Microsoft said profits climbed in the past quarter on its cloud and business services as the U.S. technology giant saw its market value close in on the trillion-dollar mark.
Profits in the quarter to March 31 rose 19 percent to $8.8 billion on revenues of $30.8 billion, an increase of 14 percent from the same period a year earlier.
Microsoft shares gained some 3% in after-hours trade, pushing it closer to $1 trillion in value.
It ended the session Wednesday with a market valuation of some $960 million, just behind Apple but ahead of Amazon.
In the fiscal third quarter, Microsoft showed its reliance on cloud computing and other business services which now drive its earnings, in contrast to its earlier days when it focused on consumer PC software.
“Leading organizations of every size in every industry trust the Microsoft cloud,” chief executive Satya Nadella said in a statement.
Commercial cloud revenue rose 41% from a year ago to $9.6 billion, which now makes up nearly a third of sales, Microsoft said.
Some $10.2 billion in revenue came from the “productivity and business services” unit which includes its Office software suite for both consumers and enterprises, and the LinkedIn professional social network.
The “more personal computing” unit which includes its Windows software, Surface devices and gaming operations generated $10.6 billion in the quarter.
China urges UK to ignore pressure over Huawei 5G decision
China’s ambassador to the UK has urged the government to ignore external pressure over a politically and diplomatically charged decision to involve the Chinese firm Huawei in building the 5G communications network.
In China’s first official comments on the row, Beijing’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, urged the UK to make the “right decision independently” over the suppliers for the new network.
Huawei is at the centre of a Whitehall leak inquiry after details emerged of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting during which Theresa May approved giving Huawei a limited role supplying the 5G system.
Some senior cabinet ministers, now suspected of leaking the decision, were reportedly opposed to the move, a stance backed by security chiefs and the UK’s closest allies. The Trump administration is expected to urge the government to reconsider the decision.
The US and Australia have blocked Huawei from work on their own networks because of security concerns, some of which were reportedly raised by cabinet ministers at the NSC meeting about the firm’s involvement.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Liu did not name the US, but the article was clearly aimed at urging the UK to resist pressure from Washington. He wrote: “Countries of global influence, like the UK, make decisions independently and in accordance with their national interests.
“When it comes to the establishment of the new 5G network, the UK is in the position to do the same again by resisting pressure, working to avoid interruptions and making the right decision independently based on its national interests and in line with its need for long-term development.”
Liu urged the UK to resist “protectionism” and added: “The last thing China expects from a truly open and fair ‘global Britain’ is a playing field that is not level.”
He said security concerns around the development of 5G were understandable because it was a new technology and “is not perfect”.
“The risks should be taken seriously but risks must not be allowed to incite fear. They can be managed, provided countries and companies work together,” he wrote.
“Huawei has had a good track record on security over the years, having taken the initiative to invest in a Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, which employs an all-British monitoring team. The company has been working hard to improve its technology and to enhance the security and reliability of its equipment.”
Six Conservative MPs, including Bob Seely, a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, have written to the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, with their concerns.
The letter said: “Having China anywhere near our communications systems poses structural risks about the level of Chinese influence in our society. Chinese law demands that Chinese firms work with the Chinese secret services.”
Responding to Liu’s article, Seely tweeted that China had “a bad record on hacking, IP theft and arguably using big data and AI against its own people”.
The manner in which details of the NSC discussion were leaked has prompted a major inquiry.
Members of the cabinet were expected to be summoned for interviews as part of the formal inquiry headed by the cabinet secretary and national security adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill.
Ministers and aides were reportedly issued questionnaires requiring them to explain where they were in the hours following Tuesday’s NSC meeting.
They were also said to have been asked to provide details of all mobile phones in their possession and whether they spoke to the Telegraph, which carried the original report about the Huawei decision.
Much of the attention has focused on five ministers who were said to have voiced objections to the Huawei decision – the home secretary, Sajid Javid; the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt; the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson; the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, and the international trade secretary, Liam Fox.
Humans make safer user profiles than AI: Study
People trust human-generated profiles more than artificial intelligence-generated profiles, particularly in online marketplaces, reveals a study in which researchers sought to explore whether users trust algorithmically optimised or generated representations.
The research team conducted three experiments, particularly in online marketplaces, enlisting hundreds of participants on Amazon Mechanical Turk to evaluate real, human-generated Airbnb profiles.
When researchers informed them that they were viewing either all human-generated or all AI-generated profiles, participants didn’t seem to trust one more than the other. They rated the human- and AI-generated profiles about the same.
That changed when participants were informed they were viewing a mixed set of profiles. Left to decide whether the profiles they read were written by a human or an algorithm, users distrusted the ones they believed to be machine-generated.
“Participants were looking for cues that felt mechanical versus language that felt more human and emotional,” said Maurice Jakesch, a doctoral student in information science at Cornell Tech in America.
‘AI holds potential of democratising, enabling creativity for all’, says Adobe’s Shanmugh Natarajan
“The more participants believed a profile was AI-generated, the less they tended to trust the host, even though the profiles they rated were written by the actual hosts,” said a researcher.
“We’re beginning to see the first instances of artificial intelligence operating as a mediator between humans, but it’s a question of: ‘Do people want that?”
The research team from Cornell University and Stanford University found that if everyone uses algorithmically-generated profiles, users trust them. But if only some hosts choose to delegate writing responsibilities to artificial intelligence, they are likely to be distrusted.
ALSO READ: Researchers build new AI that could replace sushi chefs
As AI becomes more commonplace and powerful, foundational guidelines, ethics and practice become vital.
The study also suggests there are ways to design AI communication tools that improve trust for human users. “Design and policy guidelines and norms for using AI-mediated communication is worth exploring now”, said Jakesch.
Google Employees Who Organized Mass Walkout Say They’re Being Retaliated Against
On Nov. 1, 2018, thousands of Google employees around the world staged a walkout, sparked by outrage that the tech giant quietly handed out massive golden parachutes to executives accused of serious sexual harassment allegations.
Now, two of the employees who helped organize the protest say Google is retaliating against them ― and other activists ― for their roles in the walkout.
Google employees Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton made the allegations in a letter sent to co-workers on Monday. Whittaker says Google dramatically changed her role at the company after the rally by disbanding an artificial intelligence ethics council she co-founded. And despite years of high performance reviews, Stapleton was demoted and told to take leave.
After Wired magazine published a copy of the letter, Whittaker reinforced her core message on Twitter.
“Google’s retaliation isn’t about me, or Claire Stapleton,” she wrote. “It’s about silencing dissent & making us more afraid to speak honestly about tech & power. NOT OK. Now more than ever, it’s time to speak up.”
In an email to HuffPost, Google denied any sort of retaliation had taken place, casting the work reassignments as a normal occurrence in a constantly shifting industry.
“We prohibit retaliation in the workplace, and investigate all allegations,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”
Here’s the full internal post, as relayed by Wired:
Google is retaliating against several organizers.
We are among them and here is what’s happening to us:
Just after Google announced that it would disband its AI ethics council, I was informed my role would be changed dramatically. I’m told that to remain at the company I will have to abandon my work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute, which I cofounded, and which has been doing rigorous and recognized work on these topics. I have worked on issues of AI ethics and bias for years, and am one of the people who helped shape the field looking at these problems. I have also taken risks to push for a more ethical Google, even when this is less profitable or convenient.
After five years as a high performer in YouTube Marketing (and almost twelve at Google), two months after the Walkout, I was told that I would be demoted, that I’d lose half my reports, and that a project that was approved was no longer on the table. I escalated to HR and to my VP, which made things significantly worse. My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick. Only after I hired a lawyer and had her contact Google did management conduct an investigation and walked back my demotion, at least on paper. While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.
Our stories aren’t the only ones. Google has a culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities. Retaliation isn’t always obvious. It’s often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions. Behavior that tells someone the problem isn’t that they stood up to the company, it’s that they’re not good enough and don’t belong.
During the Walkout, we collected 350 stories. Reading them, a sad pattern emerges: People who stand up and report discrimination, abuse, and unethical conduct are punished, sidelined, and pushed out. Perpetrators often go unimpeded, or are even rewarded (Andy, Amit, “I reported, he got promoted”).
By punishing those who resist discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making. Google permits these behaviors. This harms people inside the company, and communities outside who bear the brunt of Google’s bad choices. If we want to stop discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making, we need to end retaliation against the people who speak honestly about these problems.
We need to push back. Here are some next steps:
1. We will be hosting a Retaliation Town Hall to share our stories and strategize. When: Friday, April 26, 11am PT/2pm ET. Add the event to your calendar here. The message included an internal link to a livestream of the meeting.
2. If you’ve been retaliated against, please share your story. (If you shared your story with the Walkout form, feel free to reshare and help keep everything in one place.) The more we share with each other, the easier it will be to push back. Add yours.
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