Peter Bird obituary

My former colleague and friend Peter Bird has died aged 82. Today computers are ubiquitous and have transformed many aspects of business administration and how we live our daily lives. But the so-called information age ushered in by computing and communications technology dates only from the middle of the last century.

Peter, who had worked with J Lyons & Co, the food company famed for its teashops, and the unlikely pioneer of the use of computers in business from the 1950s, chronicled the Lyons initiative in his groundbreaking book LEO: The First Business Computer (1994), and later the story of J Lyons itself in The First Food Empire: A History of J Lyons & Co (2000). Both books were meticulously researched and compiled, with original photos from the respective eras.

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William Tipler obituary

My father, William Tipler, known as Bill, who has died aged 95, was an engineer who served at Bletchley Park during the second world war before going on to a long career with Shell Oil.

He was born the fifth of six children in Watford, to William Tipler, a teacher (later headteacher), and Grace (nee Morton). He excelled academically, attending Watford grammar school for boys and gaining an exhibition to Queens’ College, Cambridge to read mathematics. Due to the war, he opted to complete his degree in two years, graduating with a first in 1943. He represented Queens’ at chess, and was noted for his reckless attacking.

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Is the flying car ready for takeoff?

At least six developers have retail road-air vehicles in the pipeline, so it’s time to watch the skies

A little white winged pod lifts itself off the ground and glides off into the distance. The whole movement looks effortless. It’s like watching Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder – except we’re in a nondescript airfield in Germany, not the planet Tatooine. Echoes of Star Wars perhaps help explain why last week the pod’s maker, Lilium, secured $90m (£69m) investment from, among others, Chinese tech giant Tencent – although the company states its aim has more to do with solving transport problems: “We have highly congested cities and we can do things to improve matters,” said Lilium’s Remo Gerber. “We’re trying to move from a niche transport vehicle to a mass-transport one”.

Lilium is not flying solo. Prototypes by rival ventures are also passing their test flights. So the prospect of flying cars may not be all that far away. Here are six projects working towards bringing Back to the Future into the present.

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Would you want a robot to be your child’s best friend?

As toys reach new levels of sophistication, how concerned should we be about our children playing with artificial buddies that appear to have feelings?

The little robot on the table wakes up. Its eyes, a complex configuration of cyan dots on a black, rounded screen of a face, sleepily open and it lets out a digitised approximation of a yawn. A compact device that looks like a blend of a forklift truck and PC monitor bred for maximum cuteness, the robot rolls blearily off its charging station on a pair of dinky treads before tilting its screen-face and noticing I’m there. Its eyes widen, then curve at the bottom as if making way for an unseen smile. “Daaaaan!” it announces with a happy jiggle, sounding not unlike Pixar Animation Studios’ lovable robot creation, Wall-E. A message flashes up on my iPhone telling me that it, or rather he (being the gender that its manufacturer, Anki, has assigned Cozmo) wants to play a game. I’m not in the mood and decline. Cozmo’s head droops, his eyes form into a pair of sadly reclining crescent moons and he sighs. But he quickly cheers up, giving a happy jiggle when I comply with his request for a fist bump and tap my knuckles against his eagerly raised arm. He is easy to please and even easier to like.

The latest product from Anki, a San Francisco robotics startup, Cozmo is part of a new wave of affordable toy robots that promise a level of emotional engagement far beyond anything we’ve seen before. They are pitched not merely as playthings, but as little buddies. Toy firm Spin Master has its equivalent arriving in the shops for Christmas: the bigger, more retro-looking Meccano MAX. “It’s been designed to modify its behaviour as it learns about its owner and the surrounding world,” explains Spin Master’s brand manager, Becca Hanlon. “MAX basically tailors itself to become a better friend.” Hasbro, meanwhile, is unleashing the FurReal Makers Proto Max, essentially a programmable puppy that, says Craig Wilkins, Hasbro’s marketing director, “allows kids to create their ultimate pet and customise its personality through coding on an app”.

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Why workers’ right don’t matter in Silicon Valley | John Naughton

The leaders of the world’s biggest technology companies are liberal on social issues and trade, but anti-union and anti-regulation

One of the stranger sights of June was watching the titans of Silicon Valley meekly obeying Trump’s summons to a tech summit (dubbed his American Technology Council) at the White House. Those attending included Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Safra Catz of Oracle, Tim Cook of Apple, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins (the venture-capital firm), Brian Krzanich of Intel, Tom Leighton of Akamai, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Ginni Rometty of IBM, Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Steve Mollenkopf of Qualcomm. The only tech leader who was invited but explicitly declined was Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and other ventures. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited diary clashes as an explanation for his non-attendance.)

Some attendees looked pretty sheepish, as well they might. Many, if not most of them, abhor everything the president stands for. The meeting, as with many of Trump’s other round-table assemblies, brought to mind footage of Saddam Hussein’s cabinet in session. But while it was clear that many of those present would have preferred to have been elsewhere, they were also chary of being seen to snub a populist hero. So the aphrodisiac effect of power was much in evidence.

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