Move for 12% stake by Altice’s Patrick Drahi could be a good thing, though only time will tell
Last modified on Thu 10 Jun 2021 15.44 EDT
A vote of confidence in the company? That’s always a board’s default spin on events when a billionaire buys a large stake, purrs politely about management but is slightly mysterious about his long-term intentions. The pitch is rarely convincing because billionaires are not generally the type to sit back and simply collect a stream of dividends. They tend to want something.
It’s too soon to be confident about the motives behind Patrick Drahi of Altice’s purchase of a 12.1% stake in BT, worth £2bn. But, on this occasion, the non-threatening interpretation may be correct. Or, at least, it looks the most likely line for a while.
For starters, the French-Israeli Drahi must know that a foreign-backed bid for BT (which can’t now happen anyway for six months) would provoke a political storm. The company, committed to spending £15bn on fullfibre broadband rollout in the UK in the next five years, is almost the definition of too-important-to-mess-with. It is probably not a coincidence that every time BT seems engulfed by financial crisis (2009-10 and again last year) the regulatory weather suddenly improves.
The latest outbreak of peace with Ofcom allowed BT to get its longed-for “fair bet” on long-term fast-fibre returns. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, then made life sweeter by creating “super deductions” on infrastructure spending for two years, a tax policy that could almost have been designed with BT in mind.
That points to a second reason to favour the “vote of confidence” theory. If he wished, Drahi could have thrown a large sum at a fibre insurgent – CityFibre, say. But backing BT to remain streets ahead looks a sounder bet than ever if the regulatory set-up remains stable. If the plan to reach 25m premises by the end of 2026 is achieved, the company should emerge with control of about two-thirds of the UK’s fibre infrastructure. And the kit, remember, is meant to last decades.
Drahi, presumably, still wants something. But it may be only a seat on the board (hard to refuse since Deutsche Telekom, with a similar-sized stake, already has one) to give him a voice in any future spinoff of Openreach, the broadband subsidiary. Any tycoon-style craving for immediate excitement may be satisfied just by leveraging the £2bn investment via debt, on which front Altice revealed nothing.
We’ll await events but, on day one, BT’s relaxed view of its new shareholder is reasonable.
David Potts, Morrisons’ chief executive, regarded it as “a badge of honour” that the supermarket chain’s profits halved last year. It was evidence, he said, that “feeding the nation” was the priority during the pandemic. Now Morrisons has a sticker of shame to add to its collection: a 70% vote against its pay report, which is about as big as rebellions come.
Without Covid costs, profits would have risen, argued the remuneration committee, therefore executives should get full bonuses. Kevin Havelock, the chair of the pay committee, called it a sensible use of “discretion”. Most investors, it seems, saw a brazen case of playing fast and loose.
As argued here on Wednesday, sometimes the bosses, even when they have been working overtime, have to take bad profits numbers on the chin. Without the “adjustment”, Potts’s overall pay packet would still have been about £3m, rather than the £4.2m he actually got. It ought to have been enough.
At least Morrisons spared us standard guff about “engaging” with shareholders and instead expressed “sincere regret” that it couldn’t convince the voters. To demonstrate that sincerity, Havelock may care to let somebody else assume bonus-awarding duties. Yes, he was re-elected to the board. And, yes, the pay vote was merely advisory – but 70% is very clear advice.
Hate cryptocurrencies; cool with stablecoins. That’s the gist of the views from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, whose opinion matters because it sets standards for banks in critical areas like capital buffers.
In short, when holding a cryptocurrency such as bitcoin, banks should set aside enough capital to protect themselves against the risk of the asset becoming worthless. By contrast, stablecoins – digital coins that are pegged to a real currency – can be treated more like conventional assets.
The crypto crew may spy an establishment plot to prevent bitcoins from going mainstream, but Basel’s severe line looks justified. Cryptocurrencies have no inherent worth and, in the sweep of financial history, have been around for about five minutes so cannot be considered a permanent store of value. The possibility of a complete crash must exist.
La tecnología se olvida de lo que necesita el 99 por ciento
Ahora la tecnología es masiva, sin embargo, las empresas tecnológicas siguen enfocándose en los nerds que quieren aparatos sofisticados.
Este artículo forma parte del boletín On Tech. Puedes registrarte aquí para recibirlo entre semana.
Pido disculpas por parecer un viejo gruñón. Pero voy a encarnar el papel de Andy Rooney y me quejaré de los aparatos y la tecnología que —por muy buenas intenciones que tengan— parecen olvidarse del ciudadano promedio.
Esta soy yo, la gruñona, que pregunta: ¿para quién está hecha la tecnología? La tecnología ya no solo es para nerds, pero las empresas a menudo actúan como si lo fuera.
Hace unas semanas, Amazon y Apple se enzarzaron en una disputa por los archivos de audio “sin pérdidas”. Yo tampoco sabía lo que eran. Son canciones digitales de alta calidad que la mayoría de la gente no puede distinguir de las versiones normales. Del mismo modo, las nuevas funciones del software de los celulares parecen inteligentes, pero me pregunto cuántas personas las aprovecharán y adaptarán las notificaciones de iMessage para su jefe. Una de las novedades de Apple es para las aproximadamente 18 personas que quieren usar el mismo teclado para controlar un iPad y una Mac al mismo tiempo.
Por favor, no me griten. Sé que algunas personas se preocupan apasionadamente por cosas como esas y tiene sentido que las empresas tecnológicas las atiendan. Además, las empresas mejoran constantemente sus productos de forma que sean relevantes tanto para el uno por ciento de los expertos en tecnología como para el resto.
Sin embargo, no puedo evitar pensar que sería mejor para las empresas tecnológicas, y para nosotros, si enfocaran sus energías y su fuerza de mercadotecnia en lo que les importa al 99 por ciento de las personas que usan la tecnología.
Los teléfonos inteligentes son uno de los productos más masivos de la historia. ¿Qué quiere mucha gente de su teléfono? Un aspecto atractivo, sencillez, mayor duración de la batería, bajo costo del aparato y de la navegación por internet y mayor resistencia a nuestra torpeza.
No obstante, el argumento de mercadotecnia más importante para los teléfonos inteligentes en Estados Unidos ha sido su capacidad para conectarse a las redes de internet celular 5G, a las que la mayoría de los estadounidenses no pueden acceder y podrían no necesitar en absoluto durante mucho tiempo.
Cuando Apple dedique todos sus anuncios de televisión a que sus teléfonos caen en los inodoros, sabrás que la industria está pensando en el 99 por ciento. (Sí, ya sé que muchos teléfonos se han hecho más resistentes al agua, incluidos los chapuzones en el baño).
Me encantó una lista de The Verge en 2019 de todas las cosas que la industria tecnológica asume que todo el mundo sabe, pero la mayoría de los humanos desconoce. La gente normal no sabe cómo funcionan los anuncios que les llegan por Facebook, por qué el Bluetooth es tan defectuoso (o qué es el Bluetooth) o si necesitan comprar almacenamiento adicional en sus teléfonos, como Apple no deja de recordarles.
“Es un recordatorio crucial de un hecho importante que creo que toda la industria tecnológica olvida constantemente”, escribió Nilay Patel en ese artículo de 2019. “La mayoría de la gente no tiene ni idea de cómo funciona realmente nada y ya está irremediablemente confundida por la tecnología que tiene”.
La mayoría de la gente no tiene el tiempo ni el espacio cerebral para preocuparse por algo más que lo básico de usar su teléfono, computadora, televisión u otras necesidades y aplicaciones básicas. Eso está perfectamente bien y es normal. Lo que no está bien es que las empresas más grandes y ricas del planeta a menudo no atiendan esas necesidades.
Las empresas tecnológicas deberían seguir presentando avances de vanguardia. Pero parece que no hay un equilibrio entre lo nuevo y lo que realmente necesita la mayoría de la gente.
Las empresas tecnológicas también deberían dejar de pretender que los seres humanos normales se metan en complejos controles de privacidad. Eso podría significar que los monitores para bebés no deberían venir con contraseñas que los delincuentes puedan encontrar fácilmente en internet y que Amazon no debería convertir automáticamente los aparatos domésticos de la gente en una red de internet compartida.
No tengo una solución sencilla. Quizá las empresas tecnológicas deberían contratar a directores de normalidad para asegurarse de que los aparatos, las aplicaciones y el software sean necesarios y utilizables para el 99 por ciento de la gente.
Es realmente difícil hacer sencillas las cosas y atender las necesidades de millones o miles de millones de personas. El primer paso es recordar que se supone que la tecnología es para todos.
Shira Ovide escribe el boletín On Tech, una guía sobre el modo en el que la tecnología está remodelando nuestras vidas y el mundo. @ShiraOvide
Robots may soon be able to reproduce – will this change how we think about evolution? | Emma Hart
Nature is full of examples of biology adapting to its surroundings. Technology may just be about to catch up
Last modified on Mon 21 Jun 2021 08.48 EDT
From the bottom of the oceans to the skies above us, natural evolution has filled our planet with a vast and diverse array of lifeforms, with approximately 8 million species adapted to their surroundings in a myriad of ways. Yet 100 years after Karel Čapek coined the term robot, the functional abilities of many species still surpass the capabilities of current human engineering, which has yet to convincingly develop methods of producing robots that demonstrate human-level intelligence, move and operate seamlessly in challenging environments, and are capable of robust self-reproduction.
But could robots ever reproduce? This, undoubtedly, forms a pillar of “life” as shared by all natural organisms. A team of researchers from the UK and the Netherlands have recently demonstrated a fully automated technology to allow physical robots to repeatedly breed, evolving their artificial genetic code over time to better adapt to their environment. Arguably, this amounts to artificial evolution. Child robots are created by mixing the digital “DNA” from two parent robots on a computer.
The new design is first sent to a 3D printer that fabricates the body of the robot, then a robotic arm attaches a “brain” loaded with control software inherited from the parents, along with any new components, such as sensors, wheels or joints, selected by this “evolutionary” process. A digital replica of every new robot is also created in a computer simulation. This enables a novel type of evolution: new generations can be produced from a union of the most successful traits from a virtual “mother” and a physical “father”, combining the benefits of fast but potentially unrealistic simulated evolution with the more accurate assessment of robots in a real physical environment. The new robots therefore inherit traits that represent the best of both types of evolution.
While this technology can operate without a human in the loop, it also allows for collaboration with a human “breeder”: just as humans have been selectively breeding crops since the dawn of farming, the robot breeder could influence selection of robots with particular traits. One might even imagine breeding farms, producing robots adapted to specific conditions and user requirements. They might be bred for qualities such as battery life or carbon footprint, just as we breed plants for drought-resistance or taste.
Such farms should be subject to the same strict controls and ethical considerations as, say, breeding of genetically modified crops, for example enabling an entire facility to be shut down at the touch of a button, or limiting supplies of raw materials. Furthermore, it is also important to consider the possibility that evolution might result in robots exhibiting malicious or harmful behaviours and put appropriate preventive measures in place.
The idea of digital evolution – imitating biological evolution in software to successively breed better and better solutions to a problem over time – is not new. It can be traced back to the 1960s when engineers in Germany programmed a computer to evolve the optimal design of a jointed plate subject to turbulent airflow. Since then, “evolutionary algorithms” operating inside a computer have been used to design everything from tables to turbine blades, by simply telling the evolutionary process what metric it should seek to optimise (for example, the power generated by the turbine blade). In 2006, Nasa sent a satellite into space with a communication antenna designed by artificial evolution.
We are now at a breakthrough moment. While scientists have always been confident that digital evolution could be effective as an optimisation tool, its creativity in producing original and unusual designs that would not have been conceived by a human has been more surprising. The creativity of biological evolution is clearly apparent in the natural world. In the Cuban rainforest, vines have evolved leaves shaped like satellite dishes that amplify the signals propagated by echolocating bats to direct them to its flowers, increasing pollination. In the freezing Southern Ocean, fish manufacture their own “anti-freeze” proteins to survive.
But numerous examples of creativity in digital evolution have also been observed. Asked to find behaviours for a six-legged robot that would enable it to walk even if it had been damaged, digital evolution discovered multiple ways of walking that used only subsets of the legs, even discovering a way for the robot to move if all its legs had been snapped off, by shuffling along on its back. In another case, it evolved an electronic circuit on a chip where elements of the circuit were disconnected, exploiting electromagnetic coupling effects specific to flaws in the silicon on the actual chip.
Digital evolution now finds application in avenues that we might imagine to be uniquely human, for example in creating music and art (even winning an award in a University of Wyoming art competition where judges were unaware the winning picture was created by an algorithm). While this may sound to the uninitiated like artificial intelligence, digital evolution is a specific subset of that wider field.
The idea of harnessing evolution to design robots is particularly appealing, especially in cases where humans have little knowledge of the environment the robot should operate in – for example, undersea mining, clean-up of legacy waste inside a nuclear reactor, or using nano robots to deliver drugs inside the human body. Unlike natural evolution which is driven simply by the goals of “survival and reproduction”, artificial evolution can be driven by specific targets. Once this evolutionary process is set in chain, and with the technology outlined above, of a computer system instructing a 3D printer to create improved models of the robots for these particular environments, we have the beginnings of a theoretical framework for a self-sustaining robot population that is able to reproduce itself, and “evolve” without too much input from humans.
Which isn’t to say that humans would be redundant. Digital evolution will probably be a collaborative process between human and machine, with humans providing descriptions of what is desired while evolution provides the how. So for example a human might demand an “energy-efficient robot made from sustainable materials to move heavy waste inside a reactor”, leaving evolution to figure out how this can be achieved. Advances in manufacturing technology that facilitate automated and rapid prototyping in a range of materials including flexible soft plastics have played an important role in enhancing our ability to replicate evolution on practical timescales.
If this all might seem to border on science fiction, there is a serious point. Robots clearly have a role to play in our future, whether in revolutionising healthcare or undertaking tasks too dangerous for humans. We are rapidly using up stores of raw materials on our planet, and current manufacturing processes increase carbon emissions and create serious problems with waste disposal. Perhaps the creativity of evolutionary methods will enable the design of new types of robot, unfettered by the constraints that our understanding of engineering, physics and materials science impose on current design processes.
From another perspective, until we discover extraterrestrial life, biologists have only one “system” on which to study evolution. Just as the Large Hadron Collider provides us with an instrument to study the intricacies of particle physics, perhaps a reproducing system of robots provides a new instrument to study fundamental questions about life itself.
Emma Hart is a professor in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University and a member of the Autonomous Robot Evolution: Cradle to Grave project at the University of York
Amazon’s Open Secret
The persistence of bogus reviews raises big questions for Amazon.
This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
This week, Amazon acknowledged reality: It has a problem with bogus reviews.
The trouble is that Amazon pointed blame at almost everyone involved in untrustworthy ratings, and not nearly enough at the company itself. Amazon criticized Facebook, but it didn’t recognize that the two companies share an underlying problem that risks eroding people’s confidence in their services: an inability to effectively police their sprawling websites.
Learning from the masses is a promise of the digital age that hasn’t panned out. It can be wonderful to evaluate others’ feedback before we buy a product, book a hotel or see a doctor. But it’s so common and lucrative for companies and services to pay for or otherwise manipulate ratings on all sorts of websites that it’s hard to trust anything we see.
The persistence of bogus reviews raises two big questions for Amazon: How much attention does it really devote to stopping bogus customer feedback? And would shoppers be better off if Amazon re-evaluated its essence as an (almost) anything-goes online bazaar?
Amazon’s rules prohibit companies from offering people money or other incentives for reviews. Amazon says that it catches most bogus ratings and works to stay ahead of rule breakers. Still, the global industry of review fraud operates actively on Amazon and everyone knows it.
Amazon seems to have been prodded by the Federal Trade Commission, according to Vox’s Recode publication, and by journalists into taking some action to crack down on manipulated ratings.
After a Wall Street Journal columnist wrote this week about buying a RAVPower electrical charger that came with a postcard offering a $35 gift card in exchange for a review, the vendor said on Thursday that it had been banned from Amazon. (The statement is in Chinese, and I read it via Google Translate.) That followed bans on several other large sellers that appeared to have been buying reviews for years.
If government lawyers and newspaper columnists spot sellers openly manipulating reviews, how hard is the company looking for them?
Maybe you’re thinking that this is just how the world works: Caveat emptor. When I read ratings of products on Amazon or of physicians on Zocdoc, the feedback is helpful but I take it with a grain of salt.
But unfortunately lots of people are harmed by bogus reviews, and they’re not always easy for us to spot. The Washington Post recently wrote about a family fooled by bought-off Google ratings for an alcohol addiction treatment center. I wrote last year about research that found that Amazon catches many bought-off reviews, but only months later and after shoppers showed signs of feeling misled into buying a product.
I wish that Amazon would take more responsibility for the problem. In its statement this week, the company blamed social media companies and poor enforcement by regulators for bogus reviews. Amazon has a point. Fraudulent online ratings are a big business with many enablers. Facebook and China’s WeChat app don’t do enough about forums where companies coordinate review manipulation.
But Amazon didn’t say much about what it could do differently. For example, the University of California researchers I spoke with last fall found that bought-off reviews were far more common among Chinese vendors and for products for which there were many vendors selling a nearly identical product. Maybe that means that Amazon should more closely police sellers based in China? Or that it would be helpful to cap the number of sellers that list the same bathroom caddy?
Strong reviews also help sellers appear prominently when we search for products on Amazon, which creates a huge financial incentive to cheat. Should Amazon reconsider how it accounts for ratings in search results? The company didn’t say.
Most of all, it’s disappointing that Amazon doesn’t acknowledge that bogus reviews are a consequence of its choice to opt for quantity over quality.
People can buy almost anything on Amazon and from almost any seller. That can be great for shoppers, but it comes with trade-offs. Being an everything store — and one that tries to operate with as little human intervention as possible — makes it harder for Amazon to root out fake or dangerous products and bought-off reviews.
No more “speed filter.” NPR reports that Snapchat will phase out an app feature that lets people record and share how fast they’re driving. Road safety advocates say that the feature for years has encouraged young people to drive recklessly to get bragging rights.
Using WhatsApp to bust myths: During the pandemic, government health care workers in rural India have been using WhatsApp to counter misinformation about the virus, The Verge reports. It takes a lot of time for health care workers to fact check information on the app, but the online messages as well as in-person conversations seem to be keeping many people safe.
LOOK AT THE GIANT BUNNY: My colleague Amanda Hess spoke with people who post online videos of their numerous and exotic animals. The niche called Pet Tube caters to our love for sight gags like a pile of snakes slithering on a piano, but these people also love animals — “even potentially revolting swarms of animals,” Amanda wrote.
A baby seal tests out the water. The little one shifts from uncertain to glee in a flash.
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here. You can also read past On Tech columns.
Tom Hanks ruined my life! – podcasts of the week
Meet the man trying to pick up the pieces after being brutally fired by Hanks. Plus: an extraordinary investigation into sinister goings on at the British military training camp
Last modified on Fri 18 Jun 2021 01.02 EDT
The second season of this bingeable podcast opens with Bridget (Carrie Coon) caught up in even more chaos since the pandemic hit. Her Tesla has been hacked and there’s a confrontation over face masks as she waits for her takeaway. One screech of the tyres later and she’s caught up in another unwanted adventure, just when she’s supposed to be lying low. Bridget is on a mission to save her friend, but she collects a few new enemies along the way. Tavi Gevinson and Lucas Hedges also star. HV
Death at Deepcut
This troubling new seven-part series from Audible scrutinises allegations of bullying, sexual harassment, beatings and perhaps more sinister events besides at the British military training camp. Investigative journalist Jane MacSorley and retired police detective Collin Sutton interview those who say they suffered distress at the camp, before considering the deaths of four trainee soldiers between 1995 and 2002, concluded as suicides at the time. It’s rigorously reported, if an often difficult listen. HJD
Chosen by Noah Payne-Frank
Twenty years ago, actor and comedian Connor Ratliff was fired from the TV show Band of Brothers by Tom Hanks for having “dead eyes.” It was a very minor role, it was the day before shooting and he was exposed to the indignity of having to re-audition in front of Hanks for a part he had already told his friends and family he was playing, before being ushered out and let go.
Ratliff was completely blindsided by the experience – what should have been his big break sent him into the wilderness for years, his confidence crushed. But with wonderful irony, he’s turned it into what might become a career-defining work – an investigation into ego and self-esteem, memory and perception, about having to settle for a less successful life than you dreamed of, and how the things we say to others can have a far greater impact than we could imagine.
One of the pleasures as the series progresses is the growing ensemble of actors and directors willing to share their painful moments of rejection. The storytelling is good, there are plenty of laughs and even though we’re talking about Hollywood, it’s all quite relatable. As Ratliff says: “It wasn’t personal, it was business. Showbusiness. But I took it personally, because I’m a person.”
Sivananda Yoga is one the world’s most revered yoga schools … but after reading a deeply disturbing Facebook post by one of its former devotees, Ishleen Kaur stopped teaching for them and starting investigating them for five decades of alleged abuse. In Guru, released weekly on BBC Sounds, Kaur listens as women confide their stories of horrific abuse, coercion and rape to her.
Why not try: Comfort Eating with Grace Dent | Brain Cigar | Zombiemum
If you have any questions or comments about Hear Here or any of our newsletters please email email@example.com
No, there is no evidence that the F.B.I. organized the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Influential conservative voices have spread an unfounded theory, relying on a misinterpretation of legal terminology, that the F.B.I. organized the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol.
The Fox News host Tucker Carlson, citing the work of the right-wing website Revolver News, speculated about the government’s involvement on his show on Tuesday. Clips of Mr. Carlson’s argument have circulated widely on social media this week, accumulating millions of views and getting shared by Republican members of Congress like Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
“Strangely, some people who participated in the riot haven’t been charged,” Mr. Carlson said. “Look at the documents. The government calls these people ‘unindicted co-conspirators.’ What does that mean? It means that in potentially every case, they’re F.B.I. operatives.”
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. But legal experts said this speculation was illogical and far-fetched. Conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. An undercover federal agent or informant cannot be counted as a conspirator because those operatives do not actually intend to carry out the crime, the Congressional Research Service — the nonpartisan research agency for Congress — explains.
Jesse Norris, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia who spent several years researching incidents of entrapment in terrorism prosecutions, said he had never come across a case where an F.B.I. informant was referred to as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”
“Legally, it wouldn’t make sense to call informants co-conspirators,” he said. “If they were authorized by the F.B.I. to participate in the conspiracy then they wouldn’t actually be conspirators, because they didn’t have the intent to commit a crime. Instead, they were pretending to commit a crime on the government’s behalf to catch real criminals.”
Ira P. Robbins, a law professor at American University who has written about unindicted co-conspirators, said calling an informant a co-conspirator would make no sense unless an F.B.I. agent had gone rogue.
“Even if that were true, to say that it’s true in one case so it’s true in every case — where’s the evidence?” he said. “Where are the facts?”
There are several reasons the government refers to someone as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The co-conspirator may have cooperated with law enforcement and received a deal, or there may be insufficient evidence to bring charges against the individual.
In fact, it is the Justice Department’s policy to not name unindicted co-conspirators “in the absence of some significant justification.” (Former President Richard Nixon was famously named as an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury in the Watergate case, while former President Donald J. Trump was effectively labeled one in a campaign finance violations case.)
Mr. Carlson pointed to the indictment of Thomas Edward Caldwell, a 65-year-old Virginia resident whom charging documents described as an apparent leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group. Mr. Carlson claimed that unnamed persons mentioned in his indictment were “almost certainly working for the F.B.I.”
The indictment does mention multiple unnamed people. One of them — “Person 1” — is described in the charging documents as the leader of the Oath Keepers, widely known to be Stewart Rhodes. But there is no evidence Mr. Rhodes is an F.B.I. informant.
The charging documents describe “Person 2” taking selfies with Mr. Caldwell together at the Capitol. As the Washington Post reported, that person may refer to Mr. Caldwell’s wife. Mr. Caldwell posted a photo of himself and his wife at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Mr. Carlson also noted that a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan last year involved F.B.I. operatives. That is true. But the operatives are not listed as “unindicted co-conspirators.” Rather, the criminal complaint refers to “confidential human sources” and “undercover employees.”
Similarly, in the Capitol riot cases, F.B.I. informants were described as “confidential source,” “confidential human source” or simply “informant,” while agents were described as “acting in an undercover capacity.”
And Mr. Carlson cited potential entrapment cases in terrorism prosecutions documented in the book “The Terror Factory” by the journalist Trevor Aaronson, adding, “That’s what we’re seeing now.”
This, too, is unlikely, experts said. In a recent study, Dr. Norris found that “right-wing cases have significantly fewer entrapment indicators” than those involving left-wing or jihadist terrorism cases.
“Not all undercover operations involve entrapment; probably, most do not,” Dr. Norris said.
Professor Robbins said that if F.B.I. agents were heavily involved in planning the attack, it would count as entrapment. But he said he was unaware of any Capitol riot participants raising entrapment as a defense.
“Tucker Carlson takes a great leap of faith here when he says that F.B.I. agents were involved, therefore they were operatives therefore they organized it,” he said. “There’s just no evidence of that.”
On my radar: Anne Enright’s cultural highlights
The Booker prize-winning author on Mare of Easttown, her favourite lockdown park and the fearsome power of folk music
Born in Dublin in 1962, Anne Enright studied English and philosophy at Trinity College Dublin and received an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Formerly an RTE television producer, she has written two collections of stories, published together as Yesterday’s Weather, one book of essays and seven novels, including the 2007 Booker prize-winning The Gathering and The Forgotten Waltz, which was awarded the Andrew Carnegie medal for excellence in fiction. In 2015, she was named the inaugural laureate for Irish fiction. Her latest novel, Actress, published by Vintage, is out in paperback now.
Killiney Hill, near Dublin
This is my local lockdown park and it has been a kind of privilege to walk the same woodland path through the changing seasons. It turned into a series of anticipations. From first growth through to the blackening rust of autumn, each week was a peak for some absurdly beautiful effect – and you might miss it somehow. You might come just after the first spring leaves, you might miss the best autumn display. And of course you don’t miss anything – the woodland is always just what it is. Now, the gorse is finished but the hawthorn is out, a blossom whose scent makes me feel a little drunk. Next week, something new.
Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic)
I was not convinced by the first few minutes of Mare of Easttown, which looked like another humourless procedural shot in the goddamn dark, but there was something so utter about Kate Winslet’s joylessness, I could not click away. It took me a while to see the thin east coast light and the texture of ordinary lives coming through. Winslet is a miracle of containment. This isn’t like watching a performance, it is like watching a woman take herself back from all the ideas we might have about her. Mare is a slow and splendid “fuck you”.
I can’t believe how much live music I casually missed in my old life, because there would always be another gig coming along. I have never seen Lankum live, for example, which is now a top regret. They are steeped in tradition and completely contemporary. Their work is a reminder that folk music is not about twinkly-eyed peasants tapping the foot – this is fearsome stuff, it is the music of dispossession and of dissent. But you can also tap along if you like. Which, when the world comes right again, I intend to do.
The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac by Louise Kennedy
I don’t want to spook the talent and Louise Kennedy may be well spooked by the enthusiasm and praise that have been lavished on her debut book of short stories (no pressure, Louise!). But there is much to celebrate when someone catches a moment, when their prose brings something both new and recognisable to the page. Kennedy has presence and that presence has been enlivening various small publications for some years now, so it is terrific to see her at full stretch in this collection. This writer does not stint.
Brain, Mind and the Narrative Imagination by Christopher Comer and Ashley Taggart (2021)
This is a recent look by a neurologist and a literary theorist at how stories happen in the brain. You can think about thinking all you like, you can be conscious of your consciousness, or imagine what it is to imagine things, but there is nothing like an MRI scan to take you out of yourself. This hybrid volume is clear enough to be used as an overview of the issues, both philosophical and scientific, as it moves carefully through the territory of the human imagination to ask the question: “Why does a good story blow your mind?”
This spring, I couldn’t stop looking at the baby fern fronds unfurling on the hill. Back home, on the internet, their wonderful symmetries starred in various YouTube discussions of fractals and Fibonacci numbers, but the curls within curls also reminded me of a bishop’s crozier and suddenly I was scrolling through various kinds of foliage in medieval manuscripts. And what a wealth of vellum there is, online. The internet is a terrible distraction but, sometimes, there is a kind of mystical, over-connected quality to it all that floats me through the day. If you don’t believe me, Google ferns.
Inside the ‘Deadly Serious’ World of E-Sports in South Korea
Each year, thousands of young South Koreans compete to join pro e-sports teams, but only a few make the cut. An American company in Seoul wants to help more young gamers find jobs.
A class at Gen.G Elite Esports Academy in Seoul.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
SEOUL — The students ate lunch in silence before gathering in a dimly lit room packed with high-powered computers. There, coaches helped them learn to outmaneuver opponents in a digital fantasy world fraught with ambushes and monsters. School was over by 5 p.m., but individual practice continued well into the night — all in a hard day’s work for the students at one of South Korea’s many e-sports academies.
“I sleep only three or four hours a day,” said Kim Min-soo, 17, a student who wore a brace around his right hand to lessen the pain from so much gaming. “But I want to become a star. I dream of an e-sports arena packed with fans all rooting for me.”
Students like Min-soo have brought the same intense competitive energy often associated with South Korean education to their training at e-sports academies. South Korea is considered a birthplace of e-sports, but the highly selective multibillion-dollar industry is still frowned upon by many in the country. The academies have worked to change that image and give thousands of young people a chance to pursue careers in a place where gaming has long been seen as a way of life.
“In South Korea, players must do homework on their game before playing it, because if they disrupt the efficiency of their team, they can be expelled,” said Jeon Dong-jin, Korea head of the American video game developer Blizzard Entertainment, during a recent forum in Seoul. “South Korean gamers are deadly serious.”
Online gaming took off sooner and faster in South Korea than anywhere else in the world. When the country began introducing high-speed internet in the late 1990s, it saw the proliferation of 24-hour gaming cafes called PC bangs.
These dark, often underground parlors became hotbeds for gaming culture, eventually hosting informal tournaments. By 2000, South Korean cable channels were the first in the world to broadcast online gaming competitions.
E-sports is now the fifth-most popular future job among South Korean students, after athletes, doctors, teachers and digital content creators, according to a survey by the Education Ministry last year. It will soon be a part of the Asian Games in 2022.
Top players like Lee Sang-hyeok, who goes by the gaming name Faker, earn as much fame and fortune as K-pop idols. Millions watch them play over livestream. Before the pandemic, fans packed into e-sports arenas that looked like a cross between a rock concert and pro-wrestling stadium.
The allure can be hard to resist. Parents have dragged children to counseling for gaming addiction or to rehabilitation boot camps. When conscientious objectors ask to be exempted from South Korea’s mandatory military service, officials will investigate whether they play online games involving guns and violence.
Grades fall. Sometimes students drop out of school to spend more time gaming. Yet precious few will get the chance to make it big.
The 10 franchised professional e-sports teams in South Korea competing in League of Legends, the most popular game here, hire only 200 players total. Those who do not make the cut have few alternatives.
Lacking good grades — and often high school diplomas — gamers will find themselves with limited job prospects. And unlike some American universities, South Korean schools do not offer admission based on e-sports skills.
When Gen.G, a California-based e-sports company, opened its Gen.G Elite Esports Academy in Seoul in 2019, it wanted to address some of those challenges because “this is where most of the talent is,” said Joseph Baek, program director at the Gen.G academy. “South Korea is still considered the mecca of e-sports.”
The school trains young South Koreans and other students on how to turn pro and helps gaming buffs find opportunities as streamers, marketers and data analysts. Together with the educational company Elite Open School, it opened an English-only program that offers students a chance to earn an American high school diploma so they can apply to universities in the United States on e-sports scholarships.
On a recent morning, the sleep-deprived teenagers filed into Elite Open School wearing masks and branded T-shirts and hoodies. Divided into classrooms named after American universities like Columbia, M.I.T. and Duke, they studied English, American history and other required subjects. Some commuted two hours each morning to school.
“My challenge is how to keep them awake and engaged during class,” said Sam Suh, an English teacher.
The real work began in the afternoon, when two buses carried the young gamers to a modest concrete building in a residential area for another intense training session at the Gen.G academy.
Anthony Bazire, a 22-year-old former Gen.G academy student from France, said he had chosen South Korea as his training ground because he knew the country had some of the best players. Today, top prize winners in League of Legends, Overwatch and StarCraft II are mostly South Koreans.
“When you see people working hard, it pushes you to work hard,” he said.
The Gen.G program, the first of its kind in South Korea, has even helped some students convince their parents that they made a smart career move.
In 2019, his second year in high school, Kim Hyeon-yeong played League of Legends for 10 hours a day. His skills improved as he romped his way through the digital fantasy world. That summer, he decided to become a pro e-sports player, and quit school.
“My parents were totally against it,” said Mr. Kim, 19. “I told them that I would have no regrets, because this was the one thing I wanted to try in my life, throwing in everything I got.”
His mother, Lee Ji-eun, 46, was so distressed that she lay in bed moaning. Ms. Lee eventually decided to support her son after he asked her one day: “Mom, what dream did you have when you were my age? Have you lived that dream?”
Mr. Kim researched the Gen.G program, which costs $25,000 a year, and led his mother to the academy to convince her that he could find success as an e-sports professional. He cleared a big hurdle to his dream this year by winning admission, based on his online game skills, into the University of Kentucky.
Mr. Bazire, the French gamer, joined Gen.G’s League of Legends team as a trainee player in March. He and other trainees receive modest salaries along with food and lodging at a shared apartment in Seoul. They practice up to 18 hours a day, 60 to 70 percent more than players he knew in France, he said.
But becoming a trainee is little more than securing a toehold. Trainees must climb fast through the second division to the main league, where professional League of Legends players are paid an average salary of $200,000 a year, and prize money and sponsorship deals.
With younger and nimbler talents catching up constantly, the careers of most e-sports athletes in South Korea end before they turn 26, around the time when Korean men in their late 20s feel pressure to begin their mandatory military service.
Min-soo, the student who dreams of becoming an e-sports star, first felt the electrifying vibe of an e-sports arena when he was in middle school. Since 2019, he has woken up at 6 a.m. every day, taking a two-hour bus and subway ride to the Gen.G academy. He returns home at 11:30 p.m. and then practices more, seldom going to bed before 3 a.m.
This year, he was finally considered good enough to start taking tests to become a trainee on a pro team.
“It’s a hard and lonely life, because you have to give up everything else, like friends,” he said. “But I am happiest because I am doing what I enjoy the most.”
ByteDance revenues more than double on back of TikTok boom
Owner of video-sharing app also reports a 93% increase in gross profit to $19bn in 2020
Last modified on Fri 18 Jun 2021 06.55 EDT
ByteDance, the Chinese parent of TikTok, more than doubled its revenues last year as usage of the hugely popular video app boomed.
The company, which last year weathered pressure from Donald Trump to sell its US operation as part of a trade war with China, reported a 111% increase in revenues to $34.3bn (£24.7bn).
ByteDance also reported a 93% increase in gross profit to $19bn, according to an internal memo released to staff.
There has been stratospheric growth in user numbers for ByteDance since TikTok launched worldwide only four years ago, hitting 1.9 billion active monthly users at the end of last year. This includes the Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, and products such as the news aggregation app Toutiao.
TikTok has proved to be a social media juggernaut, drawing hundreds of millions of users, most of whom are in the advertiser hotspot of 12 to 24 years old, to short videos from creators including the singer Doja Cat, the social media personality Charli D’Amelio and the illusionist Zach King.
Overall, ByteDance reported a net loss of $45bn last year. The company attributed this to a one-off accounting adjustment, and not operational performance. The operating loss was $2.1bn, compared with $684m in profit in 2019, and was mainly down to the cost of share-based compensation for shareholders.
The rapid growth of the company, which is Beijing-based and privately owned, has led to analysts estimating its value at up to $100bn.
The company recently hired the former Xiaomi executive Shou Zi Chew to be its new financial officer, adding to speculation that it may be considering an initial public offering.
The Trump administration branded ByteDance a national security threat and said it could shut down its US operation if it was not sold to a buyer. Suitors including Microsoft and Oracle emerged but the change in administration at the White House put an end to Trump’s plans.
Joe Biden subsequently revoked Trump’s executive order to ban TikTok and the Chinese app WeChat in the US. The order had been mired in legal challenges.
However, on Thursday it was reported that Biden signed an executive order earlier this month that would force some Chinese apps to take tougher measures to protect user data if they want to continue to operate in the US.
In May, ByteDance announced the chief executive and co-founder Zhang Yiming would step down into a new role by the end of the year. He is being succeeded by the fellow co-founder Rubo Liang.
Sanders signals openness to adjusting SALT cap
Dr. Fauci and the Mask Disaster
UK politics: Gove rules out second Scottish independence referendum until 2024 – live
World's richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam
How Travel Will Change Post-Pandemic: 10 Expert Predictions
North Carolina officials reject Trump call to vote by mail and in person
Health5 days ago
The Maldives Lured Tourists Back. Now It Needs Nurses.
Sports7 days ago
Chris Paul Out Indefinitely Because of Coronavirus Protocols
Tech7 days ago
What Data About You Can the Government Get From Big Tech?
Entertainment4 days ago
Cop Under Investigation After Video Shows Him Kicking Suspect in Head
Politics6 days ago
Who’s Afraid of Big Numbers?
Politics7 days ago
Ben Jennings on Joe Biden and Boris Johnson meeting at G7 – cartoon
Health7 days ago
Richard R. Ernst, Nobelist Who Paved Way for M.R.I., Dies at 87
Politics3 days ago
Bill Maher Diagnoses Liberal 'Progressophobia'