Jan 3, 2019

Google picks up company behind Q&A app

Signage for the Google Assistant is displayed during CES 2018. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Google has quietly acquired Superpod, a startup that had built a question-and-answer mobile app, Axios has learned. Google paid less than $60 million to “acqui-hire” the founders and purchase some of Superpod's assets, according to a source.

The bigger picture: The search giant hasn’t been shy about its ambitions for Google Assistant, the voice-activated virtual assistant that it debuted in 2016. Superpod, which lets users ask questions and receive answers from experts, could help Google bolster its virtual assistant’s ability to answer users’ questions.

  • Superpod isn’t the first to tackle this concept — Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s startup Jelly had a similar concept, though the company ultimately sold to Pinterest in 2017 and folded.
  • Jelly’s premise was that there was still a need for human answers to people’s questions, something that became evident through social media, where users frequently “crowdsource” answers from others.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that Superpod’s founders have joined the company but declined to comment further about the deal. Superpod shut down its app in September.

Background: Superpod.io (formerly known as Sparks) was founded by ex-Google employees Sophia Yang and William Li in 2016, according to Pitchbook, and raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Charlie Cheever, Social Capital, and the House Fund, per AngelList.

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World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 350,000 globally on Wednesday morning, per Johns Hopkins data.

By the numbers: More than 5.9 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 2.2 million have recovered from the virus. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:00 a.m. ET: 5,594,175 — Total deaths: 350,531 — Total recoveries — 2,288,579Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:00 a.m. ET: 1,681,418 — Total deaths: 98,929 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," CDC says, but more data is neededCDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the virus.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 53 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Hong Kong police fire pepper pellets at demonstrators

Hong Kong riot policeissue a warning as they aim to clear away people gathered downtownon Wednesday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong riot police have fired pepper pellets at activists and surrounded the Legislative Council during demonstrations against a bill proposing to criminalize "disrespect of the Chinese anthem" on Wednesday, per Reuters.

Why it matters: The bill is the latest concern pro-democracy protesters have that Chinese authorities are encroaching on the high degree of autonomy the former British colony has retained since it was returned to China in 1997.