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25 Genuises Who are Creating the Future of Business

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By Wired.com

SOON, SOFTWARE WILL know how you feel—and will use that data to sell you things. The gig economy will go global (but it’s not Uber-take-all). The tech industry will finally be inclusive. AI will achieve something like common sense, and it will be open source too. But that future won’t build itself. Actual people (at least for now) have to make these things happen, and they aren’t the C-suite hotshots you always hear about. The 25 people in these pages are the unsung creative, technical, and social visionaries working to bring the incredible world of tomorrow to you today. Get to know them now. Welcome to our second annual Next List.

Encryption has mass appeal

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MOXIE MARLINSPIKE

FOUNDER | OPEN WHISPER SYSTEMS

Marlinspike-1.r1.pngMarlinspike-2.r1.pngSurveillance is about to get much harder for overly snoopy governments. In November 2014 the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp made a big change to its Android app: It encrypted messages so that even Facebook can’t descramble them, no matter how many court orders the company receives. (Facebook recognized that transmitting unencrypted messages was a liability that put users’ privacy at risk.) But the crypto software wasn’t written by a Facebook employee. It was created by Moxie Marlinspike and his grant-funded software outfit, Open Whisper Systems. Marlinspike, who left his job as Twitter’s security guru three years ago, wantsto make the Internet more secure for everyone. That’s why he lets any company use his software for free. WhatsApp has since expanded encryption to many of its 220 million users on iOS and other platforms worldwide, and Marlinspike says he’s in talks to bring the software to several other companies. Crypto: It’s not just for geeks anymore. —Klint Finley

Encryption

Percent of traffic that is encrypted, by country

Source: Google transparency report, retrieved 3/21/16

 

Instant gratification requires total control

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STEPHENIE LANDRY

VICE PRESIDENT, AMAZON PRIME NOW | AMAZON

Landry_tk-stopwatch-1.r1.pngLandry_tk-stopwatch-2.r1.pngLandry_tk-stopwatch-3.r1.pngLandry_tk-stopwatch-4.r1.pngAmazon has long favored growth over profits, and in its nearly 22-year lifespan, the company has poured resources into building out a sprawling logistics infrastructure dedicated to giving you what you want almost immediately. Why should you have to wait for days (or, God forbid, leave your house) when you need toilet paper?

Stephenie Landry is the force responsible for the instantaneousness of your gratification—as vice president of Amazon Prime Now, she conceptualized how the company would bring one-hour deliveries to life and assembled the team to work on the problem. “We have something at Amazon called the working-backward process,” Landry says. “We write a press release saying what we would announce to the world, and when I was writing the product concept, I wrote that the experience of Prime Now would be ‘magical.’” Since launching in December 2014, the service has gone live in four countries and more than 30 metropolitan areas around the world. And, as rumors swirl that Amazon may also be working on a global delivery network, Prime Now increasingly looks to be a scaled-down version of the company’s long-term play: to be in complete control of the flow of products in its supply chain, from factories in China and India all the way to your doorstep. That grand planwould involve not only trucks, cargo planes, and drones but also hundreds of thousands of humans working in warehouses and as couriers. And if anything like that aspirational picture of Prime Now actually emerges, UPS and FedEx should probably start prepping their contingency plans as soon as, well, now. —Davey Alba


Startups can be inclusive from day 1

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FREADA KAPOR KLEIN

PARTNER | KAPOR CAPITAL

Klein-1.r1.pngKlein-2.r1.pngKlein-5.r1.pngKlein-4.r1.pngKlein-5.r1.pngKlein-6.r1.pngThey’re in the 1 percent, but there’s nothing elite about it. That’s the portion of black technical employees at Facebook, Google, and Twitter. And while you’d hope that the tech companies planning to move into Oakland, California—one of the most diverse cities in the US—would do better, there’s no guarantee. (Uber wants to open its global headquarters in the city by 2017.) An invasion of superwhite tech bros could end up drastically altering Oakland’s vibrant culture. Ugh.

Freada Kapor Klein wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. Once an early executive at office-software pioneer Lotus, she’s now a partner at Oakland-based Kapor Capital. In January the VC firm announced that startups in its portfolio must create a culture of inclusion from day one—by, say, reporting their progress on diversity during quarterly investor updates or adopting tools and training programs to mitigate biases in the hiring process and throughout employment.

And diversity, it turns out, breeds diversity. Kapor Klein says other VCs have asked her how they can work with a more diverse group of entrepreneurs. She tells them: “Start with your own firm.” Indeed, at Kapor Capital, half the partners are black; more than two-thirds of its investment team are either black or Latino; and at the 112 companies it’s invested in, close to 60 percent of founders are from underrepresented backgrounds. But there’s still a lot of work to do: According to a recent report, a mere 11 startups led by black women have received more than $1 million in outside funding. They have typically been funded by the same three investors—and Kapor Capital is one of them. —Davey Alba

Diversity

The ethnicity of new entrepreneurs

Source: Kauffman Index

GMOs are essential for our survival

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RANDAL KIRK

CHAIR & CEO | INTREXON

Kirk-1.r1.pngKirk-2.r1.pngRandal Kirk has made billions from the sale of traditional pharma companies he helped shape. For example, New River, which he founded, developed the lucrative ADHD drug Vyvanse before the firm was acquired for $2.6 billion. Given that background, his latest venture might seem unorthodox. Called Intrexon, the firm has snapped up several controversial and money-losing synthetic-biology outfits that specialize in creating genetically modified organisms like mosquitoes and salmon.

“Analysts don’t understand our company,” Kirk says. He doesn’t mind, though, because he’s playing the long game. Kirk believes that GMOs are the future, and he’s willing to wait. In the meantime, Intrexon turns a handsome dime helping livestock farmers breed better animals, funding even bolder forays into altering DNA.

Kirk may be onto something. In November the Food and Drug Administration finally approved GM salmon after a 20-year review process. (Supermarkets, of course, still have to agree to sell it.) And the outbreak of the Zika virus has renewed calls for a genetically modified mosquito that can’t reproduce. To Kirk, this is the kind of solution that humans will need in order to survive the effects of climate change and population growth.

“The engineering of biology is probably the biggest event in the history of this planet,” he says. His embrace of genetically modified organisms is not exactly ideological—just good business. Now he’s waiting for the rest of the world to come around. —Sarah Zhang


The tyranny of the wireless carriers is over

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NICK FOX

VICE PRESIDENT, COMMUNICATIONS PRODUCTS | GOOGLE

Aroroa-2.r1.pngFox-1.r1.pngImagine a world where cell phone carriers don’t rule, and the important thing is which signal is the best. Nick Fox is creating a future in which your smartphone moves seamlessly from network to network, cellular to Wi-Fi, T-Mobile to Sprint. And it’s closer than you might think.

Fox oversees a Google effort called Project Fi. Available with the company’s latest Nexus smartphones, this 21st-century wireless service automatically shuttles you between networks to find the best connection, period—all without interrupting your calls or texts. “The connectivity in these devices is like water,” Fox says.

What’s more, you can pay for all this in small, flat monthly fees—avoiding the overly expensive and complex pricing plans that so often weigh down traditional cell services. The only catch—and it’s a big one—is that carriers have to agreeto allow this kind of switching. But over time they’ll likely have no choice. Manufacturers will build this option into their devices, and consumers will demand it.

Already, Apple lets iPad users easily test multiple cellular carriers and choose between them, and it’s not a stretch to imagine the company making such switching possible on the iPhone next. Thanks to Fox, we’re moving toward a world where wireless networks orbit around us—not the other way around.—Cade Metz


A golden age of coding is here

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CHRIS LATTNER

SENIOR DIRECTOR, DEVELOPER TOOLS | APPLE

Lattner-1.r1.pngLattner-2.r1.pngLattner-3.r1.pngInside Apple, Chris Lattner leads the team that built Swift, one of a new breed of programming languages that give coders real power. With these languages, engineers are able to build software at rapid-fire speeds, and the software itself runs at rapid-fire speeds. In the past, they were often forced to choose one or the other. Now coders can have both.

Swift began as a way to build software for iPhones, iPads, and Macs—a relief for coders who had spent so many years building software with the aging, Apple-centric language Objective-C. Like Google’s Go and Mozilla’s Rust, Swift combines speed of development with speed of execution. But in December, Lattner and Apple took the project to a whole new level: They released an open source version of Swift that will allow developers to create variants that run on any operating system. “We want to see Swift go everywhere,” Lattner says. With this kind of flexibility and speed, it will.—Cade Metz


Augmented reality can be affordable

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MERON GRIBETZ

FOUNDER & CEO | META

Gribetz_tk-moneyface-1.r1.pngemoji_new-5.r1.pngGood augmented reality is likely years away. It will be tricky to get the hardware right, and even more difficult to hammer out the technology, experts say, let alone develop awesome content. Meron Gribetz disagrees. After founding his AR company, Meta, in 2012 while studying neuroscience and computer science, he shaped it in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. He used Kickstarter to launch his first headset, the Meta 1, which he shipped to developers in 2014.

Earlier this year, Gribetz announced a second version, the Meta 2, which will ship to developers later this year. At $949, it sells for less than a third the price of Microsoft’s HoloLens. Unlike Redmond’s entry, the Meta 2 has to be tethered to a computer to work, but it has a larger field of view and offers gestural control.

The company has raised just $23 million—far less than either Microsoft or Magic Leap, which has attracted $1.4 billion. While Meta has designed its own goggles, it is focusing more of its resources on creating superior software. Initial users, Gribetz believes, will be designers, mechanical engineers, and medical professionals—anyone who can benefit from working with enhanced 3-D models. He’s betting that for now, professionals won’t mind the cord if they’re better able to do their work.—Jessi Hempel


Streaming TV is going global

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LISA NISHIMURA

VICE PRESIDENT, ORIGINAL DOCUMENTARIES AND COMEDY | NETFLIX

emoji_edits_proof-6.r1.pngNishimura-1.r1.pngNishimura-4.r1.pngThe whole world loves to binge-watch TV. That’s what Lisa Nishimura discovered while helping transform Netflix into a global streaming megastation. And people everywhere will watch good documentaries, if they’re available.

Nishimura started out buying Scandinavian horror films and Japanese anime for Netflix back when it was known for its DVDs. Today she might pick up a film at Sundance or work with a filmmaker on a project—whatever it takes to build a library of nonfiction features, docuseries, and stand-up specials that, ideally, translate internationally.

It’s working. Nishimura helped develop What Happened, Miss Simone? as well as ultra-bingey series like Making a Murderer. She looks for projects that simply appeal to her, but her team also uses data on what we’ve watched to decide what we’d like to watch.

And she’s ensuring that Netflix’s original offerings aren’t US-centric. Which means, since shows hit at the same time around the world, the tastes of, say, India’s Netflix users may well start shaping what you see in your stream.—Julia Greenberg


Smart drones won’t need expert pilots

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ADAM BRY

COFOUNDER & CEO | SKYDIO

Bry-1.r1.pngBry-2.r1.pngYou’ve heard of self-driving cars. Now get ready for self-flying drones. Wait, don’t drones already fly themselves? Well, yes and no. Typical off-the-shelf drones today can fly from place to place based on GPS coordinates. But most don’t truly navigate the air the way self-driving cars navigate the road, reacting in the moment to new obstacles and information.

That’s where engineer Adam Bry flies in. After working on Google X’s Project Wing drone delivery program for a year and a half, Bry cofounded Skydio to bring truly autonomous drones to everyone. Companies already use drones for tasks ranging from construction site surveys to windmill inspections to wedding photography. The catch is that they usually need to hire a skilled drone pilot for these jobs. Skydio is working to make flying drones easy for nonexperts.

So the company is developing machine learning algorithms that teach drones to “see.” These sensors will help drones not only avoid crashing into buildings, trees, and people but also keep a digital eye on their mission. “It’s the first-ever camera that knows what it’s looking at and can move itself,” Bry says. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s like you have a film crew with you.” Which will be transformative for the efficacy of drones, if not just a little bit terrifying for humans.—Klint Finley

Drones

Units sold by the top three consumer drone manufacturers

Source: Lux Research, Inc.


Advertising is becoming a Big Data game

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ALEXANDER NIX

CEO | CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA

emoji_edits_proof-4.r1.pngNix-2.r1.pngemoji_edits_proof-5.r1.pngAlexander Nix wants to turn mad men into psychologists. For too long, he says, demographics and purchasing behavior have been the primary guideposts of the marketing industry, used to guess what a target audience might want. Now Nix’s company, Cambridge Analytica, can provide psychological profiling to help advertisers tailor their messages to specific personality types.

The firm groups people according to where they fall on the so-called OCEAN scale, which psychologists use to measure how open, conscientious, extroverted, agreeable, or neurotic they are. Cambridge surveyed hundreds of thousands of people across the US to generate a statistical model to predict these traits in the broader population.

Using Cambridge’s data, marketers combine a key trait with generic demographic information and then craft a message that’s more likely to appeal to that type. So for someone who’s neurotic, the message would play to fears about a subject. Agreeable people, on the other hand, gravitate toward information about how a given product or idea will benefit society.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has been Cambridge’s main client this year, but the firm also works with automotive, retail, and health care companies. And yet there’s still a fair bit of doubt in marketing circles over whether Cambridge’s methods are effective. That stands to reason. After all, Nix says, “once advertising becomes totally data-driven, advertisers are going to have to build their own data agencies or partner with data agencies. That’s going to be a multibillion-dollar shake-up.” That is, if the ad industry is open enough to make the change. —Issie Lapowsky


The battle for global ride-sharing dominance is playing out in China

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LIU ZHEN & JEAN LIU

ZHEN: HEAD OF STRATEGY | UBER CHINA
LIU: PRESIDENT | DIDI KUAIDI

Liu-1.r1.pngLiu-2.r2.pngLiu_new.r1.pngLiu-2.r1.pngLiu family gatherings might be awkward. One member of the family, Liu Zhen, is China’s head of strategy for Uber, the world’s biggest ride-hailing company. Her cousin, Jean Liu, is the president of Didi Kuaidi—China’s homegrown ride-hailing contender.

Uber might be in more cities worldwide, and its investors may have graced it with a higher price tag (current valuation: $62.5 billion). But to achieve true global dominance, Uber has to win China, a country that has about 750 million potential riders—a number that will only grow as hundreds of millions of Chinese enter the middle class over the next decade. Indeed, of Uber’s top 10 cities by ride volume, five are in China.

Pshaw. Didi Kuaidi is already in more than 400 Chinese cities and towns, and analysts say it has captured 87 percent of China’s private car-hailing market. In other words, even as Uber wants you to believe that it’s the global leader in on-demand rides, it’s lagging behind in the very market that matters most.

To compete, Liu Zhen has focused her efforts on introducing features that work well with Chinese culture, such as UberCommute, a commuter-friendly carpooling service for medium-length distances, and the ability for riders to pay using Alipay, China’s most popular online payment service.

But Liu Zhen laughs off the idea that there’s any tension. “Family is family; business is business,” she says. “What do you talk with your cousins about? Work? Not really. People talk about their family’s lives, vacations, which schools your kids want to attend.” Pretty normal stuff, even though the fate of the world—OK, the world market for ride-hailing—is at stake. —Davey Alba

Ride Sharing

Valuations of car-hailing companies around the globe

Source: Uber


The cloud, not ads, will be Google’s biggest business

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DIANE GREENE

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, ENTERPRISE | GOOGLE

Greene-1.r1.pngGreene-1.r1.pngGreene-1.r1.pngGoogle is the world’s largest advertising company. In 2015 it pulled in $74.5 billion in revenue, 90 percent of which came from ads on its search engine and online services. But Google’s future may look very different. By 2020, the company has said, the money it makes from cloud computing could eclipse its ad business altogether.

If that happens, it’ll likely be because of Diane Greene. See, Google also runs what is probably the largest and most advanced private computing network on the planet, with data centers stretching from Oregon to Finland to Taiwan. In recent years, it has invited businesses and developers to run their own software atop this vast network. That’s cloud computing. And Google’s cloud belongs to Greene.

In the early aughts, Greene made it big with VMware, a company she and her husband bootstrapped from research at Stanford University, the same school that gave birth to Google. The difference was that VMware didn’t offer technology to everyday people. It sold technology to businesses. And that’s what Google must do to ascend to the cloud future of its dreams.—Cade Metz


Voice is the next interface

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XUEDONG HUANG

CHIEF SPEECH SCIENTIST | MICROSOFT

Huang-1.r1.pngHuang-2.r1.pngSkype Translator, which converts spoken language in real time, and Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana, are both the fruit of Xuedong Huang’s efforts. He founded Microsoft’s speech recognition team in 1993, but it’s only recently, with advances in machine learning, that the technology has finally left the realm of science fiction. Now Huang is behind a push to make the deep learning that powers these tools available to everyone.

Last year Microsoft launched Project Oxford, a set of machine-learning tools that enable developers to create their own programs. One, for example, can recognize a person and verify their identity based on their voice. Another is a tool for turning written text into audio. “Oxford is trying to democratize AI,” Huang says.

This sets it apart from other efforts like Google’s open source TensorFlow platform, which only makes artificial intelligence available to researchers and programmers. More than 3,000 developers have used the Oxford tools so far. Meanwhile, the tech continues to improve. When Huang joined Microsoft, he says, “I never thought a computer would be as accurate as a human.” But he estimates that within two to three years, computers will be as good as people at transcribing telephone conversations. We know a lot of journalists who can hardly wait. —Jessi Hempel


Wall Street embraces the blockchain

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ARVIND KRISHNA

DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH | IBM

emoji_edits_proof-2.r1.pngemoji_edits_proof-5.r1.pngchains.r2.pngArvind Krishna wants to overhaul Wall Street. And Wall Street is OK with that.

Krishna is the head of research at IBM and the driving force behind the Hyperledger, a new twist on the enormously powerful idea that underpins bitcoin. You see, bitcoin isn’t just a digital currency. It’s a global network of independent computers called a blockchain that oversees the storage and exchange of that currency—no bank, government, or any other central authority required. And the blockchain, it turns out, can track not just bitcoin but nearly anything that carries value, including stocks, bonds, futures, mortgages, and car titles.

In other words, it could transform Wall Street. The Hyperledger is a corporate-backed version of the blockchain that would allow Wall Street to embrace this big idea before it makes the biggest names in finance obsolete. “Once an idea gets out there, you can’t stop it from propagating,” Krishna says. “Only those that embrace it with speed and conviction can take advantage of it.”

Financial giants like State Street, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and the London Stock Exchange have gotten behind the Hyperledger, a signal that Wall Street is learning the lesson that Silicon Valley has taught so many other industries over the years: Embracing your biggest threat is the only way to avoid extinction. Krishna is the guy doing the teaching. —Cade Metz

Bitcoin

Growth of the blockchain transaction database

Source: Blockchain.info


Messaging is indispensible

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DAVID MARCUS

VICE PRESIDENT, MESSAGING PRODUCTS | FACEBOOK

Marcus-1.r1.pngMarcus-2.r1.pngOnly a couple hundred million people were using Messenger when David Marcus took over in 2014—and many of them were angry that Facebook was going to force them to download a separate app to use the service. Two years later, however, more than 800 million people open Messenger each month. Last year, Messenger began testing an AI virtual assistant called M and a feature that lets businesses provide customer service over the app. Marcus’ bet—and that of his boss, Mark Zuckerberg—is that soon people will turn to their messaging apps to do all the thingsthey once did in their web browsers or via other apps. This is already happening in China, where people buy movie tickets, book train travel, and shop, all on WeChat. Marcus will ensure that Messenger comes through this transition a massive winner. —Jessi Hempel

The gig economy is more unsettled than ever

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EDWARD CHEN

US DISTRICT JUDGE | US DISTRICT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Chen-1.r1.pngChen-2.r1.pngMany of the companies behind on-demand laundry, cleaning, food-delivery, and ride-hailing services claim that their employees are contractors. Critics say this classification lets the Ubers of the world evade costs like workers’ compensation insurance and Social Security and Medicare contributions. Cue the worker misclassification lawsuits.

The fact of the matter is, as the gig economy grows, the legal status of on-demand workers is more ambiguous than ever. One lawsuit that made much progress is a California class action against Uber, which US District Judge Edward Chen has presided over. Uber has just proposed a settlement agreement in the case under which their drivers will remain contractors. That would seem to get the company off the hook, but given Judge Chen’s own rulings on it in the past, the legal prospects for on-demand companies looks anything but settled.

Chen was tough on Uber. He blocked the company’s previous attempts to stymie the lawsuit—twice. He has said that one of Uber’s main arguments—that the company is only a software-platform provider that connects independent drivers and passengers—hasn’t persuaded him. And he certified the case as a class action so that thousands of drivers in California could join. “I think it’s clear that he’s consistently ruled against Uber on at least the big issues,” says Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at UC Berkeley. “He pushed this case forward with his rulings.”

Though a jury trial, previously set for June, doesn’t seem likely to proceed—assuming Chen approves the settlement—the case shows there are many legal questions still swirling around the on-demand economy. Startups would do well not to take the de facto business model for granted. —Davey Alba

The Gig Economy

Percent of US adults participating

Source: JP Morgan Chase Institute


Independent films will flourish on streaming platforms

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TED HOPE

HEAD OF MOTION PICTURE PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT | AMAZON STUDIOS

emoji_edits_proof-6.r1.pngHope-2.r1.pngemoji_edits_proof-1.r1.pngAs the producer of more than 70 movies, Ted Hope has spent his whole life working on independent films. Then, last year, he went corporate, taking a gig at Amazon as head of the company’s studio arm. It kind of makes sense. Today, Hollywood eschews midrange and smaller films in favor of big-money blockbusters. So platforms like Amazon, Netflix, and Vimeo have swooped in, creating searchable, digital on-demand spaces for independent films. And it seems to be working. After all, you’re probably a lot more likely to take a chance on an indie when you land on Amazon Prime than when you’re paying $15 for a ticket in theaters and even more for a sitter. So far this year, Amazon has thrown its weight and money behind lesser-known filmmakers by picking up four titles at Sundance. (The company offers those and other originals to Amazon Prime subscribers, so for $99 you get free shipping and free indie flicks.) It plans to produce 12 to 14 films a year—all of which will screen first in theaters. Amazon is taking ambitious risks at a time when Hollywood is being cautious. If Hope has his way, you may discover the next Little Miss Sunshine amid the books, diapers, and gadgets in your shopping cart. —Julia Greenberg

Facial-recognition technology is judging us

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MARNI BARTLETT & RANA EL KALIOUBY

BARTLETT: COFOUNDER & LEAD SCIENTIST | EMOTIENT KALIOUBY: COFOUNDER & CHIEF STRATEGY AND SCIENCE OFFICER | AFFECTIVA

Bartlett_Kaliouby-1.r1.pngBartlett_Kaliouby-2.r1.pngBartlett_Kaliouby-3.r1.pngThere are two scientific heavyweights behind a pair of startups attempting to commercialize software that can decipher facial expressions and track emotions. After finishing up her PhD in computer science at Cambridge University and a postdoc at MIT, Rana el Kaliouby helped found Affectiva, spinning it out of the MIT Media Lab in 2009. Three years later, Marni Bartlett took a leave from UC San Diego, where she’s a research professor in charge of the Computational Face Group of the Machine Perception Laboratory, to help built Emotient.

At each company, engineers have built algorithms to decode facial expressions. To train these algorithms, each startup recorded millions of expressions, noting tiny musculature movements that were then sorted by emotions—anger, disgust, joy, surprise, or boredom.

The first companies to license this software have been, no surprise, advertisers. Both Honda Motor and Procter & Gamble have tried Emotient to determine how people are reacting to their products. Unilever, Kellogg, and Mars have used webcams equipped with Affectiva’s Affdex software to watch consumers while they’re viewing ads.

Apple bought Emotient in January, and the company isn’t revealing its plans for the software. Meanwhile, with more than $20 million in funding, Affectiva has opened its platform to developers and is licensing its software to everyone from game makers to educators. The technology may be similar, but the business approaches couldn’t be more different. —Jessi Hempel


Gene editing will be a massive business

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RACHEL HAURWITZ

PRESIDENT & CEO | CARIBOU BIOSCIENCES

Haurwitz_tk-unicorn-2.r1.pngemoji_new-4.r1.pngRachel Haurwitz began grad school in 2007 studying an obscure corner of science: a bacterial immune system called Crispr. By the time she got her UC Berkeley PhD in 2012, Crispr had turned into the biggest development in biotech, a gene-editing tool with unlimited potential.

Haurwitz had shifted gears too. Along with her doctoral adviser, Jennifer Doudna, and other Berkeley scientists, she cofounded Caribou Biosciences to find commercial applications for the technology, whether it’s modifying crops for drought resistance or immune cells for cancer therapy. If someone had predicted her project would turn into a hot startup, Haurwitz says, “I would have laughed pretty hard.”

Last year investors poured hundreds of millions into several Crispr startups. This year those companies are really duking it out for market share. On top of that, Caribou and its chief rival, Editas Medicine, have licensed competing patents that are in dispute before the US Patent and Trademark Office. But the reward of being the first to commercialize Crispr is so great, there’s no time to waste. — Sarah Zhang

Gene Editing

Number of Crispr mentions in PubMed-listed publications

Source: PubMed


Artificial intelligence is smarter when it’s open source

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YANN LECUN & GREG BROCKMAN

LECUN: DIRECTOR OF AI RESEARCH | FACEBOOK
BROCKMAN: CTO | OPENAI

emoji_new-1.r1.pngemoji_new-1.r1.pngemoji_new-1.r1.pngThe world’s most powerful tech companies are racing to create machines that think like humans. But rather than hide their advances from rivals, the brightest minds in artificial intelligence are taking a counterintuitive approach: They’re giving away their secrets.

Yann LeCun, head of AI research at Facebook, is the prime mover behind the company’s deep neural networks—webs of hardware and software that mimic the interconnected neurons in the brain. Facebook uses neural nets to identify who’s in your photos and what goes into your News Feed. Eventually, some researchers believe, neural nets might even achieve something like common sense.

LeCun says a technology this powerful doesn’t evolve in isolation. “We make progress in AI right now through an open process,” he says. “When you do research in secret, you fall behind.” Last fall, Facebook backed up those words when it gave away designs for the hardware that runs its AI. Google did the same with its AI software.

These companies still keep some of their work to themselves. But a new outfit called OpenAI, backed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, is taking openness a step further: Under the guidance of CTO Greg Brockman, it’s giving away almost all its research.

OpenAI’s mission has helped it snatch top talent from Google and Facebook. “If you’re doing research, you need really good people around you,” Brockman says. Companies, including Musk’s, will be able to use OpenAI’s findings to further their own goals. But that suits OpenAI: Behind its openness is an anxiety that a too-smart AI in private hands could find a way to unleash itself on the world for malicious ends. Getting the most sophisticated AI possible in as many hands as possible, Brockman and company believe, is humanity’s best chance at preventing an AI apocalypse. —Cade Metz


Inequality is everyone’s problem

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ERICA BAKER

ENGINEER | SLACK

emoji_new-2.r1.pngemoji_new-6.r1.pngEarly last year, Erica Baker circulated a spreadsheet of salaries at Google, where she worked as an engineer. It showed discrepancies that were, as she said at the time, “not great.” In response, her manager blocked multiple bonuses that her colleagues tried to get for her. Baker eventually went to work for Slack, but her action had the desired effect: Many Googlers used the data in the spreadsheet to ask for—and get—fair pay.

Baker continues to be open about inequities in tech, and she wants everyone else to start talking. “I want the people who claim to be allies to speak up,” she says. “Women and people of color didn’t create this diversity problem, yet we’re being tasked with fixing it.” Too many companies are focused on improving diversity numbers, Baker says, and are less concerned with creating an inclusive culture. She’s living proof that it’s not only OK to speak out but important to join this new generation of workers unafraid to tell their employers, “That’s not good enough.”—Davey Alba


India is the new startup machine

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NIKESH ARORA

PRESIDENT & COO | SOFTBANK

Aroroa-1.r1.pngAroroa-2.r1.pngAroroa-3.r1.pngThough more people are currently using smartphones in India than in the US, ecommerce there is just getting started. So SoftBank president and chief operating officer Nikesh Arora decided to invest heavily in the country where he grew up. “The youth of Asia are all going to demand more access to goods and services,” he says. “So there’s a new opportunity to develop businesses.”

A year after he arrived at SoftBank to help founder Masayoshi Son transform the Japanese telecom by investing aggressively in international businesses, Arora has sunk more than $1 billion into Indian startups. His investments include OlaCabs, Snapdeal, and Oyo Rooms—ventures contending to be the Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb of India, respectively. (He’s also invested $1 billion in Korean ecommerce company Coupang.) “It’s not hard to understand that 10 years from now, ecommerce will play a significant role in people’s consumption habits.”

Arora believes SoftBank can be more helpful to startups than other investors because he has recruited a team of 15 people with experience building companies—just like him. After emigrating to the US for business school, Arora began his career in finance. He arrived at Google in 2004, just after the company’s IPO, to build its European sales office. Arora helped Google grow into a 55,000-person global company, and he rose quickly to become its chief business officer before joining SoftBank. He knows how to run an Internet business, and that savvy will help foster a new wave of Asian entrepreneurs.—Jessi Hempel

India

Number of mobile phone users

Source: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

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