Google’s Deep Mind masters the game of Go and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Just to punctuate my love for all things Google (or Alphabet, it will take awhile before I get used to that), Nature magazine just published a paper describing Alphabet-owned artificial intelligence company Deep Mind’s* system which used deep learning to beat the top player in the game of Go. Beating a human in the 2,500 year-old game of Go has long been considered an important milestone in artificial intelligence.

Unlike other strategy games such as chess and checkers, Go has never been beaten by a computer – until now. We all know the famous match between Deep Blue and Kasparov in 1996. Less well known (at least to me anyway) is Chinook, which mapped every possible move in Checkers – 500 billion moves in all – making sure that it can never be beaten by a human.

The game of Go however cannot be beaten by brute force alone. There is simply not enough computing power that exists that can map out every possible move.

In chess, at any given turn, there are an average 35 possible moves. With Go—in which two players compete with polished stones on 19-by-19 grid—there are 250. And each of those 250 has another 250, and so on. As Hassabis points out, there are more possible positions on a Go board than atoms in the universe. (Wired)

The very best human players also rely on intuition, looking at the board and just “knowing” that it “looks” good.

“It’s something subconscious, that you train through years and years of playing. I’ll see a move and be sure it’s the right one, but won’t be able to tell you exactly how I know. I just see it.” (Redmond in Wired)

And that’s sort of what Deep Mind did. They trained the system to learn the game by looking at 30 million Go moves from expert players. And in order to beat those expert players, they then matched the system against itself, coming up with even more winning moves.

So anyway, exciting times to be had. And maybe scary too. Because even if it’s a baby step for AI, who’s to say that the progress from here on out will be limited to baby steps? For more on AI in general, here’s a lengthy, but wonderful read on it, from my favorite blog: The AI revolution: The Road to Superintelligence. And if you want to understand more on deep learning, here’s a great read (haven’t finished it but as a “poet” and non-hacker, I find it very readable): Neural Networks and Deep Learning.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Scientists make a ‘true’ neural network using brain-like chips
  2. Apple Reports Slowing Growth in iPhone Sales
  3. Walgreens won’t use “unsafe” Theranos lab for tests
  4. SpaceX: Nickelodeon is sponsoring a team in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop competition; SpaceX unfurls its astronaut parachutes for the first time
  5. Oracle’s finally killing its terrible Java browser plugin

In retail:

  1. Amazon: Amazon stock plunging after earnings but analysts predict 27% gain; Your impulse buys are costing Amazon a fortuneAmazon to delivery companies: Yes, we’re building our own service but don’t worry
  2. Under Armour shares jump 17%
  3. Coach: Upbeat 2Q earnings but revenues disappoint
  4. Uber partners with Nordstrom, Google, T-Mobile, SAP for UberRush package delivery service
  5. Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet leaving company

*Acquired by Google in 2014 and is now part of Alphabet

Google surprises with Alphabet and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Google is big – not just in market cap but in the breadth of what it’s trying to do. The ubiquitous use of Google as a verb speaks to how most people think of the company’s business. But the company is way beyond search, Android OS, Maps or Ads. In the past 3 years, the company has acquired companies and started divisions related to home automation (Nest), robotics (Boston Dynamics), drones (Titan Aerospace), AI (DeepMind), satellites (Skybox Imaging) and life sciences (Calico). A division called Google X became the bucket for some of the most “moonshots” of these acquisitions, some of which have spun off to separate divisions such as Google Glass (despite some claims, yes, it is still alive).

Many investors were starting to question Google’s focus and that of its CEO Larry Page. As Box CEO Aaron Levie once tweeted:

Google’s answer? Form a new holding company, Alphabet:

It’s not a name change. It’s a new corporate structure that will put Google as a subsidiary to Alphabet. It separates Google’s core business of search and ads from the “moonshots” and put the guy, Sundar Pichai, who has largely been in charge of that core business anyway, as CEO. A lot has been said on the implications of this move and one of the most succinct and informative articles I found is here. Just to share some highlights:

I personally can’t wait how this reorganization turns out and how it will affect Google’s, or Alphabet’s, pursuit of moonshots.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. More Google: Bill Gates and Google join $120M funding for Massachusetts-based genome editing firm, Editas Medicine, Inc.; Google enters into agreement with DexCom to develop bandage-size glucose monitoring devices
  2. Adobe joins Netflix, Microsoft in expanding maternity leave to 16 weeks for primary caregivers and 4 weeks for secondary caregivers
  3. Tesla to raise $642M in stock offering; Elon Musk to purchase 84,000 shares worth around $20M
  4. Smartphones companies: Samsung unveils Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Samsung Pay at Galaxy Unpacked 2015 event in New York; HTC announces plans to cut 15% of workforce after warning of an expected third-quarter net loss of up to 4.8B New Taiwan dollars
  5. Researchers in Australia have developed 3D-printed brain tissue to serve as laboratory of the brain for drug testing, studying nerve cell behavior, injury and disease

In retail:

  1. Alibaba: Alibaba reports slowest quarterly revenue growth; partners with Macy’s to launch an online flagship store on Tmall Global; will invest $4.6B in China electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, equivalent to 19.99% stake
  2. Earnings: Gap reports 2% net sales drop for Q2 fiscal year 2015 compared to last year; Macy’s reports 26% drop in Q2 profit and lowers sales forecast for 2015; Nordstrom Q2 report exceeds expectations, sales up by 9%
  3. Amazon participates in $8M Series B funding round for fashion shopping site Who What Wear
  4. New York-based hedge fund Tiger Global leads $30M investment in e-commerce robotics/logistics firm GreyOrange
  5. Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. raises $100M in new funding round, valuing company at $1.7B