Google's Software Sell for Hardware

The New Yorker

This is because the companies that make popular hardware, like Samsung and Apple, get to decide which software comes pre-loaded onto their devices. But there's little to keep hardware companies from creating their own competing software; Samsung, a major producer of phones that use Google's Android operating system, recently started embedding phones with its own Samsung Pay mobile-wallet software, a direct competitor to Google's similar Android Pay. That helps explain Pichai's opening move: to make the case that Google has any business designing devices, he started by trying to convince his audience that what makes hardware valuable is the software within it--which just happens to be Google's area of expertise. But the company's success in selling people on devices will depend at least as much on style as on substance.

Sam Altman's Manifest Destiny

The New Yorker

One balmy May evening, thirty of Silicon Valley's top entrepreneurs gathered in a private room at the Berlinetta Lounge, in San Francisco. Paul Graham considered the founders of Instacart, DoorDash, Docker, and Stripe, in their hoodies and black jeans, and said, "This is Silicon Valley, right here." All the founders were graduates of Y Combinator, the startup "accelerator" that Graham co-founded: a three-month boot camp, run twice a year, in how to become a "unicorn"--Valleyspeak for a billion-dollar company. Thirteen thousand fledgling software companies applied to Y Combinator this year, and two hundred and forty were accepted, making it more than twice as hard to get into as Stanford University. After graduating thirteen hundred startups, YC now boasts the power--and the peculiarities--of an island nation.

AlphaGo, Lee Sedol, and the Reassuring Future of Humans and Machines

The New Yorker

Midway through the first of five recent matches between Lee Sedol, a top-ranked professional Go player, and AlphaGo, a computer program conceived by Google DeepMind, an odd thing happened: Lee's jaw dropped, hanging open for a nigh-cartoonish twenty seconds, and then he laughed. AlphaGo had just mounted an aggressive, and evidently unexpected, attack. The moment was reminiscent of a famous episode in Go history, when Honinbo Shusaku, a future legend of the game, squared off against Inoue Genan Inseki, an older and more experienced player, in 1846. The story goes that a spectator--a local doctor who knew little of Go--correctly guessed that the seventeen-year-old Shusaku was beating Inseki. Asked how he knew, the doctor responded that, after an earlier move, Inseki's ears had flushed red, a clear indication of surprise.