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Talk about bad omens.
The lights went out briefly Wednesday at CES, the giant consumer-electronics trade show in Las Vegas. Electricity is rather key to CES, of course. The booming, thumping, pulsing, flashing stalls of techdom went dark and quiet for a spell, prompting amusing accounts of jugglers entertaining, battery-powered boom boxes bleating, and mere mortals illuminating their way from their rapidly depleting smartphones.
Could the benighted tech industry have hit on a better metaphor than a power outage? While waiting for Ford CEO Jim Hackett’s enlightening keynote Tuesday morning I listened to CES poo-bah Gary Shapiro mouth words about diversity. This from the head of an organization that didn’t see fit to program one woman as a keynote speaker at its annual event.
Elsewhere talk of a tech “backlash” dominated private conversations at CES, as this New York Times article nicely summarizes. Having observed a few of these cycles I’d offer a different interpretation of the current environment. It’s more the inevitable pendulum swinging. Tech is revered; tech is reviled. It’ll be revered again. It’s only a matter of time.
As many predicted, voice has been the big topic of CES along with its empowering cousin, artificial intelligence. That’s what tech companies are selling, anyway. In my conversations the discussion of voice led inevitably to data and then to privacy. If the tech lords are listening—and responding with delightful services and information—they’re collecting data all the while. Do we trust them?
Can they even keep the lights on?
Dancing in the dark. A week after Billboard reported that Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine would leave the company this summer, a reporter from Variety spotted the bald headed music mogul at an industry event. And Iovine denied the rumor, particularly that his departure would be motivated by some of his stock vesting in August. “All this stuff you’re seeing in the newspapers, let me tell you, my stock vested a long time ago,” he said. “We need Donald Trump here to call it ‘fake news.’”
Coming out of the dark. Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and dozens of other tech CEOs urged Congress to pass legislation protecting immigrants who came the country as children, known as the dreamers. “Hundreds of thousands of deserving young people across the country are counting on you,” the group wrote.
Not dark yet. Venture capital funding is booming. Startups raised $84 billion last year, the most since the late 1990s Internet bubble era, PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association reported. There were many cases of the rich getting richer—almost one-quarter of the money went to billion-dollar-valued unicorns.
My songs know what you did in the dark. More troubles for Apple over its slowing of iPhones with older batteries. The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), wants an explanation. “The large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency,” Thune wrote. In France, a Paris prosecutor’s office opened a probe into whether the slowdowns violated consumer protection rules. And law enforcement officials continue attacking the company over the iPhone’s strong encryption security features. FBI forensic expert Stephen Flatley called the company “jerks,” and “evil geniuses” for making password cracking more difficult.
The edge of darkness. Amazon’s Dash button let consumers order one specific product. Now the e-commerce giant is expanding the dash ecosystem to allow third parties to create virtual dash buttons that could appear on the screen of a phone or any other connected device, like a “smart” washing machine.
Shot in the dark. Speaking of Amazon, it may or may not be a tipoff about the location of HQ2, but the company is looking for 1 million square feet of new office space in Boston. Brendan Carroll, director of intelligence at the real estate firm Perry Brokerage Associates, tells the Boston Globe the current search would be “an incredible coincidence” if it’s not part of the plan for HQ2.
Dark paradise. Drone registrations at the Federal Aviation Administration passed the 1 million mark, the agency said on Wednesday. Of the total, 878,000 registered as hobbyists (who may list one or more drone in a single filing) and 122,000 as commercial or government pilots (who get 1 craft per filing).
(Decoding the headlines? Check, in order: Bruce Springsteen, Gloria Estefan, Bob Dylan, Fall Out Boy, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and Lana Del Rey.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The telecom industry has been talking about 5G, the super-fast fifth generation of cellular technology, for what seems like eons at this point. But at CES this year, companies said they were closer than ever to putting real products into consumers’ hands. AT&T even says it will have 5G smartphone connections available in 12 (as yet unnamed) cities this year. Jeremy Horowitz takes a deep dive into the state of 5G for VentureBeat, trying to separate the reality from the hype.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Looking for some sci-fi-ish diversions to watch tonight? The X-Files is back on Fox for the start of its 11th season, and the reviews are pretty good. Meanwhile on the Syfy channel, season three of The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s compelling trilogy of novels, is also back this week and also looks pretty good.