Pondering breakthroughs, Apple's secrecy, and the Consumer Electronics Show.
Over the holidays I was reading a back issue of the New Yorker—including a turgid if fascinating feature on the artificial-intelligence philosophy of Nick Bostrom—when I came across a delightful cartoon. A man in a bar, holding a bottle of beer, tells a woman, holding a cocktail: “I’m starting a startup that helps other startups start up.”
What will amuse 99% of the New Yorker’s audience won’t even provoke a smile in Silicon Valley, where such “meta” talk is routine. I love to tease the tech community for its lack of self-awareness. That said, and maybe it was the Christmas spirit or a sense of gratitude and anticipation of a new year, the cartoon got me thinking how easy it is to ignore the miracles of technology.
Sure, there are excesses. And certainly too many of us spend too much time hunched over a smartphone and too little time talking to our loved ones. But that powerful computer in our hands—and all the other ingenious inventions nearby—has transformed our lives. We don’t ask for maps anymore when we rent a car. Everything from transportation and accommodations to services and sundries are available to us on demand. The automotive industry, stagnant for decades, is entering a new phase, thanks to technology. Even space travel, a stalled dream, suddenly is closer than ever to reality.
My professional resolution for 2016 is to reserve at least a little time for reverence. The miracles happening all around me demand nothing less.
Other than stunning visuals (the view from the top of the new headquarters, the inside of Jony Ive’s studio, a glimpse of a retail store prototype site), there was little new in the 60 Minutes segment broadcast on Dec. 20 with the amusing title “Inside Apple.” (I was amused, anyway.) The images 60 Minutes was able to capture were significant and telling—about Apple’s secrecy. Yes, Apple allowed a camera crew into the room where its executive management team meets each Monday morning. No, Apple didn’t allow the crew to stay for the meeting. Apple simultaneously gave the appearance of being transparent while revealing next to nothing. Bravo.
It’s true that Apple AAPL has become slightly less good at secret-keeping under CEO Tim Cook. We know, for example, from Apple’s hiring patterns that it is pursuing some kind of automotive initiative. Industry blogs now accurately forecast most product specs weeks and months before launches. And yet, where it matters, Apple is as buttoned up as ever. It still does business on its terms and no one else’s.
Two policy nuggets interested me. I found Cook’s comment about the paucity of tool-and-die makers in the U.S. to be revealing, though instinct tells me it’s more nuanced than he’d have us believe. (This Marketwatch analysis hints at what Cook is omitting.) I also found Cook’s encryption jeremiad simultaneously convincing and baffling. I’ve asked Fortune’s cybersecurity maven Robert Hackett to write an explainer, and I’ll flag it in Data Sheet when he does.
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Much of the tech world is busy preparing this week for the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins Jan. 5 in Las Vegas. Fortune’s tech team will host a dinner at CES featuring Mark Fields, CEO of Ford (whose company has been the subject of speculation it is planning a tie-up with Google on self-driving cars) as well as a panel of top marketers from Target, Hyatt, and the NBA. Data Sheet will take off the rest of this week. Newsletter curator Heather Clancy and I will do our best to bring you up to speed on CES, which is about far more than consumer technology, beginning Jan. 4.
Happy New Year to all. I hope yours is healthy, prosperous, and miraculous.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ford had announced a tie-up with Google, a move that has been speculated but that neither company has confirmed.