Off a cliff
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Emerging Tech Brew // Morning Brew // Update
Who did the U.S. sanction this time?
Morning Brew September 28, 2020

Emerging Tech Brew


Good morning. Please join me in wishing Hayden a belated happy birthday. She spent the weekend in nature, far away from brain-machine interfaces and “hydrogen” vehicles rolling down hills.—RD

In today’s edition: 
HR tech 
SMIC sanctions 
Autonomous flight

Hayden Field, Ryan Doofay


Advice via Algorithm


Ian McKinnon

The remote workplace has ended more than just rolling your chair over to your favorite coworker's desk. Interaction levels with HR have “basically fallen off a cliff,” says Robert Toole, a partner at Kona HR Consulting. 

There’s AI for that 

Large corps often have internal HR tech tools, but many small and medium firms are adopting them for the first time during Covid-19. 

Historically, HR's go-to employee pulse-check has been a lengthy annual survey. But in these…less-than-certain times, employees’ lives are changing too quickly for a yearly questionnaire. 

Enter: machine learning. Tools like ServiceNow, Qualtrics, and WorkHuman allow companies to run daily surveys to gauge employees’ moods. In some cases, algorithms can “prescribe action,” says Jason Averbook, CEO of HR consulting firm Leapgen—like flagging which employees might benefit from check-ins, then using recent data to recommend + refine communication strategies. 

Other tools work in reverse, letting employees reach out themselves.

Case study 

One of these startups is Bravely, which provides on-demand, confidential advice/coaching sessions. It’s seen a ~300% increase in new business since the onset of Covid, says president Sarah Sheehan. 

  • “It’s a combination of… everybody shifting to working from home [and] the stress related to that, which is a very individual experience,” says Sheehan.   

How it works: When an employee books a session, Bravely uses an algorithm to ingest data—identity, role description, support preferences, experience, and urgency—and then pairs them with a coach. 

  • Session survey results are turned into structured data, anonymized, and delivered to Bravely’s client companies via trends across teams that are “benchmarked against industry standards,” says Chris Johnson, head of engineering. 

It’s clear this kind of tech can help vulnerable workers in a time of isolation: “The core of what HR does hasn’t changed at all,” says Tony Lee, a VP at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “There’s technology emerging every day that helps them do that core job better.” 

But, but, but: HR tech could unwittingly discourage workers who are less tech-savvy from being open about their concerns. Plus, as more employees become fully remote, cybersecurity threats loom large. 

  • “You’re going to start to see major HR security the same way that large department stores got taken down for credit cards,” says Toole. 

Looking ahead: We’ll likely see HR tech competition heat up further. Larger workplace task management and communication companies (think: Microsoft, Slack) might move in. 



The U.S. Is SMICed Off

An illustration of two cargo containers colliding; one is painted with the U.S. flag, one with China's

Getty Images

Another weekend, another salvo in the U.S.-China tech tension saga. 

On Friday, the U.S. slapped sanctions on Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s biggest chipmaker. The U.S. Department of Commerce notified companies that tech exports to SMIC carry an “unacceptable risk” of being repurposed for “military end use,” per the FT. 

The sanctions could bar U.S. companies—or international firms that use “U.S. origin technology”—from doing business with SMIC. As always, we’ll need to see how/whether the sanctions are enforced...and what companies receive licenses to continue exporting to SMIC. 

It was the best of times: SMIC raised $7.6 billion when it went public on Shanghai’s Star market earlier this year. While these sanctions aren’t quite the U.S. nuclear option, they’re pretty close. SMIC may not be able to access key chipmaking technology. 

Big picture: In China, this could really sting for the foreseeable future. Long term, it will expedite the country’s well-capitalized push for semiconductor self-sufficiency…

...and China is creating an “unreliable entities list,” its answer to the U.S.’ Entity List. New bargaining chips.



Made By A Robot With Love


As people who have listed both “Burgers” and “Burger-Related Topics” as hobbies on dating profiles, we feel incredibly qualified to tell you about Flippy.

We shouldn’t need to ketch-u-up, but if we do: Flippy is the world’s first autonomous robot kitchen assistant. And you can invest in Flippy right now.

Why throw some nuggets in Flippy’s direction (other than to tell people you have money in robotics?) Because Flippy can help increase profit margins by 300% for quick service restaurants. As enterprises with historically paper-thin margins, that’s a big flippin’ deal.

So if you love burgers, robots, or green things that aren’t lettuce, invest in Flippy today.


FedEx Flies without FedEx

Fedex testing autonomous flights

Reliable Robotics

On Friday, FedEx CEO Fred Smith said his logistics company is testing autonomous turboprop planes with Reliable Robotics. You already know what FedEx does—what about Reliable Robotics?

Founded by SpaceX and Tesla alumni, the three-year-old startup wants to parachute pilots out of the cockpit and replace them with software. Last month, Reliable Robotics completed test flights of two remote-piloted aircraft. The single-engine planes autonomously taxied, took off, and landed, with an operator watching from afar. 

  • The startup then took an aerial victory lap, calling its flights “historic firsts” because they occurred autonomously over populated areas. 

Big picture: Uber sees self-driving as a way to cut costs and boost efficiency. Same story with FedEx and self-flying. 



Surprise Surprise

Apple's MacBook Air


You, me, the Macbook Air. We meet again. Today is the last day we’re running our referral giveaway, which ends at midnight EST. 

How it works: Share Emerging Tech Brew and you’ll be entered in the raffle to win a Macbook Air. More shares, more chances to win (1 referral = 1 ticket). 

Where to begin: Click the share button below to grab your unique referral link.



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Solar Costs

Ramez Naam

Stat: From 2010-2020, the price of electricity from utility-scale solar installations dropped between 5x and 8x. The next part of the equation = more utility-scale energy storage systems. 

Quote: “This does seem like the opposite of open. OpenAI is essentially captured by Microsoft.” —Elon Musk. Fun Fact: Musk co-founded OpenAI, but he’s since distanced himself from the organization.

Question: Would you put Amazon’s Always Home Cam (the indoor drone that records video) in your home? Let us know in this poll.


Monday: Still celebrating Hayden’s bday; TikTok would have been banned from app stores. Beijing Motor Show opens to the public. 

Tuesday: U.S. presidential debate; VMWorld runs through Thursday. 

Wednesday: Google hardware event; Jack Ma officially leaves the board of Alibaba; Twilio Signal and The Virtual AI Summit run through Thursday. 

Thursday: Northrop Grumman set to launch 14th commercial resupply mission to International Space Station.

Friday: National Name Your Car Day. (Bonus points if it’s electric.)


  • A federal judge temporarily blocked the White House’s order barring TikTok from U.S. app stores. 
  • Roku launched the Streambar, a $130, 4K-HDR streaming device. 
  • Weibo parent company Sina is going private in a $2.6 billion deal.
  • Starlink’s internet speeds look promising. 
  • KuCoin, a Singapore-based crypto exchange, lost at least $150 million after hackers breached its system. Ouchies.
  • Nikola founder Trevor Milton bought Nikola One designs from a Croatian designer, contrary to claims he developed them in his basement, the FT reports. 


For management: GitLab is offering a new Coursera course: How to Manage a Remote Team

For the next unicorns: LinkedIn released its annual Top Startups list, ranking the top 50 emerging companies in the U.S. Pro tip: All 50 startups are hiring (~3,000 jobs).


Catch up on the top Emerging Tech Brew stories from the past few editions: 


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Written by Hayden Field and Ryan Duffy

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