eXtensions - Sunday 7 July 2024

Sunday Comment: A Short Vacation; Election Results; TV Updates; AI Discussions, Ethics and the EU Attitude

By Graham K. Rogers


I took a short break in the South of Thailand to recharge my batteries returning just in time for the UK election and a change of government. New movies and renewed series are coming to AppleTV and Netflix. AI and large language models (LLM) are in the news: including related ethics. Apple has doubts about its AI and the Digital Markets Act so is treading carefully and may withhold the features from a European release of iOS. Margrethe Vestager sees this as a prima facie admission that Apple knows the features are anticompetitive.

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I spent a few days last week on the Andaman coast. The hotel had no road access - just a path over the hills (which I failed at) - or boat access. The boat needed to be pre-booked which restricted travel a bit, although the resort was pleasant enough: good food (if a little expensive), pleasant staff, a beautiful view, and good weather most of the time. These days hotels are far better equipped with WiFi. It was free, as it should with the room bill. It used to be that hotels, particularly in major cities would add a significant cost to guests's bills with internet access to a single device.


As we all have increased the number of devices we use (smartphone, PC, tablet - each doing a different job), this was a burden and has thankfully been reduced: at least where I stayed. The internet was available all over the resort, including the gardens and the beach. I did check the speed a couple of times. It was consistent at around 100 Mbps and served (I guess) 200-300 guests or more. The sad result is that the beach, lobby and restaurants were full of groups of people each using their phones (or tablets) and ignoring the people with them and paying scant attention to the food they were eating. I took the iPhone and iPad Pro (not the Mac this time) and set certain limited times each day for access. I took the time to look at the sea, the sky and whatever else was around me.


The journey back started of course with the boat. The transport I had booked for the airport was ready and waiting and we arrived in good time for the flight. At Don Mueang, rather than play the taxi games, I booked a limousine (1500 baht). I was home, just outside the Western edges of Bangkok, 5 hours after I boarded the boat.

iPhone 15
iPhone 15 - Image courtesy of Apple

There were rumors earlier this week about the A18 chip that Apple will use in the next iPhone (Tim Hardwick, MacRumors). Orders have gone in which makes the timing interesting. The chip must have been finalized a couple of weeks ago at least, putting this quite soon after WWDC. Hardwick notes that it is expected all four iPhones will use the A18 chip, unlike this year's phones: only the Pro and Pro Max models had the A17 chip.

Early election results
Early election results - iPad screenshot

I do not usually write about politics on here, but with the internet access on my break I was able to follow the election news in the USA and UK. The election in Britain was on Thursday, ironically the US Day of Independence, with results beginning to be announced at around 7am Friday (5 July) here. The Guardian had a live feed - they also have a live text feed of Formula One races - and I used this intermittently during the morning. The page refreshed every 60 seconds so it was interesting to follow the successes and disasters. I am generally pleased with the results, but I am not sure if the new Prime Minister is the right man for the task. I am sure, however, that he will be better than his five predecessors.

Election Result Election Result

UK election results - iPhone screenshots

Good news last week with a confirmed date for the return of Slow Horses. This will be Season 4 and I have marked 4 September in my calendar (Stephen Warwick, iMore). We are also hearing more about the new Formula One movie with Brad Pitt which will eventually be on AppleTV+. Lewis Hamilton is a co-producer. The title will be "F1", which is easy enough to remember and it should be released in June next year. It will be interesting to compare footage with the John Frankenheimer, "Grand Prix" (1966) which had some live scenes of circuits. Several of the (then) current GP drivers appeared in the movie. It is interesting to see how dangerous those races were with few barriers and spectators standing at the edge of the track. Although criticized in the 1970s, Jackie Stewart did a lot to improve safety.

The opening sentence of Ed Hardy's report in Cult of Mac says it all: "Blake Crouch, who wrote the bestselling novel Dark Matter that was adapted into a hit Apple TV+ series, said this week he's open to the idea of making season 2." Season 1 finished with a sort of new hope for the main protagonists, although you have to feel somewhat sorry for the clones left behind on our earth, and it is these two contradicting problems that I speculate could set the scene for more of this series. It was dense, it was slow but it was compelling so I would welcome a second series.

The Netflix series, Wednesday, has started filming in Ireland and Simon Harris, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, visited the set (RTÉ News). There are some members of the Season 1 cast missing. One of these is Percy Hynes White who has been dropped following an allegation of misconduct which he strongly denies (Faye Bradley, Style). I first noticed White in Series 2 (he had been in S1) of Between - an odd science-fiction series that had some ups and downs. As a young teen he strode into the picture and was instantly dynamic: clearly a young actor with a future. In some ways he reminded me of the first time I saw Matt Dillon in The Flamingo Kid. White was also noted by many in the Fox series, The Gifted. It would be good to see him overcome this allegation and return to solid roles.

One of the complaints about Large Language Models used in AI is that the input of millions of words has been copied from anything and everywhere. If it is online, it has probably been scraped, copied and input to the models. It has been different with, say, X-rays of cancers or of lungs from Covid-infected patients as the hospitals own the input that is used to train the AI that is used for identifying potential problems for patients. Apple, which has recently joined the AI club, licensed a lot of content, including from "Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue and the New Yorker, NBC News and IAC" (Nasdaq). Apple also used a lot of its own texts for input. Microsoft seems to be taking a different approach.

Mustafa Suleyman of Microsoft appears to have "a curious understanding of copyright law on the web". Sean Hollister (The Verge) writes that he "incorrectly believes that the moment you publish anything on the open web, it becomes "freeware" that anyone can freely copy and use." As such, it appears in his mind that it is open season for training AI models. The article has an easy to understand comment on copyright. Despite many companies claiming that all is fair once something is on the internet, copyright is so complex that there are special licenses. As a note, when I borrow anything from the Internet (as in this paragraph) I do not copy the whole content (sometimes I paraphrase) and always try to put a link to the original. Anything else would be unethical.

In May, Microsoft launched a new product that was aimed at those keen to work with AI. One part of the release was Recall. John Naughton (Guardian) tells us that this is designed to take "constant screenshots in the background while you go about your daily computer business". It was On by default. Sounds good? Not when those outside Microsoft had a closer look and it reminded them of The Entire History of You: a Black Mirror episode. Although it might be useful for a user in searches, it could lead to other problems. Naughton cited legal responsibilities and medical ethics. Microsoft has had some thoughts about Recall and it is now Off by default. Be careful what you wish for.

As part of its agreement with OpenAI, Juli Clover (MacRumors) tells us that the Apple board observer role is to be filled by Phil Schiller. He will be able to "attend and contribute to board meetings," but cannot vote and has no control. Clover also speculates that when matters concerning Microsoft and OpenAI come up for discussion, Schiller may need to be excluded.

Before Apple's recent financial report, Wall Street was wringing its hands and pushing Apple's share price down, as seems to be normal for every quarter. Before Apple's recent announcements at WWDC that included its approach to integrating AI across most of the product line, the tech press was wringing its hands, anguished that Apple was late to the AI party, although the signs were there that a whole team (headed by John Giannandrea) were hard at work. The tune has changed now and Oliver Haslam (iMore), discussing some of the potential, writes that this is another example of Apple's approach: doing things right, not doing things first.

However, with the on going disputes between Apple and the EU, particularly with regards to the Digital Markets Act, Apple has is thinking about delaying the rollout of the iOS, iPadOS and macOS AI features in Europe, "due to regulatory uncertainties". Who knows which way Vestager will jump, eh? Over in the Old World the current iOS versions are already different so that users in the EU can go for side loading and I wish them luck with that. However, Ed Hardy (Cult of Mac) reports that Margrethe Vestager, who has made all these demands of Apple claims that this "an admission that the company knows the features are anticompetitive." I detected a bias also in the lengthy but uneven 2022 UK Mobile Ecosystems report, where I felt there were preconceptions, speculation and hearsay. Support for some conclusions was from direct competitors but no hard evidence was shown in the content of the report.

As a legislator and enforcer of EU rules, Vestager is interpreting the motives of a company that her office is prosecuting, bringing her own opinions to a case that is under review. She should not form her own ideas about a company's intentions without support: that shows a clear bias. Like me, Dennis Sellers (AppleWorld Today) thinks that Vestager cannot have it both ways: having your cake and eating it too. It looks to me, that in the face of uncertainty (and unpredictability), Apple is being prudent.


Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on X (@extensions_th). The RSS feed for the articles is http://www.extensions.in.th/ext_link.xml - copy and paste into your feed reader.


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