We start the new week by looking over the most important headlines from the tech world. Last week, one of the biggest stories was the huge fall of cryptocurrencies and investors’ growing concerns as several countries announced the bans on crypto mining. We will also talk about the decision of HSBC to not incorporate cryptocurrencies, in contrast to many other banks. In the US, there has been a development in the Xiaomi case, long-awaited by the Chinese tech giant. In the AI world, there were several breakthroughs such as the one achieved by the UCF scientists that found a new method that allows AI to read computer vision. Meanwhile, the disruptive startup Affectiva acquired Smart Eye, and Amazon prolonged the ban that prevents law enforcement from using facial recognition AI.
Towards the end of the week, cryptocurrencies fell further. This is bad news for traders hoping the popular digital asset would make its way up after its gigantic fall last week.
However, many analysts point out that the falls that we experienced at the end of last week were not as significant, compared to the general volatility we saw yesterday. They also point out the market needs to “find a floor”.
“The big cleanout has probably occurred,” said IG Markets analyst Kyle Rodda, as trade had calmed down in the crypto environment. “People lose patience and bail along the way, but … it looks like its starting to form a bit of a bottom here. I’m sure that there are still some nervous folks out there who’re hoping and wishing that their long crypto positions are going to crawl back into the green.”
Bitcoin drop did not come as a surprise as China is trying to decrease the mining and trading of cryptocurrencies, Iran just decided to ban crypto mining until September, and Tesla continues to delay its willingness to accept crypto payments.
“It is not a substitute for money,” Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, told the Global Markets Forum chatroom on Refinitiv Eikon. “At best (it) is an alternative asset, albeit one without intrinsic value,” he said, adding that blockchain technology and its potential “must not be conflated with crypto-currencies”.
The tech companies in the Asia Pacific have never been doing so well. The mergers and acquisitions that target tech companies have now hit a record high and it does not look like it will slow down anytime soon.
Tech M&A has totaled $136.2 billion in 2020, more than double that the previous year, as reported by the data provider Dealogic. To add, the tech deals summed up for 28% of the regions’ overall M&A transactions, totaling $482.4 billion. It is the highest share in at least a decade.
This boom “is a result of technology changing the way our economy works”, said Jung Min, co-head of M&A and Technology, Media, and Telecom at Goldman Sachs in Asia (ex-Japan).
“For a consumer, it affects how you shop, pay, eat, move and entertain. For a business, it affects how you recruit top employees, source your supply chain, manufacture and, of course, sell to customers,” he added.
On Wednesday, the Chinese tech giant Xiaomi has confirmed that the U.S. court has removed the designation of a Communist Chinese Military Company in regards to Xiaomi and has lifted all the restrictions that a U.S. person buying or holding Xiaomi’s stock was previously facing.
“The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a final order vacating the U.S. Department of Defense’s designation of the company as a CCMC,” the smartphone maker said in a filing to the Hong Kong bourse. It said the order was made on Tuesday.
“The company reiterates that it is an open, transparent, publicly-traded, independently operated and managed corporation,” Xiaomi Chairman Lei Jun said in the statement.
As the popularity of cryptocurrencies has soared in 2021, several financial institutions started instantly working on incorporating crypto into their offers and attract more customers. However, HSBC’s Chief Executive, Noel Quinn, believes that the digital assets are too volatile and lack transparency and claimed HSBC is not planning on incorporating crypto.
“Given the volatility we are not into Bitcoin as an asset class, if our clients want to be there then of course they are, but we are not promoting it as an asset class within our wealth management business,” Quinn said.
“For similar reasons we’re not rushing into stablecoins,” he added.
Having said that, Quinn did point out that he has much more faith in the central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) which are currently discussed around the globe, with several countries confirming they are working on launching on.
“CBDCs can facilitate international transactions in e-wallets more simply, they take out friction costs and they are likely to operate in a transparent manner and have strong attributes of stored value,” Quinn said.
Quinn pointed out that it is the lack of transparency that makes him skeptical about cryptocurrencies.
“I view Bitcoin as more of an asset class than a payments vehicle, with very difficult questions about how to value it on the balance sheet of clients because it is so volatile,” he said. “Then you get to stablecoins which do have some reserve backing behind them to address the stored value concerns, but it depends on who the sponsoring organization is plus the structure and accessibility of the reserve.”
The researchers from UTSA, University of Central Florida (UCF), the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and SRI International have found a new method improving the way artificial intelligence learns to see.
The study was led by professor Sumit Jha, from the Department of Computer Science at UTSA. Jha’s team has shown that by adding noise into multiple layers of a network will result in a more robust representation of an image that is recognized by the AI. Subsequently, it will create more robust explanations for AI decisions.
“It’s about injecting noise into every layer,” Jha said. “The network is now forced to learn a more robust representation of the input in all of its internal layers. If every layer experiences more perturbations in every training, then the image representation will be more robust and you won’t see the AI fail just because you change a few pixels of the input image.”
The newest work by Jha hugely advances the previous work he has done in this field. Jha’s new research is described in the paper “On Smoother Attributions using Neural Stochastic Differential Equations.”
Fellow contributors to this novel approach include UCF’s Richard Ewetz, AFRL’s Alvaro Velazquez and SRI’s Sumit Jha. The lab is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation. Their research will be presented at the 2021 IJCAI, a conference with about a 14% acceptance rate for submissions.
“I am delighted to share the fantastic news that our paper on explainable AI has just been accepted at IJCAI,” Jha continued. “This is a big opportunity for UTSA to be part of the global conversation on how a machine sees.”
At the end of last year, we were reporting a story on Affectiva, one of the most innovative AI startups currently operating. Now, the company is acquiring Smart Eye in a deal valued at $73.5 million.
Affectiva is known for its Emotion AI, a type of AI that specializes in understanding human emotions, cognitive states, activities, and the objects people use through analysing facial and vocal expression.
The Affectiva software has gone through extensive training, being trained through watching 10 million face videos of people based in 90 countries.
Smart Eye joins Affectiva and what they bring to the table is the one-of-its-kind eye-tracking technology that is capable of understanding, assisting, and predicting human intentions and actions.
Dr Rana el Kaliouby, Co-Founder and CEO of Affectiva, said, “We are thrilled to be merging with Smart Eye as the next step in Affectiva’s journey. This is a unique and exciting opportunity for us to join Smart Eye in bringing to market advanced AI with more comprehensive capabilities than either of us could provide alone.
“Not only are our technologies very complimentary, so are our values, our teams, our culture, and perhaps most importantly, our vision for the future.
We share a conviction that the AI we are building now will one day become ubiquitous. It will be built into the fabric of the technologies we use in our daily lives and will forever change the way we interact with technology and each other in a digital world,” she added.
Smart Eye currently holds more than 20 years of experience in eye-tracking.
Martin Krantz, Founder and CEO of Smart Eye, commented, “As we watched the DMS category evolve into Interior Sensing, monitoring the whole cabin, we quickly recognized Affectiva as a major player to watch.”
“Affectiva’s pioneering work in establishing the field of Emotion AI has served as a powerful platform for bringing this technology to market at scale. At the end of the day, this is about saving lives and bridging the gap between humans and machines. In the future, looking back at this moment in time, I am convinced that this is a decisive moment for road safety thanks to the announcement that we have made today,” he added.
Amazon announced that it would be extending the ban that was enacted last year on the use of facial recognition AI for the purposes of law enforcement. The Rekognition service currently serves as one of the most powerful facial recognition tools globally.
Amazon first enacted the ban on the use of the tool by the police last year, after a series of cases where the facial recognition services used by law enforcers were misused or inaccurate
The ban has now been extended indefinitely.
“Facial recognition is inherently dangerous and inherently oppressive. It cannot be reformed or regulated. It must be abolished,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future.