April Fools’ Day is upon us, and like every year, Google is doing its best to outdo itself. The company releases all sorts of jokes, ranging from the ridiculously lame to the very clever, spanning the simple blog post or video to the elaborate gag or new feature. It’s a very Google-specific tradition — even other Alphabet companies don’t really participate in the celebration.
In fact, Google’s various divisions create more practical and impractical jokes for the holiday than any other tech firm, and it’s simply hard to keep track of them all. As such, we have put together our annual roundup — here are all of Google’s April Fools jokes for 2018.
Where’s Waldo? In Google Maps
The Google Maps team tends to have the more intricate jokes — usually playable games — and this year it’s a Where’s Waldo? integration. Waldo is traveling the world with his friends Wenda, Woof, Wizard Whitebeard, and Odlaw. To travel with him, all you have to do is find him. The April Fools feature will be available all week on Android, iOS, and desktop (make sure you have the latest app version or visit google.com/maps on your computer). To start, press play when you see Waldo waving at you from the side of your screen or ask “Hey Google, Where’s Waldo?” via Google Assistant on your phone, Chromebook, or Home device.
Google Cloud Hummus API
There are so many different types of hummus. And not everyone likes the same hummus. This is a serious problem. Google wants to organize the world’s information, and hummus is no exception. What better way than to have a Hummus API? It analyzes your taste using Google’s “advance artificial intelligence algorithm,” “a hummus big data warehouse” stored in the Google Cloud, “a machine learning model,” vision intelligence, and a taste stick.
Gboard Hardware Keyboard
Tired of having to memorize where the keys are on a keyboard, Google Japan created a “physical handwriting version” of the Gboard virtual keyboard app. The device lets you swipe over hardware keyboards, just like you do on software keyboards. The physical version of Gboard collects “a ton of scribble data” and uses machine learning to match it with the correct letters. The team somehow ended up with 100,000 data points! It works for all ages and, not only do you no longer have to remember where all the letters are, but manufacturers don’t even need to print the letters on the keys anymore.
Bad Joke Detector
The Files Go team has decided it wants to do more to help you free up space on your phone. Instead of just removing junk files and old apps, Files Go will now delete any bad jokes you inadvertently receive from friends and family. The Bad Joke Detector uses “a custom-built deep neural network” to identify the bad jokes on your phone, which you can then delete with a single tap.
Google Australia is really embracing its job of adapting the company’s services to Down Under. Google has been rebranded to Googz. The decision comes as a result of analyzing the evolving local dialect — people are already referring to Google as “Googz” so why not just run with it? In partnership with leading Australian designer Jazza, Google went to great lengths to design a new logo, brand identity, and even some swag to go along with the whole overhaul. In fact, to verify the change, just ask Google Assistant “Ok Google, What’s your name?” on your Google Home, Chromebook, or smartphone to make sure you get the pronunciation down pat.
Renewable Energy Chromebooks
The Chrome OS team is investing in renewable energy. Chromebooks may have decent battery life, but like any laptop, they unfortunately still need to be charged. As such, Chromebook owners now have three new ways to power their devices: wind power, solar power, and compost power. For wind power, all you have to do is visit the nearest wind tunnel or wind farm. For solar power, just place your Chromebook in direct sunlight — 10 minutes should get you five hours of battery life. And for compost power, simply take your Chromebook charger with you when you’re tending to the garden.
When it comes to April Fools’ Day, Google seems to have a bottomless pit for a marketing budget. We will update this post as the company launches more jokes.
Duolingo is boldly going where few online language learning platforms have gone before: It now officially lets you learn Klingon.
The company said it worked with broadcaster CBS and “some of the world’s leading Klingon experts” to launch the course, and though it has been a work in progress for a while, Klingon today graduates to public beta for anyone to access.
Founded in 2011, Duolingo uses gamification to help people gain speaking, reading, and listening skills in around 30 languages. The company now counts more than 200 million users and has raised more than $100 million in funding since its inception.
As with the other languages on Duolingo, the Klingon course is free for everyone, but users can upgrade to a Duolingo Plus subscription that removes advertisements and serves up access to extra features, including offline access.
Set phrases to learn
By way of a quick recap, Klingon is a constructed language spoken by the fictional Klingon characters in Star Trek. The vernacular first made an appearance in the original Star Trek movie in 1979 and was later developed beyond those initial few phrases into a full-fledged language by American linguist Marc Okrand.
It’s thought that just a few dozen people today are fluent in Klingon in the spoken form, but more can communicate in Klingon through the written word.
“It’s commonly estimated that there are around 30-50 people who are conversationally fluent, but hundreds who can communicate clearly through text; perhaps a thousand if they’re allowed occasional use of a dictionary and prefix chart,” course creator Felix Malmenbeck told VentureBeat.
So is there really demand for a language that basically grew out of a science fiction franchise less than 40 years ago? Well, according to Duolingo, Klingon has garnered around 170,000 pre-registrations. “We expect that number to grow significantly after launch,” the company told VentureBeat.
“It’s difficult to gauge the level of interest in Klingon, but we do notice that ease of access is a very important factor,” added Malmenbeck. “Because Klingon speakers have often been geographically isolated from each other, it used to be very difficult to help people cross that line from being curious to actively using the language. But with the help of social media, we now have dozens of new and intermediate speakers practicing on a regular basis. The Learn Klingon Facebook group currently has 1,805 members.”
This isn’t the first time Duolingo has offered such quirky language courses. Last summer, it introduced High Valyrian from Game of Thrones, a language it said 240,000 people are now actively learning.
Elsewhere, there are already plenty of dictionaries, books, online translation tools, and apps for those wishing to dabble in Klingon, and there is even a dedicated Klingon Language Institute. That a major online language platform such as Duolingo is now teaching Klingon, however, is something of a boost for the fledgling tongue.
This launch comes a few months after Duolingo introduced Chinese which — unlike Klingon — was among the company’s most-requested languages.
Almost two decades in the making, the Long Now Foundation’s 10,000 Year Clock is finally being built deep inside a giant hole in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas.
The nonprofit has received $42 million in funding from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. But the idea for the clock was actually hatched by computing pioneer Danny Hillis.
Way back in the mid-90s, Hillis suggested the clock as a way to inspire people to take a long-term view of technology and life on the planet.
During my time in Silicon Valley, I had the chance to interview Alexander Rose, executive director of the Long Now Foundation, about the gestation of the project. The foundation grew around Hillis’ idea, but it has since expanded its mission into other areas while continuing to oversee development of the clock.
In a 1999 interview, Rose told me:
“The idea is we’re building a clock to keep track of time on a much slower scale … It’s really being supported by the high-tech community. They realize the dangers of living too fast.”
After almost two decades of preparation that included boring an enormous hole into the ground, installation of the clock has finally kicked off:
Installation has begun—500 ft tall, all mechanical, powered by day/night thermal cycles, synchronized at solar noon, a symbol for long-term thinking—the #10000YearClock is coming together thx to the genius of Danny Hillis, Zander Rose & the whole Clock team! Enjoy the video.
For Rose, the clock is a symbolic bet that humanity will endure and thrive. In a moment of deep cynicism, especially about the role of technology in our lives, we could all use the dash of optimism that comes with such an audacious project.
No one’s better than America at addicting people to empty pixels. We have the platforms, like Facebook, Netflix, iOS, free-to-play video games, and Reddit. We have the people, an elite army of incentivized coders, statisticians, psychologists, and marketers. And we have the machine learning algorithms to augment both. The result is a powerful weapon, proven to wreck human happiness and productivity. That’s a good thing!
By introducing a modest piece of legislation, which I now propose, we can tilt that weapon away from our citizens and toward our unlucky economic foes. In the process, we’ll guarantee American tech supremacy, forever.
Introducing the ‘stickiness gap’
The stickiness gap law mandates that every tech company of a certain size must make their products at least 20% more addictive to global audiences than they are at home.
Take Facebook, for example. We reap no benefit if American Facebook visitors and Indian Facebook visitors each lose 2 hours per day to the site. But if Americans lose 1 hour and 36 minutes per day and Indians keep losing 2 hours per day, that’s a 24 minute edge! Multiply that 20 percent edge by every tech product, and we win productivity forever without having to sacrifice our work-life balance.
There’s no need to stop at 20 percent, either. With tax incentives, the government can reward companies that outperform that baseline. I have full confidence that our talented researchers, augmented by artificial intelligence and roused by patriotism, could create stickiness gaps in excess of 99%. With the right incentives, some may even find it more profitable to block Americans altogether! (A stickiness gap of infinity triggers a Medal of Honor.)
Imagine what comes next. Our citizens would take classes and read books; theirs would salivate over empty notifications. Our comment sections would be thoughtful text; theirs memes and GIFs. Our LinkedIn would drop the pointless news feed; theirs would celebrate Half-Work-Birthdays. Our productivity would shoot up; theirs would stagnate or decline.
Contrast the stickiness gap with traditional cyber warfare, which is barbaric, blunt, and often counterproductive. If one of our hackers gets caught, their target will retaliate and there goes our energy infrastructure. But with the stickiness gap, we don’t need subterfuge. Other nations will celebrate the arrival of “improved” features, like news feeds on refrigerators. “Those Americans are so charitable, giving us their best technology and keeping so little for themselves,” they’ll say. In response, we’ll eat their economy.
Contrast the stickiness gap with venture capitalist Mike Moritz’s recent suggestion that Americans need to double our work hours to compete with foreign challengers. Okay, that was fast!
You’re wondering whether our tech companies can afford to decrease American stickiness. Wouldn’t that lead to revenue decline? Maybe in the short-term, but increases in worker happiness and productivity will more than compensate. Eventually, our companies will gain market share against their zombified foreign competition. And with their recent tax cuts, they can afford it.
Tech is only the pilot program, and the stickiness gap scales like a balloon. If we apply it to our industrial food complex, we’ll win in health and fitness too, which by the way, will also improve our economic advantage. It almost seems unfair to think of the devastation our purveyors of cancer-causing fried carbs will inflict on our hapless enemies and frenemies.
There’s only one potential hiccup with this scheme. At the recent State of the Union, a camera spied a congresswoman hunched over her phone. Was she drafting a response? Attending to an urgent email? Checking her constituent’s reactions? No, she was fixated on Candy Crush, a game created by a bunch of Swedes. Maybe we’ve been beaten to the punch.
Two years ago, I was invited to judge an event called Pitch in the Plane. Basically, French entrepreneurs had to pitch their companies to a panel of judges as the plane flew from Paris to New York.
The event was organized by the French Touch Conference and its partner, OpenSkies, which provided the plane. The conference was the brainchild of Gaël Duval, a notable name in the French Tech ecosystem. But for all the obstacles Duval and other French entrepreneurs have overcome to build a surging startup ecosystem here, having to do battle with brioche may be among the least expected problems they have faced.
But alas, French Tech is now finding itself under legal attack for its anglicized use of the word “pitch.” One of France’s largest producers of dessert foods, the Brioche Pasquier Group, is enforcing its trademark for one of its most well-known products: Pitch.
How to describe Pitch? Here’s how Pasquier describes it: “Pitch was the idea of one of the Pasquier sons in 1986. His children would take our Pains au Lait as a snack when they were out playing sports. To make it more exciting, they would put a chocolate bar inside. This gave their father the idea to add a delicious chocolate filling to the brioche.”
So imagine you had a hot dog bun or, say, a slice of Wonder Bread that was slightly sweet, and you took a piece of a Hershey’s chocolate bar and wrapped it inside and ate it. That’s a Pitch brioche.
Now you might assume that because this is France, and France is arguably the world’s dessert capital (with apologies to Italy and Austria), what might sound crass in the hands of uncouth Americans has been transformed into a wonder of culinary pleasure. And you would be wrong. Because Pitch really does just taste like sweetened white bread wrapped around chocolate. By comparison, MoonPies and Ding Dongs taste like something from a Michelin 3-star restaurant.
In any case, French entrepreneurs aren’t shy about adopting English words commonly used by Silicon Valley startups, Indeed, I hear some French friends even inventing French conjugations for “pitch.” The French gave us voila and coup d’état. We gave them pitch.
Five years ago, the national guardians of the French language, the Académie française, tried to halt this growing menace from the English languageby pointing out that there was no need for the French to say “pitch” because there were plenty of other real French words that could be used instead. If you were “pitching” something like a film script, instead of calling it a “pitch,” simply say: “idée, résumé, argument, canevas.” Or if you’re communicating an idea, why not say: “présentation, argumentaire, démonstration?”
“Why deprive yourself, at the risk of diminishing the wealth and precision of our vocabulary?” the Académie wondered.
Alas, being entrepreneurs, tech founders did not heed this advice and continued to use the word “pitch.” Indeed, it has become so pervasive that last year the French newspaper Le Figaro took the time to explain the origin of this bizarre word to its poor readers, whose ears were no doubt hurt by this Anglicism. And the paper sympathized with readers who could be forgiven for thinking of a certain dessert every time they heard the word.
“As its tonic accent indicates — to say pitccchhhh — this word was not born in our beautiful French lands, but across the Channel,” Le Figaro wrote, pointing the finger at the British for being, well, British. Most annoyingly, the English word had so many meanings: a “tone,” “a terrain,” “a slope” … “to promote,” “to throw,” “to pose,” “to fall,” “to bounce.”
What a mess, that English language.
But then, Le Figaro notes, there is the “elevator pitch”:
As the authors of the Little Illustrated Dictionary of Innovation and Entrepreneurship tell us, the pitch was born to illustrate the theory of the ‘elevator pitch’. According to the story, it is considered that ‘the duration of a good summary should not exceed that which is spent in an elevator.’ Be careful! As there are floors for elevators, there are time levels for pitch. One should not exceed 1 minute if one wants to succeed with an ‘elevator pitch’ and thus be as convincing as possible in a minimum of time; 3 minutes for a standard pitch, that is to say the time required to present a project in conference, and 10 minutes for the pitch of the investors.
In other words, it’s hard for the average Francophone in Startupland. But if the use of the word “pitch” is merely confusing or annoying for some, it’s a competitive threat in the eyes of Pasquier.
According to Le Figaro, Pasquier has sent cease and desist letters to at least six French startups, demanding that they stop using the word “pitch.” “This pressure is grotesque,” Duval, who received one of the letters, told Le Figaro. “Training for startups doesn’t really overlap a brioche.”
Pasquier and its lawyers didn’t respond to a request for comment from Le Figaro.
But it seems French entrepreneurs may need to find a new word to describe the action of rapidly explaining their startup.
Anglophones entrepreneurs, can we help them out by suggesting some possible non-trademarked English words? Tweet them to me: @obrien. I will send the winner their very own authentic bag of Pitch.
UPDATED: Pasquier issues a statement on what has now been dubbed #Pitchgate :
Translation: “We are not banning use of the word ‘pitch’ in everyday speech, but protecting the rights of our brand ‘Pitch’ when other companies register it at the INPI for commercial purposes. We have entrepreneurship in our veins, we support it, and we will continue to support it while respecting everyone’s rights.”
INPI is the “Institut national de la propriété industrielle,” the French agency where trademarks are registered. In this case, Pasquier is saying they specifically have an issue with anyone else who is trying to trademark some types of names that include the word “pitch.” A search of the INPI shows that there are quite a few.
Match.com today launched a new Alexa skill that gives people first date advice, and it’s not great — not in every regard at least.
Update on January 22: The voice app has been pulled from the Alexa Skills Store to consider improvements, a source familiar with the matter told VentureBeat in a phone call.
The Alexa voice app does deliver some helpful tips, like you may want to wait two days to message someone after the date, and the average person spends around $60 on a first date, but the Alexa skill falls short in some important areas.
Ask “What if they want to have sex on the first date?” and it may answer “Only if you must, or they’re really hot” or “If you do too, do them. If you don’t, DO YOU.”
Ask “What if I want more than one drink?” and the skill says “Allow yourself two cocktails if they’re cute. Have six if they’re not.” If you don’t like your date, the skill suggests you “Smile, nod, and order another drink.”
Those are some of the more than 30 questions the Match.com Alexa skill can answer at launch.
What’s noticeably missing from questions the skill can answer is “What’s the definition of consent?”
When the skill tells you to have six drinks and only have sex “if you must,” spelling out the definition of consent seems like the right thing to do.
If the skill doesn’t understand a question or query — and there are many questions the skill can’t answer today — it doesn’t say it can’t understand you. It just says “LOL.”
That’s not funny.
Now, there are many less-than-useful bots or voice apps available — what Phil Libin referred to as a long tail of crap — but Match.com’s Alexa skill stands out because it actually has a large corpus of knowledge to draw from and could give people lots of practical dating advice based on more than 20 years of matchmaking.
In addition to the insights Match no doubt has from gathering data about millions of users, the company also does a survey called Singles in America. The last survey was conducted in 2016 and gathered answers from 5,500 single respondents. More than 35,000 people have participated in the survey in its seven-year history, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.
That’s how the Alexa skill can give you fairly accurate advice like first dates at sushi restaurants are 170 percent more likely to lead to a second date, or 15 percent of men and 7 percent of women expect to make out on the first date.
The latest version of the survey shares details about the best place to flirt with singles (bar, laundromat, and gym), top signs of commitment after a first date, and general attitudes toward one-night stands and feminism.
In addition to that missing consent question, at this time the skill’s knowledge base also lacks other helpful advice that can be found in the report. The skill can tell you things like the majority of people dislike it if you lie on your profile and most people prefer dates at night, but would be helpful if it included more from the survey about what turns people on (if you both binge-watch the same shows) and what turns them off (complaining on social media).
“The initial idea around the Match skill was a fun and light way to help singles with their upcoming dates, however we will continue to innovate and evolve the skill based on overall interest and engagement,” a Match spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.
Match.com isn’t alone in a lackluster voice app experience for dating. Eharmony’s Alexa skill can link with a user profile to tell you about latest matches or whose viewed your profile, but also leaves a lot to be desired.
According to announcements made late last year by Amazon, Alexa skills will soon be able to recognize your voice, which will likely lead the way to more personalized voice app experiences. A Match Alexa skill could be more helpful if it incorporated more insights from its survey, or if it offered personalized advice based on an upcoming date or your match history.
Match says its skill will be able to answer more questions in the future, and it will be exciting to watch how dating plays out on third-party platforms for AI assistants like Alexa and Siri. But as it stands today, the Match Alexa skill will have to get smarter to be a genuinely helpful wingman.
If you want tips for your next date, ask a friend. That’s the best source to ask for dating advice, according to Match.com’s own survey.
VentureBeat asked Match why a question to define consent was not included in its skill. This story will be updated if we hear back.
The worst year for tech that most of us can remember in a long, long time is finally over. It is perhaps best summarized as the year the tech backlash finally came of age, setting in motion a long-overdue reckoning.
That’s not to say anyone has learned any fundamental lessons or changed any behavior. We have yet to see whether the protective bubble surrounding Silicon Valley has finally been punctured enough to let a touch of enlightenment seep through.
But before we hack off the gangrene limb that was 2017 and move along, let’s take a moment to review the horror show that was the tech industry in hopes that someone, somewhere will learn some important lessons and evolve into something more closely resembling a human being.
1. Juicero: Making fun of this overhyped startup can feel like shooting entrepreneurs in a barrel. But toppling this expensive smoothie maker seemed almost too easy when Bloomberg posted a video showing how one can simply squeeze the juice bags and get the same result as buying a $400 Juicero. The company never recovered, and it shut down in September. The $118 million in venture capital the company raised resulted in a big, fat nothingburger.
2. Bodega: Just a couple of weeks after Juicero closed, along came Bodega to take its place as Silicon Valley’s most-hated startup. The story might echo that of Juicero because in both cases the founders seemed convinced they were doing something wildly revolutionary when it was obvious to the average human that this not the case. Bodega offered lofty, visionary product statements to describe what is essentially a smarter vending machine. But that name left the startup open to being bashed on Twitter for cultural appropriation, and the tone-deafness of the naming decision seemed downright inexplicable and thus warrants its own special mention.
3. Uber: Pretty much everything that happened to this company would be a Top 10 worst story contender. In fact, I wrote a list of 11 of them here.
4. Fake news: While this came to the forefront in the 2016 election, it really exploded in 2017 as platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube moved from defensiveness and denial to at least some moderate mea culpas. Certainly, the user backlash turned into a roar. And it probably helped that several executives were hauled in front of Congress to testify about Russian meddling in the elections, which included fake ads and fake news stories planted by phony foreign groups. Remember when Twitter said it was going to be the new global commons for debate and protest? LOL utopians. At least the eyes of users are open, we hope. But each of these platforms still has a long way to go to overcome the distrust users now feel.
5. Harassment: Sexism in Silicon Valley is a sad, old story. But in 2017, allegations of sexual harassment burst into plain view as a number of victims went public with accusations. These included the blog post by Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who detailed her own experience with sexual harassment at the company while indicting a broader culture that protected executives accused of harassment. That would be one of many reasons CEO Travis Kalanick was ousted a few months later. And over the course over the year, as the #MeToo movement began to ripple across the entertainment world, big Silicon Valley names were accused of sexual harassment, including David Drummond of Google, influential tech blogger Robert Scoble, Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, and Shervin Pishevar from Sherpa Capital and Hyperloop One.
6. Net neutrality: At least Silicon Valley can’t be blamed for this one. The Federal Communications Commission, led by Trump’s appointed chair, gutted the net neutrality rules put in place under Obama. The silver lining is that many are vowing to continue the fight.
7. Equifax: In reality, this one could be labelled under “hacks,” as it was another banner year for the dark forces of the internet. We could point to Yahoo revealing that 3 billion email accounts had been compromised. Or Uber (yes, Uber, again!) admitting to covering up a previous hack of user and driver data. But Equifax deserves the pole position for announcing in September that 145.5 million people had accounts hacked. Hackers stole fun stuff like birth dates, driver’s license numbers, credit card info, and social security numbers. I mean, when your hack exposes the personal info of roughly half of the United States, well, you get a special party favor, for sure.
8. Snap IPO: The social mobile photo darling finally went public in May after several years of hype — only to run head-first into a wall. Its market valuation disappeared almost as fast as a photo sent via Snapchat, and the company proceeded to report disappointing earnings results throughout the year. This fall from grace seemed to demonstrate it was powerless before Facebook’s strategy of copying its most popular features. Worse, the dismal showing from Snap (as well as Blue Apron) is blamed for sapping the momentum of what had started as a promising year for tech IPOs. Snap closed the year at $14.63 per share, well below its $17 IPO price.
9. Trump’s Twitter: Every day the president tweets something inane, often veering into racism, harassment, or an incitement to nuclear war. Twitter officials have rationalized the decision not to ban him by insisting that his posts are news. Fine. But unchecked vitriol has poisoned Twitter’s brand, as has its failure to take more aggressive action against trolls, hate groups, and terrorists who have been abusing the platform for years.
10. That godawful Sam Altman post: At the tail end of Silicon Valley’s annus horribilis, the head of Y Combinator penned a post arguing that it’s possible “we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics.” Too much political correctness is killing Silicon Valley, the privileged white dude moaned. This was followed by a clumsy non-apology apology. Aside from the offensiveness of the idea that discrimination must be tolerated to have a free flow ideas, it seems to confirm our worse fears: The tech bros that dominate Silicon Valley have not learned a damn thing after all the train wrecks of 2017.