On Monday, the day before I left San Francisco to attend the Fortune Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego, I had lunch with a friend who lamented the unreal expectations and general disconnectedness from reality of the tech world in Silicon Valley. Searching for rays of sunshine to buck him up, I pointed to the exciting advances in info-tech-related medicine we would be discussing during our two-day event here.
So far, I have not been disappointed.
The medical world is awash in hopefulness. Precision medicine, new cancer therapies, data science leading to better diagnostic techniques and more effective treatments all are reasons to think a better future is at hand.
Bryan Roberts, a physician-investor with venture-capital firm Venrock, has found success by looking for smart entrepreneurs who demonstrate humility for what they don’t know while taking an “orthogonal approach to what could be a big market need.” I found his take on investing to be incredibly refreshing, especially his acknowledgement that “evaluating companies is more imagination than pattern recognition.”
UCSF neurology professor Adam Gazzaley humbled the audience with a neurologically based explanation of how harmful their multi-tasking is on themselves and their loved ones. His solution? Purposeful “single-tasking.”
Famed genomics researcher Craig Ventner explained how mapping entire genomes is leading to breathtaking breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating deadly cancers.
The emotional highlight of the first day of the conference was a dinner interview with former Vice President Joe Biden, who blew away the audience with his humanity and compassion as he explained his efforts to get cancer researchers to talk to each other and share their data. Biden was simultaneously restrained in discussing an administration in the White House he can’t help but despise and shockingly outspoken about how much he’d still like to be President.
When I first came to Silicon Valley I frequently noted how uniformly brilliant and accomplished and dedicated the people I’d meet were. That’s how I feel at this conference of health-related researchers, investors and policymakers. It is inspirational.
Have an inspired—and healthy—day.
Getting the band back together. Microsoft unveiled a new lean-and-mean operating system, dubbed Windows S, aimed at the classroom. The new software will run on Intel-based laptops selling for as little as $189 from partners including Acer, Asus, Dell Technologies, and Hewlett-Packard. The question is whether the revival of the “Wintel” coalition can displace Google’s Chrome software and millions of cheap Chromebooks already in schools nationwide. Microsoft also announced the Surface Laptop, starting at $999, looking to displace Apple’s aging Macbook Air.
Gender issues at Facebook. An engineer’s review at the social network found that code written by women was more likely to be rejected by managers than code written by men. Women also waited longer to have code approved and received more questions on their work than men.
Snoozer. Apple reported results for the first three months of the year and, as expected, the announcement was not exactly a barn burner. Revenue rose 5% to $52.9 billion, fed largely by the sale of 50.8 million iPhones. Both numbers were slightly less than Wall Street was expecting. CEO Tim Cook disclosed a few more precious nuggets of information, including a 450% rise in transactions using Apple Pay over the past year, but generally stuck to his script. In keeping with the lack of excitement, Apple shares dropped about 1% in premarket trading on Wednesday.
Bad day for the small fry. Two smaller tech companies experienced a bit more volatility from their first quarter reports. Shares of cloud communications software provider Twilio, which helps power apps like Uber and Whatsapp, plunged 30% after the company said it would have a larger loss than expected for the year. And craft sales site Etsy dropped 14% on news of 8% layoffs and the departure of CEO Chad Dickerson amid falling profits.
Lidar Litigation. Lawyers for Uber Technologies head to court on Wednesday in San Francisco trying to fend off allegations that an executive poached from Google’s self-driving car effort brought stolen trade secrets with him. Google’s Waymo unit says Anthony Levandowski gave Uber confidential information about the laser-based technology called Lidar that allows cars to “see” their surroundings.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Bill Gates recently suggested that perhaps a tax should be imposed on the use of robots that displace humans from work. The essay sparked a wide-ranging debate over whether such a tax might hurt innovation, save jobs, or impact societal inequality.
But at least one politician is taking the idea seriously. Jane Kim, one of 11 city supervisors in San Francisco, tells Fast Company that she was inspired by Gates to explore the idea further. Kim is creating a working group to investigate how a robot tax could enacted.
“We need to think about investments in our society that don’t exacerbate the wealth and income gaps that we already see today,” Kim said. “We don’t want to become a third-world country where there’s a big divide between the very rich and very poor.”
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