• Monday, Oct. 18, 2021
Facebook plans to hire 10,000 in Europe to build "metaverse"
In this April 14, 2020 file photo, the thumbs up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform. The company said in a blog post Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 that those high-skilled workers will help build “the metaverse,” a futuristic notion for connecting people online that uses augmented and virtual reality. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
LONDON (AP) -- 

Facebook said it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform that promises to connect people virtually but could raise concerns about privacy and the social platform gaining more control over people's online lives.

The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build "the metaverse," a futuristic notion for connecting online that uses augmented and virtual reality.

Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet, though their track record is spotty on predicting future trends. Expectations that CEO Mark Zuckerberg made four years ago of taking virtual vacations with faraway loved ones via a headset or using a smartphone camera to improve an apartment virtually have not materialized so far.

The company also is contending with antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of whistleblowing former employees and concerns about how it handles vaccine-related and political misinformation.

"As we begin the journey of bringing the metaverse to life, the need for highly specialized engineers is one of Facebook's most pressing priorities," according to the blog post from Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs, and Javier Olivan, vice president of central products. 

Facebook's recruiters are targeting Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland for the hiring drive. 

The metaverse essentially is a massive virtual world that can be accessed in real time by millions of people using avatars, who can use it to hold virtual meetings or buy virtual land and clothing or other digital assets, often paying with cryptocurrencies. 

The social network isn't the only one working on the metaverse, and Facebook acknowledged that no single company will own and operate it. Other players include Fortnite maker Epic Games, which has raised $1 billion from investors to help with its long-term plans for building the metaverse. 

But there are concerns Facebook and a handful of other Silicon Valley giants would end up monopolizing the metaverse and use it to collect and profit from personal data, mirroring the situation now with the internet. 

Facebook last month announced a $50 million investment to fund global research and partnerships with civil rights groups, nonprofits, governments and universities to develop products responsibly for the metaverse. But the company added that it would probably take 10 to 15 years to "fully realize" many of those products.

In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company's inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts.

A British parliamentary committee that's working on legislation to combat online harm is set to hear from two Facebook whistleblowers this week and next. Sophie Zhang, a data scientist who raised the alarm after finding evidence of online political manipulation in countries such as Honduras and Azerbaijan before she was fired, will appear before the committee Monday afternoon. 

Next week, the committee will hear from Frances Haugen, who went public with internal Facebook research that she copied before leaving her job earlier this year. Haugen testified before a U.S. Senate panel this month about her accusations Facebook's platforms harm children and incite political violence, and her British appearance will be the start of a tour to meet European lawmakers and regulators. 

O'Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. 

  • Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021
Big picture, big data: Swiss unveil VR software of universe
Hadrien Gurnel, software engineer EPFL's Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+) explores with a virtual reality helmet the most detailed 3D map of the universe with the virtual reality software VIRUP, Virtual Reality Universe Project developed by Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) scientists of the Laboratory of Astrophysics (LASTRO) at EPFL's Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+), in St-Sulpice near Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The open-source beta software VIRUP that builds, in real-time, a virtual universe based on the most detailed contemporary astrophysical and cosmological data. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- 

The final frontier has rarely seemed closer than this — at least virtually.

Researchers at one of Switzerland's top universities are releasing open-source beta software on Tuesday that allows for virtual visits through the cosmos including up to the International Space Station, past the Moon, Saturn or exoplanets, over galaxies and well beyond. 

The program — called Virtual Reality Universe Project, or VIRUP — pulls together what the researchers call the largest data set of the universe to create three-dimensional, panoramic visualizations of space.

Software engineers, astrophysicists and experimental museology experts at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, or EPFL, have come together to concoct the virtual map that can be viewed through individual VR gear, immersion systems like panoramic cinema with 3D glasses, planetarium-like dome screens, or just on a PC for two-dimensional viewing. 

"The novelty of this project was putting all the data set available into one framework, when you can see the universe at different scales — nearby us, around the Earth, around the solar system, at the Milky Way level, to see through the universe and time up to the beginning — what we call the Big Bang," said Jean-Paul Kneib, director of EPFL's astrophysics lab.

Think a sort of Google Earth — but for the universe. Computer algorithms churn up tens of terabytes of data and produce images that can appear as close as one meter (about three feet), or almost infinitely far away — as if you sit back and look at the entire observable universe. 

VIRUP is accessible to everyone for free — though it does require at least a computer and is best visualized with VR equipment or 3D capabilities. It aims to draw in a broad array of visitors, both scientists looking to visualize the data they continue to collect and a broad public seeking to explore the heavens virtually. 

Still a work in progress, for now, the beta version can't be run on a Mac computer. Downloading the software and content might seem onerous for the least-skilled computer users, and space — on a computer — will count. The broader-public version of the content is a reduced-size version that can be quantified in gigabytes, a sort of best-of highlights. Astronomy buffs with more PC memory might choose to download more. 

The project assembles information from eight databases that count at least 4,500 known exoplanets, tens of millions of galaxies, hundreds of millions of space objects in all, and more than 1.5 billion light sources from the Milky Way alone. But when it comes to potential data, the sky is literally the limit: Future databases could include asteroids in our solar system or objects like nebulae and pulsars farther into the galaxy. 

To be sure, VR games and representations already exist: Cosmos-gazing apps on tablets allow for mapping of the night sky, with zoom-in close-ups of heavenly bodies; software like SpaceEngine from Russia offers universe visuals; NASA has done some smaller VR scopes of space. 

But the EPFL team says VIRUP goes much farther and wider: Data pulled from sources like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in the United States, and European Space Agency's Gaia mission to map the Milky Way and its Planck mission to observe the first light of the universe, all brought together in a one-stop-shop for the most extensive data sets yet around.

And there's more to come: when the 14-country telescope project known as the Square Kilometer Array starts pulling down information, the data could be counted in the petabytes — that's 1,000 terabytes or 1 million gigabytes.

Strap on the VR goggles, and it's a trippy feeling seeing the Moon — seemingly the size of a giant beach ball and floating close enough to hold — as the horizon rotates from the sunny side to the dark side of the lunar surface. 

Then speed out to beyond the solar system and swing by Saturn, then up above the Milky Way, swirling and flashing and heaving — with exoplanets highlighted in red. And much farther out still, imagine floating through small dots of light that represent galaxies as if the viewer is an unconscionably large giant floating in space. 

"That is a very efficient way of visiting all the different scales that compose our universe, and that is completely unique," says Yves Revaz, an EPFL astrophysicist. "A very important part of this project is that it's a first step toward treating much larger data sets which are coming."

Entire galaxies seem to be strung together by strands or filaments of light, almost like representation of neural connections, that link up clusters of light like galaxies. For one of the biggest pictures of all, there's a colorful visualization of the Cosmic Microwave Background — the radiation left behind from the Big Bang.

"We actually started this project because I was working on a three-dimensional mapping project of the universe and was always a little frustrated with the 2D visualization on my screen, which wasn't very meaningful," said Kneib, in a room in a nondescript lab building that houses a panoramic screen, a half-dome cinema with bean-bag seating, and a hard-floor space for virtual-reality excursions. 

"It's true that by showing the universe in 3D, by showing these filaments, by showing these clusters of galaxies which are large concentrations of matter, you really realize what the universe is," he added.

  • Monday, Oct. 11, 2021
White House proposes tech "bill of rights" to limit AI harms
In this Jan. 16, 2021 file photo, Eric Lander speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. Top science advisers to President Joe Biden are calling for a new “bill of rights” to guard against powerful new artificial intelligence technology, Friday, Oct. 8. Lander, Biden’s chief science adviser, and the deputy director for science and society, Alondra Nelson, also published an opinion piece in Wired magazine detailing the need to develop new safeguards against faulty and harmful uses of AI that can unfairly discriminate against people or violate their privacy. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Top science advisers to President Joe Biden are calling for a new "bill of rights" to guard against powerful new artificial intelligence technology. 

The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy on Friday launched a fact-finding mission to look at facial recognition and other biometric tools used to identify people or assess their emotional or mental states and character.

Biden's chief science adviser, Eric Lander, and the deputy director for science and society, Alondra Nelson, also published an opinion piece in Wired magazine detailing the need to develop new safeguards against faulty and harmful uses of AI that can unfairly discriminate against people or violate their privacy.

"Enumerating the rights is just a first step," they wrote. "What might we do to protect them? Possibilities include the federal government refusing to buy software or technology products that fail to respect these rights, requiring federal contractors to use technologies that adhere to this 'bill of rights,' or adopting new laws and regulations to fill gaps."

This is not the first time the Biden administration has voiced concerns about harmful uses of AI, but it's one of its clearest steps toward doing something about it.

European regulators have already taken measures to rein in the riskiest AI applications that could threaten people's safety or rights. European Parliament lawmakers took a step this week in favor of banning biometric mass surveillance, though none of the bloc's nations are bound to Tuesday's vote that called for new rules blocking law enforcement from scanning facial features in public spaces. 

Political leaders in Western democracies have said they want to balance a desire to tap into AI's economic and societal potential while addressing growing concerns about the reliability of tools that can track and profile individuals and make recommendations about who gets access to jobs, loans and educational opportunities.

A federal document filed Friday seeks public comments from AI developers, experts and anyone who has been affected by biometric data collection.

The software trade association BSA, backed by companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce, said it welcomed the White House's attention to combating AI bias but is pushing for an approach that would require companies to do their own assessment of the risks of their AI applications and then show how they will mitigate those risks.

"It enables the good that everybody sees in AI but minimizes the risk that it's going to lead to discrimination and perpetuate bias," said Aaron Cooper, the group's vice president of global policy.

  • Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021
Television Academy unveils recipients of 73rd Engineering Emmy Awards
ARRI SkyPanel is a family of ultra-bright LED soft lights, and one of this year's eight Engineering Emmy recipients
NOHO ARTS DISTRICT, Calif. -- 

The Television Academy has announced the recipients of the 73rd Engineering Emmy® Awards honoring an individual, company or organization for developments in broadcast technology. Kirsten Vangsness, who starred for 15 seasons on the CBS drama Criminal Minds, returns to host the awards for the sixth consecutive year on Thursday, Oct. 21, at the JW Marriott Hotel, Los Angeles, at L.A. Live.

“Engineers, scientists and technologists are a vital part of our industry and are key to the continuing evolution of television,” said Frank Scherma, chairman and CEO of the Television Academy. “These extraordinary pioneers and groundbreaking companies we are honoring have advanced the medium and elevate storytelling to a worldwide audience.”

“It has been a challenging year for the television production community; but despite the pandemic, production has come back and with it a host of new technologies that are being used to help the storytelling process,” said Committee chair John Leverence. “This year a wide range of technologies are being recognized. They run the gamut from high-end, computer-generated special effects to lighting enhancements; audio tools; script-note technology; and systems that help maintain distancing protocols.”

The following is a list of awards and recipients to be recognized:

The Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award
Honors a living individual whose ongoing contributions have significantly affected the state of television technology and engineering.
Recipient: Reed Hastings
Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, began revolutionizing how the world is entertained in 1997 when he conceived the idea of a subscription-based movie-rental service. The serendipitous cause of this lightbulb moment was an annoying late-return fee he incurred when he missed the deadline to return a store-rented videocassette. A decade after its origin sending DVDs through the mail, Mr. Hastings realized that internet television rather than the United States Post Office was a better way to distribute filmed entertainment. For developing game-changing algorithms that recommended programming to subscribers that track and reflect their viewing preferences, Netflix received the Academy’s Engineering Emmy in 2012. The Netflix cloud infrastructure, cloud-based video encoding and encryption, cloud-based bookmarking, multiple-profile stream encryption, “Open Connect” content delivery network, adaptive streaming technology, dynamic app updates and personalization technologies deliver the service at scale with 99.99% availability. The major patent portfolio that Netflix has developed, combined with the scale of service delivery, widespread market use of the services and the validation of an alternative business model for television distribution is changing the television industry in fundamental ways. With these and other innovations in the way television content is conceived, produced, packaged, distributed and marketed, Mr. Hastings has positioned Netflix to significantly alter and to continue to affect the state of television technology and engineering.

The Philo T. Farnsworth Corporate Achievement Award
Honors an agency, company or institution whose contributions over time have substantially impacted television technology and engineering.
Recipient: Dolby Laboratories
Since its founding in 1965 by Ray Dolby, Dolby Laboratories has been a significant innovator and contributor to the television industry in audio and imaging technology. Early work involved the creation of the Dolby noise reduction system and Dolby Stereo, which improved the sound quality of music and film. As digital audio recording and distribution emerged, the family of Dolby Audio technologies became ubiquitously adopted for over-the-air broadcasting, streaming and physical disc distribution of television content. Recently, Dolby Atmos, providing an immersive sound experience, and Dolby Vision, providing more contrast, colors and brighter images with better specular highlights, have been brought to the home market. These technologies are not only accessible in high-end viewing rooms but are also available in typical home settings with televisions and sound bars, on tablets and personal computers with headphones, and on smartphones, becoming a standard for the highest-quality streaming experiences. These are but a few samplings of Dolby’s innovations that have improved the quality of television storytelling for more than 50 years.

Engineering Emmys
Presented to an individual, company or organization for engineering developments that considerably improve existing methods or innovations that materially affect the transmission, recording or reception of television.

This year’s eight Engineering Emmy recipients are:

  • Recipient: Arnold Global Illumination Rendering System - Marcos Fajardo, Alan King, Thiago Ize. Arnold is a photo-realistic, stochastic, ray-tracing renderer widely used by visual effects and animation studios around the world. Taking an artist-friendly approach, Arnold faithfully simulates the light-transport equation at render time, without relying on problematic caching methods. Extensive scientific research, as well as algorithmic, system and low-level optimizations were required to reduce memory usage and render time. Its high-quality rendering and ease of use have resulted in its extensive use and popularity for television productions.
  • Recipient: ARRI SkyPanel - ARRI. The ARRI SkyPanel is a family of ultra-bright LED soft lights. They are efficient, versatile lighting instruments with multiple control options. SkyPanels can generate accurate color temperatures between 2,800k and 10,000k with excellent color rendition over the entire range. Lighting directors can control all parameters including color, hue and saturation along with pre-programmed lighting effects. These fixtures have optimized the production lighting workflow and have been widely adopted throughout the television industry.
  • Recipient: CEDAR Studio - CEDAR Audio Ltd. CEDAR Studio was developed specifically to meet the needs of audio professionals in the field of film and television post-production. Originally comprising four processes, it has grown to provide a wide range of tools for cleaning and restoring audio. These include the industry-standard dialogue noise suppressors as well as Retouch, the process that introduced spectral editing to the industry. CEDAR Studio allows users to eliminate a wide range of problems and provides unsurpassed results quickly and efficiently.
  • Recipient: Golaem Crowd - Golaem. Golaem Crowd helps artists to populate television shows, films and game cinematics in minutes by procedurally animating thousands of characters with advanced behaviors in real-time and with complete artistic control. Golaem functions permit automatic navigation of characters, path planning and steering behaviors, including reactive collision avoidance, in order to create realistic human behaviors. These features have resulted in Golaem becoming a ubiquitous tool in computer-generated character generation across the television industry.
  • Recipient: Massive - Stephen Regelous. Massive is a pioneering software package that first gave artists the ability to simulate crowds using an artificial intelligence-based approach. It enables artistic control with a cost-effective means to simulate realistic crowd behavior in a flexible fashion by building semi-autonomous behavior via its node-based brain system. Massive has been used on many Emmy-winning shows and was the first package to make it possible to create large crowds at scale.
  • Recipient: Scriptation - Steve Vitolo, Felipe A. Mendez P., Franco Zuccar. Scriptation automates the tedious process of transferring handwritten notes, annotations and verbal comments to a script and redistributing to all departments. Now all of the personal notes, annotations and diagrams carry over to new versions of the script and are redistributed automatically. Departments are now able to share their notes about the script with all other departments in one place, providing streamlined communications and better understanding of the overall script plan. Scriptation has become a popular application, adding efficiency through environmentally conscious workflows and clear communication in today’s production environment.
  • Recipient: Teradek Bolt 4K - Nicolaas Verheem, Marius van der Watt, Dennis Scheftner, Zvi Reznic. Teradek Bolt 4K is a zero-delay, wireless video transmission system for on-set monitoring, offering high-quality wireless video integrated into the workflow. Bolt 4K has been critical in implementing changes needed to support social distancing protocols. Today, tens of thousands of Bolt transmitters and receivers are working in the entertainment industry—owned by camera operators, digital imaging technicians, drone pilots, production companies and rental houses—to efficiently service all television productions.
  • Recipient: V-Ray - Chaos. Chaos’ V-Ray is a physically based rendering and adaptive ray tracing solution used to create photo-realistic visual effects in episodic production since 2003. Optimized to handle large production scenes, V-Ray is used to render digital environments, digidoubles, creatures, vehicles and more in a highly efficient way. By accurately calculating global illumination and the distribution of light, as well as the physical properties of any material, the software ensures a seamless blend of real and virtual elements on screen.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021
Autodesk envisions cloud-based production ecosystem for media & entertainment
Virtual production is becoming accessible to a broader range of budgets (photo courtesy of Silverdraft)
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- 

Demand for streaming content and games is exploding due to the global pandemic, which spurred massive changes across the media and entertainment (M&E) industry. Studios were scrambling as film shoots stalled and teams were confined to their homes. The industry was already showing signs of moving to cloud long term, but out of necessity, years of planning turned into weeks of execution. Teams connected in the cloud, and production continued from home.

This shift to the cloud presents an excellent opportunity to do things differently, and to build a more resilient future. Autodesk’s vision is to help accelerate that transition by unlocking new levels of collaboration, creativity, efficiency, and insights. Yesterday (10/5) at Autodesk University (AU) 2021, Autodesk shared how the company is driving the industry forward through data-fluent cloud-based workflows and industry partnerships.

Autodesk’s vision aligns with the 2030 view of production outlined by industry think-tank MovieLabs. Underlying this vision is a foundation built on open standards such as USD (Universal Scene Description) for 3D data exchange, and OpenColorIO for color calibration and management. Working with customers and the Academy Software Foundation, Autodesk is actively involved in helping create these standards as well as integrating them into its products to further their adoption.

Thanks to an extensive collaboration with Pixar, Animal Logic, Luma Pictures and Blue Sky, Autodesk is helping to refine the multiple “flavors” of USD into a common standard, as well as implementing support for USD in Maya and 3ds Max. USD enables artists to load and edit massive datasets at lightning speed, increasing pipeline efficiency and improving collaboration, so that teams can more easily handle the high-volume data workloads of 3D scenes.  

 
Cloud-powered workflows increase production speed and creativity
Autodesk’s vision for the cloud spans across industries with similar challenges taking a unified approach. The company invested in building an extensive and extensible cloud platform, Autodesk Forge. Forge will provide the capabilities needed, from security to scalability, to connect teams to their projects more efficiently than ever before. And by centralizing on a single platform, Autodesk can bring to bear more research and development resources and expertise than would be possible when focusing on a single industry.

Autodesk is also investing in the future of M&E, including the transition to cloud-based workflows. The company is building out a new, open, and secure cloud-based environment for M&E production on Forge. It is also investing in its industry-leading portfolio of products, Maya, 3ds Max, Flame, and ShotGrid, keeping them competitive in preparation for the transition.

As entertainment projects get larger and more complex with more teams collaborating from disparate locations, it is essential that producers have an accurate, real-time view of production. An upcoming Generative Scheduling service will enable customers to run projects with smarter business insights powered by Forge. With new collaborative review capabilities, teams can synchronously review material whether they’re in studio or not, to streamline review and approvals.

As Autodesk moves toward production in the cloud, the company is investing in content creation tools, like Bifrost a low-footprint, low-code, visual programing environment for creating sophisticated simulations and effects. By bringing this technology to the Forge platform Autodesk can provide greater performance and scalability, new types of services such as simulation wedging, as well as future, cloud connected workflows with third-party tools like Unreal Engine, Unity, Blender and Houdini.

Autodesk is also investing in AI assisted workflows for media and entertainment. The company has recently added several such tools to Flame, helping artists automate complex compositing and retouching tasks on image sequences. Going forward Autodesk will seek to combine its powerful machine learning tools with the massive compute power and scalability of the cloud. This will allow artists to automate repetitive tasks, work faster and focus on the artistry of their craft.

The pandemic has also led to rapidly growing interest in virtual production, an area Autodesk helped pioneer with Joe Letteri and Lightstorm Entertainment on “Avatar.” As performance capture technology becomes more affordable and real-time game engines like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine continue to improve in image quality, virtual production is becoming accessible to a broader range of production budgets. To drive this, Autodesk is partnering with Epic Games to build more robust workflows between its creative products and Unreal Engine. This includes live-linking between its content creation tools, as well as ShotGrid integrations to streamline production management between virtual production and visual effects.

Industry partnerships open new possibilities for artists everywhere
As the M&E industry looks toward the future of production in the cloud, amazing new opportunities to drive innovation and change are emerging. Autodesk customers see powerful ways in which they can help shape the future of the industry for the better.

For example, take Weta Digital, the company behind “Lord of The Rings,” “Avatar,” and “Planet of the Apes.” Autodesk and Weta recognized the need to help artists boost creativity and introduced WetaM, a cloud-based production pipeline toolset that seamlessly integrates with Maya, delivering Weta’s signature artist tools and next-generation procedural workflows to raise the bar for production for all artists. WetaM productizes Weta’s proprietary VFX tools built on Maya’s open API, and will be commercialized by Weta Digital as a subscription cloud service.

With WetaM, artists everywhere will gain access to the unique visual design and workflow automation that Weta Digital used to create some of the signature moments in “Game of Thrones” season 8, and to bring giants to life in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “BFG.”

  • Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021
Avid Launches MediaCentral | Sync  
Avid's MediaCentral | Sync
BURLINGTON, Mass. -- 

Avid® (Nasdaq: AVID) has extended its media production portfolio with the availability of MediaCentral® | Sync, a secure backup solution available by subscription that protects television news organizations and other production environments against unexpected storage and database loss. MediaCentral | Sync enables disaster recovery and business continuity workflows by automatically replicating media and any associated metadata to a second production management system, minimizing the risk of production delays by ensuring simple, efficient and reliable data backups.  

MediaCentral | Sync is a seamless addition for MediaCentral production infrastructures, making it an easy and secure solution that ensures broadcasters can be confident that their content is always safe and accessible. It provides flexible media and metadata backup options, allowing users to choose when and where to back up specific assets through a web-based user interface, giving assurance that technical operations can be maintained in any situation. In addition to being fully integrated with Avid NEXIS® storage, users can connect MediaCentral | Sync to multiple MediaCentral | Production Management systems while maintaining their existing workflows, gaining protection as part of an end-to-end production solution.  
 
“Downtime is simply not an option in today’s fast-paced, always-on production environments where having access to media in a timely manner is essential for success,” said Raul Alba, director of product marketing--media and cloud, Avid. “Media organizations need confidence that, in the event of a disaster, their valuable content is safe​ and can be quickly restored without impacting production operations.” 
 
MediaCentral | Sync is immediately available.

  • Wednesday, Sep. 22, 2021
Facebook tech chief Mike Schroepfer to step down
In this Thursday, March 26, 2015, file photo, Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer talks about virtual reality while delivering a keynote address at the Facebook F8 Developers Conference, in San Francisco. Facebook’s CTO Schroepfer is stepping down from the social media company, taking on a part time role while longtime executive Andrew Bosworth will replace him in 2022. Schroepfer, known as “Schrep,” has been at Facebook for 13 years and is a close friend of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Facebook's Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer is stepping down from the social media company, taking on a part-time role while longtime executive Andrew Bosworth will replace him next year. 

Schroepfer, known as "Schrep," has been at Facebook for 13 years and is a close friend of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He called his decision difficult "because of how much I love Facebook and how excited I am about the future we are building together" but added that his new role will let him focus on personal and philanthropic efforts while staying connected to Facebook. 

The transition will happen sometime in 2022.

Bosworth, known as "Boz," is another longtime Facebook exec and a close friend of Zuckerberg's. He has most recently been in charge of Facebook's augmented reality and virtual reality efforts, as well as hardware products such as Oculus and Portal, Facebook's video calling gadget. 

"As our next CTO, Boz will continue leading Facebook Reality Labs and overseeing our work in augmented reality, virtual reality and more, and as part of this transition a few other groups will join Boz's team as well," Zuckerberg wrote in a memo to Facebook staff that was posted online. "This is all foundational to our broader efforts helping to build the metaverse, and I'm excited about the future of this work under Boz's leadership."

Schroepfer's transition comes amid relentless challenges for Facebook that have ranged from concerns about extremism, vaccine and election-related misinformation spreading on its platforms, regulatory pressure on competition, antitrust issues and user privacy among other issues. 

Another longtime executive, Fidji Simo, left Facebook over the summer to become CEO of Instacart. 

  • Wednesday, Sep. 22, 2021
Apple, Google raise new concerns by yanking Russian app
In this Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 file photo, The app Smart Voting is displayed on an iPhone screen in Moscow, Russia. Big Tech companies that operate around the globe have long promised both to obey local laws and to protect civil rights while doing business. But when Apple and Google capitulated to Russian demands and removed Smart Voting, a political-opposition app from their local app stores, it raised worries that two of the world's most successful companies are more comfortable bowing to undemocratic edicts — and maintaining a steady flow of profits— than upholding their stated principles.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- 

Big Tech companies that operate around the globe have long promised to obey local laws and to protect civil rights while doing business. But when Apple and Google capitulated to Russian demands and removed a political-opposition app from their local app stores, it raised worries that two of the world's most successful companies are more comfortable bowing to undemocratic edicts — and maintaining a steady flow of profits — than upholding the rights of their users.

The app in question, called Smart Voting, was a tool for organizing opposition to Russia President Vladimir Putin ahead of elections held over the weekend. The ban levied last week by a pair of the world's richest and most powerful companies galled supporters of free elections and free expression.

"This is bad news for democracy and dissent all over the world," said Natalia Krapiva, tech legal counsel for Access Now, an internet freedom group. "We expect to see other dictators copying Russia's tactics."

Technology companies offering consumer services from search to social media to apps have long walked a tightrope in many of the less democratic nations of the world. As Apple, Google and other major companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have grown more powerful over the past decade, so have government ambitions to harness that power for their own ends.

"Now this is the poster child for political oppression," said Sascha Meinrath, a Penn State University professor who studies online censorship issues. Google and Apple "have bolstered the probability of this happening again."

Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press when the news of the app's removal broke last week; both remained silent this week as well.

Google also denied access to two documents on its online service Google Docs that listed candidates endorsed by Smart Voting, and YouTube blocked similar videos.

According to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, Google faced legal demands by Russian regulators and threats of criminal prosecution of individual employees if it failed to comply. The same person said Russian police visited Google's Moscow offices last week to enforce a court order to block the app. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Google's own employees have reportedly blasted the company's cave-in to Putin's power play by posting internal messages and images deriding the app's removal.

That sort of backlash within Google has become more commonplace in recent years as the company's ambitions appeared to conflict with its one-time corporate motto, "Don't Be Evil," adopted by cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin 23 years ago. Neither Page nor Brin — whose family fled the former Soviet Union for the U.S. when he was a boy — are currently involved in Google's day-to-day management, and that motto has long since been set aside.

Apple, meanwhile, lays out a lofty "Commitment To Human Rights" on its website, although a close read of that statement suggests that when legal government orders and human rights are at odds, the company will obey the government. "Where national law and international human rights standards differ, we follow the higher standard," it reads. "Where they are in conflict, we respect national law while seeking to respect the principles of internationally recognized human rights."

A recent report from the Washington nonprofit Freedom House found that global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year and is under "unprecedented strain" as more nations arrested internet users for "nonviolent political, social, or religious speech" than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, according to the report. 

For the seventh year in a row, China held the top spot as the worst environment for internet freedom. But such threats take several forms. Turkey's new social media regulations, for instance, require platforms with over a million daily users to remove content deemed "offensive" within 48 hours of being notified, or risk escalating penalties including fines, advertising bans and limits on bandwidth. 

Russia, meanwhile, added to the existing "labyrinth of regulations that international tech companies must navigate in the country," according to Freedom House. Overall online freedom in the U.S. also declined for the fifth consecutive year; the group said, citing conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 elections as well as surveillance, harassment and arrests in response to racial-injustice protests.

Big Tech companies have generally agreed to abide by country-specific rules for content takedowns and other issues in order to operate in these countries. That can range from blocking posts about Holocaust denial in Germany and elsewhere in Europe where they're illegal to outright censorship of opposition parties, as in Russia.

The app's expulsion was widely denounced by opposition politicians. Leonid Volkov, a top strategist to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook that the companies "bent to the Kremlin's blackmail." 

Navalny's ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that the politician's team is considering suing the two companies. He also mocked the move: "Expectations: the government turns off the internet. Reality: the internet, in fear, turns itself off."

It's possible that the blowback could prompt either or both companies to reconsider their commitment to operating in Russia. Google made a similar decision in 2010 when it pulled its search engine out of mainland China after the Communist government there began censoring search results and videos on YouTube.

Russia isn't a major market for either Apple, whose annual revenue this year is expected to approach $370 billion, or Google's corporate parent, Alphabet, whose revenue is projected to hit $250 billion this year. But profits are profits.

"If you want to take a principled stand on human rights and freedom of expression, then there are some hard choices you have to make on when you should leave the market," said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel for the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Ortutay reported from Oakland, California. Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this story.

  • Thursday, Sep. 16, 2021
COVID Delta surge prompts cancellation of NAB Show 2021
Chris Brown
LAS VEGAS -- 

This year’s NAB Show--slated for Oct. 9-13 in Las Vegas--has been canceled due to concerns with the surge of COVID cases related to the Delta variant.

Chris Brown, EVP and managing director of global connections and events at the National Association of Broadcasters, said that the increase in COVID “has presented unexpected and insurmountable challenges for our global community. As we have always kept the best interest and safety of the industry as our priority, it has become apparent in the face of these challenges that we can no longer effectively host NAB Show or our co-located events, the Radio Show and Sales and Management Television Exchange, in person.”

Brown noted that NAB will soon share details regarding virtual options for accessing select 2021 NAB Show content through Delta Amplify, the group’s digital hub.

Plans still call, however, for the 2022 NAB Show to be held next spring. Brown stated, “While we are disappointed that we will not be together again in person next month, we look forward to converging in Las Vegas at the 2022 NAB Show, April 23-27, 2022, to reignite our passion for our business and focus on a bright future ahead.”

  • Wednesday, Sep. 8, 2021
Silicon Valley finds remote work is easier to begin than end
Kelly Soderlund poses at a workstation in the TripActions office in San Francisco, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Switching to a hybrid work model is ideal for people like Soderlund, a mother of two young children who works in offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, for TripActions, which has about 1,200 employees worldwide. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

Technology companies that led the charge into remote work as the pandemic unfurled are confronting a new challenge: how, when and even whether they should bring long-isolated employees back to offices that have been designed for teamwork. 

"I thought this period of remote work would be the most challenging year-and-half of my career, but it's not," said Brent Hyder, the chief people officer for business software maker Salesforce and its roughly 65,000 employees worldwide. "Getting everything started back up the way it needs to be is proving to be even more difficult."

That transition has been complicated by the rapid spread of the delta variant, which has scrambled the plans many tech companies had for bringing back most of their workers near or after Labor Day weekend. Microsoft has pushed those dates back to October while Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and a growing list of others have already decided wait until next year.

Given how they set the tone for remote work, tech companies' return-to-office policies will likely have ripple effects across other industries. Employers' next steps could redefine how and where people work, predicts Laura Boudreau, a Columbia University assistant economics professor who studies workplace issues.

"We have moved beyond the theme of remote work being a temporary thing," Boudreau says. The longer the pandemic has stretched on, she says, the harder it's become to tell employees to come back to the office, particularly full time.

Because they typically revolve around digital and online products, most tech jobs are tailor made for remote work. Yet most major tech companies insist that their employees should be ready to work in the office two or three days each week after the pandemic is over.

The main reason: Tech companies have long believed that employees clustered together in a physical space will swap ideas and spawn innovations that probably wouldn't have happened in isolation. That's one reason tech titans have poured billions of dollars into corporate campuses interspersed with alluring common areas meant to lure employees out of their cubicles and into "casual collisions" that turn into brainstorming sessions. 

But the concept of "water cooler innovation" may be overblown, says Christy Lake, chief people officer for business software maker Twilio.

"There is no data that supports that really happens in real life, and yet we all subscribe to it," Lake says. "You can't put the genie back in the bottle and tell people, 'Oh you have to be back in the office or innovation won't happen.' "

Twilio isn't bringing back most of its roughly 6,300 employees back to its offices until early next year at the earliest, and plans to allow most of them to figure how frequently they should come in.

This hybrid approach permitting employees to toggle between remote and in-office work has been widely embraced in the technology industry, particularly among the largest companies with the biggest payrolls. 

Nearly two-thirds of the more than 200 companies responding to a mid-July survey in the tech-centric Bay area said they are expecting their workers to come into the office two or three days each week. Before the pandemic, 70% of these employers required their workers to be in the office, according to the Bay Area Council, a business policy group that commissioned the poll.

Even Zoom, the Silicon Valley videoconferencing service that saw its revenue and stock price soar during the pandemic, says most of its employees still prefer to come into the office part of the time. "There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to returning to the office," Kelly Steckelberg, Zoom's chief financial officer, recently wrote  in a blog post. 

But the biggest tech companies, which have profited even more than Zoom as the pandemic that made their products indispensable for many workers, aren't giving employees much choice in the matter. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have made it clear that they want most of their workers together at least a few days each week to maintain their culture and pace of innovation.

That well-worn creed sounds like backward thinking to Ed Zitron, who runs a public relations firm representing technology companies — and which has been fully remote since it launched in 2012.

The only reason to have an office, he says, is to satisfy managers with vested interests in grouping people together "so that they can look at them and feel good about the people that they own ... so that they can enjoy that power."

Switching to hybrid work is ideal for people like Kelly Soderlund, a mother of two young children who works in offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, for travel management company TripActions, which has about 1,200 employees worldwide. She couldn't wait to return when the company partially reopened its offices in June, partly because she missed the built-in buffer that her roughly one-hour commute provided between her personal and professional life.

"When I don't have that, I wake up in the morning, I start doing work and I take my kids to their camp or their daycare," Soderlund says. "And then I come back and I work and then we pick them up, make dinner and then I go back to work. So, it feels like it's just work all the time."

Soderlund believes being together in an office leads to more collaboration, although she also learned from the pandemic that workers don't need to be there every day for teamwork to happen.

Camaraderie and the need to separate work from home are among the top reasons employees at business software maker Adobe Software cite for coming back to the office, said Gloria Chen, chief people officer for one of Silicon Valley's older companies. Working from home "is here to stay, but we also continue to value people coming together," she said.

The transition from the pandemic should enable smaller tech companies to adopt more flexible work-from-home policies that may help them lure away top-notch engineers from other firms more insistent on having people in the office, says Boudreau, the Columbia University scholar.

"Labor markets are relatively tight now, so employees have more bargaining chips than they have had in a while," Boudreau says.
 
Ankur Dahiya, who launched his software startup RunX last year during the pandemic lockdowns, believes that remote work has helped him hire employees that otherwise may not have been candidates. The eight-worker startup rents a San Francisco office one day a week so Dahiya can meet with employees who live nearby, but other employees are in Canada, Nevada, and Oregon. The workers living outside of California have been flying in once every three months for "super productive" meetings and brainstorming, says Dahiya, who has previously worked at Facebook and Twitter.

"I've worked in offices for the last 10 years and I know there's just so much time lost," Dahiya says, recalling all the random conversations, lengthy meetings, aimless wandering, and other disruptions that seem to occur in those settings.

Twilio's Lake is hoping the remote-work experience will transform employee behavior in the office, too, once they come back. She hopes that the remote experience will have given employees a chance to better understand how their teams work.

"I think more than anything it is going to cause us to become more intentional about when, why and how we come together," she says.

MySHOOT Company Profiles