“The Cyber” Is Coming. Run Away!


Tim Moore | Flickr

Bring on the cyber. If you’re old enough, you remember the brief moment two decades ago when referring to the online digital world as “cyberspace” actually seemed ahead-of-the-curve. That ended fast, but somehow the prefix “cyber-” found a survival niche in the world of foreign-policy wonks and security pundits. It came roaring back to life in last night’s presidential debate, tumbling out of Donald Trump’s mouth in a muddled monologue that left jaws agape and younger viewers, particularly, in giggles (The Verge). Trump railed against ISIS recruiting and sang the praises of his 10-year-old son’s computing prowess, and by the end of the segment, #TheCyber had become a meme. Once the laughing subsided, we could all glumly realize that neither of these aging candidates has a visceral understanding of the digital world that shapes so much of our experience today. Trump has a thing for Twitter, and Clinton may have had her issues with email. But for both of them, “the cyber” seems a forbidding alien landscape — while for a growing proportion of the electorate, it is simply the ground on which we must build our work and our lives. (Props, though, to Clinton for bringing in a crew of digital natives to craft her technology policy.)

Palantir charged with bias against Asians. Palantir Technologies, the Palo Alto-based security and analytics firm that’s high on anyone’s list of “cyber” companies, is being sued by the U.S. Department of Labor for discriminating against Asian job applicants (Reuters). Federal agencies like the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon are also among Palantir’s biggest customers. The suit comes as Silicon Valley faces growing criticism for its failure to diversify its work force. Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel has made headlines recently for funding the lawsuit that brought down the feisty Gawker media business, and also for his support of Republican candidate Donald Trump (Thiel spoke at the Republican convention). Will Palantir claim it’s being persecuted because of Thiel’s controversial profile? Will the lawsuit provide the media with new insight into the inner workings of the secretive company? Is tech industry discrimination against Asians the next big diversity story? There’s a lot to play out here.

Should Exxon disclose climate-related risks? As the reality of carbon-driven warming begins to reshape our coastlines, our climates, and our energy policies, it’s also increasing long-term risks for companies with fossil-fuel assets. Exxon Mobil has resisted calls for it to put numbers on that risk for its investors to weigh — as many of its European competitors already do — and U.S. government regulators are considering requiring such disclosure. Now it looks like a Republican legislator’s effort to protect Exxon from such rules could get tangled up in the end-of-year budget battles looming in Congress (The New York Times). Whatever the outcome, the nature of risk assessment is merciless: If regulators and lawmakers are already fighting over something, it’s already a risk. The only question is how open Exxon chooses to be with its own investors and the public.

A woman’s place is in VC. The world of venture capital and the startups they fund remains notoriously inhospitable to women, despite growing awareness of the problem. Ann Crady Weiss is one of the small minority of female VC partners (at True Ventures), as well as a startup CEO and a parent. In an interview in The Atlantic, she says the VC industry wants to diversify, for strategic as well as ethical reasons: “I think the firms are really recognizing the importance, not for PR purposes, but for the bottom line. When you have diversity around the table, research has shown that that leads to better outcomes. Venture capitalists are self-interested like the rest of us.” She’s also an advocate of paid parental leave for everyone: “It shouldn’t just be for rich people.”

Bureaucracy is the mind-killer. Large corporations are “overrun by stupidity,” says Andre Spicer, a London-based expert in organizational behavior (Aeon). “Organizations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence,” Spicer writes. “Smart people quickly learn that getting ahead means switching off their brains as soon as they step into the office.” Spicer’s essay is a sort of catalog of forms of corporate stupidity — whether it’s mindlessly copying other companies, mindlessly rebranding, mindlessly insisting on positive attitudes, or mindlessly pleasing the boss. There are so many different ways to be mindless! Spicer doesn’t address remedies. But if offices enforce stupid behavior, maybe there’s hope in the office-less future. And if hierarchies encourage mindlessness, maybe less structure will free more mind-power.

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