Data Sheet—Highlights From Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou
Hello from Guangzhou, China, where Fortune is gathering technology-industry movers and shakers from around the world to discuss artificial intelligence, business, and other cultural issues.
* The investor Neil Shen remains high on China, his native country, relative to Silicon Valley, where the bulk of his business partners live. Shen is Sequoia Capital’s top person in China and one of the first to alert me to how badly Americans were missing the rise of Chinese innovation. He seems almost amazed that U.S. companies haven’t yet caught up to their Chinese counterparts in certain areas, particularly the “online-to-offline” sphere of marrying digital and physical commerce.
* Feng Zhao, a former Microsoft researcher who taught artificial intelligence at Stanford before it was popular (the late ’90s and early aughts), is now chief technology officer for the China-based global appliance maker Haier. (Two years ago, Haier bought GE’s appliance business, headquartered in Kentucky.) He says the company is moving toward an AI-based service model. In other words, it doesn’t just want to keep your milk cold—so 20th century—it wants to tell you when you need more milk—and order it for you.
* Chinese-born financial services executive Jennifer Zhu Scott made a fascinating point that speaks to the cultural challenges in the U.S.-China trade dispute. Americans decry Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property, she noted. In reality, Chinese steal each other’s intellectual property all the time. That’s a truism of doing business here: Companies expect their best ideas to be copied, forcing them to innovate more quickly and aggressively. Zhu Scott wasn’t making excuses—she’s pro-intellectual property—but her explanation is illuminating.
* Terah Lyons, who worked on AI policy in the Obama (and, briefly, Trump) White House, heads a group called the Partnership on AI, which counts major technology companies (including China’s Baidu) and non-profit groups (like the American Civil Liberties Union) as members. AI is experiencing what she calls a “Tower of Babel moment.” The partnership hopes to bring together all the interested parties to make sure AI is used responsibly. It’s a tall and exciting order.
There’s way more to report, but far more conferencing left to do. Please head to Fortune.com for the latest coverage of the Fortune Global Tech Forum.
Yes, you are the product: Facebook explored ways to sell personal data about its users to app developers. The company's interest in such arrangements, which include a proposed quid pro quo with Tinder, are described in Facebook emails that appear in sealed court filings.
Look who likes blockchain: After professing no interest in blockchain last year, Amazon announced it will offer something called the Quantum Ledger Database, an "append-only, immutable journal [where] all the changes are cryptographically chained and verifiable" (blockchain, in other words), as well as an AWS Managed Blockchain service.
Crypto crack-up: Galaxy Digital Holdings—the firm run by former hedgie Mike Novogratz—is having a downright brutal year. The fund took a bath on all its investments, including Ether, Bitcoin and XRP. It lost $41 million in Q3 and is down $136 million on the year.
Fingerprint fears: Among the many fears over AI is that it can land in the hands of criminals. New research shows how crooks could use machine learning to create perfect spoofs of fingerprints, and defeat the biometric security measures of not just cell phones but banks as well.
Teaching tourists to behave: China's biggest travel agency is doubling as an online etiquette school. The move, which came after concern about travelers damaging the Motherland's image, teaches tourists not to litter, carve graffiti, or run amok in places of worship.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Tech pundits continue to mull the what's-the-matter-with-Facebook question, and a big part of the debate is how much of the blame should be laid at the feet of COO Sheryl Sandberg. Now comes Fortune alumna Jessi Hempel with a smart essay that makes the case for rejecting the "shero" COO narrative in the first place:
But when their companies come under fire — and they invariably will — often a disproportionate amount of the blame falls on them, too. The fixer, it turns out, always gets the blame.
Which brings us back to the *Idea of Sheryl Sandberg,* the persistent perception that a competent woman can correct for all the challenges that arise from handing full power over to youthful, ambitious men. Sure, Sandberg now needs to be held accountable for the role she played in Facebook’s current mess. And then, we need to retrieve the fix-it shero status from Sandberg and all the other badass female COOs working in tech. Instead, we must demand that tech’s most promising companies — no longer dorm room startups but, in fact, more valuable than many of the industry stalwarts that helm the Fortune 500 — be run the old-fashioned way. They’d do well to employ CEOs, regardless of founder status, who are accountable to boards of directors able to direct them and even to fire them, instead of having to manage around them..
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
BEFORE YOU GO
A mosquito-free summer? The life science arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet, had remarkable success in wiping out the population of biting mosquitoes during pilot projects in Australia and California's Central Valley. The technique, which relies on releasing male mosquitos that produce sterile offspring, could make summer evenings much more enjoyable.