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Canadian Cloud region brings efficiency, agility and AI to businesses

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Canada’s first Google Cloud region is open for business in Montreal. The new region, called “northamerica-northeast1”, is the 15th for Google worldwide, and the fifth in North America

With its Canadian offering Google joins Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has run a Canada-based region since 2016.

The new region could boost Google Cloud use, and cloud infrastructure in general, for Canadian businesses that have yet to make the switch.

Global Head of Solutions for Google Cloud Miles Ward said the new region will improve latency for Google Cloud’s Canadian customers.

“To be able to put this infrastructure into Montreal improves not just the performance in Montreal, but for all customers here in Canada,” said Ward.

Ottawa-based company Pythian provides consultations and services for international companies, and CEO of Pythian, Paul Vallée, spoke of the advantages that the new cloud region brings to companies looking to build their North American presence.

“You don’t need to put in us-east1 anymore, you can put it right here (in Montreal) and still have access to the entire low latency dynamics, and to the entire North American economy which is I think something new and something really exciting.”

Making the switch to cloud

Google’s new region adds to Canada’s ongoing innovation in the cloud infrastructure arena. According to Forbes, Canada is a major player in the push towards public cloud strategies. The federal government recently released its plan to move all unclassified data to the cloud.

But some hesitation remains. Many business owners will be weighing whether the benefits outweigh the costs and effort to transition to cloud options.

For Ward, the public cloud is all about agility, efficiency and remaining competitive in an innovative market.

“The reality is that the efficiency of these centralized resources is orders of magnitude higher. As a result, the companies that are able to take advantage of those tools just are more agile — able to make choices more quickly with lower risk, able to operate at lower cost. The result is this is the opportunity of this generation to leapfrog their competitors, to outcompete and to operate on a global stage. “

Vallée stressed that the speed of cloud-based project work is the key advantage for businesses — and that this new method of storing and sharing work outmaneuvers old ways of defining success.

“A lot of companies need to adopt cloud because of a velocity or a business agility imperative. They’re adopting the technology in order to win by beating their competitors to market — not win by saving pennies, and not win through a more efficient capital structure, but win because you beat them there and you built it before they could.”

Google Cloud offers modern, AI-friendly option to businesses

Having a data centre located in Montreal could also sway businesses with concerns about data sovereignty or latency to embrace Google Cloud.

According to Vallée, the new region is just the latest reason businesses will want to get on board with Google for their public cloud services, over competitors like AWS or Microsoft Azure.

“They have differentiated in two major ways versus the other cloud vendors,” said Vallée. “The first one is they have a very simplified, platform-as-service-oriented cloud. That’s their roots, that’s their DNA. The other cloud platforms really started with infrastructure-as-a-service and started tacking on platform features after the fact.

“Whereas Google went the opposite route. Their Cloud started with Google apps for MyDomain and… they’ve been expanding that so that now they’re roughly comparable (to other vendors), but have very much a platform centre, which is a much more modern approach to cloud infrastructure.”

Vallée also sees a big bonus to companies looking to develop AI-related products and tools within Google Cloud.

“The other dynamic that I think is really important is Google is really a leader in machine learning, and has the most compelling demonstrations of their machine learning capability in terms of their road map. Google is, I think by general concensus, far in the lead in terms of their machine learning innovation, what with their Google Brain project and Google DeepMind intiative.

“And what we’re seeing coming out of Google Brain and Google DeepMind is all being built into the Google Cloud API support over time. Which means that for future proofing your cloud investment, if you are doing an analytics-oriented, data science-oriented, machine learning or AI-oriented adoption of the public cloud, Google is really a nicely differentiated platform to make that kind of investment on.”

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Amazon rival Rakuten buys mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside

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Rival to Amazon and Japanese retail giant Rakuten has acquired Silicon Valley mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside. Details of the all-cash deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition could be a boon for the Japanese e-commerce company.

Mobile solutions for brick and mortar businesses

Founded in 2013 by former Apple engineers Jaron Waldman and Denis Laprise, Curbside has a suite of features that deal with all aspects of mobile commerce for restaurants and brick and mortar retail stores. Their most popular feature, ARRIVE, tracks customer’s journeys to predict when they’ll be approaching and arriving to have the product ready in an instant.
In its suite, Curbside’s offers programs that build online storesfill online orders in-store and grow store traffic.

According to Tech Crunch, the terms of the “all-cash” deal were not released. Curbside has previously raised between USD$40 and $50 million from investors like CVS, Index Ventures, Sutter Hull Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Chicago Ventures

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Curbside was valued at more than USD$100 million in 2015 during its last venture round.

Part of the family

In the press release from Curbside, co-founder and CEO Jaron Waldman writes, “For our customers and partners the headline is that nothing will change. Curbside will operate independently as a Rakuten-owned company with our team, services, partners and product offerings all remaining intact.”

Yaz Iida, President of Rakuten USA, Inc said in a press release “Welcoming Curbside to the Rakuten family is all about the consumer, and we are excited to be able to empower consumers with even more ways to enjoy shopping.”

Mario Pinho, CFO of Rakuten, welcomed Curbside “to the Rakuten family” on LinkedIn.

Earlier this year, Rakuten announced that it’s building a customer loyalty program based on blockchain technology, and building its own cryptocurrency, Rakuten Coin.

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How brick and mortar grocers benefit from digital transformation

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Brick and mortar grocery retailers have the potential to adopt artificial intelligence to help with stocking their stores, pricing their products and being competitive with online retailers like Amazon.

Michael Feindt, the founder of AI firm Blue Yonder that specializes in helping retailers adopt AI to change how they carry out their core processes, wrote an article in Silicon Republic about how grocery chains can use AI to operate smarter.

With online grocers rapidly adopting AI, Feindt writes that it’s important for brick and mortar retailers to “move beyond their legacy infrastructure and adopt the technologies of digital transformation.” These technologies include AI and machine learning.

To stay competitive in a market that’s increasingly focused on consumer satisfaction, Feindt writes that adopting AI can help grocery chains stock their stores more efficiently in an effort to reduce waste and ensure customers get what they want, as well as price their products according to real-time data on deals and promotions offered by other stores.

Feindt writes that stock and pricing in brick and mortar stores — two traditionally human-led domains — need to start using the data they have, and use AI to help process that data.

Paul Clarke, the CTO at Ocado (the company behind the grocery robots shown earlier) told The Telegraph that AI is “critical” to the industry, and where it’s heading.

“From our point of view artificial intelligence is the one to rule them all when it comes to the set of disruptive technologies that power our business and we already make extensive use of machine learning across our platform,” said Clarke. “But really we just think we’re getting started.”

It’s also easier than ever before for grocery chains to go beyond self-service checkouts and start using AI to optimize business, below is an infographic detailing 65 tech startups that use artificial intelligence, virtual reality… etc to usher grocery store operations into the future. This list is packed, but it’s not exhaustive.

From using AI to combat food contamination to giving allergy-sufferers peace of mind when shopping to programming shopping carts to follow consumers around the store, there are endless ways that AI can enhance grocery operations and produce tangible results.

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Mozilla announces grants for projects on how AI affects society

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Mozilla recently announced the creation of seven new five-figure grants for “technologists and media makers who help the public understand how threats to a healthy internet affect their everyday lives.”

Under their “Creative Media” awards track, Mozilla is offering a total of $250,000 in awards comprised of two $50,000 awards ($47,500 award + $2,500 MozFest travel stipend) and five $25,000 total prize packages ($22,500 award + $2,500 MozFest travel stipend). Mozilla says they’re specifically looking for projects that focus on AI and machine learning.

Mozilla wants these grants to go to researchers who can help the public to better understand how threats to a “healthy internet” are impacting their lives. These projects can be presented in a variety of mediums such as videos, games, browser extensions and data visualizations.

To be eligible for this award, projects must already be in-progress, at either the conceptual or prototype stage. They also have to be “freely available on the web,” have the ability “to be broadly shared,” and must include “privacy-respecting mechanisms.”

This isn’t Mozilla’s only project that has the aims of teaching people more about the changing face of technology.

From briefs to explainers to graphics, Mozilla has been attempting to make it easier for people to understand how things work.

Applications for this grant are open now and close on August 1.

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