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UK MPs ask Biden to drop Assange charges during G7 trip
by Paul Hill
Members of Parliament (MPs) from several UK parties have asked President Biden to drop the charges against Julian Assange which have caused him to be holed up in various locations over the last decade. The request was made in the form of a letter and signed by 24 MPs from the Conservative Party, Labour Party, Green Party, and the Scottish National Party. The official Wikileaks account on Twitter posted the letter in full.
In the letter, the MPs said that it was hypocritical of Western governments to call for greater press freedom around the world, while at the same time holding Julian Assange who worked with The Guardian and New York Times newspapers to publish leaked U.S. government documents that Wikileaks had been provided with.
In the letter, the MPs write:
In 2019, the U.S. government unsealed an indictment against Julian Assange which said he was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He is currently being held at Belmarsh Prison in London and last year was denied bail after citing the coronavirus as District Judge Vanessa Baraitser believed he could break the bail conditions.
Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing files to go public
by Paul Hill
The Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing has filed to go public with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Judging by the filing, Didi will be dual listing on both the New York Stock Exchange as well as Nasdaq under the symbol ‘DIDI’. The filing is underwritten by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan.
According to a source who spoke to Reuters, Didi is expecting to go public in July. Interestingly, Didi Chuxing’s initial public offering is expected to be the biggest anywhere in the world this year and could raise around $10 billion with its valuation hitting almost $100 billion.
Like many companies around the world, Didi was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and suffered in 2020 but Reuters says the firm started this year strongly as Chinese businesses began to operate again.
While the public listing of Didi Chuxing will definitely be a notable event this year, investors should pay attention to what the firm says on page 28 of its SEC filing where it says that it has incurred significant losses from the beginning, that it may not achieve or maintain profitability, and that it’s likely their expenses will only increase in the future.
Amazon Music introduces DJ Mode in the United States
by Paul Hill
Amazon has announced the launch of DJ Mode for Amazon Music in the United States. The new feature tries to bring vibrancy and personality to music streaming, similar to that which you’d get on DJ-hosted radio. Listeners of DJ Mode will hear insights from industry experts, drop-ins from top artists, music facts, and trivia from Alexa.
Commenting on the launch of DJ Mode, Steve Boom, VP of Amazon Music, said:
Initially, DJ Mode will be limited to Amazon Music’s Rap Rotation, Country Heat, and All Hits stations but Amazon says more stations will support the feature in the future. To listen to these stations in DJ Mode, just ask Alexa to play your desired station.
At the end of its announcement, Amazon said that Prime members who still haven’t tried Amazon Music Unlimited can get four months of the premium subscription service free of charge. The service offers access to more than 75 million songs without ad interruptions plus millions of podcast episodes. For those who don’t want to use DJ Mode on the affected stations, you can continue to listen without DJ Mode.
By Usama Jawad96
Google will show regional vaccination-related search trends to U.S. health officials soon
by Usama Jawad
Tech companies have been updating their tools and technologies in the past year or so to aid in vaccine distribution and provide easy access to information on the topic to the general public. Today, Google has announced that it will soon be releasing new tools to further enhance this process.
First up is a COVID-19 Vaccination Search Insights tool for public health officials in the U.S. This is in response to health authorities wanting access to data about what kind of information their local communities need from them in order to hasten and simplify the vaccination process. This tool caters to this need by showing search trends across three categories: all vaccine information, searches indicating intent to get vaccinated, and those about safety and side effects. These trends will be at a county or zip code level and will be updated on a weekly basis.
Google has emphasized that user privacy will not be violated because the tool will utilize differential privacy to add noise to the data without significantly affecting its overall quality. As such, all data will be anonymized at a user level and will be aggregated in such a way that even though comparisons across various regions are possible, the number of search queries fired by an individual region is not.
Secondly, Google has collaborated with Ariadne Labs by providing it data to develop a Vaccine Equity Planner dashboard which combines data from various sources to show areas where people have difficulties in accessing vaccines. Google's COVID-19 Vaccination Access Dataset, which collects data from Maps-related APIs, is being utilized in this dashboard. Google has once again highlighted that this dataset does not contain user data. You can view the public dataset on GitHub here.
The company has indicated that although both the tools will be available in the U.S. in the English language only for now, it will decide whether to expand their reach globally after consultation and feedback from researchers and public health officials.
By Usama Jawad96
The U.S. Army plans to start equipping soldiers with HoloLens in September
by Usama Jawad
Back in 2018, Microsoft was awarded a $480 million contract by the U.S. Army in which the company promised to provide augmented reality systems - such as HoloLens - for training and combat missions. Although the deal was protested by some Microsoft employees who claimed that the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) technology could result in more deaths, CEO Satya Nadella published a stern statement saying that the firm will not "withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy."
In fact, Microsoft signed yet another ten-year contract worth $21.9 billion with the U.S. military a couple of months ago, and today it has announced that the latter will start equipping soldiers with headsets featuring HoloLens technology in September.
Image provided to Microsoft by the U.S. Army Microsoft says that it has collected 80,000 hours of feedback from soldiers actually using HoloLens technology in the past two years to enhance the headset's technology for use in actual training and combat missions on the road to mass deployment to the military. Soldiers visited Microsoft's design labs to test new prototypes and provide feedback, according to which the prototype was improved in an iterative manner. Microsoft Teams was used as the primary online communication platform and Power BI was used to visualize and track the status of the entire project.
An advisor who has been working on the project since the start, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Marc Krugh, had the following to say:
Some current and potential future applications of IVAS in the U.S. Army include the utilization of 3D maps in training missions, the ability to see through smoke and around corners, make use of enhanced night vision, and "shift their view to the vantage point of combatants who might see them approaching or see what a particular environment looks like from different directions or in daylight, moonlight or rain."
As a part of the current contract, Microsoft will produce 120,000 headsets with HoloLens technology at first, initially equipping on-foot soldiers followed by the utilization of IVAS in military vehicles. The project is being developed under the "Other Transaction Authority" agreement, which means that the U.S. Army can be more active and flexible in the prototyping and feedback process as compared to a regular project of this type and scale.