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CEOs talk tech innovation—from powerful electric planes to cryptocurrencies

June 10, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC

On the final day of the Fortune Global Forum, tech innovations and advancements were often the center of our virtual stage. Our esteemed guests covered everything from cryptocurrency to electric planes to artificial intelligence in the defense industry. But it wasn’t all good news, unfortunately. Some was very, very bad.

One of the coolest conversations was with Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East, who gave us a look at the aircraft his company is building to become the world’s fastest all electric plane. The plane, called the “Spirit of Innovation,” is equipped with a 500-horsepower electric powertrain and a batter system that aims to help the vehicle reach 300 miles per hour. “The speed record at the moment is less than 200 miles an hour,” East said. “We’re hoping to make a significant improvement on that—and by significant, I don’t just mean 10%, I mean absolutely smashing the record.”

Another company working on flying tech innovations? Northrop Grumman, one of the largest military technology providers that employs more than 90,000 people. Kathy Warden, chairwoman and CEO of Northrop Grumman, explored the importance of A.I., which powers unmanned aircraft, spacecraft, and underwater vehicles for the U.S. military. 

Despite the wide deployment of the tech, Warden says she doesn’t think countries will ever solely rely on their A.I. machines to fight the big battles. “I don’t see a future where we take people completely out of warfare,” she said. “There is a great amount of research and development going into worrying that particularly artificial intelligence and autonomy technologies are governed appropriately.”  (Anyone else releasing a big sigh of relief?)

Speaking of governing tech, one innovation that’s raising a lot of eyebrows—both out of interest and concern—for regulators and lawmakers around the world are cryptocurrencies. The digital coins aim to offer a decentralized and secure form of currency. And big names have bought into the hype. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has boosted the price of Dogecoin, and other CEOs including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey are big fans of digital currencies like Bitcoin. 

Robert interviewed Cristina Junqueira, the cofounder of Nubank, the Latin American fintech bank that boasts a valuation of $30 billion. He asked her whether she was a fan of cryptocurrencies. Her view? Pretty favorable. “As an asset class, there’s a lot of demand,” she said. “We’re in the business offering customers options, and they can make decisions for themselves. So we do see opportunity.”

But perhaps one of the most disturbing things to come out of Wednesday’s wrap-up: Cyber crime organizations are becoming “businessified,” as cybersecurity exec Poppy Gustafsson of Darktrace put it. Some even have their own graphics departments, marketing teams, and PR messaging. 

So to sum it all up: Tech innovations are fueling the future of transportation, defense, and even finance. But as tech advances, so does cybercrime. And if the disruption of Colonial Pipeline’s business taught us anything, it’s that we still have a lot of work to do to make sure the bad guys don’t win.

Danielle Abril

When was the last time you visited a bank branch? Called a broker to make a stock trade? Paid the babysitter in cash? Increasingly, our financial lives are online. And in today’s Brainstorm podcast we dig into the growth of the fintech industry.

First up, Matt Harris, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures. He’s been closely following – and investing in – the intersection of finance and technology for over twenty years.

Zach Perret is the co-founder and CEO of Plaid whose technology allows many of your favorite financial apps to connect with your bank account. The number of fintech companies has exploded since Zach and his partner first started building Plaid – he outlines the changes he’s seen, and how the pandemic has accelerated adoption of digital finance.

And, Cristina Junqueira is the co-founder of Latin America’s largest fintech company – Nubank, based in Brazil. What started as a no-fee credit card offering has grown to an expansive suite of products with over 40 million customers. She talks about the challenges of starting a digital bank, and the current struggle to find enough talent to keep up with Nubank’s growth. Listen to the podcast here.


Big plans for Big Tech. Democrats are circulating drafts of five bills aimed at addressing antitrust concerns related to Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The drafts of the bills, which are expected to be introduced as early as this week, may prevent Amazon and Apple from operating their online marketplaces while also using data to sell their own line of products and apps on them, according to CNBC. As for Facebook and Google-parent Alphabet? The drafts aim to make it harder for them to scoop up big buys and hoard user data. 

Facebook fires at Apple. Once again Facebook is taking shots at Apple, this time by planning to help creators avoid Apple’s fees associated with in-app purchases and by quietly working on an Apple Watch rival. Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s Instagram, on Wednesday told CNBC’s Squawk Box that it plans to help creators make a living by helping facilitate “transactions that happen in other places.” Meanwhile, Facebook is working on its first smartwatch, complete with a detachable display that has a front and back camera, according to The Verge. The watch is expected to debut next summer.

Permanently out of office. Speaking of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg announced some tweaks to the company's remote-work policy introduced in May of last year. Facebook will allow all full-time employees to work remotely if their functions can be completed from home (data center technicians and hardware workers need not apply). Previously, the option was geared toward senior and experienced employees. One person who will be out of Facebook’s office for the foreseeable future? Global ads chief Carolyn Everson, who served as a liaison to big advertisers during some of Facebook’s biggest controversies (remember the ads boycott?). But she won’t be working for Facebook from home. After more than a decade at Facebook, Everson announced she’s leaving.

TikTok on the clock, but the party don’t stop. The pattern is clear. Creators find a new service to post their photos and videos and make some big bucks doing it. Then, the algorithms change, and creators struggle to keep the clicks and dollars rolling in. First, it happened on YouTube and Instagram. Now it’s happening on TikTok, the social network that first became popular among teens doing dance challenges. If companies truly want to help creators, solving creator burnout might be a good place to start.

Kon'nichiwa, DoorDash. Food delivery service DoorDash has made its first foray into Asia with its entrance into Sendai, Japan, according to The Financial Times. The company’s suburban strategy mirrors that of the U.S. Sendai is about 230 miles north of Tokyo and has a population of about 1 million people. The move is part of DoorDash’s larger international push. The company, which already operates in Canada and Australia, is also planning to expand into Germany.


States are increasingly leaning on biometrics to verify someone's identity. In some cases, state's view biometric ID services as a way to avoid fraud so that they can ensure the proper distribution of things like unemployment benefits. But Albert Fox Cahn, the founder and executive director of the privacy organization Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, and Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, say these services have the potential to make identity fraud issues worse. The tech can disproportionately have trouble verifying people of color, trans, and nonbinary applicants. And it also “creates momentum” for the government to further creep into collecting biometric data.

“What’s needed is a secure identity document, something like a digital driver’s license or state ID that comes with a secure cryptographic key. This way, users can provide the authenticating information without being enrolled in automated systems marred by bias and creeping surveillance. Although this isn’t a perfect solution, we shouldn’t be looking for one,” the authors write in an op-ed for Wired.


Cybercriminals now have marketing departments By Sophie Mellor

How Nissan, Rolls-Royce, and Virgin Hyperloop hope to revolutionize travel By Jonathan Vanian

Intel’s CEO wants to rebuild a ‘tough, aggressive, and engineering-centric culture’ By Fortune Editors

U.S. futures regulator says DeFi derivatives are ‘bad idea’ By Jessica Mathews

Just one individual brought a huge chunk of the Internet down on Tuesday By Chris Morris

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On Monday, Robert wrote about Jeff Bezos’ plans to go to space. When that news broke, I was in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, less than two hours away from the upcoming launch spot in Van Horn, Texas. The story was all over the news, with local journalists reporting from Van Horn. It made me wonder: Why would Bezos choose Van Horn of all places? To me, Van Horn was a great place to stop and get gas or a quick bite on the way to bigger cities like Austin, Dallas, or San Antonio.

Well, I may have found the answer: For months, Bezos had been flying his private jet into Van Horn before purchasing what’s known as Corn Ranch, his sprawling property located on the outskirts of the town. NBC explored Bezos’ plans the spaceport back in 2005. It’s a fun look at the town and the big billionaire who's bringing new buzz to the area. And though the article is somewhat dated, it's still a pretty accurate picture of Van Horn. 

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