Good morning from Davos, the beautiful town in the Swiss Alps that is home to the bizarre and exhilarating World Economic Forum annual meeting. The weather is frigid but clear, and my mind repeatedly wanders to how much I’d like to visit when all these people aren’t here.
By these people, I mean the extraordinary collection of talented, powerful, accomplished, wealthy, self-promotional, high-energy attendees of a meeting that is a unique blend of unadulterated commerce, high-minded do-gooderism, and free-wheeling bacchanal. Last night I had dinner with a princess, though it would be rude for me to tell you which one, and listened to a discussion about nutrition and sports. This morning I had breakfast with the actor Michael Douglas, and we both were fascinated by a conversation about satellite imagery.
And the week isn’t over.
Davos attendees are forever trying to discern themes for an impossibly broad conference. Donald Trump, artificial intelligence, China, and income inequality have been a few constants. For me, the week has been a series of swings between hope and something short of despair.
Gender inequality has been front of mind. The other night, for example, I learned that 69 million girls globally aren’t in school. To combat that, Procter & Gamble is one company focusing its considerable resources on trying to make things better. (The topic was also central to speeches by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.) Wednesday morning I moderated a panel that focused on Accenture research showing that the share of women in computing jobs is declining. The hopeful news: Organizations like Girls Who Code have concrete programs to encourage girls to study computer science.
This year will be remembered as the year the world freaked out about artificial intelligence. Corporations fear getting left behind by not being sufficiently savvy on AI; labor advocates fret about the jobs computers will destroy. This morning I attended a talk by three consultants from Cognizant who’ve written a new book, “What To Do When Machines Do Everything.” They explained why on the one hand, “there will be blood” (the title of one of their chapters in their new book) in the form of lost jobs. On the other hand, machines will enhance some jobs and create new ones.
As for China, at lunchtime Jack Ma held a press conference with the International Olympic Committee to announce a 12-year sponsorship of the Olympics by his company, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. He dodged the question of how much money Alibaba is paying.
I’ll have some concluding thoughts about Davos tomorrow.
BITS AND BYTES
Feds call Oracle’s wage and hiring practices discriminatory. A suit filed by the U.S. Labor Department argues that the software giant, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars as a federal contractor, systematically paid white, male employees more than other workers. The government said Oracle also favors Asian job applicants, especially those of Indian ethnicity, over others. In a statement, the company describes the charges as “politically motivated.” (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
South Korean judge decides not to request Samsung leader’s arrest. The conglomerate’s co-vice chairman Jay Y. Lee was allowed to return home after a hearing over whether he should be charged with bribery, embezzlement, and perjury in connection with the corruption scandal surrounding impeached President Park Geun-hye. (Reuters)
Microsoft and Amazon are getting a new neighbor in Seattle. Cloud business software leader Salesforce is opening a “world-class” office and innovation hub in Bellevue, Wash., where it plans to double its workforce to around 500 people. (Fortune)
Twitter contracts again by unloading mobile apps tools to Google. The social media company trumpeted its Fabric technology in 2014 as a way for developers to build apps and services that plug into its messaging system. Twitter is positioning the decision as one meant to sharpen its strategic focus—it comes just weeks after it decided to shut down the Vine video app, and it also looks like it will end its “Buy” button service. But many of its 580,000 mobile developers feel betrayed. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal, ZDNet)
These startups are using robots to make deliveries. Food delivery service DoorDash and courier PostMates are experimenting with robots from Starship Technologies to bring takeout orders and other items direct to doorsteps. The trials are taking place in Redwood City, Calif., and Washington, D.C. (Fortune)
Coming soon: A Microsoft e-book? Ten years after Amazon launched its popular Kindle electronic reader, Microsoft is adding an e-book section to the digital media store where it sells music, games, videos, and TV programming. The next update to Windows 10 makes it easier to read e-books on Windows mobile devices. (Fortune)
Why AT&T, Oracle, and Qualcomm could be set free under Trump. It was two months after the presidential election—days before the inauguration—and legal briefs were flying back and forth debating if a major tech company had broken the law. Officials for the outgoing president, a Democrat, had brought the complaint while the incoming president, a Republican, had criticized the case on the campaign trail.
What happened next—to Microsoft in 2001—could very well foreshadow the future destiny of an increasing list of complaints made against tech companies in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission challenged AT&T’s treatment of third-party video streaming services. This week, the Federal Trade Commission went after Qualcomm for allegedly monopolizing cell phone chips. And on Wednesday, the Department of Labor sued Oracle over reported incidents of racial discrimination. As Fortune‘s Aaron Pressman reports, their best defense could be arriving on Friday when President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office and officially replaces Barack Obama. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Will This Be the Year That Virtual Reality Goes Mainstream? by Erin Griffith
At Davos, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty Downplays Fears of a Robot Takeover, by Claire Zillman
Bill Gates Is Helping Launch a Global Coalition to ‘Outsmart Epidemics’, by Feliz Solomon
This Startup Wants to Bring Netflix-Style Radio to Amazon Alexa, by Mathew Ingram
DocuSign Finally Hires Replacement for its CEO, by Heather Clancy
ONE MORE THING
The original iPhone is officially useless. AT&T has shut down the 2G wireless network that the first generation of Apple’s iconic smartphone needs to communicate so that the carrier can use that spectrum for 5G services. (Fortune)