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The battle for AI talent

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Good morning! National security hawks and tech investors have been pushing for AI researchers from China to stay in the U.S. But anti-China efforts could counteract the U.S. government's tech talent recruitment goals.

The push and pull for AI smarts

The mission to bring more AI researchers from China to the U.S. might backfire amid increased tension between the countries, Protocol’s Kate Kaye reports.

Chinese researchers in the U.S. no longer feel safe. A survey of 1,300 Asian American STEM academics conducted between December 2021 and March 2022 found that 72% did not feel safe as an academic researcher, 61% have thought about leaving the U.S., and 65% are worried about collaborations with China.

  • Analysis also showed a steady yearly uptick in the number of U.S.-based Chinese engineering and computer scientists who dropped U.S. academic affiliations and switched to China affiliations, from 175 in 2017 to 298 in 2021.
  • One professor told Kate that political pressures have all but ended recruitment of intern candidates from China at his university. “I don’t think they’ll be coming back,” he said.

The U.S. is hoping to woo more of China’s top computer scientists to ensure U.S. economic and tech research dominance over China. But suspicion of those very researchers has even inspired legislation that would defeat those goals.

  • The Secure Campus Act, for example, would prohibit Chinese nationals from receiving visas for graduate or postgraduate studies in STEM fields in the U.S.
  • In May, Senate Republicans proposed legislation that would prohibit U.S. research agencies, universities, and corporations receiving federal funding from conducting STEM research with “Chinese entities of concern in areas of cutting-edge technology” that could help China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Researchers fear that profit goals and nationalistic rhetoric have clouded an otherwise richly collaborative environment that has helped advance AI research in the U.S. and globally. “You can’t have all the smart people in the world — the United States can’t,” said Nathan Myhrvold, who helped start Microsoft’s influential research lab in Beijing in 1998. “It’s a little bit like why I started the lab in China,” he said.

Read more: U.S. policymakers could be alienating the Chinese AI researchers they want to attract

Robinhood tries a makeover

Robinhood’s earnings report yesterday showed it’s still in a rut. But there are signs that the bleeding that began as the meme-stock and crypto crazes faded has eased dramatically. Now the hip app maker that got young people excited about stock trading on their phones is moving to embrace more traditional, if less thrilling, ideas about money and investing, Protocol’s Ben Pimentel writes.

Users are still a challenge, and crypto is a conundrum. Robinhood, which posted a year-over-year drop in revenue, is still grappling with serious issues: a shrinking user base and a wobbly crypto market.

  • Robinhood said its monthly active users fell by 1.8 million sequentially to 12.2 million in September “as customers continued to navigate the volatile market environment.”
  • It’s the company’s “biggest problem,” given how Robinhood’s business model is “still built around ongoing customer engagement and the rate of customer engagement continues to drop,” Alex Johnson, author of the Fintech Takes newsletter, told Protocol.
  • Robinhood’s big plans to be a major player in the volatile crypto market is running into more headwinds. Transaction-based revenue for crypto fell 12% sequentially to $51 million.

So Robinhood is trying to reinvent itself. The company cut a lot of jobs, and it’s still focused on controlling costs. But it’s shifting to a growth path different from what made Robinhood, well, Robinhood.

  • The company is now “much leaner and in a more scrappy position,” CFO Jason Warnick told analysts on the earnings call. CEO Vlad Tenev said a key goal is “diversifying our business beyond trading.”
  • The company is about to launch a new retirement product “just in time for the new year and the heart of IRA season,” Tenev said on the call. Robinhood recently rolled out a debit card that offers rewards and incentives like early pay access.
  • The company is “trying to present a more sober image and distance itself from its meme-stock notoriety,” Michele Alt, Klaros Group partner and co-founder, told Protocol. Johnson agreed. Robinhood is “trying to get out of the monthly active users game and attract more stable, long-term money.”

“We don't want to just be a Millennial-focused company,” Tenev said. Robinhood wants to serve “every generation” as they “think about opening not their first investing account, but also the first place they deposit their paycheck.” It’s quite a bold vision. But Johnson isn’t totally convinced Tenev can pull it off. Robinhood “offering to handle your retirement would be a bit like Mick Jagger offering to babysit your kids,” he said. “They could be good at it, but it’s not an intuitive fit.”

Where's the sustainability talent?

Green jobs and corporate climate pledges abound, but skilled sustainability professionals are scarce, Protocol's Allison Levitsky writes.

A sustainability skills gap has emerged. Green jobs grew 8% per year between 2016 and 2021, according to the LinkedIn Green Jobs report. But the talent pool lagged, only growing at 6%, according to LinkedIn.

  • A new report from Microsoft and the Boston Consulting Group found that 57% of sustainability professionals lacked a sustainability-related degree, and that more than 40% had no more than three years of sustainability experience.
  • Scientists are leaving academia and engineers are leaving Big Tech in order to work on climate tech, but that might not be enough to fill the widening gap.
  • “The historical importance and current breadth of the sustainability skilling challenge are difficult to overstate,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president, writes in the report.

So how should companies find sustainability talent? According to the Microsoft report, more than two-thirds of sustainability leaders were internal hires.

  • Out of a list of the 10 most commonly held jobs prior to becoming sustainability managers, four (business operation roles, program manager, quality assurance manager, and customer service representative) were unrelated to sustainability.
  • Yet “talented insiders” without formal training are not a sustainable talent pool, the report argues. Data and digital skills, sustainability-specific competencies such as carbon accounting and reporting, and transformational skills were the major skill areas that sustainability pros need, the report found.
  • The report outlines a three-part action plan for how to approach the problem, including initiatives Microsoft itself is undertaking.

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People are talking

Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie thinks creators deserve to have their own private social networks and to reap the rewards of their posts:

  • “When you publish your thoughts on Twitter, you are doing labor for that company … You’re the product, not the customer. Twitter needs your mind so it can satisfy its real customers: advertisers.”

Yael Eisenstadt, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League, told Elon Musk that he needs to set the tone for how users act on the site:

  • “Regardless of what he tells us and regardless of what he says the policies are, it is clear people felt emboldened to start spewing hate speech and other really concerning content.”

Apple design leader Jony Ive, while reflecting on his life post-Apple, said he isn’t interested in disruption or “breaking things”:

  • “It’s associated with being successful and selling a company for money. But it’s too easy — in three weeks we could break everything.”
Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao thinks India's crypto policies spell trouble for the industry there:
  • "India has high tax which is probably going to kill the industry.”
Advertising industry titan Martin Sorrell isn't all that worried about what happens at Twitter:
  • “Meta is the issue ... Snap and Twitter, they’re not exactly rounding errors, but each of those two platforms is about 1% of global digital media.”

Making moves

Elon Musk aims to cut about 3,700 jobs at Twitter, or about half of its workforce, starting Friday, according to Bloomberg. He reportedly also plans to insist that employees work from offices.

Chime is laying off 12% of its 1,300 workers, citing “current market dynamics.”

Opendoor is also cutting staff by 18%, or around 550 employees. “We’re navigating one of the most challenging real estate markets in 40 years and need to adjust our business,” CEO Eric Wu wrote.

Jim Benson is the new chief financial officer at Dynatrace, a software intelligence company. Benson was most recently the executive vice president and CFO at Akamai Technologies.

Jeremy Paterson will be the general manager of international markets at LTK, a creator-guided social platform. Paterson previously led international teams at Amazon, eBay, and Groupon.

Coinbase’s chief product officer, Surojit Chatterjee, stepped down last month as part of the company’s reorganization, according to an SEC filing first reported by The Block. Coinbase reports earnings today.

In other news

Spotify is publicly calling Apple out for its 30% App Store fee. The fee prevents the streaming giant from being able to break into the audiobook industry.

The DOJ plans to investigate the Adobe-Figma deal, according to Politico, and has reportedly issued civil investigative demands as part of the process.

Workers are fleeing Foxconn’s biggest iPhone assembly factoryin China due to a COVID outbreak. Analysts say the chaos will likely reduce Apple’s product output in the coming weeks.

Meta plans to replace human moderatorsof Facebook’s News tab in the United Kingdom with AI.

A former Apple employee pleaded guilty in federal court to mail and wire fraud charges that defrauded Apple of $17 million.

Warner Bros and HBO are launching “Game of Thrones” NFTs this winter, partnering with NFT platform Nifty.

Things aren’t looking up for Roku. Its revenue growth slowed in Q3, and according to CEO Anthony Wood, it’s about to get worse.

Seatbelt and VR goggles? Check.

For generations, kids have longed for car rides to be shorter. Now, Germany’s Holoride wants to break the curse of juvenile impatience with the help of VR headsets that turn car trips into immersive gaming sessions and theme park rides. The entertainment platform is limited to Audis so far.

Holoride CEO Nils Wollny told Protocol’s Janko Roettgers during a demo that bored Gen Z-ers are the company’s target audience for now, though eventually it’ll aim for other passengers. The product is more than just VR though, Wollny said: “We are not a VR company. We built a motion- and location-aware platform for content in moving vehicles.”

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