Behind the smart gadgets, Amazon and Google are waging war

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The Industrial Technology Research Institute's companion robot plays Scrabble with attendees at CES International on Jan. 10, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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People look at home appliances that can be controlled by Amazon's Alexa at the LG booth during CES International on Jan. 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The Eyesee inventory drone is displayed during a press event for CES 2018 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
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SYOS 3D printed custom saxophone mouthpieces are displayed during a press event for CES 2018 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
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The latest generation of the Sony robotic pet, Aibo, is on display during a press event for CES 2018 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 8, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 11 January 2018
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Behind the smart gadgets, Amazon and Google are waging war

LAS VEGAS: The flash of the CES technology show in Las Vegas is all about robots, drones and smart gadgets. But its subtext is all about Google versus Amazon.
Both companies usually shun conventions like CES, preferring to debut gadgets at their own press events. But these tech giants have built an imposing presence here this year as they work to weave their voice-operated digital assistants more deeply into our personal lives.
Google has plastered digital billboards and the Las Vegas Monorail with the “Hey Google” wake-up command. It’s announced a range of new gadgets featuring its assistant on everything from smart displays to pressure cookers. And it’s sent out the clowns — a jumpsuit-wearing army of advertising associates wearing brightly-colored Converse sneakers and hovering around partner firms’ booths to explain how Google’s technology works.
Amazon, which grabbed an early lead in this market, opted for a more subtle approach. Instead of an advertising blitz, its Alexa digital assistant has merely been popping up regularly in “smart” products across the convention — everything from mirrors and toilets to headphones and car dashboards.
Executives from both companies have also been turning up at press conferences held by other companies such as Panasonic, LG and Toyota. “What we’re seeing is heavy competition between all the personal assistants,” says Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

THE STAKES
The two companies — and to a lesser extent, Apple, with Siri, and Microsoft, with Cortana — are waging a fierce struggle to establish their assistants as de facto standards for a new generation of voice-controlled devices. It’s similar in some respects to the decade-old battle between the iPhone and Google’s Android system in smartphones, or to the much older fight between Apple’s Mac computers and Microsoft’s Windows PCs.
Both companies see the competition in existential terms. Getting shut out of voice devices could imperil Google’s lucrative digital-advertising business, the source of its financial strength. Amazon, meanwhile, wants to ensure that its customers can directly access its “everything store” in contrast to now, when they mostly shop via devices and software systems controlled by Amazon’s rivals.
For consumers, meanwhile, the spread of these assistants offers new convenience in the form of an ever-present digital concierge. But there could also be some uneasiness about revealing even more about their habits, preferences and routines to distant computers that are always listening for their commands.

THE EVERPRESENT COMPUTER
In a video presentation by LG, one consumer cooks while reading a recipe from the smart screen of the company’s voice-activated robot CLOi. Another prepares to embark on a vacation and shuts off her lights by saying, “Hey, Google, I’m leaving.”
Google said this week it’s integrating its voice assistant to allow remote control of some settings in Kia and Fiat Chrysler vehicles, while Toyota announced a similar arrangement with Amazon that enables drivers to ask Alexa turn the heat up at home before they arrive.
But these smart products can — and sometimes do — support multiple assistants. Toyota Connected CEO Zack Hicks told reporters that “we’re not exclusive” with Amazon, and that nothing prevents Toyota from partnering with others.
General Electric is showing off a suite of smart kitchen gizmos that connect its “Geneva” voice assistant to those of Amazon and Google. For example, you can preheat your oven by saying, “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat the upper oven to 350.” China’s Baidu on Monday announced it was integrating its voice assistant into a lamp speaker and dome ceiling lights.
Whether people will truly pay more for the ability not to walk over and flip a switch themselves is unclear. But manufacturers aren’t taking the chance that they’ll be left behind if one or the other assistant becomes dominant.
“Five years ago, no one could predict what was going to happen with the smart home,” says LG Electronics USA marketing vice president David VanderWaal. “Five years from now, we’re not quite sure either. So this open partner, open platform system, is definitely the way to go.”

THE RUNNERS UP
For the moment, voice competitors to Amazon and Google remain largely in the wings.
Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, which is available on PCs running Windows 10, allows hundreds of millions of users to search the web using Bing. But it hasn’t been a huge factor in gadget announcements leading up to CES. In fact, Alexa is even starting to encroach on Cortana’s turf by making its way onto some PCs.
Apple hasn’t been prominent this year, either. But many manufacturers have adopted its HomeKit software in order to ensure they’ll work easily with iPhones and Siri. Apple, however, had to push back release of the HomePod, its almost-$350 smart speaker, until “early” this year; it was originally scheduled for December 2017.
Some analysts also say it’s too soon to rule out Bixby, Samsung’s AI assistant, which the company vowed to make a more central part of all its connected devices by 2020.


Eni issues fraud complaint over suspect Iraqi shipment

Updated 18 July 2019
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Eni issues fraud complaint over suspect Iraqi shipment

  • Italian oil multinational asks if rejected tanker cargo contained Iranian crude targeted by US sanctions

LONDON: Eni has filed a fraud complaint against its former head of oil trading over a suspect Iraqi crude oil shipment, amid concerns inside the Italian oil major that the failed delivery may have included Iranian crude targeted by US sanctions.

In the filing to the Milan prosecutor’s office, Eni accused its former head of trading and operations, Alessandro Des Dorides, of misleading all parties to the deal and hiding the role of a small Italian oil trading firm, Napag.

Two other senior employees were either demoted or suspended as a result of the failed shipment, sources said.

Eni said it had suspended dealings with Napag in February over a separate investigation by Milan prosecutors into suspected obstruction of justice by members of Eni’s former legal team.

Eni said that it fired Des Dorides at the end of May, after he had been in his job about six months, for what it said was an unrelated petrochemical deal with Napag in 2018.

Napag did not respond to an emailed request for comment or answer phone calls.

Des Dorides did not respond to several requests for comment from Reuters via email or LinkedIn. Reuters could not locate legal representation for him.

Eni also declined to comment. Eni said it “does not comment on ongoing investigations and internal due processes.”

The crude arrived aboard the White Moon tanker at the end of May for offloading at the Milazzo refinery in Sicily, which is part-owned by Eni. The Italian oil major, which produces oil in Iraq and is a regular buyer of Iraqi crude, was solely responsible for the cargo.

However, Eni said it rejected the delivery because it did not match the Iraqi Basra Light crude it expected from its counterparty, the Dubai-based trading arm of Nigerian firm Oando.

After sitting offshore for three weeks, the White Moon sailed back to the Gulf. The tanker manager did not respond to a request for comment.

Two sources at Eni said the White Moon’s 1 million barrel cargo created panic within the company over fears the crude could be, at least partially, Iranian.

Handling Iranian oil would have breached sanctions the US reimposed or extended last year after quitting a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Washington aims to reduce Iran’s exports to zero and force the Islamic Republic to renegotiate that nuclear deal, curb its missile program and modify its behavior in the Middle East.

Iran has called on other parties to the accord to shield it from the effects of US sanctions and has sought to circumvent US restrictions by selling more of its oil undercover.

Following the rejection of the White Moon shipment in June, the head of the Italian Senate Industry Committee wrote to Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi to clarify the origin of an oil cargo labelled as coming from Iraq, the head of the committee said.

The head of the committee declined to comment to Reuters on the oil’s possible origins.

Eni said it bought the crude from Nigerian firm Oando, who in turn bought the oil from the London branch of Italy’s Napag.

Oando said it took back the cargo from Eni, but declined to comment further on the origins of the cargo as it was “in the middle of a resolution” over the rejected oil. Oando said the terms of the deal were “normal for the trading industry.”

Italian prosecutors cannot legally comment on any investigation unless there is an exceptional circumstance.

Trading sources familiar with the deal said the offer terms for the crude should have raised alarms internally even before its arrival off Sicily. The offer was at a significant discount to typical Iraqi trades, was paid for in euros and was from a firm that is new to the region, they said. Physical oil is commonly traded in dollars.

Eni said that the mismatch in the crude’s chemical composition “coupled with other red flags led to the decision to terminate the transaction.”

The oil loaded onto the White Moon came via two ship-to-ship transfers that makes the origin harder to track, sources said.

The crude bought from Oando was loaded onto the White Moon from another vessel, the New Prosperity, but that vessel itself had been loaded with oil from a third tanker, the Abyss.

The Abyss makes regular voyages through the Mideast Gulf with its transponder switched off for days at a time, according to Refinitiv Eikon ship tracking. The transponder was switched off between April 24 and May 3 when it transferred oil to the New Prosperity.