The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
Last month we asked whether running for office was the new startup. Now comes a wave of speculation that Mark Zuckerberg might be planning a run for president, in 2020 or (more likely) 2024. People around Zuckerberg say “he wants to be emperor,” writes Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair. While it’s true that the Facebook CEO is “one of the few people for whom becoming president of the United States might be a step down,” as Bilton puts it, Zuck’s plan to visit all 50 states in 2017 sounds awfully political.
Zuckerberg isn’t the only tech billionaire to pop onto the electoral radar: Politico says that Peter Thiel, Donald Trump’s Silicon Valley connection, is weighing a run for governor of California in 2018. Thiel is known to love his privacy, his contrarian sensibilities aren’t well-tailored for retail politics, and California is a tough race for a Republican today. But according to Politico, Thiel and his aides are serious about the gubernatorial race.
Members of the billionaires’ club can fund their own campaigns, which is a huge advantage. They’re also presumably looking at Trump’s victory and thinking, “This can’t be so hard.” After a few months of the Trump presidency, however, that perspective could change fast. Before you know it, the U.S. might be pining for a more conventionally experienced leader to get the country back on track.
The Rich Get Crazy More Rich
The eight richest men on earth own as much wealth together as (the poorer) half of the human race, according to a new report from Oxfam. This Group of Eight includes four tech founders: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Ellison. Last year it took 62 gazillionaires to match the wealth of humanity’s bottom half, so the riches are definitely getting more concentrated fast (The New York Times). Much of the change, however, is thanks to a downward reassessment of the assets of the proletarian three-and-a-half billion, who are apparently doing even worse than we thought.
It’s this sort of staggering inequality that the plutocrats who gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos must examine this week as they weigh why their shared ideal of global free trade is in such retreat today (Andrew Ross Sorkin in Dealbook/The New York Times). Trade isn’t going to stop. Technological disruption won’t slow down. But the changes these forces unleash can lead to very different outcomes depending on how we distribute the gains and losses.
Transparency In a Wine Bottle
Winemaker Mark Tarlov is trying to do for the wine business what Everlane has done in apparel: Appeal to online consumers by providing a full detailed breakdown of what the product costs to make (Quartz). For a $27 bottle of Tarlov’s Alit Oregon Pinot Noir, for instance, $5.66 goes to “farming and fruit,” $2.14 toward paying five employees, $3.31 for the winery and its equipment, and so on. The total cost for the bottle is $15.10, leaving a 45 percent profit margin.
It’s an eye-opening glimpse into a typically opaque business. (Quartz’s Jenni Avins also liked how the wine tasted.) At some point, maybe sooner than you think, we are going to begin to expect this kind of accounting for every product we purchase. Like a nutrition label on food, this kind of transparency doesn’t guarantee a better world, but it’s clearly one way to begin to make it possible.
Physicists Take Over the Software Shop
Software companies are stocking their engineering departments with physics wizards (Wired). This is not an entirely new phenomenon, but it has accelerated thanks to the emergence of machine learning as a central feature of the software landscape.
At the payment processor Stripe, as at many other startups and tech firms, the challenges of writing code have come to resemble those of physics problems: You have to predict the behavior of vast numbers of tiny interacting objects. You have to know how to corral and work with enormous heaps of data. And you must be good at finding efficient ways to locate patterns and aberrations from those patterns.
Physicists don’t blink at these sorts of problems. What’s in it for them? Well, the money is good. Also: Many find the issues that academic physics asks them to tackle today less stimulating than the problems that growing tech businesses hand them.
Four Ways Silicon Valley Could Stop Winning
Silicon Valley is on top today, but so, once, was Detroit. What are some of the threats on the horizon that could bring the tech capital down?
Jeremiah Owyang has four suggestions (NewCo Shift): Arrogant complacency could blind the Valley to challenges from nimbler newcomers. The region’s lack of economic diversity could haunt it in a downturn; monocultures are famously brittle. As the high-margin innovations that fuel profits get commoditized, tech could simply stop being a wealth engine. Finally, today’s artificial-intelligence breakthroughs could send tomorrow’s engineering workforce to the unemployment lines.