Weekend Roundup: Tech Giant Resigns, GitHub ICE’ed, Apple Listens

The holiday season is just edging into view, but that doesn’t mean the tech industry is slowing down. This week, we had some high-profile resignations, some brewing controversy, and a new product launch that suggests one of tech’s biggest companies is actually listening to its users. In other words, everything is rocketing along—so let’s jump in!

John Carmack Steps Down as CTO of Oculus

John Carmack is a legend. He co-founded Id Software and shepherded the development of iconic games such as “Wolfenstein 3D,” “Doom,” and “Quake.” He later left Id to work at Oculus VR, arguably the most notable stab at a mainstream VR headset; Facebook later acquired Oculus for $2 billion.

But now Carmack is stepping away from Oculus, ostensibly because he wants to tackle an even bigger challenge than VR: artificial intelligence. In a posting on Facebook, he wrote:

“As for what I am going to be doing with the rest of my time: When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague ‘line of sight’ to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven. I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old.

I’m going to work on artificial general intelligence (AGI).”

If you’re looking to pursue a challenge in tech, you can’t get much bigger than AGI. Simply put, AGI is the type of artificial intelligence that you see in science-fiction movies: software that is able to think in a truly human-like fashion. Contrast that with the A.I. and machine-learning platforms under development today, which generally focus on a narrow set of tasks.

Carmack is a very smart person, so there’s every potential that he could make an interesting contribution to A.I. As goals go, it’s both inspiring and insane.

GitHub Employees Resigning

GitHub’s employees are taking serious issue with the code repository’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to anonymous sources speaking to Vice.

GitHub is owned by Microsoft, which paid $7.5 billion for it back in 2018. Microsoft’s employees, of course, have been protesting their company’s work with everyone from oil companies to the U.S. military, so maybe executives aren’t entirely surprised by GitHub’s sudden burst of protest.

Perhaps more worrisome (at least from a PR perspective) are the featured speakers at the annual GitHub Universe conference who are dropping out over GitHub’s ICE contract. Designer Lily Dart, for example, declined to speak at the GitHub Universe Roadshow in London, stating that: “Given their position with ICE I don’t feel comfortable promoting them, so I have just dropped out.”

Employees across the tech industry have become more vocal in recent years about what they view as their employers’ responsibility to “not do evil.” How GitHub (and Microsoft) will respond to this latest issue is a big question.

Apple Listens to Feedback

Apple unveiled its long-rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at the eye-watering price of $2,399 (for the version with a 2.6GHz 6-core Intel i7 processor at a 512GB SSD) but can cost a little more than $6,000 if you max out the specs. What’s sparking some chatter in the tech community isn’t the size of the screen, though; it’s the keyboard, which fixes some hardware mistakes of Apple’s recent past.

A few years ago, Apple embraced the “butterfly” mechanism for its keyboards. That allowed the company to make keyboards sleek and thin, but many users hated the lack of “travel” and tendency to break. With the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s keyboard, though, it’s back to the scissor-switch mechanism, which produces that satisfying “click” when you hit a key—and hopefully won’t experience the same issues as the butterfly keyboards.

On top of that, this new laptop features a physical Esc key and some resized keys. The Touch Bar, the virtual keyboard-screen thingie that lives at the top of the current MacBook Pro keyboards, is smaller.

Overall, it seems that Apple is truly listening to feedback from the Mac community, which is great news. Now if only the company will listen to developers and other tech folks about its cross-platform/Catalyst ambitions… 

Have a great weekend, everyone!