IDC: Asia-Pacific spending on AI systems will reach $5.5 billion this year, up 80 percent from 2018

Spending on artificial intelligence systems in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to reach $5.5 billion this year, an almost 80 percent increase over 2018, driven by businesses in China and the retail industry, according to IDC. In a new report, the research firm also said it expects AI spending to climb at a compound annual growth rate of 50 percent from 2018 to 2022, reaching a total of $15.06 billion in 2022.

This means AI spending growth in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to outpace the rest of the world over the next three years. In March, IDC forecast that worldwide spending on AI systems is expected to grow at a CAGR of 38 percent between 2018 to 2022.

Most of the growth will happen in China, which IDC says will account for nearly two-thirds of AI spending in the region, excluding Japan, in all forecast years. Spending on AI systems will be driven by retail, professional services and government industries.

Retail demand for AI-based tools will also lead growth in the rest of the region, as companies begin to rely on it more for merchandising, product recommendations, automated customer service and supply and logistics. While the banking industry’s AI spending trails behind retail, it will also begin adopting the tech for fraud analysis, program advisors, recommendations and customer service. IDC forecasts that this year, companies will invest almost $700 million in automated service agents. The next largest area for investment is sales process recommendations and automation, with $450 million expected, and intelligent process automation at more than $350 million.

The fastest-growing industries for AI spending are expected to be healthcare (growing at 60.2 percent CAGR) and process manufacturing (60.1 percent CAGR). In terms of infrastructure, IDC says spending on hardware, including servers and storage, will reach almost $7 billion in 2019, while spending on software is expected to grow at a five-year CAGR of 80 percent.

‘Game of Thrones’ season finale sets record as HBO’s most-viewed episode ever

Despite disappointing many longtime fans of the show, the “Game of Thrones” series finale set a new record for HBO as the most viewed episode in the network’s history. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the episode reached 13.6 million viewers during its initial airing on Sunday night, which rose to 19.3 million once replays and early streaming was included. The record was previously held for a short time by the season’s penultimate episode, which drew in 12.48 million viewers when first aired and a total of 18.4 million during its first night.

The eighth and last season of “Game of Thrones,” which premiered in 2011, averaged 44.2 million viewers through Sunday after streaming, on-demand, DVRs and replays were added in, or 10 million more than the season 7 average, said HBO .

The previous HBO series finale with the most viewers was “The Sopranos” with 11.9 million viewers, though that was in 2007, before streaming and other digital services took off.

 

Several chip companies, including Qualcomm and Intel, have reportedly stopped supplying Huawei after blacklist

Several key suppliers are reportedly cutting off Huawei after the Trump administration added the Chinese telecom equipment and smartphone giant to a trade blacklist last week. According to Bloomberg, semiconductor companies Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx and Broadcom will no longer supply Huawei until further notice. This follows another report earlier today that Google has suspended some trade with Huawei, leaving it with access only to the open-source version of Android.

In addition to impacting Huawei’s business, the blacklisting has ramifications for telecom providers who are getting ready to launch 5G networks. In China, the three big telecoms (China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom), which are all heavily reliant on Huawei, may be forced to delay 5G rollout. Meanwhile, U.S. carriers, especially smaller ones, may have to spend millions of dollars replacing Huawei equipment they have already installed or looking for new suppliers.

In tweet last week from the account Huawei Facts, the company called the blacklist a “lose-lose” situation. In a more recent tweet, it said “Oops! The U.S. is already coming to its senses over a ban on #Huawei, with a government official admitting that it cannot distance itself from the tech giant as easily as it might like. #HuaweiFacts” in response to a report that the administration might grant Huawei a temporary license to prevent service interruptions.

Meanwhile, Google’s ban, first reported by Reuters, would give Huawei, the second-largest smartphone brand in the world after Samsung, access only to open-source version of Android, leaving it with a significant disadvantage to other handset makers.

According to Bloomberg, Huawei stockpiled three months worth of chips in anticipation of action by the U.S. government, which it has been at odds with since a 2012 Congressional report deemed it a potential threat to national security (accusations the company has repeatedly denied).

A Xilinx spokesperson told TechCrunch “We are aware of the Denial Order issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce with respect to Huawei, and we are cooperating. We have no additional information to share at this time.” TechCrunch has also contacted Huawei, Broadcom, Qualcomm and Intel for comment.

Alibaba invests about $635M in Red Star Macalline, one of China’s largest furniture sellers

Alibaba Group has acquired about RMB 4.36 billion ($635 million) worth of convertible bonds in Red Star Macalline, one of China’s biggest furniture retailers. If converted, this would give Alibaba about a 10 percent stake in the company. It also purchased 3.7 percent of Red Star Macalline’s publicly traded shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange, according to a disclosure.

Red Star Macalline operates about 300 shopping malls and 364 home improvement centers throughout China, leasing space to retailers in addition to selling its own inventory and services, including interior decoration consultations and construction. The company will work together with Alibaba to improve its physical stores and take advantage of the latter’s e-commerce channels.

This investment comes about six months after Red Star Macalline announced a digital marketing partnership with Alibaba rival Tencent. TechCrunch has contacted Alibaba and Tencent for more information on how Alibaba’s new stake might affect the earlier deal.

Alibaba’s Home Times, a retail chain it opened in late 2017, gives a look into what it might do with Red Star Macalline’s malls and online operations. Home Times emphasizes offline-to-online retail, enabling customers to scan products for more information and pay for them with Alipay, and has large screens that let shoppers see how items will look in their homes. Customers’ shopping behavior is then used by Tmall, Alibaba’s business-to-consumer e-commerce site, to pick products to add to stores in different locations, making inventory management more efficient.

Having trouble with Amazon Alexa? You’re not the only one.

If your requests to Alexa are being met with answers like “I’m having some trouble, please try again later,” you are not alone. Multiple users are reporting connection issues with Amazon’s voice assistant. According to Down Detector’s outage tracker and live outage map, issues are currently being detected around the world, with user reports starting around 7PM EST.

We’ve reached out to Amazon and will update this post when more information is available.

Trump is reportedly preparing to sign an executive order that would enable a ban on Huawei in the US

As the trade war with China intensifies again, President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order that would make possible a ban on American companies from using telecommunications equipment from Huawei and other companies that the government believes pose a national security risk, Reuters reports.

The executive order cites the International Emergency Economics Power Act, a law enacted in 1977 that gives the President broad power to control trade in response to a national emergency. The order has been under consideration for a year, but repeatedly delayed, and may be delayed yet again, says Reuters. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the administration was considering executive actions in May 2018.

Specific companies are not named in the executive order, but it would likely affect Huawei because of longstanding concerns that the Chinese government can use its telecommunications equipment for spying. A House committee first labeled Huawei and ZTE as national security threats in 2012, accusations they have repeatedly denied. U.S. government agencies and contractors have already been banned from Huawei equipment since last year.

Huawei has come under even more scrutiny during the trade war, with Chinese officials accusing the U.S. of using Huawei as a bargaining chip. Chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, was arrested last year in Canada at the behest of the U.S. government and faces up to 30 years in prison on accusations of fraud. U.S. federal prosecutors have also charged Huawei with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Huawei is retaliating by suing the U.S. government, arguing that the ban on using its equipment by federal agencies and contractors violated due process and is unconstitutional.

A ban on American companies from using telecommunications equipment made by Huawei would impact wireless carriers as they prepare to launch 5G networks, in particular smaller, rural carriers that may have to spend millions of dollars to replace equipment that they have already installed.

Twitter launches new search features to stop the spread of misinformation about vaccines

As measles outbreaks in the United States and other countries continue to get worse, Twitter is introducing new search tools meant to help users find credible resources about vaccines. It will also stop auto-suggesting search terms that would lead users to misinformation about vaccines.

In a blog post, Twitter vice president of trust and safety Del Harvey wrote “at Twitter, we understand the importance of vaccines in preventing illness and disease and recognize the role that Twitter plays in disseminating important public health information. We think it’s important to help people find reliable information that enhances their health and well-being.”

When users search for keywords related to vaccines, they will see a prompt that directs them to resources from Twitter’s information partners. In the U.S., this is Vaccines.gov, a website by the Department of Health and Human Services. A pinned tweet from one of Twitter’s partners will also appear.

One of Twitter's new tools to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation

One of Twitter’s new tools to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation

In addition to the U.S., the vaccine information tools will also appear on Twitter’s iOS and Android apps and its mobile site in Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

Harvey wrote that Twitter’s vaccine information tools are similar to ones it launched for suicide and self-harm prevention last year. The company plans to launch similar features for other public health issues over the coming months, she added.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said measles cases in the U.S. had increased to 839. Cases have been reported in 23 states this year, with the majority—or almost 700—in New York.

Social media platforms have been criticized for not doing more to prevent the spread of misinformation about vaccines and, as measles cases began to rise, started taking measures. For example, YouTube announced earlier this year that it is demonetizing all anti-vaccine videos, while Facebook began downranking anti-vaccine content on its News Feed and hiding it on Instagram.

Shares of SoftBank Group, Uber’s biggest stakeholder, slide after its disappointing IPO

As Uber’s biggest shareholder, SoftBank Group had high hopes for the ride-sharing company’s stock market debut last week. Instead, the Japanese conglomerate’s shares have been sliding along with Uber’s following its disappointing initial public offering. SoftBank shares began sliding at the end of last week after Uber set its IPO price at the low end of its planned range. Since the start of trading on Friday morning, SoftBank Group shares have fallen 14.4 percent in value from 11,700 yen (about $106.69) to 10,020 yen (about $91.37)

On paper, SoftBank Group, which became an investor in Uber in early 2018, had expected to make a profit of $3 billion from its debut. According to its IPO filing, SoftBank Group is Uber’s largest shareholder, owning 16.3 percent of pre-IPO shares through its Vision Fund.

After shares continued falling on their second day of trading, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told employees in a memo that “like all periods of transition, there are ups and downs. Obviously, our stock did not trade as well as we had hoped post-IPO. Today is another tough day in the market, and I expect the same as it relates to our stock.”

All major market indexes fell on Monday as the China-U.S. trade war continued to escalate, with China planning to raise customs on American imports after the U.S.increased tariffs on Chinese goods last week.

Hong Kong insurance tech startup OneDegree extends its Series A to a total of $30 million

OneDegree, an insurance technology startup based in Hong Kong, announced today it has extended its Series A round to $30 million, up from the $25.5 million it announced in September. Its extension, which the company is calling its “A2” round, was led by BitRock Capital, an investment firm that focuses on financial tech. Cyberport Macro Fund, Cathay Venture and investors from its initial Series A also participated.

The company is preparing to launch its online insurance platform, designed to make buying insurance plans easier for both consumers and providers by using data analytics to automate the most tedious parts of the process. The company will start with medical insurance for pets after its license is approved by the Hong Kong Insurance Authority before expanding into other products, including travel, cyber and human medical insurance.

In a press statement, OneDegree co-founder Alvin Kwock said its strategy is “not to compete head-on with traditional insurers, but rather to work together, steering the whole industry towards a fully digital ecosystem.”

Disney reports strong second-quarter, but takes $353 million write-down on Vice

Walt Disney Co. is writing down its investment in Vice Media for the second time in less than a year. In its otherwise upbeat second-quarter earnings report, the company said it was taking an impairment of $353 million for Vice.

This follows the $157 million write-down Disney disclosed during its fourth-quarter earnings report in November. Vice Media was valued at about $5.7 billion post-money in June 2017 and raised a total of $1.4 billion in funding, including $500 million from Disney in 2015. Last week, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that the media company had taken $250 million in debt financing from investors led by George Soros as it tries to find a way to reverse its slowed growth and stalling traffic.

Disney owns 21% of Vice, in addition to smaller stakes through 21st Century Fox, which it acquired in March, and A&E Networks, a joint venture between Heart Corporation and Disney-ABC Television, one of its subsidiaries.

The Vice write-down was a low point in an otherwise strong quarter for Disney. The company reported a 3% increase in revenue to $14.9 billion and earnings per share of $1.61, beating analysts’ expectations. It also announced three new “Star Wars” films will be released starting in December 2022, along with a roster of other upcoming titles that includes “Cruella” and the “Avatar” sequels.

TechCrunch has contacted Vice Media for comment.

In a statement to Business Insider, a Vice spokesperson said it is “on target to meet, if it not exceed, its financial targets for the third straight quarter,” adding that “our new executive team’s strategic plan is well underway and with the recent capital rise, we will continue investing in the long-term growth of our five global businesses—television, studio, digital, news and our advertising agency, Virtue.”