Google launches a bunch of hardware that’s really about its future as an AI company

Google launches a bunch of hardware that’s really about its future as an AI company, Yahoo goofs up again and PlayStation delivers in VR. All that and more in The Daily Crunch for October 5, 2016. And if you’re a Kohl’s cardholder who only shops at Kohl’s, boy have I got news for you.

1. Google’s Pixelated daydream

Google had a big hardware event yesterday, but the interesting thing about it was that it wasn’t really about hardware at all. Well, that’s not true; the company unveiled more of its own devices than it ever has in one place. But the hardware is essentially just the best possible showcase for what Google is doing with emerging tech including artificial intelligence, machine learning and, to a somewhat lesser extent, virtual reality.

The new Pixel phones are a glimpse into an Assistant-centric future for Google, and a promising one at that. This might be one of the most interesting rethinkings of a modern tech giant to date, Microsoft’s ongoing service pivot included.

2. Yahoo’s crappy month continues

Yahoo is not having a very good few weeks; the company is now facing scrutiny based on allegations published by Reuters that it created custom software to help U.S. intelligence agencies sift through inbound Yahoo mail users for potential red flags. Yahoo’s not denying this outright, and other big tech firms are lining up to say quickly and unambiguously that they’ve never done anything like what Yahoo is accused of. Along with the company’s recent privacy breach, things are starting to look very shaky for Verizon’s pending acquisition of Yahoo.

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3. PlayStation is the new benchmark in accessible consumer VR

PlayStation VR reviews are in, and they basically say the same thing: This is a very good consumer experience for VR, with fun games and more polish than most, albeit with a lower level of graphic fidelity. It’s not clear how long PlayStation will keep the crown for accessible VR, however, since Google’s Daydream View is an even lower friction experience, without any wires and with what is easily the most comfortable VR headset I’ve ever put on my head.

4. Google No

Google’s ambitious foray into ubiquitous AI comes with grave privacy concerns, which were unsurprisingly not center stage during its keynote yesterday. I spoke to a Google rep who said that the company still believes the best way to address privacy is to make sure Google users can see exactly what they’re sharing via their own privacy dashboard, but the default level of sharing is still incredibly high, and higher still with things like the new Pixel Launcher. Begs the question of how much we’ll be sharing a few years down the road, given the data set requirements Google likely has for improving performance of its neural nets.

5. $30 million clears a path for factory robots

Waterloo-based Clearpath Robotics has raised a $30 million series B. The robotics company already has a good reputation in industrial and commercial autonomous hardware, like the kind used for optimizing logistics and warehousing, but it’s now going to use this fresh round of funding to operate self-driving vehicles at different scales, including large mining trucks or inter warehouse shuttles.

6. Let’s everybody keep making the same mistake

One of the most entertaining things I get to do in this job is watch legacy businesses bang their heads against a wall repeatedly in the name of innovation. Kohl’s is doing exactly that with a mobile payment scheme specific to its stores, using only their own private payment card (adding a new level of idiocy). They even used an iPhone 5C in their promo art just so you’re super clear the thinking behind the product is at least three years out of date.

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