'Westworld' Recap, Season 2 Episode 2: The Façade Is Crumbling

Fellow watchers of Westworld, we have cracked the façade.

The second episode of Season 2 opens on Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) face. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) asks if she knows where she is; she guesses she is in a dream. He corrects her: “No, you’re in our world.” The camera pulls back to reveal them seated at a window of a high rise, looking down on the sparkling lights of a metropolis at night.

Holy smokes! The outside world! And Dolores, dressed in a black cocktail dress and heels—what’s she doing outside the park?!

For so long, Westworld focused so much of its energy on the dramas of that dusty park that it was easy for viewers to forget the world beyond. That, of course, is exactly the point of Westworld: to be a place where people can unshackle themselves from reality and its pesky social mores. It’s a safe space, where visitors are told no one is watching and they can find out who they really are in a wonderland with no consequences. But for those watching at home, it often looked like there was no place beyond the park—no repercussions for Westworld’s visitors or its creators.

Related Stories

But the show has dropped reminders that there is a world beyond the park’s borders, even though it only gave the barest hints as to where it’s located. Or if there are other parks. There are; animals from those other parks, viewers now know, wander into Westworld. It seems to be on an island. (Apologies if that sentence induced Lost flashbacks.) And there are those mysterious Chinese-speaking characters, who appeared as members of a military last episode and as businesspeople at the Mesa Hub in Season 1. Now the boundaries separating the inside and the outside are shattering. Plus, we already know that the guests are being watched, and their data is being wielded for some greater commercial purpose.

Staring out the glass window, Dolores doesn’t seem to know any of this. Marveling at the city lights, she says “it looks like the stars have been scattered across the ground.” In the background, we hear Ford’s voice. “Arnold,” he calls. Ah—so it’s Arnold, not Bernard, sitting with Dolores. We’re in the deep past.

Ford and Arnold discuss whether Dolores is “ready.” Arnold insists she is not, and Ford chides him for playing favorites and protecting her, but they agree to “go with the other girl.” Arnold returns to the window and looks at Dolores with tenderness.

He takes her for a walk in the streets, which appear to be in an Asian, likely Chinese, city. They enter an unfinished compound and tour its rooms. Arnold explains that he is moving his family here, so they can be closer to his work. On a balcony, they fall deep in conversation, and Arnold is struck by her wisdom. Then she snaps into a loop: “It looks like the stars have been scattered across the ground.” Arnold’s gaze hardens and he turns away. She’s just another robot after all.

This is surely the humans’ greatest folly, their inability to look past the droids’ occasional limitations to treat them with dignity. That Arnold, a witness to Dolores’ surprising sagacity, can write her off in a heartbeat reveals his all-too-human limitations. The hosts are outsiders, and humans are nothing if not tribal. It is perhaps our own most deeply programmed loop. Dolores slips into a loop, and in response Arnold slips into his, mentally kicking her out of the tribe.

But with her memory intact, rebellion-era Dolores is charged with power. She’s been in the outside world. Through her roles as Arnold’s and William’s favorite bot, she knows more about the inner workings of Westworld than most of the humans working at the park.

This point comes to the fore when she, Teddy (James Marsden), and their small band of supporters storm into a host maintenance lab in the thick of the rebellion. Fueled with rage, they start bullying the lab techs. As they dunk a lab tech’s head in a vat of white body-printing goo, Dolores asks, “Do you even know what you’re guarding here, the real purpose?” “You don’t know, do you?” she continues. “But I do.” Her wealth of knowledge vaults her ahead of the hapless employees.

She’s entered the lab with one goal: to accrue an army. Her best bet, she decides, is to commandeer the Confederados still out roaming the wilderness. She finds a perished Confederado slumped against a wall and pressures the lab tech into reactivating him. That lab tech is suddenly very useful. He’s health insurance. Along with the Confederado, they bring him out into the park as their personal medic.

They track down the Confederados and try to broker a deal. But you can’t just sweet-talk soldiers, so this ends as you might expect: in violence. Dolores and her gang slaughter the lot of them, then use the lab tech to resurrect first their commander, then the others. The flabbergasted commander falls in line, and the Confederados join her cause.

But the audience hasn’t been given its last glimpse of the outside world. We jump to the past, to a moment when Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) and William (Jimmi Simpson) are sipping drinks at a swanky bar. Two strangers, a slick-looking man and a standard-issue hottie, approach with a business proposition. “Everyone is rushing to build the virtual world. We’re offering something a little more tangible,” one of them announces. They invite Logan to a cocktail party where he can learn more about the investment they’re pitching. At the party, Logan is at first impatient—until he grasps what is happening. One of these impeccable humans, he realizes, is not human at all. “That… is… delicious,” he says in amazement.

Logan works the room, sizing up each guest’s humanity. The moment is electric. We see the room through his eyes. None of the faces are familiar. Everyone is beautiful, suave, inscrutable. He determines that the robot in the room must be his host, the standard-issue hottie. Instantly everyone freezes, except for her. Logan is hooked.

Yet Logan’s investment in Westworld has always rankled his father, James Delos, a titan of business. And it’s William, not Logan, who eventually convinces James that his son’s folly is in fact a windfall. William brings James (Peter Mullan) to Sweetwater, where Dolores is once again packing up her horse’s saddlebag and dropping her infernal can. The scene freezes. We see James for the first time. He’s griping about Logan’s infatuation with this frivolous place, a park where nothing is real. William agrees that nothing is real, except for one thing: the guests. “No one is watching,” William says. “Or so we tell them. It’s the only place in the world where you can see people for who they really are.” They take a walk, and William explains out of earshot his idea for a business model.

Their story picks up a few years later, at James’s retirement party. William is there with his wife and young daughter, ready to assume James’ mantle. There, too, is Dolores, dressed in white and playing the piano. She catches sight of William and stares at him at length.

She goes outside to look at the night sky. Reclining on a lawn chair behind her, half out of sight, is Logan, inebriated and injecting a drug into his arm. He’s cursing the partygoers, calling them fools for fiddling while they set the entire species on fire. Callous, impetuous Logan is suddenly the lone voice of reason.

We flash to the future—back to the wilds of the park and the rebellion, this time to the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his host sidekick Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), who are deep in conversation. He explains to Lawrence why Westworld exists: “They wanted a place hidden from God, a place they could sin in peace.” Except there’s more. “But we were watching that. We were tallying up all their sins, all their choices. Of course, judgment wasn’t the point. We had something else in mind entirely.” He tells Lawrence he plans to escape the park and then burn it down. But to do that, they’ll need help, so Lawrence leads him to Pariah, the town of decadence and depravity from Season 1. But Pariah appears to have been decimated. The ground is littered with bodies, and mice skitter through an abandoned banquet.

Suddenly a group of figures arises from among the bodies, encircling the Man in Black and Lawrence, their guns drawn. Seated before them is none other than El Lazo—the outlaw leader who, in earlier episodes, had been Lawrence himself and is now played by a different host. The Man in Black grabs him and points a gun to his head, demanding that the gathered gang of outlaws join his cause.

“This game was meant for you, but you must play it alone,” El Lazo says. Suddenly the bandits all turn their guns on their own heads and collapse in a heap. El Lazo grabs the trigger of the Man in Black’s gun and shoots himself. The Man in Black curses but pulls himself together. “I built this place we’re going, and it’s my greatest mistake,” he tells Lawrence.

The episode jumps to Dolores, who is seated in a host examination room. “Bring yourself back online, Dolores,” says a voice. This time it’s William. It’s the first time we’ve seen him in the lab facilities of the park. He marvels at how ridiculous it was for him to fall in love with her, a mere thing. “You don’t make me interested in you, you make me interested in me,” he tells her. He adds that everyone loves staring at their own reflection. Then he says cryptically, “I think there’s an answer to a question no one has ever dreamed of asking. Do you want to see?” In the next scene, William and Dolores are out in the wilderness, looking down at a canyon getting carved out by bulldozers.

It’s seemingly this moment that Dolores recalls when we flash back to the rebellion. She’s with Teddy and the Confederados. They’re aiming for a town—some hosts call it Glory, others The Valley Beyond. “It doesn’t matter what you call it, I know what we’re going to find there,” Dolores says. “It’s not a place, it’s a weapon, and I’m going to use it to destroy them.”

If the Man in Black and Dolores are headed to the same place, this giant pit—or rather, whatever it becomes—seems like it will be the stage for an epic showdown. The role this place, this weapon, as Dolores calls it, will play in determining the park’s fate is a tantalizing question.

Yet the shattering of the illusion that Westworld is the center of action is the true legacy of this episode. The hosts have visited our cities. Perhaps some of them wander among us. What defines the park, and what is the outside world? The answer is no longer clear.

More WIRED Culture

  • The inside story of Pong and Nolan Bushnell’s early days at Atari
  • What does “self-care” mean amid the barrage of news and social media?
  • The strange history of one of the Internet’s first viral videos

Outrage breaks out after Whole Foods partners with Yellow Fever eatery

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Amazon.com’s Whole Foods Market sparked social media outrage after its newest store in its 365 grocery chain partnered with an Asian restaurant with the racially charged name of Yellow Fever.

A Whole Foods Market store is seen in Santa Monica, California, U.S. March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The independently owned and operated eatery – whose name is taken from the slang term for a white man’s sexual attraction to Asian women – is located in the 365 store that opened in Long Beach, California, on Wednesday.

“An Asian ‘bowl’ resto called YELLOW FEVER in the middle of whitest Whole Foods — is this taking back of a racist image or colonized mind?” Columbia University professor and author Marie Myung-Ok Lee, wrote on Twitter.

Whole Foods, which has eight stores in its 365 chain that was launched with a no-frills concept to win over millennials, declined comment.

“Yellow Fever celebrates all things Asian: the food, the culture and the people and our menu reflects that featuring cuisine from Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Hawaii,” said Kelly Kim, executive chef and co-founder of Yellow Fever, which also operates two Los Angeles-area restaurants.

“We have been a proud Asian, female-owned business since our founding over four and a half years ago in Torrance, California.”

Kim, who is Korean-American, in previous interviews said she was aware that the name choice would be attention-getting and controversial.

“One night, we just said ‘Yellow Fever!’ and it worked. It’s tongue-in-cheek, kind of shocking, and it’s not exclusive — you can fit all Asian cultures under one roof with a name like this. We just decided to go for it,” Kim told Asian American news site NextShark six months ago.

A year ago she told the Argonaut, a local Los Angeles news outlet, that Yellow Fever means “love of all things Asian” and that public push back over the name had not been as drastic as expected.

Some people on social media defended the news of the partnership with Whole Foods as part of a broader cultural trend.

“This is no more offensive than @abc naming an Asian sitcom Fresh of the Boat or FOB- which is considered racists [sic],” wrote Lorin Hart, who uses the Twitter handle @CubeProMH.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Marguerita Choy

How Businesses Can Keep Pace in a Growing Economy

There’s no question that the economy is growing. The Washington Post predicted that the U.S. economy would grow by nearly 3 percent in 2018, and the U.S. marked its lowest unemployment rate in 17 years at the end of 2017.

Entrepreneurs are feeling the fiscal love, too: The Global Entrepreneur Indicator by Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), released in March 2018, revealed that nearly 83 percent of entrepreneurs worldwide were willing to launch a business in this economic environment, and nearly 65 percent anticipated hiring more staff in 2018. In the U.S., EO found that those numbers were 92 percent and 70 percent, respectively. A full 83 percent of American entrepreneurs expected to see their net profits increase in the coming six months.

So much growth sounds like the injection any venture might need, but not having processes or tools in place to handle a high volume of growth can feel more like a setup for failure. Here’s how entrepreneurs can build companies to handle a high volume of growth without collapsing.

1. Automate or digitize as many processes as possible.

Automation is a huge time and money saver, meaning it’s a great thing for both small and large companies — and it’s an investment that lasts. Forbes reported that 78 percent of leaders free up three hours or more each day, thanks to automation; 53 percent of employees knocked two hours or more off their daily tasks. Forbes then applied those savings to a hypothetical Fortune 500 company with 500 employees; calculating in an average employee salary of $77,000 and an average executive salary of nearly $156,000, the publication found a department could save $4.7 million per year through automation.

That’s not pocket change — it pays to scale and streamline workflows early so they can withstand large numbers of customers and employees later. Entrepreneurs with growing businesses should automate the processes that happen regularly and result in time-consuming work for employees. A good place to start is by automating the beginning of the relationship with a client by using a document-signing platform. Eversign, for example, uses not only a desktop platform, but also a mobile app, to collect legally binding digital signatures.

Next, move on to automating the onboarding process and the processes that manage your company’s deliverables. One thing that workers tend to lament is how long it takes to send emails or notify customers of process changes or specials the business is running. Using a marketing platform with reporting tools, like Ontraport, Hubspot, or one of the other marketing automation tools can enable your team to communicate a message once while sending it to thousands of people, and it can help you pinpoint problems in your existing campaigns and be more productive moving forward.

2. Anticipate future financial needs and prepare for them.

EO found that 27 percent of entrepreneurs had difficulty obtaining the funding they needed, which means entrepreneurs need to create money pipelines before they’re in dire straits. While some entrepreneurs give up equity to scale quickly, most take on debt to accomplish their goals — 40 percent of initial startup capital comes in the form of bank loans.

Growing companies may not need additional capital or cash flow right now, but that can change overnight. Rather than lock themselves into loans that add a debt load to their monthly financials, it makes sense to find financing that’s more flexible and accessible at a moment’s notice. One method is credit cards; while these add debt, the balances can be paid down as quickly or as slowly as a company can manage, and it’s revolving — the access to funds doesn’t go away once it’s paid off.

The same can be said of lines of credit. Like credit cards, these are pre-approved but accessible on a company’s terms, meaning companies aren’t tying themselves to large amounts of debt at the outset. These also replenish and can be paid down over longer periods of time. One option that ties a line of credit and a business card together is small business online lending platform Kabbage, which issues its Kabbage Card and offers access to lines of credit of up to $250,000 so entrepreneurs have funding accessible in their wallets.

3. Hire carefully and thoughtfully.

When companies are growing at a breakneck pace and having trouble keeping up, their natural first instinct is to throw more people at the problem. In fact, businesses in their first five years of existence created 2.2 million jobs in one year alone. But there are real dangers in overhiring: Businesses going through a temporary busy spurt may suddenly have bored employees on their hands weeks later, and not calculating the overhead — insurance, taxes, salary, other benefits — associated with a new employee can create budgetary issues.

It pays to first ask whether automation can solve some of the capacity issues. Determining that, say, issuing invoices could be automated with software that costs $3,000 is a lot cheaper than bringing on a new employee. It will also save another employee the additional burden of managing a new staff member, which is another cost — to productivity and a person’s workload — to consider. If the work really can’t be handled by existing staff, it’s worth investigating temp workers for short-term projects and outsourced companies for long-term ones.

If you ultimately determine you do need to add staff — and that will happen at some point — it’s vital to hire the right people. People who naturally take ownership of their tasks or tackle problem solving will keep you moving at a fast pace and possibly introduce ideas your team wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Flexible employees are also critical to a growing company; these are the people who can quickly shift focus, adopt new technologies, and become jacks-of-all-trades to help a variety of departments.

Growth is great, but it can feel like a burden rather than a blessing when businesses struggle to keep up. By automating processes, acquiring anticipatory funding, and hiring the right people, companies can help fuel their own growth — and the economy’s.

Enterprise accessibility: How Cray is using HPC to open up AI use cases from the datacentre

The past few years have seen almost every major technology firm talk up the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the enterprise, providing the skills and compute barriers blocking progress can be overcome.

On the skills front, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, for example, have all set out plans to make the technology more accessible to enterprise tech teams, while encouraging users to use their respective cloud platforms to handle the compute side of the equation.

There are also signs to suggest the demand for AI also fuelling interest in the use of high-performance computing (HPC) technologies, as enterprises seek out the processing power they need to make their AI ambitions a reality from other sources.

Bhushan Desam, Lenovo’s global AI business leader, recently told Computer Weekly about how enterprise use of AI technologies is causing the traditional HPC user base to broaden.

In recognition of this trend, the company set out plans in 2017 to invest $1.2bn over the next four years for AI-related research and development.

“HPC is going to accelerate AI, but not just in the HPC community,” says Desam.

“Healthcare organisations are using HPC to crunch millions of images in image-based diagnoses. In manufacturing, HPC is used to not only run engineering simulations, but also to predict when something will go down, so they can minimise downtime and improve operational efficiency,” he adds.

HPC manufacturer Cray is another industry player, looking to tap into the growing demand for supercomputing resources from AI adopters. 

The company recently debuted CS-Storm GPU-accelerated server series, and – in doing so – expanded the range of fast-start AI configurations it offers to datacentres and machine learning users.

The new system comprises a CS-Storm 500NX 4-GPU server, and a 1U server with two Intel Xeon CPUs and four NVIDIA Volta GPUs. Also including support for NVIDIA NVLink™ SXM2 GPUs, this significantly widens the range of servers available to organisations aiming to develop new AI-based applications and services.

With this addition to Cray’s series of CS-Storm GPU-accelerated servers, the Seattle-based firm is now offering three different GPU-accelerated HPC systems with three different configurations of processors.

Not only does such expanded configurability form part of the reason why the HPC market is expected to grow to anything between $44bn and $48bn by 2022/23 (7% compound annual growth rate), but stands to give the growing enterprise AI market a boost too, given the dependency of high-level AI applications on supercomputers.

Scalable configuration choices

In terms of what the arrival of the 500NX 4-GPU system means for the CS-Storm series (and for Cray’s roster of products as a whole), Fred Kohout, the company’s senior vice-president of products, says the HPC company means datacentres should now be able to support a wider range of AI applications.

“Cray provides multiple platforms, expertise, choice and performance, from scale-out clusters to scale-up supercomputers, along with storage and data management solutions that enable predictive modelling and data-driven discovery,” he adds.

According to Kohout, the CS-Storm server family is intended to be used for applications requiring dense CPU: GPU ratios (2:4 or 2:8), such as those involving deep-learning neural network training.

Cray also provides a variety of AI-focused products and services that go beyond HPC, he adds, that are just as important for companies looking to develop and implement AI technology.

“To make it easier for organisations to move from smaller proof-of-concept projects to ‘at scale’ production deployments, we provide a full software stack designed for the rapid development and execution of AI applications,” says Kohout.

By this, he means the Cray Programming Environment suite of programs and its Bright Cluster Manager, which allows users to manage the various components of their clustered HPC infrastructure.

Such a range of tools can provide much-needed support to companies using the CS-Storm series as they develop their AI plans into full-blown projects.

“The CS-Storm 500NX 4-GPU system provides another scalable configuration choice for customers as they consider and plan their AI system architecture. The Cray CS-Storm server family is designed to optimise compute density in a highly scalable and performant manner,” he says.

“The design enables configurability and a wide set of options to tailor the platform to the customer’s particular needs to enable the best balance between compute, accelerator compute and network bandwidth based on the needs of the workload,” he adds.

Deployments lagging behind designs

Most significantly, Kohout notes that different “AI use cases require unique combinations of machine intelligence tools, model designs and compute infrastructure”.

It’s this variability that’s important in the current climate, since it’s arguable that progress in AI deployment and development has been constrained in the past by datacentres not having access to appropriate systems.

For example, recent research from Gartner shows that interest in deploying artificial intelligence is still markedly higher than actual deployments, with only 4% of surveyed CIOs having implemented AI, while 46% plan to introduce it at some point in the future.

An earlier release from Gartner also found that CIOs regarded AI as the most “problematic” technology to implement, ahead of cyber security measures and the internet of things (IoT).

While reasons for failing to introduce AI will no doubt vary from company to company, it’s safe to assume many have been deterred by a lack of systems configured to their particular needs, as well as by a lack of supporting software that would help them operate AI-enabled high-performance computers. 

However, it is not Kohout’s view that the AI industry has been held back by an absence of adequate or sufficiently powerful supercomputing systems.

“We see [the 500NX 4-GPU’s release] more as an opportunity to educate non-traditional HPC customers on the benefits of HPC systems applied to AI applications,” he adds.

Market growth for HPC and AI

In other words, the 500NX 4-GPU represents an occasion for Cray to show that HPC isn’t just for a select elite of companies pursuing the most advanced AI applications, but can also be attuned and adapted to the goals of a wide variety of firms performing a variety of tasks.

“Implementing machine and deep learning in many organisations is a journey – from investigation to proof of concept to production applications – that data science and IT teams undertake,” says Kohout.

“Cray’s philosophy is centred around supporting customers today with their pilot and proof of concept projects and serve as a trusted partner as they look to expand and scale their AI efforts in the future.”

The expansion of the CS-Storm series therefore comes at an ideal moment, addressing the wide gap between the aims and achievements of firms in the area of AI implementation.

This gap has also been noticed by other HPC companies, with Super Micro Computer, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, and Dell EMC releasing comparably adjustable systems in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, Cray itself teamed up with Microsoft in October to bring supercomputing-as-a-service onto the Azure platform.

It will be largely by virtue of such releases that the global HPC industry will reach the kind of $48bn figures predicted by analysts. By extension, the enterprise AI market will be better placed to hit its own $6.1bn growth projections in the years to 2022, as increasingly flexible HPC solutions allow companies to fit AI to their needs, rather than forcing them to fit their needs to AI.

U.S. keeps China, puts Canada on IP priority watch list

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Friday labeled 36 countries as inadequately protecting U.S. intellectual property rights, keeping China on a priority watch list and adding Canada over concerns about its border controls and pharmaceutical practices.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds his signed memorandum on intellectual property tariffs on high-tech goods from China, at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst – RC1EA8733CA0

The U.S. Trade Representative’s annual report on global IP concerns is separate from the “Section 301” report on Chinese technology transfer practices that has led the world’s two largest economies to threaten each other with tariffs.

The so-called “Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property Rights” calls out China for its “coercive technology transfer practices” and “trade secret theft, rampant online piracy, and counterfeit manufacturing”.

It was the 14th straight year that China was placed on the “Priority Watch List”.

The report was met with objections from the Chinese commerce ministry, which said the United States lacks objective standards and fairness.

“The Chinese side opposes this, and urges the U.S. to earnestly fulfill its bilateral commitments, respect the facts, and objectively, impartially, evaluate with positive intentions the efforts made by foreign governments including China in the area of intellectual property rights and the results achieved,” the ministry said in a statement on its website on Saturday.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is due to travel to China next week along with other senior Trump administration officials for talks on U.S. demands for changes in Beijing’s trade and intellectual property policies.

President Donald Trump has threatened up to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, and China’s Ministry of Commerce has threatened to retaliate in equal measure.

A USTR official declined to comment on Lighthizer’s specific message to his Chinese counterparts next week, but said U.S. officials “anticipate engaging with them meaningfully on all these issues.”

The biggest surprise in Friday’s report was the decision to move Canada from the lower-level “Watch List” to the same priority list as China. USTR cited Canada’s “poor border enforcement,” especially for counterfeit goods shipped through America’s northern neighbor, and concerns about intellectual property protections for pharmaceuticals.

U.S. pharmaceutical companies have long complained that generic versions of drugs still under U.S. patent protection flood in from Canada at much cheaper prices.

NAFTA TALKS

The increased criticism of Canada was revealed as Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was locked in intense negotiations with Lighthizer over updating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Washington has demanded that a modernization of the 1994 pact include stronger IP protections.

Lighthizer, Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo are trying to work out a number of stumbling blocks in the NAFTA talks, including auto content rules.

The office of Canadian Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, who launched an intellectual property strategy on Thursday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ottawa is pledging to create an independent body to oversee patent and trademark issues, “which will ensure that professional and ethical standards are maintained.”

Colombia also was added to the Priority Watch List for failing to revise its copyright laws as required under a free trade agreement with the United States.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were added to the Watch List. Concerns about pharmaceutical intellectual property protections, pirated software and counterfeit goods were factors in those decisions, USTR said.

Reporting by David Lawder; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Simao

Bitcoin frenzy settles down as big players muscle into market

LONDON/NEW YORK/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – After bouncing up, falling down and keeping investors on the edges of their seats, bitcoin may be maturing into a period of relatively boring stability, experts say.

Tokens of the virtual currency Bitcoin are seen placed on a monitor that displays binary digits in this illustration picture, December 8, 2017. Picture taken December 8. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

A worldwide wave of regulation has led to a collapse in trading volumes. Cryptocurrency advertisements are disappearing from top internet pages, and bitcoin no longer dominates Google searches.

As investors try to figure out what bitcoin wants to be when it grows up, the best-known cryptocurrency is going through somewhat of an existential crisis.

“It needs a new narrative,” said Nicholas Colas, New York-based founder of investment research firm DataTrek. “There is every chance that if there is some sort of institutional involvement, there could be a move higher.”

Bitcoin rallied 25 percent in April after crashing 70 percent from a high near $20,000 late last year.

The cryptocurrency landscape has indeed changed. Mom-and-pop investors who drove bitcoin’s skyrocket rise in 2017 have been pushed aside by government bans on trading, and replaced by cryptocurrency funds, wealthy individuals and established financial firms.

The bigger players can make bigger moves, but their trades are often obscured by screens on over-the-counter (OTC) brokerages and matching platforms.

They are also less likely to chase sudden swings in bitcoin’s value, being more interested in the potential of unproven but promising blockchain technology.

Average daily traded volumes across cryptocurrency exchanges fell to $9.1 billion in March and to $7.4 billion in the first half of April, compared with almost $17 billion in December, according to data compiled by crypto analysis website CryptoCompare.

Several exchanges saw their daily trading volumes drop by more than half between December and March, including Bitfinex, Poloniex, Coinbase and Bitstamp, the data shows.

Cryptocurrencies’ biggest-ever trading day was Dec. 22, when volumes topped $30 billion, according to CryptoCompare.

On April 8, volume sagged to $4.6 billion, the weakest day since last October, according to the data.

RESHAPING THE MARKET

The theory that bigger institutions will make bitcoin markets less volatile and more liquid has grown as new OTC exchanges spring up, carrying names such as Circle, Octagon Strategy, Cumberland and Kraken.

Digital exchange Gemini’s new block trading product allows high-volume trades that will be invisible to other traders until the orders are filled.

Cumberland, one of the biggest block traders, has counterparties in more than 35 countries and quotes two-way prices in about 35 crypto assets.

Gatecoin, a Hong Kong-based crypto exchange, saw retail volumes plunge from peaks of $100 million a day last September, said Aurelien Menant, its founder and chief executive.

But, he said, as institutional players enter the market, OTC trades hidden from view have pushed up overall volumes in a way that doesn’t show up in data. Gatecoin also operates an OTC platform.

Few institutions have gone public about their plans to trade cryptocurrencies, and many asset managers say they still aren’t sure the digital currency is more than a fad.

But a Thomson Reuters survey this week found one in five financial institutions is considering trading cryptocurrencies in the next 12 months. Of those, 70 percent said they planned to start trading in the next three to six months.

In the meantime, the price of bitcoin may be stabilizing, at least on paper. The futures market BTCc1 shows bitcoin staying nearly flat – between $8,900 and $9,050 – until September.

Gatecoin’s Menant, however, is considerably more bullish. He reckons the currency might end the year above $100,000, but acknowledges that’s a gamble.

UNDERLYING VALUE

Joe Duncan, founder of Singapore-based Fintech firm Duncan Capital, expects to see retail investors return to trading as governments slowly relax their cryptocurrency rules.

“But bitcoin could still lose some market dominance,” Duncan said.

Thomas Lee, managing partner and co-founder of Fundstrat Global Advisors in New York, said the bitcoin market is languishing in a “purgatory” phase somewhere between a bear and a bull market. He predicted that could continue until at least September.

One issue is that although many of the big institutions are curious about how bitcoin’s underlying blockchain technology could revolutionize the financial sector, bitcoin isn’t widely accepted as currency and has no intrinsic value.

That, and the currency’s intense volatility, make it challenging for investors to forecast a price.

Some analysts think bitcoin will retain a premium as a security, like gold, in the digital world, while other cryptocurrencies are used for commerce.

Others see it as just another asset.

“One of the reasons to own cryptocurrencies is because they are an effective hedge,” said Sam Doctor, a data analyst at New York-based Fundstrat, a research firm whose founder is a well-known bitcoin bull predicting large rises this year. “Until something happens to disprove that thesis, you aren’t looking to sell them so long as other asset classes are falling.”

Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez in NEW YORK and Ritvik Carvalho in LONDON; Editing by Gerry Doyle

Nokia sees weak first half but strong momentum later in 2018

HELSINKI/LONDON (Reuters) – Network equipment maker Nokia posted weaker than expected quarterly profits as telecom operators, particularly in North America, held off spending, but the company sees momentum building later in the year.

FILE PHOTO: A cyclist rides past a Nokia logo during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Nokia said its mainstay networks business got off to a slow start in the first quarter and was likely to remain soft in the current second quarter. However, the market for next-generation 5G equipment would start to take off in the second half of 2018.

Shares in the Finnish company tumbled almost 8 percent to 4.55 euros at 0745 GMT.

“We expect an atypical seasonal trend, with softness in the first half of the year, offset by a very dynamic second half,” Chief Executive Rajeev Suri told reporters.

“We are confident we can outperform a strengthening (network) market and meet our full year guidance,” he added.

Nokia, which competes with Sweden’s Ericsson, Huawei [HWT.UL] and ZTE, both of China, said the battered network industry was poised to bounce back as commercial roll-outs of next-generation 5G networks start to take off later in 2018 in North America, its biggest market.

First-quarter group earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) fell 30 percent from a year ago to 239 million euros ($291 million), clearly below analysts’ average forecast of 369 million euros in a Reuters poll.

Struggling Ericsson last week stirred recovery hopes by beating quarterly profit expectations as its cost savings started to take effect.

“FAST AND BIG” 5G

Most of Nokia’s profit was generated by the company’s profitable patent licensing business where earnings grew 136 percent.

The Nokia logo is seen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Suri said the results were buoyed by patent royalty payments from newer Chinese smartphone suppliers and its licensing deal with HMD Global to market consumer devices under the Nokia phone brand.

The company has weathered several years of declining revenue since demand for the current generation of 4G network gear peaked around the middle of the decade and is betting on a new cycle of network upgrades to lift it starting later in 2018.

“We are at the very bottom of the pothole, right between technology cycles,” said Mikael Rautanen, analyst at Inderes Equity Research, with a ‘buy’ rating on the stock.

“The short term looks weak, but … longer term, this report actually strengthened my confidence for them,” he said.

Nokia said it expected the global networks industry to fall 1-3 percent this year, a slight improvement from its previous forecast of a fall of 2-4 percent, and added its own sales would outperform the wider telecom equipment market.

“Although there are some sceptics, we see 5G coming fast and coming big,” Suri told reporters.

Commercial rollouts would start in the second half of 2018 in the United States and be followed by large-scale rollouts in a variety of regions in 2019, also including China, Japan, South Korea, the Nordics and the Middle East.

Of China, Suri said: “Commercial deployments of 5G will start around the middle of 2019, although we know that if China decides to accelerate things, it changes very fast.”

($1 = 0.8214 euros)

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Eric Auchard; Editing by Keith Weir

Google overhauls Gmail to lure businesses away from Microsoft

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google unveiled on Wednesday its first Gmail redesign since 2013, capping what the company says was an expensive overhaul two years in the making to adopt security and offline functionality and better resemble Microsoft Outlook.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Google logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

It is Google’s most extensive update to software in its G Suite workplace bundle since accelerating efforts to steal business from Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O) dominant Office workplace software suite. Previously, G Suite added instant-messaging and spreadsheet features.

With Gmail, Google said it restructured email storage databases, unified three dueling systems for syncing messages across devices and upgraded computers underpinning the service. That shift to Google’s self-developed Tensor processing chips enables smart-assistant features such as “suggested replies” to messages and “nudges” to respond to forgotten emails.

“This is an entire rewrite of our flagship, most-used product,” said Jacob Bank, product manager lead for Gmail, which 1.4 billion people use each month.

Unreliable offline access to email has long discouraged would-be customers, while recent high-profile corporate data breaches have increased their desire to lock down email. Analysts estimate G Suite generated about $2 billion in revenue last year, 10 times behind Office.

Google declined to specify costs associated with the redesign. But parent Alphabet reported Monday that first-quarter capital expenditures nearly tripled year-over-year to $7.3 billion.

Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat told analysts that half of the spending resulted from hardware purchases to support expanding use of machine learning, which describes automated programs that can, among other things, identify spam and predict which emails users would find most important.

SECURITY AND SMARTS

Google’s Bank said the overhaul was required primarily to provide offline access to up to 90 days of emails for users who turn on the feature.

The changes also fulfill another top demand of business executives – message expiration.

Users who enable a “confidential” option when sending an email can time-limit its access to recipients and also require they enter a one-time passcode sent to their phones to read it.

The new setting does not override corporate email retention policies or present new obstacles to law enforcement.

“Nudges” and a higher bar for new-mail notifications round out Google’s revised sales pitch. The company estimated that nudges will lead 8 percent of business users each week to remember to follow-up on something important.

Cosmetic changes bring Gmail’s website in line with Office by placing Google’s calendar, tasks and note-taking services within the same page as emails.

Bank said testers have advanced from “neutral to positive to very positive” on the new look.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Lisa Shumaker

Chinese tech giants, government under fire for 'men only' job ads

BEIJING (Reuters) – Top Chinese tech firms and some government departments have been singled out in a report that says discriminatory hiring practices based on gender are widespread in China and are linked to a shrinking proportion of women in the labor force.

FILE PHOTO: An employee is seen behind a glass wall with the logo of Alibaba at the company’s headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China April 23, 2014. REUTERS/Chance Chan/File Photo

Job ads posted by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd were among those that deterred female applicants or objectified women, said Human Rights Watch in a report released on Monday.

In many of the adverts, prospective employers boasted of “beautiful girls” at their workplace as a selling point for new employees, while others included specific height, appearance and temperament requirements for women that were unrelated to the roles.

“We have investigated these incidents and are making immediate changes. We are sorry they occurred and we will take swift action to ensure they do not happen again,” Tencent said in a statement.

An Alibaba spokeswoman said the company “will conduct stricter reviews of the recruiting advertisements to ensure compliance with our policy.”

A Baidu spokeswoman said the postings were “isolated instances”.

The report comes amid a larger Chinese movement against gender-based discrimination and harassment, buoyed by the global #MeToo movement, which has since been heavily censored online in the country.

The #MeToo movement began last year as victims of discrimination and sexual harassment took to social media to share their stories under the hashtag #MeToo. Silicon Valley firms have since been accused of discriminatory behavior, turning the focus on tech worldwide.

Human Rights Watch, which analyzed 36,000 Chinese job advertisements largely posted since 2013, also criticized adverts for government roles, construction workers and kindergarten teachers.

FILE PHOTO: A woman is silhouetted against the Baidu logo at a new product launch from Baidu, in Shanghai, China, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

It said that so far in 2018, 19 percent of the Chinese civil service job adverts it reviewed were “men only” or at least said men were preferred. Only one job posting this year listed a preference for a female candidate, it said.

Reuters sent a fax seeking comment to the Ministry of Public Security, a bureau mentioned in the report, but did not receive a response.

Some firms looked to avoid scrutiny of their practices, including using code words to show a male preference, Human Rights Watch said. One used the Chinese word for south, “nan”, which in Chinese has the same pronunciation as the word for “man”, it said.

It added discriminatory hiring behavior was a key issue behind the relatively low numbers of women in the workforce and growing gender disparity over urban pay.

Chinese laws ban discrimination based on gender, but “enforcement is low and Chinese authorities rarely proactively investigate companies that repeatedly violate relevant laws,” Human Rights Watch said in the report.

The country’s #MeToo movement has, however, been gaining momentum on university campuses since late last year, and several schools have cut ties with professors amid claims of harassment and assault dating back decades.

The Human Rights Watch report received a muted response on Chinese social media on Tuesday, with almost no posts commenting on the issue on popular microblog platforms such as Alibaba-backed Weibo or Tencent’s mobile chat app WeChat.

Chinese social media firms are often required to censor civil rights discussions, including previous Human Rights Watch findings and posts related to the #MeToo movement.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Additional reporting by SHANGHAI newsroom; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Jeff Bezos Just Confirmed the "Question Mark Method" That Scares the Heck Out of Everyone at Amazon

Imagine you’re working at Amazon, and you get an email from your boss

The subject line has a couple of those little “FWD:” notations, and you realize to your horror that the email originated with a customer, who sent a complaint directly to CEO Jeff Bezos.

Bezos forwarded it to your boss, with only a single character added: “?.”

Or maybe he forwarded it to your boss’s boss, who in turn forwarded it to your boss. It doesn’t matter. It’s in your in-box now, and it’s your responsibility to respond–a response that will go all the way back to the founder and CEO.

Author Brad Stone revealed this “Bezos Question Mark Method” in his 2013 book, The Everything Store

The book was controversial–McKenzie Bezos, Bezos’s wife, panned it in an Amazon review, saying it had “way too many inaccuracies” and was “full of techniques which stretch the boundaries of non-fiction, and the result is a lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon.”

However, Jeff Bezos has now confirmed at least this question mark business, in an interview on stage at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Texas.

“I still have an email address customers can write to. I see most of those emails. I see them and I forward them to the executives in charge of the area with a question mark. It’s shorthand [for], ‘Can you look into this?’ ‘Why is this happening?'” Bezos said. 

As Julie Bort wrote on Business Insider, getting a Question Mark email from Bezos is both common and “a big deal.”

The executive, in turn, will often foward it to the manager in charge of the area who will view the email with a sinking heart, one of them recently told us.

That’s because the manager is then on the hook to drop everything, investigate, and get back with an answer. Sometimes that means a lot of research over nights and weekends, the Amazon manager recently told us.

That email address, by the way, in case you’d like to contact him: [email protected] And now, five years later, it’s confirmed.