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. Read more
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.
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: Read more
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.
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. Read more
Suddenly, after a prolonged drought, fresh money is pouring into US digital news. The strange thing is where it is going.
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. Read more
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.” Read more
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). Read more
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. Read more
Are we seeing the emergence of a grand alliance between Google and Samsung for Android mobile devices, similar to the Microsoft-Intel alliance for Windows personal computers? It looks like that from events this week:
On Monday, Google and Samsung announced a long-term patent licensing deal. That will give the two sides access to each other’s patented technology and allow Samsung to concentrate on its legal battle with Apple. Read more
Tom Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, made a terrible mistake by comparing criticism of rich Americans – the “1 per cent” – to the Kristallnacht attack on Jews in Germany in 1938. Mr Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, has since apologised.
Thousands of chief executives, politicians, leaders of non-governmental organisations and media folk are once again assembled in Davos for their annual debates on how to improve the world. It is a worthy affair, with “stakeholders” discussing how best to combine business with societal good, like an ersatz global parliament.
Windows 8: unfairly maligned (Bloomberg)
Windows 8 – which runs on the family computer I bought last year – is growing on me. Maybe I should not let its roots go too deep, though. Unconfirmed blog chatter claims that Microsoft plans to move on from the tile-based, touchscreen operating system and plant Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) as early as next year. Read more
Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)
Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.
But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.
In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more
Mustang Mulally: the Ford CEO, in a 2015 Ford Mustang (Getty Images)
Alan Mulally has a reputation for being decisive, so his declaration that he has “no plans to do anything other than serve Ford” – crushing speculation that he could leave to run Microsoft – should probably be taken at face value.
But Ford’s chief executive has wavered over big jobs before – notably when the carmaker was trying to lure him to Dearborn from Boeing in 2006. Read more
Come dine with me: Quid's Gourley takes on SAP's Graf (right)
“I refuse to accept that small companies innovate and disrupt and large companies don’t, because that’s fundamentally wrong.”
That was the response of Peter Graf, Silicon Valley-based chief sustainability officer of SAP, to some sustained needling from Sean Gourley, co-founder of Quid, at a debate I chaired last week at the FT’s Innovate America conference on the Stanford campus. (The full video is here – things really start to kick off about eight minutes from the end). Read more