Happy New Year.
I wish I could say we’re off to a good start, but I can’t. A president of the United States brags about the size of his button and publicly debates those who question his mental fitness. The head of the Federal Communications Commission makes an unpopular policy decision and then is forced to cancel an appearance at a major technology industry event due to death threats.
There’s more. Our computer chips are infected by bugs whose names would fit into the plotline of a James Bond movie. A trade war brews between today’s dominant technology player and tomorrow’s. The boss of Facebook promises for his annual personal project to “fix” Facebook; what appears to ail Facebook is that it works too well.
Everywhere, tech’s business is better than ever while its existential health worsens. Artificial intelligence roars while regular people worry if there’ll be work left for them to do. Emboldened municipalities are telling Waze and others to stop directing motorists down their once-peaceful streets. New York City mulls congestion pricing to deal with the explosion of ride-hailing vehicles.
And now comes word, via The Wall Street Journal, that two prominent investors want Apple to figure out a plan for prying loose iPhones from the solid grip of our addicted children. Apple apparently is unprepared for this one, though it shouldn’t be. That smartphones have altered our society—often in a bad way—has been brain-dead obvious for years. In an interview last year to celebrate Apple for positive contribution it has made to the world, I challenged Tim Cook to say what Apple was doing about the “bad social behavior” iPhones and iPads provoked, including “children who stare for too long into a screen.” Cook changed the subject, talking instead about Apple’s anti-distracted driving initiative and how the Apple Watch has a feature that reminds you to breathe.
Oh well, it’s better to have challenges than to think everything is solved, right?
Fortune kicks off a robust year of live events tonight in Las Vegas at CES, where I’ll interview Jensen Huang, CEO of chipmaker Nvidia, and Michal Lev-Ram hosts a panel with top executives from digital mapmaker HERE Technologies; Chinese search leader Baidu; and NIO, the Chinese car upstart.
We’ll also unveil two exciting additions to the programming leadership of Fortune Brainstorm Tech, our tech-conference franchise that convenes its annual meeting in Aspen this July. Leigh Gallagher, a veteran Fortune writer, editor, and conference co-chair, joins the team that currently includes Digital Editor Andrew Nusca, Lev-Ram, and me. Also, this year we are trying something new—adding a co-chair from the industry to help with planning, prep, and hosting. That co-chair needs no introduction: Marissa Mayer.
Welcome Marissa, and happy 2018 to all.
Bad look. As the entire tech industry scrambled to deal with the fallout from the Spectre and Meltdown security holes discovered in most CPUs, controversy arose over Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's stock sales. Intel was notified confidentially about the problems in June and Krzanich set up his stock sale program in October. In November, he netted $25 million in sales, while news of the security issue didn't become public until last week, sending Intel's shares down about 4%.
Good look. On the flip side, at the CES show in Las Vegas, Intel and rivals Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices unveiled a bevy of new products. Intel showed off its CPU design for laptops that includes an AMD graphics chip. AMD announced coming upgrades and faster versions of its Ryzen and Vega chips. Nvidia talked up its new Xavier chip to power self-driving cars in partnerships with Volkswagon and Uber.
Spendy look. Apple’s iTunes app store and Google's Play app store saw their combined revenue jump 35% last year to $58.6 billion, according to research firm Sensor Tower. The total included paid apps and in-app purchases, but not mobile commerce purchases such as rides from Uber.
Litigious look. A trade group including Google, Amazon, and Facebook is joining the legal battle to protect 2015 net neutrality regulations. After the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday issued its formal order repealing the rules, the Internet Association said it would file comments in court in support of the rules.
Glowing look. All three major streaming services won awards at last night's Golden Globes. Among other wins, Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won best comedy series, Hulu's The Handmaid’s Tale won best drama series and Aziz Ansari won best actor in a comedy series for his lead role on Netflix's Master of None.
Beardy look. David Letterman’s first guest on his new Netflix talk show will be former President Barack Obama. Letterman’s new series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, starts January 12. Other guests include George Clooney, Jay-Z, Tina Fey, Howard Stern, and Nobel Peace Price winner Malala Yousafzai.
Look away. Twitter gave its clearest explanation yet why it would not block possibly offensive or divisive posts from President Trump and other politicians. "Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate," Twitter said in a blog post. "It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions."
Fully funded look. Messaging app Telegram is planning to raise capital by issuing digital tokens, a so-called initial coin offering, in March. Initial plans are to raise as much as $500 million via the controversial technique, which would constitute the largest ICO ever.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The largest tech companies had a magnificent 2017 from a financial perspective, but Facebook, Google, Apple and their ilk also faced growing criticism over their possibly excessive sway over economic, cultural and political issues. This year could bring changes to scale back the influence of big tech, Nitasha Tiku writes for Wired. The piece reviews a handful of ways government could rein in big tech, ranging from fines and investigations to outright break ups. NYU professor Scott Galloway is a break up advocate, Tiku notes:
Companies could be spin off divisions with user bases and infrastructure to stand alone before regulators come knocking, says Galloway. Facebook could spin off WhatsApp and Instagram. Amazon could divest Amazon Web Services, Apple could split off iTunes. “Breaking up the big tech isn’t meant to destroy them, but to repair the markets that are failing,” Galloway says. “Instead of four firms, there could be 10, and we would have an ecosystem to stimulate job growth and shareholder value, inspire more [mergers and acquisitions], and investment, broaden the tax base.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
A FedEx Employee Found the Largest Prime Number So Far. It’s Over 23 Million Digits By Hallie Detrick
Commentary: 3 Reasons Amazon Will Buy Target This Year By Gene Munster
Why Children Don't Grow Up to Be Inventors By Grace Donnelly
Technology Is Everywhere. Tech Jobs? Not So Much. By Vauhini Vara
Somebody Is Selling a Rare Working Version of One of Apple’s First Computers on Ebay By Jamie Ducharme
Why Insiders Believe Apple Is Planning to Release Its Biggest iPhone Ever in 2018 By Don Reisinger
Why Your Web Browser May Be Most Vulnerable to Spectre and What to Do About It By Aaron Pressman
BEFORE YOU GO
They were once castles in the sky, the regal Boeing 747 with its high-end luxury section up stairs. But as of last week, the last 747 flown by a U.S. airline was retired, done in by far more fuel efficient, if a little less grand, models.