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04.12.16 | 12:59 pm

Apple and Google better get ready for the coming bot wars

Facebook's expected launch of a chatbot store at the F8 conference today could be the third frontal assault in the intense battle to dominate this space. It would join Microsoft and Amazon, who already announced their bot platforms, as a competitor in this new arms race. And Apple and Google are the companies that have the most to lose if "an ecosystem of bots could replace the functionality of today's apps," writes the Washington Post's Elizabeth Dwoskin. She notes that the current bot moment is similar to the adolescence of the app economy in 2009, when apps weren't taken seriously, before becoming a $50 billion economy today.

"Everyone who didn't win the app platform wars will get another chance with bots," Phil Libin, managing director of venture capital firm Catalyst Partners, tells the Post

07.28.17 | 24 minutes ago

Microsoft has an AI-powered answer to Google Photos

Two years after the launch of Google Photos, Microsoft is building similar artificial intelligence features into its own Photos app for Windows 10. A preview version of the app, spotted by Windows Central, can show photos of specific people using facial recognition, and can also search for categories, colors, months, and other generic terms. Microsoft hasn't officially announced these features, but they'll likely arrive later this year with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update.

Even then, Microsoft will have more catching up to do. Last month, Google Photos added photo printing, suggestions on who to share photos with, and a way to automatically share all your photos with a trusted contact. And as of May, Google's service had reached 500 million users.

07.28.17 | an hour ago

Sir Patrick Stewart, I forgive you for being in the zero-rated “Emoji Movie”

To no one's surprise, Sony's animated Emoji Movie is being savaged by critics. It currently holds a zero rating on Rotten Tomatoes and will likely join the ranks of such box-office bombs as Monster Trucks. From the moment I first heard that Patrick Stewart lent his enviable voice to the film as a poop emoji, I was disappointed—so disappointed, in fact, there is no emoji to express it. 

But Patrick, I forgive you. I watched you explore the galaxy through seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, saw you bring the house down in Becket's Waiting for Godot, and respect the hell out of your Shakespearean chops. This a small blemish in an otherwise stellar career, and I know great things are on the horizon. Make it so, Patrick.   

[Photo: Maximilian Bühn, CC-BY-SA 4.0]

07.28.17 | an hour ago

Emerson Collective’s Laurene Powell Jobs takes a majority stake in the Atlantic

Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective, is buying a big chunk of the Atlantic magazine and website. Current owner David Bradley announced the change in a memo, which was obtained by Axios. The two will be co-leading for a while and then Powell Jobs will take the reins, according to the announcement. The deal affects only the Atlantic publication—Bradley will continue to lead other subsidiary properties, including Government Executive Media Group and Quartz.

07.28.17 | 2 hours ago

Uber CEO watch: GE’s Jeffrey Immelt is reportedly on the short list of candidates

With HP's Meg Whitman having publicly withdrawn herself from the Uber pool (pun intended), the list of people being considered to take over for Travis Kalanick is getting shorter. Per Bloomberg, that list includes fewer than six people at this point. Among them is Jeffrey Immelt, the current chief executive of General Electric, who said last month he is stepping down from the multinational conglomerate after 16 years.   

07.28.17 | 3 hours ago

Hackers will try to infiltrate voting machines this weekend, but in a good way

The Def Con hacking convention in Las Vegas will host its first "hacker voting village" event this weekend in which hackers will get their hands on more than 30 pieces of election equipment ranging from voting machines to digital poll books, reports Reuters. They'll then be able to do anything they want to the machines from trying to inject malicious code into them to literally tearing them apart to mess with the hardware inside. The goal of the event is to raise awareness about how elections can be manipulated through hacking.

07.28.17 | 5:27 am

Meg Whitman shoots down Uber CEO rumors

The HP CEO took to Twitter to make it clear she's not going anywhere.

07.28.17 | 2:24 am

Republicans fail at the one thing they absolutely had to succeed at

If you were a Republican in Washington, D.C., on the evening of November 8, thinking about the years ahead, glorying in Donald Trump's victory, and savoring the fact that you were now about to control both houses of Congress and the White House, you probably chuckled thinking about how you were finally going to get to take down Obamacare. You'd spent seven years promising to do so, and now you had the power. Your base was demanding it, your new president got elected (partly) on it, and your leadership had bloody well banked their political fortunes on it.

Well, you failed. Miserably. Despite all that control, you couldn't even get a "skinny" version of your repeal-and-replace bill through Congress. Tonight, as everyone knows by now, the Senate Republicans failed to pass Trumpcare, foiled by nay votes from Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and, surprisingly to many people, John McCain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scored a massive own goal on this one. If he'd done a proper count earlier in the week, he could have skipped the vote to move forward, and tonight, he could have avoided the final vote on the actual bill, and saved himself and his party the ignominy and the political fallout of failure on this singular, key issue. Meanwhile, Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller, already facing a tough re-election 2018 bid, surely screwed himself this evening by voting yes in a lost cause. The safe money now is that he'll lose his seat next year. And for what? The bill failed. What in the hell does Sheldon Adelson have on him, anyway?

So, congratulations, Republicans. You bet it all on getting rid of Obamacare, even as every credible poll showed the American public supported it, in spite of all its warts. And, hey, Donald Trump: nice leadership. I'm sure you're quite tired of all the winning by now. Is it time to go play golf yet? 

[Photo: Flickr user Kevin Burkett]

07.27.17 | 9:27 pm

Social VR pioneer Altspace says it’s shutting down

AltspaceVR, the venture-backed Silicon Valley operation, which was among the first to build social VR environments, said this afternoon that it's closing down August 3 due to financial difficulties, despite 35,000 monthly users who visited for anything from business meetings, watching sports together, or hanging out with musicians like Reggie Watts–a respectable number given that consumer virtual reality is still a fairly nascent medium.

"It looked like we had a deal for our next round of funding, and it fell through," the company wrote in a statement. "Some combination of this deal falling through and the general slowness of VR market growth made most of our investors reluctant to fund us further. We've been out fundraising but have run out of time and money."

The company also said it's not clear what will happen now to its community. "The amazing people that worked at this company created some awesome technology–things that we think will be foundational to the future of social VR. We'd love to see this technology, if not the company, live on in some way, and we're working on that."

07.27.17 | 5:51 pm

Thinx appoints a Fab alum as its new CEO

Four months after former Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal left amid a firestorm of allegations about her management style and HR policies, the period underwear company has finally landed a new CEO. Maria Molland Selby will join Thinx on Monday.

Selby has previously held leadership roles at e-commerce startup Fab, which weathered a fair share of negative press back in its heyday, as well as Yahoo, Reuters, and Dow Jones. "This is a team that has gone through a lot, with the shadow of leadership changes and obviously the PR associated with that," Selby told Bloomberg. "I'm happy to see we were able to move forward relatively quickly."

Since Agrawal's departure, Thinx has increased salaries, tweaked its parental leave policy—increasing it to 12 weeks for employees who have been there for at least a year—and made healthcare free for most employees. Thinx also created an employee handbook outlining how to air workplace grievances. 

Through my reporting on Thinx, I've learned the company has struggled to find someone willing to tackle the role of HR head, which might explain why Selby vaguely told Bloomberg that Thinx will hire someone "in the next couple of months." 

07.27.17 | 5:15 pm

Zuck vs. Musk: Maybe they both have a point on AI

If you've been following the public back-and-forth between Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla's Elon Musk, you probably know that the two tech titans don't see eye to eye on artificial intelligence. Will it solve our greatest problems or lead to our ultimate destruction? Zuckerberg has generally been more sunny and optimistic, while Musk has been warning that we have to be prepared for the havoc AI will wreak on jobs, the economy, and society. But maybe they both have a point—or maybe they're not even speaking the same language. 

Bob Safian, editor of Fast Company, hashed out some of these questions this week with the folks on CBS This Morning. Check out the video below:  

07.27.17 | 4:51 pm

Is this the end of the insane Amazon stock bonanza?

Earlier today, business and tech publications fawned over news that Jeff Bezos surpassed Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. This was predicated on Amazon's stock steadily climbing ahead of its quarterly earnings report.

Now the company has published its results and things are a bit less rosy. While Amazon surpassed revenue expectations, hitting almost $38 billion, profits weren't so great thanks to heavy investing in multiple areas. Analysts expected Amazon's earnings per share to hit $1.42. However, it reported only 40 cents. That's a 77% slump. The stock is now falling in after-hours trading.

Is this the end of the insane stock rise that led to Amazon exceeding $1,000 a share? Well, it could certainly put a damper on things. The company is absolutely doing fine. Amazon Web Services, one of its rising business units, exceeded expected revenue, hitting $4.1 billion. 

But Amazon is spending a lot of money and not bringing in the profits Wall Street so badly wants. "If the profit slump affects the stock performance," writes Forrester analyst James McQuivey in an email, "it will be because it finally gives investors something specific to pin Amazon down on." Yet this is what Jeff Bezos has been doing since the beginning—investing heavily and keeping margins thin in the name of scaling. McQuivey says the myriad Amazon product and service investments is what caused Wall Street's enthusiasm in the first place, pointing to its Echo platform and AWS business. 

But investors probably aren't too happy right now. "The short-term slump will dampen their enthusiasm for now, but it's uncertain how long that dampening effect will continue," writes McQuivey

Amazon's stock may very well rebound tomorrow. Or this could be the start of a cautionary tale about whether the company's performance jibes with what Wall Street wants.

07.27.17 | 4:20 pm

Facebook bends to publishers, letting them keep 100% of subscription revenue and data (for now)

With Facebook controlling heaps of the news industry's ad revenue, media organizations have felt more beholden than ever to the whims of the social network. Recently, legacy news publishers have come together to try and collectively bargain with Facebook and Google for more equitable publisher solutions. Today, it sounds as if Facebook seems to have given in to one of those demands.

Facebook launched a journalism project in January, and has alluded to its plan to introduce a way for publishers to sell subscriptions, but little information has been given about the program. Today, Recode writes that the current plan would give the media companies 100% of revenue from subscription sign-ups through its Instant Articles program, as well as allow them to not share data with Facebook. Here's how it would work

Industry sources say that instead of operating a subscription service itself, Facebook plans on creating a paywall it would implement after non-subscribers view 10 articles a month from a particular publisher.

When users hit the 10-article limit, Facebook plans on sending users to that publisher's site to sign up for a subscription.

"Quality journalism costs money to produce, and we want to make sure it can thrive on Facebook," Facebook's news partnerships leader, Campbell Brown, said in a statement that appeared to confirm the idea, which is "part of our test to allow publishers in Instant Articles to implement a paywall." Apple, meanwhile, sells subscriptions through the App Store and the Apple News app, but it takes up to 30% of profits.

This is a concession Facebook is willing to make as it listens to the grumblings of a beleaguered media industry—not to mention the looming possibility of more stringent government regulation of the tech behemoths. A few weeks ago, my I wrote about why newspapers are trying to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google, and what they're hoping to get

[Photo: Flickr user Jon S