Friday Five: Lego building digital empire brick by brick

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Lego building digital empire brick by brick

Lego is planning to recruit hundreds of digital experts in the UK, Denmark and China to expand its online games and sales operation. Lego had a bumper 2020, partly due to locked-down families buying big Lego sets to build together, but also because of products like its Super Mario set, which blends physical bricks with online games.

And now the company is accelerating its digital transformation to support initiatives such as Lego VIDIYO, which allows children to make their own music videos with special effects and filters. Lego CEO Niels Christiansen said: “Today’s children are growing up in a digital world and they effortlessly blend online and physical play.”

2. Facebook’s plan for US-HK cable dashed

Facebook has failed in its latest bid to install a high-capacity 8,000-mile long internet cable between California and Hong Kong. The latest iteration of Facebook’s proposed cable was thwarted by the US government, thanks in part to national security officials worried that Hong Kong’s legal autonomy is in increasing jeopardy.

Facebook had initially proposed the project in 2016, and another application was put forward last year but turned down by the Trump administration. The Chinese government cracked down on Hong Kong’s internet freedom last year by introducing new regulations as a part of a sweeping new national security law.

3. New AI tool brings historic portraits to life

A new AI tool called Deep Nostalgia is bringing historic photos to life by enabling the subjects to move, blink and smile. The deepfake tech, released by genealogy site MyHeritage last month, has gone viral, with 10 million photos uploaded in a week, and it is also being used to animate artwork and statues of famous historical figures.

The algorithm matches pre-recorded video with the photo depending on the subject’s pose and applies natural facial movements to the image. While MyHeritage say the tech is meant to allow users to see their late relatives in motion, it has caused controversy for manipulating how historical figures wanted to portray themselves.

4. Málaga launches first self-driving bus service

The Spanish city of Málaga has launched an autonomous electric bus service — the first of its kind in Europe. The 60-seater self-driving bus does an 8km loop of the city six times a day, and is equipped with sensors and cameras that use artificial intelligence to improve its decisions based on data recorded along the route.

There is a driver at the wheel ready to take control if necessary, as Spanish law does not currently allow vehicles to operate without one. A handful of European cities, including Copenhagen and Hamburg, have run trials involving eight-seater driverless electric shuttles, but this is the first time a regular-size bus has been used.

5. Wanna buy a tweet? Yours for just $2.5m…

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is auctioning off his first-ever tweet and plans to convert the proceeds to bitcoin and give them to charity. No, that doesn’t make any sense to me either but the highest bid is currently $2.5m, so we’re talking some serious money here, with the auction not ending until 21 March.

Dorsey is auctioning his tweet as an NFT (non-fungible token), which means you can buy and sell unique digital items using the blockchain (full explanation here, if you’re interested). The ‘lucky’ winner will get a digital certificate of the tweet, but it will remain viewable on the internet for free. Still, it’s for charity, so happy bidding!

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