January 23, 2023
It's good to be home.
📣 Situational awareness: Microsoft announced a new investment, worth billions, into ChatGPT maker OpenAI, tightening the relationship between the two firms.
Today's Login is 1,276 words, a 5-minute read.
1 big thing: New flood of "right to repair" bills
The "right to repair" movement championing owners' freedom to fix everything from smartphones to tractors is set for a landmark new year, as tech companies roll out user repair programs and state legislatures weigh broader consumer protections, Axios' Peter Allen Clark reports.
Why it matters: Advocates say restrictions on owners' ability to repair their devices, shaped by tough intellectual property protections, have cost consumers money and reduced the lifespan of their products.
What's happening: 2023 has kicked off with rising momentum for right to repair advocates.
- In the last days of 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Digital Fair Repair Act into law, calling the Empire State the "first state in the nation to guarantee the right to repair."
- John Deere signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation on Jan. 8, to "enhance the ability of Farmers to timely control the lawful operation and upkeep of Agricultural Equipment."
- Both Apple and Samsung have recently expanded their self-repair programs to encompass more devices.
The big picture: State legislatures have introduced a host of new repair bills in the last few weeks.
- At least 14 state houses have introduced new bills so far, Nathan Proctor, right to repair campaign director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, tells Axios. These proposals aim to provide consumers a pathway to repair everything from tablets to farm equipment.
- "If you're looking at what one of these companies really fears, I don't think it's a bill in Congress as much as 22 different bills in states that are all slightly different," Proctor told Axios. "That's the nightmare scenario."
Efforts to provide consumers with tools, parts and access to their tech’s internals have picked up in the last few years.
- The FTC released a report in May 2021 that found "scant evidence to support manufacturers' justifications for repair restrictions."
- Shortly after, the Biden administration charged federal agencies in an executive order to make it "easier and cheaper to repair items you own by limiting manufacturers from barring self-repairs."
- The nation’s first right to repair law, enacted in Colorado last summer, specifically focused on wheelchairs.
- "After a decade of trying, we get two [state laws] in a very short period of time," iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told Axios. "Every single day, I'm seeing a couple more states file a new bill. And I think we're going to be over 20 states very soon and those bills are moving."
Flashback: Right to repair advocates point to the turn of millennium as the moment when powerful tech producers sealed devices away in hermetic casing and terms-of-service stipulations.
- With software embedded in an ever-widening range of products, laws protecting code — like 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act — came to apply to more and more hardware.
- As the longstanding era of TV/radio repair shops faded away, a partially broken device often had to be sent back to the manufacturer to fix, or be replaced entirely.
- "We've been pushed into this," Proctor said. "How did we wake up in a world where changing a battery was too dangerous to do? They benefit from us not having that power."
The other side: Tech companies have long maintained that opening up devices could decrease their performance, expose company secrets, reduce cybersecurity protections or put the safety of customers at risk.
Yes, but: Advocates still see a long fight ahead.
- Right to repair is having a "watershed moment ... But there's also a lot of opportunities for mischief," Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director at The Repair Association, tells Axios.
- New York's new law has already faced criticism that it was weakened by last-minute changes and concessions to manufacturers.
- Gordon-Byrne said the John Deere agreement has "absolutely no enforcement in it at all."
- Apple rolled out its repair program at the end of 2021. But Wiens calls the program "malicious compliance" over its limitations and cost.
What's next: "2023 is all about consolidating the gains from New York and making sure that all of all the rest of the products that should have been in that bill are covered somewhere," Gordon-Byrne said.
2. Davos weighs AI's impact on white collar jobs
The latest artificial intelligence systems dominated the tech conversation in Davos, Switzerland, with a mix of excitement and worries over how they will reshape the future of work.
Why it matters: Past waves of automation have targeted entry-level jobs. But generative AI systems like ChatGPT and Dall-E 2 raise fears for knowledge workers, including those in the C-suite.
Be smart: There are good reasons they call AI a disruptive technology.
- Many jobs will see big changes, with employees likely to share their workflows with an array of AI-driven software bots.
What they're saying: Ad industry icon Sir Martin Sorrell said during a World Economic Forum panel that — although a lot of attention is being paid to how generative tools could reshape creative work — he sees even greater disruption in the lucrative but labor-intensive tasks of buying and placing ads.
- Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere, said his firm's AI software is already automating a host of tasks, such as processing mortgage applications.
- Shukla said the technology has found its way into areas he never expected — such as helping overworked nurses in the U.K. monitor patients' oxygen levels during the COVID pandemic, freeing up two hours of work per nurse. "I like to think it made a difference between life and death," he said during a panel I moderated Friday on AI and white-collar jobs.
Yes, but: Experts see AI taking over specific tasks rather than replacing entire jobs.
- Stanford professor Erik Brynjolfsson said he and his colleagues broke out the tasks required in 950 occupations. AI could handle many of the functions, but not all: "We did not find a single one where machine learning ran the table and could do all of them."
- More importantly, he said, the arrival of AI assistance could help people move into better and more fulfilling jobs.
- "Think of how many people are not in the right job and they're living lives of quiet desperation," Brynjolfsson said. "They probably have some capabilities that could fulfill them much better, but they're not being matched to it because there's just not the infrastructure to put them in place."
Go deeper: Read Axios' full Deep Dive from Davos
3. Quick takes: Microsoft cuts VR, AR efforts
1. Microsoft's layoffs last week were felt particularly strongly among teams working on virtual and augmented reality. The company is shutting down the Altspace VR virtual world and also made cuts to teams working on mixed reality projects.
- Why it matters: It's another sign that companies see those technologies as further off than initially hoped.
2. TikTok acknowledged to Forbes that its employees sometimes boost certain content, an effort known as "heating."
- Be smart: All social media companies put their thumb on the scale, at least indirectly, through their algorithms. However, the disclosure that TikTok employees can promote individual videos directly comes as the company is already under intense scrutiny.
4. Take note
- Michael Kennedy will join Intuit next month as chief corporate affairs officer. He was previously senior vice president for government relations and public policy at VMware.
- Spotify announced that it will lay off about 6% of its staff, citing the economic climate and an unsustainable growth in operating expenses.
- The Marshall Project details some of the many ways that inmates make use of contraband cell phones within prisons, including to generate income, produce TikTok videos and document living conditions.
- Activist investor Elliott Management has taken a multibillion dollar stake in Salesforce, suggesting the business-software giant could become an acquisition target. (Axios)
5. After you Login
I got a pretty cool view of San Francisco on Saturday as I flew home from Switzerland.
Thanks to Scott Rosenberg and Peter Allen Clark for editing and Bryan McBournie for copy editing this newsletter.