Friday, June 23, 2017

Uber Made an Unusual Legal Pledge to the Head of Its Driverless Car Project - Bloomberg

On a related note, see Uber Can’t Be Fixed — It’s Time for Regulators to Shut It Down (Harvard Business Review)

"Uber’s legal fees promise is further evidence that the talent competition in the driverless car sector is cut-throat. It was a highly risky benefit to offer, according to Jim Pooley, a lawyer at Orrick in Menlo Park, California.

The indemnification document may be “very powerful” evidence that Uber suspected Levandowski would be taking proprietary information from Waymo, said Pooley, who has more than 35 years of litigation experience and is the author of the “Secrets: Managing Information Assets in the Age of Cyberespionage.”"
Uber Made an Unusual Legal Pledge to the Head of Its Driverless Car Project - Bloomberg

Facebook changes mission statement to ‘bring the world closer together’ | TechCrunch

The new Facebook mission statement: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

"Zuckerberg announced the change today at the Facebook Communities Summit for top Group admins where it announced new Group management tools. “For the last decade or so we’ve been focusing on making the world more open and connected. But I used to think that if we just give people a voice and help some people connect that that would make the world a whole lot better by itself,” Zuckerberg admits. “Look around and our society is still so divided. We have a responsibility to do more, not just to connect the world but to bring the world closer together.”

Rather than have the new mission be just a philosophy, Zuckerberg says Facebook is turning it into a goal. “We want to help 1 billion people join meaningful communities. If we can do this it will not only reverse the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen around the world… but it will also strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.” Right now Facebook considers there to be only 100 million meaningful group members."
Facebook changes mission statement to ‘bring the world closer together’ | TechCrunch

We’re one step closer to getting cheaper, faster Internet from space - The Washington Post

Looking forward to my last Verizon bill in <= 2019

"For many, it's been a years-long pipe dream: Ultra-fast, lag-free Internet that comes to your PC or smartphone via satellite instead of a wire into your home. Facebook, Google and even SpaceX have all explored the idea, partly in hopes of selling broadband access to a growing market with enormous potential — the developing world.

But now, a former Googler and friend of Elon Musk has beaten them all to the punch, becoming the first to receive permission to actually build a next-generation satellite Internet service that targets U.S. customers. If it takes off, the project could benefit Americans nationwide by providing broadband anywhere in the United States, particularly in rural areas where it can be difficult to provide fast Internet connections using traditional ground-based cables."
We’re one step closer to getting cheaper, faster Internet from space - The Washington Post

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Google's Eric Schmidt: We need critical thinking now more than ever | Guardian Small Business Network | The Guardian

From an overview of a timely Eric Schmidt reality check
"He acknowledged that the fast pace of innovation had made many wary of change. But he emphasised that machine learning and artificial intelligence hold opportunities for a broad range of sectors, including farming, energy, fashion, and healthcare, even if they operated very differently to today. 
“The largest taxi company has no taxis, that’s Uber. The largest accommodation company has no real estate, that’s Airbnb. The largest phone company has no infrastructure, that’s Skype. The most valuable retailer has no inventory, that’s Alibaba. The largest movie theatre, has no movie theatres, that’s Netflix.

“These of course are huge disruptions ... and incumbents [always] resist change. When Henry Ford released his Model T car, it was dismissed as a fad because horses are here to stay. In 1928, a doctor warned that rail travel at high speeds would cause passengers to die of asphyxiation. And – my favourite – in 2007, [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer said there was no chance the iPhone was going to achieve any significant market share.”"
Google's Eric Schmidt: We need critical thinking now more than ever | Guardian Small Business Network | The Guardian

Jeff Bezos' lessons from Washington Post for news industry (CNBC)

See the full article for additional advice

""Democracy dies in darkness." Before introducing its infamous tagline in the wake of President Donald Trump's election, the Post worked on it for more than a year trying to make it sound a little less ... dark. But it couldn't figure out a way.

"We wanted a positive version of 'democracy dies in darkness,' and literally we had some of the smartest writers in the world try to invert 'democracy dies in darkness' to get a positive version of it, and we couldn't do it, so we said to hell with it."

His final advice: "When you're writing, be riveting, be right and ask people to pay. They will pay.""
Jeff Bezos' lessons from Washington Post for news industry

Why we’re betting against real-time team messaging – Ambition & Balance

From a post by the CEO of Twist creator Doist; also see Twist is Slack without the annoying distractions (TechCrunch)

"Whether it’s Facebook or Slack, today’s communication apps compete to grab your attention and maximize your time spent inside their apps. That’s how they raise VC money and bolster huge valuations (Slack is currently valued at 3.8 billion dollars).
We want Twist to do well and be profitable, but we want it to be because it truly empowers teams (including ours) to do their best work, not because it hijacks their time and attention. It’s about having a product that’s built to serve users’ needs and not the other way around.
It’s going to be a long, uphill battle. Calm, asynchronous communication isn’t the norm. It’s going to take a major shift in thinking to recognize that focus and balance are vital assets that companies need to protect in order to be successful."
Why we’re betting against real-time team messaging – Ambition & Balance

Google Glass is apparently back from the dead, starts getting software updates | Ars Technica

Perhaps not dead yet

"After Glass' initial launch and failure, the Glass team "graduated" Google X and moved it under the control of Nest's then-boss Tony Fadell. Fadell had the group "reset their strategy" for a new version, and Google even hired a bunch of people from Amazon's Fire Phone team, but a followup never came. The last we heard from the group was a foldable prototype unit that hit the FCC at the end of 2015.

The new updates certainly make it seem like no one has been doing Glass development work over the last three years. Both the firmware and app seem mostly unchanged compared to the version from three years ago other than the aforementioned bug fixes. It's very odd that Google would suddenly start sending out updates, especially to a device that is around five years old. I'd imagine most Glass units are even broken at this point or in need of new flash storage or a battery replacement. Is the Glass team starting up again, or was someone at Google just really bored this week?"
Google Glass is apparently back from the dead, starts getting software updates | Ars Technica

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Apple began "Project Purple" because Steve Jobs hated Microsoft exec, says Scott Forstall (AppleInsider)

More iPhone 10th anniversary insights -- context: "In his first public interview since leaving Apple in 2012, former head of iOS development Scott Forstall provided commentary on his background, the first iPhone and his relationship with company cofounder Steve Jobs."
"According to the former executive, it was Jobs' hatred of a particular Microsoft executive that sparked his interest in tablet computing. Jobs' wife Laurene had a friend whose husband worked for Microsoft, Forstall said. This unnamed executive apparently rubbed Jobs the wrong way on multiple occasions, but it was one meeting in particular that set the tech guru off.

Microsoft was developing a tablet platform based on stylus interactions that was cutting edge for the time. The unnamed executive "shoved it in Steve's face" that the technology would "rule the world." Pooh-poohing the notion of a stylus first user interface, Jobs decided to challenge Microsoft with Apple's own solution."
Apple began "Project Purple" because Steve Jobs hated Microsoft exec, says Scott Forstall

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned due to investor pressure, and a search for a new leader is on - Recode

A new chapter begins for Uber

"Kalanick had become a giant liability to the car-hailing company for a growing number of reasons, from sketchy business practices to troubling lawsuits to a basic management situation that was akin to really toxic goat rodeo.

Thus, he had to go, even though some sources said he had the voting power to stay.

But big investors also have leverage and a big enough group of them joined to use it. Those investors include Benchmark, Fidelity and Menlo Ventures, all of whom sent Kalanick a joint letter called “Moving Uber Forward” on Tuesday afternoon. Interestingly, Google Ventures was not among the group, even though its parent company Alphabet is now in a major lawsuit with Uber over the alleged theft of self-driving car technology from its Waymo unit."
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned due to investor pressure, and a search for a new leader is on - Recode

Apple smart glasses for augmented reality could leverage iPhone power, UBS says (CNBC)

View different
""Advanced sensors and camera capabilities will enhance the iPhone; eventually there could be independent hardware offerings, perhaps iGlass," UBS analyst Steven Milunovich said. "We can imagine a pair of glasses with quintessential Apple design (iGlass), which enable a Hololens-type experience," the company said, referring to Microsoft's bulky alternative.

"However, the amount of compute power and sensors required likely pose a serious design challenge. If Apple could find a way to send massive amounts of data from the eyeglasses to the iPhone where the bulk of the compute would occur, the eyewear could have a more attractive design. The issue then becomes how to transfer massive amounts of complex data between devices quickly.""
Apple smart glasses for augmented reality could leverage iPhone power, UBS says

Amazon Bites Off Even More Monopoly Power - The New York Times

From a timely Amazon reality check

"But antitrust officials would be naïve to view this deal as simply about groceries. Buying Whole Foods will enable Amazon to leverage and amplify the extraordinary power it enjoys in online markets and delivery, making an even greater share of commerce part of its fief.

The company has established its level of dominance because of the failings of our current antitrust laws. To understand why, you first need to understand the scope of Amazon’s power. It has captured 43 percent of all internet retail sales in the United States, with half of all online shopping searches starting on Amazon. In 2016, it had over $63 billion in revenue from online sales in the United States — or more than the next 10 top online retailers combined. It controls 74 percent of e-book sales, is the largest seller of clothes online and is set to soon become the biggest apparel retailer in the country."
Amazon Bites Off Even More Monopoly Power - The New York Times

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Google launches its AI-powered jobs search engine | TechCrunch

See Connecting more Americans with jobs (Google Keyword blog) for more details

"Looking for a new job is getting easier. Google today launched a new jobs search feature right on its search result pages that lets you search for jobs across virtually all of the major online job boards like LinkedIn, Monster, WayUp, DirectEmployers, CareerBuilder and Facebook and others. Google will also include job listings its finds on a company’s homepage.

The idea here is to give job seekers an easy way to see which jobs are available without having to go to multiple sites only to find duplicate postings and lots of irrelevant jobs."
Google launches its AI-powered jobs search engine | TechCrunch

Amazon’s New Customer – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Acquire different

"This is the key to understanding the purchase of Whole Foods: to the outside it may seem that Amazon is buying a retailer. The truth, though, is that Amazon is buying a customer — the first-and-best customer that will instantly bring its grocery efforts to scale.

Today, all of the logistics that go into a Whole Foods store are for the purpose of stocking physical shelves: the entire operation is integrated. What I expect Amazon to do over the next few years is transform the Whole Foods supply chain into a service architecture based on primitives: meat, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, non-perishables (Whole Foods’ outsized reliance on store brands is something that I’m sure was very attractive to Amazon). What will make this massive investment worth it, though, is that there will be a guaranteed customer: Whole Foods Markets."
Amazon’s New Customer – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Tech Titans Make Pilgrimage to White House to Discuss Government Systems - The New York Times

Just another day in White House Reality TV
"“Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution,” said Mr. Trump, who strolled in at the end of the meeting to greet the tech titans. “We’re going to change that with the help of great American businesses like the people assembled.”   
He later said, drawing laughter, “We have approximately $3.5 trillion of market value in this room — but that’s almost the exact number that we’ve created since my election.”

Few technology specialists from the White House attended. The administration has not filled several major science and technology positions. But the business and economics team closest to the president attended, including Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, and Dina Powell, senior counselor for economic initiatives."
Also see What you need to know about Trump’s meeting with tech CEOs (The Washington Post), which concludes:
"“The whole belief that you're going to bring these high-level thinkers to a table for an hour or two and have them solve all these things is at the heart of what this administration's problems are,” said one tech industry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the topic more freely. “As Trump has said, 'Who knew health care could be so difficult?' Well, who knew that cloud infrastructure could be so difficult? Who knew that Big Data could be so difficult? They're all about the scalps in the room.”"
Tech Titans Make Pilgrimage to White House to Discuss Government Systems - The New York Times

The Race Is On to Challenge Google-Facebook ‘Duopoly’ in Digital Advertising - WSJ

From a digital advertising reality check

"Google and Facebook together collect nearly half of global spending. Last year, the U.S. online ad market expanded by nearly $12 billion and the two firms accounted for over 77% of that spending growth, according to eMarketer.

Advertisers are hoping for the emergence of a legitimate third player to provide competition that can give them more leverage and help keep prices in check. For ad agencies, the matter is existential: Google and Facebook have the resources to deploy entire teams to work with marketers directly, cutting out the middleman."
The Race Is On to Challenge Google-Facebook ‘Duopoly’ in Digital Advertising - WSJ

The iPhone Is 10 Years Old. Here’s the Story of Its Birth. - The New York Times

Final paragraphs of a The One Device review

"But when he gets back to the actual iPhone’s creation, Merchant tells a far richer story than I — having covered Apple for years as a journalist — have seen before. If you’ve ever worked on a hopeless project that felt like it was going nowhere, you will draw spiritual strength from Merchant’s account of life in the Purple trenches. It includes fascinating dead ends and might-have- beens (a prototype based on the original iPod’s click wheel, backlit in blue and orange); personal sacrifices (“The iPhone is the reason I’m divorced”); obscure technical hurdles (the phone’s infrared proximity sensor, which turns the screen off when it’s near your head, wouldn’t recognize dark hair); backstage tension at the launch (I was actually there, watching Jobs rehearse the famous iPhone keynote, but apparently missed everything); even a symbolic onstage assassination (when Jobs publicly demonstrated swiping to delete a contact, he used Apple vice president Tony Fadell’s name, foreshadowing Fadell’s imminent departure).

The iPhone masquerades as a thing not made by human hands. Merchant’s book makes visible that human labor, and in the process dispels some of the fog and reality distortion that surround the iPhone. “The One Device” isn’t definitive, but it’s a start. What we need is the critical equivalent of a Pentalobe, a book that will crack open the meaning of the iPhone, to properly interrogate this digital symbiont, or parasite, that has introduced new kinds of both connection and disconnection into our lives. If the iPhone was a revolution, who or what exactly was overthrown? One of the stories Merchant tells comes from Grignon, who was the first person to receive a call on the iPhone. The punch line is that he didn’t pick up. “Instead of being this awesome Alexander Graham Bell moment, it was just like, ‘Yeah,… go to voice mail,’” Grignon says. “I think it’s very apropos, given where we are now.”"
The iPhone Is 10 Years Old. Here’s the Story of Its Birth. - The New York Times

Monday, June 19, 2017

Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter (The Intercept)

Oops... See The RNC Files: Inside the Largest US Voter Data Leak (UpGuard) for more details
"What UpGuard appears to have discovered, sitting on an Amazon cloud storage drive with no password or username required for access by anyone on the internet, was terabytes of the data used to map the voter proclivities and demographics key to finding voters in those buckets. Beyond personal information like religion, age, and probable ethnicity, certain database files among those made public include individual scores for nearly 50 different beliefs, according to UpGuard’s analysis
[...]
Most Americans would likely be disturbed that this kind of information was generated about them in the first place, to say nothing of the fact that it was accidentally made public by the very companies being paid by the Republican Party to make it, with essentially zero security precautions of any kind taken with how it was stored in the cloud."
Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter

How Uber and Airbnb Became Poster Children for the Disruption Economy - The New York Times

Excerpt from a multi-book review by Walter Isaacson
"Three new fast-paced narrative books written by seasoned business journalists (all of whom I have known since my days in the magazine world) detail the personal, financial and social aspects of the rise of these companies. “Wild Ride,” by Adam Lashinsky, executive editor of Fortune, is a crisp and lively look at both the good and bad aspects of the rise of Uber and its C.E.O., Kalanick. His Fortune colleague Leigh Gallagher has similarly produced a colorful account of Airbnb and its C.E.O., Brian Chesky, “The Airbnb Story.” And Brad Stone of Bloomberg News has intertwined the two tales in “The Upstarts,” a richly researched and highly readable narrative that provides additional layers of insight by weaving in contrasting stories of competing companies that failed. 
In addition to these narratives, which are generally celebratory, it is also useful to read a darker counterpoint, Jonathan Taplin’s “Move Fast and Break Things,” which argues that the radical libertarian ideology and monopolistic greed of many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs helped to decimate the livelihood of musicians and is now undermining the communal idealism of the early internet. “The original mission of the internet,” he writes, “was hijacked by a small group of right-wing radicals to whom the ideas of democracy and decentralization were anathema.”"
How Uber and Airbnb Became Poster Children for the Disruption Economy - The New York Times

Four steps we’re taking today to fight online terror (Google Keyword blog)

Check the full post for details

"While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now.

We have thousands of people around the world who review and counter abuse of our platforms. Our engineers have developed technology to prevent re-uploads of known terrorist content using image-matching technology. We have invested in systems that use content-based signals to help identify new videos for removal. And we have developed partnerships with expert groups, counter-extremism agencies, and the other technology companies to help inform and strengthen our efforts.

Today, we are pledging to take four additional steps."
Four steps we’re taking today to fight online terror

Amazon’s Whole Foods buy removed nearly $22 billion in market value from rival supermarkets - Recode

New retail math; also see How Amazon Is Changing the Whole Concept of Monopoly (The New Republic)
"Amazon’s Friday morning announcement that it was acquiring Whole Foods sent the high-end grocery’s stock soaring. This was bad news for Whole Foods’ grocery competitors, who now face a fierce battle with Amazon.

Target, Kroger, Costco, Walmart, Dollar General, SuperValu and Sprouts lost a combined market value of $21.7 billion in one day — 6 percent of their total worth, according to data from FactSet.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, gained more than $3 billion in market cap, up 29 percent, from Thursday to Friday and nearing its $13.7 billion purchase price."
Amazon’s Whole Foods buy removed nearly $22 billion in market value from rival supermarkets - Recode