News In Context

Walmart Teams With Microsoft To Bid For TikTok’s U.S. Operations

Walmart Teams With Microsoft To Bid For TikTok's U.S. Operations

Tiktok, a video sharing service used to create short music, lip-sync and dance videos, has an unlikely new suitor: Walmart. The retailer confirmed to CNBC that it is teaming with Microsoft to bid for TikTok’s U.S. operations. The idea would be to help turn TikTok U.S. into more of an e-commerce app, much like what TikTok parent company ByteDance does with a similar app in China, according to press reports. Walmart is pursuing the acquisition at a time when it’s trying to better compete with Amazon. It plans to launch a membership program, called Walmart+. The subscription-based service is the retailer’s answer to Amazon Prime, which includes original TV shows and movies. In a statement, the brick and mortar retailer said TikTok’s integration of e-commerce and advertising “is a clear benefit to creators and users in those markets.” It did not say how it would use TikTok or whether it would be part of Walmart+.“We believe a potential relationship with TikTok U.S. in partnership with Microsoft could add this key functionality and provide Walmart with an important way for us to reach and serve omni-channel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses,” it said in the statement.  “We are confident that a Walmart and Microsoft partnership would meet both the expectations of U.S. TikTok users while satisfying the concerns of US government regulators.” The retail giant’s entry into the global sweepstakes was a surprise and comes as the parties grapple with a valuation for TikTok, which is facing a potential ban in the U.S. from the Trump administration over national-security concerns. The new broke just hours after former Disney executive Kevin Mayer quit as TikTok CEO due to ongoing political turmoil. TikTok was pushed to look for a buyer after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in July that he was considering banning TikTok and other Chinese applications for security reasons. The U.S. government said it’s concerned the Chinese government can access user data collected by TikTok. U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that an American company purchase TikTok’s US business, and Microsoft has emerged as the front runner in the ongoing talks. Companies like Oracle, Nexflix and Google have also both reportedly been interested in TikTok.

In other news this week:

HEALTH

Novartis, Amgen, Sanofi and Google’s VC arm are among the backers of  Science 37’s new $40 million funding round. Convincing people to take part in life-saving clinical drug trials was difficult even before the pandemic. But the coronavirus halted efforts by many drugmakers, as hospitals and research facilities closed or channeled their resources to COVID-19. Science37 uses its system of telehealth programs to remotely screen patients and conduct study visits, removing the need for physical trial sites. Using a decentralized trial system as the predominate way of doing tests is a long way off, and barriers in some studies, especially in areas like oncology where hospital visits may be necessary, still exist. But where trials can be done at home, this system is in demand.

A four-inch wafer of silicon has been turned into an army of one million microscopic, walking robots, thanks to some clever engineering employed by researchers at Cornell University in New York. In a paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a team of robotics specialists detail the creation of their invisible army of robots, which are less than 0.1mm in size (about the width of a human hair) and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Controlling movement in these tiny machines requires the researchers to shine a laser on minuscule light-sensitive circuits on their backs, which propels their four legs forward. They’ve been designed to operate in all manner of environments such as extreme acidity and temperatures. One of their chief purposes, the researchers say, could be to investigate the human body from the inside

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, says his secretive neurotech firm Neuralink will demonstrate a working “device,” presumably a brain-machine interface, at 6PM ET on August 28. Musk has spoken repeatedly about his belief that BMI devices are needed to help humans keep up with AI by supplementing our brainpower, but right now, his goal is much simpler: to create an implantable device that lets people control phones or computers.

Bayer has re-upped its partnership with the digital health provider One Drop, with new financial backing and future commitments totaling $98.7 million. The pair are looking to build personalized care programs and digitally connected products for people with diabetes and other chronic conditions..

Amazon launched a fitness band and app called Halo, an attempt by the e-commerce giant to take on Apple, Fitbit and Samsing in an increasingly crowded fitness tracker market. The Halo band will be priced at $99.99 while the app membership would cost $3.99 per month, according to Amazon.

FINANCIAL SERVICES

Verily, the health unit of Google parent Alphabet is creating a subsidiary to apply technology to a kind of employer-sponsored insurance known as “stop-loss.” The new Coefficient Insurance Co. will be backed by the insurance giant Swiss Re via a minority investment. The companies did not disclose the size of the financing, which is still subject to regulatory approvals.  Stop-loss provides protection for employers against catastrophic and unexpected losses. Self-funded employers tend to purchase it from outside insurers to avoid liability and huge losses. The market is already valued at about $20 billion, according to the research firm S&P Global Intelligence.The space is crowded, but Verily and Swiss Re said the new service will be differentiated because it uses tech-based underwriting to determine potential areas of cost volatility, and to cover those areas to reduce exposure.

Visa said August 26 that it has developed a more advanced artificial intelligence system that can approve or decline credit and debit transactions on behalf of banks whose own networks are down. The decision to approve or deny a transaction typically is made by the bank. But bank networks can crash because of natural disasters, buggy software or other reasons. Visa said its backup system will be available to banks who sign up for the service starting in October. The technology is “an incredible first step in helping us reduce the impact of an outage,” said Rajat Taneja, president of technology for Visa. The financial services company is the largest U.S. card network, as measured both by the number of cards in circulation and by transactions. The new service reflects the growing use of AI in banking. Banks are expected to spend $7.1 billion on AI in 2020, growing to $14.5 billion by 2024, on initiatives such as fraud analysis and investigation, according to market research firm International Data Corp.The service, Smarter Stand-In Processing, uses a branch of AI called deep learning that roughly mimics neurons in the human brain and is an underlying technology powering self-driving cars, voice-enabled digital assistants and facial recognition.

BBVA and Spanish startup Multiverse have run a proof-of-concept using quantum technologies to improve the process of dynamically optimising investment portfolios with market data. The bank is working with different technology partners on a host of projects – including credit scoring, currency arbitrage and derivatives valuations – involving the technology.

RETAIL

Amazon said August 27 that it is opening a supermarket in Los Angeles with shopping carts that let customers skip checkout lines, as the e-commerce company builds out its offline presence. The store will be the first with the “Amazon Dash Cart.” This lets shoppers filling up to two grocery bags forgo the store’s cashiers via technology systems that discern what they put in the cart and bill a credit card on file once customers leave through a designated lane. The shop also has a counter for picking up and returning web orders, and stations for questioning Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant Alexa about the store.

MOBILITY

UK-based jet engine company Reaction Engines raises £20 million strategic investment from Rolls-Royce; Reaction has developed a turbine that can operate in both atmospheric flight and space flight; Rolls-Royce will explore how Reaction’s tech can be used in its own engines.

A Japanese mobility venture has unveiled two adapted vans, one which can serve as a workspace or a mobile shop, and another that pumps fresh air through the vehicle to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading between passengers. It is the first commercial offering from Monet, a joint venture between SoftBank and Toyota.

California approved a $437 million effort to build thousands of electric vehicle chargers, its utility regulator said, calling it the nation’s largest ever utility program to expand charging infrastructure.

AI, IOT AND QUANTUM COMPUTING

WISeKey, a cybersecurity IoT company, is created a joint venture in Switzerland called WISeeAI with German AI company arago. The idea is create the first  end-to-end AIoT platform by combining arago’s AI based Knowledge Automation and Data platform HIRO and WISeKey’s Cybersecurity, European Root of Trust and IoT/semiconductors technologies. AIoT will integrate semiconductors, smart sensors, IoT systems, Artificial Intelligence and a data cloud to deliver to customers what it says will be “ a unique offering to power innovation and digital transformation.” Using WISeKey’s cybersecurity technology and IoT network, data will be collected in HIRO where it can be processed and through automation acted upon in real time in a highly secure environment. 

The White House announced that federal agencies and their private sector partners are committing more than $1 billion over the next five years to establish 12 new research institutes focused on artificial intelligence and quantum information sciences.The effort is designed to ensure the U.S. remains globally competitive in AI and quantum technologies, administration officials said.

Facebook is training robot assistants to hear as well as see. The company’s AI lab is pushing the boundaries of its virtual simulation platform to train AI agents to carry out tasks like “Get my ringing phone.”

SUSTAINABILITY

HSBC Global Asset Management has teamed up with climate change advisory firm Pollination Group to create an asset management venture focused on “natural capital”, which seeks to put a value on resources such as water, soil and air to help to protect the environment.

To access more of The Innovator’s News In Context articles click here.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.