AI-savvy writers do a reality check on techno-optimism

How will “The Techno-Optimist Manifesto,” venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s paean to economic growth and artificial intelligence, play to a wider audience? The reviews are in from two award-winning writers who are familiar with the impact of generative AI on creative professions.

“I think it’s mostly nonsense,” science-fiction writer Ted Chiang said Oct. 19 at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle.

Chiang, a longtime Seattle-area resident, is best-known as the author of “Story of Your Life,” the novella that was adapted for the Oscar-nominated 2016 movie “Arrival.” But he’s also won acclaim as a commentator on AI’s effects for The New Yorker and other publications. Last month, Time magazine included Chiang among the 100 most influential people in AI.

The other writer on the SIFF Cinema stage was Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter who turned Chiang’s story into the script for “Arrival.” Heisserer witnessed the debate over generative AI and the future of work up close as a member of the negotiating committee for the Writers Guild of America during its recent strike against Hollywood studios.

Both Chiang and Heisserer say AI is too often unjustly portrayed as a high-tech panacea. That claim came through loud and clear in Andreessen’s manifesto, which called AI a “universal problem solver.”

“Technology can solve certain problems, but I think the biggest problems that we face are not problems that have technological solutions,” Chiang said in response. “Climate change probably does not have a technological solution. Wealth inequality does not have a technological solution. Most of these are problems of political will. … And so Marc Andreessen’s manifesto is a prime example of ignoring all of these other realities.”


OceanGate’s founder looks beyond the Titanic

When it comes to undersea adventures, can anything match seeing the 110-year-old wreck of the Titanic with your own eyes? Stockton Rush, OceanGate Expeditions’ president and chief submersible pilot, intends to find out.

Over the past couple of years, OceanGate Expeditions — and its sister company, Everett-based OceanGate Inc. — have repeatedly pulled off the difficult feat of sending a crewed submersible down to the Titanic, a luxury liner that tragically sank during its first voyage in 1912.

With Rush in the pilot’s seat, OceanGate’s Titan submersible carried scientific experts and paying customers down to a depth of 12,500 feet to survey the Titanic wreck and its surroundings. The voyages in 2021 and 2022 have attracted plenty of attention from media outlets — including the BBC, which is airing a documentary about the dives this weekend.

During a talk delivered at the GeekWire Summit on Oct. 7, Rush recapped OceanGate’s business plan and looked ahead to the company’s future frontiers.


Magic Leap shifts its strategy for augmented reality

Now that the metaverse is finally getting real, Magic Leap isn’t playing games.

When the mysterious augmented-reality venture was founded back in 2010, the idea was to transform the consumer market with a goggle-eyed headset that would let users play with robotic digital gremlins and a virtual solar system. Over the course of a decade, the Florida-based company raised $2.6 billion in funding — and opened a Seattle engineering office led by science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson.

That was then. This is now: The Seattle office was closed amid controversy in 2020, and Magic Leap is now taking aim at the enterprise market for augmented reality, or AR, rather than the consumer market.

At this week’s GeekWire Summit, Magic Leap’s chief technology officer Julie Larson-Green acknowledged that times have changed.

“There was a lot of money spent going after the consumer AR market,” she said. “It was definitely early, and a lot of money was spent on R&D, and it’s a completely different company now.”

Just last week, Magic Leap put its second-generation AR device on the market, with three models at price points between $3,299 and $4,999.


Microsoft cybersecurity chief sizes up ‘growing threat’

Microsoft’s point man on cybersecurity, Charlie Bell, acknowledges that the threat posed by “bad actors” online — including nation states and crime syndicates with their own HR departments — is rapidly rising.

“The threat is growing,” said Bell, who is Microsoft’s executive vice president for security, compliance, identity and management. “It’s amazing how organized the threat has become, and how big it’s become.”

But bit by bit, strategy by strategy, the response to the threat is becoming more organized as well, Bell said today at the GeekWire Summit. Although network security will always be a challenge, he has faith that the tide can be turned.

“We talk a lot about defensive depth,” Bell said. “It’s going to be continually layering the protection on and making the yield that somebody gets … smaller and smaller and smaller, so that you’ve got to break a lot more things before you get any value. And at some point, it becomes far more effort to break enough things to get enough value than it’s worth. And that’s when we know that we’ll fully turn the tide.”


How a hockey team uses data to shoot for business goals

When it comes to sports data, most people think about RBIs, third-down conversions or shots on goal — but Kendall Tyson, the Seattle Kraken hockey team’s vice president for strategy and business intelligence, has a completely different kind of statistics in mind.

Which videos do you watch on the Kraken’s website? Are you going to the big game on your birthday or anniversary? What kind of wine will you be ordering at Climate Pledge Arena?

“We’re bringing together ticket purchases to hockey games, ticket purchases to concerts, food and beverage data, retail data and membership data across all of the people who come to Climate Pledge Arena — and not just our fans,” Tyson said today at the GeekWire Summit. “We take that information, and we pull it into a database, and we’re creating Customer 360 profiles.”

If you’re partial to a particular video series about the Kraken, you might see a link to the latest installment at the top of your membership email. If it’s your birthday, the Kraken might offer you a deal on a private suite for the game.

And then there’s the wine.


What we need to do to get through a COVID winter

You may want to put off that big holiday dinner. Don’t have your heart set on sending the kids back to school anytime soon. And if you plan to get on a plane, be sure to wear your mask.

Those are just a few of the nuggets of advice that critical-care physician Vin Gupta and computational biologist Trevor Bedford passed along for getting through this winter in the midst of the persistent coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re definitely not ’rounding the curve,’ ” Gupta said.

Gupta and Bedford delivered a data-rich status report on the pandemic today during a virtual GeekWire Summit session moderated by CNBC technology and health reporter Christina Farr.

The bottom line is that it’s still too early to let your guard down, despite what some politicians might claim.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Triumphs and tragedies in the vaccine quest

The good news is that Operation Warp Speed, the multibillion-dollar effort to develop vaccines for COVID-19, is moving ahead at a pace that justifies its name.

The bad news is that despite all that effort, the coronavirus outbreak is still likely to be with us next year — and low- to medium-income countries such as India are likely to be hit particularly hard.

“We’re going to probably see a lot of deaths,” said Lynda Stuart, deputy director for vaccines and human immunobiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s going to be a great inequity and tragedy that will unfold.”

Stuart and other experts involved in the vaccine quest laid out their assessment of the road ahead today during the first session of the 2020 GeekWire Summit.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Amazon exec expects satellites to boost sales

Amazon's Dave Limp
Dave Limp, Amazon’s devices and services chief, chats with GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop during the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

Why is Amazon planning to put thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit? Part of the motivation is to expand Amazon’s footprint in online sales and cloud computing services, says Dave Limp, the company’s devices and services chief.

During a fireside chat at this week’s GeekWire Summit in Seattle, Limp said the primary motivation for Project Kuiper, Amazon’s future satellite mega-satellite constellation, is to offer broadband internet access to the billions of people who are currently underserved. That echoes what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the re:MARS conference in June when he talked about Project Kuiper’s genesis.

Building basic infrastructure is also the justification for Amazon’s newly announced effort to build a low-bandwidth, intermediate-range wireless network known as Sidewalk. Project Sidewalk will connect devices that take advantage of the Internet of Things — ranging from appliances to smart lights and dog collars.

Limp made clear this week that providing connectivity isn’t a purely philanthropic effort. He said that faster, wider broadband access can boost retail markets as well as the reach of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the company’s cloud platform.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


How ‘avatars’ will let you travel virtually

Kevin Kajitani
Kevin Kajitani, co-director of ANA’s Avatar division, talks about virtual teleportation as a travel experience during the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

When it was time for Kevin Kajitani to put his ideas for traveling through telepresence to the test, he chose a familiar experimental subject: his son.

Kajitani — the co-director of the Avatar division at ANA Holdings, the parent company of Japan’s biggest airline — set up a mobile Beam robot at his home north of Tokyo, crept into a closet, and rolled the robot out to greet his 2-year-old son Aoi with his face looking out from the video screen.

“The first time I approached my son with the avatar, he said, ‘Papa!’ And we started playing,” Kajitani said Oct. 9 at a lunch talk sponsored by ANA at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


FTC official explains why he worries about Big Tech

Rohit Chopra
FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra talks about taking on Big Tech at the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

During his first year and a half on the Federal Trade Commission, Rohit Chopra has built a reputation as Big Tech’s toughest critic — and today at the GeekWire Summit, he looked back to a decade-old corporate crisis to explain why he’s being so tough.

“If we can rewind a decade ago and think about the roots of the financial crisis, a key part of that problem was the failure of our regulators,” he said on the main stage at the Hyatt Regency Seattle. “A lot of the smoke signals were there, and there were a lot of excuses and a lot of inaction.”

Chopra, who helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the 2008 financial breakdown that sparked the Great Recession, drew a parallel between banks that were thought to be too big to fail and present-day tech companies that some now see as too big to compete against.

“I see the smoke signals now of really some troubles with Big Tech. … Do we live in a country where you can start a business to challenge them, or do you just have to start one to eventually sell and surrender to them?” he said. “I hope that some of the lessons from the financial crisis do inform how we think about some of these problems in industry structure, and make sure that we are holding everyone accountable, big or small.”

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