Data Sheet—’Black Mirror’ and Why Tech Should Be Feared
Good morning from Fortune’s Los Angeles bureau. Andrew Nusca here, in for Adam.
Have you seen Black Mirror? I am utterly captivated by season four of the dystopian Netflix series, which for the unfamiliar is a high-tech spin on The Twilight Zone. I’m still making my way through the binge, but one unsettling episode directed by Jodie Foster, “Arkangel,” stuck with me. In it, a mother nearly loses her young daughter after she wanders off at the park. Terrified of a repeat incident, she signs up for Arkangel, a new service that, through use of an implant, allows the parent to use a mobile device to track the child’s location, monitor her vitals, and even see what the child is seeing. A parental mode pixelates in real time any visual that elevates stress. It’s heady stuff.
You can quickly see where this goes wrong. Even in our earliest years, negative experiences help us learn how to live in the world. (That pan burned my hand; I should be wary of touching things on the stove.) And what seems like an honest tool for parenting in a child’s earliest years quickly becomes highly invasive when that child grows into a teenager. (Real time visuals? No thanks.) If you saw last year’s film The Circle, based on the Dave Eggers novel, you’ll know this dichotomy well. Or the film Ex Machina two years before it. Or the documentary you’re living every day you scroll through Facebook, sync your Fitbit, or ask Alexa a question.
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Why the spate of paranoid techno-thrillers? Because we’re still grappling with the implications of capabilities we’ve never had before. We know that fully autonomous vehicles can solve a lot of society’s problems, but we don’t know where they can fail us in other ways besides the obvious. We know that personalized medicine is the way forward, but we haven’t yet seen what happens when that power is abused. And so forth.
Techno-optimism will be on fantastic display next week at CES, the annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. After six (mostly) terrifying episodes of Black Mirror, it might be just what the robo-doctor ordered.
Well, I won't back down. A music publishing company representing artists including Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Stevie Nicks sued Spotify for copyright infringement. Wixen Music Publishing says it is owed at least $1.6 billion by the soon-to-go-public music streaming service.
No, I'll stand my ground. As U.S. companies dig into the new tax law looking for new loopholes, Google is continuing to benefit from an EU rule that is being phased out. The company disclosed that it moved $19 billion of profits in 2016 to a Bermuda shell company via several Irish subsidiaries to avoid taxation in Europe. The so-called “Double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich" move loses its tax-free status after 2020.
I'll keep this world from draggin' me down. A judge in Los Angeles ruled that Airbnb cannot be held liable for tenants who violate their leases by using the service to share their apartments. Apartment Investment & Management Co., one of the largest residential landlords in the United States, had charged that the popular app should held liable. "Airbnb hosts, not Airbnb, are responsible for providing the actual listing information," District Judge Dolly Gee wrote.
There ain't no easy way out. Researchers have found another major security flaw in Intel chips and the fix could slow the performance of affected computers. The vulnerability in the kernel software built into Intel chips could allow a hacker to read data that should be out of bounds, like passwords or cached files.
Well I know what's right. It seems that 2017 was the year that digital currencies caught the attention mainstream financial markets and the impact was seen in the skyrocketing prices of many crypto tokens. Controversial venture capitalist Peter Thiel's Founders Fund has built up a stake in Bitcoin worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported. And Quartz has a list of the 10 best performing currencies in 2017. Bitcoin's 1,318% gain doesn't even make the list (it ranks 14th). Ripple, which traded for less than a penny at the end of 2016, jumped an astounding 36,018% to come in first.
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around. Alibaba's payments unit, Ant Financial, will not be allowed to buy U.S. transfer service Moneygram International after U.S. regulators nixed the arrangement. The two companies said they would instead enter a "strategic cooperation" agreement.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Avadis “Avie” Tevanian was Steve Jobs software guru, first at Next and then at Apple, until he retired in 2006. For the past decade, Tevanian has been a venture capitalist. Two years ago, he co-founded NextEquity Partners. In an interview with Barron's, Tevanian opines on a variety of tech matters, including his current view of the digital currency landscape:
We know that only 21 million bitcoins will be created. They have a value somewhere between zero and a very large number. Some people say bitcoin has no value. You can’t do anything with it. In fact, there are technical reasons why it doesn’t make sense to use bitcoin to pay for small transactions. But bitcoin makes sense as an asset for people who want to store a value of something that can be traded for something else in the future.
Say you don’t trust the banks or you’re worried about a natural disaster and want to have some cash available. Some people put cash in a mattress, or a safe. Or you can put it in something attributed to you that shows you have something of value that you can use in the future. The simple comparison is to gold, and it’s not a bad one. Gold is a store of value. Similarly, people can convert currencies or energy into bitcoin. This is what bitcoin miners are doing: using energy for mining, and being paid in bitcoin for their work. You can keep bitcoin safely from others, and transfer it without being easily tracked. These features can be put to use for nefarious but also good purposes. In due time—I don’t know if it is five years, or 10, or 20—bitcoin’s value will be extremely high.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Those nice people who park your car sometimes can squeeze into the most ridiculously tiny parking spaces, usually backwards and at high speed. So why shouldn't there be a competition of sorts, a National Valet Olympics, to crown the very best of the best?