Plus: Elon Musk’s Starship rocket marks progress despite fiery outcome, China takes on Elon Musk's Starlink with hundreds of low-orbit satellites, Sam Altman and Greg Brockman join Microsoft, and Amazon to cut several jobs in Alexa unit.
Here are the five most important stories we are tracking today – Monday, November 20, 2023.
Paystack lays employees outside its African market
African payments giant Paystack, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Stripe, is strategically downsizing its global workforce outside of Africa to focus on streamlining operations and prioritizing local markets. The move follows Paystack's geographical expansion into Accra, Cape Town, Nairobi, the UAE, and Europe after its acquisition by Stripe in 2020 for $200 million.
The decision, confirmed by CEO Shola Akinlade in a tweet, will result in the layoff of approximately 33 employees in Europe and the UAE, each receiving a severance package equivalent to four months' salary.
It aligns with adjustments made by its US parent payment giant's operations, Stripe, after it made significant workforce reductions, laying off 14% of its employees in November 2022. This downsizing trend continued in July of this year with another 40 job cuts.
Despite global staff reductions, Paystack continues its expansion within Africa, obtaining licenses for operations in Egypt and Rwanda while establishing partnerships for financial services in Côte d’Ivoire.
Elon Musk’s Starship rocket marks progress despite fiery outcome
Following a first launch in April that ended in a fireball, Elon Musk's SpaceX again attempted a second launch of its Starship rocket on Saturday—the largest and most powerful rocket ever built.
Unfortunately, the launch also met a fiery fate as it lost both the booster and the spacecraft in a pair of explosions minutes into Saturday’s test flight, but this was not before it made a successful separation from its first stage and eventually reached space at a 140km altitude, marking progress from the first trial.
Despite falling short of a complete orbit - missing SpaceX's targeted altitude of 150 miles (240 kilometres) for a circumnavigational journey and a planned return to Earth, SpaceX views the mission as a success and hopes to leverage the wealth of data obtained to refine future flights already in the pipeline.
Sam Altman and Greg Brockman join Microsoft following their departure from OpenAI
Following the ousting of Sam Altman as OpenAI's CEO on November 17th, there have been speculations concerning his return, especially with the employees' threat of exodus and series of meetings. Even OpenAI appointing an interim CEO did not put an end to the speculations. However, Microsoft's recent announcement has definitely dashed any hopes of Altman's return.
In light of OpenAI's failure to reinstate Sam Altman, the former CEO is set to join Microsoft. He, along with Greg Brockman, the former President of OpenAI, will lead a new advanced AI research team at Microsoft. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella announced on X that the duo will lead a newly established advanced AI research team within the company.
This acquisition is a big victory for Microsoft, as the company heavily relied on Sam Altman / OpenAI for its ecosystem AI adoption and integration. With Microsoft being one of the biggest investors of OpenAI, there have been concerns of conflict, however, Satya Nadella reiterated the tech giant's commitment to OpenAI.
China takes on Elon Musk's Starlink with hundreds of low-orbit satellites
China has embarked on an ambitious plan to build a state-owned 13,000-satellite LEO constellation as it looks to take the competition to Elon Musk in the space race.
While Elon Musk's SpaceX maintains its dominance in low-Earth orbit (LEO) with over 5,000 satellites orbiting at approximately 550 kilometres, and its Starlink service available in over 60 countries, it faces a challenging regulatory landscape that prevents it from operating in China. To operate it needs local licenses, and China will not give those to Musk.
This is why China is looking to level up by venturing into a subset of LEO known as very low-Earth orbit (VLEO). China's state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) already plan to launch the first satellite in its VLEO constellation next month. The constellation aims to grow to 300 satellites by 2030, focusing on communication and remote-sensing services.
Amazon to cut several jobs in its Alexa unit
Responding to an economic downturn and a slowdown in growth within its primary retail operations Amazon entered a cost-cutting phase since the previous year. The company underwent its most substantial layoffs to date, eliminating over 27,000 positions and discontinuing several less profitable ventures.
In continuing job layoffs, Amazon has initiated job cuts within its Alexa division. The company is eliminating several hundred positions in this unit, as well as discontinuing unspecified initiatives. These layoffs are part of a broader effort to streamline operations and focus on generative AI.
As stated by Amazon’s vice president of Alexa, Daniel Rausch, in the company's internal memo, "We’re shifting some of our efforts to better align with our business priorities, and what we know matters most to customers — which includes maximizing our resources and efforts focused on generative AI, which is resulting in several hundred roles being eliminated."
Since its launch in 2014, Amazon has made big investments in Alexa and assigned top talent to grow the technology. However, in the era of generative artificial intelligence, Alexa may have failed to keep pace.
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