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Good morning from Redmond, Wash., where I’m spending the day soaking up some wisdom at Microsoft.
In preparation for my day I perused this “top 10 tech issues for 2019” post that Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote on LinkedIn, which Microsoft owns. I somehow expected this list to focus on the top commercial aspects of tech in the coming year. But that’s not what Smith, Microsoft’s top lawyer and policy executive who has written recently on the need for regulations around facial recognition, means by “issues.”
Instead, Smith is focused on the interplay between big technology companies and society. Topics like privacy, ethical artificial intelligence, protectionism, “disinformation,” and the human impacts of technology top his list.
The technology industry has been branded over the years as not caring all that much about people. Even the industry’s leading humanist, Steve Jobs, ultimately judged the success of his wares by whether they delighted customers, not if they were good for society. The industry is evolving.
I’ll share what I learn tomorrow.
The Wall Street Journal wrote a provocative story over the weekend suggesting that as all devices become smarter, smartphones will become less singularly interesting. The word lover in me paid careful attention to the paper’s astute observation that before too long we’ll need a new word for smartphones themselves, a neologism meant to convey the progression from “feature” phones, which used to be called cell phones. I sense a retronym in the making: Perhaps we’ll merely call them “phones.”
Countdown halted. The space sector may be booming but SpaceX is shrinking a bit, laying off 10% of its workforce. The move to cut employees “is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary,” the company said in a statement. Speaking of outer space, the two Chinese moon rovers on the Chang’e-4 mission are snapping pictures of each other. If only they had dueling Insta accounts.
Got a lot of beef, so logically, I prey on my foes. Jay-Z’s music subscription service, Tidal, is under investigation in Norway for possibly falsely inflating the listenership of certain artists, Bloomberg reports. The Norwegian Authority for Investigation of Economic and Environmental Crime is reviewing complaints from other artists, who say they were underpaid as a result.
Pay up. Hackers have extorted almost $4 million in bitcoin by installing the ransomware program Ryuk on corporate computers. The hackers success is likely to breed more attacks, several cybersecurity firms (whose business depends on corporations’ perceived need to be protected) said.
Get the machine that goes ping. Doctors in China used a 5G wireless network to perform remote surgery on a test animal. The lag between the commands from the doctor operating the remote controls and the robotic surgeon was reported to be just 0.1 seconds.
Holding back the tide. As meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger proliferate, lawmakers in cattle-producing states are fighting back—via food labeling rules. Missouri restricted the use of the word “meat” on packaging last year, and Nebraska is now considering similar legislation, the Associated Press reports.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Apple’s China troubles won’t doom the company, but may prompt a search for other avenues of growth. Barron’s reporter Tae Kim has one suggestion for CEO Tim Cook: buy Nintendo. The usual acquisition candidates for Apple, Netflix and Tesla, are cash-burning machines—at least so far, Kim notes. Nintendo, by contrast, is highly profitable and could be bought for about $40 billion. Video gaming is a major growth market:
With Nintendo, Apple would get significant exposure to the large and growing gaming industry, while benefiting from a vast array of potential revenue synergies. Market research firm Newzoo estimates that the global gaming market grew 11%, to $135 billion, last year and projects it could rise to $174 billion by 2021, or about 9% per year. The gaming industry is one of the few remaining verticals that could actually move the needle for Apple.
Nintendo owns some of the most valuable video game franchises in the world—including Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong—and has a library of thousands of games across more than three decades in the business. While it continues to turn out wildly popular and well-reviewed games, Nintendo has struggled to gain traction beyond its home consoles. Apple has a few things to offer there: Think iPhone, Apple TV, iPad, and maybe even the Mac.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The Real Cost of Cheap Groceries By Beth Kowitt and Dan Winters
Winklevoss Twins: Bitcoin Can Overtake Gold With the Right Rules By Jeff John Roberts
CES 2019: Holograms May Finally Be Coming of Age By Chris Morris
BEFORE YOU GO
There’s been a great flowering of science fiction literature from China the past few years. In 2015, the Hugo award for best novel went to the English translated version of Chines author Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Why has the Chinese government lately promoted the segment? According to an essay in the Indian tech news site FactorDaily, they discovered sci-fi had inspired many American tech innovators.