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Situational awareness: A top Huawei official has been arrested in Canada on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. An extradition hearing is scheduled Friday.
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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Early in the race to dominate artificial intelligence, Big Tech — flush with cash, data, and name recognition — has seemed to have already captured AI's commanding heights and created an insurmountable advantage.
But new data suggests that the contest is not quite over, and that the field is much more crowded than was thought.
Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes: Tech companies, startups, legacy companies and academics around the world are fighting to attract a relatively small number of talented AI experts — a struggle in which the chief weapons are money, prestige and glory.
Realistically, Big Tech cannot simply vacuum up the talent everywhere, says Diffbot CEO Mike Tung. "There are many places in the world where these companies simply have no offices or open jobs," Tung tells Axios.
Why it matters: That there is at least somewhat dispersed talent means that folks outside of Big Tech have at least a fighting chance to make the big breakthrough.
By the numbers:
Even among the top rung, there are surprises, like Indian tech giants Infosys and Tata. These numbers come from Diffbot’s whole-web search for every person with apparent AI skills, demonstrated through published academic papers, their LinkedIn profile, or their personal website.
Yoshua Bengio, a pioneering AI researcher at the University of Montreal, told me he's not surprised by the number of companies who have hired AI workers. Interest in AI "is springing from all quarters," he says.
"There is a monopolistic tendency in the tech world, which might get worse with AI because of the winner-take-all advantage of having access to most data, talent, customers and cash (e.g. to buy competing start-ups). I'm not sure how to deal with all that but clearly this deserves a social and political discussion."— Yoshua Bengio
Amazon Go. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty
A handful of American companies, from giants like Amazon and Walmart to upstarts like Standard Cognition and Zippin, are betting on a windfall for whoever works out the bugs in cashierless checkout — and makes it cheap. But like so much of tech, it's a global race, and the Chinese are surging ahead.
Axios' Erica Pandey writes: American retailers may be focused on the wrong thing. Their obsession is with totally hands-free checkout, which Amazon dubs "just walk out." But Chinese retailers have figured out that there are cheaper and easier ways to eliminate checkout lines.
Amazon's technology — through which cameras pick up what shoppers are buying so they can be automatically charged when they leave the store — has thus far only worked in small stores, like a 2,500-square-foot Amazon Go. With its Sam's Club Now, Walmart is going small, too, not having figured out as yet how cashierless can work at a large scale.
But, but, but: China's retail giants — Alibaba and JD.com — have tackled scale and lines without killing checkout altogether. Instead, they use the power of mobile payments. Rather than being monitored by ubiquitous cameras and sensors, Chinese shoppers pay for everything from street food to new laptops by scanning QR codes with their cellphones.
The bottom line: Billions of dollars are being spent on perfecting cashierless checkout, but getting American consumers to switch to mobile payments may be an easier and cheaper way to streamline shopping in the long run.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Proposed U.S. controls on exports, traditionally limited to sensitive weapons, are aimed, among other things, at hampering China’s ambitious autonomous vehicle push and giving U.S. companies the edge.
Writes Patrick Lozada, a contributor to Axios Expert Voices: The proposed controls would block the export of “emerging” and “foundational” technologies. They would limit partnerships with Chinese firms and possibly the employment of Chinese nationals.
Details: The restrictions include computer vision, artificial intelligence, geospatial positioning, computer chips and memory, and mobile electric power — technologies critical to the development of driverless cars.
What to watch: Public comment is open until Dec. 19, and the industry is likely to push back, as these export controls would have an impact on broad swathes of the economy — from self-driving cars to biotech. Changes within the Treasury or Commerce departments, where leadership transitions have been rumored, could also shape the outcome.
Be smart: Even if the U.S. takes no action, the Chinese side is likely to close the walls around itself anyway. China’s plan for its auto industry calls for the entire supply chain to be “secure and controllable” (i.e., excluding foreign participation). And President Xi Jinping has made it clear that “core technologies” must be in Chinese hands. Multinational corporations, take note.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Taiwan, caught between two superpowers (Chris Horton, Lauly Li, Cheng Ting-Fang — Nikkei Asian Review)
The first self-driving taxis are here (Joann Muller — Axios)
Why abortions in the U.S. are at a historic low (The Economist)
China works to snag secret Boeing satellite tech (Brian Spegele, Kate O'Keeffe — WSJ)
What's really happening to retail? (Derek Thompson — CityLab)
Ryan reviews an astronaut play tent. Photo: YouTube
The rise of social media has ushered in new kinds of celebrities, like Instagram models and YouTube vlog stars, who use the platforms to develop fan bases of millions.
But some are more successful than others, Erica writes: YouTube's richest star is a 7-year-old boy who reviews toys. Ryan is worth about $22 million, and his channel, Ryan ToysReview, has over 17 million subscribers.