Jun 19, 2018

Axios Login

I rarely say this, but I am out of words.

1 big thing: Tech takes on family separation policy

Protesters rally in front of an ICE detention facility on the National Day of Action for Children on June 1 in Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some in the tech industry raised their voices Monday to oppose the Trump administration’s policy of separating families accused of entering the country illegally — from CEOs condemning the practice to workers of all ranks contributing to fundraisers to help affected children.

  • At the same time, Microsoft came under fire for its role supplying tech to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Context: It's not the first time the immigration debate has become a flashpoint in the strained relationship between Silicon Valley and President Trump.

  • Just weeks into his presidency, tech CEOs spoke out against Trump’s travel ban, and many execs have been vocal on the DACA debate surrounding Dreamers.

What's happening now: So far, fewer execs have spoken out directly this time around, but the growing outcry suggests tensions are bubbling below the industry's surface. (Noticeably quiet were Apple and Google.)

Here's a recap of some of the big developments on Monday:

  • Microsoft found itself in the crosshairs for not only having ICE as a customer, but also having blogged in January that it was "proud" of that association. The company issued a statement saying it was "dismayed" with the administration's policy. Despite signs of discontent, only a few employees spoke out, including developer Larry Osterman and intern Courtney Brousseau.
  • While some of the best known CEOs and companies remained silent, there were plenty of critical voices from the tech industry. One of the sharpest statements came late Monday from Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, who wrote a blog post titled "Separating immigrant families isn’t just wrong, it’s a war crime."
"As a tech leader and public CEO, I’m often advised to stay apolitical. But this isn’t politics, I believe this is a matter of objective right and wrong. Staying silent doesn’t feel like leadership to me. I encourage other leaders to consider the cost of silence."
Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson
  • A fundraiser on Facebook, created by techies Dave and Charlotte Willner (both former Facebook employees), raised more than $4 million for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services — the largest single fundraiser on Facebook ever, USA Today reports. "When we look at the faces of these children, we can’t help but see our own children’s faces," Charlotte Willner told the San Jose Mercury News.

Plus: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg donated an unspecified amount to their former employees' fundraiser. Other tech leaders voiced condemnations, including: Airbnb's founders, Box CEO Aaron Levie, SmugMug/Flickr CEO Don MacAskill, and CareZone CEO/former Sun exec Jonathan Schwartz

My thought bubble: CEOs were quick to fire off tweets and Facebook posts condemning the travel ban, but a number of tech companies are now in a different political reality than a year and a half ago. Embroiled in controversies over privacy scandals, fake news facilitation and election meddling, companies that may otherwise be expressing their outrage perhaps have reason to keep a lower profile — at least until they see how the debate plays out.

  • Plus, there are those looking to get their deal approved or to have their products avoid being caught up in a trade war.
  • Together, this means the sharpest words came from the heads of smaller tech firms.

Go deeper: Axios' Stef Kight explains what happens when families cross the border. Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen discuss how Trump is resisting changing the zero-tolerance border policy. Sam Baker reports that a top pediatrician is calling it "child abuse."

2. IBM argues its AI can outdebate a human

Photo: IBM Research

On Monday, a quarrelsome AI from IBM matched wits with a pair of human debaters in San Francisco in an impressive showcase of technology known as "computational argumentation."

Why it matters: By quickly synthesizing persuasive arguments from a trove of source material, IBM's remarkably conversant debater can "help broaden minds with unbiased debate," said Arvind Krishna, IBM's director of research. It could even be used to combat fake news by "asking critical questions of news," according to Noam Slonim, a technical staff member at IBM's Haifa Research Laboratory in Israel.

But, but, but: To construct its arguments, the computer dips into hundreds of millions of articles from newspapers and academic journals. It's not able to determine the veracity of what it reads, so it has to trust that its source material is accurate.

Go deeper: Axios' Kaveh Waddell has more here.

3. Self-driving startup lands Tesla and Uber vet

Voyage's self-driving technology on the road. Photo: Voyage.

Axios' Ben Geman has the scoop on a big hire for autonomous vehicle startup Voyage. They are bringing on Drew Gray — an industry vet who was a senior self-driving engineer at Tesla, Uber and elsewhere — as chief technology officer.

The company is focusing on providing taxi and fleet services by grafting its self-driving technologies onto existing vehicles. Voyage's system equips Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids, which drive on electric power for about 30 miles, to be autonomous, and later it plans to move into pure electrics, Oliver Cameron, Voyage's CEO, tells Axios.

The context: Cameron says he first collaborated with Gray at Udacity, the online learning provider — Cameron was head of the self-driving program there, and Gray agreed to teach a course.

Read more here.

Separately, the autonomous vehicle industry is forming a new lobby, Axios' David McCabe reports. Several of the leading companies developing AVs want to calm fears that the technology will radically reshape the nature of work, including the elimination of driving-focused jobs.

  • Members of the new Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity include Silicon Valley powers like Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber and Lyft alongside traditional automakers Ford, Daimler and Toyota Motor North America.
  • The American Trucking Associations and FedEx are also part of the effort.
  • Read more here.
4. AT&T's merger will change how we watch TV

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

My colleague Kim Hart took a look at how AT&T's Time Warner deal will ultimately change how we get our video content.

What's new: One of its first experiments in marrying the two will be a "skinny bundle" called AT&T Watch, providing Time Warner content (minus sports) to mobile customers.

The bottom line: This is a glimpse at the future of media — packages of content curated and disseminated by the same companies that provide the broadband service you need to watch it in the first place.

Go deeper:

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Facebook hosts an event in D.C. with sessions on issues including privacy and election interference, both of which have dogged them this year. The intrigue: on Monday night, the company’s critics at Citizens Against Monopoly urged their own supporters to RSVP to the event to “show up and ensure that the public is represented.”

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6. After you Login

I usually try to make these fun, but it didn't feel right to link to anything other than this.