Google, Tencent, Sequoia China join $15 million funding for pharma startup XtalPi

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Sequoia Capital China have joined a $15 million B series funding round for Boston- and Shenzhen-based artificial intelligence (AI) pharmaceutical firm XtalPi Inc.

Sequoia led the round, which brings the startup’s total funding amount to $20 million, XtalPi and Google said in statements on Wednesday.

XtalPi uses AI, cloud computing and quantum physics to improve drug design processes.

The deal is the first co-investment by Google and Tencent since the two companies revealed this month that they have signed a patent sharing agreement, paving the way for cooperation between the two firms.

Google has recently ramped up investment in the Chinese market where its search engine remains blocked. Last month it announced it had launched a dedicated AI lab in the country.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Intel Says the Patch Designed to Fix Flawed Chips Is Faulty

Intel Corp (intc) said on Monday that patches it released to address two high-profile security vulnerabilities in its chips are faulty, advising customers, computer makers and cloud providers to stop installing them.

Intel Executive Vice President Navin Shenoy disclosed the problem in a statement on the chipmaker’s website, saying that patches released after months of development caused computers to reboot more often than normal and other “unpredictable” behavior.

“I apologize for any disruption this change in guidance may cause,” Shenoy said. “I assure you we are working around the clock to ensure we are addressing these issues.”

The issue of the faulty patches is separate from complaints by customers for weeks that the patches slow computer performance. Intel has said a typical home and business PC user should not see significant slowdowns.

Intel‘s failure to provide a usable patch could cause businesses to postpone purchasing new computers, said IDC analyst Mario Morales.

Intel is “still trying to get a handle on what’s really happening. They haven’t resolved the matter,” he said.

Intel asked technology providers to start testing a new version of the patches, which it began distributing on Saturday.

For more on the chip security flaw, watch Fortune’s video:

The warning came nearly three weeks after Intel confirmed on Jan. 3 that its chips were impacted by vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown, which make data on affected computers vulnerable to espionage.

Meltdown was specific to chips from Intel, as well as one from SoftBank Group’s ARM Holdings. Spectre affected nearly every modern computing device, including ones with chips fromIntel, ARM and Advanced Micro Devices.

Problems with the patches have been growing since Intel on Jan. 11 said they were causing higher reboot rates in its older chips and then last week that the problem was affecting newer processors.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Intel asking customers to halt using the patches.

Bitcoin’s Lightning Network Upgrade Gets Some Hands-On Testing

Lightning Network, a technology that many hope will make the Bitcoin payment network substantially more efficient, is becoming a reality. Standards have been adopted, Lightning transactions were first demonstrated in early December, and late last week, the VPN service TorGuard touted what might have been the first purchase of physical goods using Lightning.

For the many still trying to figure out exactly what Bitcoin itself is, understanding why Lightning matters might be tough. At the bottom is Bitcoin’s scaling challenge, which has kept it from fulfilling its promise of rapid, cheap money transmission. The search for a solution has led to major personal and technical schisms in the open-source, democratically governed project. Lightning Network is regarded by many as the most promising long-term answer to the scaling issue, though in a sense it solves the problem by not solving it at all.

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Blockchains like Bitcoin are inherently inefficient, trading speed for decentralization, reach and security. To get around that fundamental challenge, Lightning conducts transactions on private channels outside of the main network, then settles them to the primary blockchain in batches. That makes transactions much faster and much cheaper, while theoretically keeping most of the security advantages of a blockchain. A simple way to think of it is that Lightning transactions are equivalent to gold-backed paper money, while the main Bitcoin blockchain is the gold. If that metaphor isn’t quite satisfying, Wired last week released an excellent deep dive into Lightning’s history and technical details.

Like most elements of Bitcoin, the rollout of Lightning is entirely decentralized, and actors have to specifically choose to deal with Lightning-based payments. For now, only the very bold are taking that risk, and the various implementations of the protocol are officially still being tested (TorGuard promised to reimburse customers if anything went wrong). But even with a gradual rollout, there’s hope that offloading a portion of payments to Lightning will reduce load on the main Bitcoin network.

Despite early-adopter feedback that occasionally borders on euphoric, global cryptocurrency markets don’t seem to have taken much notice of Lightning’s progress. Since peaking and crashing in mid-December, Bitcoin’s price has been in a gradual slump in lockstep with most other cryptocurrencies. That arguably demonstrates just how far 2017’s crypto-mania divorced speculation from fundamentals.

Space Startup Rocket Lab Has Reached Orbit For the First Time

The six-year-old startup Rocket Lab has successfully put a rocket into orbit, and deployed a payload of three satellites. The launch started from New Zealand at 2:43 Sunday afternoon, or 8:43 p.m. Saturday U.S. Eastern Time. The mission, dubbed “Still Testing,” was the second using the company’s lightweight Electron rocket.

Rocket Lab streamed its launch live, and it can still be viewed on YouTube, complete with informative commentary.

Rocket Lab aims to lower the cost of access to space, in a way parallel to, but distinct from, the mission of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Where SpaceX seems near mastering the art of landing and reusing large rockets, Rocket Lab wants to produce smaller ones, using lower-cost methods like 3-D printing.

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Those smaller rockets — including the current Electron model — are meant to serve the growing demand for deployment of small satellites known as microsats or cubesats. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rocket Lab is aiming to double its rocket production by this summer to meet that demand.

The payload for the launch, according to SpaceNews, included two cubesats for the data company Spire and one for Planet Labs. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told SpaceNews that the succesful launch meant the company would move forward with commercial missions.

Google CEO Has No Regrets About Firing Author of Anti-Diversity Memo

Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday expressed no regret over the firing of James Damore, author of an infamous memo criticizing Google’s pro-diversity policies and culture.

During an appearance with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Pichai said, “I don’t regret it,” when asked about Damore’s firing by Recode head Kara Swisher. He insisted that the firing was primarily a strategic decision for Google. “The last thing we do when we make decisions like this is look at it with a political lens,” Pichai said, according to TechCrunch.

Google has been working to increase its hiring of women. Damore’s memo, which became public in August, argued in part that women might not be biologically suited for careers in engineering or technology. Many commentators felt that retaining Damore after the memo’s distribution would make Google a hostile work environment for women.

Wojcicki also described the firing as “the right decision.”

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Though Google’s priority was internal cohesion, Damore’s memo was broadly criticized by many in the tech sector and beyond, including for faulty interpretations of biological science. Damore quickly revised inaccurate representations that he had completed a Harvard PhD in biology.

At the same time, reports did indicate that Damore’s views were quietly widespread in the lower ranks of Google.

Damore earlier this month initiated a lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company discriminates against white men. That case seems difficult to make on its face, since its most recent diversity report found that the company is 69% male and 91% white or Asian, with black or Hispanic people making up only 3% and 4% of new hires, respectively.

Canada's Hydro Quebec unable to meet demand from digital currency miners

MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada’s largest utility, Hydro Quebec, is reviewing its commercial energy strategy after being inundated with demand from global digital currency miners rushing to the province to benefit from political stability and low energy prices.

Hydro Quebec will not have the long-term capacity to meet all the anticipated demand, a company spokesman said, after the utility’s potential mining projects more than doubled in a week to 70.

Bitcoin mining consumes large quantities of energy because it uses computers to solve complex math puzzles to validate transactions in the cryptocurrency, which are written to the blockchain, or digital ledger.

The first miner to solve the problem is rewarded in bitcoin and the transaction is added to the blockchain.

Expectations of a crackdown in China, one of the world’s biggest sources of cryptocurrency mining, on the sector has made energy-rich Quebec an attractive site for companies, and its chief executive is now receiving queries on his Linkedin profile.

Bitmain Technologies, operator of some of the largest mining farms in China, is among the companies searching for sites in Quebec. Others include Japan’s GMO Internet Inc (9449.T), but it has not yet taken a decision on whether to start operations in the province, a source familiar with the matter said. A GMO company spokeswoman declined to comment.

“We are receiving dozens of demands each day. This context is prompting us to clearly define our strategy,” said Hydro Quebec spokesman Marc-Antoine Pouliot by phone.

“We won’t be able to power all the projects that we’re receiving,” he said, while stressing that Hydro Quebec is not automatically refusing entrepreneurs. “This is evolving very rapidly so we have to be prudent.”

Hydro is also keen on attracting data centers, which generate more employment than bitcoin mines.

According to Hydro Quebec, the province estimates it will have an energy surplus equivalent to 100 terawatt hours over the next 10 years. One terawatt hour powers 60,000 homes in Quebec during a year.

A shortage of sites in Quebec with the necessary electric capacity has prompted several entrepreneurs to break down their projects into smaller investments, said Laurent Feral-Pierssens, executive director, emerging technologies at KPMG Canada.

“This is the tip of the iceberg, as only a fraction of the initiatives have reached out to Hydro Quebec yet,” said Feral-Pierssens, who works with digital currency miners that want to open operations in the province.

Reporting By Allison Lampert; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Denny Thomas and Susan Thomas

Facebook Adds First Black Board Member, Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault

Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault has joined Facebook’s board, the first African American to do so.

The social network’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced the board appointment on Thursday and said he had been “trying to recruit Ken for years.”

“He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”

Chenault retired in October after a 16-year stint leading American Express, and was the credit card company’s first back CEO and one of the few black leaders among Fortune 500 companies. With him no longer leading American Express, the Fortune 500 has only three black CEOs.

Shortly after announcing his planned retirement, Chenault described the lack of African-American CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies as “a real problem” that is “embarrassing for corporate America.”

In October, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg told the Congressional Black Caucus that the social network was looking to add an African-American board member. The caucus has criticized Facebook and other technology giants for failing to fix the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, where minorities and women are underrepresented, especially in high-paying roles and executive leadership positions.

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Civil rights activist and Rev. Jesse Jackson also criticized Facebook in June during a shareholder meeting for failing to add any African-Americans, Asians, or Latinos to its board.

“Ken and I have had dinners discussing our mission and strategy for years, and he has already helped me think through some of the bigger issues I’m hoping we take on this year,” Zuckerberg said Thursday.

Amazon Joins Growing List of Employers That Won’t Ask About Your Salary History

Will this be the year we finally make progress in closing the gender pay gap?

It’s only the middle of January, but 2018 has already seen the implementation of new laws and policies that have the potential to boost women’s paychecks. The latest news comes from Amazon, which this week banned its hiring managers from asking prospective hires about their salary histories, according to BuzzFeed.

The tech giant follows in the footsteps of companies like Google, Facebook, and Cisco, which earlier this month were legally banned from posing the question to potential employees in California, thanks to a new law that took effect on Jan. 1. Though the law technically applies only to those who work in the Golden State, most have proactively applied the law to all of their U.S. hires. Massachusetts, Oregon, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco have passed similar laws over the past couple of years—though Amazon’s home state of Washington has yet to do so.

Also this week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order banning state agencies—though not private companies—from asking the controversial question. (The rule takes effect on Feb. 1). New York, Delaware, New Orleans, Pittsburg, and Albany already have similar laws in effect.

While such laws technically apply to a specific jurisdiction, they may have a broader effect. Rather than creating a different set of policies for various cities and states, some companies simply use the strictest set of employment laws as the benchmark for the entire company’s human resources policies. This may explain why major employers like Amazon, which has half a million workers across the country, are opting to embrace a blanket rule.

Many of the policy changes are being positioned as efforts to fight the pay gap that plagues women and people of color. In Gov. Murphy’s statement accompanying the executive order, he called the policy, “the first meaningful step towards gender equity and fighting the gender pay gap.”

In 2016, women made about 80 cents on a man’s dollar, a number that has remained mostly stagnant. The gap is wider for women of color and has been growing for Millennial women. One of the reasons for this, says Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), is the salary history question, which “forces women to carry pay discrimination with them from job to job.”

Johnson calls the efforts to ban the question “exciting,” but notes that such laws are just one piece of the puzzle. Her organization is currently focused on pushing for pay transparency laws, which have already gone into effect in Iceland and the U.K. An Obama-era effort to collect salary information via EEO-1 forms—which must be filled out by any company with 100 or more—has been rolled back under the current administration. The NWLC is one of the dozens of civil rights groups challenging that decision.

Without the support of the federal government, companies’ embrace of policies that advance fair pay—such as Amazon’s move to ban the salary history question and Citigroup’s recent decision to share pay data—are especially important and powerful. Says Johnson: “It’s harder to de-bias minds and easier to de-bias processes.”

Startups Race to Create Cancer Screens from DNA

Silicon Valley is out for blood—and not just the rejuvenating blood of the young. Biomedical engineers are enthralled by the promise of liquid biopsies, noninvasive tests that detect and classify cancers by identifying the tiny bits of DNA that tumors shed into the bloodstream. Studies at leading cancer centers have already shown the technology’s effectiveness in personalizing treatments after diagnosis. Now startups are selling VCs a vision of cheap, surgery-free cancer screening even before symptoms appear.

Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Verily, and others have invested $77 million in Freenome, which uses machine learning to pinpoint immune-system responses that may indicate the presence of cancer. Freenome’s most prominent rival, Grail—which plans to harness next­-generation gene sequencing to directly measure cancerous genomic alterations in the blood—raised $1.2 billion last year from ARCH Venture Partners. Both companies are racing to make the first DNA-detecting blood test to reveal disease in its earliest stages. It’s the holy—well, you know—of cancer care.

If this scientific sprint is giving you Theranos flashbacks, it should. Critics believe that even with the aid of low-cost genetic sequencing and high-powered algorithms, liquid biopsy detection is still years away from being patient-ready. The startups have shared scant data so far. (Grail has begun enrolling 130,000 patients in two huge trials, but it won’t have results for a few years.) Having secured massive infusions of funding, it’s not money holding these blood unicorns back, it’s basic biology.


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U.S. enterprise telecoms firm Avaya trades again after bankruptcy

(Reuters) – Avaya Holdings Corp (AVYA.N) shares started trading on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange, the first time the enterprise telecommunications provider has been public in more than a decade.

Shares ended down 0.9 percent at $20.80.

Avaya spent the past year sorting its financials in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process before listing its shares publicly this week. It was acquired in a leveraged buyout in 2007 for $8.2 billion by Silver Lake Partners LP and TPG Capital LP.

When Avaya was under the strain of its former debt pile, “it was like driving a car with the parking break on,” Chief Executive Jim Chirico said.

One new challenge for Avaya, which now has a market capitalization of about $2.2 billion, as well as $2.9 billion in debt, will be attracting a new set of shareholders after being private for so long. It converted its debt to equity in order to list its shares.

“With the debt converting to equity, I would imagine we would transition over the next few months to new value equity shareholders,” Chirico said in an interview.

Chirico, a longtime Avaya executive who was named CEO last October, brought in a new management team, formed a dedicated cloud software unit and increased spending on research and development. The company hired Mercer Rowe, a former IBM executive, as well as a new chief financial officer, Patrick O‘Malley, from Seagate Technology Plc (STX.O) in recent months.

“We are going to have an execution focus that we haven’t had at the company before,” Chirico said.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which was spun off from Lucent Technologies Inc in 2000, is now in better financial health and said it had more than $300 million in annual cash flow.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that we are a very profitable company,” Chirico said. “The competitors took their best shot while we were in Chapter 11, but we added customers and we’re stronger now that we’ve ever been.”

Chirico added that “our eyes are wide open” to do acquisitions as well.

Before Avaya entered its restructuring process, it explored a sale of its unit providing software to call centers for about $4 billion. When asked about whether the company would ever consider a sale of that unit again, Chirico said “it’s all about shareholder value” but added that the company is closely linked to its other main business line that provides telephone and cloud services to companies.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Susan Thomas