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Microsoft and corporate activism

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BOSTON — Artificial intelligence needs to eat, breathe and sleep data to be effective. By that measure, the company…

— or country — with the most data should emerge victorious. But Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft, said the idea that data accumulators will rule the world and the rest of us will be powerless is a pessimistic take on what’s to come.

He prefers optimism. Indeed, Smith said there are ways to keep, say, China from becoming a global data dictator. His recommendation: Create “a global standard for ethical principles and for the protection of things like privacy so that the price for global admission is adherence to a global standard.”

Such a standard could create a classic data-silo problem for countries that don’t comply. For example, China may have the world’s largest population, but if it can’t access Europe’s data or the United States’ data, it will struggle to uncover patterns on a global, rather than national, scale.

That was one of the points Smith made at HUBweek, an innovation festival in Boston. In a fireside chat with Adi Ignatius, editor in chief of Harvard Business Review, Smith made it clear that Microsoft is participating in a new kind of corporate activism that targets broad societal issues — and it’s using this newly public corporate conscience as an advocacy and marketing tool.

For example, in December, Microsoft publicly supported a giving women and men the right to take a sexual harassment claim to court rather than keep the complaint in arbitration. When North Carolina a that restricted LGBT rights, Microsoft lent its voice to the opposition. More recently, the company launched the Defending Democracy Program, which is aimed at protecting campaigns from hacking, increasing political advertising transparency and defending against disinformation.

The political thread in the examples Smith provided is hardly accidental: Customers are increasingly turning to companies to take on issues they care about because of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., Smith argued.

“We are living in a time when there are historically low levels of trust in government,” he said. “And so, whereas in the past, people would say, ‘I care about this. I’m going to go to government.’ They are less inclined to do that.”

But jumping into corporate activism and promoting a company’s moral compass can also create wrinkles. Smith said, given the gridlock in Washington, customers are beginning to ask Microsoft to help regulate the very technology it’s developing. One HUBweek attendee raised a question that has become common at tech events: Can government officials craft policy that effectively keeps up with the rapid pace of change in the tech industry? 

Smith shot down the idea, saying that any technology company’s involvement in regulation is inappropriate and restricts progress. “I don’t think it’s viable to ask tech to slow down,” he said. “It is not only appropriate, but it is right to ask government to move faster. And it’s incumbent on those of us in the technology sector to do what we can to share information so that governments can move faster.”

Plus, he said, “it’s important to remember that, in this country and in many others, people elect those who make the laws. People do not elect companies.”

‘Moneyball’ for movies

Legendary Entertainment is using analytics to develop films. Matt Marolda, chief analytics officer for the media company, referred to this as “Moneyball for movies,” referencing the story of how data helped transform a losing baseball team.

The use of data to develop movie products isn’t , but in the past, much of the data was collected through analog methods. These days, the data that Marolda’s applied analytics team uses for analysis comes from a variety of sources — from one-on-one conversations with viewers to digital data such as search queries and Twitter conversations.

The tried-and-true method of testing a film before a live audience is also used — but with a twist. While Marolda’s team tries “to be as unintrusive as possible” during the testing process, it uses iPads to capture facial expressions and wristbands to collect heart rate and other “various signals,” he said. That kind of data is used to determine what’s working and what’s not.

“We try and identify those moments where people are confused, people are rolling their eyes, where they’re really engaged,” Marolda said.

The data can also help pin down much bigger problems such as whether the chemistry between the two leads is believable. Marolda said filmmakers often have a gut answer to human chemistry questions like the latter, but the data can provide solid evidence.

“With that kind of evidence, entire storylines are removed from movies, reshoots might happen to redirect the plot,” he said. “Those indicators are a great way to understand what the opportunities are for improvement.”

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Source: https://searchcio.techtarget.com/news/252450811/Microsoft-and-corporate-activism

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‘SNL’ host Elon Musk takes a Saturday off from Tesla’s troubles

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By Joseph White

DETROIT (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s turn as host of this week’s “Saturday Night Live” television program will be a light-hearted, brand-building break from the pressures of running Tesla Inc and SpaceX – or land the billionaire in another bucket of hot water.

That uncertainty appears to be the point for both Musk and NBCUniversal’s <CMCSA.O> venerable comedy sketch show.

Musk has been encouraging fans and detractors to anticipate shenanigans, potentially involving the Dogecoin cryptocurrency. Musk has touted Dogecoin on his Twitter account, and the cryptocurrency’s value has soared ahead of his appearance.

“I’m a wild card, no telling what I might do,” Musk, wearing a black bandana, joked in a brief promotional video for the show alongside Saturday’s musical guest, Miley Cyrus.

“Same here,” Cyrus said. “Rules? No thanks.”

Musk has been in New York this week preparing for the appearance. A photo posted to the “Saturday Night Live” Twitter account on Wednesday showed him hunched over papers, wearing a “Nuke Mars” T-shirt. Musk has mused about using nuclear weapons to reshape the Red Planet for human habitation.

Some “SNL” cast members have expressed displeasure at the show’s decision to give its platform to one of the world’s richest people. Musk’s appearance has drawn comparisons to the show’s controversial decision in 2015 to invite Donald Trump to host as he was preparing for his presidential run.

Although it is rare for a business executive to host “SNL,” South Africa-born Musk, 49, is no stranger to pop culture or comedy.

He has appeared on “The Simpsons,” “Rick and Morty,” and “South Park,” and dates a pop star, Canadian singer Grimes. Musk’s persona helped inspire Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of superhero Iron Man in a series of Marvel films.

His humor also shows in the names of Tesla car models S, 3, X and Y (“sexy”). He once built and sold flamethrowers to promote his tunnel venture, the Boring Company. In 2018, Musk smoked marijuana on a live web show, and later offered $420 a share – a drug reference – to take Tesla private.

While Musk has been getting ready for the cameras, Tesla has been in a rough patch.

Longtime major shareholder Baillie Gifford disclosed it had sold 41% of its Tesla shares. Police in California are investigating a fatal accident in which a Tesla crashed into an overturned truck. Documents prepared by California regulators said Tesla executives do not believe Tesla can deliver the “Full Self Driving” autonomous vehicle technology this year, contradicting Musk’s statements.

(Reporting By Joe White, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/snl-host-elon-musk-takes-saturday-teslas-troubles/14510

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U.S. Commerce chief cites auto chips shortage in jobs report

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Friday the semiconductor shortage was a factor in April’s jobs report that showed hiring unexpectedly slowed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the auto sector shed 27,000 jobs in April as automakers were forced to cancel production shifts and furlough workers amid the chips shortage.

“We’re working very hard to get the president’s plan passed in Congress to fund a semiconductor fund. The fact of the matter is we need to get back into the business of making more chips in America. And the supply chain issues are very real,” Raimondo told MSNBC.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Susan Heavy; Editing by Chris Reese)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/us-commerce-chief-cites-auto-chips-shortage-jobs-report/14509

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U.S. auto part makers brace for a bumpy ride as chip shortage to intensify

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By Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) -U.S. auto parts suppliers warned of more production cuts at major automakers as a global semiconductor chip shortage worsens before easing in the second half of the year and aiding in a partial recovery of lost sales.

The chip shortage came at an inopportune time for automakers as demand rebounded from pandemic lows due to low interest rates and consumers’ preference for personal transport amid the health crisis.

“We’ve embedded a 3% reduction in industry production to factor in what we’re anticipating and expecting as further announced downtime that hasn’t been publicly announced at this point,” Lear Corp Chief Financial Officer Jason Cardew said on Friday.

“We have line of sight on a more meaningful reduction (in production) in the second quarter than IHS Markit and others are projecting,” Cardew said.

Ford Motor Co, a major customer for Lear and peers including BorgWarner and Magna International, has said the chip shortage would halve its vehicle output in the second quarter.

Europe’s Volkswagen, another customer for the three suppliers, has said it is in “crisis mode” over the lack of badly needed automotive chips, with the shortage intensifying and hitting its profits in the second quarter.

Lear, which makes automotive seating, cut its global vehicle production forecast to a 9% rise, from up to 12% it had predicted at the beginning of the year, while also expecting second-quarter revenue to fall 9% from the first.

Auto suppliers also cautioned that the pain from the shortage could linger at least until the next year.

“We don’t expect the supply/demand imbalance to fully recover to normalized levels until 2022,” said Joseph Massaro, chief financial officer of Aptiv, a maker of advanced driver assistance systems, vehicle computers and high-voltage cabling.

Auto suppliers are also grappling with pressure on their margins from rising costs of key inputs such as steel and copper.

However, many expect to offset some of those costs as automaker customers focus on building higher margin, more profitable pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

“On the biggest raw material purchases, we have about 60% pass through with our customers,” BorgWarner Chief Executive Officer Frederic Lissalde said.

Still, most suppliers have raised or reaffirmed their full-year financial outlooks, thanks to the better-than-expected performance in the first quarter.

Analysts highlighted risks associated with the production outlooks from some suppliers as chip demand rises from other sectors such as enterprise, cloud and consumer electronics following speedy COVID-19 vaccinations and economies reopening.

“The question in my mind is can this (production loss) be made up later on in the year. And that’s really an unknown,” Magna Chief Financial Officer Vincent Galifi said.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/us-auto-part-makers-brace-bumpy-ride-chip-shortage-intensify/14508

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Auto sector urges U.S. Congress to help fund its computer chip needs

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. auto industry and United Auto Workers union on Friday urged Congress to tie billions of dollars in government funding to boost semiconductor production to help fill the needs of automakers forced to slash production because of chip shortages.

Congress “should prioritize production of the semiconductors necessary to assemble vehicles here in the United States. This will ensure that motor vehicle manufacturers have a fair share of chips needed to meet consumer demand,” said the American Automotive Policy Council, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and UAW on Friday in a joint statement.

Tech companies and other industries have repeatedly urged the administration not to pick “winners and losers” or attach conditions to funding to address the chip shortage.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the U.S. motor vehicle and parts sector lost 27,000 jobs in April.

The letter seen by Reuters said the U.S motor vehicle industry is estimated to have lost over 330,000 production units as a result of the chip shortage.

Carmakers across the world curbed output, hampering attempts to recover from the pandemic, due to a shortage of chips used in everything from computer management of engines to driver assistance systems.

The global chip shortage hit automakers hard after many canceled orders when plants were idled during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, demand for chips boomed from consumer electronics makers churning out premium devices for people spending more time at home.

Automakers have warned the chips crisis could last until 2022 and have pressed the U.S. government to act.

Ford Motor Co last week warned the shortage may slash second-quarter production by half and for 2021, cost it about $2.5 billion and about 1.1 million units of lost production.

President Joe Biden has proposed $50 billion to boost U.S. semiconductor production.

The letter urged the government to “include specific funding for semiconductor facilities that commit to dedicating a portion of their capacity to motor vehicle-grade chip production.”

On Friday, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute urged Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to ensure chip supplies are “fairly allocated across industry sectors.”

The groups said they were “dismayed” Raimondo said she was seeking to prioritize automakers. “We simply ask for fairness so that the health, safety, comfort, productivity, and other needs of Americans can be met,” they wrote.

The department did not immediately comment. Raimondo told MSNBC Friday that the auto chip crisis was a factor in April’s jobs report. The auto sector shed 27,000 jobs in April.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Keith Weir and David Gregorio)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/auto-sector-urges-us-congress-help-fund-computer-chip-needs/14507

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