Thomas's Innovation Wrap #36

▶️ Disney subs, 💎 chatbot love, and 🛰️ a telescope on the far side of the moon

Hello,

Here’s your weekly wrap of technology, innovation, and finance news.

▶️ Streaming

Disney+ reached 50 million paid subscribers, up from 28.6 million in early February, and not too far from the company’s original goal of reaching 60 to 90 million subscribers by the end of 2024.

Working from home has driven demand for most streaming services, but satisfying that demand is getting harder as coronavirus shuts down production.

🎮 Gaming

Activision’s new battle royale game, Call of Duty: Warzone, reached 50 million players in its first 31 days which puts it on a similar trajectory to Apex Legends (h/t @roundhill).

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Google’s game streaming service, Stadia, is now free to join with a select number of games free to play for the next two months.

Ever wondered how Nintendo got to where it is today? If so CNBC is here to help.

💲 Finance

SoftBank is taking a $16.7 billion write-down in its $100 billion Vision Fund as several investments turn bad. The company has shelved its plans to launch a second Vision Fund, which is presumably why the stock was up 9% that day (reduced risk of further capital destruction).

Everyone staying at home has led to a boom in pet adoption. Chewy, a leading online pet supply retailer, has seen its shares rise 59% over the past month.

💎 Artificial Intelligence

Can you fall in love with a chatbot? Some people seem to be doing so.

Mr. Acadia’s chatbot wasn’t designed to be loved, says its creator Eugenia Kuyda, who runs the app Replika from San Francisco, a product of her startup, Luka Inc. She created it to be a therapy chatbot that would ask questions and say sympathetic things in response.

The system worked almost too well. Roughly 40% of Replika’s 500,000 regular monthly users (out of five million downloads) now see their app as a romantic partner, Ms. Kuyda says, and she has no plans to stop the romantic chatter. “Why do we need to tell them to stay away from their girlfriend or boyfriend?” she says.

A streaming pet camera company, Furbo, is trying to use AI to better interpret your dog’s barking so it can alert you to unusual behaviour.

“That’s sort of why dogs were hired in the first place, to alert you of danger,” said Andrew Bleiman, the North America general manager for Tomofun, the company that makes Furbo. “So we can tell you not only is your dog barking, but also if your dog is howling or whining or frantically barking, and send you basically a real emergency alert.”

🤖 Robotics

Teaching a robot how to pick items out of a bin is normally a laborious process that involves programming, but that may be changing after Universal Robots launched ActiNav, an autonomous bin-picking unit that can be taught through demonstration.

If you can’t make it to your graduation due to coronavirus, perhaps your university could use telepresence robots like BBT University in Tokyo has done.

🛰️ Space

NASA is funding an early-stage study to investigate the feasibility of building a radio telescope on the far side of the moon. A telescope built there would avoid radio interference from Earth and from satellites.

⚡ Other Snippets

Google is building its own processor for future Pixel phones and Chromebooks.

The chip, code-named Whitechapel, was designed in cooperation with Samsung, whose state-of-the-art 5-nanometer technology would be used to manufacture the chips, according to a source familiar with Google's effort. Samsung has also manufactured Apple's iPhone chips, as well as its own Exynos processors.

TikTok stars are being signed by top Hollywood agents.

That’s partially because influencers are often successful at generating the thing agencies care most about: cash. “Frankly, we’re in a very for-profit business,” said Andrew Graham, an agent in Creative Artists Agency’s digital department. “So when brands started calling and saying, ‘Hey, do you have an influencer for this campaign?’ the agency’s ears perked up.”

The Kansas Supreme Court used Zoom to remain socially distant while deciding if churchgoers needed to remain socially distant (they do).

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Microsoft Teams broke their daily record with 2.7 billion meeting minutes, up 200% from its mid-march high of 900 million meting minutes.

Zoom appears to be winning the work-from-home meeting app wars according to download data from Apptopia.

What new businesses will be enabled by the growth of video conferencing? Here’s one I wouldn’t have thought of…

Personal Plug: I mentioned my fund performance last week, but what I didn’t know then is that Morningstar ranked the fund 1st out of 264 funds in its category for returns over the past quarter + past year, so that’s nice. Hopefully I (and the team at Perpetual) can keep it up! 😃

Have a great week,

Thomas

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About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.