Sidewalk Labs’ vision of technological urban infrastructure
The company, which was established in 2015, has...
Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Sidewalk Labs says it is “reimagining cities to improve quality of life”.
The company, which was established in 2015, has identified threats to cities ranging from climate change to higher rents, and proposes technological and design-oriented solutions.
The current coronavirus pandemic has caused issues for the company, with Sidewalk Labs blaming the pandemic for ending its signature Sidewalk Toronto urban development project, which was intended to focus on designing a neighbourhood with such issues in mind as sustainability, accessibility and inclusiveness..
Daniel L. Doctoroff, former deputy mayor of New York City and CEO of Sidewalk labs, said in a blog post: “While we won’t be pursuing this particular project, the current health emergency makes us feel even more strongly about the importance of reimagining cities for the future. I believe that the ideas we have developed over the last two-and-a-half years will represent a meaningful contribution to the work of tackling big urban problems, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability. This is a vital societal endeavor, and Sidewalk Labs will continue our work to contribute to it.”
Recently, the independent Sidewalk Investment Partners (SIP) was spun off from the company, raising $400mn from Alphabet and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. On its website, the firm states its belief in using technologies such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence to revolutionise infrastructure to the same extent as the steam engine. Accordingly, the firm will “own, acquire and invest” in technological infrastructure projects and the companies developing the underlying technologies.
SIP identifies five verticals ripe for technological destruction - mobility, energy, water and waste, digital infrastructure and social infrastructure, thanks to emerging technologies such as computer vision, automation, sensors, machine learning, distributed ledgers (i.e. blockchain), autonomous vehicles, cybersecurity and data analytics, all of which have various applications in the different verticals.
Discord buys Sentropy to fight against hate and abuse online
Discord, a popular chat app, has acquired the software company Sentropy to bolster its efforts to combat online abuse and harassment. Sentropy, monitors online networks for abuse and harassment, then offers users a way to block problematic people and filter out messages they don’t want to see.
First launched in 2015 and currently boasting 150 million monthly active users, Discord plans to integrate Sentropy’s own products into its existing toolkit and the company will also bring the smaller company’s leadership group aboard. Discord currently uses a “multilevel” approach to moderation, and a Trust and Safety (T&S) team dedicated to protecting users and shaping content moderation policies comprised 15% of Discord’s workforce as of May 2020.
“T&S tech and processes should not be used as a competitive advantage,” Sentropy CEO John Redgrave said in a blog post on the announcement. “We all deserve digital and physical safety, and moderators deserve better tooling to help them do one of the hardest jobs online more effectively and with fewer harmful impacts.”
Cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse
Redgrave elaborated on the company’s natural connection with Discord: “Discord represents the next generation of social companies — a generation where users are not the product to be sold, but the engine of connectivity, creativity, and growth. In this model, user privacy and user safety are essential product features, not an afterthought. The success of this model depends upon building next-generation Trust and Safety into every product. We don’t take this responsibility lightly and are humbled to work at the scale of Discord and with Discord’s resources to increase the depth of our impact.”
Sentropy launched out of stealth last summer with an AI system designed to detect, track and cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse. The company emerged then with $13 million in funding from notable backers including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his VC firm Initialized Capital, King River Capital, Horizons Ventures and Playground Global.
“We are excited to help Discord decide how we can most effectively share with the rest of the Internet the best practices, technology, and tools that we’ve developed to protect our own communities,” Redgrave said.