Jun 10, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I'm on my way to Code Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where it is expected to be 107 degrees today, so send cold thoughts my way. I'll send back dispatches for Axios.com and Login.

Situational awareness: Salesforce is buying Tableau for $15.7 billion in stock, and acting White House OMB chief Russel Vought asked lawmakers and VP Mike Pence for a delay of 2 years on Huawei restrictions that will affect government contractors, according to a letter obtained by the WSJ.

Today's Login is 1,202 words, a 4 minute read.

1 big thing: Google's CEO on YouTube's rough ride

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Google CEO Sundar Pichai insists that YouTube is improving, but acknowledged the video service still surfaces a lot of videos of dubious quality.

  • "Look, we aren't quite where we want to be," Pichai told me in an interview that aired during Sunday's "Axios on HBO." (It was filmed in May, shortly after Google I/O and before the company's most recent scandals.)
  • Pichai said part of the problem is Google can't yet algorithmically determine a video's merit with anywhere near the precision it can assess a search result.

The interview came before YouTube's most recent policy changes, though Pichai alluded to the changes that were announced last week.

We, you know, we rank content based on quality. And so we are bringing that same notion and approach to YouTube so that we can rank higher quality stuff better and really prevent borderline content. Content which doesn't exactly violate policies, which needs to be removed, but which can still cause harm.
— Sundar Pichai, to "Axios on HBO"

Why it matters: YouTube is probably the toughest issue facing Google right now, amid allegations it is fostering hate, enabling pedophiles and spreading misinformation.

Driving the news: Last week, the company announced three changes along those lines: prohibiting videos that espouse one group as superior to another, changing which videos are recommended to exclude more "borderline content," and limiting monetization for creators who frequently push the boundaries of YouTube's rules.

  • At the same time, the company came under fresh fire for its handling of Steven Crowder, a popular conservative YouTube host who frequently used racial and homophobic insults against Vox journalist Carlos Maza.
  • On Tuesday, following an investigation, YouTube said Crowder's comments — while "hurtful" — didn't violate company policy. A day later, following an outcry, Google suspended Crowder from the partner program that allows advertising, saying he engaged in "a pattern of egregious actions [that] harmed the broader community."

In the interview, Pichai declined to give YouTube a grade on its work, but acknowledged the company has a tougher time evaluating videos than rating search results.

The bottom line: "It's a hard computer science problem," Pichai said.

  • "It's also a hard societal problem because we need better frameworks around what is hate speech, what’s not, and how do we as a company make those decisions at scale, and get it right without making mistakes."

Go deeper: Watch a clip from the interview

2. Pichai says AI not at odds with privacy

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

While Google made much at its I/O conference about the ability to do more with less data, the rise of machine learning could add pressure for Google and others to step up their data collection efforts.

  • "AI needs training data, but we can get at the data many ways," Pichai said during his interview with Axios on HBO. (You can view that clip here.) "I don't think AI and privacy are at odds with each other."

The big picture: Pichai acknowledged that some types of AI today encode social biases — facial recognition, for instance, tends to be better at detecting white men than women and people of color.

"This is why Google today, we don't offer APIs for facial recognition as a company. ... We want to make sure our models are working better."
— Sundar Pichai
  • As for whether the problem is that it's mostly white men designing the systems, Pichai said, "I have no doubt the outcomes would be better if the people working on it are also representative."

Meanwhile: We'll have more from our Pichai interview on Tuesday, including his thoughts on Big Tech.

3. Next Xbox coming next year
A Microsoft executive speaking at E3 2019. Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft used its E3 press conference to unveil the first details on Project Scarlett, the successor to the Xbox One that is due out next year. The console will feature 8K video support and be up to four times as powerful as the current Xbox One X. And it will support games written for earlier Xbox consoles.

Why it matters: E3, the video game industry's big trade show, officially kicks off Tuesday, but the key news comes from the pre-event press conferences.

Flashback: Sony said back in April that its next PlayStation will also feature 8K video support and backwards compatibility.

4. Maker Faire ceases operations

The parent company of Make magazine and hobbyist tech conference Maker Faire said Friday that it was halting operations.

  • "I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work," founder and CEO Dale Dougherty told TechCrunch. "Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works … barely. Events are hard ... there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.”

MythBusters' Adam Savage said the closure marked a "sad day."

  • "The amazing and brilliant team at Maker Media are true believers who gave love, support, &enthusiasm to everyone they touched, and that was a gargantuan number of people," he said in a tweet. "They made the world a better place than they found it."

Our thought bubble: Hopefully a nerdy White Knight can come to the rescue.

5. Impossible Whopper arrives in the Bay Area

Photo: Burger King

Impossible Foods is dramatically expanding its Bay Area presence today, with 111 Burger King restaurants in the greater San Francisco Bay Area beginning today to offer a Whopper using the meat alternative.

It's part of a rolling introduction of the Impossible Whopper as the Redwood City, Calif.-based company aims to expand to Burger Kings nationwide by the end of the year, without leaving its current restaurant customers short.

"It's great progress," Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown told Axios, but quickly added: "We’re a tiny, tiny fraction of the way on our mission. We have to double in size every year for the next 15 years to achieve our mission."

Why it matters: Impossible Foods and rivals like Beyond Meat have managed to generate interest and demand for plant-based meat alternatives. Now they have to show they can satisfy those customers, in all senses of the word.

What's next: The company still hopes to have its first retail products in grocery stores by the end of this year, provided it can meet demand from Burger King and its other restaurant customers.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Code Conference takes place starting today in Scottsdale, Ariz. Speakers today include YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Facebook's Adam Mosseri and Andrew Bosworth and Twitter's Kayvon Beykpour.
  • Cisco Live runs through Thursday in San Diego.

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • Raytheon is buying United Technologies, bringing together two of the biggest US defense contractors. (Axios)
  • FedEx ended its air express contract with Amazon as the online retailer increasingly relies on its own shipping network. (Axios)
  • Former Unity Technologies VP Anne Evans is suing the company, saying she was harassed by CEO John Riccitiello. (TechCrunch)
  • Apple is said to be close to buying autonomous vehicle technology firm Drive.ai. (Bloomberg)
7. After you Login

High school students in Connecticut made these electric cars to give kids with disabilities a fun alternate way to get around.

Ina Fried