Davos: Smart machines set to transform society

FT-Davos-Microsoft

Artificial intelligence will spur economic growth and create new wealth. Machines that “think” like humans will help solve huge problems, from curing cancer to climate change. Yet millions of human workers will need to retrain, as robots make their existing jobs redundant.

These are the contrasting messages provided by the world’s leading technologists during the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, as political and business leaders ponder how best to respond to the rise of smart machines.

Sebastian Thrun, the inventor of Google’s self-driving cars and an honorary professor at Delft University of Technology, told the Financial Times that “almost every established industry is not moving fast enough” to adapt their businesses to this change.

He suggested self-driving cars would make millions of taxi drivers redundant and planes running solely on autopilot would remove the need for thousands of human pilots.

One of the central themes of this year’s conference is the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” referring to how technological breakthroughs are expected to transform industries across the world. Delegates argued that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will have the transformative effect that steam power, electricity and ubiquitous computing achieved in previous centuries.

“[Artificially-intelligent machines] can look at a brainscan better than most radiologists, but they can also weld better than any human,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, the institution which has a partnership with Uber to build driverless cars. “It’s affecting white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Nobody is inherently safe.”

But Mr Thrun was optimistic that redundant roles will quickly be replaced.

“With the advent of new technologies, we’ve always created new jobs,” he said. “I don’t know what these jobs will be, but I’m confident we will find them”

Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, said: “This challenge of displacement is a real one, [but] I feel the right emphasis is on skills, rather than worrying too much about the jobs [which] will be lost. We will have to spend the money to educate our people, not just children but also people mid-career so they can find new jobs.”

Apple creates 'Move to iOS' app to pull Android users away from Google

Cook Connects

The iPhone 6 has been more successful than previous versions of the smartphone at drawing Android users away from Google’s mobile platform, and Apple wants to capitalize on that with a new app that makes it easier for them to make the switch.

The switching process will also suggest that they install free apps from their Android device that are also available on Apple’s App Store, so switchers can quickly get back on their feet with their favorite apps like Facebook and Twitter. Paid apps that they have on Android with iOS versions available will be added to a user’s wish list in the iOS App Store.

According to Apple, the whole process will be handled “securely” so that a user’s personal information doesn’t get exposed. It’s not clear exactly how the process works yet, and how aggressive Apple will be when it comes to migrating users away from Google’s services. For example, it’s possible that the process will move all of the contacts a user has stored with Google over to iCloud—Apple hasn’t said one way or another.

Once the process is done, the Android app will helpfully prompt users to recycle their Android phone, just to keep them from going back to Google’s mobile platform unless they buy a new phone.

The app wasn’t announced on stage Monday morning during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, but it appeared on the promotional page the company created to show off its new mobile operating system ahead of its launch later this year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts during the company’s January financial results conference call that the current iPhone lineup “experienced the highest Android switcher rate in any of the last three launches in any of the three previous years.” This app should help accelerate that trend by making it even easier for people to switch over.

Apple sides with Microsoft in closely watched patent dispute with Google

Apple sides with Microsoft in closely watched patent dispute with Google

Lawyers for Microsoft and Google will appear Wednesday morning at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in a long-running dispute over patents that were originally owned by cell phone maker Motorola Mobility.

The case involved the implementation of wireless and video standards in products including Microsoft's Xbox 360.

But this is no ordinary patent showdown. Other tech companies are watching the case closely for its potential to set a precedent for negotiations over “standard-essential patents” or “SEPs” — technologies required to implement industry standards.

The case has already created some unusual alliances. Apple (PDF) and T-Mobile (PDF) are among the companies siding with Microsoft in the case, while Nokia (PDF) and Qualcomm (PDF) are seeking to overturn a lower court’s ruling that found in Microsoft’s favor.

After a 2013 trial in Seattle, Microsoft won a $14.5 million jury verdict against Motorola based on a finding that Motorola breached its obligation to offer its standard-essential patents for video and wireless technologies on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, known in legal circles as “RAND” or “FRAND.”

The case is notable in part because U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle took the unusual step of setting a process for establishing royalties for standard essential patents.

Based on his process, Robart ruled in April 2013 that the Microsoft owed less than $1.8 million a year for its use of Motorola’s patented video and wireless technologies in Windows, Xbox and other products. Motorola had originally sought a rate amounting to more than $4 billion a year, plus $20 billion in back payments.

In its brief leading up to this week’s appeals court hearing, Apple said that the judge made the correct decision — preventing owners of standard essential patents from “holding up” other companies that want to implement standards.

“By focusing on the FRAND commitment’s bedrock concern — confining SEP holders to the value of their technology, as distinguished from the value conferred by inclusion in the standard — Judge Robart properly held Motorola to its agreement,” wrote Apple’s lawyers. “Courts must continue to apply this principle to eliminate hold-up in all forms.”

However, Qualcomm argued in its brief that Robart overreached and came up with a process that did not adequately compensate Motorola for its patents. The chip maker said “the manifest errors” in the decision “will cause incalculable damage to innovation incentives and standards going forward” if it becomes a precedent.

Google, which acquired Motorola before selling the cell phone company to Lenovo, remains the owner of the patents in dispute in the case.

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