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Snap sees the AR future

Image: Snap
Snap AR

Good morning! This Wednesday, Snap lays out its plan for the future of AR, Twitter wins over the AI ethics world, Quill wants to out-Slack Slack and Spotify is watching Clubhouse carefully.

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The Big Story

Snap's AR dreams

Augmented reality is coming. That we pretty much know. Everything else — the timing, the use cases, the hardware, the software, the "will I look stupid doing it" — is up for grabs.

But Snap is well ahead of the industry in AR, and at its investor day yesterday it gave a sense of where it thinks that world is headed.

  • "Augmented reality has evolved from something fun and entertaining into a utility," CEO Evan Spiegel said. "Our camera can solve math equations; scan wine labels to find ratings, reviews and prices; tell you the name of the song you're listening to; and so much more." He mentioned makeup as another burgeoning space for AR on Snapchat.
  • CTO Bobby Murphy then laid out all the ways in which Snapchat's silly, fun lenses — ones that transform faces, or stick to specific locations — are underpinned by serious, impactful tech.
  • AR, Murphy said, "allows us to render digital experiences directly into physical space and to use the camera as an input to access information and content far faster than keyboards can ever allow."

Other companies are also pushing hard in this space. Facebook's the VR giant thanks to Oculus, of course, and everyone's waiting on Apple to show the way for AR glasses. But the competition among the big companies is heating up:

  • Sony just announced a new PS VR headset, along with a new VR controller. But neither are launching this year. (Not shocking, really, given that Sony can barely figure out how to keep PS5s in stock.)
  • And Microsoft is planning to talk about mixed reality at its Ignite conference next week. HoloLens doesn't get much of the limelight, but it's making real inroads in the business world.

Chris Dixon wrote 11 years ago that "the next big thing will start out looking like a toy." That thing, that toy, is camera filters and AR lenses. And it's becoming big-thingified pretty quickly.

Social

Twitter gets META

Twitter made a lot of friends in the AI ethics world this week.

The ethical AI community isn't feeling friendly toward tech companies these days, in case you haven't been paying attention.

Twitter has taken advantage of the ill will by hiring Rumman Chowdhury, a pioneer in the field of responsible AI research who will now be leading Twitter's ML Ethics, Transparency and Accountability team. (It calls itself META!)

  • Chowdhury's new ML-ethics role at Twitter immediately lent credibility to the company's work. She'd also just launched Parity AI, a company built to assess the risks of AI and ML algorithms, so her announcement came as a big surprise.
  • She said that while it was hard to give up her plans for Parity, she took the job at Twitter because she would be able to have a direct, immediate and positive impact on a global scale.

Praise of the news came from all corners of the internet yesterday, much of it from the same people who are still very angry with Google.

  • Gebru herself was over the moon about the news. "This is how it's done. This brings credibility. I can't think of anyone better for the job," she wrote on Twitter.
  • And other big names had a similar reaction. Safiya Umoja Noble said it was great to see Twitter get something right by hiring Chowdhury, while Wikimedia's ML director Chris Albon congratulated Twitter for hiring one of the best.

Twitter wouldn't comment on the Google comparisons, but a spokesperson said in a statement to Protocol that bias in AI is an industry-wide problem, and the company hired Chowdhury to help push the company's own algorithms toward transparency, accountability and inclusion.

New Stuff

The un-Slack

A new generation of work-chat startups is coming, as quickly as you can say "Salesforce bought Slack for how much?!" The fight to be the new best-of-breed is on.

Quill looks like one of the more exciting contenders. It was founded by ex-Stripe exec Ludwig Pettersson and launched yesterday.

  • Design is a big part of Quill's appeal, as is structure. You can force people to use threads, active conversations get bubbled up to the top of your inbox, and you have super granular control over your notifications.
  • Like other new work tools, it's almost designed to replace Slack by being the anti-Slack. "We grew exhausted having to skim thousands of messages every day to keep up," Pettersson said, "so we built a way to chat that's even better than how we already communicate in person."

Keep an eye on this space. From Twist to Coast to Element to Flock to the Discord Business that just seems inevitable at this point, the work-chat startups look set to have a moment. And I suspect Microsoft, Google and Slack are going to continue to develop fast too, at least for a while.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

In 2018, Amazon established a $15/hr start wage for all their U.S. employees, which is more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. They've seen the positive impact on their employees and their families. That's why they're calling on Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act.

People Are Talking

Spotify is thinking about Clubhouse, but Daniel Ek said he's also paying attention to the gaming world:

  • "All forms of media and entertainment is minutes that could have been spent listening to audio instead. So we're definitely paying attention to it."

Jeff Blackburn is leaving Amazon, and said he's proudly helping solve the "too many Jeffs" problem:

  • "Over the years, we've always had multiple Jeff's on [the senior team] — Jeff Wilke, Jeff B., myself, and for a time Jeff Holden. It's actually how I became 'jblack' to many of you and to employees across Amazon. Wilke's retirement meant one less Jeff, and today, I'm taking it down to just the original."

The U.S. is hard at work on a digital dollar, Jerome Powell said:

  • "We are committed to solving the technology problems, and consulting very broadly with the public and very transparently with all interested constituencies as to whether we should do this."

Making Moves

Tim Wu is joining the White House National Economic Council, our friends at POLITICO reported. Given Wu's general anti-monopoly stance, this will make a few knees shake in Silicon Valley.

On Protocol | Enterprise: ServiceNow's new HR chief has already left. Gabrielle Toledano joined in early January, but left yesterday.

Jim Bell is leaving his role as GameStop CFO. The company's looking for a new CFO with more digital experience, it seems. And also it's been an … odd few weeks to be GameStop's CFO.

Claire Hough is the new CTO at Carbon Health. She joins from Lyte.

In Other News

  • Biden will sign an executive order to build a China-free tech supply chain, reported Nikkei Asia. The U.S. will reportedly forge links with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Australia to help achieve the goal, which will be focused on chips, EV batteries and rare-earth metals.
  • Taiwan's drought could worsen the chip shortages. TSMC has started ordering water by the truckload to supply its facilities, as the government called on companies to reduce water usage by up to 11%. Meanwhile, Moody's said the existing shortages could cut Ford and GM's annual earnings by a third.
  • The DOJ is investigating the "Sign in with Apple" button, The Information reported. Investigators are reportedly looking at whether the button keeps users locked into the iOS ecosystem.
  • French antitrust investigators accused Google of breaching its orders, Reuters reported. They are supposedly unhappy with how the company conducted negotiations with news publishers. Google could now face a formal penalty of up to 10% of global revenue.
  • Microsoft and FireEye want Congress to create mandatory breach reporting requirements following the SolarWinds hack. Both testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, and will testify before the House on Friday. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers called for a cyber ambassador in the State Department.
  • Trump has reportedly appealed his Facebook ban to the Oversight Board. The board's Helle Thorning-Schmidt said its decision would come in about two and a half months.
  • Fry's Electronics is shutting down. Fingers crossed the decor goes up for auction.

One More Thing

Meet your Cookie Coach

Her name is Ruth, she speaks a little like a robot from a 1980s sci-fi movie, and she's here to help keep you from burning your cookies. She's Toll House's new AI cookie coach, and I just wish she were more fun to talk to? I like the idea of interactive, hands-free cooking assistants, but I swear, if I hear her say "ah, sweet sweet sugar" one more time, I'm going to lose it.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

In 2018, Amazon established a $15/hr start wage for all their U.S. employees, which is more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. They've seen the positive impact on their employees and their families. That's why they're calling on Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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