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the industry #11 // tech press triggered by the concept of tech’s continued existence (a16z manifesto), israel-hamas discourse hits employers, america’s newspapers want sam altman’s money, tech links
Welcome back to the Industry, and thanks for your patience while my team took time last week to conspire and plot (and drink) and plan our excellent future. Humbled, blessed, refreshed. Now, on to the industry drama.
Last week, the talk of the town was Marc Andreessen’s 5,000 word manifesto. Tl;dr: technology is good, and the future will be good. We love this, yes?
“This is literally fascist.” — direct quote, more or less, from every “tech” journalist alive.
Marc’s argument was of a kind WIRED used to illustrate in almost every issue of its magazine, but the world has changed considerably since they were doing tech enthusiasm. According to WIRED’s team today, Marc is just another troublesome “merchant of progress,” a bizarre insult dropped in the middle of a several thousand-word love letter to technology-smashing Luddites. Elsewhere, in the pages of what was once the average futurist’s favorite journal, Steven Levy referred to Marc’s exuberance, along with all of the industry’s top venture firms, as examples of “late-stage capitalism.” The purpose of Marc’s manifesto, Steven seriously argued, was to “take your money, your vote, or” — he wrote this, his editors saw this, they all read this and said ‘cool, yeah, get him’ — your “soul.” From Gizmodo, this was a “Unabomber-style manifesto,” and from the unintentionally hilarious Audrey Watters: “Marc Andreessen openly embraces this violent, right-wing machismo that he calls ‘techno-optimism.’”
Artificial intelligence is good, and we should build some nuclear power plants: right-wing! Violent!
Fast Company, FT, the SF Standard, Business Insider, the Washington Post, and Kara Swisher were all equally furious with the notion venture capitalists might earnestly believe the things they invest in are good for the world. (Editor’s note: Swisher’s relationship with Marc soured several years ago after her failed press outlet, Recode, attacked his firm for advocating caution in the early days of Covid-19, which, ok, probably isn’t really essential context, but does remain funny (hi, Kara!)).
But one of my favorite critiques came from TechCrunch: “When was the last time Marc Andreessen talked to a poor person?” It was an incredible week for this outlet in particular, which only days earlier argued the Gaza strip was a vital “tech hub.” Unserious as it may seem, I do think it worth reflecting on how far this outlet has fallen.
Most young people I talk to don’t realize this, but people used to read TechCrunch. Over the last decade, as the outlet’s relevance declined, their writers, along with many of their peers in the broader press, retreated to childish activism. This attracted eyeballs, but diminished their reputation to the point of its present gutter state, which is all to say I’m not surprised they’re doing clown shit 24/7. They have to pay the bills somehow. But the tech press’s relationship with the industry it purportedly covers is a uniquely weird thing.
Can you imagine Variety attacking a “billionaire” film producer for his passionate defense of movies? Or the Wall Street Journal arguing it’s time to finally shut the markets down, and do communism? Techno-optimism is not surprising from Marc Andreessen. The man has put in great work over the last few years publicly fighting for everything from crypto to artificial intelligence. But the position that technology is good, and a technologically-progressive future will be better, is likewise not surprising from venture capitalists, founders, or tech workers in general. So what is this reaction?
Partly, there’s the Twitter of it all. It’s impossible to overstate how important losing Twitter was to the psychology of the activists in media who shape our culture, and Marc is an outspoken supporter of both Elon and Elon’s version of the platform in which political speech unpopular among tech journalists is not banned. As we presently exist in a constant state of information war, advocacy in favor of “free speech” is considered a high crime, and Marc in particular — who used to banter amicably with the likes of seething mall cop Kara Swisher — is considered an apostate. Then, there’s also his position “ESG” (environmental, social, and corporate governance) is bullshit, which every successful person in business understands, but generally doesn’t say out loud. Journalists and activists tend to go nuclear when you remind them the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, and what do any of us gain from this but momentary pleasure?
The tech press’s most pointed grievance with the manifesto, however, was probably Marc’s position that technology reduces poverty. While this position is common among most rational humans, it undermines the media’s carefully constructed theater in which the rich get richer exclusively at the expense of the American poor, including actual homeless people, who now enjoy the entire knowledge of our world from their pocket supercomputers (which we are not supposed to ever mention). Such facts, for ardent socialists — which this is always about — must be difficult to explain away each day, and industry figures reminding people of the truth is, I think, greatly damaging to their cause (again, it’s socialism).
We should continue to tell the truth.
THE FIFTH ESTATE
NOTABLE INDUSTRY TRENDS
Today in ‘bad people’ lists. Carrying on in our nation’s great tradition of political witch hunts, a website scraped LinkedIn to publish the names, profile pictures, and employers of 17,000 employees who posted “anti semitic” or “anti Israel” comments, or “supportive sentiments of terror.” One of the website’s creators told the New York Times: “We wanted to have it documented… if I work in this company, but I see my friends on LinkedIn celebrating and praising Hamas, then I’m not feeling safe.” (NYT)
The purpose of the list, obviously, is to get people fired for sharing opinions we hate. While some of the actual “yay Hamas” psychos probably deserve it (I have no problem with employers firing literal Nazis publicly expressing literal Nazi shit, for example) many of the people on this list appear to be well-meaning idiots simply showing support for Palestine — which does remain a separate concept, in at least a few important ways, from Hamas.
In the early days of Gaza’s terrorist attack, we witnessed rightful condemnation of such blood-thirsty porn stars as Mia Khalifa, who requested better footage of the raping and kidnapping of Israelis, along with celebrations of the attacks in major cities throughout the west, and from prominent organizations like Black Lives Matter. But with Israel now at war, standard lefty positions like “Israel is bombing civilians,” a dishonest but typical frame, have been lumped into the initial cancellation of people who endorsed actual terrorism. And listen: this is cancellation.
Saturday, Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave resigned in hopes of mitigating blowback following his comments on the conflict (‘Israel is doing war crimes,’ basically), which perhaps existentially threatened his conference. Sponsors such as Amazon, Meta, and Google had already withdrawn from the event (Axios). For the first time in memory, there are real consequences for crazy leftist speech. This is civil war among the institutional libs, and with Palestine absolutely the latest “current thing” of the worst people alive, I regret to inform you the hysterical screeching will soon find its way to an office near you.
Media companies do not want robots reading their shitty work, btw. Since August, at least 535 news organizations — including the New York Times and the Washington Post — have installed code to prevent their online content from being used to train OpenAI’s and Google’s AI models. Last week, a representative of OpenAI confirmed the company has entered talks with newspapers, and may begin paying them to scrape their sites for content (Washington Post).
I haven’t installed any such code at Pirate Wires, for the record, and Sam Altman is not yet paying me. This implies, obviously, the future will include a digital race of Solana reporterbots, none of which will be properly paid for their work. Sad? Amazing? A mixed bag, I think.
Citing an “unreasonable risk to public safety,” the California DMV just revoked Cruise’s permit to operate driverless vehicles. Have I told you lately about the histrionic, secretly union-led war on self-driving cars? Well, the disinformation campaign is working.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just opened a probe into Cruise to investigate the following: 1) a human driver knocked a lady under a Cruise car, and fled the scene, 2) a Cruise vehicle traveling 1.4 mph bumped into a pedestrian after she walked in front of a green light, and finally 3) two other mysterious videos they found on “public websites” (??) (CNBC).
“So many people asked us about the rampant train robberies taking place in Arizona and New Mexico that we wrote an article about it,” Flexport founder/CEO Ryan Petersen said in a X post on Tuesday. Flexport has apparently recovered over $1 million worth of stolen goods from train robberies, and specifically describes how the thieving, if admittedly charming vagrants do it. “Another option we’ve seen is where they disable the train — by opening a certain valve or cutting a line — at a predetermined location where they have trucks waiting.” Read it here.
Pirates in San Francisco Bay? A senator taking bribes in gold bars? And now we’re doing train heists? Villains absolutely, but villains worthy of the word “villain.” If we have to do chaos I’m glad we’re doing it with style.
Apple is now spending around $1 billion a year on generative AI. Their strategy includes a revamp of Siri (which could launch as soon as next year), and an injection of AI into both autocomplete and Xcode. (Bloomberg)
The company is also leaning into the traditional film business: Tim Cook visited Cannes back in May, and the company has two big films in theaters this fall. Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon debuted in theaters last weekend, and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon is coming this Thanksgiving. (FT)
Apple just canceled the new Jon Stewart show that sounds like every other political show on television bc he’s boring and old, now (also my sense is he wanted to talk about Chinese slave labor, and Apple obviously could never have that).
Anyway, AI-generated Buffy Season 27 when?
Wednesday, Amazon announced it’s testing human-sized bipedal warehouse robots made by Agility Robotics, whose Oregon manufacturing facility is set to open up later this year — read a bit more about it in a September issue of White Pill. (Seattle Times)
Question: in our ongoing effort to make this stuff less scary why are we building Terminator?
Another question: where are we on sexbots btw (not for me though fyi (I am in a committed, happy relationship with genuinely one of the hottest people alive)).
Dropbox is spending $79 million to give up 165,000 square feet of office space in SF, or a quarter of its space in the city (Business Insider). Microsoft wants to sublease 49,000 square feet at its 555 California St. location in the city. (SF Chronicle)
The Tesla Cybertruck is bulletproof. Elon on X: “We emptied the entire drum magazine of a Tommy gun into the driver door Al Capone style. No bullets penetrated into the passenger compartment.”
Freight brokerage startup Convoy abruptly announced that it’s winding down operations. The company, once valued at $3.8 billion, counted Bono and Jeff Bezos as investors. (The Information)
Discord is shutting down Gas App, the anonymous-compliments app Nikita Bier sold to the company in January. (The Information)
Nokia will cut 14,000 employees on the heels of a 69% third quarter earnings plunge. (CNBC)
Last week, microchip manufacturer Qualcomm announced it will lay off around 1,258 employees in December, or around 2.5% of its workforce. (CNN)
Coding forum StackOverflow will lay off nearly 30% of its staff after doubling the size of its team to over 500 people last year. (The Verge)
LinkedIn will eliminate around 668 roles across the company, impacting the company’s “engineering, product, talent and finance arms,” representing about 3% of its global workforce. (LinkedIn)
Songtradr, the company that recently acquired Bandcamp from Epic Games, will not extend offers to around 50% of Bandcamp’s employees, effectively laying off 250 people. (The Verge)
Google cut roughly 40 workers from its Google News division last week, citing “internal changes to streamline our organization.” (SF Chronicle)
San Francisco and San Mateo County lost 10,000 jobs in September (the unemployment rate, however, dropped from 3.5% to 3%). (SF Chronicle)
Amazon managers now have permission to effectively fire employees who fail to show up to the office at least three times a week. Clutch your pearls, commies. (Business Insider)
Thrive Capital is leading a deal to buy OpenAI shares from employees via a tender offer that would value the company at $80 billion or more. (The Information)
Tucker Carlson is a startup founder once again. His new media company, Last Country, raised $15 million by way of a SAFE round led by 1789 Capital. (Puck)
More embarrassing SPAC news: Esports company FaZe Clan was scooped up by Gamesquare for about $17 million, just sixteen months after going public at a valuation of $725 million. (The Verge)
In our latest episode of the Pirate Wires podcast, Wait But Why founder Tim Urban joined me to discuss his new book, What's Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies. Topics including: mental frameworks for thinking clearly about politics, staying cool when issues become heated, the golems of the Trump right and the social justice left, and soberly navigating Israel and Palestine in a moment of mass hysteria.
I’m proud of this one. Check it out, share, subscribe etc. Oh, and please comment. Youtubers are dumb as hell, we need to flood the zone.
In July, the SEC proposed a “predictive data analytics” rule that Robinhood CEO and co-founder Vlad Tenev characterized as “so broad it would demand costly manual reviews on almost all [finance-related] tech applications, even basic things like color choices in app design and simple A/B testing.” Robinhood responded to the proposed rule in an October 10 letter, which you can read here. (@vladtenev)
Citing the Hamas attacks on Israel, the Biden administration wants to designate crypto “mixing” — a practice used to anonymize crypto funds — as a primary money laundering concern, and require financial institutions to report such transactions (The Hill). This proposal comes after a WSJ report our friend Nic Carter says “overstated the bitcoin terrorist financing figures by ~200x and committed journalistic malpractice.” Remember, folks, they never actually care about dead children. They just want to control you, and take your shit.
Friday, the Supreme Court put a pause on an appeals court ruling prohibiting the Biden administration from contacting social media platforms to combat misinformation (delete things they don’t like). In other words, the One Party State’s decentralized censorship apparatus is back in action. The Justices also agreed to hear the administration’s appeal. (NYT)
Ted Cruz and two other lawmakers are proposing legislation that would require schools to prohibit students from accessing social media and porn — or lose access to federal broadband subsidies (Washington Post). I am both fine with this and eager for the craziest people alive to take up the most important human rights issue of our era: students jerking off in math class.
Monday, Biden unveiled 31 new regional tech hubs across the country (they are not tech hubs) (The Hill). Last month, River covered the initiative for The Industry. Tl;dr: clown world waste of money, which is of course the point. We lie about these things so often we forget to sometimes circle up with each other, and simply note what’s actually happening, which is free dumb money in exchange for DNC votes.
The House Select Committee on the CCP has launched a probe into Sequoia Capital, accusing it of continuing to direct “U.S. dollars into the CCP’s military and human rights abuses,” even after spinning off its Asia arm (@committeeonccp). Yikes, fam. Lawyer up (I recommend Elon’s team of undefeated Spartan killers).
The Commerce Department announced new export controls aimed at slowing down “China’s development of advanced AI technologies” in an effort to “[hobble] advances in China’s military.” (WaPo)
Tech giants flew to Capitol Hill yesterday, and joined the second of Schumer’s closed-door AI forums. Marc Andreessen, John Doerr, and Steve Case were among the 21 panelists invited (Bloomberg). They do not read Kara Swisher, I guess.
NYC just unveiled its “AI Action Plan,” a collection of roughly 40 policy initiatives (Wired). Long story short, they want “steering committees,” and “listening sessions.” Empty rhetoric, of course, but what else would we expect from America’s favorite “wait no please don’t come here” sanctuary city?
Tesla says the DOJ expanded its inquiry into the company, looking at advertising claims and “personal benefits” given to executives and shareholders. Note to automakers: never, under any circumstances, buy a speech platform and threaten to do free speech. (NYT)
Universal Music Group Publishing and two other music companies are suing AI startup Anthropic, alleging the company “unlawfully copies and disseminates vast amounts of copyrighted works — including the lyrics to myriad musical compositions owned or controlled by publishers.” (Business Insider).
Also, Mike Huckabee and a group of Christian authors are suing Meta, Microsoft, and Bloomberg for allegedly using their books to train AI models (Bloomberg). For what it’s worth, this is a kind of scraping we should probably allow. Sexy Evil AI Fembot from Ex Machina, have you heard the good news about Jesus Christ?
Seriously though it would be absolutely wild if AI became a Christian. You think Islamists are mad now? Lol. Lmao, even.
EU antitrust regulators resumed their review of Adobe’s $20 billion bid for Figma (Reuters). Both of these companies are American, last I checked, and I am once again asking our government for a little mercantilism. I know the Europeans don’t produce much, but isn’t there some Irish butter or something we can tax out of existence in response? This is getting ridiculous.
After months blocking France’s bid to use domestic subsidies on its nuclear power plants, Germany has relented and ‘allowed’ its neighbor to spend its own money on unlimited clean energy (FT). The European Union remains stupid beyond imagination — dumber, and more useless, than your bleakest expectations.
SpaceX and Europe’s space agency have reached a tentative deal to launch up to four satellites next year, likely on account of the fact that Europe’s own Ariane rockets are not developing on schedule (Bloomberg). We’ll see if anything comes of this, but my sense is Euro Twitter is about to vanish, at which point American billionaires will be canceled on the continent (Chinese money, along with the entire population of the Middle East, probably still okay however).