Weekend Roundup: Uber CEO Layoff Approach, Unreal Engine 5

It was quite a week, huh? Before we plunge into the weekend, here’s a rundown of some interesting stories from the past few days that we hadn’t yet covered, including reports of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s philosophy on layoffs during COVID-19.

Uber CEO Reportedly Opted for Layoffs Over Pay Cuts

It’s no secret that Uber is facing an existential moment: The company’s core ridesharing business has been sledgehammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and although its UberEats food-delivery arm has seen a spike in business, that hasn’t been enough to balance out the losses. Rumors have persisted for some time that Uber may lay off up to 20 percent of its workforce, including some from its engineering divisions. 

Now, a new report in The Information suggests that Uber’s engineering leaders came to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi with a proposition: They would volunteer to have their own pay cut in order to spare their teams from layoffs. According to the publication’s sources, Khosrowshahi turned down the offer, telling the executives that layoffs were a more efficient way to cut costs and stabilize the company.

That exchange highlights the conundrum confronting not only Uber, but also other firms in the rideshare and gig-economy space. At some point, the COVID-19 epidemic will recede, allowing life to revert to some version of normal. In the meantime, though, these companies need to minimize how much cash they burn, and it seems they’re more willing to do so through layoffs. (And even though Khosrowshahi reportedly wasn’t willing to consider salary cuts, investors might force him to slash his own compensation.

Unreal Engine 5: First Look

If you build games (or work in any tech field that involves rendering graphics), chances are good that you’ve worked with the Unreal Engine at some point. Now Unreal’s creator, Epic Games, has whipped the curtain back on Unreal Engine 5, the latest iteration.

“One of our goals in this next generation is to achieve photorealism on par with movie CG and real life,” reads the announcement on Epic’s blog, “and put it within practical reach of development teams of all sizes through highly productive tools and content libraries.”

Unreal Engine 5 will feature two new “core technologies,” the blog posting continued. The first, Nanite, is “virtualized geometry,” which means that developers can import assets made from “hundreds of millions or billions of polygons” into Unreal without having to worry about polygon count budgets or memory budgets. Supposedly, this comes without any loss in visual quality. Take a look at the image above (or better yet, the demo below) to see how photorealistic things can get.

The second technology, Lumen, is an illumination system that reacts to scene and light changes. Or if you want to get a bit more technical about it: “The system renders diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters.” For developers, that means you can realistically play with all kinds of elements such as flashlights, indirect lighting, and more.

In addition, Epic is waiving royalties on the first $1 million in gross revenue, which could make budgets a bit easier for indie game studios and others that rely on Unreal for building commercial products. Check out Epic’s demo of the technology (and keep in mind that some expert in-house developers designed it, which is why it’s incredibly impressive):

If you’re a game developer, in other words, you now have more tools for bringing your vision to life.

A.I. Expert Slap-Fight

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is a complex and sometimes emotionally fraught issue. Experts worry that A.I. platforms will begin to display bias that will not only skew results, but have long-term negative effects on everything from facial recognition to hiring. And that’s before you begin to consider how A.I. might lead to the much-fantasized scenario of “killer robots.”

Now Jerome Persati, head of Facebook’s A.I. initiative, is taking Tesla CEO Elon Musk to task over some of those issues. As reported by The Next Web, Persati says that Musk, who regularly predicts that Tesla vehicles will become almost completely autonomous, “has no idea what he is talking about when he talks about A.I.”

Specifically, Persati takes issue with Musk’s focus on artificial general intelligence, or A.I. that mimics human cognition. His quip just shows that some very smart people in tech aggressively disagree about the future of A.I. Personally, we’re just curious about whether Musk will clap back—except he might be too busy with getting his car factory reopened

Have a great weekend, everyone! Keep washing those hands!