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It doesn’t look like it, but it’s China’s latest AI smart speaker

Image: baidu

Google Home and the Amazon Echo have new competition.

Baidu, which runs China’s most popular search engine, has produced the Raven H, a voice-activated speaker that runs on an artificial intelligence platform.

The Raven H is the first product in Baidu’s upcoming AI plan, following its acquisition in earlier this year of Beijing-based smart home startup, Raven.

If anything, the new speaker’s design looks like none of the competition, and appears to be able to flip up to face the user, when activated.

The speaker’s clean, Scandinavian lines are probably thanks to Swedish consumer electronics firm Teenage Engineering. It also includes audio hardware made by Danish company Tymphany.

It’ll show a grid of animated lights.

Image: baidu

Sleek volume buttons

Image: baidu

It’ll speak Chinese better, and hail you a cab.

Baidu, one of the country’s biggest dotcoms, may face stiff competition in the West, but it’s launching to a hungry and willing home market that hasn’t been well penetrated at all by the competition.

In part, that’s been aided by Google being blocked in the country, but Baidu’s gadgets are primed to speak better Chinese than the others.

Additionally, Baidu’s Raven H can already tap the company’s vast online resources, to play you music, read the news, tell you if it’s going to rain, and so on. And home ground advantage means it can plug into other domestic services such as Didi Chuxing — China’s Uber — to hail you a cab by voice.

At launch, the Raven H is already getting some real world user testing, thanks to an agreement with the InterContinental Hotels Group, to place 100 of the speakers in guest rooms. At the very least, that interaction with guests will only go toward training the speakers to be smarter, benefiting the rest of the network.

Here’s Baidu CEO, Robin Li, showing voice commands on the Baidu app, on an iPhone:

Coming next: AI home robots

The upcoming Raven R

Image: baidu

Baidu is going to follow up the smart speaker’s launch soon with a robot that’s based on the same AI platform.

Called the Raven R, it’ll come with six moveable joints that allow it to “express emotions” and move to respond to users’ commands.

Here’s a teaser it provided:

And following this, Baidu is also working on a home robot that will be able to see you, in addition to hearing you.

That one, the Raven Q, is expected to be able to move around the home, and possibly perform some home surveillance functions, while interacting with natural voice.

It’s still in concept phase, but it’s a show of Chinese companies already poised to leapfrog existing products we have on the market. And getting us one step closer to the future as imagined by The Jetsons.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/16/baidu-smart-speaker-raven-h/

Meituan is the $30 billion startup you’ve probably never heard of


Drivers for the world’s fourth most valuable startup.

Image: Andy Wong/AP/REX/Shutterstock

China’s Meituan Dianping just became the world’s fourth-most valuable startup, reaching a $30 billion valuation that puts it ahead of high-fliers like Airbnb Inc. and Space X.

Never heard of Meituan? You’re not alone. The Beijing-based company, led by Wang Xing, is almost unknown beyond its home country. It delivers food to people’s homes, sells groceries and movie tickets, provides reviews of restaurants, and markets discounts to consumers who buy in groups. It’s a sort of mashup of Groupon, Yelp, Foodpanda and Uber Eats.

Meituan’s appeal for investors is its dominant position in a market of more than a billion people. It was formed through the 2015 merger of Meituan.com and Dianping.com, creating the leading player for internet-based services ordered via smartphone apps. It raised $4 billion in the latest round from Tencent Holdings Ltd., Sequoia Capital and U.S. travel giant Priceline Group Inc.

“It’s a quasi-monopoly built on the stomachs of 1.4 billion people,” said Keith Pogson, global assurance leader for banking and capital markets in Hong Kong at consultant EY.

Wang started Meituan.com in 2010 as a group-buying site similar to Groupon Inc., where people can get discounts by buying electronics or restaurant meals together. Dianping was founded in 2003 in Shanghai with reviews of restaurants and other local businesses, then diversified into group discounts. The companies were valued at $15 billion when they merged two years ago.

The combined companies have far surpassed their U.S. peers. Chicago-based Groupon, once a sensation in the U.S., has dropped to a market value of less than $3 billion. Yelp, based in San Francisco, has tumbled from its peak in 2014 to $3.7 billion.

Meituan Dianping has expanded well beyond its original businesses. With a few taps to navigate its smartphone apps, Chinese customers can order up hot meals, groceries, massages, haircuts and manicures at home or in the office. One popular service: You can get your car washed while you’re at work and it’s parked on the street — the service sends a photo to your phone to verify the job. Meituan says it now has 280 million annual active users and works with 5 million merchants.

The offerings, collectively known as online-to-offline or O2O services, may ultimately prove more successful in China than in the U.S. Labor costs are lower in China, cities are more densely populated and there are more people. The country’s O2O market surged 72 percent to 762 billion yuan ($115 billion) last year, according to estimates from consultant IResearch.

“China’s market is big enough for a company this size,” said Wang Ling, an analyst with IResearch. “After years of consolidation, Meituan is one of the few contenders in areas with gigantic revenue.”

Meituan is facing increasingly stiff competition from China’s technology giants and their proxies. In particular, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has backed a rival service called Ele.me, which recently acquired Baidu Inc.’s business, Waimai. Alibaba, Tencent’s primary rival, is boosting its investment to bankroll expansions into more cities and businesses.

“Meituan faces so many competitors because of its wide range of business,” said Cao Lei, director of the China E-Commerce Research Center in Hangzhou. “Lifestyle e-commerce, which includes online travel and dining reservations, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country.”

Travel is becoming the latest competitive ground. With the recent fundraising, Meituan plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three to five years to become a leading travel booking site. It’s also exploring opportunities to collaborate with Priceline as part of the investment. That may present a challenge to China’s biggest online travel site, Ctrip.com International Ltd., which is backed by Baidu.

In the latest funding, Meituan also received money from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Trustbridge Partners, Tiger Global Management, Coatue Management and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Meituan said it would use the cash to expand in artificial intelligence and drone-delivery technology.

Meituan is one of the new generation of Chinese technology companies that has rapidly gained popularity thanks to the rise of smartphones. Where Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent have come to be collectively known as BAT, new media upstart Jinri Toutiao, Meituan Dianping and ride-sharing king Didi Chuxing have now earned their own acronym: TMD.

The $30 billion financing ranks the company fourth in the world in startup valuations, according to CB Insights. The first three are Uber Technologies Inc., Didi and Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.

EY’s Pogson however cautioned that valuations in China may be getting a bit overheated. Shares of private companies like Meituan and Uber aren’t traded in liquid markets every day, so valuations change only rarely and typically go up. In addition, many of the fundraisings in China and the U.S. are done with ratchets, or protections so that investors get compensation if the valuations fall later on.

“You have to take these numbers with a grain of salt,” he says.

— With assistance by Lulu Yilun Chen, David Ramli, and Yuan Gao

This article originally published at Bloomberg here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/10/19/meituan-30-billion-startup/

The Guardian view on globalisation: its death is the making of it | Editorial

Editorial: We may be at a turning point in the nature of capitalism. That may not be such a bad thing.

Ever since US presidential candidates railed against free trade, and anti-immigrant parties madesweeping gains in Europe, the question has been asked: are we witnessing the demiseof globalisation? A trend that has dominated economics and trade for decades appears to be coming to an end. As a percentage of global GDP, world exports, which have been on a slow steady decline in the past two years, have peaked. Fines on multinationals have reached record levels. Chinas breakneck industrialisation is probably over. Britain, a nation famous for building its empire on trade, will exit the worlds biggest free-trade area Europe by the end of this decade. Donald Trump, an opponent of free-trade deals all his public life, is about to become president of the United States. These signs point to the slow death of the form of globalisation that the rich world has invented, refined and patrolled since the end of the second world war. For many, the period from 1980 to 2008 marks the high-water mark of such policies a period that came to an end with global financial crisis. There is a worry that these years resemble the previously most integrated period of world history: the Gilded Age between 1870 and 1914. This ended bloodily with the first world war.

However, history does not necessarily repeat itself. It is important to note that global prosperity is bigger than any one nation. Some of the reason for the flattening off in the globalising trend is mathematical: poorer economies are growing faster than richer ones, and they import less. As developing nations share of global GDP rises, the effect will be to shrink the ratio of trade to global income. Others could take Chinas place as a driver of worldwide growth: India is probably the only country that has the potential to mount a transformation of similar scale and global consequence. Also a number of fast-growing nations could re-energise the pattern of global growth. The International Monetary Fund suggests that 6% annual growth in a dozen countries with a combined GDP of $4tn would add more to the global economy than the eurozone growing at full tilt.

Yet these feel like the wrong questions and answers. We need to settle whether globalisation in its current incarnation aids or relieves poverty in an equitable way. Given the worldwide revolts on the right and left of politics, the answer would seem to be that it doesnt. Fairer arrangements will help poor nations get richer. Trade is not a zero-sum game: all should benefit from engaging in it. But the world that exists has not been designed this way. The thinking that has dominated recent decades comes from classical free-trade theory which holds that although imports do cost jobs, exports will generate new ones and competition keeps prices low, so, over time, everyone gains. However, recent academic research tells a different story. When economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at the impact of the trade relationship between the United States and China they found a heavy cost to American workers. When jobs vanish, the MIT paper found, the better-trained workers would bounce back, but many blue-collar workers did not. Losses in manufacturing are magnified by being geographically concentrated and entire communities were punished. Little wonder perhaps that Mr Trumps protectionist message has been central to the populist campaign that has made him the president-elect.

The trick is not to retreat behind walls. That would see a return to beggar-thy-neighbour policies and the threat of war. Policymakers must go back to watching the numbers that matter to left-behind communities: the trade deficit. International prices must be fairly set so exports are not artificially expensive and imports are not artificially cheap. Imports from nations where labour rights are trampled need addressing. These are concerns that sensible thinkers on the left have raised for years most notably the Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, who has long worried about the corporate capture of trade deals. His warning that President Obamas Trans-Pacific Partnership operated under rules that would harm the economy and US workers was a call that went unheeded by Democrats until it was too late. Work must be done to resolve the tensions between democracy, the nation state and global economic integration. Trade deals need to show nations are open for business by putting peoples interests, not corporate interests, at their heart. We may be at a turning point in the nature of capitalism. That may not be such a bad thing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/20/the-guardian-view-on-globalisation-its-death-is-the-making-of-it

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