Week in Review: Apple, Microsoft A.I. Investments, ‘Reality Caucus’

Some 2,500 lightning strikes were recorded across Western Washington Thursday as powerful thunderstorms marched up the state, getting everyone’s attention and lighting up social media with beautiful photographs, such as the one below. In tech news this week, we’re tracking a new state-by-state jobs report from Apple, Microsoft Ventures’ latest A.I. investments, Seattle’s new broadband privacy rules, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene’s new caucuses on reality (virtual and augmented) and digital trade.

—Apple employs 1,131 people in Washington state across its new artificial intelligence and machine learning research and development center, and six retail stores. The company detailed its state-by-state economic impact on a new website emphasizing its U.S. job creation. CEO Tim Cook pledged a $1 billion investment in U.S. advanced manufacturing. (Xconomy’s Bernadette Tansey wrote about Apple’s manufacturing fund.)

In addition to direct employment, Apple counted 81,100 jobs in Washington connected to its App Store ecosystem. Washington trails only California, New York, and Texas in the size of its App Store-related work force. Washington also has 189 Apple suppliers and 10 manufacturing facilities.

Microsoft Ventures made two more bets on artificial intelligence startups. The company invested in a $3.5 million seed round raised by its former accelerator tenant Agolo, a New York-based company making software to summarize large amounts of data in chats, voice, news, and video content.

The corporate venture fund also backed Berkeley, CA-based Bonsai, which helps automate management of machine learning algorithms. Microsoft co-lead the company’s $7.6 million expansion of a Series A round.

We profiled Seattle-based clean energy startup LevelTen Energy, fresh out of Techstars Seattle, which aims to unlock the benefits of large-scale renewable energy contracts for corporations that don’t have the size or sophistication to enter into those contracts themselves.

—Seattle Mayor Ed Murray used the city’s authority to regulate cable operators this week to issue a rule (PDF) requiring Comcast, CentryLink, and Wave to get permission from customers before sharing their Web browsing history or personally identifiable information. Murray made the move in response to the repeal by Congress of Federal Communications Commission broadband privacy rules, which had yet to take effect.

—Congreswoman Suzan DelBene joined colleagues to form a “Reality Caucus” this week. At least that was the headline on a news release from the Washington Democrat and former technology executive. It turns out it’s actually a virtually reality caucus, focused on virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies.

“These technologies have shown tremendous potential for innovation in the fields of entertainment, education and healthcare,” say the co-chairs of the caucus, including DelBene, and Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Bill Flores (R-TX), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA). “As these technologies develop, questions will inevitably rise in privacy, intellectual property and other areas. This is an opportunity to educate our colleagues and others to ensure Congress is doing all it can to encourage—rather than hinder—these enterprising fields.”

DelBene also launched a Digital Trade Caucus, in the context of a wholesale re-examination of U.S. trade policy under the Trump administration, with goals including promoting a free and open Internet in support of manufacturers, service providers, and cross-border data flows; eliminating data localization requirements; and ensuring that trading partners do not require cloud platforms to filter speech.

—Speaking of the Trump administration, Xconomy’s Bernadette Tansey took a look at the first 100 days from the perspective of the tech industry.

Photo credit: Historic Washington apple box label from the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution via Flickr used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 license.

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