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Data Sheet—Sprint’s Clever AI Embrace at the Super Bowl

February 5, 2018, 1:23 PM UTC

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Good morning, My favorite Super Bowl ad early in Sunday’s night’s thrilling game was Sprint’s embrace of artificial intelligence to ridicule its competitor Verizon (way more expensive for slightly better performance) as well as Verizon customers not smart enough to understand that simple math.

The ad featured an intelligent robot named Evelyn as well as a small cast of her robotic friends who tease their scientist-creator for being clever enough to create them but not to switch to Sprint.

AIs can’t make these sort of emotional arguments in real life, of course, which is what makes the ad funny and convincing. The chess-playing humanoid reminded me a little of Sophia, David Hanson’s emotionally suggestive robot. When I interviewed Hanson in Guangzhou in December he acknowledged that while Sophia looks and acts cool in certain staged situations, he has only scratched the AI surface with her.

That Sprint has cleverly used AI to peddle cell phones, though, shows how mainstream and powerful the topic has become. (Adweek reports that Sprint has issued follow-up spots suggesting the robots are learning; this is the very real potential.) Policy is advancing too, albeit slowly. This Economist article neatly summarizes an academic manifesto that users of products by the Internet giants should be demanding compensation for the data we give them that in turn helps them build their AIs.

It’s a brave new world.


In case you missed it (I did), Alphabet last week named Stanford’s John Hennessy its board chairman, replacing former CEO Eric Schmidt. Hennessy is a legend in Silicon Valley, a rare quadruple threat: top professor, successful entrepreneur, bigfoot university president, and powerful board member. He’s a nice guy too … I’m currently binge-watching the German TV drama Babylon Berlin on Netflix. It’s wild and scary and wonderful … Shares of Kodak have been methodically re-tracing their steps from the mid-January pop associated with a new cryptocurrency to track the work of photographers. Kodak’s stock peaked at $12.50 on Jan. 10 and has closed down seven of the last eight trading days, finishing at $6.45 on Friday. This is how a speculative bubble works.

Adam Lashinsky


Block that kick. Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Citigroup are banning their credit card customers from buying bitcoin and other digital currencies. All five of the largest card issuers have now banned such purchases, Bloomberg reports.

No huddle offense. Amazon's Super Bowl commercial used the word "Alexa" 10 times, but the company prevented the mentions from setting off the voice-activated digital assistant in millions of customers' homes. Amazon didn't reveal its methods, but it has a relevant patent that describes how a TV commercial can broadcast inaudible sounds that tell Alexa to ignore the mentions.

Turning up field. Looking at just the U.S. market for streaming music subscribers, Apple Music is currently on track to exceed Spotify sometime this summer, the Wall Street Journal notes. Worldwide, Spotify has double Apple's total and is growing faster, however.

Tackled for a loss. A group of former Google and Facebook employees formed a lobbying group called the Center for Humane Technology that will advertise against addiction to technology devices and services. “We were on the inside,” Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google who runs the new group, tells the New York Times. "We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.”

Extra point. Broadcom raised its unwanted takeover bid for Qualcomm to $82 a share, a $12 or 17% hike. Qualcomm has never traded over $80 a share except briefly in 2014 and at the height of the Internet bubble in 2000.

After reviewing the play, the call on the field is changed. An appellate court dismissed key charges against Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong while reducing and suspending his five year prison sentence, allowing him to go free immediately on Monday.

Instant replay. Three months ago, when data visualization software maker Tableau reported disappointing quarterly results, I wrote that its stock price had dropped as much as 16% in aftermarket trading, drawing an inquiry from the company's press relations rep that hadn't seen the magnitude of the drop. "Next quarter when it is UP 16% I will be sure to get that in," I responded. Sure enough, a positive earnings surprise sent Tableau's stock up 16% last week.


Microsoft's $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn was the company's largest deal by far. Helping Satya Nadella pull off the takeover was Peggy Johnson, Microsoft's executive vice president for business development who the CEO had personally wooed away from a 25-year career at Qualcomm. Business Insider's Alyson Shontell recently talked to Johnson in a wide ranging interview and got the scoop on how Microsoft approaches potential deals:

I would say for any acquisition we ask that question, "Are we the better owners? Does it fulfill a strategic gap that we have?" Because many times a partnership is even better oftentimes because to be an owner you have to be all in, but if a partnership can work to fill a gap, we'll go that route. Sometimes we'll make an investment in a company because they're on a quicker path to filling a gap, but they may need a little help in the form of resources to get there. Then finally if the right answer is, "Yes, we are the better owners," we'll go the full way and go forward with an acquisition.

So we do sort of an assessment that way, and we try to be very, very disciplined, and stick to our core ambitions, and not go too far off of that, because that's where you get into trouble. So we talk ourselves in and out of things often.


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Commentary: Why Is New York Giving Tablets to All State Prisoners? By Karen L. Murtagh


Ferdinand of Aragon was the king of Spain who finally pushed out the Moors and sent Christopher Columbus off to the New World. But coded letters he wrote had befuddled historians for centuries until Spain's intelligence agency recently got on the case and cracked the cipher.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.