Google's Cars, Skype's Translators, And Goop: Burning Questions From Day One Of Re/code's Code Conference

Here's the big stuff you need to know about from day one of Re/code's inaugural tech conference.

What is Code Con?
It's the technology conference hosted by the whip-smart folks at Re/code, the tech blog formerly known as All Things D. Basically, it's the same "D" conference that, in 2007, managed to put Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates on the same stage.

Blog legends Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg were the day's hosts.

Who was there on day one?
Under the bright lights were (in order of appearance): newly appointed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; followed by the recently consciously uncoupled Gwyneth Paltrow; and lastly, chief Google cyborg Sergey Brin.

Let's start with Sergey. Was he wearing Google Glass?
At one point, yes. Also: Crocs.

What did he talk about?
Brin took the opportunity to talk about his complete and utter disdain for patent trolls. He said that patent protections, which can last as long as two decades (which mismatches the current pace of technology), should be shortened. In theory, this would make patent trolling--or the arguably shady act of acquiring intellectual property for the sole purpose of suing other companies--a less profitable business.

Brin also believes our current legal structure is broken, as best illustrated by the ongoing, multi-billion-dollar patent war brewing between Apple and Samsung. Apple, in pursuing court action against a phone-maker like Samsung, is indirectly targeting Google for the rights to small software and hardware features, like the "slide-to-unlock" gesture found on iPhones and Androids.

Booooooring. What else did he talk about?
This is pretty exciting: Brin revealed Google is prototyping a new self-driving car without a steering wheel, brakes, or gearshift. Unlike the Priuses and Lexuses it has rejiggered in the past, this is a brand-new vehicle built from the ground up.

Google Steering Wheel-less, Driverless Prototype car but with a face.Image courtesy of Google

Why doesn't it have a steering wheel?
According to Google, the decision was reached after a series of experiments that found it can actually be more dangerous for people to grab the wheel suddenly after, say, dozing off after a long day at the office or texting listlessly on their phone. The as-of-yet-named smart vehicle looks like an adorable Fiat, but with a face.

How does it work?
The car is summoned with an app, kind of like an Uber. And so far at least, the little two-seaters have a perfect safety record shuttling Google employees to work, since they're programmed to drive safer than most humans. They're outfitted with roughly 500 sensors, and don't take the same types of risks you or I might take while jamming down the highway with a guitar solo blaring over the speakers. Did I mention they're adorable?

So what's it like to take a ride in one?
"Kara and I didn't really know what to think. We were utterly and totally along for the ride," wrote Re/code reporter Liz Gannes. "A few margaritas would've been nice, we thought."

Let's move on to Nadella. How did the new Microsoft CEO fare onstage?
Quite well, actually. The Verge described him as smart and warm--a sharp contrast to his blustery but likable predecessor, Steve Ballmer. Nadella took the opportunity to talk about some of Microsoft's far-ranging products, such as Bing, which he promised wouldn't be sold to Yahoo (as the rumors suggested). The Xbox division is also staying in-house, according to Nadella.

What was the highlight of Nadella's talk?
Like a sci-fi trope straight out of a Star Trek script, the coolest thing Nadella unveiled was a new Skype feature that automatically translates foreign languages on the fly. In theory, it allows a German speaker to chat with someone halfway around the world in English.

The translation demoed wasn't perfect, but Nadella promises that the new translator will be available for all of us to try sometime later this year.

Nice. So, what the heck was Gwyneth Paltrow doing there?
The surprise guest took the opportunity to deliver a great talk about a topic near and dear to all our hearts: online trolls.

More specifically, Paltrow spoke about anonymity on the Internet, and how it allows for the "objectification and dehumanization" of people--like celebrities (who, lest we forget, are humans, too). "It's like the scabs from your high-school wounds being ripped off on a daily basis," she said.

Paltrow said she's aware of how her image is perceived online, and that it has taken her a "long time to get to the point where I can see these things and not take it as a personal affront and hurt."

On the bright side, she also revealed that her Goop e-commerce business is doing very well, and is profitable. "I started it across all those categories kind of by accident. But it set me up really well to have a lifestyle brand," she said. "I have big goals in mind for what I want it to be. I finally have been able to find the self-confidence that I really can do this, and I'm doing it."

[Image: Flickr user Andreas Dantz]

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