Jurassic Park for Perfume: Ginkgo Bioworks Reconstructs Scents From Extinct Plants

Synthetic biologists resurrect fragrance-producing genes from bygone plant species Move aside, Chanel No. 5. Scientists have now created a scent that’s even older than the iconic perfume, even if it has only just wafted into human nostrils for the first time in more than 100 years. That’s because the piney, earthy perfume derives its fragrance compounds from a Hawaiian hibiscus flower that vanished from the dry-land forests of Maui in the early 1910s.  Researchers at Ginkgo Bioworks, one of the largest synthetic-biology companies in world, succeeded in resurrecting the smell by expressing the genes needed for making the defunct flower’s pungent aroma molecules in microbes. Ginkgo unveiled—and demoed—the new perfume at the company’s inaugural annual meeting in Boston last week. It’s like “Jurassic Park, but for perfume,” says Ginkgo’s creative director, Christina Agapakis. In the ’90s-era book-turned-film franchise, scientists at the fictional biotech company InGen revived dinosaurs by first extracting DNA Continue reading Jurassic Park for Perfume: Ginkgo Bioworks Reconstructs Scents From Extinct Plants

Invisibility Can Be a Superpower, T-shirts Matter, and More Insights From Women in Tech

What’s it like to be a woman in tech? Three generations of IBM women weigh in Illustration: iStockphoto Could a small group of women in tech tell me anything about what it’s like to be a woman in tech today? Earlier this month, IBM’s San Francisco team invited me to give it a try. They set me up on a dinner date with three women—one in her 20s, one in her 40s, and one in her 50s. The three hadn’t met before. We had no formal agenda, just a general plan to talk about their experiences. It was pretty bold of the company to suggest that the experiences of three women could coalesce into anything meaningful—but I think it did. Here’s who I met and what I learned. The women: From the Baby Boomer generation, Angie Krackeler, who goes by the lengthy title of worldwide developer and startup technical enablement Continue reading Invisibility Can Be a Superpower, T-shirts Matter, and More Insights From Women in Tech

Marissa Mayer’s New Startup Gets Lucky (a Lucky Building, That Is)

The tech incubator Lumi Labs starts out with a bit of Silicon Valley magic on its side Photo: Tekla Perry Just about everyone in Silicon Valley acknowledges that running a successful startup takes more than a great technology and the right people—it takes a little bit of luck. And Marissa Mayer, former Yahoo CEO and Google employee number 20, doesn’t deny the power a little luck has had on her career. She once told me that she wouldn’t have landed the Google gig that sent her career trajectory shooting skyward without “a long-distance relationship and a really bad bowl of pasta” that kept her up late in her Stanford dorm room, randomly opening the recruiter emails she had previously decided to ignore. When Mayer started that job at Google in 1999, the company had just moved into offices on the second floor of 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto, recently Continue reading Marissa Mayer’s New Startup Gets Lucky (a Lucky Building, That Is)

Feeding Frenzy for AI Engineers Gets More Intense

Demand for software engineers with AI expertise continues to increase, while supply flattens Photo: Delmaine Donson/Getty Images In December, Bloomberg reported that desperate demand for software engineers who know how to build artificial intelligence systems turned a previously low-key academic event “into a recruiting frenzy more akin to the National Football League’s draft day.” Meanwhile, the Tencent Research Institute released a report indicating that there are currently only 300,000 AI researchers and practitioners worldwide, but the demand is for millions. Earlier this month, Element AI set out to assess the AI talent pool. Based on LinkedIn postings, conference proceedings, and other data, the firm concluded that there are 22,000 PhD-educated researchers in the entire world who are capable of working in AI research and applications—but only 3,074 candidates currently looking for work. And this week, job search firm Indeed weighed in, reporting that demand for engineers with AI expertise has Continue reading Feeding Frenzy for AI Engineers Gets More Intense

Checking in With Alphabet Chair John Hennessy

Here’s what the Alphabet/Google chair and Stanford professor says about his new gig, “fake news,” and the future of technology Photo: Gabriela Hasbun John Hennessy has had a busy month. The former president of Stanford University was just named chairman of the board for Alphabet, Google’s parent company. And he just helped name the first class of 49 Knight-Hennessy scholars, his new program aimed at turning graduate students into leaders that will improve the world. (He called all of them personally to give them the news—he was that excited.) I caught up with Hennessy to find out a little more about how he plans to juggle his multiple roles, how Google can “Do the right thing” (as the company’s new motto states), and his views on current hot-button issues in technology. Here’s what he had to say. On taking on the chairmanship of Alphabet, and how it fits with his Continue reading Checking in With Alphabet Chair John Hennessy

Starting a Robotics Company? Sell a Service, Not a Robot

Robot company founders and investors make a case for “Robots as a Service” at HAX demo day Image: BeetlThe Beetl robot will start out as an automated poop scooper, but may add lawn mowing to the services it provides. If you want to start a robot company, plan to kick off by selling a service performed by robots, not the robots themselves. That was the message of robot startup founders and investors speaking at HAX demo day this week. HAX is a five-year-old hardware accelerator based in Shenzhen, China, and San Francisco. “I’m a big fan of going out and doing a service with a robot, competing with other businesses that provide that service, rather than trying to sell a $100,000 robot,” said Nathan Harding, co-founder of Ekso Bionics and now co-founder and CEO of Wink Robotics, a still-mostly-stealthy company intending to bring robotics technology into the beauty salon industry. Continue reading Starting a Robotics Company? Sell a Service, Not a Robot