US vaccine roll-out, workplace activism, washed-up treasures

Vaccine deliveries.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Here’s what you need to know

The US begins distributing vaccines. High-risk healthcare workers and White House staffers will be among the first to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs today.

Electors in the US meet today. They are casting their presidential votes, which must be counted by Congress before Joe Biden can be inaugurated in January. Meanwhile, there was violence at pro-Trump marches over the weekend.

John le Carré died of pneumonia aged 89. Many of the British author‘s Cold War thrillers became major movies and TV series. Born David John Moore Cornwell, he wrote his first three novels while working as a spy.

Brexit talks are dragging on. The UK and the EU have given themselves an extension to resolve a critical trade deal. The two parties are currently deadlocked and “very far apart” on key issues.

Facebook is reportedly reluctant to ban Indian extremists. According to the Wall Street Journal (paywall), the tech giant’s security team is warning of possible reprisals if powerful right-wing groups are removed from the platform.

Indian workers ransacked an iPhone plant. More than 100 people were arrested for smashing furniture and setting a car on fire over claims of unpaid wages at the Taiwanese-run Wistron Infocomm factory near Bangalore.

China fined Alibaba and Tencent. Market regulators said the two tech giants failed to properly report deals for antitrust reviews—it’s another warning shot from the government.

What to watch for

Today Apple is launching Fitness+, a streaming fitness service. For $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year, Fitness+ will offer classes and workouts in yoga, cycling, dance, strength training, and more. But home fitness is a crowded market:

🚲 Hardware companies like Peloton, Variis, and Mirror combine streaming workouts with bikes, treadmills, and other exercise equipment.

🥇 Social fitness apps like Strava track your workouts and keep you motivated.

💪 Gyms have taken a hit during the pandemic but local fitness studios have in some cases built stronger relationships with customers.

📱Plenty of trainers offer at-home workouts on YouTube and Instagram.

⌚️ Apple is betting that its expansive ecosystem will allow it to surpass the competition. Fitness+ classes will be available on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV and will integrate with the Apple Watch and Apple Music. It’s the same playbook the company used to compete with Spotify.

Charting AI research

Artificial intelligence, more than most other fields of research, is dominated by corporations. And no company is more dominant in AI than Alphabet, parent company of Google and its AI-focused sister lab DeepMind. Combined, the companies’ labs accounted for twice as much of the research published at AI conferences like NeurIPS as any other company or university.

Google has published more papers at a top AI conference than any other company or university.
Image: Quartz

But the past few weeks have provided a case study in the perils of turning so much AI research over to Big Tech firms.

On Nov. 30, DeepMind announced a breakthrough in its protein-folding prediction model AlphaFold. The company drew criticism from academics because it made its claim without publishing its results in a peer-reviewed paper.

Then on Dec. 3, renowned AI ethicist Timnit Gebru claimed that Google had forced her out of her position as co-leader of the company’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team.

Both stories raise questions of accountability, but because of the massive computational costs associated with training AI models, research gets concentrated in the hands of a small number of institutions.

The activist’s toolkit

Image for article titled US vaccine roll-out, workplace activism, washed-up treasures
Image: Illustration by Thomas White

Employee activists are transforming the workplace—and making companies better in the process. Quartz asked six employee activists at Whole Foods, Google, Facebook, and McDonald’s for their best advice for people who are considering becoming organizers themselves, such as:

💪 Hit employers in their pockets, where it hurts

🤝 Let employees be involved in activism on their own terms

⏰ Generate maximum impact with good timing

✦ Our field guide on The rise of employee activism has more advice for workers (and corporate leaders) who are trying to improve their organizations. Try Quartz membership for free for seven days.

Surprising discoveries

Electric airplanes are close to a commercial breakthrough. The newest models are called STOL, short for “short take-off and landing” aircrafts.

Treasure is washing up on the shore of a Venezuelan fishing village. The source remains a mystery.

People don’t hate video dates. Nearly 70% of singles who went on a virtual date say they’d continue to do so even after the pandemic.

The bubonic plague may have shaped Shakespeare’s tragedies. The Black Death reached Stratford-upon-Avon, the Bard’s hometown, in the year he was born.

Kenyan wildlife wardens moved two giraffes off a sinking island by barge. Rising water levels are threatening their habitat.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, virtual dating tips, and a giraffe to Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Hasit Shah, Mary Hui, Alex Ossola, Tripti Lahiri, Anne Quito, and Walter Frick.