Morning Brew - ☕ Ethics progress report

Plus, VC investment falls again in May.
Morning Brew June 08, 2022

Emerging Tech Brew

Vanta

Happy Wednesday. Earlier this week a group of non-profits and researchers in the UK kicked off the world’s largest test of a four-day workweek. Over 3,000 employees across 70 companies—including banks, healthcare, and retail—will participate, working one day less for the exact same pay.

The pilot will end in six months…at which point we’re wondering exactly how these companies will get the participants to go back to a five-day week.

In today’s edition:

A year ago, Google said it’d double its AI ethics team. Has it?

Venture funding fell again in May

Hayden Field, Dan McCarthy

AI

What difference does a year make?

Image of Google logo on a pedestal above disintegrating lines of binary code Francis Scialabba

Last May, Google announced plans to double its AI ethics research department to 200 people and increase its funding over the coming years. One year later, some former team members say they’ve seen little progress.

Rewind: When Marian Croak, head of Google’s AI ethics division, initially announced the growth plans during a Wall Street Journal event, she didn’t offer a timeline or details on funding.

  • Her speech followed months of internal turmoil at Google, sparked by the company terminating both co-leaders of its AI ethics division—Timnit Gebru and, months later, Margaret Mitchell—after a disagreement over their research paper on large language models. (Google disputes this account.)

Fast-forward: The company declined to provide Emerging Tech Brew with a concrete timeline for its plans, or numbers around changes in headcount and funding over the last year.

“The promise that they were trying to double the people in the org—I mean, we approached it pretty skeptically,” Alex Hanna, a former senior research scientist on Google’s ethical AI team, told us. She felt like the initiative seemed more “marketing-oriented than actual reality.” She added, “That definitely hasn’t happened.”

Hanna left Google in February—along with Dylan Baker, a software engineer on the Ethical AI team—to join Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), the organization founded by Gebru.

“We’re continuing to grow our teams working on Responsible AI and increasing our overall investments in this area,” Croak told us in a statement. “This work is crucial, both for the research field and for making our products work better for all people.”

Read the full update on Google’s embattled AI ethics team.HF

        

VENTURE CAPITAL

What goes down, keeps going down

A chart that was supposed to go up now going down Paperkites/Getty Images

Just a few months ago, it seemed like every monthly VC roundup we wrote began with a reference to record-breaking growth.

Now? The tides of capital have turned in the other direction as a potential recession looms. While global venture investment remained at a healthy $39 billion in May, per Crunchbase, the figure declined for the second month in a row, reaching the lowest point since December 2020.

  • In monthly terms, investment declined by nearly 16%. In yearly terms, it fell by 20%.

Funding may be down, but, look, $39 billion is still a lot of money, and plenty of companies announced new funding rounds last month. Let’s look at three that stood out to us:

  • Group14 Technologies, a lithium-silicon battery startup, raised a $400 million Series C led by Porsche. The company claims it can produce cells that are 50% more energy-dense than traditional lithium-ion batteries, and it opened its first US battery-making facility in April 2021. It plans to use its new funding to build out a second commercial-scale factory in the US.
  • Arcadia, which aggregates disparate datasets from electric utilities, raised a $200 million Series E led by JP Morgan. The company’s goal is to “be a clean-energy analog to Plaid,” Canary Media writes, by providing the essential software layer between utilities and consumers or companies looking to build clean-energy products.
  • Moma Therapeutics, a biotech startup working on precision cancer treatments, raised a $150 million Series B. The company debuted in 2020 with $86 million in funding and is researching how a group of 400 essential proteins known as “molecular machines” can be regulated in order to treat cancer.

Step back: For weeks, VCs have been warning startups to buckle down as belts tighten. Y Combinator expects the downturn to last for up to 24 months, while Fred Wilson, a long-time VC, wrote that he’d be “planning to ride this thing out for at least 18 months or more.”

Read the full piece on-site.DM

        

TOGETHER WITH VANTA

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WHAT ELSE IS BREWING

  • Solid Power, a solid-state battery-maker, is aiming to send test cells to BMW and Ford by the end of 2022.
  • The Biden admin announced a series of executive actions to restart stalled solar projects and accelerate domestic solar production. The US solar industry was thrown into crisis by a US Commerce Department probe in April.
  • Sony’s first car will most likely be a high-end vehicle with, naturally, lots of entertainment frills.
  • Gatik, an autonomous trucking company, will deliver paper goods from Georgia-Pacific to several dozen Sam’s Club locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
  • Apple’s annual dev conference—WWDC—is happening this week. As our colleagues at the daily newsletter wrote on Monday, the star of the show is one that isn’t there: Apple’s rumored AR/VR headset.

Snap Poll: Would you rather purchase an AR/VR headset from Meta or Apple?

TOGETHER WITH MCKINSEY & CO

McKinsey & Co

10 tech trends for the next 10 years. Whether you’re an AI developer or someone who’s trying to impress at your next strategy meeting, don’t miss this report on the top 10 trends in tech. McKinsey lays out everything you need to know about clean technologies, next-gen computing, and the future of connectivity. Get it here.

BITS AND BYTES

image of a flickering vertical farm, framed by electricity and lettuce llustration: Francis Scialabba, Photo: onurdongel/Getty Images

Stat: LED lighting alone can account for between 50% and 65% of some indoor farms’ electric bills, according to the 2021 Global CEA Census Report.

Quote: “If you’re a startup without any real scale, managing your supply chain in this environment is beyond challenging.”—Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting at research firm LMC Automotive on Rivian, to the Wall Street Journal

Read: How Apple is sneakily updating iOS for AR/VR.

One powerful app: Enable your workforce to work better from anywhere. This ebook from RingCentral reveals how to securely future-proof your communications across devices and scale with ease. Get it here.*

*This is sponsored advertising content.

READER POLL

A particularly surprising tech startup-luxury brand crossover (Oura x Gucci) prompted last week’s reader poll on non-wrist wearables, like smart rings or smart clothing.

The results are in, and just ~12% of the 2,030 respondents to our poll currently own a non-wrist wearable. But 57% of you are open to buying something like that eventually, while just under one-third (31%) said, “Eh—not for me!”

Let’s check in with the rest of the world, shall we? As we reported earlier this year, the share of wearable devices that are not wrist- or ear-based increased from 7% in Q3 2020 to 12% a year later, per IDC.

  • So, it’s not just you, cherished readers—a small but growing segment of the population is eyeing different wearable form-factors too.

FROM THE CREW

Listen to Imposters

A blue and orange background with the silhouette of a head on top. "Morning Brew" is written across the top and the word "imposters" in bold is written across the silhouette.

Have you ever felt in over your head at work? Like any day your boss will find out you Google 95% of the things you’re supposed to know? Well, so has everyone—even the people you look up to the most.

In order to show that nobody has it all figured out, Morning Brew launched a new podcast, Imposters, where the Brew’s executive chairman, Alex Lieberman, sits down with the most respected names in business, sports, and entertainment to talk about how they overcame their personal challenges.

Check out Imposters here.

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Written by Hayden Field and Dan McCarthy

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