It’s trendy for companies to say they’re thinking long term. Unfortunately, for many businesses “long term” equates to “next quarter’s earnings.” And then there’s Danny Hillis.
Hillis is best-known as an inventor and entrepreneur (he was a pioneer in commercial parallel supercomputers and artificial intelligence). He’s co-chairman of Applied Minds, a research and development company that led to entities like Metaweb (a semantic web innovator) and Applied Proteomics (developed a new way of measuring protein in blood). Previously, among many other things, Hillis was an executive for Walt Disney Imagineering and founded the MIT spinoff Thinking Machines. In his free time, he’s done things like build a computer out of Tinkertoys.
Beyond Big Oil. Even if you don’t believe in Peak Oil (that’s an argument for another day), Big Oil is in for big changes (Bloomberg). “We’re more a gas company than an oil company,” says Shell’s CEO, and that’s an extraordinary statement. The company’s recent $54 billion takeover of BG Group solidified Shell’s standing as a leading player in gas as well as oil, and many are considering gas the key transitional fuel as the world shifts from oil to renewables. That transition may happen very quickly and in an ugly way for incumbents–investment in renewables is growing rapidly and there’s already a glut in the global LNG market–but Shell seems to be diversifying as quickly as it can.
A Deficit of Idealism: Tim O’Reilly on the Next Economy. In the latest entry of our NewCo Shift Dialogs series, our CEO and editor in chief John Battelle talks to O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly about a broad range of topics, from the responsibility of corporations to why universal basic income, while tempting, might not be the right solution for our current needs.
A More Inclusive Workplace. At a time when many Muslims are feeling increasingly unwelcome in the U.S., more businesses are seeking to maintain Muslim-friendly workplaces. As Bloomberg reports, “The motivations may be principled, but the moves are practical. Managers want to keep talented workers and avoid conflict, and litigation.” The practices companies are implementing are modest (such as making sure major events don’t conflict with Muslim holidays and eliminating pork and alcohol from events), yet they add up to a much more welcome environment. And companies battling for talent are smart to make these changes: by 2035, Muslims will be the second largest non-Christian group in the U.S.
Too Late for a Turnaround. Yahoo announced quarterly results yesterday and they stunk, but that’s not the point. That’s what happens to technology companies that miss dynastic shifts. But as the complaints about CEO Marissa Mayer gain volume, and as the company lurches toward an inevitable sale, it’s worth remembering what former top executives of the company, all but one of them male, did to make the company such a mess before Mayer took over. When the company is sold, many more people will cite Mayer’s recent missteps rather than, say, Jerry Yang’s decade-old decision to spurn a Microsoft purchase. The Washington Post asks, do women in tech get pushed more onto the ‘glass cliff’? Tech turnarounds are notoriously hard, and Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says women are often “given a shorter timeframe to show success.” Sure, Mayer got four years, but she was given a company that was mismanaged for at least ten.
The Newsbots Are Here. Robots are covering the Republican National Convention. That’s not an insult about network anchors; The Washington Post has sent a robot to roll across the convention floor in Cleveland (Engadget). It’s a telepresence robot, streaming to Periscope, that aims to ask questions of delegates and officials it encounters. BuzzFeed is experimenting, too, with a Facebook Messenger chatbot that queries those on its channel in Cleveland and elsewhere, and makes decisions on what to “cover” based on those inputs. Both these news organizations were famously kicked off the campaign bus by the Trump organization during the primaries; they both have live presences at the convention but they’re taking advantage of their returned access to try new things. Still, it’s humans with human memories that are emerging from the convention with data-centric stories like this one (Quartz)
We Can Handle the Truth. One of the key attributes of a NewCo is that it makes decisions based on data, on facts. So it’s particularly distressing when we see truth denigrated in the public arena, whether it’s Brexit advocates refuting their claims hours after they won the referendum or two American presidential candidates having, to different degrees, complicated relationships with truth-telling. Katharine Viner’s long read in The Guardian details how we got into this mess (she blames the imperatives of Internet publishing); more important, it offers some ideas on how we might get out of it by puncturing the filter bubble, modulating the clickbait, and other actions. Her argument is that technology got us into this mess and it’ll be technology that gets us out of it. “The truth,” she writes, “is a struggle,” but it’s a struggle worth undertaking so citizens, like NewCos, can make smart decisions about their future.
Microsoft’s Privacy Victory. As discussed in our recent Shift Dialogs talk with Microsoft president Brad Smith, the Redmond giant is involved in some serious litigation with the US government, this time as plaintiff. Yesterday the company won an appeal on overseas data searches (New York Times). An appeals court “reversed a lower court’s ruling that Microsoft must turn over email communications for a suspect in a narcotics case stored in a Microsoft data center in Dublin.” Microsoft argued that the earlier ruling would make it increasingly difficult for companies to resist attempts by less savory governments to obtain customer data. Plenty of news organizations filed briefs supporting Microsoft; the Department of Justice released a statement saying it is considering options. For now, though, domestic searches stay domestic.
Tech Execs Line Up Before Republican Convention. Peter Thiel, one of the best-known and most-controversial tech investors, is speaking at the Republican Convention in Cleveland next week, but there are plenty of prominent tech voices that won’t be joining him. In this open letter from technology sector leaders on Donald Trump’s candidacy for President, which we’ve published, more than 100 inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, researchers, and business leaders (among them executives at Google, Qualcomm, Slack, Twilio, and Yelp) lay out the case against Trump’s “divisive” candidacy and, instead “embrace an optimistic vision.” Whichever side you’re on (and we’re not playing false equivalence here; John Battelle, our founder and CEO, signed the letter, as did Ev Williams, founder of Medium, which hosts our website), it is welcome to see tech moguls focus on issues bigger than their own companies.
This week we introduce the Shift Dialogs, NewCo’s new video series featuring in-depth conversations with the leaders driving significant change across business, culture, and society. Our first episode features Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft. We’ve also released the second episode, featuring Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool.