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End of an era as Google founders step down from parent company

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Larry Page and Sergey Brin have handed over control of Alphabet to Sundar Pichai

Twenty-one years after founding Google in a messy garage in Menlo Park, California, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have stepped down from day-to-day management of the company to assume the role of proud parents offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!

Page and Brins decision to hand over control of Google, and its parent company Alphabet, to long-standing lieutenant Sundar Pichai is the end of an era for the search engine giant, which had been built in their image and followed their personal values.

Their exit from the executive suite is the biggest change at the top of a US technology powerhouse since Steve Jobs resigned as chief executive of Apple shortly before he died from cancer in 2011, or when Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, stood down as chief executive in 2000. Amazons Jeff Bezos is now the only founder-chief executive from that period to still be in day-to-day control of his company.

Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost, Googles founders wrote in a public letter on Tuesday. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe its time to assume the role of proud parents offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!

Weve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think theres a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a president.

Pichai, 47, who was previously chief executive of Google, will take on all of those roles as Alphabets chief executive. He owns about 0.1% of Alphabets shares.

Im excited about Alphabets long-term focus on tackling big challenges through technology, Pichai, who has worked at the company since 2004, said on Twitter. Thanks to Larry & Sergey, we have a timeless mission, enduring values and a culture of collaboration & exploration a strong foundation well continue to build on.

Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai)

Im excited about Alphabets long term focus on tackling big challenges through technology. Thanks to Larry & Sergey, we have a timeless mission, enduring values and a culture of collaboration & exploration – a strong foundation well continue to build on https://t.co/tSVsaj4FsR

December 4, 2019

Brin and Page, both 46, said they would remain actively involved as board members and major shareholders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics were passionate about, they said.

Page had been chief executive of Alphabet since the parent company was created in 2015 to manage all of Googles disparate moonshoot ventures, including flying cars and technology to disrupt the ageing process.

Brin had been president of Alphabet and had already distanced himself from day-to-day management. For a time, Brin had moved his desk to X, the self-described moonshot factory where engineers worked on projects that were expected to fail but had big potential if they didnt.

Together, Brin and Page control 51% of a special class of Alphabets voting shares, giving them ultimate control of the companys future direction. They own 11.4% of the company, worth $101bn (77bn). Alphabets total stock market value is $912bn and has increased by almost 25% so far this year.

Page and Brin are ranked the seventh- and tenth-richest people in the world, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index with estimated fortunes of $62.7bn and $60.9bn respectively.

Under Page and Brin, Googles motto had been: Dont be evil but it was changed to: Do the right thing when Alphabet was created in 2015.

The company has recently faced a growing number of complaints and allegations from politicians and its own workforce. Last year Page was called before the US Senate Intelligence Committee investigating foreign powers influence in elections, but he didnt show up.

Last week, Google dismissed several outspoken workers for allegedly violating its data security policies. Some employees accused the firm of trying to suppress its critics.

Thousands of employees walked out of Google offices around the world last year to protest against a $90m payoff to the former Android boss Andy Rubin, despite finding sexual misconduct claims against him to be credible. The board has since opened an investigation into how executives handle claims of sexual misconduct.

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Employees also protested against the companys contract with the US Department of Defence for artificial intelligence work, arguing that Google should not be in the business of war. Google said last year it would not renew the contract.

Google was fined 1.5bn (1.3bn) by the European commission earlier this year for abusive practices in its AdSense platform by blocking rivals Microsoft and Yahoo from selling ads in Google search results pages. This followed a $5bn fine for anti-competitive behaviour associated with its Android mobile operating system in 2018 and a 2.4bn fine for ecommerce violations in 2017.

The pairs reference to becoming proud parents is a knowing nod to the parental supervision they brought to the company when they appointed the Silicon Valley veteran Eric Schmidt as Googles chief executive in 2001, when Page and Brin were still in their 20s and the company was growing rapidly.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/dec/04/end-of-an-era-as-google-founders-step-down-from-parent-company

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Two Sigma Ventures raises $288M, complementing its $60B hedge fund parent

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Eight years ago, Two Sigma Investments began an experiment in early-stage investing.

The hedge fund, focused on data-driven quantitative investing, was well on its way to amassing the $60 billion in assets under management that it currently holds, but wanted more exposure to early-stage technology companies, so it created a venture capital arm, Two Sigma Ventures.

At the time of the firm’s launch it made a series of investments, totaling about $70 million, exclusively with internal capital. The second fund was a $150 million vehicle that was backed primarily by the hedge fund, but included a few external limited partners.

Now, eight years and several investments later, the firm has raised $288 million in new funding from outside investors and is pushing to prove out its model, which leverages its parent company’s network of 1,700 data scientists, engineers and industry experts to support development inside its portfolio.

The world is becoming awash in data and there’s continuing advances in the science of computing,” says Two Sigma Ventures co-founder Colin Beirne. “We thought eight years ago when when started, that more and more companies of the future would be tapping into those trends.”

Beirne describes the firm’s investment thesis as being centered on backing data-driven companies across any sector — from consumer technology companies like the social networking monitoring application, Bark, or the high-performance, high-end sports wearable company, Whoop.

Alongside Beirne, Two Sigma Ventures is led by three other partners: Dan Abelon, who co-founded SpeedDate and sold it to IAC; Lindsey Gray, who launched and led NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute; and Villi Iltchev, a former general partner at August Capital.

Recent investments in the firm’s portfolio include Firedome, an endpoint security company; NewtonX, which provides a database of experts; Radar, a location-based data analysis company; and Terray Therapeutics, which uses machine learning for drug discovery.

Other companies in the firm’s portfolio are farther afield. These include the New York-based Amper Music, which uses machine learning to make new music; and Zymergen, which uses machine learning and big data to identify genetic variations useful in pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturing.

Currently, the firm’s portfolio is divided between enterprise investments, consumer-facing deals and healthcare-focused technologies. The biggest bucket is enterprise software companies, which Beirne estimates represents about 65% of the portfolio. He expects the firm to become more active in healthcare investments going forward.

“We really think that the intersection of data and biology is going to change how healthcare is delivered,” Beirne says. “That looks dramatically different a decade from now.”

To seed the market for investments, the firm’s partners have also backed the Allen Institute’s investment fund for artificial intelligence startups.

Together with Sequoia, KPCB and Madrona, Two Sigma recently invested in a $10 million financing to seed companies that are working with AI. “This is a strategic investment from partner capital,” says Beirne.

Typically startups can expect Two Sigma to invest between $5 million and $10 million with its initial commitment. The firm will commit up to roughly $15 million in its portfolio companies over time.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/22/two-sigma-ventures-raises-288-million-complementing-its-60-billion-hedge-fund-parent/

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German football league Bundesliga teams with AWS to improve fan experience

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Germany’s top soccer (football) league, Bundesliga, announced today it is partnering with AWS to use artificial intelligence to enhance the fan experience during games.

Andreas Heyden, executive vice president for digital sports at the Deutsche Fußball Liga, the entity that runs Bundesliga, says that this could take many forms, depending on whether the fan is watching a broadcast of the game or interacting online.

“We try to use technology in a way to excite a fan more, to engage a fan more, to really take the fan experience to the next level, to show relevant stats at the relevant time through broadcasting, in apps and on the web to personalize the customer experience,” Heyden said.

This could involve delivering personalized content. “In times like this when attention spans are shrinking, when a user opens up the app the first message should be the most relevant message in that context in that time for the specific user,” he said.

It also can help provide advanced statistics to fans in real time, even going so far as to predict the probability of a goal being scored at any particular moment in a game that would have an impact on your team. Heyden thinks of it as telling a story with numbers, rather than reporting what happened after the fact.

“We want to, with the help of technology, tell stories that could not have been told without the technology. There’s no chance that a reporter could come up with a number of what the probability of a shot [scoring in a given moment]. AWS can,” he said.

Werner Vogels, CTO at Amazon, says this about using machine learning and other technologies on the AWS platform to add to the experience of watching the game, which should help attract younger fans, regardless of the sport. “All of these kind of augmented customer fan experiences are crucial in engaging a whole new generation of fans,” Vogels told TechCrunch.

He adds that this kind of experience simply wasn’t possible until recently because the technology didn’t exist. “These things were impossible five or 10 years ago, mostly because now with all the machine learning software, as well as how the [pace of technology] has accelerated at such a [rate] at AWS, we’re now able to do these things in real time for sports fans.”

Bundesliga is not just any football league. It is the second biggest in the world in terms of revenue, and boasts the highest stadium attendance of all football teams worldwide. Today’s announcement is an extension of an ongoing relationship between DFL and AWS, which started in 2015 when Heyden helped move the league’s operations to the cloud on AWS.

Heyden says that it’s not a coincidence he ended up using AWS instead of another cloud company. He has known Vogels (who also happens to be a huge soccer fan) for many years, and has been using AWS for more than a decade, even well before he joined the DFL. Today’s announcement is an extension of that long-term relationship.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/24/german-football-league-bundesliga-teams-with-aws-to-improve-fan-experience/

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Delta Air Lines startup partnerships are fueling innovation

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For the first time, this year Delta Air Lines had a large presence at CES. The carrier used much of its space to highlight the “parallel reality” screens developed by Misapplied Sciences and Sarcos Robotics, which brought its latest Guardian exoskeleton. At the show, I sat down with COO Gil West, an industry veteran with years of experience at a number of airlines and airplane manufacturers, to talk about how the company works with these startups.

Like all large companies, Delta has gone through a bit of a digital transformation in recent years by rebuilding a lot of the technical infrastructure that powers its internal and external services (though like all airlines, it also still has plenty of legacy tech that is hard to replace). This work enabled the company to move faster, rethink a lot of its processes and heightened the reality that a lot of this innovation has to come from outside the company.

“If you think about where we are as a world right now, it’s a Renaissance period for transportation,” West said. “Now, fortunately, we’re right in the middle of it, but if you think about the different modes of transportation and autonomous and electrification — and the technologies like AI and ML — everything is converging. There’s truly, I think, a transportation revolution — and we’ll play in it.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/14/delta-air-lines-startup-partnerships-are-fueling-innovation/

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