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🚀 Self-driving cars pick up speed in SF
Plus, an update on Threads!
🏢 WeWork hits a bump. WeWork issued a warning to investors this week about its financial health. The company posted a $700M net loss for the first half of 2023, and said in an SEC filing that they may have to pursue asset sales, downsizing, or declaring bankruptcy if their cash situation does not improve. While overall sales were up 4% YoY for Q2, WeWork revenue in the U.S. has declined as economic conditions (including a tougher startup funding environment) have increased customer churn.
😭 Superconductor update. An update to last week’s superconductor saga - it’s unfortunately not looking good. Other scientists have been unable to replicate the results of the supposed room temperature superconductor (known as LK-99) that emerged from a South Korean research team in late July. There are lots of technical threads to read if you want to learn more on this (this is a good one), but the TL;DR is that levitation is not proof of superconductivity.
🇺🇸 Biden seeks to block China investments. President Biden issued a long-awaited executive order this week that restricts U.S. investments in semiconductor, quantum computing, and AI companies in China. This initiative is primarily led by the Treasury, which is seeking comment from U.S. investors before solidifying the regulation (expected to take effect next year). As written, the order will not apply to consumer AI companies - it targets those with government / military applications.
🧵 Meta iterates on Threads. Last month, we wrote about the rocky rollout of Facebook’s new Twitter competitor - Threads. The app saw a massive influx of users at launch (100M downloads in a week!) but low retention. What’s happened since then? The company has added new features, including the ability to share Threads to Instagram DMs, a new chronological feed, and a Follows tab. Mark Zuckerberg posted that he was “excited about [the] team’s pace of shipping,” and feels Threads is “on the trajectory I expect to build a vibrant long term app.”
From a data perspective, external provider SensorTower shows that Threads did see an uptick in downloads (and the active user base) at the beginning of August. The app is currently sitting at 9.5M daily active users, down from a peak of 45M.
In an ongoing news item we will absolutely be following, it appears Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg may actually be moving towards an MMA fight - though Zuckerberg has since responded (on Threads) that they have not agreed on a date or location.
what we’re following 👀
Why Amazon is shuttering most of its in-house fashion brands.
What happened after a group of teens hacked Boston’s MTA system.
Fizz raised $25M to scale its anonymous social platform across college campuses.
It was a monumental week for self-driving cars, as “robotaxi” operators Waymo and Cruise were given permission to expand in San Francisco. Each company can now offer paid rides to any passenger, at all hours. This comes after months of passenger-less tests, and a beta period where Cruise charged for driverless rides only between 10 p.m. - 6 a.m., and Waymo charged for rides accompanied by a human driver.
The decision was not without controversy. The final call by the California Public Utilities Commission this week came after a seven hour hearing, culminating in a 3-1 vote in favor of the expansion - which itself came after months of debate, protests, and campaigns (on both sides!) What’s the controversy?
On the “pro” side (in favor of self-driving cars), the main argument is safety. Human drivers are fallible. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that of the 42,000 traffic fatalities last year, 94% were due to human error, which self-driving cars could eliminate. A self-driving car is always paying full attention to the road, and may also be able to better navigate situations that are difficult for human drivers - such as limited visibility in the rain, fog, etc.
Other arguments in favor include: convenience and time saved for riders, reduction in traffic (check out a Science video on this here!), positive environmental impacts from fewer car purchases, and reduced cost of transport for consumers. A Pew study from 2021 found that consumers were particularly excited about reducing travel stress and allowing older adults to live more independently.
On the con side - consumers have concerns about the safety of cars controlled by software, which may be “hackable” or may not know how to respond to every situation (and how to prioritize their passengers, other passengers, and pedestrians). SF police and fire first responders reported that robotaxis have gotten in the way of rescue operations 55 times over the past six months.
Other concerns include the economic impact on rideshare and delivery drivers, who could be replaced by autonomous vehicles (though this would likely come at lower cost to consumers). Overall, 63% of consumers say they would not want to ride in a driverless vehicle, with a McKinsey study published in earlier this year showing that trust in autonomous cars has decreased rather than increased over time. Willingness to ride is higher among younger consumers, men, and people with college degrees.
Even with the lift in restrictions, we likely won’t see a flood in self-driving cars immediately in SF. Waymo operates 250 cars in the city currently, while Cruise operates 300 at night and 100 during the day. Both companies said after this week’s ruling that they are expecting an “incremental” ramp up.
Vannevar Labs - Chief of Staff (Remote)
Hearth - Product Manager (Remote)
Etsy - Product Manager, Fulfillment ML (SF, NYC)
Character AI - Research Engineer (Palo Alto)
In-Q-Tel - Senior Associate, Biotech (Menlo Park)
Adams Street Partners - Associate, Growth Equity (Menlo Park)
Samsung Next - Investor, AI / Robotics (Mountain View)
Upfront Ventures - Analyst, Data and Venture Operations (LA)
Torch Dental - Software Engineer (NYC)
Quizlet - Strategic Finance Analyst (NYC)
A.Team - Financial Analyst Intern (Remote)
Fivetran - Marketing Specialist Intern (Remote)
Faire - Customer Marketing Intern (Remote)
Gold House - Venture Fellow (Remote)
Salesforce - Summer 2024 APM Intern (SF)
Roblox - Summer 2024 SWE Intern (San Mateo)
Pinecone - SWE Intern (NYC)
puppy of the week 🐶
Meet Momofuku, a French Bulldog who lives in Osaka, Japan.
His hobbies include going on walks, napping, and resting his head on things.
Follow him on Instagram @momofuku_baifu.
All views are our own. None of the above should be taken as investment advice. See this page for important information.