As I said more than once during my interview Wednesday night in San Francisco with the former CEO of Microsoft, it’s good to be Steve Ballmer.
Once the preeminent sales executive in the technology industry, Ballmer now owns the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers. He isn’t exactly a changed man since stepping down. He’s still intense, animated, candid, and a ton of fun to talk to. Conflicted with a speaking commitment to Fortune and an important road game for his team against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ballmer found a nearby TV and luckily most of our talk happened during halftime. (The Clippers lost 120-108.)
Yet Ballmer clearly is far more relaxed, if by his own admission a little out of touch with Microsoft and the technology industry. He is Microsoft’s largest shareholder, with about a 4% stake, but he left the board when he bought the Clippers, making him legally an outsider.
He wishes Microsoft broke out more data on its cloud business—and has told management so. On the other hand, he graciously applauds his successor, Satya Nadella, for pivoting the company to a more open technology posture. Unsolicited, he applauded Nadella’s decision to embrace Linux. When I asked if that was tough given his past opposition, he deftly noted that companies have a time and a place for a given strategy. Microsoft did extremely well financially for his refusal to embrace open-source software, and he’s not apologizing for that.
* Part of the fun of Ballmer is that he acknowledges that having fun is a perfectly good reason to do something, including owning a basketball team.
* He’s exercising, doing yoga, taking his time, and even meditating these days.
* His biggest learning from accumulating a 4% stake in Twitter—currently under water—is that he doesn’t particularly like being an investor.
* Together with a handful of people he is putting time and money into a kind of publicly available “10-K for government.” The website hasn’t launched but he hopes it will be a way for citizens to get a cogent snapshot of how their government spends their money.
* Ballmer and Bill Gates, once his best friend, have gone their separate ways. Yet their wives were together Wednesday, which seemed to please him immensely.
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BITS AND BYTES
Square shares jump after earnings. On its first post-IPO earnings call, the payments company said it beat expectations in the fourth quarter. Square reported $374.4 million in revenue versus analysts’ projected $343.2 million, leading its stock price to rise by 3.7%. CEO Jack Dorsey spoke to Fortune about the company’s fast-growing merchant lending service. (Fortune, Fortune)
WeWork raises new funds. The communal office startup raised $430 million in a new round of financing led by Chinese investors. The company, which plans on an Asian expansion, is now reportedly valued at $16 billion, up from $10 billion last summer. (Wall Street Journal, Fortune)
Box gets a bump. On its fourth-quarter earnings call, the cloud storage company reported $85 million in sales, up from $62.6 million during the same period last year. The revenue beat analyst expectations of $81.8 million, sending shares up 13.8% to $14.25 in extended trading Wednesday. Box CEO Aaron Levie spoke to Fortune about the company’s business partnerships and performance. (Fortune, Fortune)
Facebook buys selfie startup. The social media network purchased the company behind a lenses and filters app called MSQRD. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the acquisition on—where else—his Facebook profile page, while wearing a virtual Iron Man mask powered by the company’s tech. (Fortune)
Google releases new Android version. The search giant debuted an early preview of Android N, the next iteration of its mobile operating system. The software has multi-window support, meaning it’s possible to use two apps at once. Google also officially joined Facebook’s Open Compute project, which aims to build “open source” data center hardware. (Fortune, Fortune)
Twitter stanches departures. The social media service has been offering stock and paying out cash bonuses to employees to keep them from leaving the company. Twitter’s newly implemented talent retention measures follow a 60% collapse in the company’s share price over the past year. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Machine: 2, Man: 0. Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo once again beat South Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol in a match of wits over the ancient Chinese board game. The machine needs one more win to declare victory over its human opponent. (Wired, Economist)
Stacey Higginbotham reports on the so-called Google of China’s plans for learning machines.
Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Chinese web giant Baidu, isn’t concerned about the idea of killer robots. But he does foresee advanced robotics using artificial intelligence taking people’s jobs.
Speaking at the Structure Data conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Ng said, “Worrying about killer robots today is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars.”
While he admits some day it’s possible that robots might be intelligent enough for us to worry about them killing people, they aren’t even close to capable today. “I don’t object to people starting committees to study this, but I don’t want to be on it,” he said.
Instead, Ng is thinking about the short-term effect of greater access to deep learning, which is currently being applied to things such as identifying images, understanding speech, and improving things like web search or advertisement engagement. Ng also anticipates the advantages of deep learning to make their way into areas like farming, reading medical images, and other industries where the use of AI and robots will replace jobs. Read the rest on Fortune.com.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Another Browser Gets Built-In Ad Blocking by David Meyer
Snowden: FBI Saying It Can’t Unlock iPhone Is ‘Bullsh**’ by Don Reisinger
Nest’s New Features Signal a Shift for the Smart Home by Stacey Higginbotham
Why California Democrat Diane Feinstein Backs the FBI Over Apple by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Now Anyone Can Own a Piece of Virtual Reality Company Virtuix by John Gaudiosi
Could FBI Turn On Cameras and Microphones Next? by Hilary Brueck
Traffic Data Firm Buys Apple, Google Rival OpenCar by Kirsten Korosec
Samsung Follows Apple in Debuting a Galaxy Upgrade Program by Jason Cipriani
ONE MORE THING
Watch Google’s self-driving car get into a collision. In this video the autonomous vehicle smacks into the side of a bus on Valentine’s Day. (Fortune)
|Your regular host Heather Clancy is away on vacation. This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett.|