Weekend Update: Atari Hotels, Google Planning a Slack Killer?

Is it just us, or did January feel like it went on forever? In any case, it’s the weekend—and February! This week featured some… unusual news, to put it mildly: Google really wants to beat Slack, and that famous Atari logo is about to end up somewhere nobody expected.

Ready? Let’s jump in!

Google Wants Your Business

Business software is big business, especially when it comes to collaboration tools such as Slack and Teams. Google recognizes this (who wouldn’t?), which is why it’s prepping to launch a new, multi-app platform that allows workers to better chat with one another.

According to The Information, this new platform will bundle together the various communications apps that Google has released over the years, including Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, and perhaps introduce an entirely new messaging service of some kind. It’ll also reportedly integrate with Gmail, Google Drive, and other productivity services that Google offers via G Suite.

As The Verge helpfully pointed out, Google has released a variety of consumer-centric messaging services over the years, including (among those still in operation) Chat, Duo, Android Messages (if you’re using an Android phone), and Google Voice. That’s in addition to all the terminated ones, including GChat (R.I.P.) and Buzz, its Twitter-like messaging… thingie.  

Yes, it’s confusing. For years, Google followed a product-release roadmap best described as “throw it at the wall and see what sticks.” If something succeeded, that was great, but if it didn’t… well, it’s relatively easy to shut down a project without many users. That’s why there’s a massive graveyard of dead Google products (Daydream! Google Plus! Google Goggles! The list goes on and on!).

As Google has matured, it’s attempted to enforce more discipline over its product rollouts, but it must still wrestle with all of these “zombie apps” lurking around the countryside, demanding brains and your user info. On top of that, the company’s habit of launching apps with great fanfare, only to murder them a year or two later (or refuse to update them, which is basically the same thing) makes businesses leery; sysadmins and other technologists don’t like integrating software into their companies’ tech stacks that might not last very long.

So if Google is going to push an all-new communications app for businesses, it must a.) convince potential clients that this one isn’t going anywhere, for real this time, pinkie-swear, and b.) release something at least as fully featured as Slack and Teams, otherwise companies will have precious little reason to switch. Hopefully whatever’s in the works won’t end up on a fast track to the Google Graveyard.

Atari Hotel

Ever walked into a hotel and thought: “Well, this looks pretty decent, but it lacks video games?” Do we have news for you: If everything falls into place, eight Atari-branded hotels will open across the United States over the next few years, starting in Phoenix, Arizona. Amenities will include augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) setups, “venues and studios to accommodate e-sports events” (according to the press release), arcade bars, and, presumably, decent broadband.

(The above image is a mockup of what the hotel will look like, complete with giant Atari logo. It looks like something out of the movie “Tron,” which we guess is appropriate for a gaming company that got its start in the 1970s before achieving maximum cultural impact in the 80s.)

The global video-game market reportedly generated $152.1 billion in revenues last year; gamers have money to burn. Will they spend it on a gaming-themed hotel, though? For the backers of this Atari project, that’s a multi-million-dollar question. Also, will they let guests play a live-action version of Pac-Man in the hallways? We hope so.

Warehouse Robots Getting Smarter

When we think “artificial intelligence,” we have a tendency to think software. Some of the biggest advances are taking place in the hardware realm, however, as illustrated by a new warehouse robot that’s becoming very smart.

According to The New York Times, this next generation of robot workers is learning, via trial-and-error and reinforcement learning, to easily lift and manipulate objects of varying weights and sizes. That might sound like a small thing, but it’s actually a huge deal in the progression of A.I. Older generations of robots could generally only handle boxes or objects of a uniform, pre-set size; but if these machines become more dexterous, they threaten to replace more human workers.

Automation could transform into a real threat to a broad swath of jobs currently held by Homo sapiens. Late last year, a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted that automation would eliminate 800 million human jobs by 2035. Nor is that the only report that’s highlighted the coming apocalypse: The McKinsey Global Institute also floated that 800-million figure, with between 39 and 73 million jobs impacted in the United States. 

No wonder that (according to survey data by the Pew Research Center) 48 percent of Americans believe that existing automation has mostly hurt workers. “Most Americans also expressed support for policies aimed at limiting automation to certain jobs or cushioning its economic impact,” read Pew’s note accompanying its data. “A large majority (85 percent) said they would support restricting workforce automation to jobs that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans to do.”

Not even baristas as safe, given how Starbucks has its eye on A.I.-enabled coffee machines.

It’s a big, thorny issue that we’re going to have to collectively confront over the next decade. In the meantime, though…

Enjoy your weekend!