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Breakfast Briefing: Apple Buys Shazam, DeepMind’s Tests and Exxon

Apple Buys Shazam

Apple has agreed to purchase Shazam, an app that identifies songs.

Editor’s Remarks: Shazam has been used for years by people who want to identify songs that they hear in various bars, parties and clubs. Now, it has been bought by Apple for around $400m. However, this is not the news that many investors in the 18 year-old UK-based company, such as VC firm Kleiner Perkins, wanted to hear since Shazam was valued at $1bn during its 2015 funding round. However, others in the VC world have pointed out that valuations are often nothing more than sales gimmicks and that a company is only a unicorn once it has actually been sold for more than $1bn.

DeepMind Allays Musk’s Fears

The Alphabet-owned startup has developed AI software that can detect if other algorithms are cheating or being excessively risky.

Editor’s Remarks: DeepMind has put AI software through a series of games that assess whether algorithms can learn to cheat. The safety tests coincide with many tech leaders, such as Elon Musk, calling for greater oversight of AI technology and more research into any potentially adverse unintended consequences of its application. DeepMind is at the forefront of AI development and has built algorithms that can beat world-class board game players after just a few hours of learning a game. The latest safety tests suggest that DeepMind is taking fears seriously as it moves towards building general purpose AI.

Europe Warns Trump on Tax

Finance ministers from Europe’s largest economies have said that Trump’s tax plans breach global agreements.

Editor’s Remarks: Europe’s leading finance ministers, including UK chancellor Philip Hammond, penned a letter to the White House in which they raised the possibility of retaliation if the Republicans push on with their tax reforms. Europe is worried that Trump’s “America First” doctrine will undermine global trade patterns and escalate ongoing tensions between the US and its key allies. With the UK looking to its closest ally for support post-Brexit, it is unlikely that Hammond’s latest move will sweeten any future US-UK trade deal. Meanwhile, Trump is unlikely to care about shaking up current trading arrangements, given that he ran for office on the platform of making the US more competitive.

UK Defence Row Escalates

New defence secretary Gavin Williamson has vowed to protect the UK’s defence budget.

Editor’s Remarks: Williamson, at just 41, is the youngest member of Theresa May’s cabinet and his colleagues are rumoured to be treating him as such. Those who have worked with Williamson in the past, however, contend that he is not someone to be underestimated and point to his meteoric rise through the Conservative party as evidence of this. The Ministry of Defence is presently united around Williamson’s determination to maintain current spending levels, which has put the department at loggerheads with the Treasury. The department has a £20bn funding deficit over the next ten years, which chancellor Philip Hammond insists must come out of cost savings.

ExxonMobil under Shareholder Pressure

The world’s largest oil group has agreed to publish the impact of climate policies on its bottom line.

Editor’s Remarks: In recent years, shareholders of the world’s largest oil and gas conglomerates have been pushing companies to publish analysis of the threat they face from climate change and the threat of green policies. In a regulatory filing, Exxon announced that it would change how it reports its results to include a paper on how climate policies are hurting its business. The proposal was backed by around 60% of Exxon’s shareholders back in May, which was led by the New York state employees’ retirement fund. The move follows Exxon’s gradual shift towards addressing climate change; in the 90s, the group campaigned against the Kyoto protocol but has since committed to reducing emissions.

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