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​Tech 5: SEC Okays Spot Bitcoin ETFs, Google Confirms Layoffs

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finally approved 11 spot Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) this week. Meanwhile, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) began selling its newest Model 3 in North America.

This week also saw tech industry participants gather at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Keep reading to learn more about these stories and other key events in the tech world.

1. SEC gives spot Bitcoin ETFs the green light

In a highly anticipated move, the SEC approved 11 spot Bitcoin ETFs on Wednesday (January 10), marking a significant milestone for the cryptocurrency industry. This decision has been a topic of interest since the SEC approved Bitcoin futures ETFs in 2021, and is seen as a major step toward mainstream adoption of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The funds officially began trading on the NYSE Arca, the Cboe BZX and the NASDAQ a day after the approval.

Analyst Matteo Greco of Fineqia International (CSE:FNQ) said in an emailed note that the news was met with low Bitcoin price volatility, likely due to a false post from the SEC’s X account 24 hours earlier that approval had been granted.

When the actual approval was confirmed, Bitcoin was trading at US$45,000. Shortly after, it surged to nearly US$47,000 before stabilizing back in the US$45,000 to US$46,000 range. Other cryptocurrencies also saw their value increase as investors reacted to the news. At the time of this writing on Friday (January 12), Bitcoin was trading at US$43,555.39.

The new Bitcoin ETFs saw significant trading volumes during their first day on the market, with US$4.6 billion worth of shares changing hands as of Thursday (January 11) afternoon. In an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said that investment firm Grayscale’s court victory in August 2023 was a key factor in the commission’s decision to approve. Grayscale’s proposal to convert the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust into an ETF was rejected by the SEC in June 2022, prompting the firm to file a lawsuit against the SEC. However, a court ruled that there was no legal basis to deny the request, and thus ordered a reassessment, which led to a new approach by the commission.

The approval of Bitcoin ETFs by the SEC represents a major step forward that addresses two key obstacles cited by institutional investors — regulatory uncertainty and risks surrounding custody. BTC ETFs have the potential to be a true test of institutional appetite for cryptocurrency by helping alleviate these concerns. Over time, the impact of ETF approval on driving broader crypto adoption will become clearer.

We expect the approval of additional crypto ETFs to drive further institutional adoption in 2024. As the first crypto to receive an ETF nod, Bitcoin has paved the way and demonstrated regulatory acceptance, opening the door for other large cryptocurrencies to gain similar access to traditional financial markets through innovative investment vehicles.

2. Engineers develop mobile robot to help with household tasks

Stanford University engineers working with Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Deep Mind have built a mobile robot that can help users complete chores and tasks around the house. The robot, which operates by way of a large battery so it’s free to move around its environment untethered, is the next iteration of Google’s humanoid ALOHA system. It’s been trained using a combination of database ingestion and physical demonstrations that the robot can mimic.

YouTube videos highlight the robot’s impressive dexterity, which enables it to complete tasks such as making a meal or hanging up a shirt, feats that most other robotic assistants aren’t able to accomplish. The research team also points out that, by comparison, their model’s price tag of about US$32,000 is quite reasonable.

The robot is called Mobile ALOHA, and more information on its learning capabilities can be found here.

3. Tesla unveils updated version of Model 3 sedan in North America

The newest version of Tesla’s Model 3 sedan, which has been available in Europe, the Middle East and China since the fall of 2023, became available to the North American market on Wednesday. The Highland, as it has reportedly been named by its design team, includes many of the same features that Tesla drivers value, with a few aesthetic tweaks. Notably, the Model 3 Performance variant was not included in this upgrade project. Only upgraded rear-wheel drive and long-range models are available, and they come with a host of new features and improvements.

The 2024 model features a noticeably sleeker hood, comes with upgraded tires and is available in two new colors, Stealth Gray and Ultra Red. The interior, according to Tesla’s website, is noticeably quieter thanks to acoustic glass, and the backseat comes with its own display, entertainment system and climate controls. Seat material and speaker quality have also been upgraded, and the long-range model is expected to be able to travel further distances, reportedly 341 miles from a single charge compared to 333 miles in the older model.

4. Newest tech products debut at CES in Las Vegas

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which was held in Las Vegas from January 9 to 12, unveiled some exciting new products that could hit the shelves soon. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of products powered by artificial intelligence (AI) at the event, including a keyboard that comes with a button to automatically launch Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) AI Copilot, a mirror that provides insights into heart health by analyzing blood flow in the face, an anti-snore smart pillow and an app that can ‘translate’ an infant’s cries to tell adults what they need.

For more detailed coverage of the latest products and tech developments, check out CNET’s top picks from CES.

5. Google cuts hundreds of jobs

A Google spokesperson has confirmed recent layoffs affecting several hundred positions in the company’s central engineering and hardware team, as well as employees working on Google Assistant, its voice-activated software product. Positions at the company outside those areas have also reportedly been impacted.

The news was first reported by 9to5Google on Wednesday, with multiple news outlets picking up the story on Thursday.

The most recent downsizing is one of several the company has made in recent years as it continues to pursue efforts to reduce costs and shift its focus to developing sophisticated AI software. The move has been called ‘needless’ by the Alphabet Workers Union, which took to X to express disappointment in a post:

“Tonight, Google began another round of needless layoffs. Our members and teammates work hard every day to build great products for our users, and the company cannot continue to fire our coworkers while making billions every quarter. We won’t stop fighting until our jobs are safe!”

Securities Disclosure: I, Meagen Seatter, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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