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Category: Distruption

What is a post scientific world? Only AI may know.

What is a post scientific world? Only AI may know.

Much has been written about AI, both utopian and dystopian. Elon Musk has launched a billion dollar crusade to stop the AI apocalypse. Bill Gates insisted that it was a threat, until he changed his mind. Mark Zuckerberg is a big supporter, insisting that “AI makes human life better.” Then again, he also told Congress that Facebook is not a publisher – until the issue came up in court: Is Facebook a publisher? In public it says no, but in court it says yes.

Remember when Facebook apologized after ‘the algorithm’ blocked the Declaration of Independence as ‘hate speech?’ And that was just an algorithm that was wrong or defective. Read More...

Life After Google Has a Solid Foundation

Life After Google Has a Solid Foundation

Google, et al, testified in Washington last week before the Senate Commerce Committee over issues ranging from election meddling to transparence. Apple, Amazon, Google and Twitter, alongside AT&T and Charter, were all there. In case you were distracted by yet another Senate hearing that was taking place, Ex-Google Employee Urges Lawmakers to Take On Company. Said The New York Times, “In a harshly worded letter sent this week, the former employee, Jack Poulson, criticized Google’s handling of a project to build a version of its search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China. He said the project was a “catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process,” adding that ‘that there is a “broad pattern of unaccountable decision making.”

“We acknowledge that we have made mistakes in the past, from which we have learned, and improved our robust privacy program,” Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer, said in his opening statement. Read More...

“Don’t teach people how to fish, but teach them to build fishing schools.” Esther Dyson’s long term thinking on healthcare in a short attention span world.

“Don’t teach people how to fish, but teach them to build fishing schools.” Esther Dyson’s long term thinking on healthcare in a short attention span world.

Esther Dyson spoke at a CapGemini event recently. If the name is unfamiliar, her LinkedIn profile is a start, but it’s not the half of it. Dyson was an early tech guru, impresario of the highly influential PC Forum conference  and the Release 1.0 newsletter, and friendly with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates – and Yours Truly.

Esther is a long-term thinker in a short attention span world. Her current focus: Wellville, where she has gone into five communities to disrupt healthcare by stopping health problems before they become problems, through education. As she put it, not to teach people how to fish, but how to build fishing schools. Will her program, which she calls not a startup but rather, the beginnings of a restaurant chain, make a difference? Time will tell: she’s four years into a 10-year project. As for the difference between long and short term thinking: her team is educating people about healthy food and food preparation, rather than delivering meal kits or take-out with the results (potentially) being making a difference on long-term health, rather than achieving a quick billion-dollar valuation. And bringing down insurance payouts and by extension, health care costs. A potentially multi-billion dollar savings. Read More...

Why You Need to Pay Attention to the Blockchain: A Crash Course in Internet History

Why You Need to Pay Attention to the Blockchain: A Crash Course in Internet History

There was a time when the idea of giving your credit card information online was unthinkable, despite the fact that you’d readily hand it over to a total stranger (aka, waiter) in a restaurant, who would vanish for a few minutes before returning it. Now people don’t think twice about it, despite what we know hacks of Equifax, Yahoo (Every single Yahoo account was hacked – 3 billion in all) and most recently, the massive US military social media spying archive left wide open in AWS S3 buckets. Actually, All the Major Companies Have Been Hacked.

While there have been cryptocurrency hacks, still believe that it’s the blockchain that’s unsafe?

The blockchain is still a relative unknown and, truth be told, terra incognita for most. Think of it as the early days of the Internet, in the days when the web was accessed via the c prompt (C>). It was geek and early adopter territory back then, until Netscape came along, providing a graphical user interface that changed everything. Read More...

The Titans of Tech Went to Sun Valley and All They Brought Me Was this Lousy Hashtag

The Titans of Tech Went to Sun Valley and All They Brought Me Was this Lousy Hashtag

The tech oligarchs gathered in Sun Valley for most of the past week, and besides a few arrival photo opportunities, there was pretty much a media blackout. Or, at least the media was allowed only in certain places at certain times.

They arrived primarily in private jets, despite the fact that they’re the ones who most often sound the alarm when it comes to global warming.

Despite the tight security, most of them also arrived with personal armed guards, if not veritable private armies, despite the fact that they’re supposedly anti-guns. Read More...

A Tale of Two Titans

A Tale of Two Titans

Last week, Travis Kalanick, ahem, tendered his resignation as CEO of Uber, the company which he co-founded, and of which he is a 30% shareholder. No mean feat holding on to that much equity, considering the many rounds of funding that the company has received – $8.8B in 14 rounds, according to Crunchbase. It took a shareholder revolt on the part of investors representing roughly 40 percent control of Uber to accomplish the task, according to NewCo.

Then again, he’s Travis Kalanick. Taking a walk down memory lane, here are 13 Instances Where Uber Screwed Up (A Brief Throwback), demonstrating a bit more ubris than was advisable or legal, including class actions; sexist comments (and Susan Fowler’s blog post that started it all); surge pricing; criminal behavior on the part of drivers who were supposedly vetted; falsifying numbers; what to speak of the number of executives who departed the company in quick succession. Uber may not have been Uber without Kalanick’s personality to drive it (no pun intended), and while it has been said that there’s really no such thing as bad press, well, there are many Silicon Valley mantras that are in need of revision.

Uber has always been a predatory, take-no-prisoners corporate culture. They cut corners (drivers were not all properly vetted, it seems; agencies that do background checks do not all follow the same set of rules), and to reach Uber-size in the amount of time it took the company to accomplish its current market share (they’ve been around since 2009 and yes, market share has been falling off of late, which has given its closest competitor a big lift – pun intended: “Uber’s US market share fell from 84% at the beginning of this year to 77% at the end of May, according to  research firm Second Measure. Meanwhile, Lyft’s bookings were up 135% year-over-year in April, according to PYMNTS.com,” says Business Insider), you have to be employing measures that simply do not pass the sniff test (Uber drivers underpaid in New York City for years). Read More...

How to Defy the Laws of Time and Physics – And (Sometimes) Common Sense

How to Defy the Laws of Time and Physics – And (Sometimes) Common Sense

We were recently asked to give a brief history of the early days of tech in New York. Given the speed of tech, it’s not all that easy to condense even a relatively short cycle into a brief presentation, especially considering internet time: a lot happened quickly, and all at once.

It did, however, strike us that many of the ideas that have made for successful – and not so successful – Silicon Valley companies today were first developed in New York in those early days. We had social networks – Six Degrees, theglobe.com, iVillage – two of which were acquired, while the third (theglobe.com) not only went public, but posted the largest first day gain of any IPO in history up to that date – then crashed spectacularly when the dot com bubble burst.  What also struck us was the on-demand economy. We did have that back then, too, so nothing new and again, what man cannot remember he is doomed to repeat.

In the days of Web 1.0, there was a company called kozmo.com, an on-demand delivery service that promised free one-hour delivery of “videos, games, dvds, music, magazines, books, food, et al, and they would even deliver a pack of chewing gum at 2 am, if there was a call for it – literally. They raised money and lots of it: $250 million, according to Wikipedia, and they burned through lots of it as well: According to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in 1999 the company had revenue of $3.5 million, with a resulting net loss of $26.3 million. They, too, spectacularly dot bombed. Read More...

TIme for the End of an Error

TIme for the End of an Error

Much attention has been paid lately to the ‘bad players’ of technology. The Atlantic asked, Is the Silicon Valley Dynasty Coming to an End? Ethical lapses at some of the tech industry’s biggest companies suggest a chilling reality of what really matters in the world’s most rollicking economy, while Business Insider reported yet another Uber departure, and the company’s long string of problems/resignations of late.

Both are worth a read, but always worth closer inspection is the forest through the trees. In case you missed it, a man was murdered this past week, and it was streamed on Facebook, which has also streamed live gang rapes in the none-too-distant past. In fact, we now have a new category, according to ABC News: Performance Crime. “(Steven) Stephens’ alleged crime has drawn attention to a number of other illegal acts that have been documented on social media. In recent years, sexual assaults, random attacks and murders have been uploaded to social media platforms, sometimes drawing large audiences,” the news channel reported.

While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg expressed his sympathy to the family, noting that more needs to be done, there is no doubt that there’s a rise in the incidents of violent crimes being streamed on the service, and mea innocentia just doesn’t cut it anymore, especially in a world where the Googles and Facebooks are devouring content, vetted or not, and reaping huge financial benefits as a result. While we don’t advocate blanket censorship, what reputable news organization would allow murder or rape/performance crime, to be broadcast? Again, the Silicon Valley elites give themselves a pass: they’re just providing the medium, with all due respect to Marshall McLuen. Read More...

The New Pathway to Exits

The New Pathway to Exits

Silicon Valley is fond of exits – isn’t a meaningful exit the dream and endgame of every investor and entrepreneur in tech? You have to admire – or shake your head in total disbelief at – Silicon Valley, when it comes to what they’ve managed to accomplish: namely, disrupt a number of industries, as well as the basic principles of economics and business, to get to those astronomical exits, whether or not they were real, or just so much smoke and mirrors.

When Twitter launched in 2006 and started picking up steam after its debut at SXSW the following year, they had no revenue model, but the company’s investors assured us that there would be a revenue model by 2009. Then came the IPO in 2013 and, as The Wall Street Journal noted, “The San Francisco-based company raised as much as $2.1 billion and ended the day with a market capitalization of about $25 billion. That made the six-year-old company bigger than more than half of the firms in the S&P 500 and larger than well-known brands such as Kellogg Co. and Whole Foods Market Inc.”

That was then and this is now, and the company is now worth well under its IPO price and as Bloomberg News notes on the eve of three-year-old Snap going public, Snap’s IPO to Be Haunted by Twitter and GoPro. As MarketWatch warns, Snap’s cost of revenue has exceeded sales for two years, and could grow more. Which is Silicon Valley newspeak for the company is losing money, in case you’ve never read George Orwell’s 1984 and evidently, we don’t know what the hell they’re teaching out there. As for Twitter’s revenue model (what to speak of the fact that the company is hemorrhaging users), we’re still waiting. Read More...

Robotics, Drones, AI and Autonomous Vehicles: The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Here

Robotics, Drones, AI and Autonomous Vehicles: The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Here

Oliver Mitchell of Autonomy Ventures, who also blogs at The Robot Rabbi, spoke at our January 26 Investor Breakfast, and the conversation was column-worthy. After all, the robots are coming and that’s very much Oliver’s domain, and their growing presence on the global landscape, along with other technologies, is being referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as Oliver pointed out. In fact, the day before the breakfast, The New York Times ran on piece on How to Make America’s Robots Great Again, pointing out how China is investing heavily in the manufacturing of robots, and the US needs to do so as well.

The big fear is that robots will be – and currently are – taking jobs formerly held by lower skilled labor, and the fear is not unfounded. As Oliver noted, they’re also taking jobs in higher skilled areas, even replacing financial analysts and advisors. So are we looking at some relatively far off dystopian future?

“When I was growing up, computers were only used by large corps or government, and with a few highly skilled operators operating them,” said Oliver. “Not until Windows 95 (was introduced) that computers and personal computers became ubiquitous, and really fulfilled the dreams of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. If I told you a decade ago, or a decade and a half ago, about robots, you’d have thought Robbie the Robot and big industrial robots…Compared to personal computing, we’re standing in 1990 – 5 years before robots become ubiquitous.” Read More...

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