Thursday's technology stories

Valve's Steam Deck unveiled as another Switch competitor

Credit: Valve

Valve is officially entering the crowded market of Switch-like portable gaming PCs with the unveiling of the Steam Deck, a system stuffed with impressive features.

Why it matters: Valve's device is the latest effort to tap into an audience who likes the idea of the hybrid Switch but would prefer to play PC games and won’t mind missing Mario.

Moving beyond Arab stereotypes in gaming

Clockwise, starting from top left: "Call of Duty 4," "Street Fighter V," "Overwatch," and "Rainbow Six." Images via Engadget, Blizzard, Ubisoft and Capcom. Image credit: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

There's been a major shift in recent years in how video games represent Arabs, but developers are still struggling to find their footing and not rely on problematic stereotypes.

Why it matters: Arab cultures have been coded in harmful stereotypes in games for decades.

Jul 15, 2021 - Health

Surgeon general urges social platforms to crack down on COVID misinformation

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaking during a press briefing on Thursday at the White House. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on social media companies Thursday to curb misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines in his first health advisory since being confirmed to the position.

Why it matters: Murthy said vaccine misinformation is a factor in the country's slowing vaccination rates. More than 40% of American adults are not fully vaccinated against the virus, and new cases have slightly increased in part because of the rise of the Delta variant.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Jul 15, 2021 - Technology

Microsoft brings Windows desktop to devices via cloud

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft on Wednesday announced Windows 365, a cloud-based version of the desktop operating system that allows people to run the same virtualized desktop across multiple PCs and even on Macs and mobile devices.

Why it matters: The move puts Windows in more places, including on iOS and Android, though its capabilities there are more limited than on a PC.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Jul 15, 2021 - Sports

NBA 2K22 unveils cover athletes

Courtesy: 2K Sports

Luka Dončić will be featured on the cover of NBA 2K22, the latest installment in the best-selling video game franchise.

State of play: Candace Parker fronts the "WNBA 25th Anniversary Edition" of the game, making her NBA 2K's first female cover athlete.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 15, 2021 - Technology

Using AI — and dumpster cameras — to better manage urban trash

A sanitation worker sifts through a dumpster in Washington, D.C. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A startup called Compology is using high-tech cameras in dumpsters and AI analytics to help companies and cities better manage their waste streams.

Why it matters: Trash — unlike electricity or water — isn't easy for cities to meter, "which contributes to the inefficiency around waste management," says Jason Gates, Compology's CEO.

Jul 15, 2021 - Technology

NextNav's 3D maps make the GPS blue dot more accurate

A photo illustration of what aerial drones using 3D mapping might look like. Credit: NextNav

Digital maps are getting better every day, making turn-by-turn navigation more accurate, with real-time details. Adding a third dimension to mapping — altitude — is the next breakthrough.

Why it matters: Satellite-based GPS maps are critical to modern life but have their limitations. They don't work well indoors or in urban areas, and they aren't secure.

Facebook's "see no evil" strategy

Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Only Facebook knows for sure what's popular on its platform at any given moment. The rest of us, viewing our individual feeds and seeing only how our own posts fare, are left to guess.

Facebook could change that by giving the world real-time windows onto the social network. But it has long resisted doing so — and new reports suggest it's afraid greater transparency will just make it look bad.

Gaming insiders spooked by pay-for-engagement plans

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Google's announcement of a plan to pay some game developers based on how much their games are played has stirred concerns among industry insiders about the downside of game subscription economics.

Why it matters: The concern over engagement-based payments is that they incentivize developers to make games that are artificially longer or that pressure their players to keep coming back.

Jul 14, 2021 - Technology

Twitter scuttles "Fleets"

Photo: Fabian Sommer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Twitter said Wednesday it is shutting down "Fleets," a product akin to Snapchat's "Stories" feature that allows users to post strings of photos and videos for 24 hours before they disappear.

Why it matters: Twitter introduced Fleets last November as a way to connect its users around more ephemeral content. Now, the company says its big bet wasn't producing enough new user engagement to make it worthwhile.

Jul 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

Facebook to invest over $1 billion in content creators through end of 2022

Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Facebook and Instagram plan to together invest over $1 billion in creators through the end of 2022. 

Why it matters: This is by far Facebook's biggest investment in attracting creators to its platform to-date.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jul 14, 2021 - Technology

Discord acquires anti-online harassment software firm Sentropy

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Discord, a San Francisco-based chat platform valued by VCs at $7 billion, agreed to buy Sentropy, a Palo Alto-based provider of AI software for detecting and removing online harassment.

Why it matters: Because engaging with others online shouldn't include an entrance fee of harassment and abuse. Discord once was known as a place where such misdeeds proliferated, but it cracked down after Charlottesville, and this deal reflects its continued efforts around user safety.

Facebook calls on FTC chair Khan to recuse from antitrust case

Photo: Michaela Handrek-Rehle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook on Wednesday filed a petition for Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan to recuse herself from any decision-making about whether and how to continue the agency's antitrust case against the social media giant.

Why it matters: Khan, a vocal critic of Big Tech's power, took over leadership of the agency as it weighs whether to refile its complaint against the company after a judge dismissed it last month.

Net neutrality battle looms

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration is gearing up for a showdown with cable and telecom companies over plans to bring back Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Why it matters: The Trump administration took a hands-off approach to the telecom industry, but the White House is now reversing course with new plans to regulate the behavior of America's internet service providers.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 14, 2021 - Technology

Text-reading AI will do your research for you

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Bay Area-based startup Primer is offering natural language processing (NLP) models for businesses that can rapidly read and analyze written text of all kinds.

Why it matters: NLP — machine-learning agents that comprehend and even write text — is one of the most exciting areas of AI research, and the new product points to a future when text-crunching AI will be available as a service, accelerating the technology's adoption.

Jul 14, 2021 - Technology

The robot Olympics

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Courtesy Toyota

With no spectators allowed at the Tokyo Olympics, robots might be the only ones on hand to witness the athletic feats at this year's Summer Games.

Why it matters: Organizers had billed the 2020 Olympics as "the most innovative ever," with plans to deploy teams of robots to assist and dazzle visiting athletes and fans.

Trump DOJ tried to seize WashPost journalists' records over Russia leaks

Then-Attorney General Bill Barr during a Dec. 21 news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Photo: Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

The Trump Department of Justice attempted to obtain the communications records of three Washington Post reporters via legal action over 2017 reports on Russian election interference and Russia's ambassador, court documents unsealed Tuesday show.

Why it matters: The court order was lodged in secret the day before Bill Barr stepped down as attorney general last December.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Jul 14, 2021 - Technology

Cuba blocks social media access following protests

ED JONES / Getty Images

Cuba has limited access to some social media and messaging apps following anti-government protests that started Sunday.

Why it matters: Governments are increasingly using partial or complete internet shutdowns as a response to political unrest.