Bond needs more than Q in AI age

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While Covid continues to cast a dark cloud over our lives and health, there are equally scary storms ahead from digital threats, according to Nicole Perlroth’s business book This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends.

On Wednesday night, her sobering account of the cyber weapons arms race won the 2021 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year. The judges said it was “an alarming book” that “makes a compelling, granular and matter-of-fact case for how vulnerable global computer systems have become, even as it also comes with an urgent plea for specific and systematic action”.

There are numerous examples of this, from Russian hackers’ cyber attacks to bring down Ukraine’s electricity grid, to the Chinese state-sponsored Hafnium group carrying out espionage by exploiting Microsoft’s Exchange email software.

Beyond state-sponsored hacking, the injection of artificial intelligence into military hardware represents the biggest technological leap since the advent of nuclear weapons, says the Financial Times’s editorial board. The computer scientist Stuart Russell met UK defence officials recently to warn that incorporating AI into weapons could wipe out humanity.

Richard Moore, the head of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, said this week that adapting to the rise of China was now the “single greatest priority” of MI6, with Beijing posing “a serious challenge to global stability and peace”.

In a speech, he cited the tech threat of Chinese surveillance systems being exported around the world and acknowledged that “there is no longer such a thing as an analogue intelligence operation in this digital world”.

“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” he said.

It sounds like an analogue James Bond needs more powerful weapons from gadget provider Q, but Moore said the way forward was “pursuing partnerships with the tech community to help develop world-class technologies to solve our biggest mission problems”.

“Unlike Q in the Bond movies, we cannot do it all in-house,” he admitted.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. World’s first AI casino delayed
Chinese surveillance skills may not be all they are cracked up to be. The flagship project for SenseTime, one of China’s leading AI companies, was a casino with robot croupiers and cameras that can spot bad behaviour. But the ambitious transformation plan for Genting’s Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore’s first casino, has run into technical difficulties, we can report.

2. Grab makes Nasdaq debut
Shares in Singapore-based Grab whipsawed in their Nasdaq debut on Thursday after the south-east Asian super app concluded a record $40bn merger deal with a blank-cheque company. Shares opened at $13.06 on Thursday, up from the previous day’s close of $11.01 when it was still trading as Altimeter Growth Corp, but then fell below $9 in early trading.

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3. Helicopter land grab
Blade Air Mobility, the helicopter shuttle company, has struck a $12m deal with a Canadian chopper operator, betting that a wider network will give it a lead if electric air taxis become a reality. The deal is part of a land grab for helipads, routes and customers in the belief that existing infrastructure for new services will be constrained initially.

4. Gas price restricts gigs
Back on the ground, the recent surge in fuel prices across the US has hit the country’s gig-economy drivers, reports Amanda Chu. “Drivers seem to be driving less,” said Melissa Berry, editor at The Rideshare Guy industry blog. This change in the way they work “has no doubt exacerbated the driver shortage Uber and Lyft have been periodically finding themselves in”.

5. Jack Dorsey and the Blockheads
We discussed Jack Dorsey’s bitcoin ambitions on Wednesday and, hours later, his Square payments company renamed itself Block to reflect its dedication to crypto and the blockchain. It led to the unflattering new portraits below of the management team.

Forwarded from Sifted — the European start-up week

The Nordic region has long been known for its gaming companies: some of European tech’s biggest early successes, including Supercell and Rovio, came from Finland.

Now a new generation has emerged, including the Finnish-Icelandic games studio Mainframe, which this week raised €20.3m in a funding round led by the US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Although Andreessen Horowitz has previously backed metaverse start-up Improbable, Mainframe, founded in 2019, is the first proper European games studio and the first Nordic start-up the firm has supported.

Mainframe’s aim is to release the first completely cloud-native massively multiplayer online game (MMO). For people not familiar with the lingo, that means that you can access the game from any device: PC, MacBook, mobile or console.

Tech tools — Apple’s best apps

Apple on Thursday announced the 2021 App Store Award winners, a list of what it judged as being the 15 best apps and games this year. They include Carrot Weather for Apple Watch, video editing app LumaFusion for iPad and the notebook Craft for Mac. iPhone Game of the Year was League of Legends: Wild Rift. There were also “trend” winners on the theme of connecting people. They include the dating app Bumble and EatOkra, a user-driven guide to more than 11,000 Black-owned eateries.

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