Data Sheet—Monday, November 14, 2016
Silicon Valley has a long tradition of making too much of a good thing. Despite my enthusiasm for artificial intelligence—I declared my affection here a month ago—it’s plain to see we are in a major AI hype cycle.
As evidence, I cite an immutable law of hype, the Dinner Topic Theorem. Last week the Aspen Institute hosted a fascinating discussion about the ethics of artificial intelligence. (More on one buzzkill moment from that dinner in a bit.) This week Benchmark Capital, the venture firm, has convened a dinner to discuss “the reality and hype of AI.” On the very same night, I’ll be in Los Angeles where Fortune and our sister site TheDrive will host a panel on the ethics of autonomous vehicles, which are based on AI. Over the weekend the World Economic Forum released a survey that said AI tops the list of technologies in need of better governance. (One can safely assume a dinner was involved.)
So what’s the problem? Like many hyped subjects before it, AI won’t do all everyone expects it to. And it won’t make money for everyone who slaps the buzzword on their latest project. There’s also the problem of semantics. Jerry Kaplan, a storied Silicon Valley entrepreneur who now teaches AI at Stanford, said at that Aspen Institute gathering that AI has become a misnomer, at least in how people understand it. AI is not so much about machines becoming intelligent and then dominating humans, says Kaplan, as it is about the “continuation of longstanding efforts to automate tasks, dating back at least to the start of the industrial revolution.”
I’m still a believer that AI is a really big thing—so much so that Fortune has asked Andrew Ng, Baidu’s chief scientist and a renowned researcher in machine learning and robotics, to speak at our annual dinner at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. AI and its related technologies are the next wave for sure. Just keep in mind that big waves are tough to surf. Approach them with caution. And humility.
BITS AND BYTES
Samsung makes $8 billion bet on connected cars. The Korean electronics giant is buying automotive technology company Harman International. More than 30 million vehicles use the Connecticut firm’s systems, which include embedded infotainment, telematics, connected safety, and security. (Reuters)
Siemens pays $4.5 billion for more software talent. The German engineering group is buying Mentor Graphics, which makes systems for designing semiconductors. The move is part of its “Vision 2020” strategy, which identifies software as a growth area. Right now, just 5% of Siemens’ employees are software developers. (Reuters)
HP’s ill-fated Autonomy buyout is back in the headlines. The British software firm’s former CFO Sushovan Hussain was indicted in federal court in San Francisco for allegedly deceiving investors and Hewlett Packard about Autonomy’s performance. HP wound up writing off more than three-quarters of the $11 billion it paid, and last year, Hewlett Packard Enterprise sued Hussain and Autonomy co-founder Mike Lynch for $5.1 billion in damages. (Reuters)
Delivery drones take flight in rural China. E-commerce company JD.com has beat Amazon to the punch: it is using a fleet of about 30 drones to deliver packages outside of Beijing and in Jiangsu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan provinces. Amazon has been talking about a similar initiative for several years. U.S. regulations for commercial drones have made that difficult. Even so, the commercial drone market is taking flight. (Reuters, Reuters)
Facebook changes how marketers can use “ethnic affinity” when targeting ads. The feature is being turned off for advertising that involves housing, employment, and the extension of credit. There’s concern over the potential for discrimination. (Reuters, New York Times)
Plus, Zuckerberg downplays the impact of fake news on the U.S. election. Facebook’s founder responded (again) on Saturday to a chorus of critics that believe misinformation on the social network helped sway voters. For starters, he figures less than 1% of the news that people see there is fake. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Microsoft just disclosed a huge wind energy purchase. The company has signed two new contracts that commit it to buying around 237 megawatts of electricity from projects in Kansas and Wyoming (the latter is adjacent to its data center in Cheyenne). For perspective, that doubles what it was buying previously. (Fortune)
Should Twitter be nationalized? When Twitter went through its first round of layoffs a year ago, it looked like the company was shedding a layer it didn’t need. When the San Francisco company announced a second round of layoffs last month, it appeared to be cutting dangerously close to the bone. Unceremoniously killing Vine (before entertaining offers from potential buyers)? Losing a finger.
On Wednesday Adam Bain, Twitter’s chief operating officer, announced he was leaving the company. This is the equivalent of Twitter losing its legs. In other words: Bain leaving is very, very bad for Twitter. Fortune’s Erin Griffith considers the options.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Apple’s Tim Cook Reacts to Donald Trump’s Election, by Don Reisinger
Peter Thiel Joins Trump’s Transition Team, by Kia Kokalitcheva
How President-Elect Trump Can Spur More Growth Through Tech, by Alan Fleischmann
Facebook Bug Tells Users They’re Dead, by Jeff John Roberts
Here Are the Best Black Friday Deals for Tech, by Don Reisinger
ONE MORE THING
Talk about a great resale value. Snapchat’s video-recording Spectacles just went on sale for about $130 last week in traveling “Snapbot” kiosks in limited markets. Already, they’re being auctioned on eBay for upwards of $1,000 a pair. (Fortune)