Today, Duolingo's Hindi language course for English speakers officially launched on its website. The course is not yet available on iOS or Android apps, but it will be making its way to these devices in the future. The course has been in development…
Anyone who follows George Takei on Twitter can tell you that Star Trek‘s original Sulu is not a fan of President Donald Trump. But he’s found a new way to express that criticism — not just in tweets, interviews and op-eds, but also in an augmented reality app called House of Cats.
The app was built in partnership with Montreal-based development company BMAD, and it allows users to interact animated animal characters like Trumpy Cat, Meowlania, Vladdy Putin and Lil’ Rocket Pug. They can add their own voice recordings, superimpose the animals on real environments and take photos with them — Takei suggested including Trumpy Cat in photos of real-world protests.
When I asked where the idea came from, Takei had a simple explanation : “The Internet loves the combination of politics and cats.”
While the app looks pretty silly, Takei made the by-now-commonplace observation that satire is having a hard time keeping up with the daily news.
We spoke shortly after Trump had his press conference with Vladimir Putin — setting off this week’s cycle of criticism, denial and missing double negatives — and Takei told me, “No augmented reality could have created the true reality of what we saw this morning: Donald Trump standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Vladimir Putin … his denial of the attack on the core activity of our democratic system.”
Takei added that humor is a key ingredient in getting a serious message out into the world. He’s pointed to his embrace of memes (particularly Grumpy Cat) as one of the main drivers of his popularity on social media, which in turn gives him a bigger platform for his political views.
“I’m a political activist — I have been since I was a teenager, largely because of my childhood incarceration behind American barbed wire fences,” Takei said. He said his social media presence is meant to be an extension of that activism, but, “I notice that if I’m documenting the truth, people are nodding off. [So] I try to kind of inject a little humor into it.”
The app costs 99 cents, and there are plans for subscription content as well. It might seem strange to pay money for a satirical cat app, but keep in mind that some of the profits will go to Refugees International.
“Making a mockery of this particular person is going to be a very effective tool,” Takei said. “We’ll have fun while we also accomplish our mission to make this a better America.”
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Gruber created Siri alongside Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, releasing the original Siri as an app on the iOS App Store in 2010. Apple acquired Siri two months later, and Cheyer, Kittlaus, and Gruber all joined the company at that time.
Kittlaus left Apple in 2011 and Cheyer left in 2012, and the duo teamed up again to create Viv, a new artificial intelligence project that was acquired by Samsung in 2016. Samsung used Viv to create Bixby, its current AI assistant platform.
Gruber stayed on at Apple for several years after the other two Siri co-founders departed, but with his retirement, none of the original Siri creators are left at Apple.
Apple’s Siri team is going through a leadership change at the moment with the May hiring of John Giannandrea, former head of Google’s search and artificial intelligence unit.
Apple just last week updated its leadership page to add Giannandrea, who is now serving as Apple’s chief of machine learning and AI strategy. Giannandrea is leading Apple’s AI and machine learning teams, and Apple has combined its Core ML and Siri teams under him.
Prior to Giannandrea’s hiring, Siri development was overseen by software engineering chief Craig Federighi, who took over from Eddy Cue in 2017. Apple has been facing increasing criticism over Siri’s capabilities compared to other AI-based personal assistants in recent years, with many suggesting Siri has serious shortcomings compared to options from Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.
Apple in iOS 12 introduced major improvements to Siri through a new Siri Shortcuts feature that’s coming in iOS 12, which is designed to let users create multi-step tasks using both first and third-party apps that can be activated through Siri.
Along with Gruber, Apple’s head of search, Vipul Ved Prakash, has also left the company, according to The Information. Prakash joined Apple when his company, Topsy, was acquired in 2013. His search team was also within the Siri group.
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In today’s market, it’s hard to make sense of what’s what. Deals have grown incestuous for the first time, with outfits like GV investing alongside Uber last week — just months after its parent company, Alphabet, was at Uber’s throat. A $10 million-plus round of seed funding is no longer a joke. Venture firms continue to raise record-breaking amounts of money, despite what feels like creeping uncertainty about how much longer this go-go market can continue.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been some talk lately about deal flow and the possibility that some of the most well-regarded early-stage investors in the industry have quietly applied the brakes. But new analysis out of Wing, the 7.5-year-old, Silicon Valley venture firm cofounded by veteran VCs Peter Wagner and Guarav Garg, draws a conclusion that might surprise nervous industry watchers: After tracking the investment activity of what Wing considers to the 21 leading venture firms, it discovered that a pullback already happened . . . in 2016. In fact, Wagner, who oversaw the analysis, tells us there’s been so sign of a slowdown since then.
We caught up with Wagner last week to learn more about Wing’s analysis — and what might be causing some confusion in the industry right now.
TC: First, why do this kind of study right now?
PW: There’s been a lot of analysts and reporters and LPs and VCs asking us about our investment pace really, and I think it owes to talk of Benchmark and Union Square Ventures slowing down, so we thought we’d look at some parameters and see what’s going on.
TC: Why not just refer to industry-wide statistics? It seems like there are plenty of these.
PW: They’re kind of swamped with the data of less discriminating investors, though. You really want to focus on the signal, which is why we track what the 21 leading venture firms are doing, and in that analysis, we found no signs of a slowdown. We found instead that there was a peak of activity in 2013 and 2014, a pullback in 2016, and an uptick since.
And we cut it different ways. We removed international deals in China and India, because they have their own rhythm and can get frothy. We moved see deals, given there’s been some major schizophrenia among venture firms who waded into seed deals, then pulled out. Even still, 2017 saw an increase in deals over 2016, which was the lowest year in terms of deal activity since 2010.
TC: These were first-time investments?
PW: Yes, and the reason is that follow-on rounds are dictated more by the operational needs of companies. Some could be running out of cash, for example, so it’s non-discretionary. If you want to look sentiment, you have to look at first-time investments in isolation.
TC: Do you have 2018 data?
PW: We have partial data, of course, and we’ve annualized it to “predict” that 2018 numbers will be close to 2017. That is, if you buy the idea of projecting out, which I don’t really. Also, because you’re looking at a smaller batch of numbers, you’re on thin ice statistically. But for now, at least, we’re seeing a level of activity that was higher than 2016.
TC: You can see why things might be ticking along now: the tech IPO market, SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund, big tech companies getting bigger, which keeps the wheels turning. What happened in 2016? Uncertainly about the U.S. presidential election? Bill Gurley’s warnings that a reckoning was coming?
PW: I really don’t know that it was down so much versus that prior years were up. It was a more a reversion to the mean. The 2016 number still represents a pretty decent and sustainable pace for this industry.
TC: Based on your findings, would you guess a downturn is closer than further away? It seems inevitable, but I’ve thought this for the last three years.
PW: It’s a known unknown. We know there will be a change but we don’t know when or how deep it will be.
TC: Could things have possible changed, given that everything is impacted by tech, that software is, in fact, eating the world? That’s obviously the bull case.
PW; It’s pretty darn mainstream, whether via digital transformation or just the massive disruption of massive industries buy digitally native competitors. I don’t know, is the answer. But it’s true. Tech isn’t a sideshow anymore.