Technology

Coming to San Francisco for the first time in a few years brings home how much it has been transformed. Whatever you call what is happening — a boom, a bubble or a flood of money into what was known as new technology before the “new” became redundant — has augmented the city’s reality.

Entrepreneurs tend to see regulation as the enemy of innovation and progress.
But while it is true that watchdogs can struggle to keep pace with fast-changing markets and to comprehend technology companies’ novel ways of working, it is hardly surprising they sometimes resort to random barking.

Steve Jobs’ acolytes say Becoming Steve Jobs paints a more fitting picture of the Apple founder than Walter Isaacson’s “authorised” 2011 life. Most neutral readers who plough through another 435 pages of Jobsiana, will neither know nor care. But the battle of the bios will have been worth it if it sounds the death-knell for the worst of all management memes: the leadership lesson listicle.

Whenever chief executives babble about “ecosystems” — as they often do — I picture one of those school biology diagrams of a pond: bacteria at the bottom, algae floating on top, and maybe a stickleback or two darting about below the surface.

The San Francisco trial pitting Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s oldest and most venerable venture capital firms, against Ellen Pao, a former junior partner who claims that she faced sexual harassment and discrimination, has forced an institution that prefers to remain private into the public gaze. Among other things, it has raised questions about how well John Doerr, its de facto leader, knows his own firm.

John Gapper

Here is a quiz: with which big three auto companies has Google partnered to build a self-driving car? If you guessed Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, you are wrong. The correct answer is Bosch, Continental and Delphi, three of the industry’s global suppliers.

Emma Jacobs

Vivek Wadhwa

Can a man speak for women’s experiences? It is a perennial issue, leading to charges in the Twittersphere of “mansplaining”, explaining things to women that they have more expertise on themselves.

The controversy re-emerged this week, centred on Vivek Wadhwa, a lecturer at Stanford University. A blogpost by Amelia Greenhall, a tech blogger, forcefully described her anger at Mr Wadhwa having become the go-to guy for opinions on women in the tech industry.

“Many tech feminists (such as myself) like to mock Vivek Wadhwa as “The Guy Who Gets Paid to Talk About Women in Tech,” but what he does is a serious problem that hurts women in tech in tangible ways. By appointing himself the unwanted spokesman for women in tech he has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.” Read more

Andrew Hill

Uber – arming up (Getty)

I did a double-take at Uber’s decision to fund driverless car research in partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Not because I think it is a strange departure for a company whose relationship with drivers is key to its success (though if I were a young Uber driver, I wouldn’t count on the job for retirement income). It was the juxtaposition of the names Uber and Carnegie that stood out. Read more

While I flew to Barcelona last week to speak at a conference, my iPad was at breakfast at a restaurant in Cambridge. That, at least, is what I deduced from the device’s location, transmitted to me after I activated the Find My iPhone app on my mobile phone.

Nicolas Brusson, the founder of BlaBlaCar, the French ride-sharing start-up that in June raised $100m to expand across Europe, got the biggest laugh of the week at the DLD technology conference in Munich. Asked about operating in a “single market” with 28 sets of laws and regulations, he replied: “When you start from France, everything looks simple.”

Emma Jacobs

Wobbling among the Elsa princess outfits and the dinosaur models at the Toy Fair in London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week was a four-foot, buildable robot, the $399 Meccanoid G15 KS.

With its big saucer-shaped eyes and moveable limbs, the toy has revived interest in its maker: Meccano, which was created by the British toy maker, Frank Hornby, a century ago.

Spin Master, the Canadian company that bought Meccano in 2013, hopes it will be essential kit for parents hoping to get their child interested in building and engineering.

It is very much in the spirit of the “maker movement” — an enthusiasm for manufacturing and making things, helped in part by the rise of 3D printing. Read more

John Gapper

  © Charlie Bibby

It was a kinder, gentler and more strategic Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, who took to the stage at the DLD technology conference in Munich on Sunday to offer the mayors of European cities a “new partnership” with the ride-hailing network, rather than a bitter legal and regulatory battle. Read more

William Agush, founder of Shuttersong (Bryce Vickmark)

In the popular imagination, technology entrepreneurs are scientific whizzkids barely out of college. The reality is a little different, according to research from Endeavor Insight, a US-based non-profit organisation that supports entrepreneurs.

The most successful founders of technology companies, it found, were steady mid-career specialists with a significant amount of industry experience.

Using data from social media sites including LinkedIn and interviews with 700 technology business founders in New York, Endeavor found that the average age a founder started their company was 31. More than a quarter were over 35 when their company was established.

Youth, it discovered, had no bearing on success. Using earlier research by the Harvard Business Review, Endeavor compared technology entrepreneurs’ ages and obvious measures of success – such as company headcount – and found age was irrelevant. Read more

As 2014 drew to a close, I became one of the last baby boomers to turn 50. Or possibly, I became one of the first Generation Xers to reach that milestone. Depending where you draw the line, either I am about to enjoy the fruits of half a century of increasing affluence and entitlement, having climbed to the top of the hierarchy I help sustain; or I am entering a period of resentment about my smug elders’ lockhold on the best jobs and homes and the damage they have inflicted on the environment and humankind

This has been the year of Uber. “Everyone is starting to worry about being Ubered,” Maurice Lévy, chief executive of advertising group Publicis, told the Financial Times this week. The sharing economy in which online platforms co-ordinate hundreds of thousands of freelancers to drive cabs, rent rooms (Airbnb), clean laundry (Washio) and perform other services has arrived.

Any good consultant can produce a report giving the answer the client prefers, and Kevin Mandia, the man hired by Sony’s film studio to investigate its embarrassing hacking attack, did so this week. Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures’ chief executive, emailed his staff Mr Mandia’s assessment that it was “an unparalleled and well-planned crime” involving “undetectable” malware.

Watson, the IBM supercomputer named after the company’s visionary founder, is probably best known for pummelling formidable human contestants on the US quiz show Jeopardy! Watson’s spectacular performance showed off its ability to master natural language, one of the thorniest challenges in computing.

But that was nearly four years ago and IBM’s showcase cognitive computing system is no longer playing games. The supercomputer, now sleeker and faster, is being put to myriad clever uses, from treating cancer to providing sophisticated advisory services for banks.

One obvious question that arises from this is, will systems like Watson put a lot of people out of work?

This was posed to Brad Becker, chief design officer for IBM, in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the journal of the business school of the same name. Read more

Lucy Kellaway

Twitter's Anthony Noto (Getty)

On Monday, Anthony Noto, the CFO of Twitter got into a shocking muddle and sent what was meant to be a direct message as a tweet to all his followers.

It said “I think we should buy them. He is on your schedule for Dec 15 or 16 — we will need to sell him. i have a plan.” Chaos ensued. The tweet was swiftly removed – but not before everyone got terrifically excited about it. Lots of people are now trying to work out which company it is that Twitter is so keen to buy. Other pieces are saying that the balls-up by the CFO is proof that Twitter’s technology is too clunky, and that explains why it isn’t growing as fast as it might.

Maybe; what interests me about the blunder is something else. Something far more cheering. Read more

If you have ever attended an innovation conference, you will be familiar with consultants’ graphs that show how, say, the second half of the 21st century will belong to African millennials relentlessly networking via wearable mobile devices. But what has struck me recently is not so much the extraordinary potential of the future, but the extent to which innovators draw on ingredients from the present and the past.