Sci-fi robots, the ones we grew up reading about and watching in the movies, are still largely in our imagination.

To the degree they are around, it's largely because of Boston Dynamics, a 25-year-old company that a lot of people call the coolest robot-maker anywhere. Where most robot-makers boast stiff and cute personal assistants and efficient mobile vacuum cleaners, Boston Dynamics produces running, jumping and falling hominoids that get back up, wow and frighten. Take a look at the video of Handle (above).

Which is why it's still strange that deep-pocketed Alphabet _ one of the most ambitious companies in the larger artificial intelligence space _ last week sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank.

Is Alphabet being short-sighted? The markets seem to think so. Alphabet shares plunged 3.4% on Friday. A reflection of the general tech correction that day? Possibly. Except that Softbank's shares soared 7.4%.

The neat-and-tidy explanation: It's the work of Ruth Porat, Alphabet's brutally efficient CFO, sweeping out moonshot projects and units that, even if they are cool, stand very little chance of kicking out a practical, profitable product any time soon.

  • There is truth in that: Martial Hebert, director of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, tells me that Boston Dynamics robots display "fantastic locomotion." Its work — "so advanced and exceptional" — is showing the way to fast robots. Getting from there to a commercial product would be "a big win," he said.
  • But Alphabet — among the most prideful enterprises in modern business — clearly decided that the costs weren't acceptable.
  • Watch this Steve Jobs clip for why this is an important question.

Futurism's Dom Galeon suggests that it's Softbank with the vision this time: The deal fits Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son's aim of prodding along the Singularity, or super-human intelligence, by 2047.

Go deeper

Trump administration cuts refugee cap to new record low

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration plans to only admit a maximum of 15,000 refugees this fiscal year, the State Department said in a release late Wednesday evening.

Why it matters: This is yet another record low refugee cap. Before leaving office, President Obama set the refugee limit at 110,000 for fiscal year 2017 — a number Trump has continued to slash throughout his presidency.

Updated 37 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 34,018,143 — Total deaths: 1,014,995 — Total recoveries: 23,674,533Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 7,234,327 — Total deaths: 206,963 — Total recoveries: 2,840,688 — Total tests: 103,939,667Map.
  3. Health: New poll shows alarming coronavirus vaccine skepticism — New research centers will study "long-haul" COVID — Coronavirus infections rise in 25 states.
  4. Business: Remdesivir is good business for Gilead.
  5. Retail: The holiday shopping season will now begin in October.
  6. 🎧Podcast: The looming second wave of airline layoffs.
Kendall Baker, author of Sports
1 hour ago - Sports

Barstool jumps into sports betting

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Barstool Sports was founded in 2003 as a free gambling newspaper. It later became a sports blog before growing into a media empire, and now things have come full circle with the recent launch of its own branded sportsbook.

Driving the news: The Barstool Sportsbook app saw a record 21,000 downloads per day during its first weekend (Sept. 18–20), breaking DraftKings' and Fanduel's daily records despite Pennsylvania being the only state where it was operational.