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Microsoft and corporate activism

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BOSTON — Artificial intelligence needs to eat, breathe and sleep data to be effective. By that measure, the company…

— or country — with the most data should emerge victorious. But Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft, said the idea that data accumulators will rule the world and the rest of us will be powerless is a pessimistic take on what’s to come.

He prefers optimism. Indeed, Smith said there are ways to keep, say, China from becoming a global data dictator. His recommendation: Create “a global standard for ethical principles and for the protection of things like privacy so that the price for global admission is adherence to a global standard.”

Such a standard could create a classic data-silo problem for countries that don’t comply. For example, China may have the world’s largest population, but if it can’t access Europe’s data or the United States’ data, it will struggle to uncover patterns on a global, rather than national, scale.

That was one of the points Smith made at HUBweek, an innovation festival in Boston. In a fireside chat with Adi Ignatius, editor in chief of Harvard Business Review, Smith made it clear that Microsoft is participating in a new kind of corporate activism that targets broad societal issues — and it’s using this newly public corporate conscience as an advocacy and marketing tool.

For example, in December, Microsoft publicly supported a giving women and men the right to take a sexual harassment claim to court rather than keep the complaint in arbitration. When North Carolina a that restricted LGBT rights, Microsoft lent its voice to the opposition. More recently, the company launched the Defending Democracy Program, which is aimed at protecting campaigns from hacking, increasing political advertising transparency and defending against disinformation.

The political thread in the examples Smith provided is hardly accidental: Customers are increasingly turning to companies to take on issues they care about because of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., Smith argued.

“We are living in a time when there are historically low levels of trust in government,” he said. “And so, whereas in the past, people would say, ‘I care about this. I’m going to go to government.’ They are less inclined to do that.”

But jumping into corporate activism and promoting a company’s moral compass can also create wrinkles. Smith said, given the gridlock in Washington, customers are beginning to ask Microsoft to help regulate the very technology it’s developing. One HUBweek attendee raised a question that has become common at tech events: Can government officials craft policy that effectively keeps up with the rapid pace of change in the tech industry? 

Smith shot down the idea, saying that any technology company’s involvement in regulation is inappropriate and restricts progress. “I don’t think it’s viable to ask tech to slow down,” he said. “It is not only appropriate, but it is right to ask government to move faster. And it’s incumbent on those of us in the technology sector to do what we can to share information so that governments can move faster.”

Plus, he said, “it’s important to remember that, in this country and in many others, people elect those who make the laws. People do not elect companies.”

‘Moneyball’ for movies

Legendary Entertainment is using analytics to develop films. Matt Marolda, chief analytics officer for the media company, referred to this as “Moneyball for movies,” referencing the story of how data helped transform a losing baseball team.

The use of data to develop movie products isn’t , but in the past, much of the data was collected through analog methods. These days, the data that Marolda’s applied analytics team uses for analysis comes from a variety of sources — from one-on-one conversations with viewers to digital data such as search queries and Twitter conversations.

The tried-and-true method of testing a film before a live audience is also used — but with a twist. While Marolda’s team tries “to be as unintrusive as possible” during the testing process, it uses iPads to capture facial expressions and wristbands to collect heart rate and other “various signals,” he said. That kind of data is used to determine what’s working and what’s not.

“We try and identify those moments where people are confused, people are rolling their eyes, where they’re really engaged,” Marolda said.

The data can also help pin down much bigger problems such as whether the chemistry between the two leads is believable. Marolda said filmmakers often have a gut answer to human chemistry questions like the latter, but the data can provide solid evidence.

“With that kind of evidence, entire storylines are removed from movies, reshoots might happen to redirect the plot,” he said. “Those indicators are a great way to understand what the opportunities are for improvement.”

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Source: https://searchcio.techtarget.com/news/252450811/Microsoft-and-corporate-activism

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Aeva announces customer deal; shares soar even after results disappoint

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By Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) – Aeva Technologies Inc said on Thursday it signed a deal to develop a sensor for a self-driving car to be made by an “undisclosed large company,” and its shares rose 13% even as it reported that its loss ballooned and sales came in far below forecasts.

Aeva reported first-quarter revenue of $300,000, down from $500,000 a year earlier and far below analysts’ estimate of $1.38 million, according to Refinitiv estimates. Its adjusted operating loss more than doubled to $15.6 million from $6.1 million a year ago.

Founded by two ex-Apple Inc engineers, Aeva makes a sensor that helps self-driving cars navigate through the use lidar technology that uses lasers, much like radar uses radio waves. The company became publicly traded through a reverse merger earlier this year and was one of several lidar firms to do so.

Aeva said on Thursday it had signed a “foundational agreement with an undisclosed large company to develop best-in-class lidar” for the customer’s autonomous driving program.

Aeva’s shares were up 13% at $8 in after-hours trading after the results and customer announcement.

In an interview, Aeva Chief Executive Soroush Salehian said the company could not disclose when it would go into mass production with the undisclosed customer but that “there’s going to be increased activity as we work toward production.

“This has a huge potential,” he said, “and based on what we know, it could be one of the largest programs in the industry.”

Aeva has deals with automotive suppliers Denso Corp and ZF Friedrichshafen AG to mass-manufacture its sensors.

Earlier this week, the company said it added to its advisory board Apple senior executive Steve Zadesky and Volkswagen AG Senior Vice President Alex Hitzinger, who was also once part of Apple’s self-driving car Project Titan. Porsche Automobil Holding SE, Volkswagen’s majority voting shareholder, is also an investor in Aeva.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/aeva-announces-customer-deal-shares-soar-even-results-disappoint/14656

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Elon Musk on crypto: to the mooooonnn! And back again

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By John McCrank

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bitcoin’s price tumbled after Elon Musk said on Wednesday his electric car maker Tesla Inc would no longer accept the cryptocurrency for purchases, citing environmental concerns for the reversal.

Here are some of Musk’s comments on bitcoin and other cryptocurrenies like Ether and Dogecoin, some of which moved the digital assets’ prices:

Nov. 27, 2017: Musk denies a theory he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of bitcoin, tweeting https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/935329447594541056, “Not true. A friend sent me part of a BTC a few years, but I don’t know where it is.”

Feb. 22, 2018: Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/966602470431473664?lang=en: “I literally own zero cryptocurrency, apart from .25 BTC that a friend sent me many years ago.”

Oct. 22, 2018: Musk temporarily lost Twitter access after tweeting https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1054520588734058496, “Wanna buy some bitcoin?”

Feb. 19, 2019, Musk called bitcoin’s structure “quite brilliant” on a podcast https://ark-invest.com/podcast/on-the-road-to-full-autonomy-with-elon-musk with ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood. “But, I’m not sure it’s the best use of Tesla’s resources to get involved in crypto. We’re really just trying to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy, and it’s like, quite energy intensive.”

April 2, 2019, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1113009339743100929?lang=en: “Dogecoin might be my fav cryptocurrency. It’s pretty cool.”

April 29, 2019, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1123034747460972545?lang=en: “Ethereum,” and, “jk.”

May 15, 2019, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1261416824459030529, in response to “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, “… massive currency issuance by govt central banks is making Bitcoin Internet money look solid by comparison,” and, “I still only own 0.25 Bitcoins btw.”

July 2, 2020, Musk responded to “Star Trek” actor William Shatner with, “I’m not building anything on ethereum. Not for or against it, just don’t use it or own any.”

July 17, 2020, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1284291528328790016?lang=en a meme implying Dogecoin would become the standard of the global financial system, “It’s inevitable.”

Dec. 20, 2020, Dogecoin soared after Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1340590280848908288?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw, “One word: Doge.”

Dec. 20, 2020, in a Twitter https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1340678358456274948?lang=en exchange with MicroStrategy Inc Chief Executive Michael Saylor, Musk asks about converting “large transactions” of Tesla’s balance sheet into bitcoin.

Jan. 29, Bitcoin spikes after Musk adds #bitcoin to his Twitter bio, tweeting https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1355068728128516101?lang=en, “In retrospect, it was inevitable.”

Feb. 1, Musk says on social media app Clubhouse he supports bitcoin, which was “on the verge of getting broad acceptance” and that he was “a little slow on the uptake.”

Feb. 4, Dogecoin surged more than 60% after Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1357241340313141249 “Dogecoin is the people’s crypto.”

March 2, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1366808202701012995?lang=en, “Scammers & crypto should get a room.”

March 12, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1370449101402353669, in reference to his tunneling company, “BTC (Bitcoin) is an anagram of TBC(The Boring Company) What a coincidence!”

March 24, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1374617643446063105: “You can now buy a Tesla with Bitcoin,” and “… Bitcoin paid to Tesla will be retained as Bitcoin, not converted to fiat currency.”

April 1, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1377567762919292938: “SpaceX is going to put a literal Dogecoin on the literal moon.”

April 15, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1382552587099062272?lang=en: “Doge Barking at the Moon.”

April 28, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1387290679794089986: “The Dogefather SNL May 8,” ahead of hosting Saturday Night Live.

May 7, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1390522866979033092: “Cryptocurrency is promising, but please invest with caution!”

May 9, Dogecoin tanked after Musk called the cryptocurrency “a hustle” on SNL. Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1391523807148527620: “SpaceX launching satellite Doge-1 to the moon next year – Mission paid for in Doge – 1st crypto in space – 1st meme in space To the mooooonnn!!”

May 11, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1392030108274159619: “Do you want Tesla to accept Doge?”

May 12, Musk tweeted https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1392602041025843203 Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin as a payment, and “Energy usage trend over past few months is insane.”

(Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Richard Chang)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/elon-musk-crypto-mooooonnn-and-back/14655

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Airbnb bookings jump 52% as vaccinations spur vacation rental demand

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By Sanjana Shivdas

(Reuters) – Airbnb Inc beat Wall Street expectations for first-quarter gross bookings and revenue on Thursday, as speedy COVID-19 vaccinations and easing restrictions encouraged more people to check into its vacation rentals.

Gross bookings jumped 52% to $10.29 billion in the quarter, easily beating analysts’ estimates of $6.93 billion.

“For guests aged 60 and above in the U.S., who were amongst the first groups to benefit from vaccine rollouts, searches on our platform for summer travel increased by more than 60% between February and March 2021,” Airbnb said.

The San Francisco-based company expects second-quarter revenue to be similar to 2019 levels, adding that the return of urban and cross-border travel is likely to underpin growth over the coming quarters.

Airbnb is also set to benefit from demand for longer stays and a shift to traveling in groups by business travelers, Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky said on a post-earnings call.

The company has weathered the pandemic better than rivals as people turned to its offering of larger spaces and locations away from major cities in the era of social distancing.

It recorded a surge in bookings in Britain after the government laid down plans in February to exit lockdown, while the easing of travel restrictions in France earlier this month also lifted demand.

Airbnb, however, said it was too early to predict if the recovery momentum would continue at the same pace in the second half of 2021.

Its revenue rose 5.4% to $886.9 million in the first quarter ended March 31, exceeding estimates of $714.4 million, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization narrowed to $59 million, from $334 million a year earlier, largely due to cost cuts.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/airbnb-bookings-jump-52-vaccinations-spur-vacation-rental-demand/14654

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Disney’s streaming growth slows as pandemic lift fades, shares fall

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By Lisa Richwine and Tiyashi Datta

(Reuters) -Disappointing growth of Walt Disney Co’s namesake streaming service on Thursday overshadowed better-than-expected overall profits, driving down shares of the entertainment company.

Shares of Disney fell 3.7% in after-hours trading.

CEO Robert Chapek said that movie and television shows were resuming normal production and new offerings would help bring in new customers to Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu and Hotstar.

Adjusted earnings-per-share for the fiscal second quarter came in at 79 cents for January through April 3, Disney said. Analysts had expected 27 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Disney is focusing on quickly building its streaming service to challenge Netflix Inc as audiences move away from cable TV. The company’s popular theme parks remain in recovery mode with attendance limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(Disney+) growth is significantly decelerating as the initial pandemic boost has waned,” eMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom said. “Given Disney’s content investments, subscriber growth should return strongly once this short-term turbulence ends.”

Upcoming Disney+ series include “Loki” about the Marvel villain and Star Wars series “The Book of Boba Fett.”

A total of 103.6 million customers subscribed to Disney+ as of early April, the company said. Two Marvel superhero series, “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” debuted during the quarter. Analysts had projected 109.3 million, according to FactSet.

The average monthly revenue per paid subscriber for Disney+ decreased from $5.63 to $3.99, the company said, due to the launch of the lower-priced Disney+ Hotstar in overseas markets. Factset estimates showed Wall Street was expecting average revenue of $4.10 per user.

Disney plans to launch Disney+ in Malaysia on June 1 and in Thailand on June 30, executives said on a call with analysts.

Overall revenue fell 13% to $15.61 billion in the second quarter ended April 3, a touch below what analysts estimated, according Refinitiv.

Net income from continuing operations rose to $912 million in the second quarter from $468 million a year earlier.

Operating income at Disney’s media division rose 74% from a year earlier to $2.9 billion as profit rose at domestic and international TV networks. The streaming media unit lost $290 million, less than half of what Wall Street expected, thanks in part to higher advertising revenue at Hulu and ESPN+ income from Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view events.

The theme parks division posted an operating loss of $406 million. The Disneylands in California and Paris were closed for the full quarter. Disneyland in California reopened April 30.

Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said reservations at Disney’s U.S. parks were strong, “demonstrating the strength of our brands as well as growing travel optimism.”

Chapek said Disney will continue to experiment with movie distribution while theaters try to lure audiences back. The company will offer late summer releases “Free Guy” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” exclusively in theaters for 45 days, a shortened period that has been embraced by other studios to allow for home viewing sooner.

Disney renewed a deal with Major League Baseball with 30 exclusive regular season games through 2028. The deal includes an option to simulcast all live MLB coverage for ESPN networks on ESPN+.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Eva Mathews and Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Lisa Shumaker)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/disneys-streaming-growth-slows-pandemic-lift-fades-shares-fall/14653

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