Snap, Google, Facebook again dominate list of top iPhone apps - Axios
Future of Work

Snap, Google, Facebook again dominate list of top iPhone apps

Apple released its list of top iPhone apps for the year and, once again, the list was dominated by titles created by Facebook, Google and Snap. Their apps combined for all of the top seven spots among free iPhone apps followed by Netflix, Spotify and Uber.

Data: Apple; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: These companies dominate the share of ad spending so it's vital to their future to have top-ranked mobile apps as well. On the other hand, it's getting harder and harder for others to find their way to the top of the charts.

Apple also released its top 20 for other categories, including paid apps, free and paid games as well as leaders in podcasts, music, movies, TV shows and books:

Top Free iPhone Apps:

  1. Bitmoji
  2. Snapchat
  3. YouTube: Watch Listen Stream
  4. Messenger
  5. Instagram
  6. Facebook
  7. Google Maps - GPS Navigation
  8. Netflix
  9. Spotify Music
  10. Uber
  11. Gmail - Email by Google
  12. Pandora Music
  13. Amazon – Shopping made easy
  14. WhatsApp Messenger
  15. Wish - Shopping Made Fun
  16. Twitter
  17. SoundCloud - Music & Audio
  18. Google Chrome
  19. Waze Navigation & Live Traffic
  20. Lyft
Top Paid iPhone Apps:
(Our thought bubble: This shows the power of subscriptions, validating the bet made by Lightricks, the maker of photo editing apps Facetune, and Enlight)
  1. Facetune
  2. Tabs & Chords - learn and play
  3. HotSchedules
  4. Enlight
  5. 7 Minute Workout Challenge
  6. Videoshop - Video Editor
  7. Dark Sky Weather
  8. Sky Guide AR
  9. Full Fitness : Exercise Workout Trainer
  10. Word Swag - Cool fonts & typography generator
  11. iScanner - PDF Document Scanner App
  12. Scanner Pro by Readdle
  13. Afterlight
  14. The Wonder Weeks
  15. NOAA Radar Pro – Weather Alerts & Forecast
  16. Toca Hair Salon 3
  17. LightX
  18. Scanner for Me + OCR
  19. 1 Second Everyday: Video Diary
  20. Fontmania - Add Artworks & Text to Your Photos!
Top Free iPhone Games:
(Our thought bubble: This list tells you a lot about what people download, but not so much about which games brought in the money. Even though Super Mario Run tops the list, it was a one-time purchase to own the game. That limited its revenue potential as compared to games that rely on repeated in-app purchases.)
  1. Super Mario Run
  2. 8 Ball Pool™
  3. Snake VS Block
  4. Ballz
  5. Word Cookies!
  6. Subway Surfers
  7. Episode!
  8. Rolling Sky
  9. Block! Hexa Puzzle
  11. Solitaire·
  12. Bowmasters - Multiplayer Game
  13. Color Switch
  14. Piano Tiles 2™(Don't Tap The White Tile 2)
  15. Choices: Stories You Play
  16. Roll the Ball® - slide puzzle
  17. Clash Royale
  18. ROBLOX
  19. Word Connect ¤
  20. Candy Crush Saga
Top Paid iPhone Games:
  1. Heads Up!
  2. Minecraft
  3. Bloons TD 5
  4. Plague Inc.
  5. MONOPOLY Game
  6. Geometry Dash
  7. Monument Valley 2
  8. The Game of Life
  9. The Escapists
  10. Assassin's Creed Identity
  11. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  12. True Skate
  13. RollerCoaster Tycoon® Classic
  14. Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location
  15. Papa's Freezeria To Go!
  16. Five Nights at Freddy's
  17. Hitman Sniper
  18. Terraria
  19. Reigns
  20. Tiny Wings
Top Free iPad Apps:
(Our thought bubble: Video apps dominated the list, not surprisingly.)
  1. YouTube: Watch Listen Stream
  2. Netflix
  3. Facebook
  4. Messenger
  5. Google Chrome
  6. Amazon Prime Video
  7. Gmail - Email by Google
  8. YouTube Kids
  9. Amazon – Shopping made easy
  10. Spotify Music
  11. Pandora Music
  12. The Calculator
  13. The Weather Channel App for iPad – best local forecast radar map and storm tracking
  14. Google Docs
  15. Google
  16. Hulu: Watch TV Shows & Movies
  17. Amazon Kindle
  18. Google Maps - GPS Navigation
  19. Google Drive
  20. Microsoft Word
Top Paid iPad Apps:
(Our thought bubble: Here it was kids games that dominated, telling you something about iPad demographics, with children's app developer Toca Boca making up nearly half the list.)
  1. Procreate
  2. Notability
  3. Toca Life: Hospital
  4. Toca Hair Salon 3
  5. GoodNotes 4
  6. Toca Life: Stable
  7. Duet Display
  8. Toca Lab: Elements
  9. Toca Kitchen 2
  10. XtraMath
  11. Toca Life: Farm
  12. Toca Life: Office
  13. PDF Expert by Readdle
  14. Amaziograph
  15. Notepad+ Pro
  16. Toca Life: Vacation
  17. Pixelmator
  18. GoodReader - PDF Reader Annotator and File Manager
  19. Affinity Photo
  20. Toca Life: City
Top Free iPad Games:
  1. Super Mario Run
  3. Rolling Sky
  4. Word Cookies!
  5. Bowmasters - Multiplayer Game
  6. Subway Surfers
  9. Piano Tiles 2™(Don't Tap The White Tile 2)
  10. 8 Ball Pool™
  11. Block! Hexa Puzzle
  12. Clash Royale
  13. Roll the Ball® - slide puzzle
  14. Color Switch
  15. Minecraft: Story Mode
  16. Cooking Fever
  17. Hill Climb Racing 2
  18. Minion Rush
  19. Episode!
  20. Snake VS Block
Top Paid iPad Games:
  1. Minecraft
  2. Geometry Dash
  3. Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location
  4. Bloons TD 5 HD
  5. The Escapists
  6. Terraria
  7. Five Nights at Freddy's
  8. Goat Simulator
  9. Monument Valley 2
  10. Heads Up!
  11. The Game of Life
  12. Scribblenauts Unlimited
  13. Five Nights at Freddy's 2
  14. Goat Simulator PAYDAY
  15. Octodad: Dadliest Catch
  16. Goat Simulator Waste of Space
  17. Plague Inc.
  18. LEGO® Jurassic World™
  19. Assassin's Creed Identity
  20. SpongeBob Moves In
U.S. Music - Top Albums
  1. Drake More Life
  2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
  3. Taylor Swift reputation
  4. Ed Sheeran ÷
  5. The Weeknd Starboy
  6. J. Cole 4 Your Eyez Only
  7. Bruno Mars 24K Magic
  8. Migos Culture
  9. Future FUTURE
  10. Various Artists Moana
  11. Post Malone Stoney
  12. Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton Hamilton
  13. Various Artists Trolls (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  14. Drake Views
  15. Big Sean I Decided.
  16. Travis Scott Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
  17. JAY Z 4:44 am
  18. Future HNDRXX
  19. Khalid American Teen
  20. Chris Stapleton From A Room: Volume 1
U.S. Music Top Songs
  1. Ed Sheeran Shape of You
  2. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Despacito (feat. Justin Bieber)
  3. Bruno Mars That's What I Like
  4. Kendrick Lamar HUMBLE.
  5. Sam Hunt Body Like a Back Road
  6. Migos Bad and Boujee (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)
  7. Bruno Mars 24K Magic
  8. DJ Khaled I'm the One (feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper & Lil Wayne)
  9. Post Malone Congratulations (feat. Quavo)
  10. Rae Sremmurd Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)
  11. ZAYN & Taylor Swift I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)
  12. The Weeknd Starboy (feat. Daft Punk)
  13. Drake Fake Love
  14. James Arthur Say You Won't Let Go
  15. Imagine Dragons Believer
  16. Future Mask Off
  17. The Chainsmokers & Coldplay Something Just Like This
  18. Lil Uzi Vert XO TOUR Llif3
  19. KYLE iSpy (feat. Lil Yachty)
  20. The Chainsmokers Closer (feat. Halsey)
U.S. Movies
  1. Moana (2016)
  2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  3. Wonder Woman (2017)
  4. Sing
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  6. Trolls
  7. Doctor Strange (2016)
  8. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  9. Arrival
  10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  11. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  12. Logan
  13. The Boss Baby
  14. The LEGO Batman Movie
  15. Hacksaw Ridge
  16. The Accountant (2016)
  17. John Wick: Chapter 2
  18. Hidden Figures
  19. Baby Driver
  20. Passengers (2016)
  1. Game of Thrones
  2. The Walking Dead
  3. The Big Bang Theory
  4. Rick and Morty
  5. The Americans
  6. Suits
  7. PAW Patrol
  8. This Is Us
  9. Modern Family
  10. Grey's Anatomy
  11. Better Call Saul
  12. Sherlock
  13. Scandal
  14. RuPaul's Drag Race
  15. Big Little Lies
  16. Doctor Who
  17. Planet Earth II
  18. Homeland
  19. The Flash
  20. The Blacklist
U.S. Podcast - Most Downloaded
  1. Fresh Air
  2. The Joe Rogan Experience
  3. Stuff You Should Know
  4. The Dave Ramsey Show
  5. The Daily
  6. This American Life
  7. TED Radio Hour
  8. Planet Money
  9. Pod Save America
  10. TED Talks Daily
  11. Freakonomics Radio
  12. Up First
  13. My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
  14. Radiolab
  15. NPR Politics Podcast
  16. The Bill Simmons Podcast
  17. S-Town
  18. Up and Vanished
  19. Global News Podcast
  20. Stuff You Missed in History Class
U.S. iBooks Fiction
  1. Camino Island / John Grisham
  2. The Handmaid's Tale / Margaret Atwood
  3. Origin / Dan Brown
  4. Into the Water /Paula Hawkins
  5. The Fix / David Baldacci
  6. Big Little Lies / Liane Moriarty
  7. The Girl Before / J.P. Delaney
  8. A Gentleman in Moscow / Amor Towles
  9. The Shack / William P. Young
  10. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
  11. A Game of Thrones / George R.R. Martin
  12. It / Stephen King
  13. Thirteen Reasons Why / Jay Asher
  14. The Late Show / Michael Connelly
  15. Milk and Honey / Rupi Kaur
  16. The Rooster Bar / John Grisham
  17. The Midnight Line / Lee Child
  18. The Whistler / John Grisham
  19. House of Spies / Daniel Silva
  20. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
U.S. iBooks Non-Fiction
  1. Hillbilly Elegy / J.D. Vance
  2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck / Mark Manson
  3. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry / Neil de Grasse Tyson
  4. The 5 Love Languages / Gary D. Chapman
  5. When Breath Becomes Air / Paul Kalanithi & Abraham Verghese
  6. The Glass Castle / Jeannette Walls
  7. What Happened / Hillary Clinton
  8. Option B / Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
  9. Killing the Rising Sun / Martin Dugard, Bill O'Reilly
  10. You Are a Badass / Jen Sincero
  11. Shattered / Jonathan Allen, Amie Parnes
  12. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate / Al Franken
  13. The Operator / Robert O'Neill
  14. Rich Dad Poor Dad / Robert T. Kiyosaki
  15. Killers of the Flower Moon / David Grann
  16. Born a Crime / Trevor Noah
  17. Alexander Hamilton / Ron Chernow
  18. The Magnolia Story / Chip Gaines & Joanna Gaines
  19. Hidden Figures / Margot Lee Shetterly
  20. Killing England / Martin Dugard, Bill O'Reilly
U.S. Audiobooks
  1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck / Mark Manson
  2. The Four Agreements (Unabridged) / Don Miguel Ruiz
  3. The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (Unabridged) / Stephen King
  4. The Witness / Nora Roberts
  5. How to Win Friends & Influence People (Unabridged) / Dale Carnegie
  6. Hillbilly Elegy (Unabridged) / J. D. Vance
  7. The Shack (Unabridged) / Wm. Paul Young
  8. Extreme Ownership (Unabridged) / Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Book 1 (Unabridged) / J.K. Rowling
  10. Rich Dad Poor Dad / Robert T. Kiyosaki
  11. The Handmaid's Tale (Unabridged) / Margaret Atwood
  12. The Art of War (Unabridged) / Sun Tzu
  13. You Are a Badass (Unabridged) / Jen Sincero
  14. The Alchemist (Unabridged) / Paulo Coelho
  15. The Secret (Unabridged) / Rhonda Byrne
  16. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Unabridged) / Neil de Grasse Tyson
  17. The Five Love Languages (Unabridged) / Gary Chapman
  18. The Total Money Makeover / Dave Ramsey
  19. The Power of Now (Unabridged) / Eckhart Tolle
  20. It (Unabridged) / Stephen King

Battery exec leaves Dyson two years after $90 million buyout

Michigan entrepreneur Ann Marie Sastry has left vacuum-maker Dyson, two years after it acquired her controverial lithium-ion battery company, Axios has learned. The $90 million all-cash buyout remains one of the richest lithium-ion deals ever.

Quick take: Sources with knowledge of the situation were not certain of the circumstances of Sastry's departure. But it comes eight months after Dyson relinquished Sakti3's core battery patents, and doubts remain in the field regarding her main claim, asserted repeatedly — that she was on the verge of commercializing much-sought-after solid state battery technology.

Why it matters: For the last two years, Dyson founder James Dyson has spoken of ambitious plans to spend $1 billion to $3 billion to revolutionize batteries and electric cars. He has said said his electric car will ready for the road by 2020. At the time, Dyson's October 2015 purchase of Sakti3 was the spearpoint of the mission, and Sastry's departure suggests more internal turmoil than he has let on.

  • Sastry's Linkedin page says she left Dyson last month. She identifies herself as the founder and CEO of a company called Amesite, which a source said is involved with artificial intelligence and education.

In September, Dyson told Bloomberg that he had created two competing battery teams—Sakti3, plus another that was attempting a different approach to solid state. One explanation for Sastry's departure was that the other team won. In an interview with the Guardian, Dyson said the company's batteries were already more efficient than those in commercial electric vehicles.

At the time of the October 2015 deal and since, numerous leading U.S. battery researchers told me they wondered why Dyson had bought Sakti3. Despite Sastry's robust claims of the company's progress with solid state, she had revealed very little publicly and, since no one else had made much progress, the deep suspicion was that she was exaggerating. Indeed, in reporting for a story at the time of the buyout, former Sakti3 executives told me that the doubters were correct—the company's technology was rudimentary and nowhere near commercial.

Dyson said Sastry is no longer with the company but declined to comment further. Sastry could not be reached.

Dan Primack contributed to this story.


Costco continues to hold its own against Amazon

Shares in Costco rose in after-hours trading, following the company's announcement of better-than-expected profits, combined with its 14th-straight month of same-store sales growth.

Costco's secret sauce is a mix of low prices, well-trained staff, and an ever-changing, but limited assortment of products, which have all kept Americans flocking to Costco outlets when other retailers have lost business to the Internet.

The most important number in Thursday's report was a 43.5% increase in e-commerce sales year-over year.

  • Though Costco stock is up more than 18% this year, it has lagged competitors like Amazon and Walmart over fears that the company is clinging too tightly to its profitable retail warehouses—these numbers will assuage some of those concerns.
  • During a call with analysts Thursday, CFO Richard Galanti stressed that Costco is experimenting with e-commerce "in our own way," and also, "pretty cheaply," using experiments like buy online and pick-up in store, which has the added benefit of driving traffic to its warehouses.
  • It's a delicate balancing act that, so far, investors are cheering.

AI advances at detecting cancer — but it can't see you now

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Medicine is poised to be one place where AI makes a mark. In a study published this week, researchers report that a machine algorithm was as good — or better — than pathologists at detecting the spread of a type of breast cancer.

For all the talk about the promise of AI radically changing medicine, this is one of the first peer-reviewed studies to back claims that algorithms can detect abnormalities in pathology slides, says Eric Topol from the Scripps Research Institute.

The bottom line: Radiologists and pathologists are likely to be the first in medicine affected by AI. But researchers working on the technologies don't see them replacing doctors, and instead aiding them. And even that role will require more data about the impact on the medical profession and whether AIs are accurate enough to diagnose patients.

“It is the early days,” Aidoc CEO Elad Walach says. “There’s not enough research at this point. Deep learning has been commoditized generally but it hasn’t been commoditized for the medical domain. The algorithms out there aren’t good enough as is. We need a lot of R&D to make AI work in this space. It is not just plug and play.”

What’s new: Babak Ehteshami Bejnordi and his colleagues from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands evaluated algorithms submitted in a competition to analyze tissue samples from the lymph nodes of breast cancer patients. (Cancer cells are most likely to spread to these nearby areas first so they're involved in determining a patient's prognosis.) They then compared the accuracy of AI diagnoses with those of pathologists in two different situations where the researchers had a gold-standard test to check both:

  1. A panel of 11 pathologists had two hours to review 129 digitized images of samples from patients who had already received a diagnosis from a pathologist.
  2. One pathologist was given unlimited time to review all the cases. (The expert took 30 hours.)

The result: The top seven algorithms — all deep learning methods, which have lately seen progress in image and pattern recognition — performed better than the pathologists in identifying the metastases, but were on par with the pathologist whose time wasn’t restricted.

Keep in mind: The time constraints put — or not — on the pathologists in the study aren't the reality in which they practice. And, the AIs detected just one type of breast cancer. "We need to see it borne out across lots of other pathologies not just lymph nodes for breast cancers," says Topol. "This is the most impressive paper yet. But there are limitations. This is done in silico and is not a real world validation."

More opinions

PathAI: Andy Beck, whose team won the AI competition in the new study and who is now CEO of PathAI, says AI’s arrival to pathology will be a transformation rather than a disruption.

Seeing it as the latter “betrays a lack of understanding of how these fields operate. There are so many things physicians do. Typically an AI does one specific thing very well. We aren’t even close to doing the whole breadth of what a physician does.”

Aidoc: This Israeli startup is developing technology that can detect visual abnormalities — whether it be a cancer, stroke, bleeding or an edema — in head and neck CT scans. Their focus right now, says Walach, is on optimizing radiologists’ workflow from the current practice of reviewing cases in order received to getting AI to flag urgent ones first.

They’re currently testing their technology in 5 U.S. sites. Early, unpublished results at one hospital found that the AI could spot an abnormal scan with 98% sensitivity compared to what clinicians call the "ground truth" (in this study, the diagnosis by three radiologists working without AI), says Walach. They will look to publish their findings soon.

Walach says, “There is a need for peer reviewed publications about the outcomes not just the accuracy of these systems, and leading companies should invest time and resources in publishing clinical evidence.”

A big challenge: Like other cancer tests, there is a risk of detecting — and then treating — a cancer that isn't there. That isn't unique to machines but "algorithms are tuned to perform at maximum sensitivity, meaning there may be false positives," says Stanford University's Daniel Rubin, who develops imaging tools for radiology. “As we introduce these technologies, if people don’t improve accuracy and there are more false positives, it will increase the cost of health care.”

Go deeper: We asked four medical experts whether AI might help their profession


Walmart will start giving salary advances to 1.4 million workers

A worker helps a customer at a Walmart store. Photo: Julio Cortez / AP

Walmart announced Wednesday that it will start allowing its workers to claim already-earned wages before their scheduled payday, in order to help its associates meet unexpected expenses. It's working with FinTech firms Even and PayActiv to offer workers a suite of financial services, including the ability to take advances on pay up to 8 times per year.

Don't get too excited: Walmart has been investing in higher hourly pay for workers, but its starting wage of $9 per hour still trails that of rivals Target and Costco, and labor advocates say that allowing advances is little help for those who simply don't earn enough money.

Walmart tells the New York Times that the move will reduce financial stress for workers, which will make them happier and more productive, but critics are dubious.

  • "“It sounds like this may be a useful service but it doesn’t tackle the fundamental problem Walmart workers suffer,” said Paul Sonn, general counsel of the National Employment Law Project, tells the paper. “Their paychecks are too small.”

Zara's shrinking profit margins spooks investors

A Zara store in an upscale Istanbul neighbourhood in November 2017. Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Inditex, the Spanish owner of Zara and largest apparel retailer in the world, announced a healthy 6% increase in net income for the first 9 months of 2017, but also a continued decline in profit margins — a measure that has been steadily falling since 2013.

  • Investors have bid the stock down the stock more than 2% during trading Thursday.

Why it matters: There is debate over whether the company can blame its profitability struggles on a strong Euro, but the 5% drop in Inditex stock this year shows that Wall Street's love affair with Inditex may be ending.

A best-in-class retailer: Despite the 2017 decline in Inditex's stock price, the firm has shown outstanding performance during the prior decade.

  • Since 2007, the firm has grown from roughly 3,100 stores to more than 7,500 today, on the strength of its decentralized supply chain and horizontally organized design team, which enables the firm to react to fashion trends faster than its peers.

Go deeper: Read the Wall Street Journal's piece.


AI pioneer Andrew Ng wants to modernize manufacturing

Ng says he likes being ahead of the curve. Photo: Eric Risberg / AP

After helping Google and Baidu kickstart their artificial intelligence efforts, Andrew Ng wants to see AI transform more than just tech companies. His new startup,, aims to help manufacturing companies tap AI to automate routine tasks, like inspecting products for defects.

The particulars: Ng says the new company is based in Palo Alto and has a couple dozen employees, but he wouldn't talk about funding or investors. It has a couple early customers, but the only one it is publicly talking about is electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn.

The back story: Ng ran Google's early AI effort, Google Brain, before helping China's Baidu ratchet up its AI effort. Ng told reporters that he likes being early to a space before it's conventional wisdom.

"I feel like in my life I've often done a lot of things before it was obvious it was a good thing to do," he said.

My thought bubble: Ng's chops in the field are second to none, but it's a bit unclear how a small team can effectively work with a large number of companies given how massive such operations tend to be. Ng says that while does custom work for each client, there are reusable elements. He says the company will be bigger a year from now than it is today.


Slow rebuild after the Great Recession killed economic equality

Apple's new campus in September. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

"Seattle is among a fistful of cities that have flourished in the 10 years since the Great Recession officially began in December 2007, even while most other large cities — and sizable swaths of rural America — have managed only modest recoveries," per AP Economics Writer Christopher Rugaber:

Why it matters: The rebound has "failed to narrow the country's deep regional economic disparities and in fact has worsened them."

More from the report:

  • "A few cities have grown much richer, thanks to their grip on an outsize share of lucrative tech jobs and soaring home prices. Others have thrived because of surging oil and gas production."
  • "In Las Vegas, half-finished housing developments, relics of the housing boom, pockmark the surrounding desert. Families there earn nearly 20 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than in 2007."
  • "[M]any Southern and Midwestern cities — from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Janesville, Wisconsin — have yet to recover from the loss of manufacturing jobs that have been automated out of existence or lost to competition from China."

Microsoft taps AI, Reddit to make Bing smarter

Microsoft AI and Research chief Harry Shum, speaking in San Francisco Wednesday. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Microsoft announced a bunch of new partnerships Wednesday as it aims to show itself as a leader in the field of artificial intelligence. It's also adding a bunch of AI-powered features to its own products, including its Bing search engine along with a deep integration of content from Reddit.

Why it matters: AI is one of the hottest areas in tech and Microsoft is competing with Google, Facebook, IBM and others for talent, mindshare and deals.

Partnerships: Microsoft announced efforts with a range of companies, including Reddit, UPS and China's Cheetah Mobile. In the Reddit deal, Microsoft's Bing search engine will use content from the online discussion community, including its popular "Ask Me Anything" Q&As.

Internal efforts

  • On the Bing front, Microsoft is using AI to deliver answers that combine information from multiple sites. That can allow results that compare different arguments on an issue, explore the differences between two things or just deliver a summary of facts from more than one place, with footnotes showing where the information came from. It is also making Bing more conversational and allowing people to search within images.
  • With Cortana, Microsoft is trying to help its digital assistant stand out from a crowded pack that includes Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. Microsoft's case is that it is the only digital assistant that stretches across work and personal life. To that end, Microsoft said Cortana can now understand calendar and other data from Google's Gmail. It's also building Cortana into Android apps, including the CM Launcher app from China's Cheetah Mobile.
  • Microsoft is also expanding its use of AI in Office 365. A new insights feature will automatically make charts showing trends within a complex spreadsheet. Within word, AI will help make sense of acronyms within a document using other documents within the company. Microsoft already prioritizes which e-mails to read first, but a new feature will help find the action items within Outlook.

The debate over inequality

Last week, we reported that the wage inequality gap in the U.S., a primary source of the polarization among Americans, has been shrinking: For five straight quarters, wages have been growing the most for U.S. workers with only a high school diploma.

Data: Indeed analysis of BLS monthly jobs data; Chart: Axios Visuals

But readers pushed back:

  • "Surely you're kidding?" wrote James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable. The percentage wage increase is better for high school graduates, he said, but the dollar increase still favors the rich: a 3.3% raise for someone making $20,000 a year is $660—only an eighth of the $5,000 raise going to someone earning $500,000 and getting a 1% increase.
  • In a phone call, Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel told me, "The 1% is doing a lot better, and for the 30% and 40% at the bottom, it keeps getting worse."

Quick take: The times do indisputably favor the rich:

  • When adjusted for inflation, U.S. wages are up only 10% from almost a half-century ago.
  • Meanwhile, wealth held by the top 1% has surged: it rose to 38.6% of the total in 2016, from 36.3% in 2013, the Fed said in a report in September, while the bottom 90%'s wealth has fallen for almost three decades—last year, it was 22.8% of the total, compared with 33.2% in 1989.
  • FoW reader W.Spackman linked to this July report by Deloitte, which said income inequality today is comparable with the Gilded Age of robber barons, in the 19th century (Figure 3).

And Charlie Allenson, a FoW reader in New York, made another point: "Many of those chronically not working are not getting back to work. Namely, those more 'mature' workers. Ageism rolls on. Personal example: People look at my website and love my work. They meet me, see the gray hair and suddenly they're going in a 'different direction.' This is a constant for me. And it sucks."

But there are in fact signs of an improvement in the fortunes of ordinary people, and wages and salaries are among them, says Jed Kolko, chief economist at, the jobs listing website, who wrote the blog post on which we were reporting. In an email exchange, Kolko told me:

  • Harvey and Kasriel are correct to single out the vast concentration of income at the top, comprised largely of non-wage earnings like capital gains, interest and dividends—which combined are how the wealthy make most of their money.
  • But wages earned for work are another lens into the inequality story, and in that realm, the gap indeed has narrowed.
  • The shrinking wage gap is important to watch because wages and salaries are a large component of pre-tax money income, which includes interest, dividends and income from property. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the proportion at 76.8%. (see pages 8-9 in this BLS report).

The Fed, too, has noted the trend favoring less-educated workers. According to a Fed report released in September, income rose from 2013 through 2016 for all income groups, after accounting for inflation, which was a change from the prior three years, when income was stagnant. But the highest growth — an average of 25% — was among families without a high school diploma; in the 2010 to 2013 period, income fell for these workers, the Fed said.

Thought bubble: Inequality is not an absolute metric. If it were, ordinary people could legitimately lash out about wealth at the top regardless of how they themselves were faring. The rise of wages at the bottom and in the middle is slow, and the trend could halt—that is a point that Kolko makes. But it remains notable that the numbers are no longer going only in one, inexorable direction—there are metrics pointing to growing wages and salaries, and more jobs, for those whom the economy has been leaving behind.


Bitcoin: 'This is a casino, not an investment'

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Bitcoin is up about 1,700% since the start of the year. Some attribute the surge to ordinary, if enthusiastic, investment, along with the forces of supply and demand. Others say it's a bubble, and that it will ultimately burst. Joe Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, a grouping of state securities officials, suggests it's the latter. "This is a casino," he tells Axios, "not an investment."

The bottom line: Borg, who is also director of the Alabama Securities Commission, says he could be wrong and that those who say bitcoin is just "another type of investment" will be proven correct. But he sees worrying signs of a classic investment mania.

Among the signs:

  • People have told him they have taken out home equity lines of credit to buy bitcoin.
  • Those doing so, he said, are mostly millennials and young baby boomers.
  • "They seem to think anything electronic is a game," Borg said. "There are entrepreneurs who run Facebook, and they put this in the same category."

Thought bubble: If bitcoin collapses, which has been the normal course in big, sudden investment manias, the price is highly unlikely to go to zero, meaning a lot of people will still be in the money. But lots of people will lose, too, including perhaps some who have taken out those home equity lines of credit.

That there is a fever is indisputable. It is global, and especially heavy in Asia. Ordinary South Koreans are the most aggressive bitcoin investors, in addition to Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese, report the WSJ's Steven Russolillo and Eun-Young Jeong. Together, they account for almost 80% of global bitcoin trading. Other reminders of fevers past:

  • Most of these Asians buying bitcoin are the general public, not professional traders.
  • At the point last week when bitcoin went above $17,000, it was almost $25,000 in South Korea, almost 50% higher, the WSJ said. In other words, the trade is chaotic to the point of irrationality.
  • At the FT, Izabella Kaminska writes today that even central banks are "getting drunk on the collective cryptocurrency/blockchain Kool-Aid."

A point that increasing numbers of observers are making is that bitcoin is only an investment, with no other real-life, large-scale utility, at least at present: bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are too slow and cumbersome to serve as money, their original purpose.

  • In a speech today in Sydney, Phillip Lowe, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, makes the point: "The current fascination with these currencies feels more like a speculative mania than it has to do with their use as an efficient and convenient form of electronic payment."