The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
Could Uber be figuring out that sometimes it’s actually better to seek permission first rather than forgiveness later? Don’t bet on it. But if that is the case, the news that the company has backed out of its controversy-ridden, permit-free deployment of self-driving cars in San Francisco would mark the start of Uber’s humility learning curve (The Guardian).
Uber maintained that it needed no permits since the tech it was testing in 16 vehicles wasn’t truly autonomous: A human driver was always present, and the system was more like the kind of autopilot Tesla already offers in its cars. The company stuck to its “We don’t need no stinking permits” stance even after videos surfaced of the vehicles running red lights and bicyclists complained about a bike-lane blind spot that Uber acknowledged. So the DMV revoked the test vehicles’ registrations.
It takes real ingenuity to cast the DMV in a sympathetic light, but Uber has accomplished that. Maybe once the company regroups, it will take a different tack, and realize that public acceptance of self-driving car tech requires earning trust through proactive, responsible behavior. The old “damn the regulators, full speed ahead” act doesn’t cut it any more.
The U.S. Already Has an Immigrant Registry, And Palantir’s Name Is On It
President-elect Donald Trump says he wants to use “extreme vetting” to restrict immigration and keep “bad hombres” out of the U.S. Conveniently, it seems that Palantir — the secretive security-data firm founded by Trump-supporting billionaire Peter Thiel — has already built a platform for tracking and assessing immigrants and travelers (The Verge).
Documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center describe an “Analytical Framework for Intelligence” (AFI) which began life as a kind of starting-point for searching multiple separate databases but has now become a master database itself. The documents are heavily redacted, limiting our understanding of how AFI works, but one thing is certain: Based on the number of references to Palantir, the company is knee-deep in the system.
Here’s Why Holacracy Is Fading
Managers will never stop trying out new schemes to codify the perfect way to run a company. That’s generally a good thing, but sometimes it gets out of hand — particularly when it tries to write human emotion out of the model.
Holacracy, the once-trendy rulebook for going boss-less that swept the business world by storm a few years ago, is losing some of its luster. Medium, Evan Williams’ publishing platform (which NewCo runs on), embraced Holacracy early on but ditched much of it earlier this year. Another high-profile Holacracy shop, Zappos, still “trusts the process,” but Holacracy may be responsible for high turnover there.
In Quartz, Aimee Groth assembles some of the most cogent critiques of Holacracy: It’s confusing and depends on rigidly structured meetings that ban human interaction. It treats people as if they were code. And its goal of eliminating emotion is unrealistic and dehumanizing.
Bridgewater’s Dalio Seeks Immortality in Code
Over at Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, a different utopian management saga is playing out. Ray Dalio has long run an unconventional organization — meetings are recorded, criticism is relentless, transparency is prized — that fans admire and critics see as cult-like. In the wake of press controversy this year Bridgewater has limited the radical transparency to “those who can handle it.”
Meanwhile, the company is also setting out to take Dalio’s famed management “Principles” and turn them into an algorithm (The Wall Street Journal). This “Principles Operating System” will read an enormous collection of employee data — including “Dots,” or snap peer ratings that employees record throughout the work day — and make management decisions on its own.
The long-term goal seems to be a kind of immortality for Dalio’s approach to management — making Bridgewater’s plan a kind of corporate analogue to “Singularity” theorist Ray Kurzweil’s quest for the more traditional kind of bodily immortality. The Principles program could keep a Dalio-like hand on the company tiller even after Dalio himself is gone.
Could AIs make better bosses than people? It’s theoretically possible, sure. But human connection is still awfully hard to simulate. Once Dalio passes from the scene, don’t be shocked if the survivors at Bridgewater turn around and fire their algorithmic boss.
Here’s Where Your Phone’s Battery Is Born
Lithium powers our phones, and some of the world’s largest reserves of lithium are in salt flats high in the Andes, near the border of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. The companies extracting this lithium are making a fortune, but how much of that wealth is flowing back into the indigenous communities of the region? Not much, according to The Washington Post — even though most of the mining is on their ancestral lands.
Lithium refining plants do create jobs. But the lithium mining is hogging scarce local water supplies and imperiling food sources.”We don’t eat batteries,” one protester’s sign reads.
Tech companies profess their dedication to responsible sourcing, but it’s nearly impossible to trace the supply chain and actually figure out where the lithium from places like this winds up. With mobile device and electric vehicle use booming, the demand for lithium to make batteries is only going to soar — as will the pressure on the land and people who supply their ingredients.