We celebrate technology for its use of science to change reality. Yet what I learned Wednesday from some brilliant and perceptive technologists speaking at the TED conference in Vancouver is how important communicating is to realizing technology’s benefits.
The legendary software engineer Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, sat for an interview in which he provided a fascinating glimpse into his psyche. A self-professed non-people person, Torvalds explained that he likes to work alone—a telling statement from the man who did more than anyone to create the open-source software movement. Open source, said Torvalds, allows people to work together, even if they don’t like each other.
For all his technical prowess, Torvalds also presented to the thousand-plus-strong TED audience a master class in self-awareness. He harbors no ill will to billionaires like Larry Page and Sergey Brin for making far more money off his invention than he did. (He’s done just fine, thank you, he said.) And in an unsubtle poke at Page and Elon Musk, both passionate fans of the inventor Nikola Tesla, Torvalds said he’s more impressed with the accomplishments of Thomas Alva Edison, a less brilliant but far more successful technology pioneer. “I am not visionary,” said Torvalds. “I do not have a five-year plan. I have no moonshot. I’m an engineer.” What an epitaph that will be.
Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, shared her epiphany that girls seek perfection but suffer a “bravery deficit” compared to boys. Teaching girls to code—her organization will instruct 40,000 girls this year in all 50 U.S. states—will help them be brave, she believes, and this is fundamentally a matter of communicating to them that perfection isn’t necessary.
Two examples of data visualization were the best things I saw at TED. Artist R. Luke Dubois gave a stunning peek into how his unique brain perceives facts as arcane yet telling as the words presidents use in their state of the union addresses. And Amit Sood, director of the Google Cultural Institute demonstrated an art-preservation project so brilliant and delightful you should click on this link and experience it yourself.
Technology is grand; communicating about it is critical.
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BITS AND BYTES
Cautious industry support for Apple’s fight against FBI. Google and WhatsApp affirmed Apple’s very public decision to fight a federal court order requiring it to hand over “back door” code that unlocks iPhones. Elsewhere the response was more muted. One possible reason? Some companies, including cloud computing leaders Amazon and Microsoft, count on the federal government for big contracts. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal, New York Times)
Tech spending slows. The global tech industry will expand by about 2% this year to approximately $2.3 trillion, compared with the 5% to 6% average annual growth rates recorded for the past several years, according to new projections by research firm IDC. (Wall Street Journal)
Yahoo dismantles media, research divisions. As part of her turnaround plan for the Internet company, CEO Marissa Meyer hired journalists to create original content about topics like food, technology, and travel. On Wednesday, much of that editorial staff lost their jobs. The company is also shutting down Yahoo Labs, a separate unit dedicated to research, and placing staff with specific product units. The layoffs may be too little, too late as activist investor Starboard prepares a proxy challenge, reports Bloomberg. (New York Times, Fortune, Bloomberg)
NetApp slashes 12% of its workforce. The company, which specializes in data center storage technology, is restructuring to counteract slower sales. Many of NetApp’s traditional customers are embracing cloud computing services rather than buying more of their own storage and server hardware. The cuts will cost up to $70 million and will affect approximately 1,500 workers. (Fortune)
IBM will pay $5 million prize for great Watson applications. The tech giant wants more organizations to develop artificial intelligence that builds on its Watson analytics technologies, so it is teaming up with the X Prize Foundation to hold a competition. The top three teams will present their projects at the 2020 TED Conference, which celebrates innovations in science and technology. (Fortune)
Former IBM CEO joins national cybersecurity initiative. Ginny Rometty’s predecessor Sam Palmisano and former national security Tom Donilon will lead the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity. (Reuters)
Chipmaker settles patent dispute. Marvell Technology will pay $750 million to settle a seven-year-old lawsuit by Carnegie Mellon University. That’s about half the amount awarded by a federal appeals court six months ago. The original case, filed in March 2009, centered on nine of the university’s parents related to hard-drive technologies. (Reuters)
Despite stock market uncertainty, steady progress for visual analytics software. Those in the business of technology spending forecasts remain relatively sanguine about the prospects for business intelligence and analytics software. In early February, Gartner predicted sales would reach $16.9 billion worldwide in 2016, an increase of 5.2% over last year.
Understandably, this outlook has inspired plenty of funding and all manners of consolidation, especially for software that makes visualizing data trends simpler for those without special training in “data science.” On Tuesday alone, there were two related developments. SAP disclosed it will pay an undisclosed sum for Roambi, which specializes in mobile apps for charting data insights. (The company was backed by close to $50 million.) Meanwhile, startup Zoomdata scored another $25 million infusion, this one led by Goldman Sachs.
Despite all the hoopla, however, two high-profile independent companies that focus on visualizing data trends for non-techies—Tableau Software and Qlik Technologies—are struggling to make their case with investors. Here’s how Qlik plans to counter that uncertainty. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Elon Musk buys up SolarCity shares by Katie Fehrenbacher
This new Verizon device can track speeding teens by Laura Lorenzetti
See the smartphone that can bend, not break by Hilary Brueck
Hedge fund Tiger Management takes $1.1 billion Apple stake
by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
How Lego is making construction play digital by John Kell
Employers are quietly using big data to track employee pregnancies
by Valentina Zarya
Finally, Red Hat Linux finds home on Microsoft cloud by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
Google now delivers fresh groceries. The new service will start out by filling same-day produce and perishable orders for residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Fortune)
This edition was curated by Heather Clancy.