Good morning from Guangzhou, China, where, in just a few hours we’ll kick off the Fortune Global Tech Forum, two days of star-studded discussion about how technology is transforming our world. We’ll deep-dive into all the favorite Fourth Industrial Revolution topics: Big Data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, smart cities, and advances in industrial robotics.
China’s rise as a technology and innovation superpower will be a recurring theme: Fortune president Alan Murray will referee a lively session entitled “Escaping Thucydides” focusing on U.S.-China tech tensions. Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf will moderate another one that will ponder the fate of globalization. Adam, as always, will be everywhere, while I’ll lead conversations with Neil Shen, the “King Midas” of China Tech investing; former Google China boss and Sinovation Ventures founder Kai-Fu Lee; Salesforce A.I. guru Richard Socher; and Imperial College management expert George Yip on the subject of “Innovation with Chinese characteristics.”
We convene days ahead of a high-profile dinner meeting in Buenos Aires between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, where the subject of China’s rise will also top the agenda. In recent weeks, markets have careened wildly on speculation about whether the leaders of the world’s two largest economies will call off their trade war ahead of a January 1 deadline on which Trump has threatened to clobber Chinese imports with a new round of tariffs. The outlook isn’t encouraging. Don’t miss this rollicking Trump interview on China by my old Wall Street Journal colleague Bob Davis in which Trump declares it “highly unlikely” that he and Xi will agree. (The full transcript is worth reading—and raises troubling questions about Trump’s grasp of trade and tech issues.)
Meanwhile the week’s biggest China tech story was in the health sector. A Chinese researcher named He Jiankui claims to have make the world’s first genetically edited babies. Working out of a Shenzhen hospital, He used CRISPR, a powerful new tool for altering genes in human embryos, to rewrite the DNA of two twin girls to make them—he claims—resistant to H.I.V. That might seem like a good thing, but it provoked outrage among medical researchers globally and inside China. Critics called He’s experiment reckless because rewriting the DNA of living humans risks unintended consequences—such as creating greater susceptibility to other illnesses, and passing those genetic weaknesses on to a broader population. The announcement was a shocker: it was made on YouTube, not in a refereed medical journal; He turns out to be a physicist, not a physician; it’s unclear that he obtained informed consent from the girls’ parents or was under any kind of supervision in the facility where he worked. Strangest of all: He’s experiment doesn’t appear to have violated any Chinese laws.
The arc of the gene-editing story, though, is a familiar one in Chinese tech. In China these days, innovation and technological breakthroughs often outpace the ability of the government to create legal and institution frameworks to regulate it. In sectors as varied as bike-sharing, ride-hailing, financial services and online gaming, the pattern in China is for technology to spiral unrestricted until, inevitably, someone gets hurt—provoking Beijing to then crackdown and regulate the sector with a vengeance. For a great case study of exactly that cycle, I highly recommend this analysis published yesterday in The Information examining how Beijing slammed the brakes on reckless expansion at Didi Chuxing, the world’s largest on-demand transportation company. All the more reason to be talking about technology tomorrow in Guangzhou!
Ad Gangsters Paradise: The FBI indicted eight individuals who ran a massive online ad fraud scheme. The investigation reveals how digital ad fraud, which has long been plagued by criminality, has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry run in corporate fashion.
Baby Got Back: Twitter and Facebook say they’ve cracked down on Predictim, a controversial service that creates safety ratings for babysitters by scraping their social media profiles. The companies cited terms of service violations over personal data use, but Predictim says the tech giants just want to hoard the data for themselves.
Fear of a Black Planet: “Facebook has a black people problem,” wrote a former employee in a memo that blasts the company’s diversity efforts. Among it criticisms, the memo claims black employees are often compelled to “volunteer their input for projects that involve race in some way.”
Fight the Power: A backlash is building among Google employees over the company’s plans to build a censored search product for China. So far, 310 employees have signed a letter supporting Amnesty International’s call to end the project over human rights concerns.
Mo Monday Mo Purchases: Amazon says this week’s Cyber Monday was the single biggest shopping day in its history, even topping the company’s “Prime Day.” Meanwhile, overall mobile purchasing surged as cell phones reportedly accounted for 47% of traffic to online stores and 36% of all sales.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
What if a medical device is defective or recalled, and no one tells the patient? It turns out this is shockingly common. To address the problem a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has created a database that compiles reports of defective devices across countries. The project relied in part on A.I. to track filings about faulty medical equipment.
As part of its investigation, ICIJ created a machine learning algorithm to screen through the text of millions of “adverse event” reports filed by manufacturers and others to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Nearly 500,000 reports over the last decade describe explant surgeries in connection with a medical device, ICIJ found. […]
The IMDD is simple to use. Just by typing a device name in a search box, it is possible to see results of recalls, safety alerts and field safety notices initiated across countries. If the user is interested in one specific event, it is possible to click on it and get all the associated details.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
BEFORE YOU GO
“We have found the worst hat.” So tweeted one wag in reply to an image posted from yesterday’s Consensus Invest cryptocurrency summit in New York. Why was the lid so unpopular? Probably because it was bright red with the letters “Make ICOs Great Again.”