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The Chinese Entrepreneur Who Wants to Freeze Human Brains

November 8, 2019, 1:53 PM UTC
He Xiaopeng, chairman and CEO of Xpeng, said semi-autonomous cars could transform driving in just five to 10 years
Shawn Koh/Fortune

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Trade war, tech war, cold war, whatever, China and the United States still have a lot to learn from each other. And the two countries will likely continue down parallel paths simultaneously for years to come. Think of the countries as frenemies, a concept Silicon Valley understands well.

With the “de-coupling” of the two economies on everyone’s mind, attendees at the Fortune Global Tech Forum, which wrapped Friday afternoon in Guangzhou, China, were more interested in business than politics. Some parting thoughts:

  • Repeat entrepreneur He Xiaopeng is building an electric car-company. (Who isn’t these days, right?) It’s called Xpeng Motors, and so far its snazz factor is high while its unit volume is low. Asked what other ideas he’s thinking about, he named two: freezing human brains and building cities on the water. He’d fit right in Northern California.
  • Jack Jing, executive vice president for technology for massive Chinese retailer Suning, says the company has prototyped a fully automatic retail store where customers enter via facial recognition and leave with their purchases automatically paid for. It plans to expand from its headquarter city of Nanjing to 1,000 additional locations, he said. Little known outside of China, the company is worth watching. While it started as an electronics appliances store, it now owns supermarkets, department stores, and other retail concepts—plus a large e-commerce platform. Alibaba bought a 20% stake in the company for $698 million some years back. Suning itself recently bought 80% in Carrefour’s China unit.
  • Stephanie Cohen, chief strategy officer of Goldman Sachs, explained why the U.S. investment bank that has deep roots in China is taking a watch-and-wait approach to cryptocurrencies. The newfangled currencies are worth about $200 billion in total, she said, compared to the $400 trillion value of global financial assets including equities, fixed income, and hard assets. Goldman can wait until that gap narrows. Cohen also talked up Goldman’s partnership with Apple over its new credit card; however, she couldn’t say when the card would be easy to use in China.
  • Zhiyu Chen, a top Walmart China executive, says that, whereas Walmart’s historic technological strength in the U.S. has been focused on the digitization of its supply chain, in China, its investments are focused on digitizing its customers. It’s a significant difference. Walmart’s partners in China, by the way, are JD.com and Tencent, two powerful players.

Have a good weekend, wherever in the world you are.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

Negative association. Ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s outsourced cooking play, CloudKitchens, won $400 million of backing from from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund. The deal appears to grant Kalanick a rather grim distinction: he's the first Silicon Valley founder to take a direct investment from the Saudi government since the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Starting small. Almost one in 50 cars purchased in the United States in the third quarter were electric vehicles, double the number sold for those that had manual transmissions, according to data from J.D. Power. "EVs were able to surpass last century’s dying technology," vice president Tyson Jominy quipped.

Reading is fundamental. Fighting against truthiness and fake you-know-what, the Internet Archive is working with Wikipedia to add citations from books to Wikipedia entries. The archive, best known for preserving billions of web pages, has also digitized millions of books. Wikipedia readers will be able to click through to small excerpts of text from books.

Sweet, sweet honey. With its $26 billion merger with Sprint still in doubt, T-Mobile offered some more goodies to entice regulators to get on board, including a $15-per-month wireless plan and free service for every first responder agency in America. CEO John Legere also said the two companies are talking about possibly revising some terms of the original deal, struck way back in April, 2018. Speaking of mergers, the rumored Xerox offer for Hewlett-Packard now has a (rumored) price: $22 per share. HP, trading under $17 one month ago, closed at $19.39 on Thursday.

Temporal loop. In a weird move by the universe to either, one, increase the stress level of some lonely people, or two, create some new rom-com meet-cute opportunities, a whole bunch of people received text messages this week that had actually been sent on Valentine's Day. The texts arrived late due a glitch in the cross carrier messaging system. And sticking with the theme of potential meet-ups, Bill Gates and Sen. Elizabeth Warren made nice on Twitter on Thursday. After Gates had said earlier this week that he wasn't sure how open-minded the senator was, Warren tweeted that she'd like to chat, and Gates agreed.

A change in the wind. Starting next week, we're moving our Cyber Saturday edition by Robert Hackett to Wednesdays. Clay Chandler, who had been writing for Data Sheet, has launched a new weekly newsletter, Business by Design, which you can sign up to receive every Tuesday.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Without resorting to cloning or other ethically dubious means of genetic engineering, several startups may have come up with a new way to tailor a baby's genes. The method relies on scanning the DNA of available embryos before in vitro fertilization procedures. The Economist explains how it works.

Single-nucleotide polymorphism (snp, or “snip”) profiling, as the technique is called, promises healthier offspring—a clear good. It may also provide a way to upgrade things only tangentially associated with health, such as height and, more controversially, intelligence. Moreover, it is a technique that could be applied generation on generation, to improve grandchildren and great-grandchildren still further...As well as disease risk, height and intelligence, snp-profiling might eventually be capable of predicting (albeit imperfectly, for environment also plays a role) things as diverse as television-viewing habits, likelihood of being bullied at school and probability of getting divorced.

FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

A few longer reads that I came across this week:

The Fisherman's Secret (San Francisco Chronicle)
His net often got caught on the rotting underwater husks of old ships wrecked just beyond the Golden Gate, and he knew that some of those ships—Spanish galleons, Gold Rush-era steamers—had carried treasure. He rewound the video, peered forward, and froze the frame with the yellow rectangular object. It looked for all the world like a gold bar, an ingot. 

Can Flying Taxis Live Up to the Hype? (New York Times Magazine)
Lilium, a German start-up, illustrates the potential and the risks of creating a new generation of electric aircraft for urban transportation.

The Big Bitcoin Heist (Vanity Fair)
Boasting cheap geothermal energy and low crime rates, Iceland has also become the world’s leading miner of digital currency. Then the crypto-crooks showed up.

Virtue and Vanity at Reformation (New Yorker)
The company, which had a slightly cultish following, was known for minimalist, insouciant dresses and separates in which multiple vectors of aspiration converged: the clothes were designed for the bodies of models, produced from environmentally friendly fabrics, and mostly priced in the low three digits—just the right amount to blur the lines between those who thought of a two-hundred-and-eighteen-dollar jumpsuit as an affordable basic and those for whom it would be an impractical splurge.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

How to Keep Your Skype Interview From Going Viral By Anne Fisher

Art Imitates Life in HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ By Eamon Barrett

‘Nothing to Lose’: The Drone Farming Revolution Is Coming to China By Fortune Editors

How A.I. Can Ease the Pain of Booking Your Next Vacation By Eamon Barrett

This Digital Health Startup is Fortune China’s ‘Innovator of the Year’ By Fortune Editors

How Harbinger Ventures is Bringing ‘Female DNA’ to Venture Capital. Starting With Tampons By Nicole Gull McElroy

BEFORE YOU GO

If you're looking for an astronomical treat next week, even before the next issue of Data Sheet arrives, start your preparations now. On Monday morning, starting at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the planet Mercury will be visible as it crosses in front of the Sun. But the transit of Mercury is only viewable with a telescope that has a solar filter. NASA's JPL explains and also lists places where amateur astronomers are setting up viewing sites. NASA will also be sharing real-time images of the action. Miss your chance and you'll have to wait until 2032 for the next viewing.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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