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Can tech solve the re-skilling challenge?

March 10, 2021, 10:43 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Can technology help solve the training challenge that society faces in the age of artificial intelligence? Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, thinks it might. “The future of work is one of the most critical puzzles that we need to solve in our societies,” she told me. “In the midst of the pandemic, as we saw millions lose their jobs, disproportionately in lower paying employment, we saw a window of opportunity to tackle the immediate problem and give people new options.”

In June, Ansari launched a $5 million “Rapid Reskilling” competition. And this week, she announced 10 finalists from four countries. Their challenge is to leverage novel solutions that will rapidly train 350 individuals in 90 days at no up-front cost, and place them in good jobs within 60 days. The winner needs to demonstrate their solution is scalable, deployed for 5,000 individuals in three industries.

Finalists have some interesting approaches—offering training through conversations with virtual humans, online mentoring for experiential learning, coding skills for disadvantaged students, and more. We’ll follow this at CEO Daily, to see who wins the big prize. As I’ve written here before, this is The Challenge of Our Times.

By the way, another company plowing this same field is Guild Education, which is pioneering a new financing model for continuing education at companies. Traditional tuition reimbursement programs force workers to front the cost for their training. Guild connects workers with the right university training programs, and then works with the company to cover the cost. “If you are a frontline worker, you don’t have $5,000 to pay up front,” CEO Rachel Carlson told me when we spoke recently. “Guild at its core is a deep payments company. The employee no longer has to front the money.” Guild also employs coaches to ensure participants find the appropriate education program. Partners include Walmart, Disney, Lowe’s and Chipotle.

News below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

Editor’s note: A previous version of this newsletter essay misspelled the last name of the CEO of Guild Education.

TOP NEWS

Twitter throttled

Russia has deliberately slowed down Twitter's service there. Although the stated reason is Twitter's refusal to remove tweets discussing suicide and drug use, or containing child sexual abuse material, the move comes against the backdrop of wider Kremlin animosity against U.S. social media firms over their treatment of Russian propaganda—and the fact that opposition protests are partly organized on their platforms. Fortune

Chinese censorship

Speaking of online censorship, China has apparently blocked social-media references to the stock market. The Chinese stock market has been plummeting in the last couple weeks, with the CSI 300 Index falling 14% from a 13-year high. Fortune

Cathay loss

Cathay Pacific lost around $2.8 billion last year—a record loss for the Hong Kong flag carrier, in an unprecedented global crisis. The loss slightly exceeded analyst expectations, and Cathay Pacific's share price was slightly down on the news. South China Morning Post

SoftBank exposure

Greensill Capital, which specializes in short-term company loans and had been the recipient of $1.5 billion from SoftBank's Vision Fund, collapsed earlier this week. Now, it seems SoftBank put another $400 million or more into the startup at the end of last year as a backstop, when another company it backs nearly defaulted on a Greensill loan. Wall Street Journal

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

Bezos Earth Fund

Jeff Bezos's Earth Fund has a CEO now: Andrew Steer, who yesterday provided a small amount of detail on how the Amazon chief's $10 billion will be spent. Steer indicated the cash would be disbursed at a pace of $1 billion a year, and said the fund would "invest in scientists, NGOs, activists, and the private sector to help drive new technologies, investments, policy change and behavior," with an emphasis on "social justice, as climate change disproportionately hurts poor and marginalized communities." Fortune

Tesla security

A hacker has claimed they and others were involved in a breach of surveillance-camera firm Verkada over the last couple days, which gave them access to footage from Tesla among other firms. Tillie Kottmann has been showing the media recordings from Tesla facilities in China and California. Fortune

T-Mobile data

T-Mobile US will soon start sharing its customers web and app data with advertisers, unless the customers opt out. The operator claims the users' identities will be masked and the shared information won't be overly specific, but privacy advocates are still up in arms. Fortune

Brazil variant

The Washington Post has a sobering piece describing the COVID situation in Brazil, where the P.1 variant of the coronavirus is running rampant—potentially threatening the rest of the world. "I’m surprised by the levels found. The media isn’t getting what this means," said  Roberto Kraenkel, a biological mathematician with the Covid-19 Brazil Observatory. "All of the variants of concern are more transmissible…and this means an accelerated phase of the epidemic. A disaster." Washington Post

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.