Data Sheet—Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The world is feeling scarier by the day.

North Korea's missile threats are no laughing matter. The television news pairs feel-good stories about Fourth of July celebrations with ominous notes about shows of force by police at those same events. And nobody seems to know quite what to think about an outbreak of hacking attacks that commands headlines around the world.

No sooner did Fortune put to bed its July cover packaged titled simply, "Hacked," then another assault hit computers around the globe. The list of victims is dizzying. Lawyers at DLA Piper were forced to work from home. A Pennsylvania hospital delayed operations. Shipping giants Maersk and Federal Express saw operations ground to a halt.

Worse, no one seems to be quite sure who's doing the attacking or why. Reasonable people are scared. I came home from a week-long vacation to find multiple emails from my corporate IT department warning me not to open "phishing" attempts. I found many more suspicious emails the IT folks didn’t warn me about.

It's not only a good time for a cover package on hacking, but also a good opportunity to convene experts to explain it all. Week after next, at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference, we'll discuss all this with Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, who now heads a firm called IronNet Cybersecurity.

Maybe he can calm us all down.

***

Thanks to Aaron Pressman for ably stepping in for me last week. I felt smarter and better informed when I caught up on his reports.

Also, I want to wish a hearty congratulations to Nick Varchaver, winner of the 2017 Lawrence Minard Editor Award, which was celebrated last week in New York at the Gerald Loeb Awards. The description of the award fits Nick to a tee. It "honors excellence in business, financial, and economic journalism editing, and recognizes an editor whose work does not receive a byline or whose face does not appear on-air for the work covered." Anyone who had been edited by Nick—I’m proud and privileged to count myself in that group—knows just how much he adds to their copy, without ever receiving any credit. Until now. Way to go, Nick.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Simplify. Microsoft is streamlining its sales structure and the result may be thousands of layoffs. For its new fiscal year, beginning this week, efforts that had been split among various industries and segments will be divided simply between large enterprises and small and medium businesses. The goal is "to enable faster decision making, increase our response to customers and partners, and continue to learn and grow," the company said in a memo to employees.

Complicate. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities is one of the more accurate Apple prognosticators and he's just out with his 10 predictions for the upcoming iPhones. The list predicts three models, two much like the 7 and 7 Plus and one brand new, larger-screen design. Nothing from Kuo about how much the new model will cost, however.

Challenge. Data storage service Dropbox is hiring underwriters for an initial public offering that could come later this year, Reuters reported. Whether the company will be able to match or exceed its 2014 private fundraising valuation of $10 billion is a key question.

Dismiss. A federal judge said Facebook's tracking of Internet activity by logged out users doesn't violate privacy or wiretapping laws. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Facebook failed to show they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, or that they suffered any "realistic" economic harm or loss.

Unacceptable. The spotlight on sexual harassment in the startup world continued to focus on venture capitalists over the holiday weekend. Investor Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, resigned as a general partner after he was accused of harassment by one entrepreneur and additional accusations followed.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Is the human brain a good model for building computers or should engineers look elsewhere for inspiration? After all, computers can far outrun humans in math calculations. But there are still some areas of the biological brain that can guide silicon designs.

Karlheinz Meier, a professor of experimental physics at Heidelberg University and co-director of the EU's Human Brain project, offers a deep look at the architecture of the brain and how it can outperform computers at some tasks. And he suggests big rewards if computers more closely emulate human features:

If we could create machines with the computational capabilities and energy efficiency of the brain, it would be a game changer. Robots would be able to move masterfully through the physical world and communicate with us in plain language. Large-scale systems could rapidly harvest large volumes of data from business, science, medicine, or government to detect novel patterns, discover causal relationships, or make predictions.

BEFORE YOU GO

The best material for building walls to hold back rising seas may have been invented by the Romans more than two thousand years ago. Some piers and walls built in ocean water by the Romans still stand and scientists are trying to crack the recipe for the concrete, which includes volcanic ash. The Washington Post (subscription required) quotes Philip Brune, a research scientist at DuPont Pioneer, on why scientists and engineers are so intrigued:

It's the most durable building material in human history, and I say that as an engineer not prone to hyperbole.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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