Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

03.25.16 | 5:31 pm

Microsoft coolly apologizes for its “critical oversight” (aka unleashing a racist chatbot)

In a blog post, Microsoft took the blame for deploying its controversial chatbot—an AI experiment that went south very quickly—without accounting for how it could backfire (see: tweeting racist epithets). 

But, as one might expect, the company was quick to backpedal, pointing out that AI can't be improved without missteps:

Looking ahead, we face some difficult – and yet exciting – research challenges in AI design. AI systems feed off of both positive and negative interactions with people. In that sense, the challenges are just as much social as they are technical. We will do everything possible to limit technical exploits but also know we cannot fully predict all possible human interactive misuses without learning from mistakes. To do AI right, one needs to iterate with many people and often in public forums. 

07.27.17 | 3 hours ago

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 | 4 hours ago

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 hours ago

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

07.27.17 | 2:20 pm

Is Bannon becoming the Bernie of Breitbart?

Steve Bannon has kept a pretty low profile for the last few months. After being described as the puppeteer behind Trump's administration in a few articles early on, we've heard little about the man and what he's doing. In recent days, however, two articles by The Intercept have described recent Bannon pushes. And they're not exactly what you'd expect.

The first piece, published yesterday, described an increased marginal tax rate for the rich. Anonymous sources said that Bannon has been advocating for a 44% marginal tax rate for people who make over $5 million, compared to the 39.6% one in place now for the top tier. In essence, he's pushing for greater taxation on the rich, which doesn't sound that Trumpian.

Today, anonymous sources are saying that not only is Bannon lobbying for a higher tax rate, he's also pushing for more government control over technology giants. Specifically, writes The Intercept, he wants Facebook and Google to be considered public utilities. This means essentially that they would be considered public goods that citizens consume, and thus should be held to more uniform regulation. (It's also something I argued a few months ago!)

Another priority Bannon shares with Bernie: Both want the end of the use of offshore tax havens by the tech giants and the rest of corporate America. In a photo posted to Twitter by a visitor to Bannon's office in May, a glimpse of Trump's tax reform plan was visible on a whiteboard of White House goals: "Create a 10% repatriation tax." 

Don't get me wrong: Bannon is still Bannon. For example, he had reportedly been lobbying for Trump to take the action he did yesterday on transgender people in the military. He's also still the man that made Breitbart what it is today, which today published an article that put Earth emojis around the name of Trump chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.

Yet Bannon's recent pushes, if proven, show that he's gunning for something that is definitely not within the confines of the traditional Republican party. And they're also both pushes that someone like Bernie Sanders would probably endorse.

[Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons]

07.27.17 | 2:13 pm

Here’s Boy Scouts chief Michael Surbaugh’s full statement on Donald Trump’s divisive jamboree speech

It took a few days, but the chief scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America finally weighed in publicly on President Trump's highly politicized speech at the organization's National Jamboree on Monday. In a statement posted online, Michael Surbaugh acknowledged that the country is locked in a polarized climate but said the tenets of scouting—trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, bravery—haven't changed:

"I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937. It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program."

Read the full statement here.

07.27.17 | 1:14 pm

Kickstarter’s CEO and cofounder is leaving

Yancey Strickler, who took over the top spot in 2014, is stepping down as CEO of the crowdfunding site later this year. He announced the move in a blog post on Wednesday night, saying it was time to move on after spending 12 years of his life working on Kickstarter. Earlier this year, we wrote about how the Brooklyn-based company revamped its business model to become a Public Benefit Corporation and vowed never to go public. Strickler didn't say what his next move would be but said he would be up to "new projects" soon. [via TechCrunch]

07.27.17 | 12:57 pm

Once upon a time, the iPod Nano was AMAZING

Apple has confirmed that it has discontinued the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle, leaving the iPod Touch as the last remaining variant of the music player that changed the company forever. I don't even have to insert a decision here on why it's killing them off—it's just too darn obvious.

But thinking about the iPod Nano dying brought back pleasant memories of the device's launch in 2005. It's hard to overstate just how impressive an engineering feat the sliver-like little gadget seemed at the time, or the degree to which it carried an irresistible OMG I want that vibe that few Apple products before or since have matched. And it was also a bold marketing move to release an all-new small iPod with a new name given that the device it replaced—the hard drive-based iPod Mini—had been such a hit.

Here's Steve Jobs unveiling the Nano at Apple's September 2005 event, which also served to introduce a famously bad product–Motorla's ROKR "iPod phone."

07.27.17 | 12:50 pm

So long iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle, and thank you for years of service

The product line that opened Apple's second great act is fading fast. Yep, after 12 years Apple is discontinuing the iPod Nano and Shuffle music players, leaving only the iPod Touch. 

The company has taken down the dedicated Nano and Shuffle websites, and sent this statement to The Verge: "Today, we are simplifying our iPod lineup with two models of iPod touch now with double the capacity starting at just $199 and we are discontinuing the iPod shuffle and iPod nano," a spokesperson emailed. The (internet-connected) iPod Touch will now come in 32GB and 128GB versions, with the latter priced at $299.

FWIW I still use my Shuffle every time I get frustrated with my fancy watch-and-wireless-headphones setup. For my money the Shuffle is still the simplest and most reliable way to get music into my head quickly as I'm headed out the door for a run. I will be searching around today to find a new Shuffle to buy, while supplies last. 

[Photo: Yohanes.niko via Wikimedia Commons]

07.27.17 | 11:34 am

Another music service??? Google’s new idea for YouTube Red actually makes sense

Ever since last year's launch of YouTube Red, I've wondered: How long until Google just combines its two music subscription services? Not that long, apparently. YouTube music head Lyor Cohen recently said that "combining YouTube Red and Google Play Music" is a priority for the company.

Google launched the Play on-demand music service in 2013, only to realize later that YouTube's own massive role in online music might need to be formalized and better monetized—if for no other reason than to placate a music industry frustrated by user-uploaded media and the "safe harbor" copyright law loophole that gave rise to an endless game of infringement whack-a-mole.

That left Google running two separate music subscription services, neither of which has taken off quite like Spotify and Apple Music have. Amazon Music is now reportedly the third biggest music subscription service

07.27.17 | 11:15 am

Rent the Runway just made ordering a gown as quick as ordering lunch

Using the brand's in-app same-day delivery service, which just launched today, you can now order your dress before lunch (noon) and have it delivered before happy hour (5 p.m.). Currently, this service is only available in New York, but there are plans to expand to other cities soon. 

The idea is to make ordering a gown as easy as ordering your lunch through Seamless. It is also competing with Amazon's same-day delivery service. Right now gown rentals begin at $30 and include a free backup size. The cost of delivery is $9.95, but is free for members.

07.27.17 | 10:31 am

The title of Hillary Clinton’s new book is a great argument for the power of punctuation

Simon & Schuster revealed today that Hillary Clinton's book about the 2016 election is called What Happened. Add a question mark to that and it would basically sum up what much of the world was thinking on November 9, 2016, after she lost to Donald Trump. (Really, what happened?) Still, it was a keen bit of branding insight to keep the title question mark-free, which makes it sound more authoritative and separates it from the thousands of existing hot takes that already ask the question of why Clinton lost. Recall that nearly every poll and pundit insisted she had it in the bag. Whether you care about this book or not, it's a good argument for the power of punctuation. The book comes out in September. Check out more info here.  

[Image: Simon & Schuster]