After software engineering and financial engineering comes linguistic engineering. Google this week raised its market capitalisation by $25bn by shuffling around some executive jobs and changing its name to Alphabet. Who knew that swapping your tiles in a game of corporate Scrabble was worth so much?
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.
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
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
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.
Traditionally, one thing upon which the British could rely was that they never heard anything about, or from, the security services, apart from in James Bond films. That has changed. First, Sir John Sawers, the new head of MI6, has Lunch with the FT and now Robert Hannigan, left, the new head of GCHQ, has written an op-ed for the paper.
Apart from indicating that the FT has become the communications channel of choice for British spies, it shows that the security services have decided that it is no longer enough to fight in the shadows. They have to get their message across loudly, in parliament and in public. Read more
Technology has its eyes on banking. Apple is expected this week to launch Apple Pay, its touchless payment system for iPhones; venture capital funds are pouring money into “fintech” start-ups; and Marc Andreessen, the technology entrepreneur, talks of “a chance to rebuild the system. Financial transactions are just numbers; it’s just information.”
Every so often, a company announces that it is considering its “strategic options” for one of its businesses, which means that it wants to ditch it as soon as possible. This would be a good time for technology companies to consider their strategic options for their global tax arrangements.
Two predictions: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, out this week, will be a bestseller; How Google Works will be rapidly forgotten. In fact, its publication may turn out to mark the peak of popular excitement about, interest in, and support for, almost everything Google touches.
In the last months of the current European Commission, Google is in deep trouble. Its effort to reach an antitrust deal with Joaquín Almunia, the competition commissioner who is to be succeeded by Margrethe Vestager, is failing amid an outcry from politicians and rivals that it is being let off the hook.
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 . . . Read more
The global system for taxing multinational companies is broken, but no country wants to alter it too radically for fear of making it worse. That was my impression after hearing international tax experts gathered in Oxford this week to discuss reform.
Reform of corporate taxation has been thrust onto the political agenda in Europe and by controversy over the tax policies of companies such as Google and Starbucks. The ease with which they can shift intellectual property and royalty payments to low tax regimes has outraged politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
The attempt by Pfizer to turn itself into a UK company for tax purposes by acquiring AstraZeneca has also drawn attention to the use of “tax inversion” by US companies. They want to use the cash piles held overseas to make acquisitions that allow them to change corporate nationality and reduce their taxes.
But while most countries agree that the system of global taxation in place since the 1920s is flawed, there was no consensus at the conference held by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation on how to fix it. Instead, most prefer to play defence. 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.
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
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.
Charter Communications’ hostile bid for Time Warner Cable, on the heels of Suntory’s agreed $16bn acquisition of Beam Inc, puts me in mind of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind:
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Like romantic poets, M&A bankers and lawyers are always trying to stir up activity, talking hopefully of their belief that deal-making is about to blossom. Perhaps there is some evidence that something is indeed stirring after the winter of recession.
Googlers: Vince Vaughn, left, and Owen Wilson in the film 'The Internship'
OK, this isn’t actually my question but one posted on Quora, the question-and-answer website. Helpfully, Sam Schillace offers an answer. And he ought to know: in 2006, he and his co-founders sold Upstartle, the maker of Writely, a word processor that worked in a web browser, to the technology company and it became the basis of Google Docs. Read more
Is Twitter showing its principles, or its lack of principals?
One striking thing about the Twitter S-1 filing for its initial public offering was that it will have a single class of shares, with equal voting rights. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn and other recent Silicon Valley entrants to the public markets, it is trusting in shareholder democracy. Read more
A new account of “the fall of BlackBerry” in Canada’s Globe and Mail sheds light on the torment of the country’s once-mighty technology champion with some new revelations of internal rifts and missed opportunities. Four stand out for me. Read more
The controlling Jack Ma
Well done, Hong Kong. By sticking to its principles and not bending to Alibaba’s pressure for an unusual board control structure, the city’s stock exchange has struck a blow for investor rights over the increasing demands of technology executives.
Not that it will make a jot of difference. Read more