Weekend Roundup: COVID-19 Kills E3, Magic Leap Tries to Cash Out

You made it through the week! Before you head home so you can wipe down every surface with bleach, let’s review just a few stories from the past few days.

COVID-19 Kills E3

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the massive trade show for the video-game industry, has been canceled due to fears over COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has infected thousands of people worldwide.

“After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry—our fans, our employees, our exhibitors and our longtime E3 partners—we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020, scheduled for June 9-11 in Los Angeles,” the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) said in a statement (hat tip to Vox for posting it).

Note the conference’s early-June date. If tech associations and companies are canceling giant shows that far out, it doesn’t bode well for other conferences (such as WWDC) that have yet to make a public decision over whether to continue. (In the realm of video games, other events—most notably Blizzard’s Overwatch League—have likewise been canceled.)

Magic Leap (Maybe) Wants to Cash Out

Augmented reality (AR) startup Magic Leap once attracted a lot of hype—and a lot of funding. Investors such as Google and Alibaba Group poured $2.6 billion into Magic Leap’s bank accounts, with the expectation that the latter would produce revolutionary AR technology.

But rather than grow into a AR powerhouse, Magic Leap now wants an acquirer, according to a new TechCrunch report… and nobody wants to buy, especially at a rumored asking price of $10 billion. Both Facebook (which already has a substantial virtual reality platform with Oculus) and Johnson & Johnson (which could use AR technology for… something?) reportedly kicked the proverbial tires of a deal and decided they wanted no part of it. 

As the TechCrunch article points out, other companies are also investing heavily in VR and AR—but those firms have the profits from other lines of business to sustain such money-burning endeavors. For example, thanks to iPhone profits, Apple can continue to advance its AR technology; Microsoft, meanwhile, could happily spend millions of dollars until the end of time on its HoloLens AR project.

If Magic Leap fails to find a buyer, it says something very dire about the prospects for the VR/AR industry, which has struggled to expand to the mainstream. And that, in turn, could kick off a vicious cycle as developers and companies turn away from VR/AR as a profitable and viable technology platform.

IBM Wants Watson to Get Better at Debating

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning (ML) have made incremental progress over the past few years. There’s still much work to be done, however. For example, even the most sophisticated A.I. algorithms have considerable trouble dealing with the randomness of ordinary life—it’s very easy, for example, to trip up Google’s sophisticated Duplex platform by asking it a nonsensical question.

IBM is trying to solve the issue with updates to Watson that will supposedly allow the artificial intelligence platform to better understand the nuances of human language. This “natural language” technology has been stress-tested in debates with a human being, according to CNN.

“A lot of how we talk and interact, certainly in customer support, is using a lot of idioms or terms that are specific to an industry,” Rob Thomas, general manager of IBM Data and AI, told the network.

Sounds great, right? Just wait until your laptop is arguing with you about how you’re wording that memo.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Remember to wash your hands!