A couple of days ago, I pointed out the risks we all have from companies that fall outside what is derisively known as “big tech.” Whether it is utilities playing god with the connected thermostats or insurance companies mucking around with your rates based on what your car sensors report back to them — the devils we don’t know are the most considerable risk in our new connected life. 

Last evening, the news broke about many My Book owners, a device made by storage giant Western Digital, seeing their data “remotely” wiped out. Western Digital, whose brands include Sandisk and G-Technology, offered a statement to Ars Technica that is a bit of a headscratcher. On Twitter, Lon Seidman pointed out that the WD product has been discontinued, and its firmware was last updated in 2015.  

I am sure more details on the WD incident will emerge shortly. However, it does reinforce my original point: we might hate the “big tech,” but in reality, they are likely to do more to help avoid such incidents. 

June 25, 2021, San Francisco

This week, Tim O’Reilly provided much-needed perspective in his essay “The End of Silicon Valley As We Know It.” If you can overlook the clickbait title, this essay is among the most valuable things you can read to understand our present and think about our future. While there has been much hoopla about folks leaving Silicon Valley, new distributed work philosophies, and other daily headlines, these are primarily distractions from a deeper, more profound change afoot in what we call Silicon Valley.

The Algorithmic Accountability Index: Ellery Roberts Biddle and Jie Zhang have created an accountability index for the algorithmic economy. They looked for companies’ answers to some fundamental questions about algorithms: How do you build and train them? What do they do? What standards guide these processes? An essential piece. 

How the race for autonomous cars started: We might be on the brink of the future where we all zoom around in self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles. It is easy to forget that, 16 years ago, autonomous driving was a chaotic dream. In his new book, Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car, Alex Davies chronicles what brought us to this moment. Wired magazine recently ran an excerpt, and you should check it out.

Did Tech prevent the World from a bigger meltdown?: While we have read many articles about technology becoming a dominant force in our lives during the pandemic, this article in Foreign Policy asks (and answers) the question from a different angle. I liked the nuanced argument, and that is why I recommend it for your weekend reading.

The cassette tape creator is dead: In time, what was a disruptive technology becomes a part of our life that we don’t even notice. One hundred billion units later, cassette tape is one of those technologies. It kicked off the ability to personalize the curation of music. You can draw a straight line between those tapes and Spotify playlists. Lou Ottens, the engineer who created the cassette tape, died recently. Ottens also helped create the compact disc, which ultimately killed the cassette tape. His obituary is a reminder that only very few are fortunate enough to create technology that touches everyone’s lives.