Technology

John Gapper

The problems erupting over Google’s implementation of the EU’s new “right to be forgotten” rule were predictable. And I say that because I, among many others, predicted them in May after the European Court of Justice delivered its ruling:

A line will soon form to knock out revealing photographs, bits of tawdry gossip, legal orders, past convictions and anything that anyone finds an embarrassment. Before long, people’s search results will start to resemble official biographies, recording only the facts that they want other people to know, and not the remainder of reality . . . 

There is an argument that the latest Facebook scandal is a lot of fuss about nothing. A week-long psychological experiment on 690,000 users in 2012 that did no damage and had a barely noticeable effect hardly registers on the scale of research abuses over the years.

Andrew Hill

Clayton Christensen (Peter Foley/Bloomberg)

Clay Christensen is a gentle man, of devout Mormon faith, prone to sentimentality and beloved by many – not least for his lessons to students on how to find fulfilment, which he turned into an unexpected bestseller, How Will You Measure Your Life?

But the avuncular Harvard Business School star is hot under the collar about this week’s New Yorker attack on the book (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and theory (disruptive innovation) for which he is best known.

What seems to have made him particularly angry is the fact that the author, Jill Lepore, who is also a Harvard academic, did not drop by to chat to him about her detailed allegations that his theory does not stand up. 

Andrew Hill

Outsiders have been marvelling at the uncanny skills of robots for decades. In 1978, commentators on the FT’s “Technical Page” were wowed by a machine called Puma (“programmable universal manipulator for assembly”) that had the “dexterity and accuracy [to] insert lamps into automobile instrument panels”. These days, Puma would look about as nimble as a first world war tank. My colleague Tanya Powley writes in the last of the FT’s series on robots at work that a Danish company has developed a machine that “can pack millions of eggs without crushing them”, while lightweight collaborative robots work alongside humans.

Missing, though, from most accounts of how automation will transform the workplace is a similar sense of wonder at the dexterity of managers as they adapt their human skills to the demands of the sophisticated machinery around them. 

I met Carey Eaton only once, at a conference five weeks ago in Switzerland, far from Kenya, where he grew up, lived and built a thriving internet business. He was engaging, upbeat and generous with his time and knowledge.

John Gapper

The Chinese backlash against the US decision to charge five Chinese military officers with cyber-espionage has started. Of the US companies likely to be affected, Cisco is the most obvious.

The New York Times, quoting Caixin magazine and the Xinhua news agency, says China plans to make security assessments of foreign equipment entering the country to ensure that it cannot be used for espionage: 

Perhaps the European Court of Justice wants to equal the US Supreme Court in a display of poor judgment. That might explain why it ruled this week that a 19-year-old directive means Google must remove some search results that people do not like.

Andrew Hill

Rajeev Suri, newly appointed head of Nokia, has plenty to tackle at the Finnish group, but one challenge relates to the part of the business he no longer oversees – the handset business that has finally transferred to Microsoft’s ownership.

As head of Nokia Solutions and Networks, Mr Suri developed the telecoms equipment business, which now makes up the largest part of “new Nokia”, more or less autonomously from the devices business. Its culture is likely to dominate the Finnish group as it now evolves. But what of the deep-rooted residual link with the handsets in our pockets?

Even if the Nokia brand is quickly stripped from smartphones, I wonder whether the Finnish group will experience the business equivalent of “phantom limb syndrome” – twitching and wincing as though the amputated devices arm is still attached to the rest of the body corporate. 

Suddenly, after a prolonged drought, fresh money is pouring into US digital news. The strange thing is where it is going.

John Gapper

Satya Nadella’s unveiling of Office for the iPad is a significant moment for Microsoft, and his leadership of the company. I wonder if it will also be an incentive to improve the product itself?

I write this because Word in particular still strikes me as a product that is too big to fail. The network effect of so many companies using it makes individuals follow suit but it is bloated and irritatingly full of bugs. 

You would be quite happy to allow someone else to open the boot of your car and drop off your groceries while you are absent. You would trust random strangers to deliver your new shoes on their way past your home. You would gladly accept a prescription-drug order from an unidentified flying object hovering outside your door. All to avoid going the extra mile to pick up cheap goods ordered online in person.

The newest academic paper on Ben Edelman’s website is a 61-pager called “Price Coherence and Adverse Intermediation”. It is fair to say it has not attracted as much attention as the 3,500-word blogpost “The Darker Side of Blinkx” he posted on January 28. Two days later, shares in the UK-listed online video search company fell by a third.

Nadella channelling Zuckerberg (photo: Microsoft)

Executive biographies keep a low profile on most company websites. Not so at Microsoft, which has been showing off its new chief executive, Satya Nadella, on a special microsite of the kind usually used to hawk things that consumers can actually buy. This is unlikely to persuade anyone to buy a PC or a Surface tablet. What, then, is the point?

Visitors see a list of Mr Nadella’s qualifications (Education: BS, MSCS, MBA; Hobbies: poetry). A video shows the new CEO answering questions such as “Why do you think Microsoft is going to be successful?”, which gives you an idea of how useful he might be in a boardroom. The blurb strikes an aspirational tone: “Nadella wanted to complete his master’s degree and take the Microsoft job. He did both.” 

Adam Jones

Punish the unpunctual: Ben Horowitz (Getty)

Andreessen Horowitz, the Californian venture capital investor, is strict about ensuring that its staff do not keep entrepreneurs waiting.

Ben Horowitz, the firm’s rap-loving co-founder, has revealed that latecomers to its pitch meetings are fined $10 a minute. The penalty for getting caught using a smartphone or computer is $100, meanwhile.

Mr Horowitz told this week’s Startup Grind conference that the stance was a product of his own experience of building a business (he helped create Opsware, sold to HP for $1.6bn in 2007 before founding the VC firm with Marc Andreessen). 

Andrew Hill

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has produced an opening memo to employees that is rich in repetitive rhetoric but short on substance. Here is what he really meant.

From: Satya Nadella

To: All Employees

Date: Feb. 4, 2014

Subject: RE: Satya Nadella – Microsoft’s New CEO

Today is a very humbling day for me.

“Humility” is the appropriate tone for CEOs these days, but, believe me, when I got the nod I was punching the air like Steve Ballmer on an adrenaline high