Mindful that the new year is a time of hope and optimism, I encourage you to take a moment as you begin 2017 to read an important expression of skepticism and caution. Fortune’s Erin Griffith has published a brave and discerning reported essay in the new issue of the magazine titled “The ugly, unethical underside of Silicon Valley.” In it she describes a “fake-it-‘til-you-make-it” culture gone too far, an industry whose celebration of rule breakers and its weak relationship with the truth breeds more fraudulent behavior than is generally well understood.
I initially was skeptical of Griffith’s skepticism. Every industry has its bad actors; that’s what keeps the court system busy. With her acidic prose and unforgiving analysis, Griffith admirably debunks this “bad apple” theory. Instead, she argues, too much of Silicon Valley is defined by the actions of a secretive group of entrepreneurs who are emboldened to make wild assertions of future success by investors who have every reason to look the other way.
Griffith isn’t arguing that all of Silicon Valley is rotten. Instead, she intelligently asserts that we shouldn’t kid ourselves that tech’s change-the-world, do-no-evil, self-congratulatory ethos somehow exempts it from the malevolence that lurks elsewhere in the commercial world.
I’m coming up next year on two decades covering Silicon Valley. And I’ve born witness to some truly incredible people and companies. Yet what resonated for me about Griffith’s groundbreaking article is what I’ve come to recognize as an unhealthy cult of entrepreneurialism. Starting companies absolutely is a productive and noble endeavor. The economy wouldn’t function without it. Yet that doesn’t make every startup or every entrepreneur a good idea or a noble person. Nor does it mean people who choose a different path—including serving in say, the horror, government or academia—are somehow inferior.
The technology industry will do amazing things and achieve thrilling heights in 2017. (In fact, the fun begins this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.) Investors, journalists, regulators, employees, competitors, and partners all need to make sure it gets there ethically and honorably.
Happy New Year to all.
BITS AND BYTES
Twitter’s top exec in China quits after just eight months. Kathy Chen, who previously worked at Microsoft and Cisco, was brought in to lure Chinese advertisers. Her tenure was marked by criticism over ties to state-owned agencies, including the military. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
iPhone manufacturer Foxconn aims for total automation. The company has already eliminated thousands of jobs in China with robots. Its next-generation factories will require even fewer human workers. Which leads one to wonder: would convincing Foxconn to build a plant in the U.S. really create a lot of new jobs? (Fortune)
France bids adieu to after-hours email. The “right to disconnect” law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish specific hours when staff can ignore their inboxes. The goal is to address potential burnout. (Fortune)
Bitcoin tops $1,000 for first time in three years. The cryptocurrency climbed more than 125% last year, more than all central bank-issued currencies. (Reuters)
WATCH FOR IT
Lenovo looks to the home. The giant Chinese personal computer company is launching a $130 smart assistant that looks very much like the Amazon Echo—it should because it also uses the same Alexa voice-control software. The gadget is just one of the products that Lenovo will unfurl this week during the CES, the massive consumer electronics and technology confab in Las Vegas. The show officially starts on Thursday. (The Verge, Computerworld, VentureBeat)
Why not make a pitstop at Tesla’s Gigafactory? The electric car maker is holding an invite-only briefing at the massive Nevada facility on Wednesday, the day before CES officially starts. (Bloomberg)
SpaceX rises again. Elon Musk’s space exploration company plans its next rocket launch for Jan. 8. It has been on hiatus since an oxygen buildup caused an explosion during its last mission in September. (Fortune, New York Times)
5 things that could make Amazon even stronger in 2017. Amazon’s 2016 was record-breaking on many fronts. The company recorded its sixth consecutive quarterly profit (previously, it mostly hemorrhaged cash). It marked Amazon’s growing strength in hardware with its hit home automation hub Echo, and its companion voice assistant Alexa. Amazon also became a force in entertainment, debuting a line of hit original shows. It’s hard to imagine how Amazon could top 2016, but here are some likely moves by the Seattle-based Goliath in 2017.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert: Yes, Women Can Have It All, by Valentina Zarya
Electric Bus Startup Proterra Raises $140 Million, by Kirsten Korosec
Why Trump’s Distrust of Computers Is Bad for the Economy, by David Z. Morris
ONE MORE THING
Attack of the counter-drones. An army of startups seeks to disarm or disable unauthorized or potentially malevolent unmanned aerial vehicles—using everything from birds of prey to bazookas. (Reuters)