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When the umpire chooses a team, maybe it's time to look for a new umpire.
After Nvidia announced last week its plans to acquire Arm, the chip industry was turned upside down. Most large chip companies — save for Intel — license Arm's chip architecture in order to build their own hardware. Arm co-founder Hermann Hauser has an explanation for the company's runaway success: neutrality. Arm doesn't make its own chips, so it doesn't compete with its customers.
But the Nvidia deal, if it goes through, could change that. For many chip companies, licensing Arm's technology could mean giving money not to a neutral company, but to a rival — a deeply uncomfortable position for any company to find itself in.
So the acquisition was assumed by many to be a huge boost to RISC-V, the only viable Arm competitor. RISC-V is an open-source instruction set architecture, backed by tech companies including Huawei and Google, which lets chip companies design RISC-based chips without paying any licensing fees. Since the project began at UC Berkeley in 2010, an ecosystem has flourished around it: Qualcomm, Samsung, Alibaba and even Nvidia use RISC-V in their chips now, while startups such as SiFive are trying to design full-fledged Arm processor competitors using the technology.
Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V international, said the Nvidia-Arm deal hasn't changed anything just yet. "We've been growing so fast over the last five years that we're not noticing a significant swing at any one of these inflection points across the industry," Redmond told Protocol. But, she added, the acquisition "may be a call to evaluate choices for those who have not already adopted RISC-V."
In a conversation with Protocol, Redmond outlined RISC-V's priorities, described the project's hopes for Android support, and predicted that the organization is a couple of years away from its version of Arm's iPhone moment.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How does the proposed Nvidia deal change things for RISC-V?
There are a couple of things. First, diversity and choice is what open source is all about, and diversity and choice is something that has already been exercised by nearly all of our members. When you build a business, you fundamentally do not want to have all of your dependencies on any one other company. You don't want one client, you don't want one innovation partner. You want to have that diversity and choice, and so many of our members already have that — they're already working on multiple architectures.
Now many of our entrepreneurs and new entrants to RISC-V have really designated RISC-V as their base building block. But RISC-V is not like having a dependency on one company. RISC-V is an open and shared building block, so in fact it swings things wildly in the other direction, in that your choice is unlimited. Your choice of innovation partners, of what direction you want to take the technology [in] is fundamentally wide open, from the smallest microprocessor to the largest SoC.
And so when it comes to proposed movements or reorchestration of the players in the industry, our membership is somewhat insulated already, when they have already got a diversity of choice going on here. Now, it may be a call to evaluate choices for those who have not already adopted RISC-V. So there may be folks that say "maybe we need to look at multiple architectures a little more closely." We've seen some of that activity happening, but … we're probably 12 to 18 months out from even knowing whether or not a potential [Nvidia-Arm] transaction will take place.
The other piece of the equation is that RISC-V fundamentally opens up the technology. I've been talking about the business model and freedom of choice. But the other side of that is freedom of opportunity. You can take RISC-V into any geography, into any domain, into adjacent spaces where you've already got a business built, and that expands opportunity, at the same time that you've expanded what goes into your product or offering. So you have all of these partners you can work with, you now have a broad set of clients that you can pursue as well.
For us, a transaction in the industry such as the proposed [Nvidia-Arm] acquisition doesn't change our equation at all. It may inspire more interest. Honestly, we've been growing so fast over the last five years that we're not noticing a significant swing at any one of these inflection points across the industry. You could have asked me a week ago or a month ago "has COVID impacted RISC-V?" and I would say: Lucky for us, the technology industry has already been in a virtual space, and we're continuing a lot of the programming work that's been going on and we haven't noticed any big swings there either. So we haven't noticed slowdowns, we haven't noticed any substantial uptakes. Many folks are waiting to see where this transaction lands.
You have lots of Chinese companies among your members. Have you been seeing increased interest from them, given the current geopolitical climate between the U.S. and China, and the question of if restrictions come on Arm, many of them might not have an architecture?
Most of the companies that you would consider in the boat of concern there have already been engaged in RISC-V. There's been no change in that: All the big fish are already working on RISC-V. Other organizations in China have been steadily coming on board and growing pretty rapidly over time, but there hasn't been a swing relative to the proposed transaction.
There was just as much concern about geopolitical [risks] in the last Arm transaction or the MIPS transactions. When players move around, there is an opportunity to take a second look at: Where are the barriers for me? Are they geopolitical, are they company related, is it technology related, is it a business model relation? If you're operating in one of these multinationals, you're looking at the entire globe, you're not just looking at what's going on between the U.S. and China.
Important to consider is our membership today is very solidly a third North America, a third Europe and a third China. If you look at some of the news coming out of Europe, they're equally concerned about having technical independence and technical sovereignty. You see the European Commission doing things like the European Processor Initiative, where they've designated RISC-V as a technical building block because it is not tied to any one country.
Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V international, says here organization's open-source technology should have its iPhone moment in the next couple of years.Image: RISC-V
One last thing on the Nvidia deal: As you mentioned, they are a member of the foundation, and they use RISC-V technology. Do you expect them to leave the foundation now? Is that a conflict of interest?
They have been a leader in RISC-V from the beginning. They have a seat on the board of directors, and Jensen [Huang, its CEO] has publicly stated that they are continuing with no pivot in their investment in RISC-V. You look at any large company, and they have multiple strategies across multiple parts of the organization, and where it makes sense to go external to get from point A to B, that's what they do. You can go external through partnerships, through acquisitions, through divestiture, through open source, through one-to-one relationships or other types of consortiums, through joining standards bodies. There are many ways to engage externally as a company, and Nvidia has publicly stated that they have an ongoing commitment to RISC-V. Take their words, not mine — I of course wouldn't speak for them.
By the way, Nvidia has been a great open-source citizen for a very long time. They were a board member, as well as a founder, in OpenPOWER, same thing with RISC-V. Many aspects of their portfolio lean heavily on open source, so this is not a new frontier for them, and I do not think it would indicate a wild pivot in their strategy.
What's the focus area for RISC-V at the moment? Do you have a particular end-market priority, be that phones, servers, IoT?
The early entrants into RISC-V have really kind of circled around embedded or microprocessors within other designs. Nvidia has been shipping RISC-V in their GPUs for a while now. Western Digital has pivoted in memory controllers, and [is] bringing [its] whole portfolio over to RISC-V. Alibaba has announced and is doing AI in the cloud for RISC-V. That's where the early traction has been. We are now seeing that branch off into many different domains and industries. So I mentioned earlier HPC in Europe. We have a lot of additional scale out and hyperscale type interest around specific new workloads, so AI or AR/VR — Facebook's Oculus team has been involved for a long time.
We see things moving into automotive. One of the great things about open source is our religious adherence to transparency, and transparency equals a lot more security — you can see everything that's going on. And so we see it moving into automotive very rapidly, around aspects of safety.
We see just in the last 10 days, at the Linley Processor Conference, SiFive bringing out a PC. We have Qualcomm on the board of directors as well, they've got a great investment in RISC-V. We see lots of adoption going on, and moving into some of those traditional spaces that have relied on battery power, rather than a plug in the wall, whether it's the scale out in the server space, or mobile or other battery powered things. You see it in security cameras and other things that leverage compute right at the point of ingest. We see a lot of things starting to bring us across the full spectrum of computing.
If you say that the iPhone was kind of a step change in adoption of ARM processors, how far away do you think we are for something similar happening with RISC-V?
I think you're going to see it coming about far more rapidly than the onramp that prior architectures had seen. I think our onramp is far faster. I think you're going to see it proliferate within some industries within the next couple of years.
There are more design companies focused on RISC-V designs now than any other architecture. Part of that was this surge in entrepreneurs that are embarking on this. So you're going to see very rapidly, in the next couple of years, some of those really come to prominence and to gain traction with volumes.
On the mobile side of things, are you working at all to get Android running on RISC-V?
It's not something that we have solidified just yet. We have a lot of companies with very strong interest in participating in that. We need to show the appropriate levels of volume prior to getting everyone on board. At the end of the day, it's a business case for everyone.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for RISC-V in the next six months? And what are your biggest priorities?
We continue to build out our ecosystem, both in engaging thought leaders around the industry, and we need to catch up with the demand.
The demand is enormous. To catch up to the demand, we are working hard to engage our members to hands-on code: We need to get a lot of our technical deliverables out the door. That's where, as in any open-source community, we rely … on the community to get the work done. RISC-V is not like some of the other hardware plays — we don't have a development team. We're more like open source in that community sense, where we rely on the community to all contribute together to refine, ratify and vote to approve these extensions, software tools and other resources. That's something that we are working hard on. We have 43 workgroups running today on various pieces of that puzzle, as well as numerous highly invested members who are already building, already going to market, and they're leveraging the tools and resources that they can.
When you've got so many different groups working on this at the same time, is it difficult to keep everybody aligned and working toward the same thing?
It can be, if you don't have a good governance structure in place. But that's one of the things that we did earlier this year: We refined how we govern ourselves. We don't want that governing body to be [heavily] weighted by any one particular voice or member. So we've set up a structure of authority to approve and move things forward, as well as set up intentional interconnects between the various work groups that have codependencies upon one another. So we do work very much in concert.
I've also brought in a CTO, Mark Himelstein, to join us and to help guide some of that thinking. And so we're bringing in party-neutral leadership by having him on staff at RISC-V, as well as instituting a very clean, very fair and equitable governance structure where we are able to progress the state of the art across all interests at once.
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Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?
A new media company from the publisher of POLITICO reporting on the people, power and politics of tech.
From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.
The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?
It's a tough issue, but our intrepid staff is more than up to the task of fighting about it so you don't have to. Could anything that's been referred to as the next Apple this many times not be tech? If the Model X is tech, how about a Ford Focus? If batteries qualify as tech now, is the Energizer bunny the original Technoking? All these questions and more will be answered (or possibly not)! below.
Anna Kramer: is Tesla tech?
Shakeel Hashim: oh hell yes i was hoping for this one
Shakeel: yes it is and so are all car companies
Megan Rose Dickey: lol u would be hoping for this one
Joe Williams: Tesla is absolutely tech, its cars all run via software that can be updated without the users even knowing.
Megan: yeah, it's def tech
Shakeel: would it be tech if it didn't do that @Joe Williams
Anna: Wow am i the only one who is ambivalent about this
Megan: seems like it
Caitlin Wolper: i'd call it tech simply after seeing the internal display that not only identifies other cars but can tell people and cones, that was wild
Megan: it also tries to scare you when you're walking your dog at night
Anna: Doesn't that mean most car companies are now tech though? Plenty of other cars run on software like that now
Megan: it's like, "bish, come any closer and i'll sound off my alarm"
Karyne Levy: jeez i missed the note that this was starting and i'm already 12 replies behind
Joe: Yes, just maybe not in the traditional sense of what's considered technology. Like, battery technology is technology. It's not SaaS obviously, but it's tech.
Tom Krazit: yeah i can't even imagine the counterargument here
Shakeel: is a Ford Focus tech
Megan: ford wishes
Caitlin: is ford/"new girl" product placement tech
Shakeel: or: does tech stop being tech when it's been around for a certain amount of time
Anna: but it's a car company, it makes cars at the end of the day
Allison Levitsky: is tesla more tech than other car companies are
Karyne: you know what's not tech and is a car company? volkswagen
Shakeel: See I think Volkswagen is a tech company
Tom: totally, that emissions scam they pulled was very much tech
Shakeel: but also @Allison Levitsky yes
Anna: see when does a car company become a tech company? Like they are all doing Tesla-ish things now or trying to
Chris Fong: Tesla isn't. They don't even offer an in-dash CD changer.
Megan: lol wtf
Karyne: the scam was tech, the tech inside of any volkswagen car is garbage
Allison: and is tesla somehow more tech than other EV companies
Joe: I think any company that has an electric vehicle or self-driving car is tech.
Shakeel: self driving definitely tech
Megan: agree w/ jojo
Joe: If we consider semiconductors tech, wouldn't we consider batteries tech?
Karyne: exploding engines is not tech, but i think that tesla is tech
Anna: so all car companies will eventually be tech? Or this will stop being tech at some point
Karyne: is the only thing that makes tesla tech the self-driving stuff and the batteries?
Shakeel: if we are saying that Volkswagen is no longer tech then I think we have to say that one day Tesla will not be tech
Karyne: ooh anna, if everything is tech, then is nothing tech?
Shakeel: Because once upon a time cars were exciting new tech
Karyne: megan, my god
Shakeel: I hope our CMS supports that emoji
Megan: this convo is killing me
Anna: god this is now totally ruining my brain
Karyne: are things tech when people who work there say "we are a tech company building X, not an X company"
Shakeel: no because most of those people are liars
Tom: those are platforms /ducks
Karyne: we are a tech company building: cars, meat, space, dating,
Anna: so should we have a statute of limitations on something being tech? Like eventually you just age out and tech means something new
Karyne: is a Sony Discman tech?
Karyne: (i'm aging myself 😔 )
Zeyi Yang: if batteries are tech then is Duracell tech?
Allison: it stops being tech and it becomes "electronics"
Chris: It's electric and runs on batteries.
Joe: I guess for me I think what is ultimately powering the product? In Tesla's case, it's the tech that's doing that. For WeWork, it's a physical asset that is enhanced by technology.
Shakeel: I like Allison's definition
Karyne: in 10 years then, joe, if every car is running on Tesla-like tech, then every car company will be tech
Chris: Is Tesla electronics?
Becca Evans: does their big valuation help Tesla seem more tech-y than other companies that sell electric cars
Shakeel: yeah it's certain valued at a tech multiple
Karyne: does Elon Musk make it tech?
Shakeel: are flamethrowers tech
Karyne: are boring companies tech?
Shakeel: are short shorts tech
Becca: is that tunnel in vegas tech
Zeyi: am I tech
Karyne: wow what a great place to end.
Joe: Elon, if you're reading this, you're tech in my eyes. Let me go to space with you and we can talk about it all day/night, whatever happens up there.
As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"
In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.
People are often surprised to learn we have thousands of customers here in America, made up of U.S. brands, retailers, small businesses and even farmers.
Last year, thousands of these U.S. companies sold more than $54 billion worth of their high-quality products directly to Chinese consumers on our e-commerce platforms. These companies include large multinationals like P&G and Estée Lauder, family-owned businesses like BISSELL and Emily's Chocolates, small businesses like Antica Farmacista and Radha Beauty and agriculture-based companies like Sun-Maid and Califia Farms.
How does it work? Think of Alibaba as a massive digital mall. When a U.S. business opens a digital storefront on our platform in China, they gain access to our almost 900 million active Chinese consumers. But we do much more than provide traffic. We provide all the tools to help U.S. businesses build their brands in China to serve local Chinese consumers. This includes fully customizable online storefronts, marketing tools, inventory and management services, as well as translation and logistics.
We also offer innovations like livestream commerce, AR shopping and gamification to help businesses connect with consumers in highly engaging ways. One of our strengths is the deep insights we have into the Chinese consumer, which can be very valuable to U.S. businesses as they tailor and market their products to fit the demands of new Chinese consumers.
Importantly, what makes us different from other e-commerce platforms is that we are a marketplace, not a retailer. This distinction is critical because it means we connect U.S. businesses and their products directly to the Chinese consumer. The business owns the relationships and consumer insights, and has total control over pricing, marketing and merchandising decisions. It also means we are always a partner, and never a competitor to the businesses on our platforms. We will only succeed if the businesses we work with succeed.
These are the important reasons why so many U.S. brands trust us and work with us in the China consumer market. Even direct-to-consumer brands based in the U.S. like Allbirds, Rothy's, Everlane and Senreve partner with us in China. We give them all the advantages of going direct to consumers – control over branding, consumer relationships and all the data and insights – in addition to access to the nearly 900 million consumers on our marketplaces.
According to the
U.S-China Business Council, one million jobs in the U.S. are consistently sustained by helping U.S. businesses sell to China. We are proud to be an important part of that U.S. job creation opportunity.
Until recently, the China consumer opportunity would have been out of reach for most U.S. small businesses. That is why we have invested heavily in our Tmall Global platform, which was specifically designed for businesses without a local presence in China to be able to sell cross-border to the Chinese consumer. Over the past several months, Alibaba has seen a continuing flow of American brands starting to sell to China for the first time. More than 100 U.S. businesses have launched on Tmall Global since January 2021.
Take New Jersey skincare brand
Nuria Beauty as an example. Josh Ghaim founded Nuria Beauty just two years ago before the pandemic hit. Because of his prior experience at Johnson & Johnson, Ghaim was familiar with Alibaba and knew it could be a great solution for Nuria. In just three months, Nuria had a Tmall Global storefront up and running, and was enjoying steady sales growth. Ghaim expects the China market to grow and become his largest market.
This year, more than 50 percent of all retail sales in China are predicted to take place online—the first time this milestone has been reached globally. The digital economy and massive consumer market in China present big opportunities for Alibaba's U.S. customers.
So when people ask me what Alibaba is doing in America, my answer is simple: We give great American brands, retailers, small businesses and farmers direct access to the Chinese consumer opportunity that can power their growth and success for the long term.
Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.
Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.
Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.
Delta isn't just scaring Apple
"I know a couple companies that have just indefinitely put plans on hold," said Niki Armstrong, who serves as general counsel, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer at Pure Storage. "We really just don't know what the future's going to hold here in the next few months."
Pure is one such company. The nearly $6 billion data storage hardware and software maker initially planned to fully reopen its offices after Labor Day, but decided last week to delay its full reopening indefinitely.
Pure decided to indefinitely delay its full reopening because of concerns about the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19. Vaccinated people are far less likely than the unvaccinated to wind up in the hospital with COVID-19, but breakthrough cases do occur. Pure still plans to reopen on a voluntary basis next month, but only to employees who tell the company they're vaccinated.
Employees may also have concerns about bringing the virus home to unvaccinated family members or may be unvaccinated themselves for a medical reason, Armstrong noted.
"It's not 'vaccine and chill.' It's 'vaccine and still continue to be safe,'" Armstrong said. "It's not 100% guaranteed that you're not going to get it, even with the vaccine."
By delaying the full reopening, Pure is allowing employees to continue to live where they want, whether or not that's near the office, until it's clear when the company can safely reopen. Pure wanted to avoid uprooting employees and then changing plans, Armstrong said.
ServiceNow delayed its full reopening for similar reasons. The $114 billion software maker decided last week to delay its September reopening until January or later, spokesperson Caitlin Stewart said.
"We understand the complex realities everyone is facing, including concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant," ServiceNow said in an emailed statement. "This extended period of employee choice will give our people time to transition back to the workplace safely and plan for personal situations."
Similar to Pure, ServiceNow is allowing employees to come into the office in the meantime if they choose. All but three of ServiceNow's 27 U.S. offices are partially open, Stewart said.
Salesforce, SAP, Airbnb also won't require employees back until 2022
Google, Amazon and Microsoft have all indicated September as their full reopening date, though spokespeople for both Facebook and Google told Protocol earlier this week that they were monitoring the changing situation.
And it's not uncommon for companies to look to October or later. Like Apple, Facebook doesn't expect to fully reopen until October. Salesforce, SAP, Twilio and DoorDash are letting employees work remotely until January 2022 or later.
Some are looking even further into the future for their reopenings. Airbnb won't require its employees to come back to the office until September 2022, CEO Brian Chesky revealed on the company's May 13 earnings call, telling investors that the company wants to "model the 'live anywhere' lifestyle" and would "allow a lot of flexibility."
Vaccine and mask mandates
Local government officials in the Bay Area have been urging people to wear masks in public, indoor places for the last week.
A similar recommendation in Los Angeles was quickly followed by an indoor mask mandate, which went into effect last weekend in L.A.'s public, indoor spaces, including offices.
It's possible that the Bay Area's mask recommendation could turn into a mandate if the case counts don't get under control, said Rachel Conn, a San Francisco-based partner in the labor and employment group at the law firm Nixon Peabody.
"Could I see the Bay Area fall in line and do something similar to L.A. in the future? I certainly could," Conn said. "We were, of course, the first to have a lockdown in the country."
A potential mask mandate in offices could throw a wrench in companies' reopening plans. Already, Google and Intel have begun urging even vaccinated employees to wear masks in the office again, given that both companies are allowing unvaccinated employees to come to work.
"A lot of times employers are getting feedback from their employees," Conn said. "If employers are seeing a rise in concerns with their employees about the delta variant, or data they're seeing, they should consider all of that."
Officials in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties also recommended yesterday that given the rising case counts, employers should consider imposing vaccine mandates at the workplace. In a radio interview on WNYC today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on employers to require vaccinations for workers.
Only a handful of large tech companies are currently barring unvaccinated employees from the office, including Adobe, Twitter, Asana and Twilio. Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are among the companies that aren't imposing such mandates.
A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.
Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.
But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.
The survey, conducted by Qualtrics and the online talent marketplace The Boardlist in June, asked 1,225 people over the age of 18 about their work experiences during the pandemic. Overall, 45% of working parents said they'd been discriminated against at work because of their family responsibilities. But that figure was even higher for parents in managerial and VP positions, 54% of whom said they'd experienced discrimination for their familial duties. Only 38% of lower-level employees said the same.
"It's very clear at leadership levels, as you ascend, there's a feeling of backlash, or at a minimum, prejudice for having these responsibilities," said Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder and chair of The Boardlist, which helps companies find potential board members who are women and people of color. The survey results, she said, suggest that while it's obvious working parents in general are looking for more flexibility and support, that doesn't become any less true as they climb the corporate ladder.
Of the working parents who said they'd been discriminated against, 43% said they'd received criticism inside the company and 33% said they'd been passed over for a promotion. Others reported having their leadership responsibilities taken away and being passed over for important projects.
The survey also confirmed what has been a long-running theme in research about parenthood during the pandemic: It found that 75% of working moms said they handled the bulk of child care, while just 62% of working men said the same. Some 58% of moms reported having exclusive responsibility for leading their kids' remote learning, compared to 34% of dads.
This imbalance no doubt contributed to the mass exodus of women from the workforce during the height of lockdown restrictions in the U.S. As the country opens back up and administers more vaccines, there are some signs that trend is receding, with women taking more than 50% of new jobs in May. And yet, women's overall labor force participation in June 2021 remained at a 30-year low.
For Cassidy, who has served on the boards of companies like Ericsson, Tripadvisor and Urban Outfitters, all of this amounts to a reminder that as companies work to bring more women — and particularly parents — into the board room and senior positions in their companies, they have to develop a supportive culture to go along with it. "I think it's very important that boards turn their attention to issues of talent, culture and flexibility, which historically has not been part of the board room," she said.
If it succeeds, the gambit could help support Google Cloud's lofty ambitions in the manufacturing sector.
Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.
Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.
The goal of Intrinsic is to "give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they're completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications," CEO Wendy Tan-White wrote in the post.
That's a laudable mission, but one that will require immense engineering work in order to build a product that can ultimately be deployed relatively easily at an enterprise-grade level, a challenge Tan-White openly admitted lay ahead.
"None of this is realistic or affordable to automate today," she wrote. "This all hints at the potential for Intrinsic's software to radically reduce the time, cost, and complexity required to use industrial robots."
Intrinsic has some heavy hitters on its side to help achieve that goal, including Chief Technology Officer Torsten Kroeger and Martin Haegele, a former winner of the Engelberger Award, which is essentially the Nobel Prize for robotics.
While it's possible to train robots to handle extremely repetitive tasks, those processes begin to break down as those tasks become more complicated. Other tech giants like Nvidia are also trying to improve the capabilities of industrial robots: The chip maker has an AI lab in Seattle that is testing out several different types of robotic systems.
For Alphabet, the software could help propel other parts of the business. Manufacturing has emerged as a key focus for Google Cloud, which recently released its first industry-specific tool: an AI-based visual inspection tool. It also hired sector veterans like former SAP executive Hans Thalbauer and Accenture's Suchitra Bose to help forge deeper partnerships with other software providers and build up its own product suite.
But other cloud vendors, namely Microsoft, also sense the opportunity in further digitizing an industry that has already embraced advanced tech like artificial intelligence. For Microsoft and Google, the industrial segment is attractive because many of the promised innovations of the future — like digital twins and generative design — are going to require huge amounts of data, which means they'll need lots of expensive computing and storage services.
One of Google's biggest differentiators in the market is its AI. The company is world-renowned for the technology; just look at Alphabet's announcement earlier this week that DeepMind would release a huge database of 3D protein structures.
If Intrinsic succeeds, it could give Google Cloud, which currently lags behind AWS and Microsoft in the overall cloud infrastructure sector, a huge presence in a critical market.