Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Yikes, this one is long…And this is after I cut out a bunch of other clippings I saved already!
In any case, hope it is enjoyable, and thanks for reading.
The Empire Strikes Back
Before jumping into our regular programming, one thing I think worth diving deeper into is what happens when the Empire strikes back.
We talk a lot about disruptive technology and market evolution around here. That is all good and well, but the assumption that most people make is that the incumbents (e.g. the Empire) are too slow or strategically blind to fight back.
That is probably true in a good number of cases, especially when technology is new. But a lot of the “disruptive” technologies that are transforming the world today like the internet, smartphones, cloud, etc…aren’t even new concepts anymore. These technologies have been around for more than a decade and sometimes more than two. It’s one thing for Barnes and Nobles to ignore the potential of e-commerce and Amazon in 1999. It’s an entirely different thing for Walmart to ignore Amazon today or for JPMorgan Chase to ignore Paypal or Square.
Are big organizations slow? Sure. But speed mostly matters if the Empire is trying to build everything in-house. God knows the Empire would fail if it needs to build in-house every enterprise service that matters such as CRM, ERP, security + identity, customer-facing touchpoints like modern websites and mobile applications, etc.
BUT the wonderful thing about how technology all works together is that an incumbent could adopt modern technology as fast as any start-up can. For example, many stodgy consumer brands like Heinz, Unilever, etc suddenly realized they can have a bright, modern website with all the bells and whistles like the young cool kids by simply signing up for a Shopify just like everyone else.
Incumbents are slow if they want to do everything in-house. But are they really slower if they just decide to adopt the same tech stack as any fast-moving start-up would? Probably still slower. Sure. But slow enough to get destroyed? Maybe not.
One example I think worth considering is the curious case of Sberbank in Russia.
If you think JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi, and Wells Fargo have a chokehold on the US economy, Sberbank is on a whole different level in Russia. The four US banks combined control about 50% of US financial system assets and about 35% of deposit share. That’s a lot!
On the other hand, Sberbank is the leading bank in Russia and this single bank alone controls 45% of deposits, 40% of loans, and has a relationship with 70% of the Russian population!
As I said, a whole different level.
Now, what is curious and interesting about Sberbank is that they have the benefit of hindsight. While technology certainly exists in emerging markets like Russia, technology adoption tends to lag the developed markets (and China, which in practical terms is a technological developed market these days). This lag gives Sberbank the benefit of seeing how banking and financial markets are being disrupted in other markets before it happens in Russia.
Sberbank is the Empire. And it’s rightfully concerned.
That’s why Sberbank decided almost a decade ago that it needed to become a tech company, and it’s in the process of aggressively rolling out its vision now. Initially, Sberbank tried to acquire the leading ecosystem, Yandex (which is the / a leader in search, classifieds, maps, newsfeed, ride-hailing, grocery delivery, music) until the government stopped it in its tracks.
What does its vision look like?
It looks like a bank trying to become everything including e-commerce marketplace, e-health / telemedicine provider, entertainment hub, education portal, cloud provider, etc. More proof that everything is everything.
And it’s actually finding some success!
It has a top 3 service (either directly or through controlling investments) across a number of areas including food delivery, ride-hailing, real estate / mortgages, etc.
And it’s expecting some pretty impressive growth in the coming years:
In other words, the Empire is trying to strike back.
It’s not hard to understand why Sberbank wants to do this. It’s also not hard to understand why Sberbank has a decent chance of accomplishing it.
It has all the money and data in the financial system. It has all of the relationships with consumers already!
And it can do things like this:
Sberbank can simply launch a credit card with excellent rewards that simply push consumers toward their own services.
Seems like the bank is cheating, but in a way this is what every fintech is doing, too.
And as I’ve written before, payments is increasingly becoming the most important channel for loyalty. Payments is increasingly the layer where western markets are heading to for managing loyalty and data because in the west it remains neutral. But in Russia, it isn’t neutral anymore.
So taken all together, I think it’s safe to say that if the Empire strikes back, it can actually hurt.
But why has it taken this long?
As I mentioned above, Sberbank wanted to go down this road more than 5 years ago. It saw what was happening in the west, and the Chairman had more than a healthy dose of paranoia regarding potential for tech disruption.
What stopped them was the government. Most people think governments are in cahoots with the banking system.
In a way, that’s true! If anyone does anything to harm the deposit and liability side of the system, prepare for trouble. That’s basically the unstated iron law that Ant Financial violated in China.
BUT, most governments actually spend a lot of effort trying to constrain banks on the asset / lending side. The ultimate goal is to protect deposits, and banks taking excessive risks on the asset side is not ideal.
This was fine when the banking world was simply driven by pure numbers. Big banks benefit from government regulations on the deposit side. That leads to lower cost of funds / money for the banks. The banks can then use that as an advantage on the asset side, even if they are somewhat constrained by regulations on the lending side.
But this symbiotic relationship is breaking down. What drives the asset side these days is no longer just pure numbers. People don’t necessarily take loans based on pure numbers. The asset side is increasingly driven by data, customer / client relationship, a broader concept of loyalty and rewards and experience. And this evolution on the asset side towards an experience and perhaps loyalty and membership is something that banks are finding very hard to do with the current regulatory regime.
I didn’t set out to write specifically about Sberbank or banks at all. But I think what’s increasingly interesting to recognize is that incumbents aren’t so stodgy if and when they decide to give up their ego and adopt the best tech stack money can buy just like everyone else even if it is not developed in-house. And when that happens, it will start to suck oxygen out of the room unless something more powerful like the government steps in to limit them for whatever reason(s).
I think increasingly it is important to understand which disruptors are winning simply because the incumbents haven’t gotten over their egos, which incumbents are smart but constrained (e.g. JPMorgan Chase), and which incumbents are simply past their prime.
#1 US recovers most of ransom paid after Colonial Pipeline hack
The Justice Department has recovered most of a multimillion-dollar ransom payment made to hackers after a cyberattack that caused the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline to halt its operations last month, officials said Monday.
The operation to seize cryptocurrency paid to the Russia-based hacker group is the first of its kind to be undertaken by a specialized ransomware task force created by the Biden administration Justice Department. It reflects a rare victory in the fight against ransomware as U.S. officials scramble to confront a rapidly accelerating threat targeting critical industries around the world.
“By going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks — including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency — we will continue to use all of our resources to increase the cost and consequences of ransomware and other cyber-based attacks,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference announcing the operation.Source: AP News
Bitcoin hasn’t been doing so well lately. Cryptocurrencies used to fly under the radar from a government perspective, but the moment criminals use it as a vehicle to cause national security issues for governments, crypto has a problem.
At the end of the day, crypto may be decentralized, but people are not. The government may not be able to get your crypto if you protect it well, but it certainly won’t stop them from trying to put you in a dark room and applying pressure in various places until you talk.
Also…crypto itself may be fairly secure, but as with all things tech, it’s only as secure as the weakest link in the chain. Crypto still needs to interact with the other parts of tech that may be less secure, like your computer or phone, etc. The government did not disclose how they ended up with the keys to the Bitcoin wallet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the US government can be pretty good at snooping on passwords stored anywhere besides your brain if it wants to go looking for them.
#2 The FBI Secretly Ran the Anom Messaging Platform, Yielding Hundreds of Arrests in Global Sting
Hundreds of suspected members of criminal networks have been arrested by authorities around the world after being duped into using an encrypted communications platform secretly run by the FBI to hatch their plans for alleged crimes including drug smuggling and money laundering.
In the global sting operation dubbed “Operation Trojan Shield,” an international coalition of law-enforcement agencies led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation covertly monitored the encrypted communications service Anom, which purported to offer a feature cherished in the criminal underworld: total secrecy.
The sting was revealed this week in a series of news conferences by authorities in the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Alleged members of international criminal organizations adopted the platform as a means to communicate securely, unaware that authorities were covertly monitoring 27 million messages from more than 12,000 users across more than 100 countries, officials said.
The takedown involved more than 9,000 law-enforcement offices around the world that had searched 700 locations in the previous 48 hours alone, U.S. and European officials said early Tuesday. Police forces had in recent days carried out more than 800 arrests in 16 countries and seized more than 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and 2 tons of synthetic drugs, as well as 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various currencies. More than 150 threats to human life were also disrupted, officials said.
In the U.S., the FBI charged 17 foreign nationals operating in places including Australia, the Netherlands and Spain with distributing encrypted Anom communications devices, saying they violated federal racketeering laws typically used to target organized-crime groups, officials said. Eight of those individuals are in custody and nine remain at large, they said.Source: WSJ
I think there’s a bigger message here, but I’m not sure what it is, yet.
But there are definitely a couple of things I find fascinating here:
1/ For criminals that are looking for something secure, how do criminals vet that? It’s pretty hard to vet digital security. Even the US cannot figure out how to vet something like Huawei infrastructure to guarantee that it is safe (and hence have been encouraging western governments to preemptively ban Huawei parts despite no known issues)…how can anyone assume they can do this on their own?
2/ What does this say about governments increasingly needing to control the digital world directly? Governments have not gotten much cooperation from private tech giants. Is this a precursor to governments deciding they need to vertically integrate into the tech world and control key channels like communications? You can still have your preferred messaging app, but perhaps the backend will eventually be just an API call into a government-run messaging system?
#3 El Salvador becomes first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender after passing law
Lawmakers in the Central American country’s Congress voted by a “supermajority” in favor of the Bitcoin Law, receiving 62 out of 84 of the legislature’s vote.
“The purpose of this law is to regulate bitcoin as unrestricted legal tender with liberating power, unlimited in any transaction, and to any title that public or private natural or legal persons require carrying out,” the law reads.
Prices can now be shown in bitcoin, tax contributions can be paid with the digital currency, and exchanges in bitcoin will not be subject to capital gains tax.Source: CNBC
Bitcoin is now a currency in El Salvador!
This is a brave move by a government because controlling currency is one of the most powerful functions of a government. El Salvador’s government just decided to relinquish that. El Salvador’s government has no power to control bitcoin supply in their country, and hence if bitcoin becomes the preferred currency, then El Salvador’s government will have no power over the country’s monetary policy.
BUT, maybe this is just recognizing reality. For a lot of emerging markets, the governments already have limited power over their own monetary policy. Yes, they have their own currencies and can determine their own money supply, but in reality a lot of central banking decisions simply need to follow what the US Fed does anyway. Going against the Fed is usually a quick way to ask for a currency crisis / disaster. So maybe El Salvador isn’t actually giving up as much monetary policy power as it looks. It simply swapped Fed policy for Bitcoin policy.
#4 ‘You Can Tokenize a Building’ in State Street’s New Digital Push
State Street Corp., one of the world’s largest money managers, is moving hundreds of its staff into a new digital unit to meet surging interest in everything from cryptocurrencies to transforming investments as traditional as real estate.
The group, which starts off with 400 to 450 staff, is gearing up a series of products and services, including cryptocurrency trading software and support for “tokenized” assets, Chakar said. Tokenization refers to establishing a digital share of ownership that can be more easily traded and opens up an asset potentially to a wider universe of investors.
“You can tokenize a building — you can trade a fraction of it without selling a whole building,” Chakar said. There are “all new ways of unlocking liquidity,” she said, adding that State Street created the unit after the “intensity” of outreach from clients increased.Source: Bloomberg
Interesting that State Street is getting onboard with cryptocurrencies. Most institutions have a hard time owning cryptocurrencies / digital assets today because the necessary infrastructure for custodianship (the process of holding the financial assets you own) is not yet in place. State Street is an important piece of that.
#5 Cryptocurrency Comes to Retirement Plans as Coinbase Teams Up With 401(k) Provider
ForUsAll Inc., a 401(k) provider, announced earlier this month a deal with the institutional arm of Coinbase Global Inc., COIN 0.93% a leading cryptocurrency exchange, that will allow workers in plans it administers to invest up to 5% of their 401(k) contributions in bitcoin, ether, litecoin, and others.
With just $1.7 billion in retirement-plan assets, ForUsAll represents a small piece of the $22 trillion retirement-account market. But its embrace of crypto comes at a time of heightened mainstream interest in digital currencies.Source: WSJ
#6 Introducing Netflix.shop: A New Way for Fans to Connect With Their Favorite Stories
We love it when great stories transcend screens and become part of people’s lives. We’re always looking at how we can extend the world of our stories for fans, from apparel and toys to immersive events and games. And it’s why today we’re launching Netflix.shop as an exciting new destination combining curated products and rich storytelling in a uniquely Netflix shopping experience.
Netflix.shop will drop exclusive limited editions of carefully selected high-quality apparel and lifestyle products tied to our shows and brand on a regular basis. Among the items debuting this month are streetwear and action figures based on anime series Yasuke and Eden; as well as limited-edition apparel and decorative items inspired by Lupin in collaboration with the Musée du Louvre.Source: Netflix
In a way, Netflix is trying to be Disney.
And this is powered by Shopify.
#7 WELCOMING BIGBOX VR TO FACEBOOK
For many of us, our “ah-ha” VR moment was in a multiplayer experience. There’s something magical about interacting with geographically distant people in the same virtual space, whether you’re handing off objects, engaging in friendly competition, or simply catching up. We believe that these powerful social connections are paramount to accelerating the growth of VR, and we continue to invest in content and teams that share this perspective. One of the most popular social experiences in VR has proven to be POPULATION: ONE, the breakout battle royale from BigBox VR. Today, I’m honored to share that BigBox VR is joining Facebook.
POP: ONE stormed onto the VR scene just nine months ago and has consistently ranked as one the top-performing titles on the Oculus platform, bringing together up to 24 people at a time to connect, play, and compete in a virtual world. And while social is bringing players into POP: ONE, the quirky humor, continual updates, and pure fun of the environment keeps them coming back time and time again—we’ve even seen players scheduling time to meet in-game for a synchronous social experience. BigBox VR may be small, but they are a mighty, nimble team of game industry vets who seamlessly nail the game development duality of craft and data-driven live service.Source: Facebook
Population: One is basically Fortnite for Oculus / VR.
Facebook is quickly putting together the pieces it needs to control the Metaverse. It’s getting crowded, but Facebook is casting a far, far bigger net than anyone else. It controls identity / social graph. It controls hardware. And it controls content.
5-10 years ago, investors used to say Tencent is becoming Facebook, especially following the launch of WeChat Moments (which is like a social feed similar to Facebook Newsfeed). Now, it looks like Facebook wants to be Tencent for the VR world.
#8 Welcome Unit 2 Games to Facebook Gaming
Unit 2 Games was formed with the vision of democratizing game creation, thanks to Crayta — a collaborative and accessible platform that they’ve built from the ground up. The team has also helped establish new gaming creators while building communities around their content. Facebook Gaming shares these goals, and today we’re honored to welcome Unit 2 Games to the team.
We currently have two types of creators on Facebook Gaming: video creators who livestream games and professional game developers who make games on our platform. With the addition of Unit 2 Games, we’ll expand the notion of a Facebook creator to include people who collaboratively build, publish and share games, worlds and new experiences on Facebook.
We can now make content creation easier than ever by bringing our team together with Unit 2 Games’ team and technology. In the future, people on Facebook will create experiences in a matter of minutes without the need to code, while more advanced creators can make content limited only by their imagination. And we’re building these experiences by investing in and growing diverse engineering and product teams distributed internationally across the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.Source: Facebook
And Facebook wants to control the software tools for creating the Metaverse, too.
Speaking of Metaverse….
#9 ‘Marketers are leaning into the metaverse’: Roblox ramps up brand partnerships
Similar to how YouTube brought video broadcasting to the masses, Roblox is doing the same for video game publishing — and that includes advertisers.
“Roblox enables an owned, always-on interactive experience where any brand can accessibly build any metaverse-type shared experience — this is a compelling motive to get involved,” said Sam Cox, creative technologist at digital agency We Are Social. “It’s paving the way for a new era of branded gaming; but it’s more than a game, it’s an entire gaming platform.”
Put another way: these experiences can be a lot more engaging than when someone scrolls through their news feed. Unsurprisingly, Roblox has already piqued the interest of many marketers.
From Nike to Disney, Warner Bros. to Gucci, some of the world’s largest advertisers are already trying to reach Roblox’s audiences, which historically has had a very young demographic though that is changing.
Warner Bros. is a case in point. Roblox and the movie studio created a virtual rendition of the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York that serves as the setting for its new musical “In the Heights.”
Launched at the start of the month (June 4), players can explore the environment for collectibles that teach them Spanish as well as meet characters from the film including its creator — Lin-Manuel Miranda. Think of it like a fully realized version of a fan forum, a concept Roblox is pushing hard.Source: Digiday
The “In The Heights” experience looks pretty compelling! In a way, this is like Disneyland for the digital age:
#10 Why brands like L’Oreal are creating their own TV shows
L’Oreal has created its own TV show that it hopes, by season two, may be picked up by the likes of Netflix or Amazon. Pepsi, AB InBev and Nike have also been exploring their potential as production companies in recent months. Ambitious marketers have tried similar experiments in the past, but experts say the battle for original content between streaming services might finally mean brands have the chance to make it a success.
It’s not a coincidence that so many brands are investing serious ad budgets into delivering distinctly non-advertising content. It’s getting harder to reach people through TV ads as ad-free streaming has gone from a novelty to becoming the expectation of TV audiences, especially for millennials and gen Z. According to a survey by Wattpad, an digital publishing platform, nearly half (45%) of gen Z hardly ever or never watch linear TV.
A workaround has been product placement or integration. Global product placement revenues have been on the rise for a straight decade – up 14.5% to $20.5bn in 2019, according to PQ Media. For marketers, the balance sheet is no longer adding up.
“Bidding for authentic, creative integration for already popular shows becomes as expensive or more expensive for brands than just financing an original show on their own to connect with a viewer on their own terms. It’s often compared to renting v owning. Why rent someone else’s space where you have little control when you can invest in bespoke content for your audience and own your place in culture?” continues Ferry.Source: The Drum
Thought this was a fascinating piece about how the death of TV is forcing many brands to create content. Advertising as a standalone thing is dying, and the essence of advertising is evolving.
If you go back 2 decades, all of the futuristic movies suggested that our apocalyptic future would be plastered with flashing ads everywhere. But…maybe our apocalyptic future is us living our lives in ads forever? These ads will be digital worlds of their own. But…we might like these ads?
#11 Messenger Adds Venmo-Like QR Codes for Person-to-Person Payments in the US
This spring, Facebook confirmed it was testing Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Today, the company announced those codes are now launching publicly to all U.S. users, allowing anyone to send or request money through Facebook Pay — even if they’re not Facebook friends.Source: TechCrunch
#12 Pinterest edges closer to social commerce with new Shopping List feature
Starting today, the Shopping List feature will automatically save user product pins in one place, making it easier for users to come back and shop for those items. Users will also be shown shipping costs, reviews, and notified when a saved product pin has a price drop. The new feature will roll out this month to all users in the U.S. and the U.K. Shopping Lists will be available later this year in Australia, Canada, France, and Germany.Source: Digiday
#13 Online wholesale marketplace Faire raises $260 mln, valued at $7 bln
Faire helps small retailers connect with small brands, helping them to compete with retail giants like Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) or Walmart Inc (WMT.N), said Faire Chief Executive and co-founder Max Rhodes. He started the company as he experienced the challenges of finding sales channels for an upscale New Zealand umbrella brand he was trying to sell in the United States.
There are an increasing number of tech companies that are helping small and medium-sized businesses grow online, offering shipping, payment, e-commerce platforms and marketing services, and making it possible to sell outside of the Amazon marketplace.
One of Faire’s most popular filters to add in merchandise searches is the “not on Amazon,” said Rhodes. He said the average retailer or brand on Faire’s platform has about $250,000 in annual sales, but some are also growing big, fast.Source: Reuters
B2B marketplaces are shaping up to be one of the more interesting areas / ideas. Many supply chains remain brittle, but B2B marketplaces could transform supply chains like how marketplaces transformed consumer buying behavior over the last 2 decades.
Marketplaces broadened the selection available to consumers. B2B marketplaces could do the same for merchants. This is especially important with the rise of creators and small-time merchants. Many of these creators may want to monetize through e-commerce but may not have the relationships or knowledge on how to source goods. B2B marketplaces could dramatically transform and expand the number of people that can become merchants. Shopify solved a lot of the operational technicalities, but solving inventory sourcing remains an ongoing challenge.
#14 Shopee expands in Latin America with silent launches in Chile, Colombia
Shopee, the e-commerce arm of Southeast Asian tech giant Sea Group, appears to be continuing its aggressive push into the Latin American market with the silent launches of websites in two more South American countries: Chile and Colombia.
Tech in Asia understands that the recent rollouts are part of an “asset-light” pilot program, which doesn’t involve heavy on-ground investment and focuses on the shipping of products to these countries. Shopee’s cross-border team is testing the waters in Chile and Colombia.Source: KrAsia
Veni, vidi, vici.
#15 Tech Giants Face Demands to Downsize in New Antitrust Bills
Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and other U.S. technology giants would have to sell or exit key businesses under sweeping antitrust legislation proposed by House lawmakers.
The five bills introduced Friday, all with Democratic and Republican support, would toughen merger reviews for tech companies, prohibit them from offering certain products and services, and restrict how they treat other businesses that depend on their platforms.
One of the House bills, the “Ending Platform Monopolies Act,” would prohibit tech platforms from owning a business that competes with other products or services offerered on the platform. Such a provision, if passed, would bar Amazon from selling its own branded products, Amazon Basics, for example, or Apple from offering Apple Music, or Google from providing specialized search services in travel, local businesses and shopping.Source: Yahoo / Bloomberg
Don’t think these bills will pass in their current form, but this bill on prohibiting tech platforms from owning businesses that compete with others on their platform seems like a major mistake.
I think lawmakers want to get Apple to stop offering Apple Music or Amazon to stop offering Amazon Basics. But…this bill could also very well cause the opposite: In attractive categories where the platform wants to operate, this bill would basically allow them / force them to ban the alternatives. If Amazon Basics can’t sell garden hoses because some other (likely Chinese manufacturer) sells it, then Amazon can just decide that it won’t allow other merchants to sell garden hoses. Most consumers probably won’t miss these other pseudo-brands anyway.
#16 Chipmaker SiFive Is Said to Draw Intel Takeover Interest
Intel offered to acquire SiFive for more than $2 billion, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.
SiFive is a designer of chips that are based on the RISC-V architecture, an attempt to bring open-source standards to semiconductor design making it cheaper and accessible to customers.Source: Yahoo / Bloomberg
This might be Intel’s back-up plan to address Nvidia’s acquisition of ARM. ARM is already starting to make some progress in client PCs as well as datacenters. Nvidia could further supercharge this progress given Nvidia’s current importance in the datacenter market.
There are a lot of whispers that the industry (and customers) are concerned with Nvidia’s acquisition of ARM. Many customers do not want to be overly dependent on Nvidia and have been exploring RISC-V as an alternative to ARM. SiFive is one of the more promising companies working with RISC-V. If Intel acquires SiFive and manages the asset correctly, it could help address some of Intel’s issues with x86.
Also interesting to remember that Intel’s CEO hired one of SiFive’s executives just a few months ago.
#17 Google Uses AI to Design Chips, Creating Machine Learning Ouroboros
Google researchers published a new paper in Nature on Wednesday describing “an edge-based graph convolutional neural network architecture” that learned how to design the physical layout of a semiconductor in a way that allows “chip design to be performed by artificial agents with more experience than any human designer.” Interestingly, Google used AI to design other AI chips that offer more performance.
This is a significant advancement in chip design that could have serious implications for the field. Here’s how the researchers described their achievement in the abstract of the paper (the full text of which is unavailable to the public) as printed by Nature:
“Despite five decades of research, chip floorplanning has defied automation, requiring months of intense effort by physical design engineers to produce manufacturable layouts. Here we present a deep reinforcement learning approach to chip floorplanning. In under six hours, our method automatically generates chip floorplans that are superior or comparable to those produced by humans in all key metrics, including power consumption, performance and chip area.”
The capabilities of this method weren’t just conjecture. Google’s researchers said it was used to design the next generation of tensor processing units (TPUs) the company uses for machine learning. So they essentially taught an artificial intelligence to design chips that improve the performance of artificial intelligence.Source: Tom’s Hardware
Amazing. How much more can we do as a society if we have intelligent AI designing better chips at a faster rate for more domains? Talented chip designers are becoming rarer and rarer since most tech people want to go into software these days…
And I would be concerned about owning chip companies like Nvidia if companies like Nvidia weren’t already aggressively expanding their ecosystem away from just pure chip design and into platforms and services.
#18 ByteDance launches Volcano Engine brand to offer its ‘secret’ to businesses
TikTok owner ByteDance launched the Volcano Engine brand on Thursday to offer its personalised recommendation algorithm to more corporate clients, as the Chinese company seeks to expand beyond its mainstay consumer apps.
ByteDance’s recommendation system is considered the “secret sauce” in its success with apps including TikTok, TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin, and news aggregator Toutiao.
ByteDance said in a statement that Volcano Engine would offer enterprise clients technologies such as a recommendation algorithm, data analysis and artificial intelligence.
It said Volcano Engine had already been operating for a year before Thursday’s official launch, and had corporate clients such as e-commerce giant JD.com, smartphone maker Vivo and automaker Geely.
It also plans to add public cloud computing services, an already immensely competitive sector dominated by big tech companies in China such as Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei, a source close to the matter said.Source: Reuters
Really fascinating move. Public cloud is already pretty crowded space…Bytedance is very, very late, but it’s coming with a secret weapon that no one else has – It’s recommendation algorithms. And if more and more people use it, its algorithms also improves since it gets to ingest more and more data.
#19 Facebook plans first smartwatch for next summer with two cameras, heart rate monitor
Facebook is taking a novel approach to its first smartwatch, which the company hasn’t confirmed publicly but currently plans to debut next summer. The device will feature a display with two cameras that can be detached from the wrist for taking pictures and videos that can be shared across Facebook’s suite of apps, including Instagram, The Verge has learned.
In future versions of the watch, Facebook is planning for it to serve as a key input device for its planned augmented reality glasses, which Zuckerberg thinks will one day be as ubiquitous as mobile phones. The company plans to use technology it acquired from CTRL-labs, a startup that has demonstrated armbands capable of controlling a computer through wrist movements.Source: The Verge
AR is Apple’s game to lose because everyone has been thinking too narrowly about AR as only a glasses / goggle / vision product. In reality, AR (and VR) will be a combination of glasses / goggles + audio + wrist. Apple has been selling its AR vision since 2014 in piecemeal manner under everyone’s nose. More than 100 million people already have adopted Apple’s AR vision without knowing it by owning either an Apple Watch or AirPods. All Apple needs to do is to release Glasses to complete the set-up.
Facebook does seem to understand the end game, though. But now Facebook is behind and will need to convince people to adopt at least a Facebook-designed wristwatch on top of the AR / VR glasses or goggles that they need people to buy.
#20 Apple hires former Canoo CEO as it ramps up electric car project
Ulrich Kranz, a former BMW executive and the recently departed CEO and co-founder of EV startup Canoo, has been hired by Apple, the company has confirmed to The Verge. Kranz will reportedly work on the Silicon Valley behemoth’s electric car under Doug Field, the former Tesla executive who runs the day-to-day operations of the project, which is codenamed “Project Titan.” News of Kranz joining Apple was first reported by Bloomberg.
Kranz was one of the executives who helped launch BMW’s all-electric i3 hatchback and hybrid i8 sports car. Shortly after he left the German automaker at the end of 2016, he and fellow BMW executive Stefan Krause were tapped to help turn around struggling EV startup Faraday Future. The pair clashed with Faraday Future’s founder, though, and in late 2017, they left and formed what eventually became Canoo.
Kranz, Krause, and a handful of other expats from BMW and other legacy automakers came up with an all-electric van that they planned to sell on a subscription basis only, which they revealed in 2019. The van was designed around a compact, modular platform that included the battery pack, the electric motors, and basically all of the vehicle’s electronics, which Canoo hoped to sell or license to other manufacturers.
Canoo’s EV platform pitch was attractive enough that Apple held talks with the startup in early 2020, as The Verge exclusively reported earlier this year. Talks between the two companies eventually broke down, though, as Canoo preferred to take an investment, while Apple was interested in an acquisition.Source: The Verge
#21 Apple, Chinese manufacturers in talks on U.S. car battery factory -sources
Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is in early-stage talks with China’s CATL (300750.SZ) and BYD (002594.SZ), about the supply of batteries for its planned electric vehicle, four people with knowledge of the matter said.
The discussions are subject to change and it is not clear if agreements with either CATL or BYD will be reached, said the people, who declined to be named as the discussions are private.Source: Reuters
Sounds like Apple is past the noodling phase and is now beginning in earnest to prepare the supply chain for product launch 5 years from now.
#22 NVIDIA to Acquire DeepMap, Enhancing Mapping Solutions for the AV Industry
Maps that are accurate to within a few meters are good enough when providing turn-by-turn directions for humans. AVs, however, require much greater precision. They must operate with centimeter-level precision for accurate localization, the ability of an AV to locate itself in the world.
Proper localization also requires constantly updated maps. These maps must also reflect current road conditions, such as a work zone or a lane closure. These maps need to efficiently scale across AV fleets, with fast processing and minimal data storage. Finally, they must be able to function worldwide.
DeepMap was founded five years ago by Wu and Mark Wheeler, veterans of Google, Apple and Baidu, among other companies. The U.S.-based company has developed a high-definition mapping solution that meets these requirements and has already been validated by the AV industry with a wide array of potential customers around the world.
The team, primarily located in the San Francisco Bay Area, has many decades of collective experience in mapping technology and developed a solution that considers autonomous vehicles both map creators and map consumers. Using crowdsourced data from vehicle sensors lets DeepMap build a high-definition map that’s continuously updated as the car drives.Source: Nvidia
Mapping data / technology is increasingly becoming critical to what’s next. Not only is it important for autonomous vehicles, mapping data is also turning out to be very important for AR if you want to overlay things / interact with the real world.
Google obviously has an incredible head-start here. While Apple is still very much behind Google, Apple actually doesn’t look like it’s in a bad spot…it started working on its own maps capabilities as early as 2009 when it acquired Placebase. Everyone else is even further behind.
#23 Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi files to go public, earned a small profit last quarter on $6.4 billion in revenue
Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing on Thursday filed to go public in what could be one of the largest tech IPOs of this year, positioning large shareholders Uber and SoftBank for a win.
The company reported $21.6 billion in revenue last year. It also posted a profit this past quarter on $6.4 billion in revenue. Specifically, the company reported net income of $837 million before certain payouts to shareholders, and comprehensive net income of $95 million for the quarter.
Uber owns 12.8% of the shares in the company after selling its Chinese ride-hailing business to Didi in 2016, while SoftBank’s Vision Fund holds 21.5%.Source: CNBC
Will be a big IPO. It’s bigger than Uber when it comes to revenue scale and is already somewhat profitable. But seems like it will have a smaller market cap than Uber. But Didi seems like it will grow slower than Uber.
Apple held their annual developer conference a few days ago and revealed updates for all their software platforms. The Verge does a good summary of the key highlights below.
#24 Apple WWDC 2021: the 15 biggest announcements
Source: The Verge
While there wasn’t anything revolutionary, Apple appears to continue to lay down important groundwork for the future of the company, including layering in AI in practical ways, opening up the ecosystem to developers in certain areas, and expanding the tools that will help drive AR in the future.
Like expanding Apple Wallet to include IDs:
Apple has announced a forthcoming update to its Wallet app that will allow you to use your iPhone as digital identification in select US airports. The company showed how you’ll be able to scan your driver’s license or state ID in participating US states, which will then be encrypted and stored in the iPhone’s secure enclave. The company says it’s working with the TSA to enable the iPhone to be used as identification at airport security checkpoints.
As well as secure ID, Apple says it’s working to allow hotels to distribute room card keys via Apple Wallet, allowing you to collect a room key before you arrive at a hotel. Home keys and work keys were also announced as coming to the Wallet app. The new keys feature is also coming to Apple Watch, Apple says.Source: The Verge
And using on-device AI to recognize text within the camera and photos:
Apple has announced a new feature called Live Text, which will digitize the text in all your photos. This unlocks a slew of handy functions, from turning handwritten notes into emails and messages to searching your camera roll for receipts or recipes you’ve photographed.
This is certainly not a new feature for smartphones, and we’ve seen companies like Samsung and Google offer similar tools in the past. But Apple’s implementation does look typically smooth. With Live Text, for example, you can tap on the text in any photo in your camera roll or viewfinder and immediately take action from it. You can copy and paste that text, search for it on the web, or — if it’s a phone number — call that number.
In addition to extracting text from photos, iOS 15 will also allow users to search visually — a feature that sounds exactly the same as Google Lens and that Apple calls Visual Look Up.
Apple didn’t go into much detail about this feature during its presentation at WWDC, but it said the new tool would recognize “art, books, nature, pets, and landmarks” in photos. We’ll have to test it out in person to see exactly how well it performs, but it sounds like Apple is doing much more to apply AI to users’ photos and make that information useful.Source: The Verge
Sounds like preparation for AR. Just substitute camera for glasses.
At its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced a significant update to RealityKit, its suite of technologies that allow developers to get started building AR (augmented reality) experiences. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple says developers will have more visual, audio and animation control when working on their AR experiences. But the most notable part of the update is how Apple’s new Object Capture API will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone.Source: TechCrunch
Some pretty impressive examples:
#25 Snowflake Summit
Finding data, ensuring it meets specified needs and requirements, and procuring data sets can be a complex process. To make this simpler for both data consumers and data providers, we introduced two new capabilities, currently in development, within Snowflake Data Marketplace that will be available in private preview later this year.
Discover and transact. Consumers of data can now discover and transact with data providers to purchase new data directly in Snowflake Data Marketplace with a usage-based pricing model. This self-service offering enables data providers to reach new markets and reduce the cost of selling and delivering data.Source: Snowflake
Snowflake is expensive as a stock, but there’s no question what they are doing is fascinating. The most fascinating part is the data marketplace they have created. Not only are they making it possible for companies to do more with their data than ever before, they are enabling companies to share and sell data in a way that does not violate privacy norms. I’m not really an expert to judge whether the statements around preserving privacy are valid, but if so, Snowflake is truly pioneering a market that didn’t and couldn’t exist before.
What makes companies like Google and Facebook so powerful is because of the data they have. And while Apple and the media constantly talk about how Google and Facebook share data, it’s really not true. Google and Facebook are powerful because they have a lot of data and they don’t give away the data. This forces a lot of companies and advertisers to keep paying them in order to ensure that their ads can go in front of the right people.
BUT if Snowflake allows companies to share and sell the data on their own without violating privacy norms, that would create a whole new way of doing things. It won’t give them access to the channels where ads are placed (like Google Search or Facebook Newsfeed), but it could potentially reduce their dependence on major data platforms.
#26 Could naked mole rats hold key to curing cancer and dementia?
Scientists say naked mole rats — a rodent native to West Africa — may hold the key to new treatments for degenerative diseases such as cancer and dementia.
The reclusive animals have a lifespan far in excess of other rodents — for example, mice and rats live about two years, whereas naked mole rats can live for 40 or 50 years.
Researchers at the University of Bradford say the animals have a unique DNA repair mechanism that enables them to prevent cancers and other degenerative conditions, including dementia.Source: Science Daily
#27 Italian Artist Sells Invisible Sculpture for More Than $18,000
Italian artist Salvatore Garau recently auctioned an invisible sculpture for 15,000 euros ($18,300). According to as.com, the sculpture’s initial price was set between 6,000 and 9,000 euros; however, the price was raised after several bids were placed.
Titled ‘Io Sono’ (Italian for “I am”), the 67-year-old artist’s sculpture is “immaterial,” meaning that the sculpture does not actually exist.
Italy 24 News reported that per Garau’s instructions, the sculpture must be displayed in a private home free from any obstruction, in an area that is about 5 ft. long by 5 ft. wide. Because the piece does not exist, there are no special lighting or climate requirements.
Multiple outlets report that the only tangible item the buyer will receive is a certificate of authentication that is both signed and stamped by Garau.Source: Newsweek
A real world NFT.
#28 The Pied Piper of SPACs
In Silicon Valley, Chamath Palihapitiya, who has earned billions of dollars while tweeting things like “Im about to really fuck some shit up” to his 1.5 million followers, rarely requires identification beyond his first name. That’s in part because, in the past decade, he has spent significant time saying things in public that rich people aren’t supposed to say. Venture capitalists are “a bunch of soulless cowards.” Of hedge-fund managers: “Let them get wiped out. Who cares? They don’t get to summer in the Hamptons? Who cares?” (He made both proclamations after he had become a venture capitalist and started a hedge fund; he has yachted off the Italian coast.)
Recently, Palihapitiya has achieved even greater prominence by launching a series of special-purpose acquisition companies, or spacs, which are among the fastest-growing financial instruments in the world. A spac takes a company public by attempting to sidestep regulations that help protect investors from potentially dodgy new businesses. People place money in a “blank check” fund, which then merges with an existing private company, allowing it to sell shares without having a formal initial public offering, a process that involves rigorous scrutiny by banks and regulators. spacs have been celebrated as a way to spread Wall Street riches more equitably—you can often buy a share in one for just ten dollars—and condemned as potential catalysts of a financial crash. Palihapitiya promotes the spac as an innovation that “democratizes access to high-growth companies” while “dismantling” the “traditional capital market.” But he has sometimes acknowledged a simpler allegiance. “I want the fucking money,” he told students at Stanford’s business school, in 2017. “I will play the goddam game, and I will win.”Source: The New Yorker
Chamath is a polarizing figure. This was a fun read.
#29 Jeff Bezos will blast into space on rocket’s 1st crew flight
Outdoing his fellow billionaires in daredevilry, Jeff Bezos will blast into space next month when his Blue Origin company makes its first flight with a crew.
The 57-year-old Amazon founder and richest person in the world by Forbes’ estimate will become the first person to ride his own rocket to space.
Bezos announced his intentions Monday and, in an even bolder show of confidence, said he will share the adventure with his younger brother and best friend, Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter. He said that will make it more meaningful.Source: AP News
Talk about confidence!