Skip to Content

Data Sheet—Nobel Prize Winner Shows How Laws Can Aid Innovation

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

An apostle and scholar of innovation, Paul Romer, shares this year’s Nobel Prize for economics. It’s an exciting moment for Silicon Valley, whose doers should stop for a moment to reflect on the theories Romer advanced that explain their success.

Researchers long had a hunch that innovation led to growth. Romer documented, quantified, and confirmed the assumption. But he did more. He showed that government policies have a salubrious effect on innovation. In other words, the right laws and regulations are the lubricant for turning great ideas into economy-sustaining growth. As The Economist explained this week: “In Mr. Romer’s models of growth, the market generates new ideas. But the pace at which they are generated, and the way in which they are translated into growth, depend on other factors—such as state support for research and development or intellectual-property protections.”

Technologists who hit the mythical “product-market fit” and subsequently get stinking rich genuinely believe they got there all by themselves. It’s as if they’re able to explain their good fortune according to some pure laws of capitalism that don’t exist. Paul Romer’s research is an antidote to such thinking. And a welcome one.

***

Analyst Brent Thill of Jefferies put out a note to clients Tuesday reiterating a previous assertion that Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, is like a “long-dated call option” valued at between $75 billion and $125 billion. (A call option is a bet that a security will increase in value in the future; long dated means that future is further out rather than sooner.)

Thill spun a whimsical but powerful scenario of how self-driving cars could be a part of Google/Alphabet’s money-making future: “One could wake up to an alarm from the new Google Home Hub device (announced today for $149), ask Google Assistant to request a Waymo ride to an important client meeting, prepare during rush hour while using G Suite on the new Pixel Slate, catch up on a show afterwards via YouTube TV, while personalized displays suggest the ideal venue for a celebratory deal dinner. One could subscribe to a handful of Google services or upgrade to a larger bundle–all enhanced by AI.”

If all else fails, Google has at least one enthusiastic customer-in-waiting.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

The show must go on. As Adam mentioned and as expected, Google on Tuesday unveiled a Chrome OS tablet dubbed the Pixel Slate (starting at $600 without a keyboard or stylus), two new Pixel phones (with better cameras and higher prices), and a smart-assistant-fueled connected screen device called the Home Hub (without a camera built in, to protect privacy). Also as expected, Google parent Alphabet formally appealed the $5 billion anti-competition fine levied by the European Union.

Not breeding confidence. Cybersecurity tests conducted on weapons systems at the Department of Defense found easy-to-guess and default passwords were common. With “relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected,” the Government Accountability Office reported. And uncovered problems have been left unaddressed in many cases, the report noted.

Ch-ch-changes. New CEO Hans Vestberg is currently reviewing Verizon’s top executive team, making some feel like they have to re-interview for their current jobs, Bloomberg reports. A leadership shakeup helping the giant carrier focus more clearly on 5G and break down silos between product categories is likely by year end, according to the report.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. In the daily update of how SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son is spending other people’s money, the Wall Street Journal reports that Son’s Vision Fund is considering buying a controlling stake in WeWork for $15 billion to $20 billion. The fund bought 20% of the office space startup last year.

As the world turns. In another, fresher long running soap opera, the story of the story of Bloomberg’s Chinese hacking story continues to evolve. Bloomberg, which stands behind the original story that Chinese spies put a surveillance chip in servers used by Apple and Amazon, came out with a new one-sourced story that an unnamed U.S. telecom company was also penetrated by a similar method. All four major U.S. telecoms, and some others, too, denied they were involved. And one of the few named sources for the initial story, cybersecurity expert Joe Fitzpatrick, cast doubt on the original narrative as well.

Virtual unbuilding. How lame is the Apple TV for doing anything besides watching video programs? So lame that Microsoft is discontinuing its pre-teen gaming powerhouse app, Minecraft, for the platform. Or as Business Insider put it in their headline: Microsoft axes Minecraft for Apple TV, no one notices.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Scooter renting services like Lime and Bird are spreading like kudzu across the land. In their wake, self-proclaimed scooter haters are fighting back by vandalizing the electric mini-vehicles, taking simple measures like covering a scooter’s unlock code with a sticker and even driving scooters into the ocean and throwing them off buildings. Author Miles Klee looks into the wave of vandalism plus other hacking of the scooters (including by the homeless) for a piece at Mel Magazine that includes great photos, tweets, and Instagram posts. Here are some common schemes Klee uncovered:

For a stretch this summer, moreover, folks were scamming unlimited free rides on the scooters thanks to a little glitch in the activation process. By syncing with a Bird and then pulling it off the ground, riders could “cancel” a ride without turning the motor off and scoot as far as they wanted without paying. The new Bird models are said to protect against this loophole, but how long will it be until someone figures out the next? Given the available tutorials on how to jump-start Birds — or modify its base model, the Xiaomi M365, in order to increase the maximum attainable speed — I’m guessing scooter hacking and piracy is still in its early stages. Even the built-in security alarm is pretty ineffective: You can muffle it by taping over the speaker or blasting loud music.

Where you can really game the scooters, though, is as a “charger” or “juicer.” These gig minions are the ones who collect the scooters for recharging every night; they get paid for each scooter they revive. It’s become such a cutthroat business, however, that juicers go to ridiculous lengths to consolidate their holdings.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Bird CEO: ‘The Places Where There Are No Laws, That’s Where We Go In’ By Andrew Nusca

Amazon Reportedly Killed an AI Recruitment System Because It Couldn’t Stop the Tool From Discriminating Against Women By David Meyer

Apple Secretly Bought Danish Visual Effects Startup Spektral Last Year By Lucas Laursen

Instagram Says It Can Now Detect Cyberbullying in Videos By Emily Price

Lime Aims to Make Its Bike and Scooter Sharing Business Carbon Neutral By Renae Reints

Can the Whales of Bitcoin Tank the Market? By Jeff John Roberts

Alibaba’s Jack Ma Says the U.S. Will ‘Suffer More’ in Its Trade War With China By David Meyer

BEFORE YOU GO

Some scientists are planning to use the latest gene-editing technology known as Crispr to revive extinct species. While carrier pigeons are on the verge of being brought back, another researcher wants to make a woolly mammoth. How about something even bigger, say a Tyrannosaurus Rex? Sounds like a great plot for a sci-fi thriller or movie. Oh wait.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.