Trump promotes Michael Kratsios to US Chief Technology Officer

More than two years into the Trump administration, the long vacant post of U.S. Chief Technology Officer will be filled. Bloomberg first reported that today Trump is elevating Michael Kratsios, current deputy U.S. CTO, to the nation’s top tech position. Prior to his experience within the Trump administration, Kratsios served as chief of staff at Peter Thiel’s investment firm Thiel Capital and as chief financial officer at another Thiel project, the hedge fund Clarium Capital.

The U.S. CTO role was created during the Obama years and three CTOs have served to date, the last of which was former Googler Megan Smith, known for leading early acquisitions at Google before her move to Google.org.

The CTO position advises the president on tech issues, works to shape tech policy and importantly serves as a link to the private sector. In contrast with his predecessors, Kratsios brings a distinct venture capital-colored perspective to the role, which sits within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Tech regulation in Europe will only get tougher

European governments have been bringing the hammer down on tech in recent months, slapping record fines and stiff regulations on the largest imports out of Silicon Valley. Despite pleas from the world’s leading companies and Europe’s eroding trust in government, European citizens’ staunch support for regulation of new technologies points to an operating environment that is only getting tougher.

According to a roughly 25-page report recently published by a research arm out of Spain’s IE University, European citizens remain skeptical of tech disruption and want to handle their operators with kid gloves, even at a cost to the economy.

The survey was led by the IE’s Center for the Governance of Change — an IE-hosted research institution focused on studying “the political, economic, and societal implications of the current technological revolution and advances solutions to overcome its unwanted effects.” The “European Tech Insights 2019” report surveyed roughly 2,600 adults from various demographics across seven countries (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK) to gauge ground-level opinions on ongoing tech disruption and how government should deal with it.

The report does its fair share of fear-mongering and some of its major conclusions come across as a bit more “clickbaity” than insightful. However, the survey’s more nuanced data and line of questioning around specific forms of regulation offer detailed insight into how the regulatory backdrop and operating environment for European tech may ultimately evolve.

Distractions

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Slowdown or not, China’s luxury goods still seeing high-end growth

Despite well-documented concerns over an economic slowdown in China, the country’s luxury goods market is still seeing opulent growth according to a new study. Behind secular and demographic tailwinds, the luxury sector is set to continue its torrid expansion in the face of volatility as it’s quickly becoming a defensive economic crown jewel.

Using proprietary analysis, company data, primary source interviews, and third-party research, Bain & Company dug into the ongoing expansion of China’s high-end market in a report titled “What’s Powering China’s Market for Luxury Goods?

In recent years, China has become one of the largest markets for luxury good companies globally. And while many have raised concern around a drop-off in luxury demand, findings in the report point to the contrary, with Bain forecasting material growth throughout 2019 and beyond. The analysis provides a compelling breakdown of how the sector has seen and will see continued development, as well as a fascinating examination of what strategies separate winners and losers in the space.

The report is worth a quick read, as it manages to provide several insightful and differentiated data points with relative brevity, but here are the most interesting highlights in our view:

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Devin Nunes is suing Twitter over mean tweets from parody account of his mom

California Representative Devin Nunes announced that he will file a $250,000 lawsuit against Twitter, alleging that the company engages in “explicit censorship” and has allowed critics to defame him on the platform. Simultaneously complaining that Twitter silences its critics while asking Twitter to silence his critics is a curious legal strategy, but really it’s par for the course for one of President Trump’s most theatrically partisan and unabashed allies.

Nunes first threatened legal action against Twitter last year after claiming that the company was “shadow banning” conservatives, effectively burying their accounts. Twitter clarified that the network does not bury any user content based on ideology and that a since-resolved algorithmic issue failed to populate auto suggestions for some Twitter users, including both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In a complaint reported by Fox News, Nunes representative appears to be following through on last year’s threat.

“Nunes has no adequate remedy at law,” the complaint, filed today, claims. “Without Court intervention and an injunction, Nunes will suffer actual and irreparable injury to his property interests and personal rights by the mere fact that Defendants’ defamatory tweets can be retweeted and republished forever by third-parties.”

TechCrunch reached out to Nunes as well as Twitter to request a copy of the filed lawsuit, but for now we’re just going off the complaint. (It’s possible that Nunes won’t follow through with the filing, but a lawsuit like this is mostly a publicity stunt either way.)

As you can see above, the complaint’s defendants include not only Twitter itself and a Nunes critic named Liz Mair but also @DevinCow and @DevinNunesMom, two accounts parodying the lawmaker’s cow and his mother, respectively.

Of particular note, the lawsuit objects to a colorful array of claims made by the since-suspended account @DevinNunesMom:

– “Nunes is ‘not ALL about deceiving people. He’s also about betraying his country and colluding with Russians’”

– “I don’t know about Baby Hitler, but would sure-as-shit abort baby Devin”

– “Alpha Omega wines taste like treason”

and

– “falsely [suggesting] that Nunes might be willing to give the President a ‘blowjob.’”

The lawsuit also accuses “Devin Nunes’ Cow” of spreading false claims to its 1,204 Twitter followers. Those claims include stating that “He’s udder-ly worthless and its [sic] pasture time to move him to prison” and “Devin is whey over his head in crime.”

Dairy puns notwithstanding, the allegedly “egregiously false, defamatory, insulting, abusive, hateful, scandalous and vile statements” that prompted Nunes to name the parody accounts are fairly tame compared to much of the hatespeech endured by Twitter users who don’t also happen to be members of Congress. Further, Nunes would need to prove that the three accounts in question acted with “actual malice,” a higher legal standard reserved for proving defamation against a public figure — and one intended to safeguard free speech.

When contacted by TechCrunch, Twitter declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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Intel and Cray are building a $500 million ‘exascale’ supercomputer for Argonne National Lab

In a way, I have the equivalent of a supercomputer in my pocket. But in another, more important way, that pocket computer is a joke compared with real supercomputers — and Intel and Cray are putting together one of the biggest ever with a half-billion-dollar contract from the Department of Energy. It’s going to do exaflops!

The “Aurora” program aims to put together an “exascale” computing system for Argonne National Laboratory by 2021. The “exa” is prefix indicating bigness, in this case 1 quintillion floating point operations, or FLOPs. They’re kind of the horsepower rating of supercomputers.

For comparison, your average modern CPU does maybe a hundred or more gigaflops. A thousand gigaflops makes a teraflop, a thousand teraflops makes a petaflop, and a thousand petaflops makes an exaflop. So despite major advances in computing efficiency going into making super powerful smartphones and desktops, we’re talking several orders of magnitude difference. (Let’s not get into GPUs, it’s complicated.)

And even when compared with the biggest supercomputers and clusters out there, you’re still looking at a max of 200 petaflops (that would be IBM’s Summit, over at Oak Ridge National Lab) or thereabouts.

Just what do you need that kind of computing power for? Petaflops wouldn’t do it? Well, no, actually. One very recent example of computing limitations in real-world research was this study of how climate change could affect cloud formation in certain regions, reinforcing the trend and leading to a vicious cycle.

This kind of thing could only be estimated with much coarser models before; Computing resources were too tight to allow for the kind of extremely large number of variables involved here (or here — more clouds). Imagine simulating a ball bouncing on the ground — easy — now imagine simulating every molecule in that ball, their relationships to each other, gravity, air pressure, other forces — hard. Now imagine simulating two stars colliding.

The more computing resources we have, the more can be dedicated to, as the Intel press release offers as examples, “developing extreme-scale cosmological simulations, discovering new approaches for drug response prediction and discovering materials for the creation of more efficient organic solar cells.”

Intel says that Aurora will be the first exaflop system in the U.S. — an important caveat, since China is aiming to accomplish the task a year earlier. There’s no reason to think they won’t achieve it, either, since Chinese supercomputers have reliably been among the fastest in the world.

If you’re curious what ANL may be putting its soon-to-be-built computers to work for, feel free to browse its research index. The short answer is “just about everything.”

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