May has been a month of innovation and continued regulatory shifts in the tech sector. It can be difficult to keep up with the endless waves of change (Elon Musk’s continual indecision over purchasing Twitter spring to mind for anyone?), but the Firefly team always havs our finger on the pulse. Here’s our lowdown on what you might have missed.

Artificial intelligence reaches new heights

It’s no secret that supply chain issues and the candidate crisis have plagued businesses significantly recently. But what if AI innovation could offer the solution?

A growing number of startups are applying AI technology alongside established logistics firms to help businesses ease supply concerns.  In the recruitment arena, AI is becoming an increasingly effective tool for hiring strong candidates. Google has even gone as far to develop almost human-level intelligence. Increasing efficiencies is always beneficial; we will certainly be tracking these developments closely.

Dialling back the power of big tech

As the power of AI innovation grows, so do the legal restrictions within the technology sector. The UK Government is set to introduce new competition rules for large tech companies, paving the way for innovation among smaller businesses.

When it comes to user safety, the discussion on the Online Safety Bill continues. Campaigners argue the current provisions do not sufficiently address violence against women and girls, showing that greater protections are needed. We’re also seeing a crackdown on Big Tech’s data collection, with the global central bank calling for individuals to be given more control.

These moves highlight greater oversight is needed over the sector to ensure that everyone can engage with technology safely and freely.

As virtual reality thrives, cryptocurrencies take a nosedive

June has been a less than ideal month for the crypto world, as several stablecoins crashed in a historic market collapse. Though, if anyone fancies a trip to Gucci’s US-based stores, rest assured you can use bitcoin to complete your purchase there, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

Finally, let’s not forget about the ever-expanding possibilities of VR innovation. Everyone’s favourite music streaming service is now on board, and even the sunny seaside city of Portsmouth has recently launched a VR centre, so that we can all get our fix whilst on our summer holidays.

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Some say that January feels like the ‘longest’ month of the year – and while that might not technically be true, it certainly went by in a blur. Now that February is done, we’ve had time to get in the swing of things and plan for the year ahead. People are shifting their focus away from the year that was, and thinking – what comes next?  

 The holidays have officially ended, Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and people seem to be looking to escape reality even further – stories about the metaverse, cryptocurrencies and other novel concepts dominated the headlines this month.   

For those worried about robots taking over, this might not have been the best month. February was characterised by developments in the Artificial Intelligence space, with scientists in Japan developing a robot child with the ability to convey six facial expressions. Research also revealed that in many cases, AI-created faces appear more trustworthy than the real deal. Humans are not skilled at distinguishing between human faces and fake ones, making it important for safeguards to prevent the circulation of ‘deepfakes’ online. 

 People can now go on dates in the metaverse, and McDonalds even announced that they plan to open restaurants there by registering trademarks in the virtual space. YouTube also revealed plans for 2022, introducing the idea of verifying NFTs and watching games in the metaverse. Disney appointed an executive to oversee its metaverse strategy, joining other big tech giants as they invest millions in the virtual world. 

There was, however, some worrying news from the metaverse, as experts raised concerns that violence and harassment are rampant, and steps should be taken to ensure that people remain safe when joining the virtual world. As Meta pivoted its strategy to the metaverse, the team hit a snag at the beginning of the month, with reports that they considered shutting down Facebook and Instagram in Europe if unable to process data from European users on US-based servers.  

The cryptoverse sparked conversation, as investors set their sights on ‘’altcoins’’ to power online games and worlds. Bitcoin attempted to reassert its dominance over smaller challengers in the crypto space. Reports indicated that some cryptocurrencies have an enormous carbon footprint and could be damaging to the environment, leading experts to search for eco-friendly methods of engaging in virtual trading.  

 Gaming news took centre stage this month. Reports from 2021 revealed that the UK video game industry is booming, with M&A investment hitting £1.9bn last year. Wordle took the world by storm, and fans were shocked when the game was purchased by the New York Times, potentially putting the ability to play the game for free in jeopardy. After Microsoft’s purchase of industry-leading gaming company Activision Blizzard last month, Microsoft pledged to play fair as it sought public approval on the $68.7bn deal. 

In futuristic health tech news, new technology is being trialled that enables paralysed people to walk again with an implant that mimics the away the spinal cord is activated by the brain. A medical trial being conducted on Australian sheep is also paving the way to help blind people see again through bionic eye technology.  

That’s it for February’s tech news roundup. Sign up for our daily Firewire newsletter to get updates on top stories in the world of tech.  

The end of last year seemed somewhat of a blur with the scramble to finish off campaigns, deliver end of year reports, start prepping for 2022 and not to mention personal planning for the holidays. So, for some, keeping abreast of technology news last month may not have been a priority.

Not to worry though, we have you covered. Here is a roundup of some tech news from the past month.

The battle for online safety privacy continued as Twitter prevented users from sharing pictures and videos of others without their permission, and Twitch rolled out  AI to prevent banned users from rejoining the site. Shortly after this, proposals to make big changes to the UK’s Online Safety Bill were also announced.

The end of the year also announced a number of firsts:

  • A NASA spacecraft ‘touched’ the surface of the sun for the first time in history.
  • The US authorized the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 pill, the first ever oral at-home treatment for the illness.
  • A robotic hand, strong enough to crush cans and dexterous enough to use tweezers, was developed.
  • Apple also became the first company to hit $3 trillion market value, and while it did later slip it was still marked a landmark moment in tech.

There were also challenges for some of the biggest names in tech, with many placed under scrutiny. The Uber business model was challenged by both the UK and EU and, not long after, gig economy workers demanded visibility into how the apps they worked for used algorithms to make decisions.  Apple and Google also faced criticism for holding a smartphone market monopoly by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Finally, separate outages hit AWS and Google’s calendar app, affecting thousands of customers.

In more positive news, there was lots of evidence that 2021 was a good year for many. The UK’s Digital Economy Council found that a quarter of the UK’s unicorns were created in 2021 alone, spotlighting the year as a time for innovation in the tech sector. And, on the ground, Strava’s data showed that people were 38% more active in 2021 than 2020. It’s good to hear we’ve all been taking care of ourselves! Although, let’s be honest, that may have tailed off during the festive period for some (most) of us…

And that’s it for our January roundup! Want to receive a daily news roundup of the biggest tech stories? Sign up to our Firewire here

With December on our doorsteps, Christmas fever is about to take over the nation. But before you dust off your baubles and start roasting your chestnuts, let’s have a look back at our favourite tech stories from November.  

The month started off with fears of the chip shortage stealing the Grinch’s thunder this Christmas, leaving us with a distinct lack of electronic gifts sitting under the tree. As a result of the shortage, Nintendo warned the nation that they won’t be able to meet the demand for their popular Switch console after it was crowned the most successful game of all time

Whilst games console production slows, advancements in electric cars accelerate. Envision Virgin Racing have released the first electric Formula race car able to go from 0-60mph in just 3.2 seconds. Apple is expecting to release a fully autonomous car as soon as 2025. With no need for pedals or a steering wheel, you’ll have plenty of room for all your new sustainably made clothes – all you have to do is scan the QR code on the label and you’ll be able to find out where the item was made and which materials were used. 

Climate and sustainability continue to be hot topics in the news, with world leaders announcing a global plan to boost green tech. Whilst some of the industrialised nations are accused of dragging their feet on climate actions, for others, the sky is the limit – literally. Airbus’s solar-powered aircraft successfully delivered wireless internet from the stratosphere down to Arizona on its 18-day long flight. 

To finish off, we have to talk about the new way of communicating with your dog. If your pooch is feeling lonely and fancies a quick chat, all it has to do is pick up its new ball containing a special device. This sends a signal is to your laptop and launches a video call. Just imagine delivering that important presentation and on pops Scruffy to tell you he’s eaten your favourite slippers! 

That’s all for our November roundup. Want to receive a daily news roundup of the biggest tech stories? Sign up to our Firewire here

What’s trending this Spring?

Almost three months into 2021 and despite lockdown still looming over us here in the UK, there finally seems to be a real end in sight this time following the government’s welcoming roadmap out of lockdown (Beer gardens to open in April? Yes please!).

Before we dive into the main tech headlines for March, it wouldn’t be right to talk about the UK news agenda without acknowledging the recent and tragic death of Sarah Everard in London and how it has highlighted issues of women’s safety in society. Many women, including myself, have reflected on experiences where we’ve felt unsafe or harassed while doing mundane, everyday activities and how these issues are often brushed under the carpet. This isn’t the first time violence against women and women’s safety has been highlighted in the media and online and it certainly won’t be the last either but it’s clear that change needs to happen – the government recently reopened its call for evidence to further develop its Violence Against Women and Girls strategy and the activist group, Reclaim These Streets, has already done a tremendous job of raising money for women’s charities, so there is plenty of movement on the topic, but we have a long way to go yet.

Back to the world of tech now, and both Facebook and Google have found themselves in hot water once again, this time with Australia and the news ban saga. In short, Australia passed a new, world-first law which would make Facebook and Google pay for news content on their platforms. The big tech platforms bit back with threats to block all news content to Australians before eventually agreeing deals with the like of News Corp to pay for content. It’s been an interesting story to follow from a comms perspective because while journalism remains a core communication pillar for people to gain knowledge and news from across the world, with Google and Facebook being the main drivers of this communication in some instances, it’s important for news publications to be protected but also have fair opportunity to thrive in the digital world.

Elsewhere, Bitcoin has made its way back onto our newsfeeds again following yet another surge in market cap, which saw it reach above $1 trillion in mid-March. The rise has seen calls for further regulation from the financial industry as it continues to break records, most notably from deVere CEO, Nigel Green, who said a regulatory framework for Bitcoin is needed for investor protection. Regulation or not, Bitcoin doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon!

Onto the automotive industry and some major green pushes from Volvo and Volkswagen, which both announced plans to sell more electric cars. Volvo announced plans to sell only electric cars by 2030, while Volkswagen says it will sell 1m electric or hybrid cars this year, a huge target that further shows the acceleration of sustainability initiatives among brands. No doubt once we’ve weathered the pandemic, sustainability and climate change will (and should) be our next global challenge to overcome and further develop. We’ve already seen a huge number of brands focus comms campaigns on sustainability as it becomes a key pillar in reputation building and shaping, and it’ll be interesting to see what other tech brands have in store this year to tackle the climate crisis.

Finally, Amazon opened its first checkout-free supermarket in the UK this month in West London, paving the way for a new kind of retail experience. Thanks camera and sensors, or as its aptly named, “Just Walk Out” technology, shoppers are able to simply pick up the items they want and walk out without the need to pay at a check out. Already launched in the US, the Amazon Go stores sure have that novelty factor that will no doubt entice customers to try it out but with the state of high streets in the UK at the moment and shopping habits shifting, it’ll be interesting to see how this technology plays out and whether it will help or hinder brick and mortar retail.

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“Hello, can you hear me?”

“You’re on mute”

“Can everyone see my screen?”

Yep, you got it, it’s video conference call bingo! And it’s not only work video conference calls we’re on, you may also have family catchups or quizzes with friends. Zoom has been a go-to platform for many despite the security and privacy concerns, but the big tech firms have finally arrived with their products to take on Zoom.

Google has just launched Google Meet; it’s free and currently has no time limit, you just need a Google account to access. The Metro gives it the once over and walks you through the set-up. Meanwhile, Facebook is launching Messenger Rooms where you can chat in groups of up to 50. Here’s the story on BBC News, where Facebook also talks about preventing ‘zoombombing’.

And that’s not all Facebook has been up to. It’s also acquired Giphy – a popular site for making and sharing animated images – which it plans to integrate with Instagram. Read more about it on Reuters.

Another social site in the headlines this month is Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey announced that all employees could work from home forever. He made a statement in The Guardian that he may have been one of the first to start companywide working from home, but he does not anticipate being one of the first to go back to the office.

While we adjust to socialising-from-home more, entertainment tech firms have our back. Spotify plans to roll out its ‘Group Sessions’ feature which mean people can queue tracks from their individual phones. The Independent has the full story. Meanwhile, the BBC is following in Netflix’s footsteps by adding co-watching functionality. CityAM has a write up of the new service, currently on trial via Taster, the online platform the BBC uses to test new technologies.

Well, well, well, can the internet handle all these video calls, working from home and co-entertainment? Ofcom says yes! In a new report, the regulator found that home broadband speed rose by 18% last year. Read more on BBC News.

Coronavirus continues to dominate our headlines this month. With the hysteria surrounding the virus, we have been bombarded with fake news appearing all over our social media feeds – and to be clear, eating raw garlic won’t stop you from catching the virus! In response to this misinformation, the government has set up a specialised cyberteam tasked with cracking down on the spread of fake news. Read the full story on City A.M.

March also marks Women’s History month and ahead of International Women’s Day on 8th March, a few Fireflies attended an event with inspirational female founders in tech. The panel shared their wisdom and you can read more about it here. Whilst we celebrate the great achievements of these women, there is still more to be done when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. The gender pay gap remains a key issue, with the Guardian reporting that the current pay gap is the equivalent of women working for free for two months of the year. At the same time, the Financial Times reported on the lack of female representation in senior roles in journalism, with less than 25% of media outlets having a female editor.

So, what tangible strides are really being made towards achieving equality for women if issues like these are still the current reality? Our own Hollie Abbott suggests that it may be time to call quits on International Women’s Day and focus on gender equality every day. Furthermore, the Financial Times reported on how Facebook is proactively tackling its previously criticised lack of diversity, and women now represent 40% of the board after two new additions.

We have also had some interesting developments on social media this month. At the start of March, WhatsApp joined the dark mode trend giving both iPhone and Android users the option to use the app in a power saving dark theme that also prevents eye fatigue. Meanwhile, LinkedIn announced that it’s experimenting with Snapchat-style stories, in the hopes of engaging younger professionals. The Head of Content Products at LinkedIn, Pete Davies, stated that, “stories offer a lighter, more casual way of interacting in the business-focused world”. In addition, he feels companies will be able to share ‘key moments’ through the new feature. Then there’s Twitter, which revealed it will release ‘fleet’ tweets that will only be available to be viewed for 24 hours. Read more over at The Independent.

And finally, AI is being integrated in all industries, even fashion – how would you like the latest must-have coat by designer, AI? In this Metro article, read about how AI is being used to create clothing and even models and influencers to advertise the clothing. The future of fashion is clearly AI.

Want to stay up to date with the latest tech news? Every morning, the Firefly team creates a roundup of the biggest news stories across the technology space. Sign up to Firewire by emailing hello@fireflycomms.com.

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