As We're All Living, Working, And Socializing Via The Internet... MIT Tech Review Says It Proves Silicon Valley Innovation Is A Myth

from the say-what-now? dept

I get that people are getting a bit of cabin fever and perhaps that's impacting people's outlook on the world, but a recent piece by David Rotman in the MIT Tech Review is truly bizarre. The title gets you straight to the premise: Covid-19 has blown apart the myth of Silicon Valley innovation. Of course, even the paragraph that explains the thesis seems almost like a modern updating of the famous "what have the Romans ever done for us?" scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian:

Silicon Valley and big tech in general have been lame in responding to the crisis. Sure, they have given us Zoom to keep the fortunate among us working and Netflix to keep us sane; Amazon is a savior these days for those avoiding stores; iPads are in hot demand and Instacart is helping to keep many self-isolating people fed. But the pandemic has also revealed the limitations and impotence of the world’s richest companies (and, we have been told, the most innovative place on earth) in the face of the public health crisis.

Wait, what? That doesn't seem "lame" at all. That kinda seems central to keeping much of the world safe, sane, and connected. And the next paragraph seems equally ridiculous:

Big tech doesn’t build anything. It’s not likely to give us vaccines or diagnostic tests. We don’t even seem to know how to make a cotton swab. Those hoping the US could turn its dominant tech industry into a dynamo of innovation against the pandemic will be disappointed.

Leaving aside the hilariously wrong "big tech doesn't build anything," this paragraph reads like "how dare pharmaceutical companies not build video conferencing software." Besides, tons of big tech companies are doing a lot (beyond the admitted list above) to help during the pandemic, including Google's and Apple's efforts to help with contact tracing, and then, of course, there are plenty of examples of the big tech companies of Silicon Valley trying to do more to help out in the pandemic as well. No matter what you think of Elon Musk, engineers at Tesla have been working on using a bunch of existing parts to build ventilators:

And that's already received praise (and some constructive suggestions) from healthcare professionals.

Basically, the entire premise of Rotman's article makes no sense at all, and he just keeps repeating it like if he says it enough, maybe people will believe him:

The pandemic has made clear this festering problem: the US is no longer very good at coming up with new ideas and technologies relevant to our most basic needs.

Except that we are -- as his own article makes clear. The fact that internet companies aren't magically creating vaccines isn't a condemnation of Silicon Valley innovation. I mean, at best, you could argue that it's a failure of big pharma innovation, but it seems a bit early to be saying that one way or another given that we're just a few months into this thing, and a bunch of innovations that are helping to rapidly create a vaccine, like genetic testing, have also developed with help from Silicon Valley.

The only way Rotman supports his premise is to argue that software/internet companies are producing software/internet products, rather than manufacturing physical goods. But, again, that's like saying "why doesn't Pfizer create videoconferencing software." It's not their business. And, perhaps Rotman should get out of Cambridge and come to Silicon Valley (well, post pandemic) to learn about how there'a a hardware renaissance happening in Silicon Valley, in part thanks to new innovations like 3D printing.

The whole article reads like Rotman had a premise, and then wrote the article despite the near total lack of any actual evidence to support the premise. It's a bad look for MIT's Tech Review, but what good has MIT ever brought the world anyway?

Filed Under: david rotman, hardware, innovation, pandemic, remote work, silicon valley, social distancing, software, technology


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 7:51am

    Well if that's the standard they want to use...

    Seems to me that David Rotman just shot their own foot, as while they are arguing that silicon valley isn't doing anything good because they're focused(mostly) on software rather than hardware in another field, they just opened themselves up to similar criticism.

    After all, what exactly are they accomplishing by pushing such an absurd article? They aren't designing new medical devices, they aren't researching new medicines, they aren't providing any help to actual victims, so what good are they doing again? Sure, you might say 'that's not their job', but their own argument shoots that rebuttal right down and makes clear that if you're not helping in the correct way then your efforts can be brushed aside as meaningless, and since their article most certainly doesn't fit into those categories then clearly they and their job are just as useless as the tech sector they are complaining about.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:49am

      Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

      I don't see MIT solving the pandemic either. I guess they're a useless institution.

      Seriously though, just because some tech companies are wealthy they are expected to solve all of the world's problems? WTF? That this comes from anything related to MIT does not speak highly of MIT.

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      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 12:36pm

        just because some tech companies are wealthy they are expected to solve all of the world's problems?

        Arguably, the monies hoarded by these companies (well, technically, their wealthy executives and hedge fund managers and such) could be used to better all of society. In that way, those companies are doing less to help the world than a poor person who donates a few dollars of their weekly paycheck to a charity for feeding people who are even worse off. That poor person is giving more of themselves to the world than they might even be able to afford. Why can’t techbros do the same?

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:12pm

          Re:

          Why limit that to "techbros"? Plenty of other companies have very deep pockets and aren't contributing. Many are taking advantage of the PPP program and stealing money from real small businesses (and their employees). Why must the tech companies shoulder the burden while every other large corporation steals from the poor?

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        • identicon
          Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 7:26pm

          Re:

          The same could be said for you - how much of your paycheck are you donating? What are you going without so that someone else doesn't have to. Yeah, any single techbro could do more than any single one of us, but all together we dwarf them.

          And they're not 'hoarding' money. Most of any of the techbro's value is in the company they own, not in dollars sitting in a bank somewhere.

          Thirdly, their value to society comes from the products and services they create and offer. That's vastly more valuable than the money they have - the average return to an entrepreneur is around 3% of the value their product creates.

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 8:30pm

            Re: Re:

            You want innovation? Look no farther than the patent office. Americans are the most creative and inspiring inventors in the world, in large part because of the USPTO.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2020 @ 9:09am

      Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

      After all, what exactly are they accomplishing by pushing such an absurd article?

      Clickbaiting like-minded idiots.

      The prevailing idiocy in the US is "if it's not immediately effecting me, it doesn't exist / nothing bad will happen. Damned be any and all evidence to the contrary."

      Tech company not producing a vaccine? "What a bunch of useless nerds."

      Thousands of people not dying due to containment efforts? "See? The idiot's models are worthless and we shouldn't have listened to them."

      People may die if containment efforts are lifted too early? "Fucking dictators won't let me go to CHURCH or GET MAH HAIR DONE!"

      Masks should be worn in public and people should maintain safe distances from each other? "We aint warin no mask. How are we supposed to EAT at a RESTAURANT if we wear a mask?"

      Abortions allowed to continue during a global pandemic? "MAH RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS! THEY BE KILLING BABIES! Oh? They're here now? Have some bootstraps kid, I'm not going to adopt or support you in anyway. I'm not ready to make such a commitment right now."

      Next year's health insurance premiums going up because the companies want to keep profiting off of the sick during a global pandemic? "Thanks Obama / Illegal Immigrants."

      The other idiocy is failure to admit fault. So never expect any of these idiots to correct themselves or their behavior. As long as these Arrogant people exist, the media will gladly pander to them. After all, the arrogant are the easiest to sell a story to.

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      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 1 May 2020 @ 4:45am

        Re: Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

        "Abortions allowed to continue during a global pandemic?"

        That particular debate is dumb at the best of times, but how stupid would you have to be to think that blocking legal abortion providers would stop abortions from happening, especially if the pandemic a major reason why a woman is choosing to have one to begin with?

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 1:10pm

          Re: Re: Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

          PaulT, my apologies … I meant the above comment for the 9:09 30 April guy above you.

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 1:06pm

        Re: Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

        Mr. Fighter Of Strawmen -

        If you're this unhinged about Americans (I mean actual Americans, not paper ones) being uneasy with this economy-destroying, small-business-killing mass hysteria being pushed by the media, abetted by thoughtpolicing corporations, defined by the federal government, and willingly submitted to with few objections...

        … imagine how much you'll actually panic when there's a real emergency. You make Chicken Little look like Epictetus.

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        • icon
          nasch (profile), 1 May 2020 @ 1:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

          … imagine how much you'll actually panic when there's a real emergency.

          So do you think the numbers are made up, or that a contagious disease that has killed 37,000 people in three months (in the US) is no big deal? I wonder about the people who think this is much ado about nothing, whether they don't believe the reports about the sick and dead, or if they're fine with it. Probably some of each.

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          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 1 May 2020 @ 11:40pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

            "So do you think the numbers are made up, or that a contagious disease that has killed 37,000 people in three months (in the US) is no big deal?"

            Look at the link I just posted. The dead in the US are double that now, and even those are likely underreported due to testing availability, etc.

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        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 1 May 2020 @ 11:38pm

          Re: Re: Re: Well if that's the standard they want to use...

          "imagine how much you'll actually panic when there's a real emergency"

          The current figures show 1.1 million Americans infected and 65,000 dead, with around 2,000 new dead every day. For context, that's now the equivalent of 9/11 every 36 hours, and the number of American dead is now well past the number of Americans that died during the Vietnam War. That's with the current lockdown and other extreme measures in place.

          https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

          How many have to die for you to consider it a real emergency?

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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 8:03am

    This sounds like Trump and his household disinfectants

    David Rotman: 'Bits and bytes properly injected can cure the coronavirus, so why hasn't Silicon Valley come up with the correct combination of bits and bytes.'

    Answer: 'Ask Harry Potter'.

    Conclusion: "Sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that".

    David Rotman: 'I am so disappointed'.

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  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 9:06am

    Last Paragraph

    Here is what the article is about:

    "So yes, let’s build! But as we do, let’s keep in mind one of the most important failures revealed by covid-19: our diminished ability to innovate in areas that truly count, like health care and climate change. The pandemic could be the wake-up call the country needs to begin to address those problems.
    "

    Sigh.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:06am

      Re: Last Paragraph

      If he had something other than complete bullshit in the preceding paragraphs that might be worth something. Like detailing the lukewark record of Silicon Valley medical start up attempts at automating medicine. Even a captain obvious series of statements on the limitations of software would have been better than starting off condemning them for not doing the impossible which isn't their job. You might as well blame High School students for failing to prevent a recession.

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    • icon
      crade (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:05am

      Re: Last Paragraph

      The trouble is his conclusion isn't supported by the rest of the article.

      He puts up nothing to support the idea that our ability to innovate in areas that truly count is "diminished"?

      He's basically saying that big tech companies doing a good job at what they do is not helping other areas innovate (unsupported/bullshit) and is somehow responsible for his perceived (maybe? but again, unsupported in the article) lack of innovation in health care and global warming. As if the only feasible reason we haven't cured the common cold yet is that google made a good search engine.

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    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:09pm

      Re: Last Paragraph

      So the country that innovates in health care literally more than the entire rest of the world by several times is a failure for not innovating enough in health care....

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:17pm

        Re: Re: Last Paragraph

        Can you really say that the U.S. is a major innovator in health care when its morally-bankrupt healthcare system leaves millions without the help they need?

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 2:36pm

          Re: Re: Re: Last Paragraph

          That health system is the result of morally bankrupt politicians, and a large percentage of the population who will go against anything that has the label socialism attached to it..

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 8:55pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Last Paragraph

            Yeah, pretty much the only non-corrupt politician is Donald J. Trump, and his family, and friends, and supporters. Outside that group, yeah, you’re right, they’re corrupt.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 9:51pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Last Paragraph

              If he's so non-corrupt then why haven't you injected yourself with bleach, Hamilton?

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      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:54pm

        Re: Re: Last Paragraph

        "So the country that innovates in health care literally more than the entire rest of the world by several times"

        Citation needed. Depending on the criteria used, such claims tend to be very skewed and/or ignore fundamental reasons why other countries don't appear so high on the list, or even the publicly funded research elsewhere that the US companies built on while being uniquely motivated by profit, a primary motive not present elsewhere.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2020 @ 1:22pm

        Re: Re: Last Paragraph

        Please define what you mean by innovate.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 9:53am

    Since Rotman doesn't understand that not all knowledge transfers between fields, somebody should say something along the lines of this to him:

    "You write articles, right? Well you need to go code a video game now."

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    • identicon
      Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:54am

      Re:

      He needs to go and try to code a vaccine.

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 1:16pm

      Slow down there, man

      You're coming awfully close to 'hate speech' there, buddy.

      You are aware that 'learn to code' is corporation-defined hate speech, right? (Unless it's being addressed to icky blue collar cisgender white men.)

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  • identicon
    Michael, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:11am

    There's no hope for MIT Tech Review

    I gave up on this publication well over a decade ago. It's always been more about axe-grinding and making utterly fales, unsupported statements than providing actual information.

    I reads like a college newspaper -- juvenile writing, unsourced "facts," false premises and equivalencies -- because that's what it is.

    Like many (including Techdirt, I guess), I thought that the "MIT" moniker gave it some claim to legitmacy. We've all been proven wrong over and over again.

    A quick look at the publication's Wikipedia page lists a bunch of awards they've won, all from Folio Magazine. No one will be shocked to learn that Folio Magazine is not a technology magazine, and in fact is basically the magazine equivalent of "Entertainment Weekly."

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  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:13am

    Is the same "MIT Technology Review" that fell hook, line, and sinker for Shiva Ayyadurai's scam?

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  • icon
    lorgskyegon (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:17am

    SPLITTERS!

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  • icon
    mrtraver (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:33am

    Old man yells at cloud

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  • identicon
    Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:48am

    But the pandemic has also revealed the limitations and impotence of the world’s richest companies (and, we have been told, the most innovative place on earth) in the face of the public health crisis.

    This someone writing to the MIT paper has obviously not gone to MIT.

    A 'tech' company is not fungible - no matter how hard a startup pivots - and you can't take, say, a company developing the next stupid thing for thots to put on their faces in AR and have them turn around and magic up a solution to a pandemic.

    What were they expecting Apple or Google to do? How fast were they expecting that to happen? Its not like Abby and Timothy can sit down at the same keyboard after drinking a lot of Coke and pound out code. It doesn't work that way.

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    • icon
      nasch (profile), 30 Apr 2020 @ 1:59pm

      Re:

      It doesn't work that way.

      Are you suggesting NCIS got something wrong?

      https://thumbs.gfycat.com/RapidYawningChickadee-size_restricted.gif

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 1:37pm

      Perhaps Misinterpreting

      Agammamon, I think you and others here are perhaps misinterpreting what the writer was saying.

      I'll suggest he was not saying a tech company developing the next stupid thing for THOTs to bandy about their faces to losers should be able to pivot to magicking up medical solutions. I think he was saying that it's stupid for tech companies to concentrate on frivolous nonsense and entertainment instead of concentrating on actual innovation and useful tech.

      If he indeed is saying that, I agree wholeheartedly. I agree with his whole first paragraph (except the tech for food delivery part, that's actually useful). I don't think we'd be in this state if we hadn't shipped our manufacturing jobs overseas and imported people to love our children for us and to mow our lawns (instead of paying the neighbor's kid). Our praise of corporations keeping us fed with a steady diet of moron-level electronic pap, Orwellian propaganda, and distracting baubles is pathetic. It proves we've become a silly, frivolous society full of silly, frivolous people.

      But perhaps I'm too harsh. If mouthbreathers didn't have their electronic opiates of transgender child reality shows, Twitter activist celebrities, and 'diverse'-cast reboots of remakes of remade movies, they might go out and vote . And that would be a tragedy.

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      • identicon
        Agammamon, 3 May 2020 @ 3:56pm

        Re: Perhaps Misinterpreting

        I think he was saying that it's stupid for tech companies to concentrate on frivolous nonsense and entertainment instead of concentrating on actual innovation and useful tech.

        I would counter that if this writer knows what useful tech to develop (even stupid things for thots to put on their faces is innovation) then why isn't he a multi-billionaire?

        Knowing what you can develop is not something that is obvious - tons of people with great ideas have gone out of business because we didn't quite have the technological base to build it on.

        All his argument really boils down to is 'they didn't nerd harder'.

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  • identicon
    Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:51am

    Big tech doesn’t build anything.

    No, 'big tech' doesn't. China does.

    What 'big tech' does do, however, is design the shit China makes. Because that's the hard part. Its easy to find people who can assemble parts to a plan, hard to find the people who can make those plans.

    And, Jesus, are we the Soviet Union now with this focus on pysical production? Comrades, we are on track to complete the Five Year Plan with 50,000 tonnes of cell phones produced by State Cell Phone Factories #1, 5, and 15.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      Its easy to find people who can assemble parts to a plan, hard to find the people who can make those plans.

      It's hard to design stuff, but you may be overstating the difference. Look at all the innovation happening in Shenzhen. By contrast, American product designers will tell how it's really fucking difficult to manufacture stuff. Even smaller makers such as Bunnie Huang, Mitch Altman, and Jeri Ellsworth have spoken of the difficulty of finding a plant (in China or not) that will faithfully assemble to a plan.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      So do you regard the increasingly-authoritarian China building almost everything for the world with its sweatshop labor as well as Uighurs being brought in from concentration camps as something that we should brush off just because America has a ton of the guys that design said stuff and the software that said stuff runs on?

      Physical production is important. The U.S. having shortages of masks, ventilators, hand sanitizer and so forth during this pandemic has been a fucking embarrassment. After this pandemic is over, we're going to have a lot of people out of work, and many of those jobs aren't gonna be coming back any time soon. The solution isn't gonna be to tell people who've been laid off of their job to become software developers or engineers designing smartphones that get built in China, or to apply the "move fast and break things" Silicon Valley model to solve all of our problems. The solution is to ramp up physical production and R&D investment to solve big problems like climate change, affordable housing, healthcare infrastructure, educational infrastructure, and so forth, while paying everyone who gets hired a true living wage that gets them back on their feet and able to support themselves and their families.

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      • identicon
        Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 7:29pm

        Re: Re:

        So do you regard the increasingly-authoritarian China building almost everything for the world with its sweatshop labor as well as Uighurs being brought in from concentration camps as something that we should brush off just because America has a ton of the guys that design said stuff and the software that said stuff runs on?

        Since you ask, no.

        But that has nothing to do with the point I was making. Which is that yes, we don't manufacture - but that doesn't mean we don't add value, indeed, add most of the value. Through design and research. Which the writer of the MIT Review piece didn't consider.

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    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Apr 2020 @ 3:27am

      Re:

      "What 'big tech' does do, however, is design the shit China makes. Because that's the hard part. Its easy to find people who can assemble parts to a plan, hard to find the people who can make those plans."

      No. Just no.

      Thanks to the constant outsourcing of manufacturing China now has a large solid base of experts who have the hands-on knowledge of practical engineering. As a result of which they started out by copying but now they're innovating. And the schooling of all the engineers involved in that were paid for by the US dumping all the practical aspects of creating into that nation.

      There's a lot of feedback between design & invention and practical application. The US has - literally - catapulted China into it's place as a bona fide economic peer by completely surrendering the advantage of owning the manufacturing processes.

      "...are we the Soviet Union now with this focus on pysical production?"

      What the soviets did wrong was align their production economy with an ideological impossibility. The US is getting the same result by applying its own ideological impossibility - giving another nation the complete advantage in production.

      Here's what used to happen;

      1) A US company invents an ingenious new design.
      2) China manufactures it and copies the design.
      3) After cosmetic changes, China now sells the same design for half the price, outcompeting the US company, while ignoring the screaming from the WTO.

      And here's what it looks like now;

      1) US company comes up with a rough design.
      2) Chinese engineers polish all the details, link it all together, and present the finished product.
      3) The same engineers then take what they learned about the flaws of the US product and use the lessons to remove those flaws from their own designs.
      4) China sells equivalent goods - like a smartphone - at half the price the US company can offer.
      5) The US company comes crawling and pays the license to use the cheaper, chinese design instead of their own.

      You want to read up a little about the development race between the US smartphone chips and their chinese equivalents before you dismiss the importance, in the long run, of not handing the basis of your own industrial success over to a competing nation.

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      • identicon
        Agammamon, 3 May 2020 @ 3:59pm

        Re: Re:

        ?China now has a large solid base of experts who have the hands-on knowledge of practical engineering.

        Except that they're really not. Name something designed in China that isn't total shit?

        Not that low-priced, low-quality goods don't have a place - lord knows I've bought enough Chinesium in my time - but your iPhone isn't being designed in China. It'll be designed in South Korea before its designed in China.

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        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 1:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Name something designed in China that isn't total shit?"

          When I didn't have enough money repair my iPhone last year I bought a cheap Xiaomi phone which worked well beyond my expectations for the price, and I know a few people who swear their Huawei phones are better than Samsungs (and of course fanboys who swear all Androids are better than iPhones).

          "Not that low-priced, low-quality goods don't have a place"

          Yes, but the mistake is believing that this is all China is capable of doing, rather than realising that it was just most lucrative market at one point. China have people who are capable of addressing the higher end markets, it's just that demand for those has been lower in the West compared to disposable items. Now that the income generated by the cheap crap has led to a local Chinese market with higher standards, they will be addressing that market and exporting some of it.

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        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 8:12am

          Re: Re: Re:

          " Name something designed in China that isn't total shit?"

          ...please tell me you're either kidding or just somehow missed the last twenty years?

          Let's go with the "easy" angle. Starting with the ZTE Blade, a few years ago, beating the crap out of every US brand smartphone as well as the Korean Samsung offers in the same performance range.

          Today look at the Xiaomi...or any of the half-dozen or so major chinese brands of home electronics. That "cheap chinese shit" you refer to still exists, sure, but that's no different than hitting up the US market for low-priced shmutter either.

          And the iPhone...honestly, performance-wise that one doesn't even make the top ten of phone reviews today - with most of the other offers being either chinese-owned or korean.

          I must say you read a bit like someone who was frozen in 1960 and woke up just now to complain about that cheap flimsy "Toyota" crap car trying to compete with Fords and Saturns.

          The nation which owns manufacturing and engineering will eventually come to also own design and development. This is what we've been seeing evidence of these last few years.

          The US made a monumental blunder when it allowed the wholesale migration of infrastructure and the manufacturing base to another nation. And today it's paying for it, having traded short-term advantage against the loss of fundamental long-term capacity and ability.

          In China an education in engineering and technology is seen as a high-status choice. In the US it's not. Not any longer. You'd honestly be far better off becoming a lawyer instead.

          Sure, per capita the US still has a higher proportion of researchers - but not enough to close the gap, or even come close, when the PRC has four times as many people to draw from and an educational system geared to produce academics rather than lawyers.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:53am

    Manufacturing

    My take on the article is that manufacturing is critically important. Yes, we want a self-driving car, but Silicon Valley is mostly writing the software and not manufacturing the car. Yes, we want a bio-simulation program that can predict how medicinal drugs interact, but Silicon Valley is mostly writing the software and not manufacturing the medicinal drugs.

    Software is another layer on top of existing society, which seems to improve the underlying layers. But it is dependent on the underlying layers. If the underlying layers collapse, then the top layer crumbles as well. Without someone actually manufacturing the stuff we desire, the software writers might suddenly become much less important.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 10:57am

      Re: Manufacturing

      . . . and not manufacturing the medicinal drugs.

      Well, no they're not. Because pharma is a lot older than Silicon Valley - so its not concentrated there. Its all over the country and all over the world.

      But there are tons of pharma companies researching and building medicines in the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Koby (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:23am

        Re: Re: Manufacturing

        But there are tons of pharma companies researching and building medicines in the US.

        Yes, and I think that's what the author is trying to say. Silicon Valley is currently overvalued, and those other places in the US that actually do the manufacturing are undervalued, and a large re-evaluation could be underway.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 12:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

          Yes, and I think that's what the author is trying to say. Silicon Valley is currently overvalued

          If you judge them by the wrong standard, sure. I could just as easily and accurately say that an olympic gold medalist track star is in fact a terrible athlete if I judge them by the standards of someone who does shotput(assuming they aren't skilled there as well anyway).

          Look at silicon valley innovation through the standard of 'how much hardware are they creating?' and they might not come out looking very good, but that's irrelevant because that's not their focus. Likewise accusing them of not being innovative because they haven't pivoted into an entirely different field is just a wee bit absurd as almost no-one would come out looking good by that standard.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 3:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

            The things that come out of Silicon Valley are overvalued by tech-focused media, the public, and advocates for Silicon Valley and the way it does things.

            Rots is not judging them by the standard of 'how much hardware are they creating?'.

            Rots' argument is, from my understanding: The level of importance, praise, and investment money that are heaped upon Silicon Valley, the technologies that come out of it, and the methods by which Silicon Valley does things is far more than what they actually deserve. Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley model are not going to deliver and were not ever going to deliver the truly critical innovations and reforms that we should've had in the pre-pandemic in world, and are absolutely going to need in the post-pandemic world. Rots is arguing that this pandemic has shattered the myth that the hype-men and VC firms have perpetuated. This is the myth that Silicon Valley is the crucible in which the solutions to all of America's problems will be formulated, and that all of its brilliant minds and engineers can pivot on a dime and respond deftly to any crisis.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 4:40pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

              Really. If you think Silicon Valley hasn't invented what you think they should have invented, then why haven't you invented it? There have been a lot of things created in Silicon Valley, and others that were created elsewhere but the entrepreneur moved to Silicon Valley possibly because there is saturation of talent there.

              Besides, tech-focused media, the public, and advocates for Silicon Valley don't decide what the value of Silicon Valley is, the marketplace does. In this case, two marketplaces the buying public and Wall Street. Both can be hoodwinked by hype, for a time.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 7:32pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

              . . . the truly critical innovations and reforms that we should've had in the pre-pandemic in world,

              What are those? How do you know what they are? And if you do know what they are, why are you not among the richest people on the planet?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:59pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                Rots’ article points out what those are:

                But we’re far less accomplished at reinventing health care, rethinking education, making food production and distribution more efficient, and, in general, turning our technical know-how loose on the largest sectors of the economy.

                Snazzy venture capital and hedge fund/incubator style funding and buzzword-laden pitches regarding ‘growth-hacking’ isn’t going to fix our broken healthcare system, stem the tide of climate change, solve food scarcity, or ensure that people can get the education they need to go into the career they want. The private sector needs to work closely with the public sector on this to drive investment where it needs to go.

                But wait, your name looks familiar... oh, I’ve seen you in the comment sections of the libertarian rag Reason. All of those reforms are probably commie bullshit to your addled brain, so it’s useless arguing. Keep waiting for that invisible hand to solve everything, Ag.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  nasch (profile), 30 Apr 2020 @ 2:11pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                  So why is he singling out Silicon Valley? Nobody in the US is good at reinventing health care or rethinking education. Or at least, that hasn't happened on a large scale. I don't even know what he means by "turning our technical know-how loose on the largest sectors of the economy." And we have been extremely accomplished at making food production and distribution more efficient. So that's a weird criticism.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                  identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 1:55pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                  Guy at 11:59, 29 April …

                  I was nodding along and agreeing with your point about scumbag hedge fund plutocrats and substance-free buzzword-laden pitches...

                  Then you did something absolutely hilarious; you called Reason magazine 'libertarian'. You seem to be familiar with the Reason comment section, in which case you should be highly aware that real libertarians (accurately) accuse Reason of not being libertarian at all.

                  Reason is so far left it's a lot closer to 'commie bullshit' than 'invisible hand'. Reason is about 'libertarianism' in the same way 'Atheism+' is about 'atheism'; in name only. They spend a lot more time whining about evil bad guy heterosexual white males than they do discussing anything remotely touching atheism or libertarianism.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    PaulT (profile), 1 May 2020 @ 11:44pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                    "Guy at 11:59, 29 April "

                    You know that you don't have to type that since you clicked reply, right?

                    "you called Reason magazine 'libertarian"

                    So does pretty much every independant source, as well as the site itself.

                    "real libertarians"

                    Are those the same as "True Scotsmen"?

                    "Reason is so far left"

                    Wow. How far right do you have to have gone to think that?

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • identicon
                      Agammamon, 3 May 2020 @ 4:05pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                      How far left do you have to be to consider libertarians 'right'?

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • icon
                        nasch (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 7:45am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                        How far left do you have to be to consider libertarians 'right'?

                        The problem is in considering only one political axis. Libertarians are far to one direction on the libertarian-authoritarian axis. They tend to hold some positions consistent with liberal ideas (drug legalization) and others consistent with conservatives (low/no taxes).

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Agammamon, 3 May 2020 @ 4:03pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

                  Well, since the problems with US healthcare stem pretty much exclusively from government meddling since the Great Depression - maybe we ought to consider removing that meddling and letting the invisible hand actually have a chance to act for once?

                  You don't fix problems caused by government solutions with more government solutions.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Agammamon, 29 Apr 2020 @ 7:30pm

          Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

          Then you would have to assume that the writer of the MIT Tech review is smarter and knows more than 3 billion other people.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Apr 2020 @ 5:21am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Manufacturing

            One billion flies can't be wrong. Therefore you should eat shit?

            MIT Tech review dun goofed this time. In the paradigm they're writing in "value" is determined entirely by how much money Silicon Valley's companies turns over. The value is determined entirely by the consumer and the stockholders and fluctuates with their faith in the product produced.

            To some point I can understand where Rotman is coming from with this - much of what silicon valley produces is simply lucrative in the form that it can make a lot of money while not bringing technological progress any further...
            ...but whether he knows it or not he's not picking a fight with silicon valley. He's picking a fight with the whole system which guarantees that what will be furthered is that which is immediately profitable in dollar worth, not that which actually brings progress.

            No one could build a "Bell Labs" today. It wouldn't be profitable. Core research? Not profitable.
            Actual innovation? Hard to even start because first you need to make sure no one else has a patent they could use to sue your hide for researching in that direction. And by the time you were done paying the patent lawyers it's dubious whatever you wanted to research could be profitable enough to attract investors.

            I don't think Rotman is entirely wrong. The focus of modern business and especially silicon valley business, is in inventing new ways to maximize profits and recycling old ideas. Not in actual innovation. If that's where the focus was new Bell Labs would have sprung up all over the place.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:10am

    Looks to be another article bashing tech, it is very fashionable these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:24am

      Re:

      Among the unintelligent, yes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 2:13pm

      A Well-Deserved Bashing

      Some Chicken Little above strawmanned this: "Tech company not producing a vaccine? 'What a bunch of useless nerds.'" … That's my exact position, but unironically.

      I think the writer's point was that Silicon Valley receives endless praise and accolades, when they do nothing more than provide cretins with frivolous entertainment and silly distractions. We sent our manufacturing jobs overseas on the naïve assumption that a 'service economy' would be sustainable long-term.

      Instead, we handed the reins of power over to bugmen corporations and Wall Street plutocrats. They control the narrative and they define what opinions are acceptable. Traditional blue-collar jobs were sent to China, Mexico, and India; but foreigners lecture the USA about 'climate change' (or is it 'global warming' this week). Guess where almost all global pollution emanates from? China, India, and Mexico. (I know, I know ... the blue-collar jobs we lost were mostly done by icky heterosexual white men with politically-inconvenient opinions.)

      Whatever bashing tech is getting is not nearly the severity it deserves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 1 May 2020 @ 3:34pm

        Re: A Well-Deserved Bashing

        Silicon Valley receives endless praise and accolades, when they do nothing more than provide cretins with frivolous entertainment and silly distractions.

        Anyone who thinks that's the only thing coming out of Silicon Valley is speaking from a position of ignorance.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 29 Apr 2020 @ 11:53am

    Probably the strongest claim..

    The strongest claim I can think of to make about big tech when comparing before and after Covid-19 is that they aren't as adaptable or agile as they claim to be. Amazon struggles with its warehouse workers, Zoom struggles to secure its platform, Apple is reacting to wild variations in supply and demand like a typical manufacturer. Other companies like Netflix really haven't had to innovate much of anything in response to the crisis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:00pm

    I'm sorry, exactly what new innovation do we need to fight an epidemic?

    And why would IT businesses be the main focus for ... isolation, and mask, respirator, drug, and vaccine production?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:06pm

    The Valley Model Can't Solve Everything

    Regarding hardware innovation and the interview that you linked: It talks a lot about the Internet of (Broken) Things as a solution to a lot of our issues. Bringing IOT and the Silicon Valley venture capital move-fast-and-break-things startup model to agricultural and health sectors doesn't sound appealing.

    The interview also discusses IOT, data-gathering sensors, and 'hardware as a service' in ways that sound like they'll add up to a privacy, DRM, and ownership nightmare waiting to happen. One of the people in the interview extolls the virtues of frickin' Ring, for God's sake. That raises massive red flags for me. One of them also discusses how they're not interested in companies where hardware is the centerpiece, how he says that somebody's company is probably going to have to be 80% AI with hardware "off the shelf". So how exactly is that person in particular funding innovation in hardware?

    I'm particularly wary of Silicon Valley sticking its hands into the health sector. More companies getting into the healthcare field means, to me at least, that getting universal health care to become a reality in the U.S. might become more difficult.

    Bruce C.'s comment above makes the good point that this pandemic is proving that these companies aren't as agile or adaptable as they claim to be. You can't simply point to everyone using the Internet right now as proof that the MIT article is wrong.

    The MIT article, the VentureBeat article, and Bruce C.'s comment all add up to me being highly skeptical of the Silicon Valley model being capable of delivering the innovations in fields like health tech, agriculture, manufacturing and so forth that we're going to need in a post-pandemic world. I especially don't see them being able to deliver those innovations in a way that benefits workers and consumers while respecting their privacy, right to tinker and repair, and their ability to access health care without paying an arm and a leg.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 1:11pm

    Millions of people are working from home using zoom. Skype email etc these people are working for all types of company's. There's news apps being invented every day some of which will be used to track and limit the spread of the virus. tesla is a tech company which makes cars. Cars nowadays run on software tech is invisible inside many products. The writer may as well criticise apple for not. Being good at making food products or trains. Big tech makes phones tablets and software. Is that not enough.?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 2:24pm

      Re:

      American 'big tech' writes software. Global (read: foreign) 'big tech' makes phones and tablets.

      American 'big tech' doesn't make anything. We sent the jobs making things (phones, tablets, cars, actual products) overseas.

      America makes generations of simpletons who think everyone should go to college, everyone deserves world-class health care, that we can import people to love our kids for us, and that someone else should pay for it.

      That 'someone else' is going to be our grandchildren, and the cost won't be in dollars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 29 Apr 2020 @ 3:15pm

    I have heard and read so many pompous and elitist opinions in the last couple of months, it's been quite dizzying. To me, this just seems like a sideways extension of the "nerd harder" diatribe we've heard so much the last few years, by people who should know better, but might not. One of the things that seems to come so hard to people who have no idea about how technology works is the fact that while places like Silicon Valley, MIT, and others are incubators of great ideas, you can't just demand that innovation takes place. It would be like critics of SpaceX lamenting about how Elon is failing as a human being because we don't have faster-than-light space travel.

    Most of the things that have shaped the last century or two didn't just spring from a single idea, they came from a series of incremental and evolutionary steps, and some of them were just plain happy accidents, transforming into utilitarian systems that went in different directions from where their creators were steering them, or even forked by people who figured that they could improve on it.

    You can't just demand a revolution in technology and expect it to materialize overnight and from thin air.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 2:30pm

      Re:

      To be fair, I bet the writer would view the recent advances in privately-funded spaceflight to be one of tech's few successes. If so, he'd be right. That's one of the very few actually useful, non-frivolous tech innovations in recent years.

      Everything else mostly involves people communicating and entertaining one another; something I submit we need far less of.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 8:27pm

    Techdirt has become much harder to read

    Where are the censored comments? I miss them, they made it easy to find good writing and good writers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2020 @ 8:32pm

    Ironically, the Tesla ventilators show proof that Silicon Valley in innovating in a brilliant way.

    Don't follow? Let's break the ventilator idea down some.

    Tesla makes vehicles. Aerodynamics is a important field of Physics for vehicles. the main body design, air intake, exhaust, arguably the in-cabin safety features like air bags... All of those things are affected by Aerodynamics.

    So it stands to reason: an engineer/designer working on a Tesla car may not know anything about medicine, but they understand Aerodynamics.

    Now let's remove them from the vehicles. You want them to make a ventilator.
    Alright, What dose a ventilator do? In extremely simple terms, it moves air in and out through tubes at a controlled rate.

    Cars already need carefully controlled air intake... through pipes. Sound familiar? Now let's scale that down and tweak the design so it can stand on it's own rather than being tied into systems only a vehicles would have.

    Get somebody that understands medical equipment to look over your work. With some adjustments based on their feedback, you now have a ventilator.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Narcissus (profile), 30 Apr 2020 @ 12:28am

    Just thought I'd leave this here

    An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus:

    https://www.wired.com/story/ai-epidemiologist-wuhan-public-health-warnings/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 30 Apr 2020 @ 9:45am

    > The pandemic has made clear this festering problem: the US is no longer very good at coming up with new ideas and technologies relevant to our most basic needs.

    Except that we are -- as his own article makes clear. The fact that internet companies aren't magically creating vaccines isn't a condemnation of Silicon Valley innovation.

    This indicates that Big Tech and vaccines are so far apart, that the things Big Tech is good at do not translate well into creating vaccines. This is a natural consequence of our integrated economy, where most work is done by specialists so that everything is more efficient than when everybody has to make all their own stuff themselves.

    Big Tech is doing what it can and I join Mr. Masnik in hoping that Big Pharma does as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    idearat (profile), 30 Apr 2020 @ 11:01am

    They can put a man on the moon...

    It's just a long-winded version of "They can put a man on the moon, but they can't make a pizza box not stick to the cheese on top"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2020 @ 2:34pm

      Re: They can put a man on the moon...

      Actually, my take on the writer's piece is the exact opposite of that statement.

      I believe his point was that tech spends its resources on frivolities like pizza boxes when it should be working on actually useful developments like space exploration.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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