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Virginia, Amazon announce $35 billion data center plan

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Virginia, Amazon announce $35 billion data center plan

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion in new data centers in Virginia under a deal with the state, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Friday.

Millions of dollars in incentives to close the deal still require legislative approval, but General Assembly leaders in both parties expressed support in a news release issued by Youngkin’s office.

Still, data centers have become a politically volatile topic, particularly in northern Virginia, where the structures are increasingly common and where neighbors are voicing noise and environmental concerns.

Data centers house the computer servers and hardware required to support modern internet use, and demand continues to increase. But the data centers require high-powered fans and extensive cooling capacity that can generate noise. They also consume huge amounts of electricity that can require construction of high-voltage transmission lines to support them.

Bills proposed in the legislature this year would increase regulate where centers could be located.

The governor’s office said the locations of the data centers, to be built by 2040, will be determined at a later date. But tech companies prefer northern Virginia because it is close to the historical backbone of the internet, and proximity to those connection points provides nanoseconds of advantage that are of importance to tech companies that rely on the servers to support financial transactions, gaming technology and other time-sensitive applications.

Bill Wright, a Prince William County resident who opposed a massive data center expansion recently approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors over considerable community opposition, said Friday’s announcement shows that “the influence of big tech money has become intoxicating to our politicians.”

He said that he does not object to data centers in and of themselves and hopes that the state will place them in areas that don’t harm the environment, and in rural areas where jobs are needed. But he expressed skepticism that the state is willing to stand up to tech companies that want the centers in northern Virginia.

“Northern Virginia is being overwhelmed by these things,” Wright said. “We may as well start calling ourselves the Commonwealth of Amazon.”

Suzanne Clark, a spokeswoman the the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said Amazon Web Services is exploring several site locations “in collaboration with the Commonwealth” but did not specify any sites.

Northern Virginia has been a tech hub since the formation of the internet, and now hosts more data centers than the next five largest U.S. markets combined, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council. They have also proven to be a cash cow for local governments that embrace them — data centers now provide for more than 30 percent of the general fund budget of Loudoun County, a suburb of the nation’s capital with more than 400,000 residents.

Another data center opponent, Elena Schlossberg with the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, expressed dismay that Youngkin felt emboldened to announce a data center deal in a year when state and local officials are all on the election ballot in Virginia — and as community concern over data centers is growing.

“That is just mind-boggling that he does not see that communities are uniting” in opposition to data centers, she said.

In a tweet, Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said $35 billion represents the largest capital investment in Virginia history. In terms of jobs, the governor’s office said it is expected to generate more than 1,000 jobs across the state. That pales in comparison to the 25,000 jobs associated with Amazon’s decision in 2018 to build a second headquarters in Arlington County.

The deal calls for Amazon to receive incentives from a new Mega Data Center Incentive Program, as well as a grant of up to $140 million for workforce development site improvements and other costs. Both will require legislative approval.

The exact amount of the grant under the incentive program will depend on how many jobs are created, according to the enabling legislation under consideration by the General Assembly. It will also include temporary exemptions from a sales and use tax levied on data centers in Virginia.

State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring legislation that would restrict the placement of data centers near natural or historic resources. Petersen said Virginia risks being overwhelmed by data centers if protections aren’t put in place.

“In my opinion, the data centers are short-term financial gains with long-term environmental consequences. Industrial buildings with no actual workers are not the economy of the future,” he said. “In fact, they may well be obsolete in a decade. Meanwhile, we are losing valuable farmland and historic sites.”

An Amazon Web Services spokesman declined to comment on the record over how many data centers are planned and Amazon’s preferences for where to locate them.

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Google and Amazon’s smart speakers shopping experience is still horrid

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Alexa Shopping on Echo Show

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

As a smart-everything aficionado, if there’s one tech product category that has landed squarely on the boulevard of broken dreams for me, it would have to be smart speakers. Available in a range of shapes, sizes, and form factors, smart speakers and displays were supposed to change how we interact with the internet. However, in my opinion, the professed future of connected speakers becoming indispensable parts of our daily lives has simply not materialized.

I fully invested in Google’s Nest ecosystem and bought some of the best Alexa-powered Echo speakers on the market, and I have more than a few gripes with the products from both companies. But of all the things that bother me, the one that truly drives me bonkers is the astonishingly imperfect online shopping integration.

Do you use voice-based shopping on your smart speakers or display?

3 votes

Less assistant, more gateway

lifx smarter light with app and google home natural light

Ryan Haines / Android Authority

With Amazon taking the lead with the original Amazon Echo and Google following suit, reinventing online shopping was one of the early promises made when showing off voice-first tech. That, obviously, did not happen. It’s hard to disagree that the almost-disposably priced speakers are little more than music streaming hubs and gateways to voice-activate smart plugs and lights.

There exists a glimmer of a futuristic shopping experience between the hubris of complicated control schemes.

Okay, let me rephrase that statement. There does exist an online shopping experience somewhere in the midst of Amazon and Google’s smart speakers. However, the sheer amount of friction involved in finalizing the purchase is enough to put off all but the most ardent users.

Let’s tackle Google’s ecosystem first, shall we? Despite being the custodian of practically all search and product queries on the internet, Google restricts smart speaker-based shopping to just the US. It’s not that Google Shopping, the service powering the back-end of Mountain View’s voice-first search, isn’t available outside the US.

70E25F75 318D 4D98 B482 70686477EFE3

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

In India, where I live, Google Shopping is a fairly competent aggregator and price comparison tool. Bouncing off users to the best available price when purchasing daily essentials shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for my Nest Hub. Instead, the feature is simply not available to me.

Not quite a one-command affair

I expected a better experience from my Echo devices, considering, you know, the shopping juggernaut behind it. Compared to Google’s offerings, things are a bit more streamlined — as long as you stay within Amazon’s ecosystem. However, even that comes with caveats.

Buying coffee using Alexa

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

If you stick to display-equipped speakers, the shopping workflow is serviceable. Issuing a simple command like asking Alexa to order a specific brand of coffee usually brings up a smorgasbord of options and variations on the display. The user is then expected to scroll or tap on the item and add it to the cart. Want more than a single bag of coffee? You’ll just have to go through the entire process again.

The Amazon Echo offers a more streamlined voice shopping experience compared to Google, but that’s not saying much.

However, in the case of Amazon’s non-display smart speakers, that same purchase journey turns into a long and cryptic SEO-optimized string wherein you’re never really sure if you’ve landed on the right product. Want two of those? Well, there you go again.

google nest hub shopping list

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The disjointed nature of shopping using smart accessories rears its ugly head in yet another form. Shopping lists should be a pretty common use case for smart speakers. The Google Nest Hub, while unable to actually make purchases in India, makes a handily accessible list for me that syncs across over Google Keep or any other list-making app of my choice.

Amazon’s convoluted approach towards a simple shopping list is symptomatic of feature creep and lack of focus.

In the Echo’s case, the shopping list feature was previously buried three menus deep within the slow-as-molasses Alexa app. While Amazon made moves to improve this user experience by offering a fancy new home screen widget for iPhones and Android devices, it forgot one big feature — this shopping list has no integration with Amazon whatsoever. Essentially, if you are using your Echo device as a shopping hub, you have two completely distinct experiences available. Either shop via Amazon or figure your own way about it.

Alexa shopping list widget

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While I can see the train of thought that led to this product decision, it makes no sense that a centralized shopping list can’t give you the option to tick off selected items for your Amazon shopping cart. Moreover, the widget still drops you into the extremely sluggish and bloated Alexa app that makes performing any task an exercise in frustration.

The lack of streamlined innovation is perplexing

For all my rants and raves, it surprises me that the very smart speakers and displays that were supposed to be the cornerstone of our entire digital existence are still struggling with such rudimentary features. More so considering the impact this struggle has had on profitability for Amazon and how little the company has done to fix the problem.

Amazon’s Alexa division has burned through an estimated $10 billion, and yet the company has made no moves to fix or improve its shopping experience.

Amazon’s loss-making Alexa division is reported to have burnt through almost three billion dollars in just the first quarter of 2022, with lifetime losses estimated to be close to 10 billion dollars. That’s mostly down to Amazon struggling to find a way to monetize the platform. Selling the product at cost makes sense for competitors like Google since it benefits from gathering user data and running fine-tuned ads across all product categories. Amazon, however, only monetizes shopping which makes the poor experience even more perplexing.

Amazon Echo Dot Alexa speaker with light ring turned on stock photo 1

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

All this to say that timers and weather updates are great, but with advertisements and shopping at the core of Google and Amazon’s business, I expected my Alexa and Google Nest speakers to revolutionize how I purchase daily essentials. Instead, the experience is so frustrating that after multiple attempts at making voice-based purchases part of my routine, I keep going back to shuffling between my shopping app of choice and a notepad for everything else. I don’t see that changing unless drastic changes come about.

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9 best new Prime Video movies that are 90% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes

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Prime Video logo appears on a tablet surrounded by a can of soda, spilled popcorn, headphones and a cactus

Prime Video is one of the best streaming services, but it doesn’t always do the best job of surfacing new content. In fact, finding new Prime Video movies to watch can be far more of a challenge than it really should be. Indeed, you’ll often stumble upon movies that aren’t included with your Prime membership and instead require a rental fee. 

To help cut through the clutter we’ve got a list of the best movies on Prime Video. However, that list is pretty long and encompasses everything available in the service’s content library. Instead, you may be after a more curated rundown of the new movies recently added to Prime Video, and that’s where this list of top-rated Prime Video movies comes in. 

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Can Amber Mac explain WTF is happening in tech right now?

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Amber Mac

Not quite the best start to 2023 for tech.

Hello and welcome to the BetaKit Podcast’s first AMA episode of 2023!

On these podcasts, we ask you—our listeners—for questions on Canadian tech or tech from a Canadian perspective, and then bring on a special guest to answer them for us.

“I honestly feel as though 2023 is going to be one of those years in Canadian tech where companies are going to have to be accountable.”

For this episode, we have a special special guest, one Amber Mac, host of basically every tech thing other than the BetaKit Podcast. But, importantly, also a Canadian Podcast Awards winner. If you might recall, the last time we had Amber on the podcast, we talked a lot of shit because we were also nominated for the Canadian Podcast Awards. And, well, she crushed us. So Amber is back on the pod, looking for revenge, apologies, and answers.

Certainly, she’s not the only one, as the submitted questions for this week’s episode could be broadly summarized like so: WTF is going on in tech right now?

We have mass layoffs across Big Tech, including Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, and Google. On the Canadian side, you have Lightspeed, Hootsuite, and Clearco—the latter two having replaced their CEOs (again), with Lightspeed swapping CEOs last year. Oh and then there’s news (exclusively from BetaKit) that VCs are killing or renegotiating funding rounds because LP investors can’t (or won’t) pay up. It’s a lot.

And then you have generative AI like ChatGPT, which continues to be a source of endless conversation—either as the Next Big Thing, or just another on a long list of Might Be Things (including AR/VR, Web3, and the Metaverse).

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, things seem to be booming in Atlantic Canada, and who better to speak to the opportunities there for innovation, talent, and access to funding than PEI’s native daughter?

Let’s dig in.


The BetaKit Podcast is sponsored by AWS.
From Ada Support to Neo Financial, Canada’s top startups build on AWS.
But they didn’t do it alone. So whether you’re looking for help solving a technical challenge, hiring the right engineers, or finalizing a fundraising round, we have all the resources you need to get started. There’s a reason more startups build on AWS than any other provider: we’re here to help you succeed, from inception to IPO.

To learn more, or to start your cloud journey, go to www.aws.amazon.com/startups.


Subscribe via: RSS, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, YouTube

The BetaKit Podcast is hosted by Douglas Soltys & Rob Kenedi. Edited by Kattie Laur. Sponsored by Amazon Web Services.



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