Data Sheet—Wednesday, October 11, 2017
The venerable journalist Michael Lewis made a remark in a New York Times Book Review interview three years ago that has stuck with me, that “writers go on hot streaks.” (He was praising the prolific Roger Angell.) My friend and former Fortune colleague Katie Benner, ace technology reporter with The New York Times, is on such a hot streak.
Required reading this morning is her keenly observed explanatory profile of just what the hell Masayoshi Son of SoftBank is up to with his seemingly willy-nilly Vision Fund. Son has been plunking down a billion here and a billion there for months now, and many have wondered what if anything it is all adding up to. Benner’s fascinating conclusion, at once hiding in plain sight while also based on her typically dogged reporting, is that Son is snapping up pieces of every company he can that stands to solve the puzzle of the data science revolution.
Son already is a veritable investing and entrepreneurial genius, having started his own software and telecommunications company and invested early in Yahoo, Alibaba, and gamer Supercell, billion-dollar returns all. Son also has been public about his belief in the “singularity,” the once-fringe notion that machines eventually will be smarter than humans. Per Benner, Son has been openly articulating his thesis to the entrepreneurs he courts for rat-a-tat-tat investments.
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If Son is right, he’ll earn himself and his investors fortunes vastly greater than the one he already has amassed. If he’s wrong—or early—he’ll be yet another dreamer who thought big and failed miserably. Either way we’ll have Katie Benner to thank for helping us make sense of it all.
The Canadian writer Gary Stephen Ross sent me the briefest of emails Tuesday. It was all subject line, in fact, and it read “Prime Minster.” I knew what he meant immediately. That’s how I identified Canada’s head of government, Justin Trudeau, in my column that morning.
I thanked Ross and told him typos really annoy me. (I’ve had a streak of my own lately, and I’m not happy about it.) Well that got two writers emailing about how important even the smallest of errors is. “Everything that you publish brands you as someone who’s meticulous or someone who’s sloppy,” wrote Ross, who it turns out teaches a course on effective communication in organizations.
In his honor, I read every word in this column three times before submitting it. I so hope I’ve done right by him and all of you.
So sue me. New Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi isn’t getting much of a honeymoon as he tries to fix what’s ailing the ride-sharing company. Uber is facing five separate criminal probes (into bribery, illicit software, pricing, price transparency, and theft of intellectual property) and dozens of private lawsuits, Bloomberg reported.
No laptop required. Phones, tablets, and Chromebooks continue to wallop the traditional PC market, at least for kids in school. Gartner estimated U.S. third quarter PC shipments slipped 10% from last year and 4% worldwide. “Traditional consumer PC demand drivers for PCs are no longer effective,” Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa said.
Careful out there. Security researcher Felix Krause on Tuesday published a proof-of-concept that shows how easy it is for hackers to replicate the familiar “Sign In to iTunes Store” Apple prompt on the iPhone and steal a user’s password. “Users are trained to just enter their Apple ID password whenever iOS prompts you to do so,” Krause wrote.
Gather ye acorns. Even in the golden age of television, Apple had managed to produce some real duds for its Apple Music video section (Planet of the Apps, anyone?). Things should get a lot better soon, after the world’s most valuable tech company opened its wallet and recruited Steven Spielberg to revive his 1980s sci-fi anthology show Amazing Stories, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Going global. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba will spend $15 billion over the next three years on R&D, including setting up research facilities in the United States, Russia, Israel, and Singapore.
Internet smarties. The MacArthur Foundation announced the winners of its 2017 “genius” grants, including computer scientists Regina Barzilay of MIT and Stefan Savage of the University of California at San Diego.
M&A hijinks. Finally, one item you can quickly ponder and forget. The Dow Jones news wire service on Tuesday accidentally sent out a series of headlines and a story that Google was buying Apple. This line may have been a give away that the article was fake: “Google employees said, ‘yay.'”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
All three teens in our house are avid users of Snapchat, relying on the app for messaging friends, posting and viewing short videos, and even getting a lot of their news. Now the service is adding links to places and other things via context cards that will pop up based on the videos users watch. It’s surely a new platform for ads but also a new way to search and surface relevant info. Backchannel’s Jessi Hempel spent some time with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and reported back for Wired. The exec explains some of Snap’s key strategies:
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