Weekend Roundup: IBM, Amazon and Facial Recognition; Tesla Semi

What a week, huh? Before we unplug for the weekend (and we highly recommend you unplug; a little time away from the screen will do you good), it’s worth revisiting some of the most prominent tech stories from the week, including some big tech firms’ collective decision to step back from a lucrative but controversial technology. Let’s jump in!

IBM, Amazon Reconsider Facial Recognition Tools

Over the past few years, some big companies—including IBM and Amazon—decided to devote a lot of resources to developing facial-recognition technology. In theory, those companies could sell a facial-recognition tool to police departments, the military, and other security agencies at a considerable profit. But with protests against police misconduct roiling the nation, it seems that executives are putting this research on hold… for now.

On June 8, new IBM CEO Arvind Krishna sent a letter to Congress stating that his company would “sunset its general purpose facial recognition and analysis software products.” Krishna’s prose doesn’t really equivocate when it comes to the reasons behind the decision: 

“IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency. We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”

Amazon, meanwhile, announced that it would ban police from using its facial recognition technology for the next 12 months. “We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge,” the company wrote in a statement. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

On June 11, Microsoft also announced that it would stop selling racial-recognition software to the police.

Tesla Rededicates Itself to a Semi 

Three years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled his company’s latest creation: the Tesla Semi, an all-electric 18-wheeler. In the intervening years, however, work on the vehicle seemed to fall by the wayside, overshadowed by the introduction of the Cybertruck, the ramp-up in production of the mass-market Model 3, and Musk’s very pubic antics

Now, it seems, Tesla is rededicated to big electric trucks. From a memo that Musk sent to all Tesla employees (and reprinted in TechCrunch): 

“It’s time to go all out and bring the Tesla Semi to volume production. It’s been in limited production so far, which has allowed us to improve many aspects of the design. Production of the battery and powertrain would take place at Giga Nevada, with most of the other work probably occurring in other states. Jerome and I are very excited to work with you to bring this amazing product to market!”

When the truck will actually debut is anyone’s guess (although 2021 seems like a safe bet). What’s behind Musk’s newfound enthusiasm? Perhaps an electric-vehicle startup named Nikola, which is also developing an all-electric truck, has something to do with it. Nothing like a little competition in the rearview mirror to make you accelerate.

Uber Fails to Eat Grubhub

It was one of the oddest (and potentially most interesting) corporate-tech stories of the COVID-19 pandemic: Uber, which had witnessed its ride-sharing business implode as people self-quarantined against the virus, was interested in acquiring Grubhub, which had seen its revenue skyrocket as those self-quarantining people ordered lots and lots of food via delivery.

That acquisition would have made Uber a bigger competitor to DoorDash, which is burning lots of cash to dominate the delivery space. This week, though, the Grubhub deal fell through; according to The Verge, Uber was concerned over the antitrust implications, especially since it already has its own food-delivery service, Uber Eats.

Nonetheless, Uber continues to see food delivery as a big part of its future, especially in these uncertain, virus-saturated times. “Like ridesharing, the food delivery industry will need consolidation in order to reach its full potential for consumers and restaurants,” an Uber spokesperson is quoted as telling CNBC

Have a great weekend! Stay safe!