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Facebook Defends Libra Cryptocurrency in Sometimes Hostile Senate Hearing

Ahead of the launch of its new global cryptocurrency, Facebook (FBGet Report) sent its crypto chief David Marcus to the Senate Tuesday to face questioning from the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

The mixed reaction Marcus received among senators was mostly divided along party lines, with some of the toughest questioning coming from Democratic Senators still skeptical of the company in the wake of the Russian election hacking scandal that Democrats blame for their candidate’s loss in the 2016 presidential election.

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Senator Mark Warren (D-VA) stated that “Facebook has a history of buying or copying competing technologies,” before demanding that Marcus assure the panel that competing digital wallets wouldn’t be hindered on WhatsApp and Messenger, two of Facebook’s most popular products.

Marcus went back and forth with Warner before assuring Warner that users would be able to send and receive non-Libra digital currencies on Facebook’s networks. But Marcus would not commit to embedding those competing currencies on its platforms.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) baldly stated that “Facebook is dangerous,” saying that the company has continued to misuse customer data while continually referring to each instance as a “learning experience.”

Brown concluded his remarks by saying that “it takes a breathtaking amount of arrogance to look at that record” and believe that the next move for the company should be to create a digital currency.

Republican Senators were more forgiving for the most part, with Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) applauding the company’s efforts to provide financial services for the under-banked.

“I want to make clear that we are only at the beginning of this journey,” Marcus said. “We expect the review of Libra to be one of the most extensive ever. Facebook will not offer the Libra currency until we have addressed the concerns and receive appropriate approvals.”

Marcus also stated the Calibra network will have the “highest standards” when it comes to privacy and that the social and financial data will be completely separated.

Users will have to provide an authentic government ID so sign up for Calibra and will not be able to register by simply using their existing Facebook profiles.

Marcus stressed Calibra’s independence from Facebook, stating that the company has taken the lead in developing the technology but that it would give up the lead once the digital currency is launched.

“We will not control Libra and will be one of over 100 participants that will govern over the currency,” Marcus said. ” We will have to gain people’s trust if we want people to use our network over the hundreds of competing companies.”

Facebook shares were up 0.18% to $204.27 on Tuesday early afternoon and are up more than 55% this year.

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Source: Facebook Defends Libra Cryptocurrency in Sometimes-Hostile Senate Hearing

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Alphabet’s DeepMind Losses Soared To $570 Million In 2018

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DeepMind, the Google-owned artificial intelligence firm on a mission to create human-level AI, had an expensive year in 2018, according to documents filed with the U.K.’s Companies House registry on Wednesday.

The London-based AI lab—founded in 2010 by Demis Hassabis, Mustafa Suleyman and Shane Legg—saw its pretax losses grow to $570 million (£470 million), up from $341 million (£281 million) in 2017, and $154 million (£127 million) in 2016.

DeepMind’s losses are growing because it continues to hire hundreds of expensive researchers and data scientists but isn’t generating any significant revenue. Amazon, Apple, Facebook are locked in an expensive battle with DeepMind and Alphabet to hire the world’s best AI experts, with the goal of building self-learning algorithms that can transform industries.

In 2018, DeepMind spent $483 million (£398 million) on around 700 employees, up from $243 million (£200 million) in 2017. Other significant costs included technical infrastructure and operating costs. In addition, DeepMind spent $17 million (£14 million) on academic donations and sponsorships.

DeepMind also spent $12 million (£9 million) on construction and $1.2 million (£1 million) on furniture and fixtures. The company is planning to move out of Google’s office in King’s Cross and into a new property around the middle of 2020.

While losses at DeepMind have grown, so to have the company’s revenues. Turnover almost doubled in 2018 to £103 million, up from £48 million in 2017. The firm sold some of its software to Google, which has used DeepMind’s AI systems to make the cooling units in its data centers more energy efficient, and improved battery life on Android devices. DeepMind does not make any money from its work with Britain’s National Health Service.

A DeepMind spokesperson provided Forbes with the following statement:

“We’re on a long-term mission to advance AI research and use it for positive benefit. We believe there’s huge potential for AI to advance scientific discovery and we’re really proud of the impact our work is already having in areas such as protein folding.

“Our DeepMind for Google team continues to make great strides bringing our expertise and knowledge to real-world challenges at Google scale, nearly doubling revenues in the past year. We will continue to invest in fundamental research and our world-class, interdisciplinary team, and look forward to the breakthroughs that lie ahead.”

In 2018, DeepMind also passed its Streams application for clinicians to Google. However, this transaction had not been completed by the time the financial statements were filed.

Yann LeCun, chief AI scientist at Facebook, said in an interview last year that he does not think DeepMind has yet proved its worth to Google, adding that DeepMind is too isolated to have a significant impact on the tech giant. “I wouldn’t want to be in the situation Demis [the CEO] is in,” he said.

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I’m a Staff Writer covering tech in Europe. Previously, I was a News Editor for Business Insider Australia, and prior to that I was a Senior Technology Reporter for Business Insider UK. My writing has also appeared in The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Wired, The Independent, and elsewhere. I have also appeared on the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, Channel 5, Reuters TV, and spoken on Russia Today and Shares Radio. In 2015, I was shortlisted for Technology Journalist of the Year by the UK Tech Awards and in 2016 I was nominated as one of the 30 young journalists to watch by MHP Communications.

Source: https://www.forbes.com

 

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