Hello friends, and welcome to Week in Review (WiR), TechCrunch’s newsletter that recaps the top happenings in the tech industry over the past week (or two). Microsoft’s Ignite conference, where the tech giant presented its vision of a future powered by a “co-pilot”, flooded channels mid-week. But there were still many things to note.
In this edition of WiR, we look at the unexpected firing of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Humane’s bizarre – and perhaps overly ambitious – Ai Pin, the shutdown of popular video chat service Omegle, the acquisition by Airbnb from a Siri co-founder’s secret company, and Amazon launches a discounted health plan. We also cover the watermelon emoji used as a symbol of political unity on social media, testing of electric air taxis in New York, the ongoing Epic-Google antitrust case, and the driverless car maker’s deepening woes Cruise.
There’s a lot to do – so let’s get to it. But first, a reminder to register here to receive WiR in your inbox every Saturday if you haven’t already.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was fired: In a surprising turn of events, Sam Altman has been fired from OpenAI, the AI startup behind ChatGPT, DALL-E 3, GPT-4 and other high-performance generative AI systems. In a job On OpenAI’s official blog, the company wrote that Altman’s departure followed a “deliberative review process by the Board of Directors” which concluded that Altman “was not always forthright in his communications” with other members of the board of directors, “impeding his ability to carry out his responsibilities.” Mira Murati, CTO of OpenAI, will take over as interim CEO.
The Ai Pin himself: Brian checked out the Ai Pin, a curious new product Backed by Apple veterans, well funded Humane startup. He writes that the matchbox-sized device, which includes a laser system to project user interface elements onto surfaces and an array of microphones and speakers to respond to voice commands, appears “very early” – and that the price ($699) and mandatory subscription ($24 per month) doesn’t help. Still, it’s clear that a lot of care has gone into the product, he adds.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra deserve their name: Additionally, Brian tested Bose’s new QuietComfort Ultra headphones, which start at $429. He says Bose has created some of the most comfortable and best-sounding headphones on the market, coupled with best-in-class noise cancellation. This is high praise for Bluetooth headphones.
Omegle stops: Omegle, the popular online chat service that allowed people to connect and talk with strangers (and it was all the rage back when this writer was in high school), has shut down after more than 14 years. Founder and CEO Leif K-Brooks spoke of growing misuse of the platform, including people committing “unspeakable and heinous crimes.” But a later Wired report suggests that Omegle was forced to close its doors following a lawsuit filed by a sexual abuse survivor.
Airbnb buys the company from the co-founder of Siri: This week, Airbnb acquired a secretive AI startup, GamePlanner.AI, for around $200 million, according to CNBC. GamePlanner was co-founded by Adam Cheyer, who helped co-launch startup Siri, which Apple acquired and whose technology became the basis for Apple’s AI-powered Siri assistant. In announcing the acquisition, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky hinted that the 12-person startup is combining its expertise in AI and design to create AI-driven experiences – much like a consulting firm focused on AI.
Amazon launches new health plan: Amazon this week announced a One Medical membership benefit for Prime members, giving them access to health services for $9 per month or $99 per year. (Remember that Amazon ripped off One Medical, a primary care technology provider, in February for about $3.9 billion.) Originally $199 a year, members save $100 on 24/7 virtual care services of One Medical thanks to the new plan, writes Lauren, while benefiting from Internet access. visits from people in locations across the United States
The watermelon emoji, symbol of protest: Morgan writes about the complicated history of the watermelon emoji in online Palestinian protests. The watermelon motif as a political statement became commonplace after the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, but images of watermelons are particularly prevalent this year as Israeli authorities impose bans on the Palestinian flag – and amid global calls for a ceasefire following Israel’s response to the Hamas attack.
Air taxis fly over New York: Joby Aviation and Volocopter gave the public a vivid glimpse of what the future of aviation could look like this past weekend, with both companies conducting brief demonstration flights of their electric aircraft in New York. The demonstration flights took place during a press conference last Sunday, during which New York Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city would electrify two of the three heliports located in Manhattan.
Epic and Google face off: Although Match settled its antitrust case with Google over $300 million Play Store fees, Fortnite maker Epic Games sued bring his case to trial this week, reports Sarah. The game’s creator claims that Google’s commissions on in-app purchases are anti-competitive and that Google has used its market power to compete unfairly by negotiating special deals with developers and manufacturers running their own app stores.
The cruise takes a detour: Cruise, GM’s self-driving car subsidiary, began laying off casual staff this week after suspending all of its driverless operations. This comes after losing key business permits that allowed it to operate a robotaxi service in San Francisco and production stopped on its specially designed Origin self-driving car. Cruise also suspended its employee stock ownership program as GM takes a more active role in shaping the safety culture within the company, appointing one of its executives to head the legal and policy teams , communications and financial services of Cruise.
Uber fights against unfair deactivations: Uber has introduced a feature intended to address the issue of unfair opt-outs that rideshare and delivery drivers often face. Starting Monday in the United States, the company rolled out technology that identifies Uber Eats riders or customers who consistently give poor ratings or reviews with the intent of getting a refund.
Need a podcast to pass the hours, perhaps while preparing for Thanksgiving? (This writer will be cooking – perhaps a ubé babka, inspired by her loving Filipino partner.) Well, you’re in luck. TechCrunch has you covered: There’s plenty to add to TC’s library reading list.
This week on Equitythe team talked about the Google search antitrust case that is currently underway and what it could mean for startups.
Find featured two conversations about sustainability in fashion from TechCrunch Disrupt 2023. In the first, three guests – Colorifix’s Jim Ajioka, unspun’s Beth Esponnette and Circ’s Julie Willoughby – spoke with Harri about recent trends. In the second, Morgan interviewed Jemima Bunbury from Blend, a fashion app changing the way people shop online.
And more Chain reaction, Stani Kulechov, the founder of Avara, spoke about the Aave protocol, Avara’s platform-focused stablecoin GHO and its social networking protocol Lens.
TC+ subscribers have access to in-depth commentary, analysis and surveys, which you are familiar with if you are already a subscriber. If it’s not the case, consider registering. Here are some highlights from this week:
Compliance, a source of income: German software company EQS Group is being taken private by Thoma Bravo for around 400 million euros ($435.1 million) in a deal that represents a massive 53% premium to its previous valuation the announcement. Alex explores what this could mean for a number of startups operating in the regulatory technology market.
What it means to be human in an AI world: Haje reflects on the meaning of art – and why we’re upset that robots are now creating it – in light of the pushback against generative AI, particularly art-generating AI like OpenAI’s. DALL-E 3 And Mid Road.
The time for sorting is over: Even though the fundraising market still looks bleak for startups, continuing to sort is unsustainable for their investors, Rebecca reports. Venture capital firms are devoting all their attention and capital to helping their existing portfolio companies navigate the tougher fundraising market – but the funds are not set up to support this strategy.