whether it plans to stage its Google I/O developer conference at all this year — the company cancelled the show entirely in 2020, but said last month that it does plan to host some version of its annual Google Cloud Next event this October. 

Between a surge in COVID-19 vaccine production and news of relaxed restrictions for vaccinated travelers, Build 2021 may well be the last purely virtual developer conference Microsoft will ever need to put on. With any luck, devs will resume their pilgrimages to Seattle next year, and who knows — maybe those tiny emotional support horses from Build 2018 will show up again too.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-build-2021-may-25-to-27-developer-conference-official-212230206.html

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