Reading List: AI in Disaster Prediction, and Precipitating a Battle for Cloud

While Amazon Web Services has long held the lead in the area it pioneered, Microsoft's Azure has been gaining ground in recent years.

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We go down a lot of rabbit holes every week in our search for real news. Some of what we find doesn't warrant a full story, but many of our readers may find it of interest as we do, so here are a few articles we've bookmarked for you lately.

Axios, as it often does, boils down the facts and ends up with what matters. In the realm of technology, fire and California, there was an article last week that touched all the bases — and it talked about the commerce end of things, too:

“California's three largest utility companies caused more than 2,000 fires in an approximately 3-year span … and gas-line explosions have killed hundreds and injured nearly 1,000 people in the past two decades," Axios says. “The ordinarily conservative utilities are throwing everything they can into reducing these risks, says Otto Lynch, an adviser to the Infrastructure Report Card, a study of U.S. infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers. "‘You do not want to be the person responsible for taking down New York City.’"

Now, says Axios, a spate of new startups selling AI systems to predict oncoming equipment problems have found utilities to be eager customers.

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Going back five years or more, privacy activists in Oakland and elsewhere have raised the alarm about mass surveillance, particularly highlighting the risk that technology — in the form of “spy cameras” with facial recognition, artificial intelligence and who knew what else — would discriminate against minorities in poor neighborhoods.

“Later,” writes Citylab, “their concerns were vindicated when emails revealed that the real purpose of this initiative was spying on protesters, and the scope of the project was rolled back.”

Now, Oakland’s City Council has assembled a committee to set strict data-retention policies and best practices to follow. That committee suggested that what the city really needed was something more permanent: The technology was bound to evolve, and its uses to multiply.

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On a related note: It’s one thing for a progressive city government to ban its own use of facial recognition technology; it’s quite another to try to coerce businesses to go along.  

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Motley Fool, the investments website, has a timely take on Microsoft’s efforts recently to cut in on Amazon’s cloud business.

While Amazon Web Services (AWS) has long held the lead in the area it pioneered, Microsoft's Azure has been gaining ground in recent years.

Microsoft made its intentions clear at this year's Build developers conference. While in previous years, the spotlight was on consumer products like the Windows operating system and Microsoft's Surface tablets, this year cloud computing took center stage. The sheer volume of announcements related to Azure sends the message that Microsoft is coming for Amazon.

Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.