THE DAILY CRUNCH
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12 2016 By Darrell Etherington

The Daily Crunch

The AI gold rush rolls on and Microsoft sings a song of Surface success. All that and more in The Daily Crunch for December 12, 2016.

1. Microsoft has a new fund for AI startups

Microsoft has a new dedicated fund at its venture arm specifically targeting AI startups, and Element AI's incubator is on the receiving end of this new resource. The Yoshua Bengio-led incubator arrives at a time when Google is also investing in AI in Montreal, signaling its position as a hotspot for the emerging tech and the land-grab big tech co's are making with respect to talent in the area.

Without exception, big tech companies see AI as the key to their continued relevance, so expect to see a lot more of this. And "learning to AI" could be the next "learning to code" in terms of education imperatives as a result.

2. Microsoft books best month ever for Surface, cites MacBook disappointment

Okay, Microsoft says sales are up (by volume) and also people got real mad at the MacBook Pro redesign, so it's saying those two things are related. That may actually be true, as, anecdotally, I've heard at least a few creative pros mention that they're looking at Surface Book as a viable MBP alternative. It's probably too early to draw a strong causal link, but it's definitely something to watch.

3. The robot eyes have it

Sensors are a key ingredient to our self-driving future, and LiDAR is a key part of that makeup. Laser measurement systems provide very high accuracy for mapping surroundings, but they're expensive and large. Blackmore is a company looking to help fix that, and also add other elements to LiDAR's capability beyond just distance measurement. It just got some investment, which is not surprising, given automaker interest.

4. Speaking of cars...

Connected-car platform Mojio has pivoted away from selling dongles to drivers like Automatic and into commercial business, and now the company has erased $7 million more to support that approach. It's looking to push for more partnership with cellular network providers, which could be very attractive as they look to be more involved in the emerging world of transportation tech.

5. Meanwhile, Uber's refining the carpool

A lot of car companies are investing in transportation service these days, but Uber has some distinct advantages to providing things like carpools. It's flexing those muscles with updates to its uberPOOL service, including automatic rerouting if better routes present themselves, and predictive pairing that waits for rides to come up along a better route. All of this leads into why carmakers starting their own similar services from zero have a tough hill to climb.

6. Gates, Bezos and others bet big on clean tech

It ain't easy being green, but at least now there's some more available green floating around to support the cause. Bill Gates and a cadre of powerful billionaires announced a new $1 billion clean tech energy fund to help combat climate change, which is a start.

7. Honda bets on Uber rival

Oh, remember two numbers ago when I was talking about carmakers building transportation service? Honda is doing the other thing that automakers do, investing in people who already do that well (likely with some kind of hidden option to buy).