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The excellent Breakvingviews.com wondered last week if all the cash Microsoft has on its balance sheet, $58 billion and rising, might be burning a hole in its pocket. The site noted that Microsoft, in its rejuvenation under CEO Satya Nadella, has spent big on acquisitions: $37 billion on LinkedIn, GitHub, and Mojang alone. Might he be plotting another blockbuster purchase, as evidenced by a relatively puny dividend increase?
It’s a great question, and one I intend to pose to Microsoft’s head of M&A, Peggy Johnson, who is appearing this week in Chicago at the first Brainstorm Reinvent. The conference will consider numerous stories of corporate and other kinds of organizational reinvention. Few tales of turnarounds of tired incumbents are better than Microsoft’s, and M&A has been a big part of the story.
Apple has reinvented itself multiple times. One of its latest tricks has been the advent of Apple Pay and the wallet collection of services of which it is part. I’ll interview Jennifer Bailey, the Silicon Valley veteran who runs the business. Monday night our group will hear from the estimable Stanley McChrystal, who has a new book out soon about leadership.
One leader who is about to reinvent himself is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He will speak at the conference midday Tuesday on the reinvention of his city.
McKinsey, founding sponsor of Brainstorm Reinvent, has a few thoughts about the topic. A gaggle of McKinsey consultants wrote this Fortune essay, “Why Legacy Companies Must Reinvent—Or Die.”
Fortune’s annual Most Powerful Women issue is out this week. Please check out the list as well as this fascinating interview about the surprising preponderance of women running the top U.S. defense companies.
Finally, when I fly, I catch up on my reading. (I’m the guy who continuously hands the flight attendants old newspapers as the trip progresses.) As someone who has written enthusiastically about the Chinese economic miracle, I strongly recommend this sobering look at the dark side of modern China.
Fuzzy reception. In news mixing satellites and streaming, Sirius XM is buying Pandora Media for $3.5 billion. Shares of Pandora, already up 89% this year, jumped 8% in premarket trading on Monday. In other major deal news, Dell Technologies is reassessing its complicated plan to go public via tracking shares of VMware and may just go public in a standard fashion.
Take that. Antitrust regulators in Singapore didn’t like Uber‘s deal with Grab to hand over its Southeast Asian service in return for a 27.5% stake in its rival. So they’ve slammed the companies with a massive fine of…$9.5 million.
Rapid response. With leaks implying Google might have some kind of political axe to grind, CEO Sundar Pichai sent an all-hands memo to employees requiring evenhandedness. “We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda,” Pichai wrote. “The trust our users place in us is our greatest asset and we must always protect it. If any Googler ever undermines that trust, we will hold them accountable.”
Sifting through the trash. More trouble for big tech? A group of funders including the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark are putting up $20 million to create a non-profit investigative news group called The Markup that will focus on technology companies and products.
A piece of the action. Hosts on the Airbnb service could get stock in the company under a proposal submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. But hosts shouldn’t get their hopes up, even as Airbnb heads towards a likely IPO next year. Uber has tried without success to get permission to give equity to drivers and smaller ride hailing service Juno was flat out rejected, Axios reports.
Fork me with this bullshirt. It may have $1 billion budget to lure Hollywood talent, but Apple‘s incipient video streaming service is also imposing family-friendly requirements on its content, which may scare away some top producers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. The company’s values led Apple CEO Tim Cook personally to pull the plug on a show called Vital Signs chronicling the life of rap star Dr. Dre. Still, here’s a list of nearly one dozen shows in development at Apple.
Oversharing. Some Twitter users recently got a message saying their direct messages or protected tweets may have accidentally been sent to developers “who were not authorized to receive them.” Twitter said that the issue affected less than 1% of users and only occurred under a very specific set of circumstances.
Can you hear me now? T-Mobile is renaming its MetroPCS prepaid brand next month to “Metro by T-Mobile” to emphasize that prepaid customers get the same network quality as regular, postpaid customers. The carrier on Friday also made a lengthy filing with the Federal Communications Commission defending its merger with Sprint. If allowed to combine, the companies would maintain their current postpaid brands and spread a 5G wireless Internet service more quickly to compete with cable companies’ broadband Internet services.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Machine learning systems are helping software analyze all manner of video and static images, but new research finds that the programs can be easily confused when something is amiss with a picture. When humans see something odd in a scene, they do a “double take,” literally looking at the scene a second time, more closely. But when researchers including John Tsotsos of York University added an elephant to an ordinary living room scene, the machine learning programs simply choked:
Today’s best neural networks for object detection work in a “feed forward” manner. This means that information flows through them in only one direction. They start with an input of fine-grained pixels, then move to curves, shapes, and scenes, with the network making its best guess about what it’s seeing at each step along the way. As a consequence, errant observations early in the process end up contaminating the end of the process, when the neural network pools together everything it thinks it knows in order to make a guess about what it’s looking at.
“By the top of the neural network you have everything connected to everything, so you have the potential to have every feature in every location interfering with every possible output,” said Tsotsos.
The human way is better. Imagine you’re given a very brief glimpse of an image containing a circle and a square, with one of them colored blue and the other red. Afterward you’re asked to name the color of the square. With only a single glance to go on, you’re likely to confuse the colors of the two shapes. But you’re also likely to recognize that you’re confused and to ask for another look. And, critically, when you take that second look, you know to focus your attention on just the color of the square.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Japan grabbed the spotlight in space exploration this weekend, as its two asteroid rovers deployed from the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft and started sending back pictures. Everything is very blurry, however, as the rovers tumbled around asteroid Ryugu about 180 million miles from earth. Stay tuned for better images via the Hayabusa 2 Twitter account.