• Self-driving cars are almost ready for prime time
  • Exponential growth in brain-computer interfaces…
  • Why I’m excited about Microsoft’s latest acquisition…

Dear Reader,

Yesterday was actually a pretty big day in the world of digital advertising.

Apple released its latest iOS 14.5 operating system for all iPhones around the world. It may not sound like a big deal, but Apple’s new software implements a range of privacy changes that directly impact the digital advertising industry.

Most of us don’t realize this, but many software applications that we download to our phones track our activity. This is especially true of any free software applications.

Since these companies don’t generate any revenue from the sales of their apps, they do so by selling our data to advertisers, advertising networks, and data brokers.

Now with Apple’s new software, users will be notified of which apps are actually tracking them, which ones are sharing their data, and most importantly… users can opt out.

This is wonderful news for those of us that use iPhones.

And it’s terrible news for companies like Facebook and advertisers that want to reach us on our mobile phones.

Facebook recently issued guidance to its customers – the advertisers – about the new limitations on things like reporting results, campaign breakdowns, and ad targeting. All of these limitations are the direct result of Apple’s latest software update.

These privacy improvements have been in the works since last summer. So they have been long awaited by some and dreaded by others.

This overhaul also comes on the back of changes made last spring by Apple, which blocked third-party cookies (small bits of software) used to track all of our internet and web activity from being downloaded to our devices.

Again, most of us have no idea that this has been going on. Yet these egregious violations of our privacy are the foundation upon which companies like Facebook and Google were built.

All of their wealth came from these practices.

My advice for those who use an iPhone… Go into your settings and download iOS 14.5 as soon as possible. And after that, opt out from applications that are tracking you.

And for those that use an Android-based device…

Sadly, you won’t have that option.

Now let’s turn to today’s insights…

A landmark deal for self-driving technology…

We’ll start today with a big story from the world of self-driving technology.

Cruise – the autonomous driving division of General Motors (GM) – just announced an exclusive partnership with the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). Cruise will be the sole provider of self-driving taxis in Dubai for the next eight years.

And get this – Cruise’s fully autonomous vehicles will be on the road in Dubai by 2023. We’re less than two years away.

Clearly, Cruise is confident that its technology is about ready for prime time.

And Dubai wants to have 4,000 self-driving taxis for its autonomous ride-hailing service by 2030. It is aiming for 20% of its traffic to use self-driving vehicles by then. That makes it a great market for Cruise to introduce its “robotaxis.”

Here’s what the vehicles will look like:

Cruise Origin

Source: Cruise

This is Cruise’s first commercial product. It’s called the Origin. We first talked about it in The Bleeding Edge way back in January of last year.

The Origin is a fully autonomous vehicle that has the same dimensions as a crossover SUV. Except there’s no hood, no side-view mirrors, no passenger-side windows, and most notably, no steering wheel and no floor pedals.

The car is also perfectly uniform. There’s no difference between the front and the back. It was designed to maximize space in the interior. There are two forward-facing bench seats, two backward-facing bench seats, and enough room inside to fit a bicycle.

So the Origin will be the workhorse in Dubai’s autonomous ride-hailing service. This is an exciting moment in the industry.

This is yet another example that self-driving technology isn’t years into the future. It’s something that’s happening right now.

And if readers want to know the best way to profit from the autonomous vehicle trend, go right here to learn the details.

Checking back in on Neuralink…

Neuralink just released more details on its big brain-computer interface (BCI) breakthrough from February.

To bring new readers up to speed, Neuralink is a company that billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk founded to develop BCI technology. This technology connects the brain to a computer via a wireless interface.

And just recently, Musk casually revealed that Neuralink’s BCI allowed a monkey to play the old tennis-like arcade game Pong with its mind. There weren’t even any wires attached between the monkey and the computer. Musk promised more details to follow… and they just came.

Here’s the monkey in action:

Monkey Playing Pong

Source: Road to VR

A couple things here…

In the video, the monkey is holding a feeding tube. When it hits the ball correctly, banana smoothie is pumped through the tube as a reward. That’s how the team trained the monkey to play.

And we see the monkey moving what looks like a joystick with its right hand. That mimics a controller for the game, but it’s not the real thing.

The monkey was taught to play Pong using the real control stick, which allowed Neuralink to create predictive algorithms based on its brain activity. That’s how they programmed the BCI.

So we see that the monkey still moves the controller, but it’s not connected to anything. The monkey is moving the paddle in the game via the BCI based on the monkey’s brain activity.

Of course, the neuroscience community scoffed at this. Many saw this as a simple parlor trick.

The neuroscience community sees Musk as an outsider and someone who should stay in his own lane. But what I see here is exponential growth. I see an accelerating rate of technological advancement.

Back in September of last year, Neuralink first demonstrated that its BCI could monitor a pig’s brain activity in real time. This rather basic demonstration left the industry unimpressed.

Yet it took Neuralink less than six months to go from that basic presentation to this monkey playing a video game with its mind – no wires attached. That’s incredible progress in a short period of time.

This is a huge milestone for the technology. And it makes me wonder what we’ll see from Neuralink in another six months. I can’t wait.

And remember, BCI technology isn’t just a novelty. It will be critical for patients with neurodegenerative diseases, paralysis, and stroke victims.

This technology will allow these patients to control devices with their minds when they may not be able to do so with their own hands.

So the work Neuralink is doing here will have many applications in the medical field.

It will improve the quality of life for those most in need, and it will ultimately become a next-generation computer interface for those of us who might want to be more “connected.”

We’re going to keep a very close eye on Neuralink and its progress. We can be sure that there will be more exciting developments coming later this year.

Microsoft’s latest acquisition is a catalyst…

Microsoft just cut a $19.7 billion check to acquire Nuance Communications. This is a company that Exponential Tech Investor subscribers may remember. We held Nuance in our portfolio back in 2018.

Founded in 1974, Nuance Communications is a legacy provider of natural language processing (NLP) and speech recognition technology.

It’s been a standout in the industry because it’s one of the few companies in the space with size and scale. That’s the result of decades of work and some smart acquisitions of its own.

Here’s why this deal is interesting…

Microsoft doesn’t have much interest in buying technology that it can’t help scale.

If we remember, Microsoft acquired Skype back in 2011 and proceeded to make it a part of the Microsoft Office Suite. In this way, Microsoft made Skype’s technology available to every one of its enterprise customers on the planet. There are now an estimated 1.8 billion Skype users around the world today.

I expect Microsoft will do the same for Nuance’s speech recognition technology. This technology allows users to interact with software applications by voice instead of typing. It’s easy to envision this being incorporated directly into Microsoft Outlook and Word.

I suspect a big motivation for the acquisition was also Microsoft’s interest in Nuance’s health care-related business. Nuance has deals in place that allow doctors to use its technology to dictate notes for patient record keeping rather than writing or typing them.

And Microsoft has been trying to break into the medical records industry for years now with limited success. This is a quick way to get a foot in the door.

So this move signals that speech recognition will become a common way to work with computers on the world’s dominant computer software platform – Microsoft Windows. The technology is finally able to provide an alternative to typing.

And the Nuance acquisition will open up a lot of innovation in the space. Microsoft’s competitors – and those who don’t like Microsoft – will be looking for other solutions.

That will be a catalyst, driving other companies to build competing products.

And given the steep price Microsoft paid for Nuance, we can be sure that the venture capital community will be happy to fund innovation in NLP and speech recognition technology. This deal is a clear example of a massive exit, which means that it can happen again.

We will want to keep a close eye on this trend going forward. There may be some great investment opportunities that spring from it in the years to come.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

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