Protocol | Enterprise

Google Cloud wants to win over manufacturers. It has work to do.

AWS and Microsoft are making similar plays. Still, Google Cloud has ambitions to be the "connective tissue" between operational tech and IT.

Google Cloud wants to win over manufacturers. It has work to do.

Manufacturing is an industry Google hopes to tap for the cloud.

Photo: Clayton Cardinalli/Unsplash

Google Cloud's first product tailored for the manufacturing industry is far from groundbreaking. But for the third-place provider, the effort to win against AWS and Microsoft in the sector goes beyond just releasing new tools.

Google has a reputation for suddenly killing off products, which may be acceptable in the consumer market where options are usually more plentiful and prices much lower; in enterprise technology, however, it's a major problem. Companies don't want to invest the time and money it takes to deploy software only to find out soon after that it's no longer supported by the vendor.

Under CEO Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud has been trying to change that stigma, including putting a more rigid process in place for cancelling products, according to managing director Dominik Wee. It's also rolling out dedicated sector offerings, a testament to the focus on a core group of industries.

On Tuesday, the company released Visual Inspection AI, a system to detect product defects. While other vendors offer similar solutions and the tech giant has been using it internally for years, Google Cloud is banking on its ease of use as the key differentiator.

"It isn't new. What we are offering in concept isn't new at all," Wee, who leads Google Cloud's manufacturing efforts, told Protocol. But, "by making the learning easier … you can scale it out much more. With the previous approaches you needed highly-trained specialists. Now, this technology is so easy to use that the people you have on the shop floor can use it."

Unlike past systems which could require hundreds of photos of defective products to train the models, Google says its tool can go into production with very few examples. That incremental benefit shouldn't be ignored, Wee argued, particularly for a sector that is already well underway in adopting advanced technology — a push that insiders refer to as "industry 4.0." As companies scale out use of AI-backed inspection systems like Google's, for example, they can use the data generated to link damaged products to broader process improvements.

"Most manufacturing companies have come to a point where they've run out of ideas," he said, referring to the ceiling that companies are hitting in achieving double-digit investment returns on projects. "If you're a plant floor manager, you're not looking for 50% improvement. You're looking for the next 2%, and the next 2%."

Alongside building a product roadmap, Google Cloud has made other important steps to support a push into the manufacturing industry. It is hiring top talent like long-time SAP executive Hans Thalbauer and Accenture's Suchitra Bose. The company is making a purposeful push to nab SAP customers; the German software firm has huge penetration in the industrial segment. And Google Cloud struck a key partnership with Siemens, one of the industry's most important providers of factory tooling that is now trying to position itself as an automation player.

While many manufacturers have already invested in digitization, tech like digital twins or iterative manufacturing that shows promise but is far from wide adoption is poised to significantly expand the amount of data, often from the factory floor, that industrial companies will need to store and analyze quickly and constantly. That requires a combination of powerful AI algorithms with edge computing tech. And that's why Google Cloud sees such a big opportunity.

"There's enough value in it for us by the data sitting in Google Cloud," Wee said. "We don't see our play as moving into the application. Other people do that much better than we do. For us, this is entirely a play around complementarity and a bet on future data priorities."

But Microsoft and AWS see the same opportunity. Back in February, AWS released a similar AI-powered defect detector for manufacturers. Still, Google Cloud's goal is broader than providing manufacturing-related cloud and AI tools. It's hoping to establish itself as a "connective tissue" for the industry, one that can bring together the worlds of IT and operational technology, referring to products like internet-enabled sensors that monitor machines that Siemens and others sell.

"They're very foreign to each other," said Wee. "The big opportunity is them coming together. It's been discussed for a long time, but visual inspection demonstrates how we are taking the next step on the journey. It exemplifies where we want to go in the long term, we want to close this gap."

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The veteran of some of the earliest tech policy fights is a longtime consumer champion and net-neutrality advocate.

Gigi Sohn, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the FCC, is a longtime net-neutrality advocate.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as a Federal Communications Commissioner, teeing up a Democratic majority at the agency that oversees broadband issues after months of delay.

Like Lina Khan, who Biden picked in June to head up the Federal Trade Commission, Sohn is a progressive favorite. And if confirmed, she'll take up a position in an agency trying to pull policy levers on net neutrality, privacy and broadband access even as Congress is stalled.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

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Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian
Protocol | Workplace

Adobe wants a more authentic NFT world

Adobe's Content Credentials feature will allow Creative Cloud subscribers to attach edit-tracking information to Photoshop files. The goal is to create a more trustworthy NFT market and digital landscape.

Adobe's Content Credentials will allow users to attach their identities to an image

Image: Adobe

Remember the viral, fake photo of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls that duped and delighted the internet in 2017? Doctored images manipulate people and erode trust and we're not great at spotting them. The entire point of the emerging NFT art market is to create valuable and scarce digital files and when there isn't an easy way to check for an image's origin and edits, there's a problem. What if someone steals an NFT creator's image and pawns it off as their own? As a hub for all kinds of multimedia, Adobe feels a responsibility to combat misinformation and provide a safe space for NFT creators. That's why it's rolling out Content Credentials, a record that can be attached to a Photoshop file of a creator's identity and includes any edits they made.

Users can connect their social media addresses and crypto wallet addresses to images in Photoshop. This further proves the image creator's identity, but it's also helpful in determining the creators of NFTs. Adobe has partnered with NFT marketplaces KnownOrigin, OpenSea, Rarible and SuperRare in this effort. "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator," said Adobe General Counsel Dana Rao. "We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image."

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

Protocol | China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The Oura Ring was a sleep-tracking hit. Can the next one be even more?

Oura wants to be a media company, an activity tracker and even a way to know you're sick before you feel sick.

Over the last few years, the Oura Ring has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch.

Photo: Oura

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai swears he didn't know Kim Kardashian was a fan. He was as surprised as anyone when she started posting screenshots from the Oura app to her Instagram story, and got into a sleep battle with fellow Oura user Gwyneth Paltrow. Or when Jennifer Aniston revealed that Jimmy Kimmel got her hooked on Oura … and how her ring fell off in a salad. "I am addicted to it," Aniston said, "and it's ruining my life" by shaming her about her lack of sleep. "I think we're definitely seeing traction outside of tech," Rai said. "Which is cool."

Over the last couple of years, Oura's ring (imaginatively named the Oura Ring) has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch. The company started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but really started to find traction with its second-generation model in 2018. It's not exactly a mainstream device — Oura said it has sold more than 500,000 rings, up from 150,000 in March 2020 but still not exactly Apple Watch levels — but it has reached some of the most successful, influential and probably sleep-deprived people in the industry. Jack Dorsey is a professed fan, as is Marc Benioff.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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