I subjected myself to a modified version of digital detox last week. I hardly fled the grid. But I did favor paper over pings, books not bytes, and experiences rather than email.
In the books department, I finished Ron Chernow’s magisterial Alexander Hamilton, the 2004 bestseller that birthed the Broadway musical of more recent fame. What with all the distractions of e-life—and life—it took me the better part of a year to finish. But it was so rewarding. My abiding takeaway: Politics were every bit as nasty at the beginning of the Republic as they are now. Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, for example, got along about as well as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I also read a novel start to finish in a couple days, Katie Kitamura’s 2009 debut, The Longshot. It’s a spare, brutal, deeply soulful meditation on a mixed martial arts fighter and his trainer. In other words, it’s a perfect metaphor for contemporary Silicon Valley.
I also wrapped my brain around an amazing piece of investigative journalism, Jane Mayer’s penetrating look in The New Yorker at the shockingly out-of-nowhere political power of hedge-fund magnate Robert Mercer. Unlike my first two reads, technology plays a significant role in this yarn. Mercer leads Renaissance Technologies, a “quant”-driven hedge fund that has mastered algorithmic trading as brilliantly as Google’s beautiful equations have dominated contextual advertising. Mercer also has funded a data-mining firm called Cambridge Analytica—which Fortune columnist Dan Lyons explored recently—that uses algorithms to influence consumer (and voter) decisions.
Whatever your political perspective, Mayer’s expose poses deeply troubling questions about the power of money and also mind-bending technology to exert influence on what is supposed to be government of, by and for the people. This article is worth your time—even if you have to set aside the next email in your inbox to read it.
Vacations are that much sweeter with the knowledge that talented colleagues like Heather Clancy and Mathew Ingram are ensuring that Data Sheet readers won’t miss a beat. Thank you, you two.
BITS AND BYTES
Intel-backed business software firm Cloudera is going public. The company, founded in 2008, has helped popularize big data technologies like Hadoop, which companies use to store and process massive amounts of data across thousands of computers. Its big rivals include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Oracle. Intel currently owns about 22% of the company. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Oracle dismisses talk that it might buy Accenture. The software giant may be acquisitive, and there are plenty of synergies with the IT services powerhouse, but a spokeswoman characterized the buyout rumors that surfaced last week as “completely untrue.” (Fortune)
How artificial intelligence is helping Google hunt for offensive ads. The Internet search giant is using machine learning software developed for other applications to tighten up filters for racist, extremist, and other objectionable content on YouTube. Several big-name companies had pulled their campaigns amid controversy over its controls. At least one of them, Johnson & Johnson, is now relaxing that position. (New York Times, Bloomberg)
Apple is working on its own graphics chips. The news went public after the company’s primary supplier for this technology, British company Imagination, disclosed that Apple will stop using its products within approximately two years. Apple is Imagination’s biggest customer, accounting for half its revenue, and the revelation sent its stock tumbling. (Reuters)
Let the annual H1-B visa application frenzy begin. Even though changing the program was something that Donald Trump pledged to do during his campaign, there are been no major modifications so far. There are 85,000 visas available—last year, there were more than 230,000 applicants. The program has been criticized for depressing the wages of home-grown IT workers, since almost 70% of the visas go to workers from India who work for some of the biggest IT outsourcing firms. (Fortune)
SURVEYS AND STATS
Expect a very real explosion in spending on artificial intelligence. IDC projects that companies will spend $12.5 billion this year on machine learning software for “cognitive” applications that can make predictions or recommendations automatically. That’s a 60% increase over 2016. (IDC)
Car companies sure are buying a lot of robots. The industry accounted for almost 70% of the shipments in North America last year, almost $1.2 billion. (Recode)
European executives are pretty bullish about the Internet of things. A study from consulting firm Bain & Co. found approximately 18% of them are experimenting with applications, compared with only 8% of their U.S. counterparts. The most active sector: automotive companies. (Bain & Co.)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Facebook is forcing its law firms to think about diversity. The social network has adopted a policy requiring that at least one-third of the legal teams that work on its account include women or ethnic minorities. (New York Times)
Electronic music pioneer dies. Japanese engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of Roland, was behind the creation of the drum machine and early synthesizers. He was 87 years old. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Amazon and the Race to Be the First $1 Trillion Company, by Lucinda Shen
Trump’s Tech Agenda Is Winning, by Aaron Pressman
Apple Opens Development Center in India, by Barb Darrow
Carvana, the “Amazon of Cars” Has Filed for an IPO, by Kirsten Korosec
Uber Endorses Charging Drivers to Use Congested Roads, by David Z. Morris
ONE MORE THING
Tesla breaks its quarterly shipment record. The electric vehicle company delivered 25,000 cars in the first quarter—about 11,550 were its SUV model. That’s a 69% increase over the year-earlier period. (Reuters)