Tag: Silicon Valley

The flagellation of Big Tech

Monday, 18 February, 2019

Amazon’s decision last Thursday to abandon its plan to build a new headquarters in New York City, citing fierce opposition from state and local politicians, is another sign that the techlash is beginning to hurt. Megan McArdle in the Washington Post:

“Though Amazon won’t lose much by redirecting expansion elsewhere (including adding personnel to its offices elsewhere in New York), Big Tech should be worried about the company’s experience. Once viewed by the left as the Good Big Business, Big Tech has now been reclassified to the ranks of the rapacious monopolists. Meanwhile, the right is also getting less tech-friendly as it perceives Big Tech taking the other side in the culture wars. At the moment, tech has no obvious political allies.”

If the techlash turns into a war on Big Tech, the Information Oligarchs will rue their love-in with the Left. Radicals in Seattle and New York can no longer be depended on to support every Silicon Valley edict and it’s rather late in the day for the likes of Google to go looking for allies on the right. As Warren Buffett famously said in another context: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is keeping an eye on the ebb and flow along Capitol Hill these days, no doubt. He may yet be exposed, depending on the currents.


Reminding Tencent of Tiananmen

Saturday, 9 February, 2019

Since the news broke that China’s Tencent is investing $150 million in Reddit, users have been busy posting an image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre that Beijing has spent three decades trying to suppress. According to TechCrunch: “Depending on how much follow-on cash Reddit drums up from Silicon Valley investors and beyond, its post-money valuation could reach an epic $3 billion.” Reddit, by the way, is blocked in China and Tencent is also one of the most important engineers building the communist dictatorship’s Great Firewall. All in all, then, a fascinating funder for a Silicon Valley enterprise that’s become an essential platform for free speech.

Tiananmen Square


The fourth post of pre-Christmas 2018: April

Sunday, 16 December, 2018

The winner of the FT and McKinsey Business Book of 2018 Award was Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. His brilliant account of the spectacular rise and scandalous fall of Theranos, the high-tech blood-testing company, raises questions not only about the culture at this particular start-up — valued at more than $9 billion at one point — but of Silicon Valley and its sycophants, who boost every “breakthrough” as if it were the Second Coming. Accepting the award, Carreyrou said that readers of Bad Blood should note that the “move fast and break things” tech doctrine doesn’t work very well “when lives are at stake.”

Continuing with our review of the year, our post on 12 April was about the totally fraudulent Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos.

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If you think Mark Zuckerberg is having a tough week, consider the (mis)fortune of Elizabeth Holmes. Remember her? The CEO of Theranos was the poster girl for all those who bought and sold the delusion that a photogenic founder was an essential first step on the road to unimaginable riches. And, sure enough, gullible investors and sycophantic media beat a path to the golden door in the Valley in the hope of turning blood into treasure. And they ponied up an incredible $1.4 billion along the way.

Zuckerberg may have been on the hot seat, but Holmes is in deep water. Consider the letter she recently sent to shareholders regarding the company’s looming default on a $100 million loan. Snippet:

“The most viable option that we have identified to forestall a near-term sale or a potential default under our credit agreement is further investment by one or more of you. In light of where we are, this is no easy ask. However, given your support of the company over the years, we wanted to provide this opportunity before we proceed too far down the current path.”

Holmes is a fraud, but one has to admire (almost) the chutzpa of “this is no easy ask”.

Miss Fortune

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Tomorrow, here, the fifth post of pre-Christmas 2018 is from May and its title, Seán Sa Cheo, refers to the risky business of climbing mountains in foggy conditions.


The Larry Page link to Google is broken

Saturday, 15 September, 2018

These are the best of times and the worst of times for the world’s predominant search engine. The best of times because the Alphabet money well continues to gush; the worst of times because the Google’s public image has been severely tarnished and its ethics have been questioned as never before. For example, this week saw the publication of that Breitbart video showing top executives gathering for a public grief session following the defeat of their US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Cultish and cringeworthy, this exercise in liberal groupthink should settle any remaining doubts about the bias that’s built into Google’s mindset.

That mindset also raises very disturbing questions about what Google is up to in China, where it’s said to be tinkering with a search engine that would comply with the Chinese authorities’ rigid censorship demands. Don’t be evil, and all that. Remember?

It’s in these contexts, then, that Google’s refusal to send one of its leaders to Washington earlier this month for Senate hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms” becomes serious. Twitter sent CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook sent COO Sheryl Sandberg, but the search engine turned down the Senate committee’s requests for Google CEO Sundar Pichai or Alphabet CEO Larry Page to appear. Instead, there was an empty chair.

“In Page’s absence at the Senate hearing, louder voices filled the void, from senators criticizing Google for its dealings with China to pundits decrying Page as unpatriotic. McNamee, the early investor who’s since advocated for the company’s breakup, says Page and Pichai shirked their civic duty by skipping the hearing. ‘This is Corporate Governance 101,’ he says. ‘You’ve been invited to speak in front of a Senate hearing to protect our democracy, and your response is, ‘We’re too important to go’?”

So write Mark Bergen and Austin Carr in Businessweek, and they ask Where in the World Is Larry Page? Answer:

“It’s not just Washington. Even in Silicon Valley, people have started wondering: Where’s Larry? Page has long been reclusive, a computer scientist who pondered technical problems away from the public eye, preferring to chase moonshots over magazine covers. Unlike founder-CEO peers (Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind), he hasn’t presented at product launches or on earnings calls since 2013, and he hasn’t done press since 2015. He leaves day-to-day decisions to Pichai and a handful of advisers. But a slew of interviews in recent months with colleagues and confidants, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were worried about retribution from Alphabet, describe Page as an executive who’s more withdrawn than ever, bordering on emeritus, invisible to wide swaths of the company. Supporters contend he’s still engaged, but his immersion in the technology solutions of tomorrow has distracted him from the problems Google faces today.”

Larry Page has checked out and that’s not good news for Google. This Businessweek cover brilliantly captures his 404 status.

Businessweek


Nasim Aghdam and the YouTube convergence

Saturday, 7 April, 2018 0 Comments

Recap: In Iran, she was known as “Green Nasim”, commanding a certain degree of social media clout. On Tuesday, in California, Nasim Aghdam proceeded to the headquarters of YouTube in San Bruno and went on a shooting spree. Three were wounded, with the sole death being Aghdam, who took her life after the bloody splurge.

Mark Steyn peels back the layers in a piece titled The Grand Convergence. Snippet:

“What happened is a remarkable convergence of the spirits of the age: mass shootings, immigration, the Big Tech thought-police, the long reach of the Iranian Revolution, the refugee racket, animal rights, vegan music videos… It was the latest mismatched meeting between east and west in the age of the Great Migrations: Nasim Aghdam died two days before her 39th birthday, still living (according to news reports) with either her parents or her grandmother. She came to America at the age of seventeen, and spent two decades in what appears to be a sad and confused search to find something to give her life meaning. But in a cruder sense the horror in San Bruno was also a sudden meeting of two worlds hitherto assumed to be hermetically sealed from each other: the cool, dispassionate, dehumanized, algorithmic hum of High Tech — and the raw, primal, murderous rage breaking through from those on the receiving end.”

For all those who have fallen out of love with the Silicon Valley dataopolies, Blockchain is the most promising technology as it has the potential to disrupt the centralized social media companies.


The Morozov File

Monday, 22 January, 2018 0 Comments

Ever since the great media theorist Marshall McLuhan died in 1980, the search has been on to find a worthy successor. Many have been called but all have failed. Some lacked his intellect, most couldn’t match his wit. For a while it looked as if Neil Postman would carry the torch, but he never said anything as memorable as “the medium is the message.” The latest contender is Evgeny Morozov, who was born in 1984 in Soligorsk, a hideous city in Belarus created by the Soviet tyranny in 1958. Naturally, Morozov fled the ghastly Belarus for the freedom of the USA and there he morphed into a media theorist.

Morozov is very much in touch with the Zeitgeist as his McLuhanian formulations shows. Examples: “data extractivism”, “algorithmic consensus” and “predatory emancipation”. Here’s now he threads this jargon together:

“Any effort to understand why the intensification of the regime of data extractivism has failed to generate widespread discontent has to grapple with the ideological allure of Silicon Valley. Here one can also detect a certain logic at play — a logic of what I call ‘predatory emancipation.’ The paradox at the heart of this model is that we become more and more entangled into political and economic webs spun by these firms even as they deliver on a set of earlier emancipatory promises. They do offer us a modicum of freedom —but it only comes at the cost of greater slavery.”

Evgeny Morozov That’s from a paper he wrote for a Strasbourg quango called the Council of Europe titled DIGITAL INTERMEDIATION OF EVERYTHING: AT THE INTERSECTION OF POLITICS, TECHNOLOGY AND FINANCE (PDF 401KB). It’s turgid stuff, but it goes down well in Europe, especially in Germany, a major funder of Morozovian output, as his dissing of Silicon Valley and his critiques of capitalism is music to the ears of an elite anti-American clique in German media. And, in fact, Morozovian English sounds at times like machine-translated German:

“We are moving towards the model of ‘benevolent feudalism’ — where a number of big industrial and, in our case, post-industrial grants take on the responsibilities of care and welfare — that was postulated by some analysts at the beginning of the 20th century as the future of industrial capitalism as such. It took an extra century to arrive at this vision but any sober analysis of the current situation should dispense with the ‘benevolent’ part of the term and engage much deeper with its ‘feudalism’ part: just because power is exercised upon us differently than in the good old days when the capitalist mode of production ruled supreme and unchallenged does not mean that we are ever more emancipated. After all, plenty of slaveholders in the American South argued that slavery, too, was a much more humane system than capitalism.”

Morozov is no McLuhan but he’s trousering lots of euros for his gadfly vexatiousness. In the end, he’ll turn it into an academic act powered by a Harvard doctorate and tenure will, inevitably, soften his rage against the machine. It’s a long way from Soligorsk to Sunnyvale and although Evgeny Morozov will never publicly thank Silicon Valley for his success, he must, secretly, be grateful for its existence. As Marshall McLuhan once said, “Art is anything you can get away with.”


Singularity approaching

Saturday, 4 November, 2017 0 Comments

What will life be like when the the predicted “singularity” arrives? Visual Suspect, a video production company based in Hong Kong, has come up with a depiction of what, for many, is a terrifying prospect. It’s terrifying because the “technological singularity” is the notion that artificial super-intelligence will trigger rampant technological growth, resulting in revolutionary changes to civilization.

The starting point for those wishing to learn about the singularity hypothesis remains The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology written by the futurist Ray Kurzweil and published in 2005. Three years later, Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis founded the Singularity University in California. It offers educational programs that focus on scientific progress and “exponential” technologies, especially AI.


The BuzzFeedfication of the New Republic

Thursday, 10 August, 2017 0 Comments

Times hilarious, times terrifying is Franklin Foer’s account of how the pursuit of digital readership ruined The New Republic. “When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism” is filled with gems. Example:

Once a story grabs attention, the media write about the topic with repetitive fury, milking the subject for clicks until the public loses interest. A memorable yet utterly forgettable example: A story about a Minnesota hunter killing a lion named Cecil generated some 3.2 million stories. Virtually every news organization — even The New York Times and The New Yorker — attempted to scrape some traffic from Cecil. This required finding a novel angle, or a just novel enough angle. Vox: “Eating Chicken Is Morally Worse Than Killing Cecil the Lion.” BuzzFeed: “A Psychic Says She Spoke With Cecil the Lion After His Death.” TheAtlantic.com: “From Cecil the Lion to Climate Change: A Perfect Storm of Outrage One-upmanship.”

And The New Republic now? Trump, Trump, Trump and more Trump. It’s all about those clicks, you see. Once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was, The New Republic was an important liberal-moderate magazine. Now, it’s just one more silly site.


WTF?

Monday, 3 July, 2017 0 Comments

That’s the question Tim O’Reilly asks in his new book, which will be on shelves in October. WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us comes at a time when we’re being told that 47 percent of human tasks, including many white collar jobs, could be eliminated by automation within the next 20 years. And we’ve all heard those stories about how self driving cars and trucks will put millions of middle-class men out of work. Tim O’Reilly does not shy away from these scenarios, which have the potential to wreck societies and economies, but he’s positive about the future. Sure, we could let the machines put us out of work, but that will only happen because of a failure of human imagination and a lack of will to make a better future. As a tech-optimist, who breathes the enthusiasm of Silicon Valley, Tim O’Reilly believes that what’s impossible today will become possible with the help of the technology we now fear.

The tech thing we’re most afraid of has a name. AI.

AI, Tim O’Reilly claims, has the potential to turbocharge the productivity of all industries. Already it’s being used to analyze millions of radiology scans at a level of resolution and precision impossible for humans. It’s also helping doctors to keep up with the tsunami of medical research in ways that can’t be managed by human practitioners.

Consider another of our coming challenges: cybersecurity. The purpose of the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge was to encourage the development of AI to find and automatically patch software vulnerabilities that corporate IT teams cannot to keep up with. Given that an increasing number of cyberattacks are being automated, we will need machines to fight machines and that’s where Machine Learning can protect us.

Tim O’Reilly is a hugely successful entrepreneur, but he’s also a Valley idealist and he wants a future in which AI is not controlled by a few corporations but belongs to the Commons of mankind. For this to happens, he says we must embed ethics and security in the curriculum of every Computer Science course and every data training program. The rest of his ideas will be available in October when WTF? goes on sale.

WTF

Note: Just to show that life need not be taken too seriously, this site enables you to create your own O’Reilly book cover.


Trump, Thiel and tech

Wednesday, 18 January, 2017 0 Comments

One of the most puzzling things for the sycophantic media of the Obama era is the role technology played in the stunning electoral success of Donald Trump. The White House press bet the farm on Hillary Clinton winning the ultimate prize with the aid of her Silicon Valley pals, but despite all their money and all their coding, the nerds couldn’t get the “popular” candidate over the line. Instead, on Friday, it’s the Republican who will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

Much has been made of the part played by Cambridge Analytica in Trump’s victory, but it’s Peter Thiel who excites the wounded media most. How could a gay board member of Facebook so betray his sexual orientation and venture capitalist class? That question has been posed ad nauseum since 10 November and in an attempt to get the definitive answer, one of the heaviest media artillery pieces, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, was moved into position a week ago. “Peter Thiel, Trump’s Tech Pal, Explains Himself” was how her effort was headlined and it’s a lengthy read with lots of detail: “… Mr. Thiel, wearing a gray Zegna suit and sipping white wine in a red leather booth at the Monkey Bar in Manhattan.”

However, the inability of Dowd and her colleagues to grasp what’s happened can be found at the very end of the article in this exchange:

“I ask him how Mr. Trump, who is still putting out a lot of wacky, childish tweets, has struck him during the transition. Isn’t he running around with his hair on fire?”

“The hair seems fine,” Mr. Thiel says. “Mr. Trump seems fine.”

Reading Maureen Dowd’s article is not a complete waste of time. Consider this: “One could have predicted Mr. Thiel’s affinity for Mr. Trump by reading his 2014 book, Zero to One, in which he offers three prongs of his philosophy:

1) It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
2) A bad plan is better than no plan.
3) Sales matter just as much as product.”

What Dowd terms “his philosophy” seems to work. Mr. Thiel is a billionaire.


Person of the Year: Peter Thiel

Monday, 19 December, 2016 0 Comments

The speech Peter Thiel gave at the Republican Convention in Cleveland could have been written by legions of other critics of the elites who have misgoverned the US since the 1980s. Thiel, the billionaire investor and Facebook board member, is the only eminent Silicon Valley figure who publicly supported Donald Trump during his election campaign. He’s disruptive and a natural contrarian with a talent for making rewarding bets. He was a co-founder was PayPal and he was the first major investor in Facebook, and his wager on Mr. Trump will place him in a key position to formulate a tech policy for the new administration. Here’s what he said in Ohio in July:

Good evening. I’m Peter Thiel. I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships. I’m not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it’s time to rebuild America.

Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong. My industry has made a lot of progress in computers and in software, and, of course, it’s made a lot of money. But Silicon Valley is a small place. Drive out to Sacramento, or even just across the bridge to Oakland, and you won’t see the same prosperity. That’s just how small it is.

Across the country, wages are flat. Americans get paid less today than ten years ago. But healthcare and college tuition cost more every year. Meanwhile Wall Street bankers inflate bubbles in everything from government bonds to Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees. Our economy is broken. If you’re watching me right now, you understand this better than any politician in Washington D.C.

And you know this isn’t the dream we looked forward to. Back when my parents came to America looking for that dream, they found it right here in Cleveland. They brought me here as a one-year-old and this is where I became an American. Opportunity was everywhere. My dad studied engineering at Case Western Reserve University, just down the road from where we are now. Because in 1968, the world’s high tech capital wasn’t just one city: all of America was high tech.

It’s hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon–and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio. The future felt limitless.

But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country. When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?

Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.

While it is fitting to talk about who we are, today it’s even more important to remember where we came from. For me that is Cleveland, and the bright future it promised. When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he’s not suggesting a return to the past. He’s running to lead us back to that bright future.

Tonight I urge all of my fellow Americans to stand up and vote for Donald Trump.

“What’s striking about this speech,” wrote Trump nemesis Larry Lessig, “is, except for its references to Trump, how obviously true it is. Something has gone wrong in America. Growth is not spread broadly. Technical innovation is not spread broadly. We were a nation that tackled real and important problems. We have become a nation where — at least among politicians — too much time is spent arguing over the petty. ‘Who cares?’ about which bathroom someone uses — which coming from a gay libertarian must mean, ‘it’s none of your business.’ The wars of the last generation were stupid. We need to focus on building a ‘bright future’ that all of America can share in.”

Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, makes for stimulating reading, and it should be read by all journalists because it will help them understand the man who used his wealth to pursue, and eventually shut down, Gawker. Now, he’s an important adviser to the Trump transition team and he certainly had a say in the decision to invite the leaders of the major tech companies to last week’s meeting at Trump Tower. The love fest that existed between President Obama and Silicon Valley is definitely over, but Silicon Valley celebrates disruption and Peter Thiel, our Person of the Year, is a serious disruptor.

Peter Thiel