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Google’s cloud customers can also tap into the power of the TPU chips, if they’re running applications that can benefit from the chips, Greene said. Google claims TPUs can handle machine learning tasks far more quickly than graphics processors or other chips.
In some ways, that’s already started. Lately, tech companies have started publishing their company’s demographics to show how many men, women, and people of color hold various positions. But on stage at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference today, Baker had a clear message: “Share more.”
Google didn’t love it, and Baker, who was featured on WIRED’s Next List, is now an engineer at Slack. But the spreadsheet set in motion an important conversation about equality in the tech industry. In order to achieve it, Silicon Valley needs to share its data.
Bitcoin may still bring to mind images of clandestine drug markets and anarchist hackers bent on liberating finance from financial companies. But some of the world’s largest corporations are embracing the technology behind the cryptocurrency.
To learn more about Green, his son, and That Dragon, Cancer, see “A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame Ever” by WIRED editor-at-large Jason Tanz.
If Google really does need those business relationships to succeed, Greene joked that the company could always just acquire Oracle. But her real idea is to focus on engineering and innovation rather than sales in order to grow. The company is already putting its machine learning know-how to use on its cloud through services like its Cloud Prediction offering. But Google’s custom chips take this potential competitive advantage to the next level. Every cloud computing company offers an enormous amount of computing power and storage. Only Google has TPUs.
‘Many surviviors … have collection agencies calling them.
Funny or Die’s not taking all the credit—or even most of it. The inspiration for both the video and the bill itself was a woman named Amanda Nguyen, a Harvard graduate and Jenkins’ former intern who is a sexual assault survivor herself. Not only was the experience traumatic, it taught Nguyen that “our system is pretty screwed up,” Jenkins said.
Krishna says that IBM handles millions transactions per year, ranging from purchases from vendors to financing purchases for its clients. Disputes inevitably arrise over problems like tax rates and missing or incorrect shipments. On average these disputes take 40 days to resolve. Kirshna hopes that IBM can use Hyperledger to streamline these disputes by creating a transparent system for verifying who has actually paid for what. If it can work for IBM, the thinking goes, maybe it could work for just about anyone.
“We have the bones and minds of a tech startup,” Lublin said. “We solve problems with products.”
According to Cassidy, who also appeared onstage at the WIRED Business Conference today, one major obstacle to achieving gender diversity in the board room is the fact that women automatically assume they’re not qualified. In order for Silicon Valley culture to change, she said, that mindset must change, too.
And it introduced the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, the world’s first $30,000 long-range electric car, which is headed for dealer lots later this year. The Bolt, Barra says, will straddle the line between the way we use cars today and how’ll we’ll use them 5, 15, even 50 years from now: “It’s a platform.”
LeCun is the founding father of deep learning, one of the most important branches of artificial intelligence today. Deep learning techniques are used for everything from the algorithms that filter your Facebook feed to Android’s voice recognition system to Skype’s cutting edge real-time translation tool. But while machines have gotten really good at recognizing voice commands and translating one human language into another, AIs still can’t really understand language, LeCun explained.
So Nguyen founded the organization Rise and worked with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to get the bill introduced in the Senate. It aims to standardize states’ rules around how they deal with sexual assault evidence kits so that survivors don’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops just to get justice. The Funny or Die video was Nguyen’s way of building public support for this important piece of legislation.
“Like the hero she is, Amanda went through this experience and said, ‘I don’t want another woman to go through what I went through,’ as it related to the gaps in our justice system for survivors of sexual assault,” Jenkins said. Now that future is a little closer to reality.
The revelation underscores the importance of both AI and cloud computing to Google’s future. As WIRED’s Cade Metz pointed out during the onstage interview, at least one Google executive has said that cloud computing services could become a bigger business for Google than advertising. But the competition is steep: Amazon is still the leader in the cloud computing market, and more traditional enterprise services companies such as IBM and Microsoft have their own offerings. These rivals also enjoy longstanding relationships with the sorts of large businesses that cloud computing companies are desperate to sign up.
Network television used to deficit-finance shows and then make those expenditures back through advertising money. The shows would then generate more revenue by getting lucrative syndication deals. But now, as Cuse explains, cable shows draw in ad revenues, carriage fees, and international sales to satellite, cable, and streaming or on-demand services. When those various revenue streams add up, a show can be profitable from the get-go. Cuse cites AMC as the model for how to transition from repurposing films to producing original content like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, which increased the prestige of the network and boosted its carriage fees. “There’s a lot of value in making a successful, quality television show,” Cuse says.
And it worked. Within four days, the Change.org petition tied to the video received more than 100,000 signatures, and the video itself received millions of views. But the real measure of success came last month when the Senate passed the bill unanimously. Soon it will reach the House of Representatives, where Brad Jenkins, a former White House staffer and executive producer of Funny or Die DC, expects it to pass.
Green shared his story on stage at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference today. Green described how his son’s illness inspired him to build a video game, That Dragon, Cancer, to help others understand what his family was going through.
“Many surviviors can’t afford it, and they have collection agencies calling them,” Jenkins said.
Last year, a group of tech and finance giants—IBM, Intel, Cisco, the London Stock Exchange Group, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and others—teamed up to create Hyperledger, an open source project inspired by Bitcoin that the companies hope will one day provide a more secure and reliable way of trading stocks and other assets.
Chevrolet’s Bolt is the People’s Electric Car
That business is making personal vehicles that people drive and own, with a focus on trucks, SUVs, and middle America. But it’s hardly exclusive, and in the past six months General Motors has made a series of bold, future-facing moves to cash in on what Barra calls “an accretive opportunity”—a chance to add some apple flesh around the steady core.
There’s literally nothing funny about sexual assault. Not one thing. But in the digital age, humor sometimes can capture national attention—and spur action—more readily than serious efforts to elicit public support.
“It will likely be one of the few unanimous pieces of legislation in Congress that gets to the president’s desk,” Jenkins said at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference today.
Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit that offers free, 24/7 text-message counseling for people in need, is getting millions from some of tech’s most recognizable names.
The Bolt is a conventional car in the sense that you’ll buy it and you’ll drive it. But Barra says the little electric will be something of a laboratory for its future-facing efforts. Its existence will encourage the development a much-needed charging infrastructure. It even drives itself—sorta. GM and Cruise made a self-driving version of the car, which Barra tested in San Francisco this week. It’s only a matter of time before it changes Detroit, too.
That’s an important part of Facebook’s goal of enabling its Facebook M virtual assistant to actually understand the things you ask it to do. Today, Facebook M is powered in part by humans. But eventually Facebook wants to power the entire thing with AI.
Lack of diversity on boards is one reason why Sukhinder Singh Cassidy launched The BoardList, which she describes as “a private LinkedIn” to connect companies seeking female board members with female leaders.
And LeCun says Facebook can’t do this alone. Predictive learning is more of a scientific problem than a technological one, he says. And that means doing research out in the open, the way scientists do. “Doing research in secret just doesn’t work,” he says.
The Detroit giant invested half-a-billion dollars in Lyft, with plans to build a fleet of self-driving cars. It bought Cruise, a Silicon Valley startup developing fully self-driving cars. It launched Maven, a car-sharing service that’s really about getting ready for a world of autonomy.
In 2015, Erica Baker did the impossible: she made a spreadsheet go viral.
Eighty percent of Crisis Text Line’s texters are under 25, Lublin said. For people that age, messaging likely feels much more natural than making a phone call to a crisis hotline. Crisis Text Line also makes use of algorithms and machine learning to prioritize the most urgent queries—for instance, if someone texts that they’re considering suicide.
In some states, for instance, it’s legal to destroy sexual assault evidence kits after six months, forcing people like Nguyen to apply for an extension twice a year—and relive their trauma twice a year. In other states, authorities can make sexual assault survivors pay for their own rape kits.
That was certainly the case after the comedy website Funny or Die released a recent video to promote a new bill in the Senate known as The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act. The goal of the video was to shed light on the truly backwards laws that dictate states’ treatment of assault survivors.
“If you’re a woman and you think you’re qualified, you’re likely qualified,” Cassidy said. “If you’re a man, and you think you’re qualified, you may be qualified.”
Of course, these “investors” aren’t looking for an exit in the conventional sense. (“There is no equity; no possibility of a liquidity moment,” Lublin said.) But the venture-style approach makes sense in the context of the Crisis Text Line’s startup sensibility.
Any video game sets limits to what a player can do, and those limits change the way the player behaves. The game rewrites the rule book for real life.
When Lost went off the air in 2010, there were around 200 original programs on television. This year, there will be more than double that. Netflix alone will spend nearly $6 billion on 600 hours of original programming and acquisitions. It’s a completely different landscape right now from the one Carlton Cuse entered when he began creating TV shows like Nash Bridges and Martial Law in the 1990s. But Cuse currently has three shows on the air: Bates Motel (A&E), The Strain (FX), and Colony (USA), with a series adaptation of Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan starring John Krasinski lined up at Amazon.
The real power of this system, Krishna says, is that you don’t have to trust any one person or organization, just the math underlying the system. That means you can do business with people you haven’t met without worrying about them cheating you, because ownership of a particular asset traded on the blockchain won’t shift from one party to another until the network has properly verified it.
Some of the world’s largest corporations are embracing the technology behind bitcoin.
Tech bubble? What tech bubble?
General Motors is still a car company, at least for now. “Our core business will be the core for a very very long time,” CEO Mary Barra told WIRED Editor-in-Chief Scott Dadich on stage today at the WIRED Business Conference in New York.
The Next List: The Future of Business Is Anything But Bleak
In anticipation of the 2016 WIRED Business Conference, WIRED staffers sat down with some of tech’s sharpest minds to get their read on the future of the industry and the nature of success. As members of WIRED’s 2016 Next List, these luminaries aren’t the boldfaced names you hear from every day—at least not yet. These are the doers, the people bearing down on building the future. They know what’s next because they’re making it.
On stage at the WIRED Business Conference in New York, founder and CEO Nancy Lublin said the company raised nearly $24 million. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman led the funding, with additional participation from tech philanthropists Melinda Gates and Pierre Omidyar, as well as former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Altogether Crisis Text Line has raised $35 million.
To fill in that missing piece, he and his colleagues are working on what’s called predictive learning. Today, the most popular way of training an AI is what’s called supervised learning. Basically, if you want to teach an AI to recognize cars, you’ll show it thousands or millions of pictures of cars, and eventually it will figure out the common attributes of a car—like wheels—and be able to spot cars in other photos. That’s much easier than the old way doing things, which involved trying to manually program the system to recognize wheels and other common features of cars. But what LeCun and his team would rather do is let machines observe the world and figure out what cars are simply by seeing lots of them and noticing that people call them “cars.” That’s what humans do, after all.
Baker, an engineer at Google at the time, created the spreadsheet with her fellow Googlers to keep track of everyone’s salary. But what started as an experiment in radical transparency among colleagues soon took on a life of its own. People began sharing the spreadsheet, adding to it and organizing it to find out whether compensation was truly equitable across genders, races, and demographics at the company.
The blockchain is essentially a decentralized ledger for keeping track of who owns which bitcoins. When you pay for something with a bitcoin, a payment processor will check the blockchain to make sure you own the bitcoins you’re trying to use, then write the new transaction into the ledger. Because so many copies of the ledger exist across the Internet, you can’t cheat the blockchain by altering a single copy. Hyperledger is similar, Krishna explains, but adds more features for verifying the identity of the people you’re trading with—imperative for larger companies and governments.
Facebook is already disconcertingly good at recognizing faces in photos. But the company’s director of artificial intelligence research, Yann LeCun, wants to push AI even further. Today at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference, he said he wants to teach chatbots common sense.
That shift away from the standard network television structure has also affected storytelling. “The idea of highly-serialized, super intense storytelling is evolving,” Cuse says. Many of these stories are getting shorter, Cuse noted, referencing True Detective and Fargo’s seasons of eight and 10 episodes, respectively. That provides show creators the opportunity to go from A to Z in more hours than a film allows, but with a precise plan in mind as opposed to the open-ended nature of ongoing network television.
Women can gain a spot on the BoardList if a CEO, venture capitalist, or other business leader nominates them. Already roughly 1,100 women have registered on the site.
The chips are called TPUs, short for Tensor Processing Unit, named for Google’s open source AI framework, TensorFlow. Today at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference in New York City, the head of Google’s cloud business, Diane Greene, said that Google is already using the chips. So far, the company is using them for AlphaGo, its search ranking algorithm RankBrain, Street View, Photos and speech recognition. “(The TPU) has been in our data centers for over a year now,” she said.
In that light, it’s no great surprise to see IBM, which has long sold software and support services to the world’s largest companies, getting in on the next big thing in financial software. But IBM doesn’t just plan to use Hyperledger to sell more stuff to other companies. IBM plans to put it to work within the company as well, Arvind Krishna, a research director at IBM, said today at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference in New York City.
Salary information is one data point that’s typically kept secret, but it’s not the only one. “Show promotion numbers. Show retention numbers. Show the number of people who have attempted to sue for harassment,” Baker said. “That would give a better idea of what a company is like to work for.”
‘If you’re a woman and you think you’re qualified, you’re likely qualified.’
Last month Google revealed that it’s making its own custom artificial intelligence processing chips. Now it turns out that you may already be using them.
Cuse has several plates spinning at the same time, so it’s difficult to say whether any of the four shows he’s working on can ingrain itself into the pop culture psyche the way Lost did. But he’s been able to identify the trends of television production as they bubble up, and diversify in such a way that he runs shows on three different cable networks and a rapidly-expanding streaming service. He’s the perfect example of a modern showrunner—stretched thin, but always creating new and interesting programming.
The changing business of television has also significantly affected the range of acting talent that wants to be on a show. Cuse says, “television is not off limits to anyone now.” But there is a calculus to what type of show in-demand actors want to be a part of. Cuse shared a story about casting a traditional, 22-episode network show and a cable network show at the same time. “There were a bunch of wonderful actors willing to come in for the cable show, which was five months of work a year,” Cuse says. “None of those actors would come meet on the network pilot which was the 10-11 month commitment.”
Of course, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about names. The number-one excuse tech leaders often give for the lack of diversity at their companies is that they can’t find anyone to hire. That includes recruiting new board members.
Game of Clouds: Dropbox Declares Independence From Amazon
Correction 12:00 AM ET 6/17/2016: An earlier version of this story said that TPUs are in use in more than 100 projects, including Android’s voice recognition system, the “Smart Reply” feature of its Inbox app, and Google’s new cross-application search service Springboard—in short. Greene was actually referring the TensorFlow, not TPUs.
The same thing happens to parents of children with cancer. “All the tricks you learn as a father to comfort your child don’t work,” said Ryan Green, whose five-year-old son Joel died of cancer in 2014.
The game explores, as Green put it, what you do in life when the level is broken, when you can’t get to the goal no matter what you do. The goal of the game is not to win or get to the next level, but to find the moments of grace in the darkest of times. “You just need to make Joel laugh,” Green said. “That’s all you need to do.”
Facebook is approaching these twin challenges–understanding language and predictive learning–together. LeCun explained that the company is trying to teach its AI systems to understand human language by having it essentially having it watch over the shoulders of the real humans who respond to queries on the Facebook M virtual assistant. But making it work will require more than just lots of conversations for the software to eavesdrop on. It means figuring out the LeCun and company are working hard to figure out the mathematical and conceptual pieces that are missing from their model.
“It used to be that there were many fewer shows and writers, and showrunners would have overall deals with exclusivity at one place,” Cuse told WIRED Editor-in-Chief Scott Dadich on stage at the 2016 WIRED Business Conference. “It’s much more common now for people to be working on a variety of shows, gigging around and doing different things in different places.”
Since launching in August 2013, Crisis Text Line has processed nearly 19 million messages. Right now more than 1,500 volunteer crisis counselors man the lines for Crisis Text Line; over the next couple of years, it’s seeking to expand to more than 4,000. It’s also in the process of moving beyond texting alone as it integrates with popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Kik, as well as Facebook itself via its Safety Check Point feature, Lublin said today.
Making that happen means teaching computers to learn in much the same way humans do. LeCun points out that babies learn to learn to associate words with objects by simply observing the world around them. It takes at least a couple years, but we humans are able to learn all this with relatively few examples, at least compared to the number of images that LeCun and company feed their computers. “So there’s something we’re missing about human and animal learning,” he says. That missing thing, LeCun explains, is what we might call common sense.
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