Tech Digest daily round up: Facebook to allow you to turn off algorithm

Augmented reality, Facebook, News

Facebook is to allow users to turn off the algorithm powering its News Feed and control the order in which items appear amid growing calls for algorithmic transparency. The company will also provide more context on suggested content by expanding the “Why am I seeing this?” tab, as well as letting users control who can comment on their posts. It comes ahead of the first draft of the UK’s new Online Safety Bill, which is likely to include powers for Ofcom to audit how social media companies’ algorithms work. Algorithmic transparency has become a focus for regulators, especially when companies are seen to be promoting harmful content or creating enclaves for people who believe conspiracy theories and only encounter people who share those beliefs. Sky News 

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, have voted in a historic poll to decide whether they want to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The results are not expected until next week – but if they say yes, it will become Amazon’s first US union. Amazon argues its wages and benefits are industry-beating and has gone into battle to persuade workers to vote no. Most agree the outcome could have major implications for US labour laws. Peter Romer-Friedman, principal of law firm Gupta Wessler PLLC, said: “The key question in America at the moment is are we going to have fair treatment of workers in the businesses that will dominate our future? BBC

Microsoft has won a lucrative deal to supply augmented reality headsets based on its HoloLens product to the US army. The contract could be worth up to $21.88bn over 10 years – and it’s been a while in the making. Over the past two years, Microsoft has worked with the Army on the prototyping phase of what is called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS. The company said that the Army had moved into the production phase of the project. Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman said the headsets are designed to deliver “enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.” Telegraph 

Apple Inc said Wednesday that it will build a battery-based renewable energy storage facility in Central California near a solar energy installation that already provides energy for all of its facilities in the state. Apple said the project will store 240 megawatt-hours of energy, or enough to power more than 7,000 homes for one day. It is located next to the California Flats solar installation in southeastern Monterey County, about 100 miles southeast of Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters. Reuters

As bitcoin surges to unprecedented value, the sprawling matrix of computers around the world that run its software is now consuming as much energy a year as Sweden, the latest calculations suggest. The higher the price, the more electricity this network uses. Iran was recently rocked by power outages that were partly blamed on bitcoin. Bill Gates recently warned bitcoin was “not a great climate thing.” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellan has called its energy use “staggering.” Business Insider 

Delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic have cost NASA almost $3bn since last March, a report says. COVID-caused facility closures, mandatory remote working and disruptions to the materials supply chain have caused an enormous headache for NASA, according to the space agency’s office of inspector general (OIG) audit report. It follows a previous report into NASA’s Artemis Programme which warned NASA’s plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024 are “unlikely” to be achieved. Sky News

Chris Price
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