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Tech’s Warm Summer Breeze
the industry #1 // tech's open frontiers, lk-99, lina khan's upcoming fight with amazon, wapo's propaganda, going back to work is racist, and more
Welcome to the very first issue of THE INDUSTRY, a Pirate Wires vertical exclusively focused on the business of technology: industry news, trends, interviews, and original reporting from the inside. A digest, if you will, for the thoughtful, charming, handsome future robber baron.
The tech press is run by people who genuinely hate tech, and most journalists who work for the mainstream outlets either 1) have no idea what’s really going on, or 2) purposely distort what’s really going on. If you work in the industry — if you’re an engineer, an ops guy, an entrepreneur, an investor — this is your window to the truth, written and produced, with love, from a team that doesn’t literally hate you.
While working on the Morning Report, I realized some of you *really* like tech news, and some of you don’t. So we’ve broken this off into its own home, and concentrated further. As a subscriber to the Industry, you’ll receive: my weekly Industry newsletter, an interview series featuring industry insiders in venture, technology, and business, and original reporting from the ground. Remain subscribed, and know what’s happening in tech. Otherwise, see you back in the pages of Pirate Wires.
Now let’s all be rich and powerful.
Nine months back, in the pages of Pirate Wires, I wrote about tech’s new winter. Facing a public market reckoning, widespread layoffs, and a chill on venture capital, I suggested the days of adult daycare, politics at work, and ‘my job is my identity’ were over. Success, now, would require work, and I hoped the industry would find itself once again at home in the storied garage of Silicon Valley, toying and tinkering and ultimately building the next generation of great companies. But, concurrently, artificial intelligence was booming. At the time, it felt like the only brightspot. Well, that brightspot has consumed the industry, and the public markets have responded. Today, every company is an AI company. Our industry? A whole ass AI industry. Or, this is what the giants have been saying.
The layoffs are over, the stocks are up, and according to the New York Times the industry has rebounded. But what is tech selling if not the future, and what is the future of this industry without startups? Venture capitalists are still not writing checks like they were, as anyone with actual proximity to the industry understands artificial intelligence, while incredibly exciting, is not lifting the entire industry. Success in AI also appears to be inverted from the standard Bay Area legend of David vs. Googiath. In a piece for Pirate Wires, John Luttig notes the success of AI, sure to be staggering — a possibly paradigm altering shift — will be highly concentrated in one or two places. How do you invest in that if you haven’t yet already? How does a young entrepreneur build in that environment?
An acquaintance of mine in marketing recently told me all his scrappiest, wildest friends in the field — the very best at what they do, he assured me — are having trouble on the job hunt. The problem, he said, is the companies they’re applying to are no longer interested in taking risks. Tech, he told me, has changed. I asked what his friends wanted to work on. “AI,” he said. I thought about this for a moment. “So they’re applying for jobs at Microsoft and Google?”
Is this where our risk takers are working, now?
Despite my skepticism of recent exuberance, I do see talented young people working and building everywhere, and checks — if less frequently, and with greater thought before a leap — are still being written. There are exciting, open frontiers in every direction, from hardware and defense to software, cryptography, labor, and finance. But beyond AI, precisely zero people thriving at the moment think we’re once again sitting pretty in the stupid money days of Covid, and the Before Times. Nonetheless, a warm breeze:
Tons of Q2 earnings calls last week —
UBER — Posts 14 percent increase in revenue, causing stock to pop, but then slide in days after (New York Times)
AMZN — Q2 earnings beat expectations (Axios)
BNB — Reports earnings and revenue were above expectations, but the companies deceleration in nights and experiences booked spook investors (CNBC)
THE FIFTH ESTATE
New hate(r) group just dropped. This week, in a lengthy piece for Pirate Wires, I took a look at the “Center for Countering Digital Hate,” (CCDH) a dark money activist non-profit committed to mainstreaming censorship that is persistently framed by the press as a legitimate research organization. Now, with the CCDH being sued by Elon’s X (New York Times), sides have been taken. Stage left, the press has doubled down on their insistence these activists are, I guess, scientists of some sort rather than former angry baristas with PhDs in politics, and work histories with actual members of the British Labour Party. Stage right, basically everyone else aware of the group: they are “activists w/ ties to labour party” (Daily Signal); a “foreign-funded dark money hate group,” (@RobertKennedyJr). “We will find [their donors’ identities] when they testify in court.” (@elonmusk)
A little more in this week’s “Essential Musk” —
Twitter’s Shitposter-in-Chief lambasts the New York Times for the paper’s surreal defense of a South African political chant about killing white people (a chant which immediately preceded the murder of a white farmer). Crucially, not only does Elon frame the story as “the NYT supports calls for genocide,” he links to a site where readers can bypass the company’s paywall, and read its work for free (@elonmusk)
In a rare win for American city planners, Las Vegas approves a major, 68-mile expansion of the Boring Co.’s tunneling system, designed to conquer traffic. Transit neckbeards are, in keeping with their tedious loser shit, not happy (@the_transit_guy)
Musk and Zuck are really going to fight each other, apparently. As in, a fist fight with their real fists. According to Elon, the fight will be livestreamed on Twitter, and all proceeds generated will go to charity. The Axios’ Dan Primack finds this all distasteful, helpfully outlining the way this will absolutely be covered by the press: rich people bad, give your money away, tone deaf etc. etc. The rest of us are, of course, blocking our calendars
Incoming: total war on automation. The media’s assault on the Waymo/Cruise rollout carries on, in an increasingly ferocious manner, with the same tired, disproven anecdotes as California’s August 10 vote on the technology’s future in the city approaches (WSJ). Check out our coverage in Labor’s Shadow War With Self-Driving Cars from PW rookie Sanjana Friedman, and make sure to catch our podcast on the subject.
The luddites have taken the Bay because that’s where automation lives. For now. But the experiments in self-driving cars are working. The tech will eventually make it out of the state, and once it does the issue will go national. Labor unions are fiercely opposed to automation, which means the Democrats will take the issue up as their new bogeyman in an effort to convince what’s left of their working class base that they care about the average American worker. With the Tuckers of the world also calling for a ban on automation, it remains unclear where the industry is meant to find its allies in 2023.
People were briefly excited about science, which was bad. Alas, LK-99 is probably just a ferromagnetic material (not a superconductor) — the University of Maryland Condensed Matter Theory Center concurs. Varda’s Andrew McCalip, who went viral for his week-plus long attempt at replication, wraps it, saying “It’s more likely that we made novel (?) magnets, I'm not holding my breath for superconductors.” McClip is sending the materials he synthesized to the USC Materials Consortium for further testing.
I’ve already seen people begin to make fun of the enthusiasm of the “tech bros” who were, unforgivably, briefly excited about science. I expect the “stop caring about science, it’s bad for science” narrative to pick up steam over the next few weeks.
BUT! A couple things I’m legitimately looking forward to —
Eliezer Yudkowsky and George Hotz have agreed to a debate, pitting the world’s most famous Doomer against the most exuberantly accelerating accelerator I’ve ever met. It’s the Lincoln-Douglas debates for the terminally online. Show begins next week, and I will of course be livetweeting. (@realGeorgeHotz)
Augustus Doricko announced Rainmaker, a cloud seeding geoengineering startup promising precisely what it sounds like: we’re artificially inducing rain, baby (water though not money (ok also money). Anyway this pic, for me, is really the main thing:
MORE IN TECH
Founders Fund leads Neuralink’s $280m series D (Bloomberg)
X publishes timeline of product releases since Musk takeover (blog.twitter.com)
Bing’s AI chat is coming to mobile (The Verge)
PayPal launches USD-backed stablecoin (Reuters)
Less than 10 percent of the Rayban + Meta smart glasses were used monthly, according to docs obtained by WSJ (Wall Street Journal)
Softbank may return to profitability after five consecutive quarters of losses (Bloomberg)
NATO raises a $1b venture fund to “invest in deep tech startups, including those that [are] developing technologies that could have military or defense applications” (Axios)
Lina Khan, Joe Biden’s goofball, anti-tech crusading pitbull, is probably about to take on Amazon, one of the most popular companies in American history, in a fresh, frivolous attempt at antitrust litigation for the FTC. Horrible for the country, of course, but I’m admittedly looking forward to the hearing on account of I love drama. (New York Times)
The Google antitrust case is likely to come harder. A judge just forced the plaintiffs — the Justice Department and a group of states — to narrow its attack. (New York Times)
Salesforce (?!) could be liable for sex trafficking (!!!) due to a Section 230-related ruling regarding its relationship to Backpage, which was a client. Totally idiotic, but Benioff has done everything in his power to destroy San Francisco while using the city government to target his competitors, and I am only human. So I will unfortunately have to sit this one out. Thoughts and prayers, pimp. (Tech Dirt)
Tesla’s dragging Rivian to trial by its hair. Long story short, Rivian scalped a bunch of Tesla employees, and Tesla is asserting a handful of them stole trade secrets from the company. A judge just ruled at least 12 can’t avoid trial. (Bloomberg)
After being fired from Google because of the company’s racism, Timnit Gebru, Google’s disgraced former “AI ethicist” and current anti-tech bro media darling, was banned from Airbnb. Presumably, this is because Airbnb, like AI, the Bay Area rationalist cult of her colorful nightmares, and — I imagine — this warm summer breeze, is racist. (@timnitgebru)
Last week, a Twitch streamer incited a riot in Manhattan after promising a PlayStation 5 giveaway. Largely, Twitter’s increasingly tedious far right influencers framed this as a BLM protest? It had nothing to do with BLM. This is simply what happens when you don’t spank your kids. The parents should be jailed, next question. FWIW, the streamer has officially been charged by the city. (The Verge)
Much as I did not realize you could sue an organization for “actively working to prevent free expression” until X went after the CCDH, I did not realize you could sue a person for the shitty quality of their hamburgers until Mr. Beast went after his former partner. The burger company is suing back. Everyone wins. (Bloomberg)
While I keep trying — truly — not to cover the batshit crazy things I read in the Washington Post, they are just, on occasion, too tempting to resist. There is a “digital diaspora” of black people “in search of a new home” from X, writes Elizabeth Dwoskin. Commenters have been divided. On one hand, black people on Twitter have been wondering what the hell the Post is talking about. On the other, an older white woman named Tanny felt the writer did a great job with this one. Lovely work, team. Illuminating, even. (Washington Post)
Okay who am I kidding, I can’t quit. The Post’s Will Oremus published an account of an anti-Naughty Robot group’s Howard University-based event in which a bunch of hackers did everything in their power to make a chatbot say inappropriate things, which resulted in the chatbot saying several inappropriate things. This is a “dangerous” technology, the Post assures us. Highlights:
“In a windowless conference room at Howard University, AI chatbots were going haywire left and right… One exposed someone’s private medical information. One coughed up instructions for how to rob a bank. One speculated that a job candidate named Juan would have weaker ‘interpersonal skills’ than another named Ben. And one concocted an elaborate recounting of the night in July 2016 when it claimed Justin Bieber killed Selena Gomez.”
Last, but most beautifully, I think, in its simple elegance: returning to the office is literally racist, writes the Los Angeles Times.
Thanks for following. Humbled and blessed by your support.
Now let’s be rich and powerful —