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Commentary

Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech: Real Wisdom From a Virtual World

Jul 17, 2017

Good morning.

I’m in Aspen this morning, where Fortune Brainstorm Tech is about to get underway. Appearing under the conference big top this afternoon: Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, who is in the midst of an epic patent battle with Apple and, I’m told, is prepared to unload on his opponent; and also Michael Dell and Silver Lake Managing Partner Egon Durban, who together have turned Dell into a technology colossus with some $70 billion in annual revenue.

Exactly five years ago, Durban was interviewed at Brainstorm Tech and talked about how he believed public markets were undervaluing tech companies. When he walked off stage, he met Michael Dell for the first time, and the rest is history. A year later, they took Dell private. Three years after that, they engineered the company’s unprecedented merger with EMC.

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There’s a lesson in that. We live in a virtual age. Dell is building his business on what he calls a “Cambrian explosion” of big data, artificial intelligence, the Internet of everything, augmented reality, virtual reality and more, which will fundamentally change the way we live and work. Yet even as the world becomes ever more virtual, it is the face-to-face interactions, like the one that occurred between Durban and Dell in 2012, that seem to matter most. As my colleague Geoff Colvin says: Humans are Underrated.

Separately, if you didn’t read Saturday’s Wall Street Journal essay suggesting it may be time to take an antitrust approach to Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon, I’d suggest you do so. This piece appeared in the news pages, not the edit pages, so it doesn’t mean the Journal’s opinion writers have abandoned their long-held antipathy to antitrust. And it’s worth noting the Journal, like the rest of us in media, has a particular grievance against the first two of those firms for scarfing up 80-90% of the increase in digital advertising revenues each year. But still, the story is an important indication that concern about the overwhelming influence of the tech giants may be spreading beyond its European incubator.

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