Tech to reshape post-Covid cities – Financial Times

One attempt by Big Tech to shape the future fell by the wayside, or sidewalk, over the weekend, as Google’s Sidewalk Labs decided to abandon its attempt at creating a smart city in Toronto.

When the project was unveiled in 2017, then-Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt said it was the “culmination of almost 10 years of thinking about how technology could improve people’s lives”, but it turns out he is more interested in reshaping New York than the Canadian city. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that Mr Schmidt, who is reported to have left his final role at Alphabet as technical adviser, would now lead a 15-member commission to learn the lessons of Covid-19 and explore technology that could improve tele-health and broadband, across a state that has been the US epicentre for the pandemic. This came hard on the heels of Governor Cuomo asking Bill Gates to help reimagine education in the state using technology. 

In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Mr Schmidt gave his predictions for smarter post-coronavirus cities. There would be more not less demand for office space, he said, because people will want social distancing, while offices would have to be closer to where people lived to reduce use of public transport.

The trend of people moving to create incredibly concentrated “super cities” could be reversed, he added, while take-up of tech had advanced ten years in two months — for example, 80 per cent of visits to doctors were now through tele-health appointments.

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But as we move to smarter cities, there are still dumb vestiges that tech is struggling to move on from, he admitted: “The government at the federal and state level have just terrible infrastructure in the software department. They’re still using COBOL, which is a system I programmed in 45 years ago.”

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Shortening tech’s global supply chain
In his CBS interview, Mr Schmidt also confirmed a Wall Street Journal story that the White House is talking to Intel and Taiwan’s TSMC about setting up US foundries where chips can be made for other companies. The global supply chain had been proved to be not resilient, he said. We have the story of how Samsung successfully managed its supply chain during the pandemic.

2. Contact-tracing app switcheroo possible
The FT reported on Friday that the UK government was developing a second contact-tracing app that complied with Google and Apple’s stipulations and, on Sunday, a minister said a move to a different model was possible. John Thornhill comments that the existing app being tested on the Isle of Wight is highly unlikely to work as intended. We also have an analysis of Europe’s dilemma over which approach to take.

3. Carta plans rival to Nasdaq 
The Silicon Valley start-up, best known for providing shareholder management software to start-ups such as the stock trading app Robinhood, is planning to launch a private share trading platform. It hopes to be a credible alternative to leading stock exchanges like Nasdaq and NYSE as fast-growing tech companies increasingly decide against initial public offerings. Lex analyses the jarring juxtaposition of the Nasdaq Composite index turning positive for the year on Friday as the unemployment rate was revealed as 14.7 per cent. 

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4. Yandex evolves from Russia’s Google to Amazon
Strict limits on when Muscovites can leave their homes due to Covid-19 have increased demand for Yandex’s delivery apps, whose user numbers have grown 75 per cent since March, while also driving more people to its search, blogging, and streaming video platforms.

5. Tesla prepares to reopen plant
The electric carmaker is pressing ahead with plans to restart production at its factory in Fremont, California in defiance of local government orders demanding it keep the plant shut. The company released a 38-page “return to work” document for employees over the weekend, which included guidelines for “enforced” social distancing, shuttles running at 50 per cent capacity and the closure of common areas such as gyms.

Tech week ahead

Monday: Bitcoin halvening takes place later today. It happens every four years, when the amount of bitcoins that can be mined is cut in half. Analysts are not expecting a rally in the price of bitcoin following this supply contraction — it’s already been rising in anticipation of the event.

Tuesday: Investors in mobile operator Vodafone will be wanting information on how the tie-up between rival O2 and Virgin Media will affect it, as it announces full-year results. Vodafone was due to host all of Virgin Media’s customers from the end of next year.

Wednesday: UK accounting software company Sage reports half-year results. In Japan, Sony reports full-year earnings on Wednesday and may have more news on the PlayStation 5 launch. China’s Tencent reports on its first quarter. With its dominance of the Chinese gaming market, it is expected to have benefited from the lockdown.

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Thursday: Deutsche Telekom reports its first results since US unit T-Mobile closed its takeover of Sprint. China’s top contract chipmaker
Semiconductor Manufacturing International Co. (SMIC) reports on its first quarter.

Friday: Nasdaq-listed JD.com reports on its first quarter. The second-largest Chinese ecommerce operator after Alibaba Group Holding has impressed many in the country with its robust logistics service during the lockdown.

Tech tools — Reply All Storm Protection

Microsoft has begun rolling out a solution to your Inbox being hit by a plague of emails when colleagues mistakenly hit Reply All. Reply All Storm Protection blocks Reply Alls if it detects 10 of them to over 5,000 recipients within 60 minutes. “We’re already seeing the first version of the feature successfully reduce the impact of reply all storms within Microsoft (humans still behave like humans no matter which company they work for ;)”, it said. 


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