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December 14, 2018
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Politics

Nvidia’s limited China connections

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Another round of followups on Nvidia, and then some short news analysis.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

Nvidia / TSMC questions

Following up on my analyses this week on Nvidia (Part 1, Part 2) , a reader asked in regards to Nvidia’s risk with China tariffs:

but the TSMC impact w.r.t. tariffs doesn’t make sense to me. TSMC is largely not impacted by tariffs and so the supply chain with NVIDIA is also not impacted w.r.t. to TSMC as a supplier. There are many alternate wafer suppliers in Taiwan.

This is a challenging question to definitively answer, since obviously Nvidia doesn’t publicly disclose its supply chain, or more granularly, which factories those supply chain partners utilize for its production. It does, however, list a number of companies in its 10-K form as manufacturing, testing, and packaging partners, including:

To understand how this all fits together, there are essentially three phases for bringing a semiconductor to market:

  1. Design – this is Nvidia’s core specialty
  2. Manufacturing – actually making the chip from silicon and other materials at the precision required for it to be reliable
  3. Testing, packaging and distribution – once chips are made, they need to be tested to prove that manufacturing worked, then packaged properly to protect them and shipped worldwide to wherever they are going to be assembled/integrated

For the highest precision manufacturing required for chips like Nvidia’s, Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S. are the world leaders, with China trying to catch up through programs like Made in China 2025 (which, after caustic pushback from countries around the world, it looks like Beijing is potentially scrapping this week). China is still considered to be one-to-two generations behind in chip manufacturing, though it increasingly owns the low-end of the market.

Where the semiconductor supply chain traditionally gets more entwined with China is around testing and packaging, which are generally considered lower value (albeit critical) tasks that have been increasingly outsourced to the mainland over the years. Taiwan remains the dominant player here as well, with roughly 50% of the global market, but China has been rapidly expanding.

U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods do not apply to Taiwan, and so for the most part, Nvidia’s supply chain should be adept at avoiding most of the brunt of the trade conflict. And while assembly is heavily based in China, electronics assemblers are rapidly adapting their supply chains to mitigate the damage of tariffs by moving factories to Vietnam, India, and elsewhere.

Where it gets tricky is the Chinese market itself, which imports a huge number of semiconductor chips, and represents roughly 20% of Nvidia’s revenues. Even here, many analysts believe that the Chinese will have no choice but to buy Nvidia’s chips, since they are market-leading and substitutes are not easily available.

So the conclusion is that Nvidia likely has maneuvering room in the short-term to weather exogenous trade tariff shocks and mitigate their damage. Medium to long-term though, the company will have to strategically position itself very carefully, since China is quickly becoming a dominant player in exactly the verticals it wants to own (automotive, ML workflows, etc.). In other words, Nvidia needs the Chinese market for growth at the exact moment that door is slamming shut. How it navigates this challenge in the years ahead will determine much of its growth profile in the years ahead.

Rapid fire analysis

Short summaries and analysis of important news stories

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

US intelligence community says quantum computing and AI pose an ’emerging threat’ to national security – Our very own Zack Whittaker talks about future challenges to U.S. national security. These technologies are “dual-use,” which means that they can be used for good purposes (autonomous driving, faster processing) and also for nefarious purposes (breaking encryption, autonomous warfare). Expect huge debates and challenges in the next decade about how to keep these technologies on the safe side.

Saudi Arabia Pumps Up Stock Market After Bad News, Including Khashoggi Murder – A WSJ trio of reporters investigates the Saudi government’s aggressive attempts to shore up the value of its stock exchange. Exchange manipulation is hardly novel, either in traditional markets or in blockchain markets. China has been aggressively doing this in its stock exchanges for years. But it is a reminder that in emerging and new exchanges, much of the price signaling is artificial.

A law firm in the trenches against media unions – Andrew McCormick writes in the Columbia Journalism Review how law firm Jones Day has taken a leading role in fighting against the unionization of newsrooms. The challenge of course is that the media business remains mired in cutbacks and weak earnings, and so trying to better divide a rapidly shrinking pie doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The future — in my view — is entrepreneurial journalists backed up by platforms like Substack where they set their own voice, tone, publishing calendar, and benefits. Having a close relationship with readers is the only way forward for job security.

At least 15 central banks are serious about getting into digital currency – Mike Orcutt at MIT Technology Review notes that there are a bunch of central banks, including China and Canada. What’s interesting is that the trends backing this up including financial inclusion and “diminishing cash usage.” Even though blockchain is in a nuclear winter following the collapse of crypto prices this year, it is exactly these sorts of projects that could be the way forward for the industry.

What’s next

More semiconductors probably. And Arman and I are side glancing at Yelp these days. Any thoughts? Email me at danny@techcrunch.com.

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

News Source = techcrunch.com

Robinhood said to not be properly insured to offer checking & savings

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Robinhood’s new high-interest, zero-fee checking and savings feature seems to be too good to be true. Users’ money may not be fully protected. The CEO of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, a non-profit membership corporation that insures stock brokerages, tells TechCrunch its insurance would not apply to checking and savings accounts the way Robinhood claims. “Robinhood would be buying securities for its account and sharing a portion of the proceeds with their customers, and that’s not what we cover” says SIPC CEO Stephen Harbeck. “I’ve never seen a single document on this. I haven’t been consulted on this.”

That info directly conflicts with comments from Robinhood’s comms team, which told me yesterday users would be protected because the SIPC insures brokerages and the checking/savings feature is offered via Robinhood’s brokerage that is a member of the SIPC.

If Robinhood checking and savings is indeed ineligible for insurance coverage from the SIPC, and since it doesn’t qualify for FDIC protection like a standard bank, users’ funds could be at risk. Robinhood co-CEO Baiju Bhatt told me that “Robinhood invests users’ checking and savings money into government-grade assets like US treasuries and we collect yield from those assets and pay that back to customers in the form of 3 percent interest.” But Harbeck tells me that means users would effectively be loaning Robinhood their money, and the SIPC doesn’t cover loans. If a market downturn caused the values of those securities to decline and Robinhood couldn’t cover the losses, the SIPC wouldn’t necessarily help users get their money back. 

Robinhood’s team insisted yesterday that customers would not lose their money in the event that the treasuries it invests in decline, and that only what users gamble on the stock market would be unprotected as is standard. But now it appears that because Robinhood is misusing its brokerage classification to operate checking and savings accounts where it says users don’t have to invest in stocks and other securities, SIPC insurance wouldn’t apply. “I have an issue with some of the things on their website about whether these checking and savings accounts would be protected. I refered the issue to the SEC” Harbeck tells me. TechCrunch has reached out to the SEC and will update if we hear back about its perspective on the issue.

Robinhood planned to start shipping its Mastercard debit cards to customers on December 18th with users being added off the waitlist in January. That might need to be delayed due to the insurance problem. We’ve repeatedly asked Bhatt and Robinhood’s team for a formal statement and clarification this morning, but have not heard back.

Robinhood touted how its checking and savings features have no minimum account balance, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees, or card replacement fees. It also has 75,000 free-to-use ATMs in its network, which Bhatt claims is more than the top five US banks combined. And its 3 percent interest rate users earn is much higher than the 0.09% average interest rate for traditional savings, and beats  most name brand banks outside of some credit unions.

But for those perks, users must sacrifice brick-and-mortar bank branches that can help them with troubles, and instead rely on a 24/7 live chat customer support feature from Robinhood. The debit card has Mastercard’s zero-liability protection against fraud, and Robinhood partners with Sutton Bank to issue the card. But it’s unclear how the checking and savings accounts would be protected against other types of attacks or scams.

Robinhood was likely hoping to build a larger user base on top of its existing 6 million accounts by leveraging software scalability to provide such competitive rates. It planned to be profitable from its margin on the interest from investing users’ money and a revenue sharing agreement with Mastercard on interchange fee charged to merchants when you swipe your card. But long-term, Robinhood may use checking and savings as a wedge into the larger financial services market from which it can launch more lucrative products like loans.

But that could fall apart if users are scared to move their checking and savings money to Robinhood. Startups can suddenly fold or make too risky of decisions while chasing growth. Robinhood’s valuation went from $1.3 billion last year to $5.6 billion when it raised $363 million this year. That puts intense pressure on the company to grow to justify that massive valuation. In its rush to break into banking, it may have cut corners on becoming properly insured.

[DIsclosure: The author of this article knows Robinhood co-founders Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev from college 10 years ago]

News Source = techcrunch.com

The new Palm is almost the MP3 player I want

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The iPod Classic still looms larger as my favorite gadget of all time. Sure, plenty have lapped the device in terms of technology, while any lingering concerns about not owning the music I listen to have faded for the ubiquity of Spotify, but the iPod lives on in the perfect sweet spot for my own musical obsessions.

Of course, that device finally gave up the ghost, as all gadget eventually do. After about three or so, I eventually threw in the towel. Apple had long since discontinued the line, and buying them second hand was just getting too pricy. So I moved on to streaming, my MP3s collecting dust inside some external hard drive.

We recently wrote up the latest version of the Mighty, a device I spent a bit of time with on a recent trip to Asia, before handing it off to a colleague who was a much bigger fan of the whole iPod shuffle for Spotify model.

Before jetting off to Africa this past week, however, it occurred to me that it might be time to give the Palm another shot. We weren’t particularly kind to the device, and the rest of the tech community mostly agreed with that assessment. But it would be a shame to write the product off entirely. Sure, it’s got a lot of issues, and is targeted a sliver of the overall smartphone market, but maybe there’s some redemption to be found in the product.

The hardware construction is certainly solid for what largely amounts to shrunk down version of the iPhone. Perhaps there’s something to this whole secondary device thing, after all. Back in the waining days of my iPod dependence, I’d rarely leave home without the Classic in one pocket and a smartphone in another. I might have killed for a touch interface MP3 player with as slim a form factor as the Palm.

It’s an ideal size for the task, really. Small enough to slip into a change pocket, with a large screen to navigate through a music library. Staring down a pair of 10+ hour flights and a couple of days of questionable internet connectivity, I dusted off the Palm and loaded it up with songs downloaded from Spotify.

That was the first issue. This one’s wholly unrelated to Palm, but man, the way Spotify serves up offline songs is a real pain in the ass. Rather than simply displaying them when the app is offline, you have to jump through hoops to get them to show up. The easiest way to scrolling through to playlists, swiping down to bring up the search bar, then clicking “Filter” to only display offline songs.

One has to employ a similar method to get around one of the Palm’s biggest shortcomings as a music player: the lack of volume buttons. Here you have to wait until a song is playing, then swipe down to bring up the volume slider. If music isn’t playing, on the other hand, you’ve got got to navigate through the settings. Even Apple, with all of its animosity toward all thing button, has kept the volume buttons on-board.

Battery is another major concern. Of course, sticking the device in airplane mode helps a bit — though even then, it likely won’t getting you through a full international flight. It is, however, enough to get your through a trip to the gym, certainly, and the form factor is small enough to stuff into a pocket when going for a run.

At the end of the day, the experiment was ultimately more trouble than it was worth. The fact of the matter is that most of the tech world has moved on from the notion of a devoted music player. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that, with a few hardware (too late to add a headphone jack?) and software tweaks (and a lower, off-contract price point), Palm could help reignite that fire for some.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook open sources PyText NLP framework

in Artificial Intelligence/deep learning/Delhi/Facebook/Facebook AI Research/India/machine learning/nlp/Politics/TC by

Facebook AI Research is open sourcing some of the conversational AI tech it is using to power its Portal video chat display and M suggestions on Facebook Messenger.

The company announced today that its PyTorch-based PyText NLP framework is now available to developers.

Natural language processing deals with how systems parse human language and are able to make decisions and derive insights. The PyText framework, which the company sees as a conduit for AI researchers to move more quickly between experimentation and deployment will be particularly useful for tasks like document classification, sequence tagging, semantic parsing and multitask modeling, among others, Facebook says.

The company has built the framework to fit pretty seamlessly into research and production workflows with an emphasis on robustness and low-latency to meet the company’s real-time NLP needs. The product is responsible for models powering more than a billion daily predictions at Facebook.

Another big highlight is the framework’s modularity, allowing it to not only to create new pipelines from scratch but to modify existing workflows. PyText connects to the ONNX and Caffe2 frameworks. It also supports training multiple models at once in addition to distributed training to train models over several runs.

The company obviously isn’t done with making improvements to its NLP frameworks. Facebook says that going forward they’re paying particular attention to working to build an end-to-end workflow for models running on mobile devices.

PyText is available on GitHub.

News Source = techcrunch.com

GE’s digital future looking murkier with move to spin off Industrial IoT biz

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When I visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York in April 2017, I thought I saw a company that was working hard to avoid disruption, but perhaps the leafy campus, the labs and experimental projects hid much larger problems inside the company. Yesterday GE announced that it is spinning out its Industrial IoT business and selling most of its stake in ServiceMax, the company it bought in 2016 for $915 million.

For one thing, Jeff Immelt, the CEO who was leading that modernization charge, stepped down six months after my visit and was replaced by John Flannery, who was himself replaced just a year into his tenure by C. Lawrence Culp, Jr. It didn’t seem to matter who was in charge, nobody could stop the bleeding stock price, which has fallen this year from a high of $18.76 in January to $7.20 this morning before the markets opened (and had already lost another .15 a share as we went to publication).

It hasn’t been a great year for GE stock. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Immelt at least recognized that the company needed to shift to a data-centered Industrial Internet of Things future where sensors fed data that provided ways to understand the health of a machine or how to drive the most efficient use from it. This was centered around the company’s Predix platform where developers could build applications using that data. The company purchased ServiceMax in 2016 to extend that idea and feed service providers the data they needed to anticipate when service was needed even before the customer was aware of it.

As Immelt put it in a 2014 quote on Twitter:

That entire approach had substance. In fact, if you look at what Salesforce announced earlier this month around service and the Internet of Things, you will see a similar strategy. As Salesforce’s SVP and GM for Salesforce Field Service Lightning Paolo Bergamo described in a blog post, “Drawing on IoT signals surfaced in the Service Cloud console, agents can gauge whether device failure is imminent, quickly determine the source of the problem (often before the customer is even aware a problem exists) and dispatch the right mobile worker with the right skill set.”

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The ServiceMax acquisition and the Predix Platform were central to this, and while the idea was sound, Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says that the execution was poor and the company needed to change. “The vision for GE Digital made sense as they crafted a digital industrial strategy, yet the execution inside GE was not the best. As GE spins out many of its units, this move is designed to free up the unit to deliver its services beyond GE and into the larger ecosystem,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Current CEO Culp sees the spin-out as a way to breathe new life into the business “As an independently operated company, our digital business will be best positioned to advance our strategy to focus on our core verticals to deliver greater value for our customers and generate new value for shareholders,” Culp explained in a statement.

Maybe so, but it seems it should be at the center of what the company is doing, not a spin-off — and with only a 10 percent stake left in ServiceMax, the service business component all but goes away. Bill Ruh, GE Digital CEO, the man who was charged with implementing the mission (and apparently failed) has decided to leave the company with this announcement. In fact, the new Industrial IoT company will operate as a wholly owned GE subsidiary with its own financials and board of directors, separate from the main company.

With this move though, GE is clearly moving the Industrial IoT out of the core business as it continues to struggle to find a combination that brings its stock price back to life. While the Industrial Internet of Things idea may have been poorly executed, selling and spinning off the pieces that need to be part of the digital future seem like a short-sighted way to achieve the company’s longer term goals.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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