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1 big thing: Software is key to Google hardware show

Google's new hardware lineup: Pixel 3, Google Home Hub, Pixel Slate. Photo: Google

What makes the Pixel 3, Pixel Slate and Google Home Hub unique isn’t their hardware but rather the software power from Google.

The bottom line. Software stole the show at Google's hardware event in New York yesterday and that’s not a bad thing.

Details: Google introduced 3 new products in New York.

1. Pixel 3 — Google's newest smartphone had been extensively leaked, so there weren't a lot of surprises.

  • As in the past, it comes in standard and XL sizes, ships unlocked or via Verizon, and has prices starting at $799.
  • Once again, Google has gone with a single rear camera, choosing to use AI and software, rather than additional optics, to power new camera features.

2. Pixel Slate — The $599 detachable slate (with $199 optional keyboard) will be a test for how big a market there is for a tablet running Chrome OS.

3. Google Home Hub — The $149 home device is Google's entry into the "smart-speaker-with-a-screen" category.

  • Perhaps the most interesting choice here is Google's decision not to include a camera.
  • That lessens security concerns, but makes it less useful for things like video chat. (Basically it's the exact opposite of the approach Facebook took with Portal.)

Software magic: The most attention grabbing features from the event were software features from Pixel 3. Those include:

  • Smart camera features include Top Shot (which stitches together elements of multiple bursts to create a single image), Super Res Zoom (which uses AI to enhance images that are digitally zoomed in) and Night Sight, a software-based method for enhancing low-light images
  • Smart Screen, a feature that allows the Pixel 3 (and older models) to automatically answer a suspected spam call. The call is then transcribed in real-time allowing the Pixel owner to decide whether to pick up.
  • Google also said it plans to incorporate parts of the Duplex technology that was the talk of this year's Google I/O event. That was the technology that allowed a realistic-sounding AI chatbot to make reservations and appointments. According to Wired, the feature will roll out on a city-by-city basis starting next month and reaching New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and San Francisco by year's end.

What they're saying:

  • The Verge's Vlad Savov: "Pixel 3 vs. Pixel 2 isn't even a contest. Bigger, better display, and feels like a pebble in the hand. Easily the most desirable thing Google has ever built."
  • Bloomberg's Shira Ovide: "Hard truths about newcomers in tech hardware: Pixel sales in the last 18 months = 8 days of iPhone sales."
  • CNBC's Steve Kovach: "Google sure is mentioning 'security' a lot during this event without directly addressing what happened yesterday."
2. Ethics push for computer science programs

Omidyar Network's Paula Goldman. Photo: Omidyar Network

A new initiative, backed by the foundations of Pierre Omidyar, Eric Schmidt, Craig Newmark and Mozilla, aims to convince the nation's computer science departments to spend more time teaching the ethics of the profession alongside the basics of coding.

Why it matters: Computers are increasingly tied to every aspect of modern life, placing cameras in our bedroom, deciding who gets credit, and recording our every digital footprint. It's time for those who program computers to fully understand the implications of their work, according to the backers of the initiative.

Details: In addition to those funding the project, the Responsible Computer Science Challenge effort also has the backing of a ton of prominent techies, including Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, Lyft president John Zimmer and former U.S. chief data scientist DJ Patil.

  • It aims to award $3.5 million over the next year and a half to help spur new ideas of how to integrate ethics into computer science curricula.

Background: Ethics is often treated as a secondary issue, if addressed at all, in computer science classes, says Paula Goldman, global lead for Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab.

  • "It’s an elective," Goldman said, "It’s not seen as core. It's seen as someone else's problem."

The bottom line: Half the technical talent in big Silicon Valley companies is drawn from the top 20 computer science departments in the U.S. That's a problem in some ways. But, in this case, it makes it easier for a project like this to make a quick impact.

3. Parker Conrad's new startup

Photo: Rippling

Parker Conrad, the co-founder and former CEO of HR software startup Zenefits who was ousted in 2016, is unveiling his comeback company — Rippling.

  • It's designed to be a command center for employers to control all worker tools, from benefits to IT.

The bottom line: This all-encompassing approach to managing employee needs is based on trends Conrad observed at Zenefits. Conrad tells Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva:

“I was starting to see that people really liked having HR in one place and that this carried over in other departments.”

The intrigue: Despite reports last year that it had raised $7 million in seed funding from a number of early Zenefits investors, Rippling has actually raised much more, Axios has learned, although the exact amount isn't clear.

Read more of Kia's story here.

Go deeper:

4. Waymo cars to get confidence boost

Photo: Waymo

Having reached 10 million miles, Waymo has a new goal for its self-driving cars — be a little more daring.

What's new: While safety continues to be its priority, the company says it also recognizes that being overly cautious can lead autonomous cars to take longer routes and slow things down for everyone on the road.

"Our driving should feel natural to our riders and others on the road," CEO John Krafcik said in a blog post.
"Today, our cars are programmed to be cautious and courteous above all, because that’s the safest thing to do. We’re working on striking the balance between this and being assertive as we master maneuvers that are tough for everyone on the road."

What's next? Krafcik said the cars will look for ways to handle tougher weather conditions, while also providing a more comfortable and efficient ride.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Qualcomm added Martin Anstice, CEO of chip equipment maker Lam Research, and Irene Rosenfeld, former CEO of Mondelēz International, to its board of directors.
  • Longtime tech writer Jessi Hempel is leaving Wired for a new gig as senior editor-at-large for LinkedIn. It's been a busy time for Hempel. She and wife Frances just welcomed a son, Jude.
  • Former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is joining Lyft as its chief policy officer, and is relocating to San Francisco to work full time at the company's headquarters, Kia reports.

ICYMI

  • Match Group has fired back against Tinder and founder Sean Rad, who two months ago sued Match and parent company IAC. (Axios)
  • A GAO report found significant cyber vulnerabilities in U.S. military weapons systems over the past several years. (Axios)
  • Anki said it is working with Amazon to add support for Alexa to its Vector home robot, which goes on sale Friday for $249. (Anki)
  • Microsoft said it has fixed a Windows 10 bug that was deleting some user files and is now re-releasing its October update. (The Verge)
  • SoftBank is in talks to take a major stake in WeWork, WSJ first reported. (Axios)
6. After you Login

It sure seems like LinkedIn could use more "no" options in its AI, especially if the requests I get are any indication.