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The Download, Feb 6, 2017: Tech Dominates the Super Bowl, AI and Christianity, and a 3-D Printed Spaceship

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February 6, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Tech’s Super Ads

Last night’s Super Bowl was, as always, all about the commercials, and technology companies were a bigger part of the party than ever before. Google got things started with a minute-long spot that touted its voice-activated assistant, Google Home (which apparently also set off the devices in people’s houses, thanks to the ad’s repetition of “Okay, Google”). Not to be outdone, Amazon plugged its own version, the Echo, and threw in a teaser for the arrival of its drone delivery service. Airbnb got political, which is a bit ironic given its problems with racism. Hyundai and Intel, meanwhile, each went big on 360-degree video. Even IBM’s Watson (whatever it is) made an(other) appearance, as did services ranging from web hosting to robotic investment advisors. As for the business of Super Bowl advertising? It’s booming: a record $5 million for each thirty seconds of air time proved that cord-cutting isn’t harming America’s biggest night in television—at least not yet.

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Companies Come Out in Support of Immigration

With the Trump administration’s immigration ban on hold since Friday, Tech companies have taken the opportunity to weigh in. News emerged last night that 97 companies—from Apple to Zynga, as Bloomberg put it—had filed an amicus brief in federal appeals court in support of the State of Washington’s case against Trump. Apart from quoting John F. Kennedy and arguing that ban of immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations violates the Constitution, the brief states that the ban “is inflicting substantial harm on U.S. companies,” mainly because it “hinders the ability of American companies to attract great talent” and “makes it more difficult for American firms to compete in the international marketplace.” You can read the brief in its entirety here. A decision on the Department of Justice’s appeal is expected sometime this week, after which the case may end up before the Supreme Court.

Encryption Fight, Redux

Last year’s showdown between Apple and the FBI over an encrypted iPhone fizzled without a clear resolution. Encryption in consumer services and devices is only growing, though, and our own Mike Orcutt examines how things could play out when (not if) the issue rears its head again. Among the possibilities: If the feds don’t want a repeat performance of the Apple standoff, they might instead seek to compel a messaging service like WhatsApp to help investigators read messages written by suspected criminals. Failing that, action could come from Congress or the Trump administration—last year, Donald Trump called for a boycott of Apple when it defied the feds, while an encryption working group in the House of Representatives said weakening encryption was “against the national interest.” No matter where things head next, one thing is sure: this fight is far from over.

Ten Fascinating Things

That swarm of 300 drones flying above Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl halftime show was pretty cool. But there are two things you should know about it: First, it was pre-recorded, mainly because of FAA restrictions.

Second, Intel and Disney have been collaborating on the Shooting Stars, as they’re called, for a while now. They’ve been putting on a show at Disney World, and Intel upped the swarm to a Guinness record 500 drones during a flight over Sydney last year. The company says its system could handle a swarm of up to 10,000 at once.

Boeing has announced that its next-generation crewed space capsule, the Starliner, will be built using hundreds of 3-D printed parts.

In the last week, the new FCC chief Ajit Pai has quiety rolled back a slew of regulations that businesses fought for years. With policies like net neutrality on the chopping block, we examined what the Internet might look like in the near future.

It’s a simple question, with profound implications: Does AI pose a threat to Christianity?

So, China now leads the world in installed solar energy capacity. But don’t be fooled—the country’s solar boom has resulted in huge amounts of clean power going to waste.

A vigilante hacker has executed a massive takedown of a Dark Web hosting service, apparently in retaliation for allowing child pornography sites to proliferate.

France will hold its presidential election in April, and Facebook is partnering with eight French media companies to set up a system for fighting fake news.

Can the federal government order tech companies to cough up records stored overseas for use in U.S. investigations? Microsoft and Google have fought big court battles over this question—Microsoft won theirs, but Google just lost.

As the center of China’s plans to strengthen its military is a new reliance on the power of AI.

Quote of the Day

"Everybody is concerned about trade wars. If trade stops, war starts."

—Alibaba CEO Jack Ma speaking over the weekend about his concerns that the Trump administration’s opposition to global trade deals could lead to more than just disputes over the exchange of goods.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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