Mini-Fridge Satellite

Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced they’re leading an $13.5m investment in Astranis, a startup focused on building commercial telecommunications satellites.

Satellite internet has prompted a “new space race” between companies competing to launch devices and establish networks capable of reaching areas where traditional broadband falls short.

There are still 4B people on Earth without internet access, the majority of which live in rural areas, where broadband service isn’t available. Satellite internet has been touted as a solution to this since the mid-’90s, but traditionally operate 22k miles above Earth, in what’s called geosynchronous orbit, which has been too slow in responding to requests. Satellites in low Earth orbit cover less territory and have to launch a lot more which is extremely expensive.

Astranis’s satellites are about the size of a mini-fridge and are a fraction of the cost of other models (only tens of millions of dollars). Astranis will launch its satellites into farther away from Earth and sell bandwidth to internet service providers, allowing it to reach users in more remote areas. Astranis manufactures its satellites in San Francisco and expects to launch its first commercial satellite in 2019.

Why it’s Hot: Although it won’t solve some of the long-standing latency issues, it could provide a cheaper solution for making internet more readily available in previously out-of-range regions. It could be immensely beneficial to emerging markets, which often suffer from poor connectivity issues.


Enjoy the Show

The comedian Dave Chappelle hated when fans would pull out their phones during his show, record his act and post it online. But then he discovered Yondr, the technology that requires fans to place their cellphones into a form-fitting lockable pouch when entering a show. Fans keep the pouch with them during the show but it’s impossible to take photos, videos or text while the pouch is locked.

Chappelle now insists on deploying Yondr at all of the shows on his tour. Other entertainers including Alicia Keys, Guns N’ Roses and Donald Glover have implemented the system as well. The founder of Yondr described the solution as intuitive. “Our attachment to our phones isn’t all that intellectual,” he says. “It’s much more a body thing, so it was always clear to me that whatever solution there is to this problem had to be itself physical and tangible.”

Lesser known bands might be more hesitant to try Yondr as they rely on fan photos and videos to promote their shows. Many music fans, especially younger ones, say they would be disappointed to not be able to capture these experiences and relive them. On the other hand, older brands appreciate the old-school feeling of the fans being actually experiencing the show and not watching it through an iPhone.

Yondr has been used at weddings, schools, restaurants and movie screenings in addition concerts and comedy shows. The phone still gets service so you can feel the phone vibrate when a message arrives. Anyone who needs access during the show can simply leave the room, have the device unlocked and use the phone in the lobby or outside, not dissimilar to smoking.

Why it’s hot: This system addresses a modern dilemma that is not as often seen as an issue but just our current reality. It also calls out the question smartphone etiquette: when and where are our devices appropriate in the modern world?


Black Mirror Becomes a Reality


China has launched a social credit system designed to reach into every corner of existence both on and offline. The “social credit score” is described as similar to the American financial credit score system with the addition of political activity, social interactions and purchase history. The data is fed into a computer algorithm that calculates each citizen’s numerical trust score which affects almost every aspect of life.

For example: if you take care of your parents, pay your bills on time and give to charity, you’ll be rewarded with a high rating. High ratings can get you access to visas to travel abroad and access to good schools for your children. If you run a red light, criticize the government and social media or sell tainted food to consumers, you could lose access to bank loans, government jobs and the ability to rent a car. Pilot versions are underway in 30 cities currently & Beijing aims to have the full program running by 2020.


China wants to better control it’s poorly regulated economy, currently the second largest in the world. According to The Week, the social credit system will allow the government to easily punish illegal business people, bureaucrats who take bribes, selling of toxic baby formula or rotten meat. Because China lacks an equivalent to FICO scores that US lenders use to assess consumer credit risks, most Chinese can get credit cards and loans from their own bank. Social credit score system should result in more lending and less fraud, but is mainly a way for the communist party to push citizens toward approved behaviors.


Beijing will score behavior by monitoring the wealth of data generated by people’s smartphones. Smartphone payment methods are overwhelmingly popular there and the payment apps include social networks, ride hailing services, food delivery, hotel booking and even ability to schedule Doctor appointments. That data is then harvested to create the social credit score.

The algorithm assigns users a score between 350 and 950. Higher number = more perks. Lower score means you have to pay larger deposits when reserving hotel rooms, can be shut out of first class seats, etc. Personal traits also factor in highly to your score; how many degrees you have, how much time you spend playing video games, and your even friends scores. And the cherry on top: video surveillance will track everyone through facial recognition. Security cameras in stores and on street corners will be integrated into the surveillance platform & AI will analyze it. Suspicious behavior will be flagged and potentially affect a person’s social credit score.

The system is current up and running in Xinjiang as a testing ground. Authorities are using hand held devices to search smartphones for banned encrypted chat apps and politically suspect videos. Additionally, police checkpoints are equipped with scanners for IDs, faces and eyeballs. The supreme People’s Court blacklist of more than 7 million people who have outstanding fines or judgments will be merged onto the social credit system. When Journalist Liu Hu found himself on able to book a flight on a travel app, he found out that he had entered the incorrect account number when paying a fine which resulted in a blanket ban from all travel (even though he has corrected and paid the fine, he is still on the blacklist). Minor offenses like shoplifting can get you blacklisted as well.

Why It’s Hot

  • The social credit score system has profound implications for life in cities everywhere
  • There’s nothing so distinctly Chinese about it that it couldn’t be scaled up and implemented anywhere else
  • The consequences could be dire if it screws up or a private enterprise gains access to the data
  • Freedoms that were once guaranteed will become contingent on algorithmically determined by good contact