Listen To A Song Written By AI, Inspired By The Beatles

The Beatles may have ended decades ago, but AI is making good (if derivative) hits that sound an awful lot like something off “Revolver.”

Sony CSL Research Laboratory is releasing an album next year of songs written by Artificial intelligence, and the first hit track may be this uncanny number programmed in the style of The Beatles (in all honesty it sounds a little more like The Beach Boys to me, at least through the intro).

The effort was not totally computer generated, of course. French composer Benoît Carré arranged and produced the harmonies for the songs. He also wrote the lyrics. Using Sony’s Flowmachines system, the team selected a Beatles style and, well, here it is:

Primavera, Alibaba’s Ant Financial dunk $460M into KFC owner’s spinout Yum China

After raising $4.5 billion at a $60 billion valuation earlier this year, Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial — which operates the Alipay payments service — is hungry to put some of that money to use to build out its business. The company, alongside key Alibaba investor Primavera Capital, is investing $460 million into Yum China, a new spinout from Yum Brands — the parent company of fast food giants KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.

Primavera will be putting in $410 million, while Ant Financial will be putting in $50 million. And going hand-in-hand with the capital from Primavera and Ant Financial, Yum China plans to spin off from Yum Brands on October 31 of this year and will operate all of Yum’s brands in the country. Yum China will trade on the NYSE under the ticker YUMC starting November 1.

This is a strategic investment for Ant Financial, as part of its bigger “online to offline” strategy. OTO is a catchphrase that is used a lot in Asia and refers to the plethora of opportunities in the market to apply tech solutions to non-tech businesses, providing growth opportunities for both.

In the case of Yum, the company plans to incorporate Alipay mobile and point of sale payment services across KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants, and also help them develop and run consumer loyalty programs and other commerce initiatives.

“Through this collaboration, we aim to help Yum China provide world-class mobile payment services for tens of millions of customers across its brands. These services include hassle-free Alipay for customers to help shorten queues at the cashier as well as membership solutions for Yum China designed to help manage their customer relations and promotions,” said Eric Jing, President of Ant Financial Services Group, in a statement. It’s already been working with some of the restaurants in the group ahead of this. “Leveraging our Big Data capabilities, KFC and Pizza Hut witnessed promising marketing results through their promotion on multiple Ant Financial platforms. We look forward to further collaborating with Yum China in the future.”

This is not Ant’s first investment into the food vertical. Alongside Alibaba, it made a $1.25 billion investment into Ele.me, China’s equivalent of GrubHub/Seamless, earlier this year.

Past non-food investments that Ant has made include on-demand transportation giant Didi Chuxingmedia business 36Kr, and India’s Paytm, a payments company that is in the process of closing a fresh $300 million round that sources have confirmed to us will include further investment from Ant Financial.

Food is a very obvious category to get more attention from Ant Financial: it’s a business that, by its nature, lends itself to repeat transactions, and in this case Ant is investing into some of the more successful and proven brands within that space.

By collaborating both on payments and other programs like loyalty and reward services, as well as analytics, it helps Ant build a more diversified range of revenue streams, which could help it with its own eventual public listing.

“We have long admired the Yum China business and are looking forward to collaborating with the Board and management to realize the company’s full potential,” said Dr. Fred Hu, the founder Primavera who will become Yum China’s non-executive chairman. “Yum China is an established leader in the retail and restaurant industry which we believe is poised for continued strong growth and unit expansion as cities across China invest in new transportation hubs, shopping malls and other physical and electronic infrastructure that will support consumption. I look forward to leading the Board of Directors of Yum China in its new and exciting chapter as an independent company.”

“Primavera and Ant Financial both have deep insights into the rapid urbanization and digital transformation which is driving the evolution of China’s economy, and we are excited about their investment into Yum China,” said Micky Pant, Chief Executive Officer of Yum China, in a statement. “The investment is a clear endorsement of our business strategy and growth potential, and their diverse experience and relationships will be extremely beneficial. Dr. Hu’s extensive market insights and experience scaling businesses in China will be invaluable as we move to expand the footprint of our brands. In addition, Yum China is already the leading restaurant company for cashless payment systems in China, and we expect Ant Financial can provide further unique insights to help us better connect with consumers through mobile technology.”

Yum isn’t the only fast-food giant that is looking to raise its game and compete better by incorporating more tech into its operations: Burger King owner RBI last year acqui-hired the team behind startup Brewster (which had originally built a clever contacts management app) to rethink and recast the company’s approach to how it used new innovations in technology to improve its fortunes and get people eating more Whoppers.

Building separate Chinese entities is a common route for larger international brands, who use the structure to raise more capital locally — or provide opportunities for international investors to focus specifically on the China opportunity — and subsequently plough that money more directly in regionally specific initiatives. It’s also a way of creating a more local structure that can better navigate regulatory and competitive waters.

Not all those entities remain independent, though: earlier this summer Uber China announced it would merge with its big rival Didi Chuxing, although that deal is now being questioned by China’s antitrust regulators.

China’s anti-trust regulators are investigating the Didi-Uber deal

China has opened an investigation to determine whether Didi’s Chuxing’s impending acquisition of Uber China violates national anti-trust laws.

The development — which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal — was confirmed by Didi. “We are in communication with the authorities,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

At this point there is no indication when the probe, which was triggered by feedback, will be completed.

The Journal reports that there have already been two meetings between regulators and Didi, which did not apply for an anti-trust review because it believed that the value of the deal did not cross the minimum threshold.

The deal was announced on August 1, and it will see Didi — the ride-hailing leader in China — fully acquire Uber’s business unit in China. Uber will be given a 5.89 percent stake in the newly merged entity, with preferential equity that is equal to a 17.7 percent economic interest in Didi Chuxing. Existing Uber China investors, which include China’s dominant search firm Baidu, will get 2.3 percent of the new business. In addition, Didi will invest $1 billion into Uber and each CEO will take a board seat with the other company.

“Uber and Didi Chuxing are investing billions of dollars in China, and both companies have yet to turn a profit there,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement at the time of the deal. “Getting to profitability is the only way to build a sustainable business that can best serve Chinese riders, drivers and cities over the long term.”

Google said to debut Pixel phones, Echo competitor, VR headset and more in October

Fall tends to bring new hardware from Google, which mainly involves new Nexus smartphones built in tandem with OEM partners. This year, things could be quite different since Google has a number of hardware projects in the works, and the Nexus brand is reportedly being replaced with a Pixel-badged line of smartphone devices.

All will be revealed on October 4, according to a new report from the generally reliable Android Police. At an event dedicated to hardware on that day, the Android-maker will reveal two Pixel phones, one called Pixel and one called Pixel XL, which will be 5-inch and 5.5-inch phones respectively. These will be HTC-built devices, according to the publication, which is different from other Pixel hardware, including the Chromebook Pixel and Pixel C tablet, whose design is handled in-house by Google itself.

Other hardware set to get show time at this event include the Google Home smart speaker, which the company showed off at I/O this past May, and a headset for Daydream VR created in-house. Daydream VR was also part of I/O’s announcements, and is the VR platform built into Android Nougat available to all Android smartphones that meet its minimum hardware specs. Finally, there’s also going to be a version of the Chromecast that supports 4K. Chromecast last got a refresh in late September 2015.

As mentioned, the timing fits in terms of Google’s past practice with refreshing Nexus hardware. Typically, Google follows shortly after Apple’s introduction of its own devices, and starts shipping the new kit pretty much immediately thereafter.

Google and Zalando launch Project Muze, a machine-learning experiment for 3D fashion design

Google has announced an experimental project in conjunction with Germany’s Zalando that will enable users to create virtual 3D fashion designs.

Founded out of Berlin in 2008, Zalando is a Zappos-style ecommerce fashion platform operating across more than a dozen markets in Europe. Now, courtesy of a new initiative called Project Muze, the company has turned to machine learning as it explores the potential of algorithms in clothing design.

Project Muze

Above: Project Muze

For the initiative, the company has found a valuable bosom buddy in the form of Google, which launched a new machine-learning systemcalled TensorFlow back in November and made it available for any developer to use. It’s this system that Zalando is tapping for Project Muze.

Created in partnership with U.K.-based digital design studio Stinkdigital, Project Muze constitutes a specially built engine that uses a neural network trained with the design preferences (color, texture, and style) of more than 600 fashion “trendsetters” and features data from the Google Fashion Trend Report, in addition to styles that have trended on Zalando itself.

Companies across the technological spectrum are increasingly turning to machine learning to build better technologies for consumers. For example, predictive typing keyboard company SwiftKey, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, is working on a sophisticated back-end built around A.I. This includes artificial neural networks (ANNs) that are more directly based on the structure and workings of the human brain. And Facebook, too, is doing a lot with machine-learning, particularly in the image-recognition realm.

Google has used machine-learning across myriad products, including Translate and Photos, and with this latest experiment, it’s delving deep into the fashion fraternity to see what comes of it. “It’s like being the muse for your own clothing — your personality and interests become the inspiration for unique designs,” explained Achim Rietze, strategy lead at Google’s ZOO team for EMEA, in a blog post.

Project Muze is debuting at a Berlin trend show called Bread&Butter this week, and those present will be able to participate in the experiment through tablets and on a big screen. For everyone else, you can get involved by heading here, where you’ll be asked a handful of questions to get the ball rolling.

HTC’s iPhone clone is getting a successor, the One A9s

HTC is poised to launch a sequel to last year’s One A9 — a phone widely considered to be a near doppelgänger of the Apple iPhone 6 — at this year’s IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin, Germany, according to a person familiar with the matter.

What’s most interesting about the alleged followup device is that HTC seems to have decided to pay homage to Apple naming conventions as well, dubbing the nearly-aesthetically-unchanged model the One A9s — the same nomenclature applied to so-called “tock” year iPhones.

An image of the metal handset provided to VentureBeat shows a device (in white, black, gold, and a bluish-silver) almost indistinguishable from its five-inch predecessor. While some of the hardware elements have been repositioned – camera lenses, flash, and sensors — the enclosure is very much identical to the One A9.

Like the company’s 2016 flagship, the HTC 10, the One A9s also eliminates HTC branding from the front of the phone.

Very little information regarding specifications was shared, save for the camera resolutions. While the main camera’s sensor remains unchanged at 13 megapixels, the front sensor allegedly transitions from four Ultrapixels to five megapixels.

HTC is said to be planning the One A9s reveal on the day before IFA kicks off, September 1.

Facebook plans to let users activate Safety Check for emergency situations

Facebook is working on a way to let users activate Safety Check off their own volition, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed today.

Speaking at a Townhall Q&A at Luiss University in Rome, Zuckerberg fielded a bunch of questions from students and the online community. In reference to an earlier question on Safety Check which Facebook activated following the massive earthquake that hit Italy last week, an audience member asked: “will users be able to activate it on their own?,” in the future, to which Zuckerberg confirmed: “Yes, we’re working on that already.”

Mark Zuckerberg speaking at Luiss University

Above: Mark Zuckerberg speaking at today’s Townhall Q&A at Luiss University

Facebook launched its Safety Check feature in October 2014 as a way to let users tell friends that they’re okay in the wake of natural disasters. The initiative was expanded to include other emergency situations such as terrorist attacks, but the company has come in for criticism in the past for its selectivity in activating Safety Check for some events, but not others. The underlying suspicion in many criticisms was that Facebook was demonstrating a preferential treatment to a specific region of the world, namely “the West.”

“If we’re building a community product, this is one of the moments of truth for us,” continued Zuckerberg, in response to the question. “How we judge whether Facebook is successful, it’s not just on whether you can share a photo of a fun moment, or a night out with friends, but it’s also whether our community is strong enough and we give people the tools to keep people safe in those situations [emergencies]. We’re working on what you say. When Safety Check got started a couple of years ago, it was only for natural disasters. Unfortunately since then we’ve had to expand it to terrorists attacks too, because that’s just been too common over the last few years. The next thing we need to do is make it so that communities can trigger it themselves when there is some disasters.”

It’s not entirely clear yet how Safety Check would be activated by people or communities, or what situations would “qualify” for Safety Check. But from Facebook’s perspective, putting its users in control of activating the feature would not only help the public, but it would also distance Facebook itself from accusations that it’s biased towards certain regions.

Etsy-style U.K. shopping marketplace Notonthehighstreet.com raises $27.5 million

Notonthehighstreet.com, a U.K.-based online shopping marketplace featuring unique and one-off products from individuals and small businesses, has closed a £21 million ($27.5 million) Series E round led by Germany-based media company Hubert Burda Media. Existing investors including Index Ventures and Industry Ventures, and Eight Roads Ventures also participated in the round.

Founded out of London in 2006, Notonthehighstreet.com is an Etsy-style platform that touts itself as an “alternative” shopping channel, hosting a hand-picked selection of goods accompanied by stories of the people who make them. Though there are clear similarities between Notonthehighstreet.com and Etsy, there is at least one notable difference — sellers must apply and be accepted to sell on the former’s platform.

Not on the High Street

Above: Not on the High Street

Today’s news takes the company’s total funding past the $68 million mark, and it plans to use its fresh cash influx to improve its technology and marketing and to expand into new categories.

“Notonthehighstreet.com has built up a very successful ecommerce business beyond the classic retail model that fits very well with our portfolio,” explained Martin Weiss, managing director at Burda Principal Investments. “We see significant growth potential for this unique business, both in and outside the U.K., making it an obvious partner for us as we continue to grow our portfolio of consumer and technology brands internationally.”

The company is better known in the U.K., as the platform is only currently open to U.K.-based businesses, but its sellers actually shipped to 154 countries last year. But international sales only represent 5 percent of the company’s total sales, and this is what its latest money will be used for, as it looks to “build its reach” globally and open up to sellers in more countries.

Uber wins temporary delay on New York price-fixing lawsuit

(Reuters) — A federal judge on Friday granted a request by Uber Technologies Inc and its chief executive officer to put a passenger’s price-fixing lawsuit against them on hold, while they appeal his refusal to let them arbitrate the dispute.

Calling his decision a “close call,” U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said the defendants had not made a “strong showing” that their appeal would likely succeed, though they would face irreparable harm if arbitration were wrongfully denied.

But he said the appeals court could clarify whether Spencer Meyer, the Connecticut plaintiff, and others like him consent to arbitration when they buy services subject to conditions in “clickwrap” and “browsewrap” agreements found online.

In his proposed nationwide class-action lawsuit, Meyer said Uber and CEO Travis Kalanick violated antitrust laws by conspiring with drivers to charge high “surge-pricing” fares during periods of heavy demand. Uber takes a share of drivers’ earnings.

On July 29, Rakoff denied Uber’s request for arbitration, saying Meyer never agreed to it and the San Francisco-based company did not properly notify him about its policies.

Meyer opposed delaying his case while Uber appealed that ruling.

“We look forward to defending Judge Rakoff’s decision and having this matter returned to the district court,” Brian Feldman, a lawyer for Meyer, said in an email.

Uber and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The company faces several lawsuits over its pricing and its treatment of drivers, and often tries to keep such disputes away from courthouses.

On Aug. 18, a federal judge in San Francisco voided Uber’s $100 million settlement with drivers who claimed they were employees rather than independent contractors, and entitled to recoup costs such as gas and vehicle maintenance. The judge said that accord was not fair, reasonable or adequate.

The case is Meyer et al v. Kalanick et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-09796.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Math Camp shuttering Shorts and Roll apps on August 30, following Pinterest acquisition

More than a month after it was acquired by Pinterest, Math Camp announced in emails to users that it is shutting down its photo sharing apps Shorts and Roll at 12:01 a.m. on August 30. The company advises you to download all your photos before then, as they’ll be removed permanently.

You may not have heard of Math Camp, but it’s likely that you’ve heard of the apps that it produced, such as Shorts, Roll, and even Highlight, which was talked about at its debut during the South by Southwest interactive conference years ago. The team behind these services were acquired by Pinterest in July, but not the technology. It was said that the apps would be “sunsetted in the coming weeks,” and now we have a definitive date.

At the time, Math Camp promised that it would open-source many of its libraries and frameworks for developers to work on, but the consumer-facing apps will soon be no more.

The fate of Highlight is currently unknown, but it’s likely that it, too, will be discontinued on August 30, as the Math Camp team shifts to focus on Pinterest’s mobile discovery products.

Here’s an email users are receiving — the text is basically the same for both the Shorts and Roll announcement:

Last month we announced that we were being acquired by Pinterest and that Shorts would be shutting down.

We wanted to let you know that Shorts will officially be going offline this Tuesday, August 30th at 12:01am. Please make sure you share your final photos before then and download any from friends that you’d like to keep.

We can’t tell you how much we appreciate your using the app, and we hope to build lots of great new things for you down the road.

Thanks for using Shorts!

– The Math Camp team (Paul, Ben, Revant, Kris, Chris, Brian, Brandon, Christina, Alison, Jesse, Nicole, Hitesh and Noah)