Turbotodd

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

Posts Tagged ‘AI

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

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

Broad Spectrum

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Happy Friday.

It appears that Amazon is interested in buying prepaid mobile wireless service Boost Mobile from US carriers T-Mobile and Sprint.

According to a report in Reuters, Amazon is considering buying Boost because the deal would allow it to use the “New T-Mobile” wireless network for at least six years.

New T-Mobile is the name that T-Mobile and Sprint use to refer to the new entity that would result from their merger, one that still requires regulatory approval.

Reuters also reported that Amazon would be interested as well in any wireless spectrum that could be divested as part of the deal.

Analysts estimate that Boost has seven to eight million customers and a transaction could be valued at $4.5 billion if the deal included wireless spectrum and facilities.

Meanwhile, we’re getting some of our first public looks at Uber earnings…the company reported $3.1B in revenue in Q1, which was up 20% year-over-year, and gross bookings of $14.65B dollars, up 34% year-over-year but with a net loss of $1.01B.

From CNBC:

On a call with analysts, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he likes “what we see on the competitor front in the U.S.,” referencing Lyft’s earnings call where executives said they are beginning to compete more on brand.
“I think that competing on brand and product is, call it, a healthier mode of competition than just throwing money at a challenge,” Khosrowshahi said.

If you’re a Chrome user and interested in security, see this piece from WIRED, one entitled “Google is finally making Chrome extensions more secure.”

The improvements come as part of a wider company push to evaluate how much user data third-party applications can access. Google launched the audit, known as Project Strobe, in October alongside an announcement that Google+ had suffered data exposuresand would be shuttered.
Later this year, Google will begin requiring that extensions only request access to the minimum amount of user data necessary to function. The company is also expanding its requirements around privacy policies: Previously, only extensions that dealt with personal and sensitive user data had to post the policies, but now extensions that handle personal communications and other user-generated content will need to articulate policies, as well. Google says it is announcing these changes now so developers have time to adapt before the new rules take effect this fall.

Some funding news: BabbleLabs, which is focused on improving speech quality, accuracy, and personalization in voice apps, has raised a $14M Series A. The round was co-led by Dell Technologies Capital and Intel Capital.

Written by turbotodd

May 31, 2019 at 11:23 am

Reservation for 5,000

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I read a piece in The New York Times yesterday that provided a recent test of Google’s Duplex technology.

Google Duplex was the technology revealed in May 2018 at the Google I/O developer conference that uses a Google AI engine via Google Assistant to call and make appointments. The original I/O demo, and The New York Times test, partly centered on making restaurant reservations.

In the Times piece, you can listen to a couple of the reservation calls. You should give them a listen. No, really.

Do they pass the Turing Test? Maybe not, but the AI does a really good job of playing the human. And in many cases, Duplex is still using humans, not bots, for making the reservations.

That, presumably, is to better train the bots so that we can get rid of the humans altogether and move the humans up the value chain to a far more interesting job like, say, delivering for Uber eats!

I wonder what happens if one of the algos messes up and tries to make a reservation for 5,000 using someone’s Amex black card for a deposit.

Does the Duplex AI start screaming for help from Dave because the algo doesn’t know what to do with that information? Does Amex reverse the charge when the human calls blaming the mistake on the Duplex AI? Do they try to sue Larry and Sergey!??"

*That* one you can try at home, kids!

Written by turbotodd

May 23, 2019 at 10:02 am

Posted in 2019, artificial intelligence, google

Tagged with , ,

Rain, Shine, Sleet, Snow, or AI

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Uncle Sam’s getting into the AI game, specifically with the U.S Postal Service.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, USPS is testing self-driving trucks on a more than 1,000-mile mail run between Phoenix and Dallas.

It’s a two-week pilot, and will use rigs supplied by autonomous trucking firm TuSimple to haul trailers on five round trips between distribution centers.

“The roughly 22-hour trip along three interstate highways is normally serviced by outside trucking companies that use two-driver teams to comply with federal regulations limiting drivers’ hours behind the wheel.”

Pretty simple equation. No humans, low cost, and no hours-of-service restrictions for AI Driver Dude.

So, dude (and dudettes), dissuade your kids from becoming truck drivers. There’s literally going to be no future for them.

Written by turbotodd

May 21, 2019 at 4:54 pm

Robots Never Die

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I have personally been looking forward to the age of robots and artificial intelligence. Despite all the advances we’ve made in science and technology in the last few centuries, we seem to still be on the verge of living in a populist, nationalist, non-science driven dystopia.

I want my robots.

But I’m not apparently going to be getting them from Anki, a “once-hot” robotics startup that is shutting down after raising more than $200M.

Recode’s coverage indicated that close to 200 employees of the company would be paid a week of severance, and that CEO Boris Sofman had told employees the company was scrambling to find more money after a new round of financing fell through.

Anki had produced consumer robots like “Cozmo,” but had also raised what Recode described as “serious money” from the likes of Andreesen Horowitz.

The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”
“Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “A significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement. We’re doing our best to take care of every single employee and their families, and our management team continues to explore all options available.”

Anki robots had been popular at stores like Toys R Us, but had more recently attempted to pivot from toys to a “developed robotics” company based on AI.

Company employees were being given only a week of severance pay. As for the company robots still lying around? I hope somebody removed their power source!

Written by turbotodd

April 30, 2019 at 9:16 am

Posted in 2019, AI, startups

Tagged with , , , ,

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