While the rest of the country has spent the past year debating gay marriage, policing tactics, Obamacare, and Deflate-gate, the inescapable topic of discussion in Silicon Valley is whether we are in a technology bubble. Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of his eponymous venture firm, is perhaps the leading advocate against the bubble chatter. On his Twitter feed, he has referenced the word “bubble” more than 300 times, repeatedly mocking or refuting anyone on his radar who even hints at such a possibility. One of his arguments, as the slides in the Rosewood ballroom suggested, is the exponential growth of mobile phones, which have fundamentally changed the way we buy and sell virtually everything, from groceries to taxi-like services, and created unprecedented disruption. Also, in contrast to the days of the dot-com boom, many tech companies are creating revenue—in some instances, lots of it. ... there may be no greater monument to what’s going on in the Valley than the 1,070-foot edifice under construction at 415 Mission Street. The new, glassy Salesforce Tower is slated to soon become the tallest building in San Francisco, rising more than 200 feet above the Transamerica Pyramid. ... Snapchat has offered Stanford undergrads as much as $500,000 a year to work for the company. Jana Rich, founder of Rich Talent Group, a well-regarded tech recruiting firm, told me that she hasn’t seen such bidding wars since the late 90s. “I’ve seen two of these life cycles, where things are going fabulously well,” she said. “Then we have the bust. We are now, in my opinion, at the height of the demand curve.” ... “You know there’s a bubble,” the saying goes, “when the pretty people show up.” ... All across the Valley, the majority of big start-ups are actually glorified distribution companies that are trying, in some sense, to copy what Domino’s Pizza mastered in the 1980s when it delivered a hot pie to your door in 30 minutes or less. ... Or maybe it’s simpler than that. As one technologist overheard and posted on Twitter, “SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?” ... Either you can go public, which is inadvisable without a lot of revenue, or you can sell, which is difficult given the paucity of companies that can afford to make such an offer. So, for many, the choice becomes fairly simple. You continue to raise more and more money, or you die. ... countless people from all over want this to be a bubble and they want it to burst.
Modeled after the wildly popular Japanese group AKB48, Wang’s three-year-old Chinese version similarly auditions young women from across the country, trains them intensively in singing, dancing, and show-hosting for four months, then puts them onstage to perform choreographed routines in live concerts. The regimen—long rehearsals, exercise, and dormitory curfews—seems more akin to the military than to the MTV life. “To make their dreams come true, they need sweat and perseverance,” Wang says. “Most Chinese girls, because the economy is developed and the quality of life is high, lack discipline.” ... During the most recent round of auditions in June, 48 applicants were selected out of 126,000, says Tao Ying, Star48’s chief executive officer. (Applicants can be as old as 22; the youngest band member is 14.) ... Wu is one of the band’s 119 members, who are split into smaller teams, which are rotated in live performances at the band’s 340-seat Shanghai theater, for about seven shows a week. ... plans to start similar girl bands in 10 Chinese cities by 2018. ... Besides keeping up with the band through China’s popular WeChat messaging app and various microblog platforms, fans stay involved through voting for the group’s favorite songs and their favorite band members. That input affects the performer’s career and salary. The most popular ones earn as much as 50,000 yuan a month, and the newest recruits get about 4,000 yuan, Wang says. Fans also meet band members regularly in what Star48 calls “handshake gatherings,” where 10-second individual sessions with their favorite idol are earned after buying a certain number of the band’s songs.
Good Eggs was founded in July 2011 in San Francisco. The two software developers behind it wanted to build an efficient way for small farmers and producers to reach consumers who were interested in fresh, beautiful ingredients but didn’t necessarily have the time to hunt them down at a farmers market or a grocery store (which probably wouldn’t carry them to begin with). It was a promising idea, well-positioned at the white-hot Venn-diagram center of some of the biggest themes in tech right now: tech-enabled on-demand delivery, food, eye-popping funding rounds. Good Eggs started operating on a limited basis in the Bay Area in 2012, and by the end of the following year, it had expanded to full service there, opened three additional hubs around the country, and was on its way to hiring hundreds of employees. To date, it has raised almost $53 million in venture capital. ... But by Good Eggs’ own admission — and as Stambler’s sudden email indicated — building the business was immensely, unexpectedly difficult. On-demand delivery, perishable inventory, strict regulations, fluctuating prices, and city-specific quirks added up to a host of logistical challenges that can’t always be neatly predicted or solved by software.
Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profitable high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe. ... That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confidence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. ... higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. ... Anyone with a promising idea and some experience can find money. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. ... Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.
Meet Jasper, Jahangir Mohammed's fast-growing yet near-invisible company helping to power the internet of things. ... Jasper likes to call itself "the 'on switch' for the internet of things," the increasingly vast body of devices that now speak to one another over the internet. And that's a pretty apt description. With the cost of computing power and internet connectivity falling fast, networked intelligence is turning up just about everywhere these days: the moisture sensor on an apple tree, an assembly line full of industrial robots, the watch on your wrist, or the Ford you drive home every night. And Jasper, valued at $1.4 billion and widely expected to go public soon, is the reptilian brain for much of that network, ensuring that the nodes are on and aware and functioning as they should be. ... Since co-founding Jasper in 2004, he has been building out a global footprint that now comprises a partner network of more than 100 wireless carriers on the one hand, and more than 2,700 of their customers on the other: Amazon, GE, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and nearly every automaker--they all rely on Jasper's software platform ... The dashboard allows each company to monitor its entire universe of devices remotely ... Jasper gets paid by the carriers but works closely with their customers, managing not only the internet connections of their "things," wherever they may be, but also performing core services such as making sure the things are working properly, turning them on or off, updating software, and tracking data use. ... put the company at the center of the next big technological phase change: In the same way Dell and Microsoft profited from the move from mainframes to desktops and laptops, and Apple from the rise of cell phones, Jasper stands to ride the next wave of miniaturization--the penetration of computing power and connectivity into the tiniest artifacts of daily life.
All told, the company spent more than $600 million. In its brief time in operation, it generated $2.3 million in revenue; when it filed for bankruptcy it listed assets of $58.3 million. ... The next generation of biofuels, made from plants and biowaste (so-called cellulosic materials), which have lower carbon emissions than oil, were a particular passion. Khosla invested hundreds of millions of dollars in about a dozen biofuel and biochemical companies. ... His ambitions were audacious. Khosla declared “a war on oil.” As he wrote in 2006, “I believe we can replace most of our gasoline needs in 25 years with biomass.” He dismissed incumbent energy companies in a 2007 interview as not investing heavily in biofuels because they weren’t “used to innovation and the rate of innovation we are likely to see in this business.” ... Unlike most failed startups, KiOR hasn’t just shut its doors and disappeared into oblivion. Today recriminations, investigations, and litigation continue to surround it. The Securities and Exchange Commission has been examining whether the company made false statements, including on a critical point: the yield of its biofuel (the amount that can be made per ton of wood chips). Two KiOR executives and Khosla himself are also facing a class action suit alleging that company executives misled investors about production volumes and yield. ... The state of Mississippi is also suing Khosla and key KiOR executives on similar grounds, claiming they hoodwinked the state to obtain a $75 million loan.
Welcome to the world of zombie tech stocks—once-highflying IPOs wandering aimlessly in the wasteland of the public equity markets and understandably unloved by investors. ... To be fair, some major tech IPOs have soared in recent years ... The detritus far outnumber the success stories, raising the question, Is the method by which companies go public as broken and inequitable as it ever was? That would certainly seem to be the case. And the problem is especially acute when it comes to tech companies for which relentless forward momentum is key not only to pleasing investors but also to attracting talent and keeping their competitive edge. ... a tremendous backlog of potential technology IPOs is building up just as the stock market is beginning to look very wobbly after its nearly seven-year bull run. ... It appears that a reckoning is coming in the tech world. The combined value ascribed to the 173 unicorns by their investors is a stunning $585 billion—an especially astonishing figure given that so many of them aren’t even close to profitable. Sky-high valuations—driven in part by unicorn mania and an influx of money from nontraditional (and less disciplined) venture investors—have limited the number of potential acquirers for a lot of the buzziest companies.
- Also: Gartner - 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - Protections for Late Investors Can Inflate Start-Up Valuations < 5min
- Also: Business Insider - Evernote, the first dead unicorn < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - The Man Who Taught Mutual Funds How to Invest in Startups < 5min
Part I: I would like to examine two areas where the U.S. really does have documentable advantages. They are both incredibly important, one especially for good times with thriving capitalism and the other as a protection against possible bad times in the future that I for one fear ... In a world in which most things continue to work well, or at least well enough, the U.S. has the advantage of simply being more entrepreneurial. More of us risk starting new enterprises than do others in developed countries. ... You can even be associated with several bankruptcies and still be a strong-running candidate for President! How unlikely that would be anywhere else. And if three times more of us charge at the Internet, medical research, or social enterprises than in other countries, then we do not have to be better. ... The list of our advantages in Canamerica, as we could call it, is a very long one. First, we are uniquely defensible and difficult to attack. We are well-armed and well-organized. Less obviously, perhaps, we are more than self-sufficient in food production, energy, and mineable resources.
Part II: The positive effects of low resource prices are underestimated. The U.S. and global economies are likely to do significantly better this year than recent opinions predict. The U.S. has plenty of spare capacity to grow above its longer-term limits. The biggest risk would be China’s GDP becoming much more disappointing. ... The U.S. and global markets do not look like they are in bubble territory. They can always suffer a regular bear market (and are almost in one now). But I still believe we will have to wait longer for the BIG ONE and that global equity markets will regroup once more. ... Currently ultra-low resource prices are not sustainable, particularly those of grains and oil. Oil producers need $65/barrel and rising to finance new oil exploration. Resource prices will inevitably rise and as they do they will reduce once again the growth rates of the global economy.
Twilio, as a company, reflects its chief executive’s personality. “Be humble and be frugal,” says Lawson, a 39-year-old father of two. That aw-shucks credo has translated into 30,000 customers—from small developers to large enterprises—who use Twilio to power some 75 billion annual connections that reach 1 billion devices. ... building communications functions into apps is both vital and easier than ever, which in turn prom-ises to make every smartphone in the world even smarter. ... Twilio is exceedingly simple to use and charges no upfront fees, so programmers often use it to test an idea or product. Pretty soon that product scales and turns into a six- or seven-figure account that required no traditional sales process. “We onboard developers like consumers and let them spend like enterprises,” Lawson says. Like others that have embraced developer-driven marketing—Amazon for computing services, Stripe for payments, New Relic for analytics—Twilio benefits as companies increasingly turn to software for differentiation. ... His 15 months at Amazon proved to be formative. Selling the building blocks of computing as a service was a brand-new idea, and Lawson was at its epicenter. The model gained traction with the advent of mobile apps, which over time prompted scores of businesses to turn to software as a way to interact with customers. As he began to think about where he could apply the Amazon Web Services model, Lawson homed in on communications, which had proved essential to every business he had started.
The most remarkable thing about neural nets is that no human being has programmed a computer to perform any of the stunts described above. In fact, no human could. Programmers have, rather, fed the computer a learning algorithm, exposed it to terabytes of data—hundreds of thousands of images or years’ worth of speech samples—to train it, and have then allowed the computer to figure out for itself how to recognize the desired objects, words, or sentences. ... Neural nets aren’t new. The concept dates back to the 1950s, and many of the key algorithmic breakthroughs occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. What’s changed is that today computer scientists have finally harnessed both the vast computational power and the enormous storehouses of data—images, video, audio, and text files strewn across the Internet—that, it turns out, are essential to making neural nets work well. ... That dramatic progress has sparked a burst of activity. Equity funding of AI-focused startups reached an all-time high last quarter of more than $1 billion, according to the CB Insights research firm. There were 121 funding rounds for such startups in the second quarter of 2016, compared with 21 in the equivalent quarter of 2011, that group says. More than $7.5 billion in total investments have been made during that stretch—with more than $6 billion of that coming since 2014. ... The hardware world is feeling the tremors. The increased computational power that is making all this possible derives not only from Moore’s law but also from the realization in the late 2000s that graphics processing units (GPUs) made by Nvidia—the powerful chips that were first designed to give gamers rich, 3D visual experiences—were 20 to 50 times more efficient than traditional central processing units (CPUs) for deep-learning computations. ... Think of deep learning as a subset of a subset. “Artificial intelligence” encompasses a vast range of technologies—like traditional logic and rules-based systems—that enable computers and robots to solve problems in ways that at least superficially resemble thinking. Within that realm is a smaller category called machine learning, which is the name for a whole toolbox of arcane but important mathematical techniques that enable computers to improve at performing tasks with experience. Finally, within machine learning is the smaller subcategory called deep learning.
- Also: FiveThirtyEight - Some Like It Bot < 5min
- Also: Vox - Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen explains how AI will change the world 5-15min
- Also: Nautilus - Moore’s Law Is About to Get Weird < 5min
- Also: Edge - AI & The Future Of Civilization < 5min
- Also: Medium - Machine Learning is Fun! Part 4: Modern Face Recognition with Deep Learning 5-15min
- Also: Rolling Stone - Inside the Artificial Intelligence Revolution: Pt. 1 5-15min
- Also: Rolling Stone - Inside the Artificial Intelligence Revolution: Pt. 2 5-15min
Next year it will be 60 years since people first witnessed the majesty of a satellite being launched into orbit: Sputnik 1, hurled into the night sky in Kazakhstan early on October 5th 1957. ... Just 15 years separated the launch of the first satellite and the return of the last man from the moon, years in which anything seemed possible. But having won the space race, America saw no benefit in carrying on. Instead it developed a space shuttle meant to make getting to orbit cheap, reliable and routine. More than 100 shuttle flights between 1981 to 2011 went some way to realising the last of those goals, despite two terrible accidents. The first two were never met. Getting into space remained a risky and hideously expensive proposition, taken up only by governments and communications companies, each for their own reasons. ... New rockets, though, are not the only exciting development. The expense of getting into space during the 1980s and 1990s led some manufacturers to start shrinking the satellites used for some sorts of mission, creating “smallsats”. Since then the amount a given size of satellite can do has been boosted by developments in computing and electronics. This has opened up both new ways of doing old jobs and completely novel opportunities. ... No single technology ties together this splendid gaggle of ambitions. But there is a common technological approach that goes a long way to explaining it; that of Silicon Valley. Even if for now most of the money being spent in space remains with old government programmes and incumbent telecom providers, space travel is moving from the world of government procurement and aerospace engineering giants to the world of venture-capital-funded startups and business plans that rely on ever cheaper services provided to ever more customers.
In a rare interview Abovitz says Magic Leap has spent a billion dollars perfecting a prototype and has begun constructing manufacturing lines in Florida, ahead of a release of a consumer version of its technology. When it arrives–best guess is within the next 18 months–it could usher in a new era of computing, a next-generation interface we’ll use for decades to come. ... Magic Leap’s innovation isn’t just a high-tech display–it’s a disruption machine. This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core. ... The centerpiece of Magic Leap’s technology is a head-mounted display, but the final product should fit into a pair of spectacles. When you’re wearing the device, it doesn’t block your view of the world; the hardware projects an image directly onto your retina through an optics system built into a piece of semitransparent glass (the product won’t fry your eyeballs; it’s replicating the way we naturally observe the world instead of forcing you to stare at a screen). The hardware also constantly gathers information, scanning the room for obstacles, listening for voices, tracking eye movements and watching hands.
In the next 15 years India will see more people come online than any other country. Last year e-commerce sales were about $16 billion; by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley, a bank, the online retail market could be more than seven times larger. Such sales are expected to grow faster in India than in any other market. This has attracted a flood of investment in e-commerce firms, the impact of which may go far beyond just displacing offline retail. ... India’s small businesses have limited access to loans; most of its consumers do not have credit cards, or for that matter credit. The e-commerce companies are investing in logistics, helping merchants borrow and giving consumers new tools to pay for goods. ... Amazon wants to make India its second-biggest market, after America. For the time being, though, with just 12% of the market, it lags behind the home-grown successes, Flipkart (45%) and Snapdeal (26%). All three, as well as some smaller competitors, are spending at a blistering rate. ... The prospect of a second market growing to a near-Chinese size attracts those who made a packet the first time round. ... Indian regulations bar foreign-backed e-commerce firms from owning inventory, and so acting as a straightforward retailer is not an option. As a result India’s top e-commerce companies look much more like Alibaba.