Venture Bytes #36 – A Cloud for All

Posted June 30, 2017

A Cloud for All

Silicon Valley has its head in the clouds, and that’s a very good thing. In just the last month, several tech giants have paved the way for making advanced machine learning and cloud computing technology increasingly available to smaller firms. Microsoft announced at its Build conference in early May that it would make the Azure cloud platform more affordable by reducing the server size for clients. The company also announced that it would launch a new artificial intelligence (AI) training service which would be made available to third party developers. Later in May, at the I/O developer conference, Google debuted its second generation TensorFlow Processing Unit (or put simply, TPU). Google will populate its data centers with the new TPUs, which it says are 15 to 30 times faster than the competition. This move will benefit other firms in Silicon Valley as well, as the company announced that it will lease time on these new, more powerful servers to other software developers.

These initiatives by Google and Microsoft point to a greater emphasis on cloud technology and advanced artificial intelligence as the future of computing. As these data centers become available to smaller companies, they can develop software, programs and services which have historically been prohibitively expensive and labor intensive for all but the largest Silicon Valley firms. Such large data centers are integral to the development of advanced artificial intelligence through machine learning, which essentially allows the software to learn on its own. Third party developers could use this technology to create more advanced AI, with applications for anything from more accurate image recognition, which requires massive data centers to filter through millions of images at once, to more powerful predictive software. Providing smaller developers with access to the most advanced machine learning technology without the burden of maintaining the underlying infrastructure creates new possibilities for the growth of this “cloud future” for all players in the tech industry.

Recent moves by younger companies in the Valley have mirrored the shift by larger firms toward a future in the cloud with advanced AI. DocuSign announced earlier this month that it would partner with Microsoft Azure to expand to Canada, hosting its data in two Azure data centers in the country. In February, Pinterest rolled out a new service called Lens, which allows a user to point his or her phone’s camera at an object and see a list of smart contextual suggestions such as recipes for a specific food item or pins of similar objects. The technology used in Pinterest’s Lens feature is still in beta, however, and represents a perfect candidate for more advanced machine learning, which could refine image results and ensure more accurate predictions. These developments reflect what larger companies like Microsoft and Google are hoping and preparing for; smaller, younger companies entering the cloud and artificial intelligence spaces, seeking to make their platforms more powerful than ever possible before.

Santosh Rao @ssrao10

Cryptocurrencies Go Parabolic

Cryptocurrencies and the underlying technology are no more a solution in search of a problem, based on recent chain of events. In the last few weeks there have been massive runups in several cryptocurrencies. The market capitalization of Bitcoin has doubled since the start of the year to the equivalent of more than $30 billion. Currencies like Ethereum and Ripple are up even more sharply in the last two months. Ethereum is up 10 times to a capitalization of more than $10 billion and Ripple is up on the order of 40 times.

Introduced in 2008 by an anonymous creator, Bitcoin is a digital currency that operates online and is designed to allow users to transact with each other directly, bypassing governments and banks that normally act as middlemen in financial transactions.

So what changed to attract this sudden interest in cryptocurrencies even as scepticism about its legitimacy has not abated? The recent hysteria around the WannaCry cyberattack did not help. The hackers behind the cyberattack, which held for ransom the computer files of hundreds of thousands of victims, demanded payment in Bitcoin.

Given that regulatory, security and risk-related issues are major barriers to broader adoption of Bitcoin and related technology, we believe recent developments in this space have moved the needle toward broader adoption.

In May, a Bitcoin scaling agreement was reached by the Digital Currency Group, representing 56 companies in 21 countries, at the Consensus 2017 conference in New York. In early April, Japan announced Bitcoin had become a legal payment method in the country. Additionally, Ulmart, Russia’s largest online retailer, said it would begin accepting Bitcoin even though Russia had said it wouldn’t explore the cryptocurrency until 2018.

More importantly, events in China and United States gave this alternative currency much-needed boost. China’s ongoing controls on capital flow has led investors to diversify and look for safer international investments. Since the Yuan has been falling, Chinese investors saw an emerging international opportunity in Bitcoin, driving growth as their currency falls.

The gains also seem to be boosted by speculation the US Securities and Exchange Commission could overturn its ruling on the Winklevoss twins’ bitcoin exchange-traded fund. The SEC was accepting public comment on its decision until May 15, but it hasn’t announced whether it will overturn its rejection of the ETF.

Blockchain, the underlying technology behind the cryptocurrencies, has its own share of sceptics but is gaining ground much faster than the currencies per se. Banks and big data firms are starting to see the potential in Blockchain technology. Blockchain transactions emphasize speed, scalability, and cost reduction, allowing for seamless payment transfers. Ripple, a commercial-focused Blockchain provider, has added several high profile banks like MUFG, BBVA, and even J.P Morgan is in talks.

Banks are betting on Blockchain to be an integral part of the financial value chain, easing consumer woes about security and legitimacy. Blockchain solves a critical business problem by ensuring seamless cross-border payments. Industry experts believe huge new markets and products are going to be built on these open platforms as it fundamentally changes market structures and perhaps even the architecture of the internet itself.

Santosh Rao @ssrao10