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Today's issue is 1,516 words, < a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
After decades of gestation in relative obscurity, leading-edge technologies like AI and quantum computing have been thrust into the center of an era-defining competition between China and the U.S.
Why it matters: Politicizing these technologies has led to a rush of investment — but it risks hobbling international collaboration and potentially even derailing some critical research, I write with Axios managing editor Alison Snyder.
Driving the news: The Trump administration has explicitly declared its drive to dominate in a techno-race with China.
The state of play: Through agencies like DARPA and the National Science Foundation, the government is setting aside money for AI and quantum computing research — though top scientists are calling for more than 10 times the current funding.
The most concrete example of the politicization of emerging technologies so far is the Trump administration's tightening immigration policy, which has made it harder for students and scholars to visit from China.
A larger worry yet to be realized is that this rhetoric can change the course of basic research. In the 1980s, the U.S. raced to match Japanese advances in a subfield of AI that petered out soon thereafter.
The bottom line: "Viewing [these technologies] from the political lens is creating a hype cycle," says Caltech's Anima Anandkumar.
New China Unicom 5G equipment in Haikou, Hainan Province. Photo: Visual China Group/Getty
China switched on a massive 5G network yesterday, bringing 50 cities online in one of the largest-ever single rollouts of the super-fast mobile networks.
Why it matters: Right now, this means some Chinese smartphone users can access super-fast internet. But in the long run, experts worry the deployment could help China vault past the U.S. not only in the critical 5G technology itself but also in the new applications it's expected to support.
The big picture: If AI and quantum computing are driving the U.S.–China tech competition, 5G networking is close behind.
"This launch demonstrates the effectiveness of China’s massive government push to 5G," says Paul Scharre, director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
5G is seen as both an economic multiplier in addition to a potential military tool, which means a wider rollout could pump new life into industries that depend on wireless communication — which today is nearly every one.
What's next: This week President Trump said the U.S. would cooperate with "like-minded nations" on developing 5G and has urged allies to swear off Huawei equipment, Reuters reports.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The tech world is consumed with a battle over how companies should use and sell sensitive information about their users, stoked by Cambridge Analytica, facial recognition bans and California's monumental new privacy law.
What's happening: That's fueled a demand for experts — but there aren't nearly enough people with the right cocktail of expertise in law, technology and liberal arts to do the work, writes Axios managing editor for business Jennifer A. Kingson.
Why it matters: Privacy is a once-and-future battleground. Without more qualified professionals, everyone’s sensitive information could fall vulnerable to corporate ignorance, mismanagement and whim.
My thought bubble: These experts are critical checks on Big Tech's instinct to collect and use as much data as they can. But we won't break out of the scandal-and-apology cycle until rank-and-file engineers and product managers are forced to consider user privacy as they build rather than after something breaks.
Jennifer reports: While companies like IBM, AT&T, Microsoft and Pfizer have had chief privacy officers for years, others — like Facebook and Uber — have hired them more recently after learning the pitfalls of data problems the hard way. There's a lot of demand.
Interest in taking the gold-standard test for tech privacy, which is run by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), has risen “supersonically,” according to Douglas Forman, who oversees the exams.
Even so, a lot of Fortune 500 companies “don’t have strong teams around data privacy,” says Anneka Gupta, president and head of products and platforms at LiveRamp, a data management company.
Between the lines: More law schools are introducing privacy as a course of study — and the American Bar Association recently recognized it as a dedicated specialty — but the privacy profession is very much an evolving discipline.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The sovereign state of Facebook (Scott Rosenberg — Axios)
Why one consulting company got out of the content moderation game (Casey Newton — The Verge)
ACLU sues FBI and DOJ over facial recognition (Drew Harwell — Washington Post)
Interior grounds drones for fear of Chinese spying (Timothy Puko & Katy Stech Ferek —WSJ)
Evaluating Blade Runner's predictions for November 2019 (Szu Ping Chan
Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty
Your heart leaps when the beat finally drops; your skin prickles when the violins swell.
What's happening: In new research a team of computer scientists and psychologists at the University of Southern California tried to connect musical characteristics to listeners' unconscious responses.
“It’s the songwriter’s job to take you on a roller coaster of emotions in under three minutes, and dynamic variability is one of the ways this is achieved,” lead author Tim Greer told USC's news service.