As 2017 ends, and thinking about 2018

Let’s do a 2017 wrap up. It’s so in the moment.

In tech, 2017 belonged to 2 things, for me. Not Facebook & Google, or Foogle, or Googbook or whatever the fuck people are calling the media monopoly.

Not even close.

One: Uber

Damned, but this year was Uber’s year. And not in a good way. They tumbled from crap to worse and back again, and touched on so many of the scandalous themes of the year – rape, harrassment, corporate espionage, AI, Trump, hubris, regional sovereignty and more. The continual whirlpool of Uber scandals was shocking both in how entrenched they were in the company culture, but also just how perfectly indicative they were of so many things that are wrong with culture, the tech industry, gender imbalance and corporate greed.

Top note goes to Susan Fowler, who was not the first, but is probably the most significant voice in exposing Uber’s culture of harrassment. It was a powerful read, and has helped shine a light and bring more attention to the underlying cultural problems that infect Uber, as well as so much of modern corporate culture.

Second goes to Richard Jacobs, former Uber manager of global intelligence, a role with an already interesting title, who finished off 2017 with accusations that Uber operated an internal ‘ThreatOps’ (ie hacking and fraud) group who did some shady hacker style workings against competitors and more. This is on TOP of the other stories this year about the internal Greyball program Uber ran to disrupt law enforcement activities, use of secret messaging apps, regular spying they did on competitors and customers and more.

Third goes to Dara Khosrowshahi, the already embattled CEO. If anything, this note is to say good luck. You’ll need it, with a vindictive former CEO, a board and investor group beset by very open division, and the troubles of converting the culture.

Let’s drop to the bottom then, with third worst Uber-thing this year being the overall bullshit halo around Uber. Their self-proclaimed mission to change transportation is still as close to pure bullshit I’ve ever seen, and the recent EU ruling helps me sleep better at night in my belief. If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck and puts signage with paid drivers like a taxi company, it’s a taxi company. Uber has yet to prove its worth outside of any of that. Has it disrupted taxis? Yes – in the same way any well funded new entrant into an industry would. Has it disrupted delivery? Yes, in the same way. Disruption doesn’t always equal progress. Or innovation. Or value. I’m yet to see how the money black hole that is Uber is disrupting transport beyond some fancy ideas about drones, AI, flying cars etc. None of which are new, and all of which are being executed better and faster at other companies.

Which leads to the second worst Uber-thing. Anthony “AI is my God” Lewandowski, the ex Waymo who grabbed as much trade secret info as he could when departing Waymo and ended up running Uber’s automated car division…with said secrets in tow. Soon after being fired from Uber, Lewandowski has resurfaced…by founding a Church based on AI. Incredible. Have a read of the article – it’s the most self-serving thing I’ve read – and is quite openly marketing itself as a tax break.

It’s a good point to name the biggest problem with Uber in 2017. The guy who made Uber, and caused most of the problems above by both being an idiot, and not being able to get rid of idiots. Travis Kalanick, the ex-CEO who would so dearly love to take it back and epitomises the stereotypial “techbro”. It will take a lot of work to clean out his effect. Good luck Uber, you’ll need it. The investors haven’t abandoned ship, and with interest such as Softbank, it’s clear that people believe in Uber, and it’s here to stay.

Two: Blockchain

No, not Bitcoin or other Crypto. But blockchain itself, the architecture at the base of all of it. I’m fascinated by where blockchain could go. And why. Let’s be straight – blockchain didn’t hit the big time in 2017. It’s still far from it and the advances are interesting but far from real world. There’s a long, complicated road ahead for blockchain, something that is recognised from corporates, to regulatory bodies, to startup/investors and more.

Blockchain is still, to use the old adage, “the wild west” – very early days where there’s more shit than gold. But this was the year that blockchain really started to get into the public consciousness, with front page articles around bitcoin, and trying to explain blockchain. And it’s the year when it started to get taken seriously, with some really good concepts bearing fruit, and some really good ideas getting taken seriously.

Top note goes to e-Estonia, the digital identity system being used in Estonia, both to provide security as well as innovative identity management to the small nation. Having been subject to a wide range of (almost certainly politically driven) cyber attacks in 2007, Estonia has built something quite intriguing and world leading in using blockchain to run their national identity verification and records.

Digital identity still has a very long way to go, especially in complex situations – blockchain has long been thought of as a solution, and this is one of many excellent initial forays.

Next up is Powerledger, the Australian startup who have focussed on using blockchain as a means for users to trade surplus energy. Clever usage, and they’ve gained some good investment, including a chunk of government funding. I like it because it’s innovative, it’s clever and it explores the dynamics of trust and mechanisms of shared assets outside a traditional marketplace – all essential within the exploration of blockchain. I’m looking forward to more of this, and more of Powerledger.

Third note of course has to be bitcoin. For its rise and rise to over AUD20k (I’m not even going to get into WHY it’s not worth that), and for becoming the de facto bad guy of blockchain and crypto. The (generally accepted) overvaluation of BTC is a a great thing to watch – along with the stupidity of ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), these are bringing some great caution and highlight the need to smart regulation, early enough in the life of blockchain and crypto. Yes, the Winklevoss twins are now Bitcoin billionaires (and let’s be honest, good on them/they’re rich no matter what so yeah, sure) but I was sorely tempted to give this third note to the SEC, who are starting to publicly stamp more authority on the crypto world. In the end though, the SEC haven’t actually DONE anything yet.

Everyone is watching China closely in this space. Heck, China is being watched in every space….

Singles Day/Global Shopping, whatever they call it. USD25bn in 24 hours. JUST on Alibaba. If you include their nearest competitor jd.com, it was around USD40bn. That’s 8x the revenue of Black Friday in USA. Yowza.

Baidu has launched its “Raven” smart home speaker, an odd creature with an ambitious goal of trying to understand and work with the mass of Chinese dialects.

Tencent overtook Facebook in market value. Or, more officially, shit-ton of money. Almost every second movie I see these days has Tencent Pictures as one of the companies involved, and WeChat continues to be completely underestimated in both reach and platform depth.

We’re in for a fantastic 2018.

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