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‘No better person’: Google’s Sundar Pichai named CEO at parent firm Alphabet

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Google chief executive Sundar Pichai will assume the CEO role at parent firm Alphabet in a shakeup at the top of the Silicon Valley titan, the company said Tuesday.

Pichai will take over from Larry Page, a co-founder of the internet giant, at the holding firm which includes Google as well as units focusing on “other bets” in areas including self-driving cars and life sciences.

Page and Google co-founder Sergey Brin “will continue their involvement as co-founders, shareholders and members of Alphabet’s board of directors,” the company said.

In a letter to employees, Page and Brin wrote: “We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company.”

They added that Pichai “brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day” and that there is “no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.”

Alphabet was formed in 2015, giving a separate identity to the original company Google and other projects such as autonomous car unit Waymo and smart cities group Sidewalk Labs.

The 47-year-old Pichai, born in India, takes the helm at a time when Page and Brin have been noticeably absent and the company faces a torrent of controversies relating to its dominant position in the tech world.

Pichai is likely to fill a void at the company as it faces antitrust investigations and controversies over privacy and data practices in the United States and elsewhere.

The company has also faced allegations of failing to adequately address sexual harassment in the workplace and of straying from the ideals espoused by the founders in the company’s early code of conduct which included the motto “don’t be evil.”

“He’s a technologist but he’s been a steady hand for the last few years and has proven his ability to conduit business at the highest level,” said Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Kay added the move “ratifies that the (Google) founders have stepped aside almost entirely.”

Pichai will have a new role as he faces up to claims from President Donald Trump of “bias” in internet search results, and the latest charge from Amnesty International that its business model leads to human rights violations by enabling surveillance of users.

Earlier this year, Pichai met with Trump and appeared to ease the US president’s concerns that Google was unwilling to help the US military but was boosting China and its military.

Trump tweeted after the March meeting that Pichai was “totally committed” to US security.

Last December, Pichai kept calm as he parried US lawmakers over complaints of political bias and intrusive data collection.

“We build our products in a neutral way,” Pichai said in one exchange with a lawmaker, and added later: “We approach our work without any political bias.”

Chennai to Silicon Valley

Born to humble beginnings in the southern city of Chennai, he studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur before heading to the United States to further his studies and career.

After leaving India, he attended Stanford University and later studied at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

In recent years, Alphabet has become one of the world’s most valuable companies, with a 2018 profit of some $30 billion on revenue of $110 billion.

The 2015 reorganization appeared aimed at installing the startup mentality for new ventures, described by Google as “moonshots.”

These ventures, including the life sciences group Verily and the biotech operation Calico, have been losing money.

Kay said the “other bets” have been struggling because even though they have the financial backing from Google’s profits “they don’t have the do-or-die element” of other startups.

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Time To Visit The Neighbour

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On 14 September 2020, a new planet was added to the list of potentially habitable worlds in the Solar System: Venus. Phosphine, a toxic gas made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms, commonly produced by organic life forms but otherwise difficult to make on rocky planets, was discovered in the middle layer of the Venus atmosphere. This raises the tantalising possibility that something is alive on our planetary neighbour. With this discovery, Venus joins the exalted ranks of Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa among planetary bodies where life may once have existed, or perhaps might even still do so today.

I’m a planetary scientist and something of a Venus evangelical. This discovery is one of the most exciting made about Venus in a very long time – and opens up a new set of possibilities for further exploration in search of life in the Solar System.

Atmospheric mysteries

First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.

Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.

However, the quantity of phosphine detected in the Venusian clouds seems to be far greater than those processes are capable of generating, allowing the team to rule out numerous inorganic possibilities. But our understanding of the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere is sorely lacking – only a handful of missions have plunged through the inhospitable, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere to take samples among the global layer of sulfuric acid clouds.

So we planetary scientists are faced with two possibilities – either there is some sort of life in the Venus clouds, generating phosphine, or there is unexplained and unexpected chemistry taking place there. How do we find out which it is?

First and foremost, we need more information about the abundance of phosphine in the Venus atmosphere, and we can learn something about this from Earth. Just as the discovery team did, existing telescopes capable of detecting phosphine around Venus can be used for followup observations, to both definitively confirm the initial finding and figure out if the amount of phosphine in the atmosphere changes with time. In parallel, there is now a huge opportunity to carry out lab work to better understand the types of chemical reactions that might be possible on Venus – for which we have very limited information at present.

Once more unto the breach

But measurements on and from Earth can take us only so far. To really get to the heart of this mystery, we need to go back to Venus. Spacecraft equipped with spectrometers that can detect phosphine from orbit could be dispatched to the second planet with the express purpose of characterising where, and how much, of this gas is there. Because spacecraft can survive for many years in Venus’ orbit, we could obtain continuous observations with a dedicated orbiter over a much longer period than with telescopes on Earth.

But even orbital data can’t tell us the whole story. To fully get a handle on what’s happening at Venus, we must actually get into the atmosphere.

And that’s where aerial platforms come in. Capable of operating above much of the acidic cloud layer – where the temperature and pressure are almost Earth-like – for potentially months at a time, balloons or flying wings could take detailed atmospheric composition measurements there. These craft could even carry the kinds of instruments being developed to look for life on Europa. At that point, humanity might finally be able to definitively tell if we share our Solar System with Venusian life.

A new dawn for Venus exploration?

Thirty-one years have elapsed since the United States last sent a dedicated mission to Venus. That could soon change as Nasa considers two of four missions in the late 2020s targeting Venus. One, called Veritas, would carry a powerful radar to peer through the thick clouds and return unprecedented high-resolution images of the surface. The other, DaVinci+, would plunge through the atmosphere, sampling the air as it descended, perhaps even able to sniff any phosphine present. Nasa plans to pick at least one mission in April 2021.

I have argued before for a return to Venus and will continue to do so. Even without this latest scientific discovery, Venus is a compelling exploration target, with tantalising evidence that the planet once had oceans and perhaps even suffered a hellish fate at the hands of its own volcanic eruptions.

But with the detection of a potential biomarker in Venus’ atmosphere, we now have yet another major reason to return to the world that ancient Greek astronomers called phosphorus — a name for Venus that, it turns out, is wonderfully prescient.

The writer is associate professor of planetary science, North Carolina State University, US. This article first appeared on www.theconversation.com

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Oracle reportedly in talks to acquire TikTok’s US operations

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Oracle has entered into the competition to acquire the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok that US President Donald Trump has vowed to shut down unless it is bought by an American firm within 90 days, a Financial Times report said on Tuesday.

As per the report, Larry Ellison’s enterprise software giant has reportedly “held preliminary talks with TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, and was seriously considering purchasing the app’s operations in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand”.

According to the report, Oracle was working with a group of US investors that already own a stake in ByteDance, “including General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital”.

Oracle was yet to comment on the report.

“ByteDance is opposed to selling any assets beyond those in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand,” said the report.

Microsoft has been the primary contender to acquire TikTok’s US business following a discussion between the company’s CEO and the US President. However, reports surfaced that the Microsoft-TikTok deal may not happen as odds of the deal are “not higher than 20 per cent”.

The probability of Microsoft buying TikTok is “not higher than 20 per cent” since the initial price offered by the US software giant was akin to “robbing the owner when his house is on fire”, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Earlier reports also claimed that Twitter discussed a “potential combination” with TikTok, currently facing immense political heat in the US.

Apple, however, clarified that it was not interested in acquiring TikTok after some reports surfaced, saying the iPhone maker was willing to buy the China-based app.

The earlier executive order from Trump prohibited the China-based company from doing business with the US firms after 45 days.

TikTok has already threatened legal action against the first executive order.

The new executive order directed ByteDance to “divest any data it obtained from users of TikTok or Musical.ly in the United States”.
It also authorised US officials to inspect TikTok and ByteDance to ensure the safety of personal data of nearly 80 million American users of the short video making app.

The earlier executive orders were issued amid discussion by Microsoft to purchase the US business of TikTok by September 15.

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Google bans these apps for injecting adware, uninstall them right away

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Google has removed 29 apps from the Play Store which were found filled with adware. These Android apps had over 3.5 million downloads on the Play Store.

White Ops’ Satori threat intelligence team discovered these 29 apps as part of their “CHARTREUSEBLUR” investigation. The word blur in the codename of the investigation is due to the fact that most of the malicious apps were photo editing apps which had a blur feature. As for the word “chartreuse” the team just found it fun to say and that the liquor is tasty.

These Android apps were found running out-of-context (OOC) ads which are said to be used to avoid detection. After the user installs any of these apps, the launch icons would immediately disappear from the phone. This made it difficult for users to remove the malicious app from their phones.

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