Data Sheet—Brainstorm Tech Conference Will Probe the ‘Techlash’
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There’s nothing like an annual conference to focus the mind on general trends affecting an entire industry. Typically themes become apparent over the course of an event. But the organizer’s job is to anticipate those story lines and program the conference accordingly.
Brainstorm Tech, Fortune’s annual gathering of technology executives, entrepreneurs, and investors, kicks off this afternoon in Aspen, Colo. My colleagues and I believe we’ve got just the right people to discuss just the right themes. It is Fortune’s ninth consecutive year back in Aspen, after we dallied in the oughts a year each in San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, and Pasadena.
Before getting to what I expect to be big in Aspen this week, I marvel at how obvious the trends from the past few years look—at least in retrospect. Two years ago we featured the founders of a novel company called WeWork. Billions of dollars raised later, WeWork is emblematic of a crop of disruptive companies with questionable business models but massive balance sheets. (We’ll hear from the WeWork’s chief product officer this year; some of what he’ll have to say is surprising.) Also in 2016 our audience heard about Amazon’s Alexa, already a niche hit but nowhere near the cultural phenomenon it is today.
Last year, before #MeToo was omnipresent, we hosted a town hall conversation about gender diversity. That debate only intensified in the 12 months that followed. Christa Quarles, CEO of OpenTable, had a completely unscripted one-word response to an assertion made during that session. She’ll give a review this week of where the issue stands.
So what of this year?
Our town hall will be on the “techlash,” easily one of the two biggest issues facing the tech industry today. Since Facebook’s privacy transgressions became front-page news—sorry, digitalheads, I still like that expression—the topic has ebbed and flowed, with some suggesting there’s no true backlash at tech at all. (Look at the stock prices of the FAANGs.) That strikes me as too simplistic an analysis; I’ll let you know what I think after Tuesday’s no-holds-barred chat.
The elephant in the room of the technology industry is U.S.-China relations. This just happens to be the year Brainstorm Tech will have the strongest contingent ever of visiting Chinese executives, led by Richard Liu, CEO of megacap retailer JD.com. We tend to focus only a bit on politics and policy at Brainstorm Tech, but we certainly don’t ignore them. Elaine Chao, U.S. secretary of transportation, will be onstage, as will Obama administration commerce secretary Penny Pritzker and superlobbyist Bradley Tusk.
Please tune in to the livestream of the Brainstorm Tech plenary sessions from Monday afternoon (Mountain time) until noon on Wednesday. (The full agenda is here.) Fortune journalists will cover all the proceedings at Fortune.com.
Crazy Eddie is insane. If it's July 16, it must be Amazon Prime Day. The e-tailing giant says it will be offering "more then one million deals" over 36 hours. The competition isn't standing still, either. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, eBay, Kohl’s, and Macy’s, among others are all pitching their own online bargains for the day.
On pins and needles. Shares of Netflix lost a teeny, tiny bit of froth on Friday, falling 4%, which still leaves the stock of the leading streaming service with a gain of 106% so far this year. The drop comes ahead of Netflix second quarter earnings report today. Analysts expect the company added 1.2 million new U.S. subscribers and 5 million internationally.
Push comes to shove. The European Commission and a number of EU consumer watchdogs on Monday accused Airbnb of breaking European law by not showing customers up front prices that include all charges and fees. Airbnb has until the end of August to fix the problem or face further legal action.
Meltdown. The release of the fifth "season" of gaming sensation Fortnite almost broke the Internet last Thursday. Internet monitor Akamai said traffic peaked at 37 terabytes per second, more than any other downloadable game release ever recorded. Akamai said the volume was equal to the average mobile game being downloaded 2.8 million times per minute.
Capably capable. It's a laptop replacement. It's a TV replacement. It's its own thing. Apple's iPad has sparked much debate. Now we know what Adobe thinks, apparently. Bloomberg reports that the developer of popular creative software like Photoshop, Premiere, and Illustrator is planning to unveil "full" versions for the iPad in October. Adobe confirmed the projects without disclosing the timing of the new releases.
What I really want. Speaking of hot debates, Microsoft President Brad Smith jumped into the fray over how, if at all, to regulate various kinds of artificial intelligence apps. Smith said AI facial recognition technology needs "thoughtful government regulation” while companies must also establish their own standards. "Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up—and to act," he wrote.
Hammer time. A lot of reviews for the new Apple MacBook Pro are out. I recommend the one written by aerospace engineer and software developer Craig Hunter if you are wondering just how the new machine will perform at the high end of performance needs. Spoiler alert: pretty darn well.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Where are self-driving cars on the hype-o-meter? Have we passed Gartner's "Peak of Inflated Expectations" to head solidly for the "Plateau of Productivity"? Not according to transport expert and writer Christian Wolmar. In a piece for The Spectator titled "The Dream of Driverless Cars Is Dying," he has more than a few deflating arguments for automated car proponents. Security is one huge, unsolved problem, he notes.
The starkest warning came from Tim Mackey, who styles himself ‘senior technical evangelist’ for Black Duck Software, a company that specialises in security issues around autonomous vehicles. He believes there will be a seminal event that will stop all the players in the industry in their tracks. ‘We have had it in other areas of computing, such as the big data hacks and security lapses,’ he said, ‘and it will happen in relation to autonomous cars.
At the moment, none of the big players are thinking properly about security aspects and then they will be forced to.’ He pointed to a video showing on another stand in which a man was calling up a car from a garage using a phone app: ‘That sort of thing is just too easy to hack. There’s all sorts of software put into cars that is old and easy to access. We just have to hope that the wake-up call will be minor and not kill anyone.’ Indeed, in a test a few years ago, hackers were able to get hold of a car’s steering and braking systems and Mackey is convinced that criminals will one day use the same method.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Do you adorn your laptop with an array of witty, silly, and/or colorful stickers? One of my former colleagues, Rafe Needleman, who now works at Cisco after a long career in journalism, has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle, after turning down a sticker from one workmate, then deciding to put other corporate decorations on. "Now I’m cooked. If Sticker A guy comes around and hands out new, horrible stickers, I can’t claim that I’m not a sticker guy, because now I clearly am," he writes. It's quite the modern workplace conundrum.