Dec 12, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Another opportunity for our DC-based readers: Join Axios managing editor Kim Hart tomorrow morning for our rescheduled breakfast conversation on how AI will impact our economy, jobs, and lives. RSVP here.

  • Kim will interview both chairs of the House Artificial Intelligence Caucus: Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), along with Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
1 big thing: Mr. Pichai goes to Washington

Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals

After his Congressional interrogation, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Axios that he expects tougher scrutiny of his company and other tech giants is "here to stay."

"You want to be thoughtful about how you develop powerful technologies. And I think it’s important that more people than engineers are able to weigh in on these things.”
— Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in an interview with Axios

Pichai spent most of his three hours of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee dealing with allegations of conservative bias, though he also got pushed on the company's policies on privacy and China.

His voice a bit hoarse after a long day, Pichai addressed a wider range of topics in his interview with Axios.

Antitrust: Asked whether Google might need to be broken up, Pichai talked about the level of competition from large global companies and well-funded startups.

" There's a lot of competition amongst big companies. For the first time, I think there is more international competition than ever before, and I think that's going to hold true.
" I do see a lot of innovation happen, too, just coming into this week, reading the coverage. I think there's been IPOs potentially announced or being tracked of Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Postmates, and so on, which to me looks like innovation is, like, well and alive."

Basic research: He noted that companies like Google are needed at a time when the U.S. government is investing less in basic research, just as fields like AI and quantum computing are taking off.

  • "There are some advantages of big companies, which is we do invest for the long term in foundational technologies," he said. By contrast with the U.S., Pichai noted that China is investing big in AI and other areas.

Search in China: Pichai echoed his comments before Congress, saying that "right now, we have no plans to launch search in China, but we always feel compelled to explore."

  • Google, he said, is trying to balance the benefit of the information it could provide to Chinese citizens with the company's values around privacy and freedom of expression.
  • Earlier in the day, Pichai confirmed that at one point Google had more than 100 people working on Dragonfly, its project exploring what search could like like in China. That work, he told Axios, could also show up in other areas of Google's business.
  • "There are 100 million Chinese language speakers outside of China, alone, for whom we can improve search quality," he said. "There are areas like education and health care where we may be able to help."
2. What they're saying: Google's testimony

A lot of those watching the Pichai hearings saw the focus on conservative bias as a missed opportunity to press the CEO for answers on many of the other issues surrounding Google and its business.

Some perspectives worth reading:

"The committee learned little about how Google uses those troves of data in advertising or tracks its users' locations, thanks to flawed and overheated questioning that oversimplified the company’s data collection practices."
"From time to time the entire technology press corps gets together on Twitter, spends several hours live-tweeting the same event, and then writes a series of blog posts about how nothing important happened. This event is known as a Congressional hearing, and today we witnessed our final one of the year."
"Members of Congress didn’t ask strong questions or botched follow-up questions that allowed Pichai to repeat rote talking points. And Pichai, like many of his tech executive peers, too often dodged when given a chance to engage in important philosophical and practical questions about Google and the internet more broadly."
3. Huawei CFO gets bail

Supporters of Meng Wanzhou outside the Vancouver courtroom. Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images.

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, accused of helping her company avoid U.S. sanctions on Iran, was granted bail by a Canadian court Tuesday following several days of hearings.

Meanwhile, President Trump told Reuters that he would consider intervening in the case if it would help get a trade deal with China.

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
— President Trump, in an Oval Office interview with Reuters

Trump's comments raised immediate eyebrows, including from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who said, "This needs explanation, please." TechCrunch's Zack Whittaker wrote: "I'm not exactly a huge Huawei fan, but isn't this holding someone effectively politically hostage?"

Separately: The big Marriott data breach that affected up to 50o million customers who used the Starwood reservation system was the work of Chinese hackers, the New York Times reported. The Chinese "intelligence-gathering effort" also targeted health insurers and security clearance files for millions more Americans, according to the report.

  • Responses under consideration by the Trump administration — including indictments of Chinese intelligence agents and military hackers and executive orders limiting trade in telecommunications equipment — could darken prospects for that big trade deal Trump is trying to orchestrate.
4. Verizon scales back

Photo: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images.

In the past two days Verizon has made two moves that reflect the cost of its unsuccessful foray into the content business.

  • On Monday, the company announced it had accepted the buyouts of more than 10,000 workers as part of previously announced cutbacks.
  • On Tuesday, Verizon wrote off a huge chunk of its Oath unit, which includes what's left of AOL and Yahoo.

Background: Verizon foreshadowed the troubles last quarter when it said it expected Oath revenues "to be relatively flat" in the near-term and "does not expect to meet the previous target of $10 billion in Oath revenues by 2020."

Why it matters: Both AT&T and Verizon have made big bets on expanding beyond distribution into content, but with different approaches. AT&T bought Time Warner and DirecTV, while Verizon focused on Internet-based content players AOL and Yahoo.

Bottom line: It's not clear yet whether AT&T's gamble will pay off, but it's already clear that Verizon's hasn't.

5. In memoriam: Evelyn Berezin, 1925-2018

I'll admit it: I'd never heard of Evelyn Berezin until I read her New York Times obituary. But her story is worth learning. As the Times' Robert D. McFadden reports, Berezin created the first true word processor.

In an age when computers were in their infancy and few women were involved in their development, Ms. Berezin not only designed the first true word processor; in 1969, she was also a founder and the president of the Redactron Corporation, a tech start-up on Long Island that was the first company exclusively engaged in manufacturing and selling the revolutionary machines.
To secretaries, who constituted 6 percent of the American work force then, Redactron word processors arrived in an office like a trunk of magic tricks, liberating users from the tyranny of having to retype pages marred by bad keystrokes and the monotony of copying pages for wider distribution. The machines were bulky, slow and noisy, but they could edit, delete, and cut and paste text.

Why it matters: Women are often underrepresented at today's tech giants, but many women played critical roles at the beginning of the computer era, including Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Lynn Conway, to name just a few. Now we have another name for that list.

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