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Sony boss shows passion for purpose

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Sony boss shows passion for purpose

When the Covid pandemic forced many of his employees to work from home, Sony chief executive Kenichiro Yoshida took every opportunity to speak about the company’s stated “purpose”.

Created in early 2019, this 12-word statement — “fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology” — was repeated like a mantra via blog posts, Zoom calls and investor presentations.

“Our purpose is the basis of how Sony engages with society,” he said during a government seminar in March. “It is also what drives each of our employees.”

For companies struggling with pandemic disruptions, talk of sustainability initiatives and purpose may feel like luxuries when the priority is to rebuild their business.

However, for some chief executives, last year’s events — the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests and a string of natural disasters — have prompted a rethink of employee wellbeing and their companies’ social role.

In April 2020, Sony announced the rollout of a $100m fund to support those affected by Covid-19. Two months later, Sony Music launched another fund of the same size to support social justice and anti-racist initiatives. While some executives questioned spending money at a time of crisis, rank-and-file employees welcomed the initiatives.

But when Yoshida took the helm of the Japanese entertainment group in April 2018, few associated the quiet but straight-talking former finance chief with a passion for climate change and sustainability. He won respect from shareholders by helping to end Sony’s long period of losses, selling off weaker businesses, and breaking down the silos that had divided its lucrative entertainment segments, ranging from games to music, films and animation. As the company’s financial performance steadied and its shares hit a two-decade high, however, Yoshida turned his focus to the question of purpose.

In an early sign of his priorities, Yoshida wrote an internal blog post titled “Sony as part of the Earth” a day after he took over as CEO. “Companies such as Sony are able to carry out their economic activities because of a healthy global environment,” he wrote. “Let’s think together how Sony can make ESG [environmental, social and governance] contributions through our growth.” Within nine months, the company’s purpose statement and a set of corporate values had been created.

“There was a period when we struggled operationally but, after Yoshida became CEO, we entered a phase of thinking about how the company can achieve long-term, sustainable growth,” explains Shiro Kambe, Sony’s sustainability officer.

Takashi Nawa, visiting professor at Hitotsubashi University Business School, says Japanese companies’ sustainability efforts are often confined to simply improving their environmental performance. It is still unusual for them to identify areas of their business where they can both lead the market and promote sustainability.

“Companies must obviously meet environmental standards but the ones like Sony are trying to set a sustainability agenda that will link to their true competitiveness,” Nawa says.

Sony’s green ambitions actually predate Yoshida’s tenure as CEO. In 2010, the group set out its ambition to achieve a “zero environmental footprint” by 2050 and has since announced five-year action plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the use of plastic.

To strengthen accountability, executive pay is now linked with ESG metrics. Sony is also one of the eight founding members of the Responsible Business Alliance, an international consortium of businesses committed to corporate social responsibility in global supply chains.

But pressure to move faster on sustainability continues to grow. In July 2020, technology giant Apple, Sony’s biggest client in image sensors, called on its manufacturing partners to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. While Sony’s sites in Europe and China already run entirely on renewables, its biggest challenge is in its home country, where most of its image sensor manufacturing is based and electricity generation is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

The largest part of Sony’s carbon footprint, however, comes not from its factories but from its products and services when they are in use by customers. In its 2019-20 fiscal year, annual energy consumption per product was 52 per cent lower than in 2013-14, but executives say more technological innovation is needed to make further reductions.

While Sony’s engineers were urged to cut costs during the lossmaking era, Kimio Maki, head of the group’s electronics and medical businesses, says the mindset on spending has changed. Managers now recognise that the short-term costs incurred in creating environmentally friendly products can translate into longer-term value, as consumers worry more about sustainability.

To take one example, Sony last month began selling noise-cancelling earbuds that are packaged in a material made from bamboo and sugarcane fibre. “Creating products that are friendly to the environment is an added value and that requires a cost,” Maki says. “But products that do not take the environment into consideration will be ignored by the customers we are targeting.”

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Google To Pay $700 Million In Antitrust Settlement With States

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Google To Pay 0 Million In Antitrust Settlement With States
Google app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Google has agreed to pay $700 million and make several other concessions to settle allegations that it had been stifling competition against its Android app store — the same issue that went to trial in another case that could result in even bigger changes.

Although Google struck the deal with state attorneys general in September, the settlement’s terms weren’t revealed until late Monday in documents filed in San Francisco federal court.

The settlement with the states includes $630 million to compensate U.S. consumers funneled into a payment processing system that state attorneys general alleged drove up the prices for digital transactions within apps downloaded from the Play Store. That store caters to the Android software that powers most of the world’s smartphones.

Like Apple does in its iPhone app store, Google collects commissions ranging from 15% to 30% on in-app purchases — fees that state attorneys general contended drove prices higher than they would have been had there been an open market for payment processing.

Those commissions generated billions of dollars in profit annually for Google, according to evidence presented in the recent trial focused on its Play Store.

Another $70 million of the pre-trial settlement will cover the penalties and other costs that Google is being forced to pay to the states.

Google also agreed to make other changes designed to make it even easier for consumers to download and install Android apps from other outlets besides its Play Store for the next five years. It will refrain from issuing as many security warnings, or “scare screens,” when alternative choices are being used.

The makers of Android apps will also gain more flexibility to offer alternative payment choices to consumers instead of having transactions automatically processed through the Play Store and its commission system. Apps will also be able to promote lower prices available to consumers who choose an alternate to the Play Store’s payment processing.

Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb hailed the settlement as a victory for the tens of millions of people in the U.S. that rely on Android phones to help manage their lives. “For far too long, Google’s anticompetitive practices in the distribution of apps deprived Android users of choices and forced them to pay artificially elevated prices,” Schwalb said.

Although the state attorneys general hailed the settlement as a huge win for consumers, it didn’t go far enough for Epic Games, which spearheaded the attack on Google’s app store practices with an antitrust lawsuit filed in August 2020.

Epic, the maker of the popular Fortnite video game, rebuffed the settlement in September and instead chose to take its case to trial, even though it had already lost on most of its key claims in a similar trial targeting Apple and its iPhone app store in 2021.

The Apple trial, though, was decided by a federal judge instead of the jury that vindicated Epic with a unanimous verdict that Google had built anticompetitive barriers around the Play Store. Google has vowed to appeal the verdict.

But the trial’s outcome nevertheless raises the specter of Google potentially being ordered to pay even more money as punishment for its past practices and making even more dramatic changes to its lucrative Android app ecosystem.

Google faces an even bigger legal threat in another antitrust case targeting its dominant search engine that serves as the centerpiece of a digital ad empire that generates more than $200 billion in sales annually. Closing arguments in a trial pitting Google against the Justice Department are scheduled for early May before a federal judge in Washington D.C.

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Apple To Stop Some Watch Sales In U.S. Over Patent Dispute

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Apple To Stop Some Watch Sales In U.S. Over Patent Dispute
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 20: The Apple Pay logo is displayed in a mobile kiosk sponsored by Visa and Wells Fargo to demonstrate the new Apple Pay mobile payment system on October 20, 2014 in San Francisco City. Apple's Apple Pay mobile payment system launched today at select banks and retail outlets. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If two of the latest Apple Watches are on your holiday shopping list, don’t dawdle for much longer because the devices won’t be available to buy in the U.S. later this week if the White House doesn’t intervene in an international patent dispute.

Apple plans to suspend sales of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 versions of its popular watch for online U.S. customers beginning Thursday afternoon and in its stores on Sunday.

The move stems from an October decision by the International Trade Commission restricting Apple’s watches with the Blood Oxygen measurement feature as part of an intellectual property dispute with medical technology company Masimo.

The White House had 60 days to review the ITC order issued on Oct. 26, meaning Apple could have kept selling the two affected models in the U.S. through Christmas.

But the Cupertino, California, company said in a Monday statement that it is pausing sales early to ensure it complies with the ITC order.

If the ITC’s sales ban isn’t overturned, Apple pledged to “take all measures” to resume sales of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 models in the U.S. as soon as possible.

The Apple Watch SE, which lacks the Blood Oxygen feature, will remain on sale in the U.S. after Christmas Eve. Previously purchased Apple Watches equipped with the Blood Oxygen aren’t affected by the ITC order.

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European Union Investigates Elon Musk’s X Over Possible Social Media Law Breaches

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European Union Investigates Elon Musk’s X Over Possible Social Media Law Breaches
Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X, is funding the formation of a new school in Austin, Texas. Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The European Union is looking into whether Elon Musk’s online platform X breached tough new social media regulations in the first such investigation since the rules designed to make online content less toxic took effect.

“Today we open formal infringement proceedings against @X” under the Digital Services Act, European Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a post on the platform Monday.

“The Commission will now investigate X’s systems and policies related to certain suspected infringements,” spokesman Johannes Bahrke told a press briefing in Brussels. “It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.”

The investigation will look into whether X, formerly known as Twitter, failed to do enough to curb the spread of illegal content and whether measures to combat “information manipulation,” especially through its Community Notes feature, was effective.

The EU will also examine whether X was transparent enough with researchers and will look into suspicions that its user interface, including for its blue check subscription service, has a “deceptive design.”

X remains committed to complying with the Digital Services Act, and is cooperating with the regulatory process,” the company said in a prepared statement. “It is important that this process remains free of political influence and follows the law. X is focused on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all users on our platform, while protecting freedom of expression, and we will continue to work tirelessly towards this goal.”

A raft of big tech companies faced a stricter scrutiny after the EU’s Digital Services Act took effect earlier this year, threatening penalties of up to 6% of their global revenue — which could amount to billions — or even a ban from the EU.

The DSA is is a set of far-reaching rules designed to keep users safe online and stop the spread of harmful content that’s either illegal, such as child sexual abuse or terrorism content, or violates a platform’s terms of service, such as promotion of genocide or anorexia.

The EU has already called out X as the worst place online for fake news, and officials have exhorted owner Musk, who bought the platform a year ago, to do more to clean it up. The European Commission quizzed X over its handling of hate speech, misinformation and violent terrorist content related to the Israel-Hamas war after the conflict erupted.

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Artificial Intelligence Now Decides Who Lives and Dies

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Artificial Intelligence Now Decides Who Lives and Dies
The armed drones carry relatively simple artificial intelligence (AI) that can identify human forms and target them with missiles. AP Photo

Lets start with the uncomfortable truth. We have lost control of artificial intelligence. This shouldnt be too surprising, considering we likely never had any control over it. The maelstrom at OpenAI over the abrupt dismissal of its chief executive, Sam Altman, raised accountability questions inside one of the worlds most powerful AI companies. Yet even before the boardroom drama, our understanding of how AI is created and used was limited. 

Lawmakers worldwide are struggling to keep up with the pace of AI innovation and thus cant provide basic frameworks of regulations and oversight. The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has raised the stakes even further. AI systems are currently being used to determine who lives and dies in Gaza. The results, as anyone can see, are terrifying. 

In a widespread investigation carried out by Israeli publication +972 Magazine, journalist Yuval Abraham spoke with several current and former officials about the Israeli militarys advanced AI war program called the Gospel.” According to the officials, The Gospel produces AI-generated targeting recommendations through the rapid and automatic extraction of intelligence.” Recommendations are matched with identifications carried out by a human soldier. The system relies on a matrix of data points with checkered misidentification histories, such as facial recognition technology. 

The result is the production of military” targets in Gaza at an astonishingly high rate. In previous Israeli operations, the military was slowed by a lack of targets because humans took time to identify targets and determine the potential of civilian casualties. The Gospel has sped up this process with dramatic effect. 

Thanks to the Gospel, Israeli fighter jets cant keep up with the number of targets these automotive systems provide. The sheer gravity of the death toll over the past six weeks of fighting speaks to the deadly nature of this new technology of war. According to Gaza officials, more than 17,000 people have been killed, including at least 6,000 children. Citing several reports, American journalist Nicholas Kristof said that “a woman or child has been killed on average about every seven minutes around the clock since the war began in Gaza.” 

Look at the physical landscape of Gaza,” Richard Moyes, a researcher who heads Article 36, a group that campaigns to reduce harm from weapons, told the GuardianWere seeing the widespread flattening of an urban area with heavy explosive weapons, so to claim theres precision and narrowness of force being exerted is not borne out by the facts.”

Militaries around the world with similar AI capabilities are closely watching Israels assault on Gaza. The lessons learned in Gaza will be used to refine other AI platforms for use in future conflicts. The genie is out of the bottle. The automated war of the future will use computer programs to decide who lives and who dies. 

While Israel continues to pound Gaza with AI-directed missiles, governments and regulators worldwide need help to keep up with the pace of AI innovation taking place in private companies. Lawmakers and regulators cant keep up with the new programs and the programs being created.

The New York Times notes that that gap has been compounded by an AI knowledge deficit in governments, labyrinthine bureaucracies, and fears that too many rules may inadvertently limit the technologys benefits.” The net result is that AI companies can develop with little or no oversight. This situation is so dramatic that we dont even know what these companies are working on. 

Consider the fiasco over the management of OpenAI, the company behind the popular AI platform ChatGPT. When CEO Sam Altman was unexpectedly fired, the internet rumor mill began fixating on unconfirmed reports that OpenAI had developed a secret and mighty AI that could change the world in unforeseen ways. Internal disagreement over its usage led to a leadership crisis at the company.

We might never know if this rumor is true, but given the trajectory of AI and the fact that we cannot understand what OpenAI is doing, it seems plausible. The general public and lawmakers cant get a straight answer about the potential of a super-powerful AI platform, and that is the problem. 

Israels Gospel and the chaos at OpenAI mark a turning point in AI. Its time to move beyond the hollow elevator pitches that AI will deliver a brave new world. AI might help humanity achieve new goals, but it wont be a force for good if it is developed in the shadows and used to kill people on battlefields. Regulators and lawmakers cant keep up with the pace of the technology and dont have the tools to practice sound oversight. 

While powerful governments around the world watch Israel test AI algorithms on Palestinians, we cant harbor false hopes that this technology will only be used for good. Given the failure of our regulators to establish guardrails on the technology, we can hope that the narrow interests of consumer capitalism will serve as a governor on the true reach of AI to transform society. Its a vain hope, but it is likely all we have at this stage.

Joseph Dana is a writer based in South Africa and the Middle East. He has reported from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi. He was formerly editor-in-chief of emerge85, a media project based in Abu Dhabi exploring change in emerging markets. Twitter: @ibnezra

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The AI Regulation Battle Is Only Just Beginning

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The AI Regulation Battle Is Only Just Beginning
Outmanned, and out-resourced by Russia, Ukraine is hoping smart use of artificial intelligence will turn the tide in the war, both on the battlefield and on the messaging front. Getty Images

Given the pace of development in artificial intelligence in recent years, it’s remarkable that the United States has only just released clear regulations concerning the technology. At the end of October, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to ensure “safe, secure, and trustworthy artificial intelligence.” The directive sets out new standards for all matters of AI safety, including new privacy safeguards designed to protect consumers. While Congress has yet to enact comprehensive laws dictating the use and development of AI, the executive order is a much-needed step toward sensible regulation of this rapidly developing technology.

Casual observers might be surprised to learn that the US didn’t already have any such AI protections on the books. A gathering of 28 governments for the AI Safety Summit in the UK last week revealed that the rest of the world is even further behind. Held at the historic former spy base Bletchley Park, those attending managed to agree to work together on safety research to avert the “catastrophic harm” that could come from AI. The declaration, whose signatories include the US, China, the EU, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was a rare diplomatic coup for the UK but light on detail. The US used the event to brandish its own new guardrails as something that the rest of the world should follow.

You don’t need a degree in computing to understand that AI is a crucial part of one of the most profound technological shifts humanity has ever experienced. AI has the power to change how we think and educate ourselves. It can change how we work and make certain jobs redundant. AI systems require massive amounts of data generally collected on the open internet to deliver these results. Chances are that some of your data is being fed into large language models that power AI platforms like ChatGPT. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. AI is currently being deployed in Israel’s operations in Gaza to help make decisions of life and death. Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate said the military uses AI and other “automated” tools to “produce reliable targets quickly and accurately.” One unnamed senior officer said the new AI-powered tools are being used for the “first time to immediately provide ground forces in the Gaza Strip with updated information on targets to strike.”

This is a grave escalation in the use of AI, not just for Palestinians but for the international community. The technology being tested in Gaza will almost certainly be exported as part of Israel’s large and powerful weapons technology sector. Put simply, the AI algorithms used to attack Palestinian targets could soon crop up in other conflicts from Africa to South America. 

Biden’s executive order specifically addresses issues related to AI safety, consumer protection, and privacy. The order requires new safety assessments of new and existing AI platforms, equity and civil rights guidance, and research on AI’s impact on the labor market. Some AI companies will now be required to share safety test results with the US government. The Commerce Department has been directed to create guidance for AI watermarking and a cybersecurity program that can make AI tools that help identify flaws in critical software.

While the US and other Western countries have been slow to draft comprehensive AI regulations, there has been some movement in recent years. Earlier this year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) outlined a comprehensive AI risk management framework. The document became the basis for the Biden administration’s executive order. Critically, the Biden administration has empowered the Commerce Department, which houses the NIST, to help implement aspects of the order. 

The challenge will now be securing buy-in from leading American technology companies. Without their cooperation and a legal framework to punish companies that don’t follow the rules, Biden’s order won’t amount to much.

There is still a lot of work to be done. Technology companies have largely been able to develop with little oversight over the past two decades. This is partially due to the interconnected world of tech, where companies have created new products or services outside the US. Amazon’s groundbreaking AWS cloud hosting technology, for example, was created and developed at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, far from the reach of American regulators. 

With honest buy-in from leading companies, the Biden administration could seek more comprehensive laws and regulations. Direct government involvement in technology always runs the risk of stifling innovation. Yet, there is a clear opportunity for smaller countries with knowledge economies to step in. Countries like Estonia and the UAE that have invested in their knowledge economies and have small populations (and regulatory environments) can follow Biden’s lead with AI safeguards. This would have a powerful effect in cities like Dubai, where multinational tech companies have set up regional offices. Because there is less red tape in these smaller countries, AI regulations can be pushed through quickly and, perhaps more importantly, amended if they stifle development too aggressively.

Given the hyper-connected world of technology development, the international community can’t wait for larger countries or blocs like the United States and the European Union to push through legislation first. Instead, new markets that have their tech economies to consider should push ahead with regulations that work for their needs. 

The development of AI technology is happening at a remarkable pace. Because it is so essential to the overall technology sector, we don’t have the luxury of waiting for world leaders to act first. It’s time to lead by example, and AI regulations are an ideal place to start.

Joseph Dana is a writer based in South Africa and the Middle East. He has reported from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi. He was formerly editor-in-chief of emerge85, a media project based in Abu Dhabi exploring change in emerging markets. Twitter: @ibnezra

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iFFALCON Enters Indonesian Market with Innovative Smart TVs

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iFFALCON Enters Indonesian Market with Innovative Smart TVs
iFFALCON E-commerce Representatives and Kevien Willieady - iFFALCON Marketing Representatives believe that iFFALCON Smart TV will answer the lifestyle needs of young consumers in Indonesia. Photo credit: Achmad Marendes CBCOMM

iFFALCON, a global smart TV brand, has entered the Indonesian market with the vision of “bringing an endless experience to young people worldwide.” The launch event, called the iFFALCON Offline Grand Launch, was held by several celebrities and influencers such as Raditya Dika, GadgetBox, Joerdy S, and Riyuka Bunga. The company showcased its innovative smart TV features during the event.

The iFFALCON smart TV is designed to create a new and unique lifestyle for the younger generation, and it has already sold three million units in 16 countries worldwide, including the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Russia, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, and others.

The iFFALCON Product Manager, Kevien Willieady, met with the social pan The Breeze BSD grand launching (08/04) and assured that iFFALCON would display the best products that meet the needs of young people for advanced audio-visual equipment. According to Kevien Willieady, “iFFALCON makes it easier to access various modern programs and applications such as online streaming services, Google Play, and YouTube with one command using the iFFALCON S52 Smart TV’s voice control remote control.”

TCL-iFFALCON-K2A-Design-and-Build-Quality

iFFALCON also launched two premium products during the Grand Launching event, the iFFALCON Series S52 with the best Android TV and the iFFALCON Series U62, also known as the best Google TV for young people. The S52 Series is available in three sizes, 32 inches, 40 inches, and 43 inches, and has two image resolution types, HD for 32 inches and FHD for 40 inches and 43 inches. The S52 also uses Android TV as its operating system, which has the most comprehensive and up-to-date application selection. It has an added voice control feature that allows users to give commands to the TV easily.

For those who want higher resolutions, the U62 Series is equipped with 4K resolution in all sizes, 43 inches, 50 inches, and 55 inches, and has a higher color depth of up to 1.07 billion colors, as well as supporting HDR10 content. The U62 also has HDMI 2.1, which is suitable for gamers to enjoy all games. The U62 Series also uses the latest version of Android TV called Google TV, which has a higher response rate and a fresher user interface.

Despite being a new brand in Indonesia, iFFALCON’s product quality is unquestionable, proven by its global sales of over three million units and numerous positive reviews on various foreign forums. The company has also provided more than 150 service centers across Indonesia for user convenience. iFFALCON held its first Grand Launch event on the Shopee platform, the largest market share platform in Indonesia, with the theme “Where Infinity Begins,” to introduce itself to the Indonesian market. Daniel Minardi, Director of Brand Management and Digital Products at Shopee, said that Shopee is suitable for increasing brand awareness.

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