Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘artificial intelligence’ Category

Amazon’s AI Coalmine Canary

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Happy Thursday.

So Amazon has announced that it is going to spend $700M to retrain 100K of its workers (a third of its workforce) by 2025, and seems to be doing so as an acknowledgment partly due to the impact of technology and automation on jobs.

Plus, it’s just good, smart business.

Subheads directly from the Amazon press release:

Programs will help Amazonians from all backgrounds access training to move into highly skilled technical and non-technical roles across the company’s corporate offices, tech hubs, fulfillment centers, retail stores, and transportation network, or pursue career paths outside of Amazon

Based on a review of its workforce and analysis of U.S. hiring, Amazon’s fastest growing highly skilled jobs over the last five years include data mapping specialist, data scientist, solutions architect and business analyst, as well as logistics coordinator, process improvement manager and transportation specialist within our customer fulfillment network

Employee upskilling investment builds on Amazon’s $15 minimum wage and comprehensive benefits including medical insurance, 401k savings plan, and generous parental leave

I like BI’s headline: “Jeff Bezos just sent a clear signal that AI will remake American jobs.”

Deadend Jobs – Skills Retraining + Artificial Intelligence and/or Robotic Automation = Canary in the Coalmine.

Retrain, or become a Luddite.

Meanwhile, the French have passed a 3 percent digital services tax on sales in France for large Internet companies with over 25M Euros in French revenues. 

Expect U.S. retaliatory tariffs from Monsieur Trump, tout suite!

Next: Bird scooters are losing money hand over handlebars, some $100M in the first quarter, with revenue shrinking to about $15M. 

But hey, go ahead and continue stringing scooters across the downtown Austin landscape in a bid to drive up your next Series round.

You’re gonna need it if you only have $100M left in the scooter piggy bank!

Finally, I said to anyone who would listen in 1999 that one day, privacy would be considered a competitive differentiator. Well, I finally feel vindicated, and not dealing with privacy and data protection is finally carrying a hefty price that business can no longer ignore.

OneTrust, a company which builds tools to help companies navigate data protection and privacy policies both internally and with its customers, has raised $200M in a Series A and that values the company at $1.3B.

Billion, with a “B.”  That should buy lots of privacy.

Written by turbotodd

July 11, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Bixby’s Store

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Happy Monday morning, Happy Independence Day (Short) week here in the U.S.

So there’s more coming out re: Jony Ive’s departure from Apple. 

From a TechMeme headline summarizing a WSJ piece: Jony Ive was dispirited by Tim Cook’s lack of interest in the product development process and frustrated inside a more operations-focused company

If it’s TL;dr for you, the article feels human-centric design got pushed to the margin after Jobs’ moved on, and supply chain- and ops-centric Tim Cook was focused on what he did best, which was NOT human-centric design.

The key question is, what happens next, and it’s probably too soon to tell. But considering that the companys last major innovation on Ive’s watch (and post Jobs) was the Apple Watch, which  introduced on April 24, 2015…well, it may be about time to introduce something new and innovative. 

Can they? Will they? As President Trump likes to see, “We’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, on the Samsung front…that company has launched its Bixby Marketplace, which is a dedicated store where third-party developers can offer their own Bixby-compatible services. The store is now open for both US and South Korean customers.

Think of Bixby as Samsung’s Siri or Alexa equivalent.

More about the new store:

The marketplace is available through the main Bixby page on Samsung phones, though the company eventually intends to include it as part of the main Galaxy app store. Through the marketplace, users can search for services — which Samsung calls “capsules” — that enhance Bixby.

These capsules are categorized by type, such as “travel and transportation,” “food and drink,” “sports,” “shopping,” and “productivity,” and many well-known apps are featured at launch, including from Spotify, Uber, Google Maps, Yelp, and YouTube.

And there’s much more.

Recent funding rounds..Industrial AR headset maker RealWear raised an $80M Series B…Israel-Based NeuroBlade AI chip maker raised a $23M Series A with support from Intel Capital…Zero-commission wholesale marketplace Tundra announced a $12M Series A…China-based robotic process automation startup Laiye raised a $35M Series B…and AI-based fraud detection and prevention system provider for banks raised a $10M Series A.

Written by turbotodd

July 1, 2019 at 10:18 am

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes at Apple

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Big news at Apple this week…Longtime creative guru Jony Ive will be leaving Apple later this year after more than 20 years at the company. Ive is leaving to start LoveFrom, his own creative agency, and has already landed apple as its first client.

Daring Fireball noted “this dropped like a bomb,” apparently because nobody in the media had been given a heads up. Uh, this is Apple we’re talking about, when do they ever warn the media about anything of significance.

John Gruber continued::

It makes me queasy to see that Apple’s chief designers are now reporting to operations. This makes no more sense to me than having them report to the LLVM compiler team in the Xcode group. Again, nothing against Jeff Williams, nothing against the LLVM team, but someone needs to be in charge of design for Apple to be Apple and I can’t see how that comes from operations. I don’t think that “chief design officer” should have been a one-off title created just for Jony Ive. Not just for Apple, but especially at Apple, it should be a permanent C-level title. I don’t think Ive ever should have been put in control of software design, but at least he is a designer.

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Johnny Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.”
Another reaction, from Stratechery:

I understand Gruber’s angst. It is precisely that sort of dictatorship, first and foremost in the person of Steve Jobs, that made Apple, Apple. Again, though, I think Ive is in part a cautionary tale: he did his best work under Jobs, while the last few years have been more fraught from a design perspective; if Ive was not entirely up to the task of being the ultimate arbiter of all things Apple, who can be?
That is why the conclusion I had after WWDC feels more applicable than ever: it is less that Jony Ive is leaving Apple, and more that Apple, for better or worse, and also by necessity, has left Jony Ive and the entire era that he represented. So it goes.

Others reported that I’ve had only been coming into the office twice a week since the release of the Apple Watch in 2015… hey, the only constant in the tech industry is change. Enough said.

But there’s more change at Apple. The Mac Pro, which had been touted by Apple CEO Tim Cook as having been manufactured in the U.S. (right here in Austin, actually), will now be outsourced to Quanta Computer Inc. in China.

Why this matters? From The Wall Street Journal:

While the Mac Pro isn’t one of Apple’s bigger products, the decision on where to make it carries outsize significance. Apple’s reliance on factories in China to manufacture its products has been an issue for the company, especially under President Trump, who has pressured Apple and other companies to make more in the U.S.

The spin:

Final assembly is only one part of the manufacturing process,” [an Apple] spokesman said, adding that the company’s investments support two million American jobs. The Mac Pro is Apple’s most powerful computer, used primarily by a small group of professionals working in industries such as film and videogames.

The global supply chain for tech manufacturers is a long and winding Silk Belt and Road!

Meanwhile, back on the AI front: Somerville, Massachusetts has become the second U.S. city (behind San Francisco) to ban facial recognition usage in public space. From Vice:

The "Face Surveillance Full Ban Ordinance," which passed through Somerville’s City Council on Thursday night, forbids any “department, agency, bureau, and/or subordinate division of the City of Somerville” from using facial recognition software in public spaces. The ordinance passed Somerville’s Legislative Matters Committee on earlier this week.

The ordinance defines facial surveillance as “an automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying an individual, capturing information about an individual, based on the physical characteristics of an individual’s face,” which is operationally equivalent to facial recognition.

Now if someone could just find an AI bot to clean up all the poop in the streets of San Francisco!

Written by turbotodd

June 28, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Posted in 2019, apple, artificial intelligence, china

Tagged with , , ,

Tablets and Slackers

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Happy Friday.

Feels like this week blew by pretty quickly

So what’s the close of the week looking like for tech news?

First thing that caught my attention was Computerworld reporting that Google is officially done making its own tablets.

The last model, the Pixel Slate, was introduced into the market last year, and though Google apparently had two smaller-sized tablets under development, it opted to drop work on those devices and refocus its efforts on laptops.

For the record, I’m writing this post on a Google Pixelbook from 2018, a hybrid laptop-tablet that has exceeded my expectations (in terms of performance, etc.)

And Google also has its Pixel line of smartphones, so it probably makes sense to focus on a couple of form factors that represent where the market is leading, and to orient those efforts around Chrome OS.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering which telco provider has the fastest mobile network in the U.S., PC Mag is reporting AT&T overtook Verizon this year for first place with its not-quite-full-5G offering, "5G Evolution."

AT&T has also secretly been helped by improvements in smartphone modems over the past two years. Wireless spectrum forms the lanes on which all smartphone traffic travels, and AT&T has more LTE spectrum than T-Mobile or Verizon, according to Fierce Wireless. But AT&T’s spectrum is typically highly fragmented, coming in many small pieces rather than a few large chunks. New modems are better able to aggregate a lot of small channels into one fast connection, which is working to AT&T’s advantage.

Next time you’re in a Walmart and thinking to yourself, "I think I’ll just walk out of here with this George Foreman Grill hidden under my jacket." Well, think again.

According to a report from The Verge, Walmart has been surveilling its checkout registers with a computer vision technology called "Missed Scan Detection" to identify when items move past the scanner without having been scanned.

The system runs on cameras that watch as items move across the register. If an unusual activity occurs, such as an item moving into a bag without being scanned, a checkout attendant will be notified to take action. Missed Scan Detection was designed to help reduce theft and other losses, a problem that has cost US retailers up to $47 billion in 2017.

And if you were wondering how Slack’s IPO worked out yesterday, it closed the day at $38.62, 48% above its $26 reference price (and valuing Slack at $20B).

Hardly a Slacker of an IPO…Keep an eye out for the floats of Postmates and Peloton soon.

Written by turbotodd

June 21, 2019 at 11:36 am

Moving Insurance

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You may think the insurance business is boring, but hey, my dad was an insurance agent, and he sure was never boring (anything, but!)

But he’s been retired for a few years, and the insurance biz is changing.

Example: TechCrunch is reporting on a London-based startup called Zego, a firm that foresaw the need for gig-economy workers to have insurance. 

Though its first products were pay-as-you-go scooter and car insurance for food delivery workers, it has now announced a $42M Series B raise that will help it cater to a variety of “the new mobility services,” including ride-hailing, ridesharing, car rental and scooter sharing.

From a risk management perspective, things get even more interesting, because the company will now offer a range of policies, “from minute-by-minute insurance to annual cover[age], providing more flexibility than traditional insurers, with pricing based on usage data from vehicles.”

Zego’s mission statement in a nutshell can be found in this quote:

Sten Saar, CEO and co-founder of Zego, said: “When we built Zego from scratch three years ago, our mission was to transform the insurance sector by creating products which truly reflected the rapidly changing world of transport… The world is becoming more urbanized and because of this, we are moving from traditional ownership of vehicles to shared ‘usership’. This means that the rigid model of insurance that has existed for hundreds of years is no longer fit for purpose.”

Written by turbotodd

June 18, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Who Turned Out The Lights?

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Happy Monday!

Okay, golf fans out there, how about that U.S. Open?  Hats off to Gary Woodland, who held off the always lurking Brooks Koepka (and previous two-years-in-a-row U.S. Open winner) and fastidious Justin Rose to win his first ever major championship.

And there was hardly any bitching about the conditions of the venue, Pebble Beach, which I consider to be a good sign (i.e., no out of control rough, crazy fast greens, streaking fans…okay, that last one I made up just to see if I have your attention).

Of course, it’s kind of hard to bitch much about Pebble Beach — I’ve never been there in person, but even on TV it’s breathtaking.

Now, if you happened to be at a Target over the weekend trying to buy some merch, you might have had reason to bitch. For two days in a row, Target experienced a register outage that caused long lines and forced some customers to pay with cash.

You remember cash, right? That green stuff issued by the Federal Reserve that has pictures of past presidents and stuff on it?

Target shares are down more than 1.5% today as investors figured the missing weekend cash into the investment equation. The Wall Street Journal “Morning Download” email newsletter this morning cited Target as explaining the incident wasn’t security related, but rather blamed the outage on a data center issued related to “routine maintenance.” 

Tell me about those self-driving cars, again?  You know, the ones inextricably linked to the same clouds that are running the Target cash registers??

It could have been worse. You could have been trying to do the tango in Argentina (and Paraguay…and Uruguay…and parts of Chile…and Brazil). The power went off and left tens of millions in darkness for several hours on Sunday, and nobody seems to know why.

This as The New York Times on Sunday reported that the U.S. is escalating cyber attacks on Russia’s electric power grid and has placed potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system. Moscow responded today by saying such hacks could escalate into a cyberwar with the U.S.

Mutually assured power outages, anyone?

And on the subject of mutually assured whatever, Huawei’s CEO is doing some advance damage control on the U.S./China Chill-But-Getting-Colder trade war, explaining he expects the company’s revenues to drop $30B below forecast over the next two years.

That’s due largely to a drop of 40 to 60 million international smartphone shipments. 

I would recommend he go talk to Alexa about his problems, but according to a recent survey of 1,000+ U.S. adults, 46 percent never use voice assistants, and 19 percent use them less than once a month.

And for those who do use virtual assistants, 49 percent use them via smartphones as opposed to 18 percent on smart speakers.

Siri, tell Google Assistant to text Alexa not to bother me!

Written by turbotodd

June 17, 2019 at 11:14 am

Apple’s Supply Chain, RapidAPI’s Boost

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So what happens if this U.S.-China trade war gets outta hand? What, in particular, happens to Apple, whose supply chain purposely extends throughout the Middle Kingdom?

Bloomberg is reporting that Apple has a fallback plan, that its primary manufacturing partner, Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd), "has enough capacity to make all iPhones bound for the U.S. outside of China, if necessary."

“Twenty-five percent of our production capacity is outside of China and we can help Apple respond to its needs in the U.S. market,” said [Foxconn semiconductor division chief, Young] Liu, adding that investments are now being made in India for Apple. “We have enough capacity to meet Apple’s demand."

According to the report, Apple has not given Foxconn instructions to move production out of China…yet.

Foxconn is now running quality tests for the iPhone Xr series there and plans to begin mass production at a facility in the suburbs of Chennai. Older models are already assembled at a Wistron plant in Bangalore.

Foxconn had also committed to building a 13,000-worker facility in Wisconsin, but the fate of that plant seems to have been up and down. But Foxconn executives maintain the employment goal remains, and that "construction remains on schedule and that it will hire as many as 2,000 Americans by the end of 2020."

Meanwhile, the tech consolidation buying spree continues.

Intel is acquiring Barefoot Networks, which specializes in programmable networking chips, for $155M. Interesting to note that Barefoot’s fund raises amounted to $155M from a variety of firms, including Chinese Internet giants Tencent and Alibaba.

TechCrunch provides a backgrounder:

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Barefoot Networks was launched from stealth in late 2016 by Dr. Craig Barratt, a former Stanford University professor whose work was critical to the development of the networking architectures that allowed Alphabet, Facebook and others to operate at the massive scale they now have.

As these companies demanded more customized hardware ranging from chipsets to enable their various machine learning algorithms to manage and monitor content (and win Go games), to the servers and routers that they’ve put up in their own internal networks Barratt realized they’d need chipsets that they could modify.

With the acquisition, Intel adds a core knowledge set around p4-programmable high speed data paths, switch silicon development, P4 compilers, drivers oftware, network telemetry and computational networking.

It’s not just speed in the chips that will transform cloud-based AI…it’s speed in the networking infrastructure and at the edge of the network.

H&R Block is acquiring Toronto-based Wave Financial, a financial planning platform for small business owners (surely you’ve seen their TV spots!) for $537 million CAD (Canadian dollars).

The acquisition, which is still subject to regulatory approval and closing conditions, expands H&R Block’s product and client portfolio with Wave’s accounting, invoicing, payroll, and payments software solutions and will also see Wave adding H&R Block tax solutions to its suite of products.

In 2014, Wave reached over 2.5 million customers worldwide, and launched its Invoice feature the following year. Last year, the company surpassed 3.5 million customers, and launched Wave Plus, launching its Receipts and Payments features the following year.

Wave provides its software for free to more than four million customers in 200 countries worldwide. Revenue is generated from Wave’s paid financial services, including Payments and Payroll by Wave. The company’s general software is free, rather than “freemium” model, meaning that its tools can be used without tiers or limitations.

Upon closing, writes BetaKit, the deal "would make one of the largest ever Canadian tech exits."

And if you’re a developer, this one’s for you: RapidAPI, which devs used to search for, pay, and connect to public APIs, has closed a Series B round of $25 million.

The funding comes at a time of decent growth for the startup. The company now counts 10,000 APIs in its marketplace, which it estimates covers 33% of all publicly available APIs globally (leaving lots of room still to grow); with developers using RapidAPI, now standing at 1 million, who now collectively make 500 billion API calls each month from a wide variety of companies big and small, including Microsoft, SendGrid, Nexmo, Telesign, Google, Skyscanner and Crunchbase.

TechCrunch reports that the funding will help bolster development of its tools, including RapidAPI for Teams, "which will help them not only manage their use of public APIs but also organse and use their own internal APIs and microservices.

If you build it (your API), they will come…but they have to find it first!

RapidAPI currently has 1 million developers and counting…I would expect somebody will take them off the board and soon. Microsoft may have first right of refusal, as RapidAPI’s Series B was led by the company’s venture arm, M12.

Written by turbotodd

June 11, 2019 at 10:00 am

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