This Week in Tech 638 Transcript
Leo LaPorte: It's time for TWiT, This Week in Tech. We have a big show for you. Patrick Beja joins us from frenchspin.com. Amy Webb, futurist Michael Nuñez from Mashable. We'll talk about ordering the iPhone 10 and what really the interesting conversation throughout the thread, the whole conversation, is what these new products from Apple and Amazon and Facebook and Google tell us about their real interests, their real data interests. It's next on TWiT.
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Leo: This is TWiT, this Week in Tech. Episode 638, recorded Sunday, October 29th, 2017.
The Frightful 5 on the Splinternet
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It's time for TWiT, This Week in Tech, the show where we cover the week's tech news. We're going to have a lot of fun this week! Joining us from Mashable, Michael Nuñez is here. Great to see you, Michael.
Michael Nuñez: Great to see you as well.
Leo: I'm guessing by the windows in the backdrop you are somewhere in the northeast, perhaps New York City.
Michael: You nailed it. Yea, you caught me in my apartment in Brooklyn.
Leo: In fact I was going to say Brooklyn. I should have narrowed it down.
Michael: Same different. Yea, I'm glad to be here.
Leo: Those are definitely Brooklyn bricks, I can tell. Actually you know you're in the east coast because this doesn't happen in California where you have those old-fashioned sash windows with the counterweights. And there's lots of layers of paint. That's to me east coast. I grew up in Rhode Island. I know that look; that's great. Wonderful to have you, Michael. Also with us, Amy Webb. She's a futurist. She is at the Future Today Institute and wrote a book. In fact we met when I interviewed her about the signals are talking on Triangulation. And we just love having Amy on. Very smart but also with a particular angle. First of all she knows Japan very well. And I think uses her experiences there and elsewhere to kind of think about what's going on in the future. And that's certainly something we like to talk about. Welcome, Amy.
Amy Webb: Thanks. Thanks for having me back.
Leo: Nice to have you. And our Frenchman, our favorite Frenchman. Who we haven't had on in so long that he's now got a new job in a new country. Patrick Beja is here! Frenchspin.com. He does the Phileas Club, his English-language podcast. And the Le Rendez-vous Tech, his French-language podcast. He's a full-time podcaster. And he's now in Finland. He's followed his Swedish wife there.
Patrick Beja: Well, yea my Finnish Swedaphone wife, yes indeed.
Leo: I married a Finnish Swedaphone, I like that. That's good!
Patrick: And we're expecting a baby now so…
Leo: Oh congratulations!
Patrick: What that baby will speak is a complete mystery, even to us.
Leo: Because your native tongue of course is French. Her native tongue is Swedish. But you live in Finland where the native tongue is obviously Finnish. Clearly all three.
Patrick: I think that's the plan but he will not learn Finnish at home. He will have to learn that at school.
Leo: Well and his friends will mostly speak Finnish?
Patrick: Well it depends. There are many Swedish speakers in certain parts of the country. And so if you're in those parts, probably the friends are going to be speaking a lot of Swedish as well.
Leo: Okay, this is a pretty eclectic bunch. And I'm not sure how this is going to go. But how many of you were up early Friday morning? It would have been 3am for Amy and Michael. And I don't know what the hell time it would have been for you Patrick, ordering an iPhone 10. Patrick, you were ordering an iPhone 10?
Patrick: Yea. It was 10am. It was perfect!
Leo: Oh forget it! Sheesh!
Patrick: It's midnight here now when we're doing the show. But to order an iPhone 10 it was great. Except you know, I don't really need the phone so I wasn't crushed. But I had to wait until like 10:08, so eight minutes to finally refresh for me. And of course by then it was like five weeks or six weeks of wait.
Leo: And Amy, you don't feel the need to get an iPhone 10?
Amy: I don't. I've long-since given up on iOS. I am a happy Samsung Galaxy 8 user.
Leo: Yea, I love the Note 8. I have the Note 8, which I really like. But I've ordered the Pixel XL, which we'll talk about. Because what's interesting is what's with all these newest phones, there's some challenges. As these phone makers try to push the envelope, most notably Samsung last year with the exploding Note 7, because they tried to put more battery in it. And it didn't work out so well. But now Google's having some trouble with the Pixel. We'll talk about that in a little bit. Michael, do you care…?
Patrick: You know I was lucky enough to have some coworkers that were willing to get up at that hour. So I myself didn't set my alarm. I slept all night. And just kind of depended on some friends to check this device out.
Leo: Yea, one of my coworkers, Megan Maroney will be getting hers Friday. Which is of course the official release date. Mine is two weeks after that. So I got up. I'm sitting in my home office. I've got a computer screen on the Apple Store, a computer screen on the T-Mobile store. I've got an iPod, iPad on the iOS store, and an iPhone on the iOS store. I'm refreshing like a monkey. Refreshing, refreshing. It's midnight, 12:01, 12:02, nothing, nothing. T-Mobile's still selling the upgrade to the iPhone 8 not the iPhone 10. Refreshing, refreshing. When I finally got through it wasn't on the Apple Store which was the easiest way usually to get through. I got through on the Apple website. So I got two to three weeks' delay. My wife stayed in bed. Her alarm went off at midnight. She sleepily got her iPhone, went right into the Apple Store, ordered it, and went back to sleep. I don't know what I did wrong. I tried, Apple! I tried hard!
Patrick: I felt the same! I was looking at the great Steve in the sky! And I was saying tell me what I did wrong! Eight minutes! That's unnatural. It was very frustrating.
Leo: I just find that it's brilliant marketing. There is some debate and it goes back and forth over whether these shortages, which seem to happen every year are contrived for marketing purposes. I feel like every company, Nintendo with the switch, will make as many as they possibly can. Because every phone you don't sell day one is potentially a phone you'll never sell. Right?
Patrick: I agree. I think it's a common myth. Unless you're in luxury. Like real luxury, you know…
Leo: There's nothing more luxurious than a $1,149 iPhone X! That's luxury!
Patrick: Surprisingly, there are things like bags that cost three-four…
Michael: Much more than that.
Patrick: In those cases scarcity is manufactured. I don't think it's the case for the tech products we enjoy. And I think that those are completely, they're myths.
Leo: Especially happens as with the switch or a 10 or with these new Pixel 2s: when you have a new product. Not a refresh of the old product like the iPhone 8. But a totally new product.
Patrick: Yea, and it's not easy to evaluate. Sorry, go ahead, Amy.
Amy: I don't know if that's entirely true. It's not just getting the hardware out the door. It's the entire process and the whole funnel has to scale. Right? So given the problems that we've seen with some recent products across everybody's different brands, maybe people are taking a little more of a measured approach. I'm a cynic and part of me thinks that holding off and manufacturing scarcity in order to increase everybody's thirst and desire for these products which we have less and less attention for because there's more competition in the marketplace. It seems like a viable reason to make it so difficult to purchase a phone. But on the other hand, look at what happened with some of the most recent launches: Samsung's previous phone had problems and if you suddenly got all these people using a new phone with face recognition, that may or may not work exactly as promised. And the Pixel 2 having potentially some screen issues. There may be reasons to hold out on the number of products that get released at one time.
Patrick: I don't think if Apple makes 3 million phones and they end up not working as advertised, it's not going to be a bigger issue, a smaller issue than if they make 15. The difference is going to be they're going to have X-million less in the bank because they didn't sell as many. For the switch I can guarantee you, it's also kind of scarce but that is because of the success of the console. Which is somewhat unexpected.
Leo: Unexpected, yea. But everybody knows how many iPhones… Apple would make 20 million iPhones if it could!
Michael: I think whether it's manufactured or not, it's definitely made me more interested in these products. So the SNES classic is a prime example. It's a device that I really don't want. There are better emulators out there. There are better versions, or better ways to play Super Nintendo games. As a collector's item, I guess it's kind of neat. But for the most part it's a product I would never want. The scarcity has made me so intrigued by that. It makes me really want to play the lost Starfox game that's featured on there. And then also with the iPhone 10, again it's something that I don't need at all. I already own an iPhone 7. It works just fine. But the fact that people are clamoring for this device, that there's so much intrigue around the $1,000 phone, and that it's already sold-out. And that delays might go into next year, I think that makes me really interested in playing with the device or potentially owning it.
Leo: Yea, but you're also in the press so you measure that interest and assume that that's going to carry over to Mashable, right? I certainly consider this: if something is… for instance I love the Essential phone; Andy Rubin's little phone and now it's $500. In fact if you can get somebody with a friends and family it's $299. If you know somebody who's stupid enough like me to buy it at full price, you can get it to $299. It's a great phone. But they sold 5,000. So why would we even cover it if nobody wants it?
Michael: They have some issues to work out. It's not a perfect phone. There are some camera issues I think.
Leo: No, no! They're not. That's the funny thing; they fixed the camera! They pushed out three updates. In no respect is it an inadequate phone. For $500 with a Snapdragon 835, a full-bleed screen and a tiny form-factor titanium and ceramic, it is in many respects a flagship phone for $500. But it won't get any coverage because everybody's already decided.
Michael: Yea. Well it's essentially just between a couple of brands. But I think that Essential says the problem is it's only available on Sprint. At least in terms of the carriers that sell it. You might be able to buy it unlocked.
Leo: I bought it unlocked. But you're right. There are other issues as well. My point being, editorially, you're not likely to spend any ink if you used ink, covering it, because nobody cares anymore. It's over.
Amy: So here's my question: so why is everybody clambering for this phone?
Leo: The iPhone 10?
Amy: Yea, why are all three of you excited about it?
Leo: That's a really interesting question. How else do we propel the consumer economy? That's why!
Patrick: So let's answer the questions specifically: who is actually excited about the iPhone 10? I'm not. I'm not super excited. I'm going to get it. It's not like…
Amy: Obligation? Like, what was the reason that you purchased it them?
Patrick: I have a 6S currently and I figured it's for work and has new features.
Leo: Did you buy an 8?
Patrick: No I didn't.
Leo: So by the way, Apple's not speaking, but that's what it looks like, anecdotally happened. Apple put out the 8 and then a month later the 10, announcing it at the same time. And as one almost would predict, the 8 didn't sell that well. People waited for the 10. So to answer your question, I like Patrick, because we're tech journalists, we have to do this, so I'm not sure I would characterize myself as excited. But the world is excited. And they're excited because it's the latest iPhone. It's the top of the line iPhone and for the first time Apple's done some interesting thing like get rid of the finger print reader. Get rid of a full-bleed screen which is OLED, which Apple's never done before. So there are actually some objectively, unusual, and new features in it. I wasn't excited about the iPhone 8 which was as far as I could tell was a duplicate of the 7 with a faster processor in it. And a few bells and whistles.
Amy: I'm just wondering if we habituated ourselves to, like in a Pavlovian way almost, like Apple…
Leo: Ding! The new iPhone is here!
Amy: Right. Because on the face of it, the features that are part of the 10 aren't really that ground-breaking, aside for maybe the facial recognition. And I'm kind of surprised that everybody's so excited about facial recognition without stopping to ask questions like ‘who owns your face?' Like, does Apple own your face from here on out? Where does the data go? How is it being used? I'm having a hard time reconciling it unless it's just like out of habit now. We're just excited because this is the latest announcement.
Michael: I think that's where the intrigue comes from. There are a lot of pieces of technology in the iPhone 10 that no one asked for. But they're being included and it's about whether this is a fundamental change to the way we use our phones, the way we pay for things on our phones. I think that that's where the interest and intrigue lies. It's not necessarily will this phone sell as well as the last one. I think if you look at just even Google's search terms over the past 10 years, the iPhone continues to get more and more popular even just based on search. And I think it's probably one of the most easily identifiable products in the world. And so, yes, as a journalist, it's such an obvious story of intrigue because not only is it something that makes a lot of money, it's something that's radically different for the first time in many years.
Amy: You and I have a different definition of radical.
Patrick: Yea, I would disagree with that character…
Leo: No, I want to defend Michael. It's kind of what I was saying at the very beginning, which is we've reached peak-phone. We've clearly reached peak-phone a couple years ago. So now radically different is things like OLED screens or wireless charging. Which for Apple is radically different.
Michael: No home button. Facial recognition. Those are things…
Leo: But that's a measure of how mature-I think, isn't it-a measurement of how mature the technology is. That these differences now become radical differences. The iPhone 7 was radically different than the Blackberry. It succeeded in my pocket.
Michael: Yea, this isn't a qualification of the technological breakthrough. This phone will operate much differently than the phone that you currently use. So every time you look at your phone right now, you're using a thumbprint scanner, most likely, to unlock your phone. In the case of the iPhone 10 that will fundamentally change because it will open automatically. And there are other elements like that that I think will actually change the way that people are using their phones on a day-to-day basis. So to me that's one of the most interesting pieces of the iPhone 10. It's how deeply engrained are some of these habits. And how quickly will we change them and adopt new ones. And are there privacy concerns about the way that we begin to use our phones. We're trying to make it a little more seamless and make the operations a little faster, but in the process I think there are certainly privacy concerns that are raised.
Leo: Speaking of the Google interest, I've gone to Google trends and I search for iPhone, and this is over a five-year trend. And there are peaks every fall. Every September, there's a peak. Although the biggest peak was oddly two years ago. Or three years ago, September 2014. That would have been the iPhone…
Patrick: The 6.
Leo: The 6. Which was the first big iPhone and I think that's probably the last time you could say that the iPhone was a significant change. The peak this year is not significantly higher than the peak last year. And there is a secondary peak which is happening right now. Of course as people try to figure out whether they should buy the iPhone 10.
Amy: Just for some perspective, so the facial recognition technology that we're excited about here in the United States has been in widespread use in China. Now for a while.
Leo: Microsoft put it in the Kinect which they just killed three years ago! It's the prime sense technology from Israel that Apple bought!
Amy: Right, yes. And there's lots of different… China is so far ahead of us in a lot of ways. Using your face to pay, for authentication, for all different sorts of things. But China has a very different attitude legally and culturally towards personal data than we do in the United States. So as we are sort of… it may feel as though we are embarking upon this brand new journey with Apple and for the first time discovering what it's like to do all this with our faces. In reality, we're pretty far behind Korea and Japan. And China, to begin with. The other thing I would mention to Leo's excellent point about reaching peak-phone, all of the modeling that I've done with data would indicate that this is the beginning of the end of smartphones.
Leo: Oh, what's next?
Amy: So devices… so a combination of wearables that are on our faces and are on our hands. So glasses or sort of like a headset that you wear except it points to your eye rather than comes to your mouth. And a ring or wristband that goes along with it. It's very likely based on my modeling that in the year 2027 we will be at the beginning of AR. So all of the functionality for the most part that we've got with our phones, the screens that we hold will become the screens that we wear. So it's lovely and wonderful that iPhone is releasing the 10 and I hope everybody really enjoys it. But we are going to see fewer and fewer true innovations on the phone front because the real news is that every company-Google, Facebook, Apple-they're pouring huge amounts of resources into AR. And wearable AR.
Leo: And Apple is I'm sure doing that as well. Although you know, it's one thing to say well the phone is going to go away. But it's still here today so this is their big money. You can also probably fairly say that well Apple's growth over the last 10 years is entirely powered by the iPhone, that Apple can't expect that to continue forever. So Apple's got to be thinking about what's next. But meanwhile and this is the innovator's dilemma, they need to mine this gold mine as deep as they can until they run out of gold, while opening new seams in other areas.
Amy: That's right so it's like a 10-year transition.
Leo: They're working on AR.
Patrick: Yea but we've seen the AR kit which was very surprising in how efficiently it worked.
Leo: Yea but it's Adobe. Have you played with it? Well you don't have an iPhone 8.
Patrick: It works on the 6S as well.
Amy: Right, but that's today. Yes, all of this stuff is janky today but that's not the point. The point is all of the investment and the capital investment and the work and the people who are being hired; this is the beginning of the end of smartphones.
Leo: What's a timeframe, do you think? Five years?
Amy: My models are 10 years.
Leo: Alright, so you're looking in the distant future.
Amy: I mean that's not my distant future. But yes.
Leo: It's funny because 10 years isn't long in humans. But it's a long time in technology.
Amy: Well 10 years from now the iPhone 10 will be the flip phone of 2027. So there will be some people who still have smartphones which by today's measure are very sophisticated machines. But that will be a smaller group of people since we will have moved on to devices that we wear.
Leo: So the real question for Apple is are they going to be the Blackberry. Ten years ago.
Michael: But I see that's a slight mischaracterization. It's because a lot of the technology that's used in the iPhone will be used in headsets. So something like a depth sensor which is what enables Face ID, something like that it's easy to imagine it in a headset. Like HoloLens or any augmented reality headset. But to me the reason why it's important to follow the technological side of this is because the same processors and accessories that are included in a mobile phone, in the iPhone could be used for this next generation of stuff that you're talking about. I think it's probably farther away than 10 years just given the rate of innovation over the past five years that I've seen. So I'm a little more skeptical than you are that this will be adopted as quickly as you're saying. But regardless, the technology that's being used to sort of push a lot of that forward is mobile technology. It's all the stuff that's being used in the iPhone.
Amy: Right, I'm not saying one is in exchange of the other. What I'm saying is you know, I would expect to see fewer and fewer major innovations on mobile devices because the majority of time effort resources and everything else is being placed into what comes several years from now. Obviously pay attention to the devices as they're being launched but all of the data and modeling that I've got indicates pretty strongly that this is the beginning of the end. Which is fine.
Leo: Yea, of course this is the nature of things. And you hope technology moves along otherwise it would get pretty dull around here. But what's interesting, I think Apple and Google too to a certain extent, they are developing these next generation technologies, not merely in parallel with their existing technologies. For instance as you pointed out Michael, this iPhone X, a ray of sensors in the notch here, which is basically a Kinect. It's clearly, the way they're using it is the most trivial way possible. They're using it for Face ID. It's not even being used for augmented reality. If it were it would be on the other side of the phone. But you can imagine that the data that they get, the information they get, the skills they learned, for instance one of the problems with getting these out is this Romeo and Juliet sensor pair. They're having a hard time getting those out in quantity. Apparently, according to rumors from the supply chain. But that's the kind of problems Apple's solving now. Down the road, Air Pods same thing. Or Google with the Google Buds, same thing. They're developing, first of all they're getting the consumer market ready for the idea of wearables in your ear. Or the Apple Watch, which is really until recently merely a glorified pedometer. Getting used to the idea of you wearing phone technology. And then using the data that they gain and the skills they gain to further this, right Amy? So they're not completely parallel tracks.
Leo: One of the reasons and to answer your original question why we might be excited about an iPhone 10, is this is a first look at some of these-in particular the Face ID technology-which is being used in an admittedly trivial way. But it will be the precursor for something much more important.
Amy: So I would love to drill down on that. Because I'm so curious to know, given what I've seen on how face recognition technology-and not just face, but object recognition and biometric, bio-informatic recognition is being used elsewhere-I'm really curious to know how the three of you plan to use face recognition. And if you're concerned at all.
Leo: Nah! The biometrics is interesting. I'll let you talk in a second. I just want to say one thing about biometrics: unlike other forms of authentication, it's unchangeable. Your iris pattern, your fingerprint, your face pattern are kind of permanent.
Amy: So let me blow your mind. Yea, you're right. Your face is hard to change unless you do it intentionally.
Leo: With surgery, yea.
Amy: That's right but there's a way… a lot of the foundation of artificial intelligence which underpins a lot of this technology, has been about teaching machines incorrect and correct. And part of the way that we teach them correct from incorrect is introducing adversarial information. So intentionally introducing one tiny thing that's wrong like a pixel. But one thing that we've discovered is that your face may be immalleable. However we get out a pixel through a line of malicious code to your face which effectively then hacks your face. This is why I was asking like, who owns your face.
Leo: Like locks you out?
Amy: That's right. On the one hand it seems bio-information is much better than two-factor or passwords or anything else. You can't… it's hard to take your face off and do something else with it unless you're in a sci-fi film. But what I'm trying to say is there are plenty of ways, using an algorithm, and something simple like a pixel out of place, that could lock you out of all your devices. Or do all kinds of nefarious things.
Leo: That's interesting. I hadn't thought of it that way. Usually you think of authentication being somebody trying to impersonate you.
Amy: Right. And there are all kinds of easy ways…
Michael: It introduces new risks but it also eliminates a lot of other risks. I think in the spectrum of being secure versus unsecure, it may not be the best choice. Maybe an alpha-numeric pin is still the safest. But it's I think a lot of people are going to use it. Just because it's going to be really easy.
Leo: People don't use pins because it's too hard. And that's why I thought Touch ID was really, that was an innovation because it was so fast and easy. And it did encourage people to secure their devices. Most people did not secure their devices before Touch ID. They didn't want to do a pin. It was too much of a pain in the butt.
Patrick: I think if people are comfortable with Touch ID and giving their information whether or not Apple or others are secure, people are comfortable giving their fingerprint information to those companies; there's going to be a little bit more resistance for faces. But not so much that it's going to get the technology to tank. But that being said, I do think we have reached a peak-phone and all of you have said this in different ways. But the technologies that we're seeing now are not as exciting as they were five years ago in the phone space. And I think we're all sort of discounting another reason why we are quote-unquote excited about the iPhone 10. And that's because it's just shinier. It's a big more expensive. It's a bit different. It doesn't matter really how it's different, you know? I was referencing handbags at the beginning of the show. I think the iPhone 10 is kind of the slightly more exclusive handbag of phones! And that aspect, I'm not just saying this to put it down; I think the fact that it is a little bit different and more expensive, whatever, has value for people like us. Because just as someone who likes handbags is not going to use that $4,000-handbag better than one that would cost a couple hundred bucks. The fact that it's new and a little bit different is going to bring us joy because we like tech. Right? So I think that is also a reason why we want that phone. Regardless of whether or not it has all that technology. I think we rationalize our desire for those things a little bit with the Face ID. Which when you think of it, really is it going to be that different from Touch ID? Like, would I be unhappy with Touch ID? I don't think so. It works fine and I don't even have to look at it to unlock my phone.
Amy: Right, and that's my point. My point is that it's a seamless interface and because it's a seamless, easy-to-use interface, lots of people will use it. And unfortunately, this is true of the United States, it's certainly true of Scandinavia and of Europe, governments don't keep up and keep the same pace with technology as technology would want. Because it develops faster than our laws and regulations and regulators are able to think about it. And the problem is we don't have case logs, we haven't defined who owns your face. We have a technology that is going to rely on it, we have seen this go in weird directions in China already. I'll give you an example. So in China, there is facial recognition technology in use in a lot of different cities. And Shandong, if you cross the street, there are electronic billboards all over the place. And if you j-walk, that image recognition is used to identify who you are. And then your personal details are shown as a way to publicly shame you.
Leo: Oh my God? They dox you on the billboard!
Amy: They do. And not just that, then, then! Your face and your details and the fact that you j-walked is then sent out over Weibo.
Leo: Oh my God, the Chinese social network.
Amy: So here's the deal…
Michael: It's China!
Amy: Okay but this is my job. It's to use data to model out what are the implications, not to predict what tech is coming, but what are the second, third, fourth-order implications of that tech.
Leo: I think even in the United States there's this assumption that anything that's gathered when you're in public is kind of public domain because you're walking around. You're on the streets! Now I admit that society is starting to think about that as just because I'm in public, should you be able to take a picture of me, for instance.
Amy: Right. And now let me tell you how this plays out. We haven't quite figured out the who owns your face problem. But what we do know is that people are angry for various reasons all around the world. And have started suing companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook.
Leo: Yea, in Germany they sued them about pictures of Street View, pictures of your house. We call it Blurmany now because Google's been required by the courts to blur out houses that at the request of the homeowners.
Amy: Or another term of art is splinternet. So one of the things, if we don't figure out… again we need to push the envelope forward on technology but we also need to simultaneously think about the implications in the present because we could very well end up with this sort of multiverse of internets where in Germany that the world wide free web suddenly must also follow geographic boundaries. And it's very possible that in the near future, in like the next 10 years, there will be a German version of the internet, and a Chinese version of the internet, and a United States version of the internet, and a Canadian version. And so forth and so on. Which yes, there are ways to get around and yes you could theoretically still penetrate and get different versions by using IP spoofers and stuff like that. But for the average person what that means is the way that information moves around is different. It means that theoretically if you took your iPhone 10 into France, that maybe the face recognition technology isn't legal there.
Leo: It shuts off.
Amy: Yea, there are some real important things to be thinking about while we marvel at the shiny new technology. That's all I'm saying. And it's always better to try to think through this in advance. And model out what those scenarios are, rather than waiting for someone to murder somebody and now somebody wants a backdoor into the phone so they can scrape your face off. Whatever it might be. And suddenly we're all making decisions under significant duress and politicians are making these decisions for us. And they don't know very much about technology and it's happening all over the world. And it becomes very difficult.
Leo: How about this? This article from a futurist you may know, Matt Ranin, who writes on Medium about who owns an augmented reality. Who owns the picture of the house? Some of the augmented reality allow you to put virtual graffiti on a wall. Let's say you own a restaurant and somebody comes along and writes this restaurant sucks…
Amy: That's part of Facebook's plan. That's one of the things that they announced at FA.
Leo: Yea, they showed it. So I guess it's not much different than a Yelp review.
Patrick: There's definitely a lot of questions to be asked there. And some of them are already being asked as you're saying, Amy. And the splintered internet is already happening.
Leo: I think so, thanks to courts.
Patrick: The right to be forgotten has been heavily debated. And we all talked about it. But some links are now required to disappear from Google when you search for some things in France. And some people would like it to be unavailable worldwide because of the fact that if you go to google.com for example, you can still access that link. So that's causing issues to a lot of people. But what you're sort of saying, Amy, if we say it a different way, is you would like the Parliament to legislate on technology that hasn't even been…
Amy: No! I'm definitely not saying that.
Patrick: I'm saying it a different way.
Amy: I'm not. No, because first of all as far as I know Project Seldon never took off for those of you who read Foundation. We do not have…
Leo: Project Seldon! I love it. Harry Seldon, he was, they were psycho-historians, right?
Amy: Right. So we don't have to shadow government of academics and smart, cool geeky people running the universe.
Leo: Too bad. Let's get that right now.
Amy: Right, so in absence of sort of one government that rules the planet which we don't need or want, if we wind up legislating in every single different country, we're going to wind up with all of these different laws anyways. So I'm not proposing a legislative approach and that the United States and France and everybody figures out what their exact rules are. What I am saying is we are using more and more technology and our data that we create using technology will itself become a natural resource in the very near future. And the people who use the technology don't fully understand the implications of its use. And we aren't in any way shape or form prepared to have a conversation legally about things like who owns your face. And this just happened in the United States, during the San Bernardino shooting. It was all this back and forth with the FBI. And having a backdoor into the phone, legislation wouldn't have solved that issue. So I'm not advocating for legislation or regulation, however we don't have norms and standards. And there's no inter-operability even at this point between countries on a lot of this stuff. So it's fine to keep working on the technology but we can't decouple what's happening in Silicon Valley from what happens in the consumer marketplace. And what happens in our respective capitals all around the world. There's got to be people working together on all of this in advance.
Leo: Let's take a break. I love this conversation. Here we are a half hour into the show and we got real heavy already. Thank you for being here: Amy Webb, she's a futurist. I think you understand a little bit more about what that might mean. You'll find more about her at amywebb.io. Her book The Signals are Talking tells you her secrets. How you can do what she does: forecast about tomorrow's trends today. It's available everywhere books are. She also of course leads the Future Today Institute. And she's a speaker. Also Patrick Beja, in fact you had a great conversation on the Phileas Club about the Year of Outrage that we live in. I wouldn't mind talking a little bit about that when we come back. That's a great subject. Patrick is at frenchspin.com where he leads his English-language podcast: The Phileas Club. And his French-language podcast: the Le Rendez-vous Tech. My favorite word for computer: ordinateur. And you've made the transition, last time we talked you were working at Blizzard, but you made the transition; now you're a full-time podcaster.
Patrick: Yea, it's happened a few years ago with the wonder of Patreon. And it's been going pretty well. It's an interesting life. You've known it for a while and I'm not as successful as you but being a podcaster full-time is kind of a strange way to live.
Leo: It's hard to explain to your mother. But at the same time I like having control of what we do. I think there's a certain something to be said for that.
Patrick: Yea that's certainly the great benefit of that. The boss.
Leo: Well support Patrick on Patreon. What should we search for?
Patrick: Le Rendez-vous Tech is my primary revenue.
Leo: Good way to study French!
Leo: How about that, huh? And from Mashable, it's great to have Michael Nuñez in the house. He is the Technology Editor for Tech. Editor for Tech… I don't know what you do. At mashable.com. Deputy Tech Editor at mashable.com! How about that?!
Michael: Nice. Thank you.
Leo: Our show today… you'll know about this then. If you're into tech at all, you'll know the words SCOTTeVEST. I'm wearing SCOTTeVEST underwear. I have underwear with pockets right now. I live in my SCOTTeVEST jackets, shirts, pants. Technology clothing designed for you. We've been fans of SCOTTeVEST forever. In fact if you get a SCOTTeVEST I think even to this day if you get a SCOTTeVEST you'll find some pockets. Inside the pockets you'll find some cards with a picture of me wearing my SCOTTeVEST! We have TWiT fleeces which we love. Those fleeces are warm, comfortable. And as with all the SCOTTeVEST clothing, have strategically-placed pockets. Everybody knows tech loves SCOTTeVEST. The best thing for travelers… I wear my SCOTTeVEST vest-they actually do make vests-I think I have 26 pockets in my vest. That means… this is a great trick to get through security and avoid weight limits. I load it up. I put lenses, laptops, iPads, cameras, phones, everything in my SCOTTeVEST. And then when you get to the security, you just put it on the conveyor belt. That's fine, they don't mind that. You walk through, nobody weighs your coat. It's a great way to get all your gear with you so that you never lose it. And I have to say, the zippered pockets in the SCOTTeVEST are great for protecting your wallet. And the RFID-blocking pocket is great for protecting your secret stuff, whether it's keys or cards, from snoops. Keep that passport free from high-tech skimmers, thieves. Everything SCOTTeVEST makes is great. Products for men and for women. Some of the pockets are fantastic. They have pockets for eyeglasses. In fact my eyeglass pocket-I love it-it has on a clip, a little eyeglass shammy to clean my glasses. I love that. The personal area network links almost all the pockets to another so you can keep your iPad or your iPhone in one pocket, run the headphone wires through it, have them come out at the neck. You'll never get tangled again. It is fantastic and they don't look blocky if you load them up. I have to say, you don't look like the Pillsbury dough-boy. You're just carrying everything that you need. Whether you're a photographer, a tech journalist, or you just like to have a snack in your breast pocket at all times. Twenty-one pockets in the fleece jacket, removable sleeves, heavy-weight fleece that keeps you warm. The Quest Vest as 42 pockets. It's Teflon-treated so it's water and stain-resistant. Did I say they have products for women too? You bet, some really nice looking stuff. For women and men. Hoodies, dresses and skirts even that have all the famous SCOTTeVEST features. It's the best way to travel. You see me on a plane, I will be wearing a SCOTTeVEST. No question about it. And if you have a geek you got to get a gift for, this is a great gift. Geeks don't think about this sometimes. But look at these… believe it or not, the Debra dress, it's got… I love the website because if you hover over the eye you can see where the hidden pockets are in these outfits. I love this! SCOTTeVEST, scottevest.com. And we've got a deal for you; this is actually fantastic. Get your briefcase, your backpack, your messenger bag, your man-purse, carry it all in your fabulous SCOTTeVEST clothing and you get an extra 25% off right now when you go to scottevest.com/twit. 25% off. They've got some new stuff; I think I'm going to have to go and do some ordering. I like that sportsman vest. That looks good; that's sharp. I have the Tropiformer. This is what I wore in France when I was in France this year. Because I like the red piping, the styling, and look at all those pockets! I love it! Scottevest.com/twit. Scott's a good friend: Scott Jordan. He was here just the other day with Margo his beautiful poodle. I know he's watching; hi Scott! Help a fellow out! Go to scottevest.com/twit, we'll save you 25% right now. We're having some fun here. I don't know where to go next with this. Should we go for more controversy? We were talking about the iPhone 10. I have to show you this: Apple has in some ways become a fashion company and less of a technology company. I know every time I say this it drives Apple fans crazy and they say things like, ‘yea but what about the A11 bionic chip or the amazing face recognition?' Okay fine, but if you can't get your calculator to add one plus two plus three, what good is that?! Right? Okay maybe they're a technology company but this is by the way, this bug, which is well-known in the iPhone, is because of looks. Because of style. Because of the animation when you press the operator keys; notice they fade in and fade out. Well the problem with that is when you're hitting numbers if you don't pause for the fade-in/fade-out, they won't register properly. See it did that. Right, one plus two plus three equals six if I do it slowly. But as soon I do one plus two plus three: 21. Wait a minute. One plus two plus three: 23. I'm not doing it super-fast either. It's just a bug. And now it's an easy bug to fix. You merely interrupt the animation when the next operand is hit. But they don't seem to understand that. I don't know. They don't care. This has been around for a while. Apple has put out three updates to iOS 11, hasn't fixed it.
Patrick: So is that really a problem or is it something that we wouldn't notice in any other phone if it wasn't an iPhone?
Leo: I'll tell you why it's a problem, Patrick. First of all, you should not use the Apple calculator period. What if I say I'm going to add up five numbers on the Apple calculator? And I do it carefully so I don't get any errors. But at one point, one place I type it a little too fast. An error is introduced that I will not see; I will get the wrong answer.
Patrick: Well of course. I understand.
Leo: Well don't do your taxes with the iPhone calculator then.
Amy: It's a problem because it's a manifestation of a shift at a company that had been producing world-class, best-in-class hardware for a long time. And I would argue that across-we can argue all day long about this-but some of the changes to the OS, some of the changes to something stupid like Keynote. For whatever reason, design is being… functionality is being sacrificed for design. Across a lot of the interfaces on Apple's products. And I think that's a manifestation of an organizational problem internally within the company. Stuff should look good, certainly and we should all enjoy using it. But if the functionality suffers, then eventually you wind up talking about it with Leo in front of a world-wide audience.
Leo: Patrick, defend Apple.
Patrick: I'm not saying it's not happening now but we have selective memory. It's happened many, many, many times over the history of Apple.
Leo: Oh yea! Or Intel! Remember Intel made a chip that couldn't do flow-point math at all. These things happen. I understand. That's a bug which Intel patched and fixed. I have to agree with Amy. Yes, it's a bug, but it's a bug that exposes an underlying flaw in how they're thinking about what they're doing. It's not about functionality. It's not about function anymore, it's about form. It's the Johnny Ives-ization of technology and I'm not sure I'm crazy about that.
Michael: Well and this is one of the apps that's been around since the beginning. And I would also add that people praised Apple for referencing brawn design on this calculator. So it's something that's sort of, dare I say iconic… I've used a lot of…
Leo: Yea, but you're right. I had forgot about that.
Michael: But this is like one of the, I would say one of the most iconic apps on the iPhone. Because it's been around for so long and because it uses this iconic I guess modern design. And so it's just a little bit weird to see a flaw or a blemish, of course anywhere on an iPhone, but especially on something that has existed for so long that people have actually championed for a few years. So I don't know. It's definitely unusual to see things like that. I would say I notice more of them happening on iOS 11 than I have in years past. So you know, ever since I've updated, my phone's been just acting really buggy.
Leo: Yea, there are lots of cosmetic errors in 11, I think.
Michael: Yea exactly. There's just a lot of inconsistencies. And even on the 10, you'll see inconsistencies when you mess with that phone.
Leo: I just have to point out, a calculator is the kind of thing you write in computer 101 in high school. I mean it's not a hard thing to get right. It's just a weird thing to get wrong.
Amy: It's not just that they got it wrong. The part that bugs me is that was there no QA? Was there no usability testing before that shipped? And if not, then that's a problem. But if there was and somebody thought well but it looks cool, so…
Leo: Well let's be fair…
Patrick: Honestly, do we need to go back to Mobile Me and…?
Leo: No, this is current, Patrick!
Patrick: But that's my point. They did have significant issues in their design and in their software way before this. And they were much bigger. I mean Mobile Me was a disaster! ITunes had loaded forever! We're talking about these now as if it was new. They've always had significant issues.
Leo: Oh, okay. So your position is Apple's always sucked.
Patrick: My position is that they've never been perfect. And all of a sudden now, just because… but I'm not seeing, maybe we would need a scientific study on this, but I don't think I'm seeing more significant issues on the way Apple designs its software or even hardware than there were 10 years ago or five years ago or 20 years ago. We could lay out an entire list of gigantic blunders that either got fixed or they stuck to their guns in all of those years. So yea, I'm skeptical about… and maybe I've gotten used to being skeptical about: oh, Apple's going down the drain because this or that. So maybe it's an automatic response from me, but I'm still not sure it's worse now than it's been before.
Amy: Well Mobile Me was a big huge gigantic blunder. I guess what I have noticed is that the problems are more insidious, they're more sort of less of a massive catastrophe if we put Mobile Me in the mass of massive catastrophe realm. More sort of like sprinkled throughout all their products. And it just strikes me that design is being preferenced over basic functionality. It makes me think that is anybody… Apple used to be the user-centered design. The human-centered design capital, right? It makes me wonder if humans are still at the center, still the center of gravity for them.
Patrick: So what you're saying is they're designing for the sake of design and not to make it useful for users anymore?
Amy: Maybe. I would say that there have been design choices that certainly make the application look crisper. And I'll go back again to Keynote. The new UI on Keynote that shipped with High Sierra certainly looks good. But it's also not intuitive in any way. And a lot of the core functionality and some of the key transitions, just basic things, either got moved or removed. And so one has to wonder why sacrifice basic usability in exchange for looks. Or was that a conscious decision. Or does Apple maybe have folks over in the design shop that have just more leverage and pull over the usability people who are hopefully testing products before they go anywhere.
Leo: That would be a weird circumstance if the testers came back to the designers and said, ‘hey did you see this problem?' And they say, ‘yea, that's fine. We don't mind because it looks good.' That would be bad.
Amy: But what else is to explain the calculator?
Leo: Either they have bad QA or user interface trumps QA. Either way, it's not good.
Amy: That's why I'm very curious to see when the new 10 is out, what interesting… will that be a trend that continues? I'm curious. I won't know because I didn't buy one.
Leo: So to make it fair, Apple's not the only one having trouble with their flagship products. This is the tweet that started it all from Alex Dobie at Android Central. He showed a picture of his Pixel 2 XL after seven days of use. And you have to kind of look hard. There is burn-in of the back, home, and recents buttons. At the bottom you'll see the dock as well burned into the screen. And I've talked to many people now; I talked to somebody yesterday who got that on his brand new Pixel 2. He took it out of the box and he saw it. Google is taking this seriously. People have contacted Google's support. The guy I talked to yesterday; Google was willing to trade in the Pixel 2 for another one and yet another one after other problems… here's the response from Google. And Mario Queiroz who is their VP Product Management. I want you guys to parse this a little bit on me. First of all, there are two issues with the Pixel 2 XL. Actually this was the Pixel 2 as well, was color accuracy. A number of people including Marques Brownlee complained that the color accuracy. The Pixel seems desaturated a little bit. Google's response to that is oh no, well that's not a problem because you're just used to over-bright displays like the Samsung. And what we're doing is making a better-looking, more accurate display so your eyes are conditioned to these super-bright displays. You'll get used to it; this is high quality. I've also seen posts from color experts who say no, no, I tested this phone with color measurement hardware. It's inaccurate. So I'm thinking that some of the early-at least Pixel 2s that came out-were not calibrated at the factory as they're supposed to be. That one you can fix. That one's not the end of the world.
Amy: Is that something you can calibrate after the fact, or no?
Leo: Oh yea, absolutely. You can get a color profile. It's hard to calibrate it accurately without hardware. At the factory you have the hardware. It's all automated. You put a little screen-sucker on, push some buttons. It makes a profile. You put it in the software. The color will be accurate from then on. It'll be SRGB which is what Google intends. After the fact, you're right, it's a little more tricky because you don't have that hardware. But you can, it depends on how consistent these screens are. And if they're fairly consistent you can at least push out a more accurate color profile. By the way, most companies do… Windows doesn't have color management. But companies like Apple that do, I don't know if Apple on Mac OS has custom-calibrated on each display. It gives you a generic, I believe a generic, color calibration that's pretty accurate for it's displays. And then if you want to go further, you can. That's less of an issue though than the biggest issue: this burn-in. Which Google calls, not burn-in, but differential aging. That's what you're seeing here on the panel! Differential aging. I'm aging a lot faster than you guys are. Differential aging. Now, I understand what that means because it's an OLED screen, so the idea is that some of the pixels are burning in because they're wearing out faster than other pixels.
Amy: But after a week?
Leo: But after a week or no time at all? That seems a little premature. Mario says, "Our current investigation of burn in which started as soon as we received the first user report on October 22nd confirms that the differential aging is in line with that of other premium smartphones. So, that's defense one. We're not worse than the other guys. Not true. And should not affect the day-to-day user experience of the Pixel 2 XL. Well, that's kind of subjective. I think some users might say, "Yea, I don't want that. I paid a lot of money for this phone."
Patrick: I think most users would probably say they don't want that, yes. But this is surprisingly disingenuous.
Amy: But you only see the sort of ghost marks against a solid gray screen, right?
Leo: No, you see it on a white screen. I think really where it would bother people would be if you're watching videos and you start to see that there.
Amy: Fair enough.
Leo: I don't know. I don't have mine yet. Of course, it's the first thing I'm going to look at. The question is, is this a hardware flaw or, well, I guess it is a hardware flaw, but can it be fixed with software? They didn't use Samsung screens for the Pixel 2 XL. They used LG screens. Some of the complaints about the screen color and the graininess also apply to LG's V30 which uses the same panel. I've been told, I haven't verified this with Samsung, but I've been told Samsung and its software on its OLED screens, nudges the always on-screen controls, a pixel left and right periodically to—jitters them a little bit to keep them from burning in. That's perhaps something Google could do. Google's response to this was to double their warranty to two years from one year. But if they can't fix the phone, that's not much good either. They say that they're going to, I guess, maybe fix this somehow with software or, it says, "We use software to safeguard the user experience and maximize the life of the OLED display and will make ongoing updates to optimize further." Unknown whether they can fix this. That's going to be a big issue going forward, the Pixel 2 XL.
Amy: The dock at the bottom is, it's not always on, right, so it functions like—
Leo: It's only on when you're on the lock screen. Yea, it's only on when you're on the lock screen.
Amy: So, I mean, it's strange then that it would happen, that the burn would happen that quickly, right?
Leo: Yea. Yea.
Amy: I don't know. I agree with the sentiment. So, I love my Samsung, but it is—the screen is way too bright and even at the dimmest setting, it's bright. It doesn't need to be as bright as it is.
Leo: You know that you can go in and change screen mode, right?
Amy: Yea. I do.
Leo: They offer some different—the cinema is a considerably more muted look. But even that is too—
Amy: Yea, it's pretty bright. And mostly I notice it at nighttime which I'm looking at in bed right before I go to sleep.
Leo: Use the night shift to turn off—
Amy: I do.
Leo: And it's still too bright.
Amy: Apple's nightshift, their version of nightshift is much more, or I think it's better. It blocks a lot more of that light. It's very orange. So, to that point, I think they're right. It is brighter than it needs to be but that's weird.
Leo: That sells phones, by the way. You know, it's the same thing as TVs. You go into a showroom and see a TV, they've—in fact, when I went to see the Pixel 2 at the Verizon store because they have them on display, I noted that both displays were turned up all the way because that sells the phone. And of course, the first thing you do when you get home is you turn it down.
Michael: Turn it down. I mean, yea, I think that the Pixel 2—I want to like the Pixel phones more than I have. So, this is the 2nd year where I've just been a little disappointed with the, you know, the rate of innovation on the phone and also—hey, can you hear me?
Leo: Yea. Your video's frozen.
Michael: Oh, there we go. Ok.
Leo: That's ok.
Michael: So, but I apologize. But the point being that you know, these phones have been hyped a lot but in fact, their market share is tiny. I think they own less than 1% of the market share in the US and they're probably less globally. And so, yea, I mean I think that it's time to start considering whether the Google Pixel is a failure or just a disappointment, but you know, frankly it's not selling enough phones to compete with both Samsung and Apple.
Patrick: I think they're getting started, though. That press release or that article, whatever it is, is very strangely worded. Honestly, it seems like my interpretation would be there are only a few of those that have been highly publicized because of you know, they were distributed to people in the press. That's what I'm hoping for them. And they will make it go away by replacing them and that's going to be it, hopefully for them. But regarding their success, I think that they're going very slowly at first because they're all in. They're not selling it in France, for example, when they did sell the Nexus in France.
Patrick: But because they're doing all of it themselves. I think that their building team's building relationships and they don't launch it internationally or more internationally if they don't have the proper teams because they are now a phone selling company as well. So, I think they're playing the long game here and I wouldn't judge their performance on the first couple of years because they've never really don't this themselves before. They're developing chips. They're designing hand—well, the phones themselves.
Leo: And I think it's unfair as a user to choose your phone based on sales. I mean, from a business point of view I understand.
Michael: I have a hard time recommending it the current iteration of the Pixel against something like any of the new iPhones or something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
Leo: I tell you why I recommend it against other Android phones. Here's the Note 8. This has got—the last patch on here is the August Google Security Patch. On the Pixel phone it would be September, I mean it will be October and it will soon be November. In other words, this is 3 months behind. For security points of view, that's scary in Android land.
Amy: That's right. And Samsung also comes with a bunch of bloatware that you don't need. I will say this. All of this sort of begs the question, because Google has another phone project called Ara. And Ara is a—
Leo: Which was dropped, by the way.
Amy: I don't think it's totally dead.
Leo: You think they're still doing it?
Amy: I think they were trying to launch something in the Philippines, like a test market.
Leo: No, no. After that, they killed it. That was a failure. They killed it.
Amy: All right. But from my vantage point, it was a pretty smart idea Motorola picked up on, at least part of it. So, for those who aren't familiar with it, Ara was a modular based phone. So, just like the old school computers, you know, you would buy the sort of basic unit and add different components to snap in and out so that you weren't having to recycle and renew your phone every couple of years. But that you could add and exchange components and upgrade the phone that way, which, again, seems like a really smart idea. So, the question is, if you take a sort of 40,000-foot view, can Google be a hardware company? And I don't have the answer to that. It certainly looks as though they are trying to firmly establish themselves as a manufacturer of stuff.
Leo: What did they spend, $2-billion dollars to acquire the HTC brain trust? That's a significant investment.
Amy: The question is, are they—yea. And are they set up to be that kind of—
Leo: Can they do it.
Amy: Yea, I don't know.
Leo: Google's faced exactly the same problem Apple's faced with which is they have a singularly successful product. In the case of Google, its search and advertising based on search. And they hope to have a follow-up because they know that nothing lasts forever. Just like Apple with the iPhone. And that's why they've got Waymo. That's why they've got hardware. It's very hard to enter the hardware space. Look at Microsoft's challenges. Microsoft has made hardware all along but they made their first computers and they had all sorts of problems in the first year with the Surface. And it's hard to do. You think the idea—now, I'm intrigued because I looked at the Ara and all I saw was, "Oh, that's got to be janky. That's going to be rattle-y." And I think most end users thought, "I don't want to build my phone. I just want to buy it."
Michael: Well, what's wrong with Ara is the market has gone in the exact opposite direction. You know, a lot of these phones are actually harder to open up and repair and replace parts on than ever before.
Leo: That's true.
Michael: So, like even the Samsung's which you know, famously had removable batteries.
Leo: I miss those replaceable batteries.
Michael: Yea, exactly. Now, they're completely closed systems. So, you know, in the case of Google, Samsung, Apple and probably others that I'm forgetting, you have a phone—oh, the Essential Phone. You know, these are phones that are actually pretty difficult to open up and mess around with. And so, although I loved the idea of project Ara because in theory it eliminates e-waste and it makes it easier to keep your same device over time. I've been sort of, you know, really amazed at how willing people have been able to just like buy a new phone every year and now it's going to be even more interesting with them costing as much as they do, the Galaxy Note 8 reaching up to the $1,000-dollar price range and then also with the iPhone X. So, yea.
Amy: That doesn't have to do with the technology only. I mean the reason that people are habituated to buying new phones every two years is because you—literally when I went to buy this phone, I wanted to pay cash for it and just buy it out. And it was like I couldn't—I had to jump. My carrier's AT&T. I had to jump to—
Leo: Why would you ever want to do that, Amy (laughing)?
Amy: But yea, that's—but the business models are predicated on our, at least in the United States, throwing out perfectly good phones every couple of years.
Leo: It's horrible.
Amy: That's right. So, the reason—I would argue that the reason that a modular based system hasn't yet taken off has a lot to do also with the way that the contracts are structured and the carriers.
Leo: Oh, so it wasn't end users that didn't want it. It was the carriers.
Amy: First of all, never launched. There is a Motorola version, similar kind of version out that again, it hasn't taken off. Now, is the reason that it hasn't taken off because people don't understand the value of being able to upgrade different parts of the phone and customize it as it sees fit or because the majority of people still go into stores to purchase their equipment.
Leo: It's like, who killed the electric car, right?
Amy: Yea, yea, totally.
Leo: Consumers wanted an electric car but GM—
Amy: That's a great analogy. Absolutely.
Patrick: So, I guess I'm going to try to disagree with every, you know—
Leo: All three of us?
Amy: Do it.
Patrick: I think the real reason—they're making really interesting, finding interesting solutions to that perceived jankiness of a modular phone. They had the super strong magnets and a bunch of things that were really clever on project Ara. But, I think the real issue is that there are so many problems that people don't want solutions to. They don't care. We have a really great parallel with computers nowadays. You could make all of these same arguments for PCs and no one wants a desktop where you can swap parts. People want—it's commoditized. And everyone wants a laptop.
Leo: Ain't nobody got time to customize their phone.
Michael: That's one of the reasons people are so attracted to the iPhone versus Android. And also if you just look at modular gadgets across the board, they've never truly caught on because consumers like things to be simple. They value simplicity essentially over everything else.
Leo: Ok. Let's take a little break. We want to take about outrages. We did start talking about business, we should probably mention that the quarterly results were out for three of the big five and what a surprise. They're just rolling in dough, kids. The tech industry's going great guns. And what does that all mean? We're not a business show but I think there's something to be said including we're going to be talking to Scott Galloway about his book, The Four, either this Friday? Is it this Friday on Triangulation? And he's the professor at your school, I think, right? He's at NYU.
Amy: Sure is. Yea.
Leo: Who said that, "Hey, these guys better watch out because governments are going to start to crack down on they are monopolies." And I'm not sure I agree with him, but we can talk about are these companies too big, too powerful. Farhad Manjoo has been talking about this. He talks about the big five, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. Dominant in their respective fields, kind of at this point such strong incumbents they'd be hard to beat. I think this is an interesting topic and it ties into those quarterly results, which are kind of confirming a little bit of that. The famous Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, wrote a, I thought a very interesting piece in The Nation. America has a monopoly problem and it's huge. We're dominated by large corporations in a way that has failed the many and enriched the few. Food for thought. But first, we had a fun week on TWiT and we have made a very nice little video. John, if you could roll the tape, we can watch it.
Narrator: Previously, on TWiT.
Leo: Have you ever used the calculator in iOS 11? And then, you've got to do this kind of quickly, 1 + 2 + 3 = 23.
Megan Morrone: My goodness. Ok, well, if you want to pay over $1,000-dollars for a calculator that doesn't work, you can do so.
Narrator: Know How.
Father Robert Ballecer: The headset that he's using, again, we took a look at it last week. An Acer AH101, the Windows Mixed Reality headset. It's the same price as the Oculus Rift, but I would argue that it's far better. I can actually use this to help me when I'm doing my 3D designs. I can actually visualize the design in 3D space rather than having to flip the screen back and forth all the time. But of course, for Jason, it's all Superhot.
Jason Howell: Yea, it's pretty much all that I ever want to do.
Narrator: The New Screen Savers.
Leo: Speaking of Amazon devices, the Look is here. Wow. This will let you compare two outfits and then it will tell you which outfit is better. It's to replace friends, I guess and family. Oh, we'll let's see my results. It says, where the suit. The combination of pieces is more flattering.
Narrator: TWiT. Technology isn't always pretty, but we are.
Jason: Ah, there we go.
Fr. Robert: This is what it would feel like to be inside of a John Woo film where everything's in slow motion.
Leo: It just makes me want to throw up.
Fr. Robert: See, ok. You just wanted that. You wanted the Superhot.
Jason: What can I say?
Leo: A lot of fun. Tune in, of course, Monday through Sunday. We're here all week long at TWiT.tv. You can watch live at TWiT.tv/live or download shows from our respective shows right from the website or subscribe. Search for TWiT on your favorite podcast program and you'll find a lot of great content.
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Leo: Patrick Beja, of the Phileas Club is here. So nice to see our favorite Frenchman. Actually, if I say that, Cedric Ingrand is going to be mad at me. And I can call you our favorite—
Patrick: I'll calm him down.
Leo: Our favorite—it's funny. I was in France last month and everywhere I went with Four Square, Cedric had created the place (laughing). You notice that? Now, when I go places in Petaluma, I created them. You know, it will say, "You created this font eight years ago on Four Square and thousands of people have longed in." Does anybody still use that, Four Square and Sworn?
Patrick: Don't think so.
Leo: Yea. Kind of wish—
Michael: Not me.
Leo: Did you see my Amazon Look? This is silly. This is the silliest thing ever, but it finally came. First of all, it's smaller than I thought. It's an Amazon Echo with a camera and a flash attached to it. And it doesn't have much of a speaker. Such a small speaker you can't really hear what it's saying. That's not its point. But, what you do with it, you have to have a separate app called the Look App and the idea—I'm going to do this, I think. Every day you get in front and you say, "Echo, take my picture." And it goes beep, beep, beep and then it flashes and then it takes your picture. Puts the date, the weather and then it has this style check thing here. So, you can take—this is what I'm wearing today, and you can take an outfit that you wore the other day. This is not good for guys like me. And I can say, "Which outfit looks better?" And then it checks it. It's unclear. I think when Amazon first announced the Look, they said that the way it did it was they would—so, now they're going to notify me when the results are ready. They would send this to as stylist, because it doesn't happen right away and there would be a combination of computer intelligence and a stylist rating your outfits and then it's told me, it's told me which outfits I should wear. For instance, for some reason unknown, it recommends the frumpy sweater vest look over the stylish suit jacket look. You know, ok, fine. Yesterday, and I think this was correct, it recommended the Hawaiian shirt, minus the Hawaiian shirt plus overcoat. I don't know. To me, it looks a bit—but I'm going to do this every day from now on because at least I'll have a record of what I wore. You know, if you're on TV—
Patrick: But how long does it take to make the recommendation? Can you use it in the morning before you go to work?
Leo: Yea, yea. In fact, it will have—see, I just got my recommendation and it does say 70%. By the way, it weights it. So, 70% stronger for my current look than the jacket. And then it tells you what's working. These colors look better together. Amy, what is—
Patrick: But what is it?
Leo: It's some AI. I think there's some humans.
Patrick: Yea, that's what I understood, so, they have like an army of stylists.
Leo: It's pretty fast. This was an invite only and I just noticed that it was available, so I ordered it. Amy, why is Amazon doing this?
Amy: Well, let's thing about why Amazon is doing this within the broader picture of these other companies that we've been talking about that are in the hardware business. So, Amazon is a platform, right? Amazon, however, is a platform that's gotten itself into the hardware business but is in the hardware business in a very broad way. So, Amazon's also making sensors. And they are helping—
Leo: Ah, I didn't know that.
Amy: I don't know if they're physically manufacturing them, but they have a program now where they're helping mining companies, or they're going to be helping mining companies optimize their routes so that the trucks can get more per gallon of mileage.
Leo: That's the part of Amazon that's the logistics company, right, that they're experts in logistics.
Amy: Right, and it involves hardware. And the reason that I think this is so interesting, is because the net era of computing, it will be powered and sort of predicated on artificial intelligence and what's so interesting about that within the context of what we were just talking about, those big companies, you know, are there monopolies? Are the big tech companies monopolies and if you haven't been looking at Farhad, he's written really, really good columns about this in the Times. You absolutely should because he's making some really compelling and interesting arguments. But, there are also monopoly in the AI space that we just don't sort of think about and there's nine big companies that control the fate and future of artificial intelligence. And they include Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, IBM, and then I'm forgetting somebody. And then three companies from China, Tencent, Alibaba, and then Baidu. And most of those companies are also getting—and Google. Sorry, I didn't mention Google. But by necessity almost, they're also getting into the hardware space. So, is Amazon trying to be the style mecca of the future? No. Probably not. Are they trying to use our data in an interesting way so that we use the platform more and ultimately, we spend more money on their various services? Yes. So, a lot of the hardware that I think Amazon is producing is just a different way to connect us to their platform and services, where we'll spend money, which is a really interesting way of thinking about the work that they're doing and how it connects to AI, and certain of the motivation behind it.
Leo: So, that's interesting because you're not fearing the data mining aspect of what they're doing so much.
Amy: Well, I mean, yea, we should all be fearing. We should all be thinking a lot more about what of our data is being mined and refined and—
Leo: Because anybody who puts this in their closet, this Amazon Look, is basically sending everything that you can possibly know about my wardrobe to Amazon, who sells clothes.
Amy: Right, now why are we concerned about that? So, I think if you ask the average person whether or not, if they even knew, half of them don't know, but if the average person is concerned, it's most likely that they think somebody is sitting at a desk at Amazon watching them.
Leo: They anthropomorphize it.
Amy: That's exactly right.
Leo: I'm always at great pains to say, "No, Google's not reading your email. Nobody's at Google going, ‘Let's see what Leo's saying these days.' It's all machinery."
Amy: But Google is reading our email, right? It's just not a person sitting at a—right.
Leo: Mechanically. They're scanning it. It's the same, exact scanning that any company does for spam keywords. Except that instead of looking for spam, they're looking for advertising opportunities. And that doesn't bother me that much.
Amy: Well, it doesn't bother you, because you—
Leo: It would bother me if Google, and I don't think they're doing this. I know they're not doing this. It would bother me if Google or any company was gathering information about me, say, let's say about my eating habits so they could sell it to an insurance company considering offering me life insurance. That would bother me. But I don't think that's happening. In fact, I don't think there's any reason for insurance companies to do that.
Amy: No, but there are certainly reasons for—but that will be happening in the driving realm, right? So, right.
Leo: Ah. Because Tesla knows everything that I do in my Tesla, when I brake. How fast I go. They are very openly collecting that data, in fact, so much to the point that when we called them to say, "This car is driving funny. I put it in reverse, but it went forward," they said, "Well, let me check. No, no. You put it in reverse. It went backward." They know. And they don't hide it.
Patrick: There's a really interesting discussion that happened a few months ago. I think it's gone away a little bit now in France, where by the way, we have an acronym for the big 5. We call them the GAFAM. So, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
Leo: I like it. GAFAM.
Patrick: They have their name.
Leo: Farhad calls them the Frightful Five. That works too.
Amy: And I would include the other ones because they're also important.
Leo: Yea, in the US we think about these five, but these Chinese companies as well.
Patrick: The reason we think about them so much is that they're really big and that's for national for us and they also don't pay a lot of taxes in France. So, bringing it back to what you were saying earlier, Amy, that personal data is going to be, is a natural resource now. There was a conversation about taxing those companies not on the work that they do or on the money that they earn, but on the data that they use, considering the data on French citizens, a national resource that they are mining and using and taxing them accordingly. It didn't go anywhere so far, but it's being discussed.
Leo: One of Farhad's points is, for instance, if you're a startup, forget about it. This is one of his first articles on the Frightful Five, How the Frightful Five puts startups in a lose-lose situation. And of course, this is the power of monopoly. You don't have to have an actually monopoly. I don't think any of these companies have an actual monopoly, except maybe perhaps Facebook in social media. But then there's always Twitter and other stuff. So, none of them have an actual monopoly. But they have enough control and power, they're big enough that it becomes a real problem to compete with them. And maybe that's why we see so few interesting new startups these days. They're all crap.
Patrick: And it's even worse. It's going to get worse. There was an article by John Evans on TechCrunch a few days ago about the fact that the future technologies like AI and self-driving cars and AR and all of those, require capital and data. And that is something that is a lot less available to smaller structures, so the Frightful Five are going to be, basically have a stranglehold on the future technologies as well. So, that's—
Amy: Well, that's changing. So, here's again, people don't know a lot about this, but China is the largest foreign direct investor in American technology companies. And China has invested huge sums of money into AR and into startups as well.
Leo: Through venture capital funds or how? Direct investment? Purchases?
Amy: Private equity.
Leo: Private equity.
Amy: Through direct investment and you know, China historically doesn't play fair. So, one of the ways, you know, they're not just investing because they're hoping for a 10X return, they're investing with stipulations that IP is shared because China has put part of its sovereign wealth fund—I mean, China is going all in on AI.
Leo: When a nation state invests in you, they don't have the same goals as an individual investor would have.
Amy: That's right. And at the moment, we aren't quite sure whether or not and how China's industrial policies now may or may not affect treaties and economic agreements because it's very complicated.
Leo: I for one welcome our new Chinese overlords. Is it nefarious? Do we think we should be afraid of this?
Patrick: Well, remember that story about the guy caught jay walking having his private information plastered all over the billboards?
Leo: That's fixable.
Amy: Do you want you and your Hawaiian shirt broadcast all over?
Leo: Well, I bet it stops jay walkers. I think that's a cultural difference. I don't think that necessarily means that it would happen in other countries, even if there were heavy Chinese influence because that's a cultural influence.
Amy: It doesn't necessarily, but what it does signal is—
Leo: China has very much that kind of culture of a community over individual, right?
Amy: Right, that's right. However, and I lived in China for a while, too, so that's actually, it sounds very strange to us in the United States but it's not out of the ordinary in China. But my point is that you know, for people who care about America continuing to be one of the, if not the global economic super power, you know, that could look very different as few as 15-years from now, 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Leo: Look, the American century is over. We just haven't noticed it yet. Right? Look at renewables. What we talk about in America is how bad the air is in Beijing, but really what's going on is China is becoming the king of renewable energy, right? And that's going to be a huge advantage to them because solar is cheap compared to petroleum.
Amy: Yes, and they also-- we have government officials right now who are AI deniers. They are climate deniers. They are—
Leo: Yes. Our Secretary of Treasury says, "Oh, automation stealing jobs isn't even on our radar," he says. What?
Amy: There's a strategic advantage in China just because their elected officials have—don't let their personal politics get in the way of established facts, scientific basics.
Leo: We're good at that (laughing). We're really good at that. All right, so, this week, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, all announced spectacular earnings. They beat the street, the expectations that the analysts have. That meant their stock went up. In fact, it made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world again, yet again. He gained $10-billion dollars in his personal net worth. He's now worth almost $94-billion dollars, $4-billion dollars than Bill Gates. But that's not the story, really. The story is that these companies combined are worth $2-trillion dollars. They are incredibly powerful, incredibly successful. Might as well add Intel, which beat the street as well. Actually, that's kind of surprising since I don't think Intel is a big up and comer, but Amazon, total revenue, $43-billion dollars in three months. Amazon Web Service, $4-billion-dollar business per quarter. Alphabet, revenue boosted by a surge of clicks on Google ads around the world, particularly in Asia. Microsoft beat estimates by a significant amount, by about 12 cents a share. It's a really—these companies are getting bigger all the time. And I think Farhad, you know, I have mixed feelings about Farhard's Frightful Five point of view because it sounds a little bit like techno panic. We certainly get a lot of benefits from these companies, Amazon, Facebook, Intel. Not Intel, Microsoft. Intel. Why is Intel even in there? Throw Intel out. Microsoft, you know, Google and the Chinese companies you mentioned. We get significant technological benefits from them. Should we be afraid? I don't know. I'm not sure. What do you—Michael, what do you think? You're on the ground. You're covering this stuff.
Michael: Oh, goodness. Well, I mean it's complicated. I think that the reason why I got into technology journalism is because ten to fifteen years ago, this stuff looked really exciting. When My Space was still around and social media was still in its infancy, Web 2.0 was sort of a new thing.
Leo: That sounds like a hundred years ago. That sounds like the era of Stranger Things, you know (laughing)?
Michael: Well, now we're in the Twilight Zone. Essentially, these companies who were real young and exciting and were introducing all these new ideas and these new ways of thinking into our daily lives ended up growing so big that they have this inordinate amount of influence and this inordinate amount of power. And I think to Amy's point, there has to be some element of regulation in lock step with the growth of these companies and with the growth of this technology. The problem is that right now in government, we're just like anti-trust is not even a concept that I think anyone thinks about ever at this point. There's so many other fires to put out that—
Leo: Yea, I like how Sprint said, "Oh, this might be a good time to merge with T-Mobile. Nobody's looking. Quick."
Michael: Yea and I think there's very little corporate oversight at this point and so these companies that were already gigantic are growing even bigger and I don't think people realize how bad things could be in the near future. Something as simple as net neutrality. You brought up this merger. That's a huge deal and it could actually cost consumers a lot and there are so many different nodes to attack as a smart consumer and as an active citizen. There are so many battles that we need to fight when it comes to the relationship between government and technology that it gets hard to sort of pick any one. We can talk about net neutrality. We can talk about privacy issues, whether the government should be able to snoop through your text messages or not. There are so many layers to what's going on right now and I think what I'm seeing is that the technology is rapidly outpacing the government's ability to regulate any of this stuff. And so, I guess you just kind of have to do what you want with that information but there seems to be no end in sight, with especially these big tech companies. They're posting record profits and record revenues on what seems to be a regular basis. And these companies have made several billionaires and several millionaires. So, I just don't see an end in sight to be totally honest.
Patrick: There's certainly a concern and I think they should be, people shouldn't take their eyes off of them, but the reality is they're all more or less competing with one another so while they are gigantic, there is an element of competition. And I'm very concerned about them. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to make excuses. But I think it's less of an immediate concern than maybe something to be sure you don't take your eye off in the next close time, like one, two, three years. But if you want to talk about tech monopoly issues, I think the real problem you guys have in the US is what you were referring to, ISPs. That is a horrible monopoly abuse and it's having very real consequences because you don't have the infrastructure outside of some cities, not even all cities, you don't have the infrastructure that you need in order to get the whole country to benefit from the—it's not even to benefit from the internet. If you don't have decent internet connections, then your town, region, countryside, whatever is not going to develop today. It's just not going to happen. And the stranglehold that your ISPs have on the infrastructure is damaging the country. If you want to talk about monopolies in tech, that's where people should be looking at.
Leo: That is a really good point. That is a mess and in fact, we're seeing increased aggression of the big ISPs, the Comcast, the AT&T and Verizon against municipal Wi-Fi. They're actively suing, pursuing legislative agendas to keep cities from creating their own Wi-Fi in areas where they're not well-served. It is a very aggressive—
Patrick: That is outrageous! And I have in Finland here, an example of the government is actually subsidizing to an extent, the development of municipal, communal, associative, ISP development. And so, we have one village where my wife's family has their house that dug fiber from like 20 kilometers away, maybe even more, to the next town over and that got a tiny village connected against the better efforts of the incumbent ISPs. Because the government was supporting them, they managed to do it and now you have fiber in the middle of nowhere and people if they wish to do that, they can go and work from those tiny villages that are dying all over the world. And if you don't have that, it's not going to happen. Who is going to go work in any small town that doesn't have fiber today?
Leo: Well, and to kind of bring it back to the earlier conversation, then you see a company like Facebook propose something like Internet.org which brings an internet to developing nations, to under-served communities, but it's a special kind of internet. It's Facebook's internet. And it isn't the free and open internet. Talk about the splintering of the internet.
Leo: Ben Thomson, always astute, writes in Stratechery about Facebook in this regard. They are of course acquiring now a very popular—I never heard of it but there's a student social network called TBH which of course is the acronym for to be honest. It's a polling system that students use. 5-million downloads, 2.5-million daily active users. And Ben says the FTC needs to step in and not let Facebook acquire it. He says they should have stepped in when Facebook tried to acquire WhatsApp and Instagram because essentially Facebook's strategy is the minute any social network threatens Facebook, acquire it.
Amy: Or copy it.
Leo: Or copy it. If they can't acquire it, the tried to acquire Snapchat but couldn't, so they made sure Instagram was a Snapchat clone. And in fact, Instagram seems to have stolen some of Snapchat's thunder, at least with an older audience. He says this is a failure of the federal government to block this kind of thing but maybe because he's based in Taiwan. I don't know if he understand how unlikely it is, at least under the current regime, that we're going to see any intervention at all in this kind of thing, certainly not with an acquisition of a small company like TBH.
Amy: It isn't just the current regime. I think one of the great failings of our various government agencies is that we don't have enough—in a lot of ways they don't—first of all, no one is planning out far in advance. There's no substantive, data driven, long-term planning. In part that's because we got Newt Gingrich in the 90s defunded the agency that was responsible for doing that. It was called the Office of Technology Assessment.
Leo: Yes, this was such a brilliant thing that was really helping people in tech, legislatures understand technology.
Amy: That's right. It was non-partisan and it became the gold standard around the world and all kinds of countries everywhere else have that office modeled after ours. So, what we're left with is a group of rotating commissioners who are political appointees and the US PTO, the Patent and Trademark Office. And unfortunately, a lot of the future of our technology now is being decided by whomever happens to be the commissioner de jour in those offices, who don't have I think enough—there aren't enough restrictions on how quickly those people can go back and work in the private sector and the lobbying that they can do after the fact or before the fact. So, it's kind of a revolving door. And I will say this. I am a capitalist. I believe everybody should make money. I believe everybody should have the ability to make money, but I also think that the interests of Silicon Valley butt up against necessarily, because they are commercial entities, that the rub up against long0term interests of democracy.
Leo: Society. Better to say society, the people. And this is the problem with capitalism is it's a good system but sometimes the needs of society are not well served by a pure market.
Amy: And that's fine. It's not a value judgement. They are companies that are publicly traded, right? So they have different interests than the FTC and the FCC.
Leo: Absolutely. They're profit brokers.
Amy: That's right. And those two agencies don't have enough sort of long-term—they are looking at, like they are not—first of all, they don't quite get what a lot of these companies do and they don't really have the nonpartisan people who are there who can help them make informed decisions. And ultimately, the commissioners come and go. And they come and go back to the private sector where there are commercial interests in play.
Leo: Here's one of the things—
Patrick: If I can be contrarian?
Leo: Sure, Patrick, go ahead.
Patrick. Just to be contrarian for just a second and I'm—let's put it like that. I'm a socialist. I come from a socialist country not in the sense that you understand socialism, but you know, France is certainly on the left end of the political spectrum if you want to look at the world. Well, the western world. But even with everything you're describing, which I agree is very concerning, the reality is that the tech sector in America has not only outperformed every other tech sector in the world, but basically driven the world very successfully into beneficial revolutions in those areas and they're all American. Mostly American and all in the Silicon Valley. I feel like I need to say it because it seems like it can't be a random chance, right? That system has spawned those giants that were so successful and that we—
Leo: I agree. That was the premise really in the beginning of the conversation, is that we get great benefits from Silicon Valley. But maybe it's time for some judicious intervention, just for instance, one of the things Ben says, if the FTC wanted to, and they won't do this, but it would be great if they made a condition on the acquisition of TBH, that Facebook would open up the social graph. So, one of the things that is the case is that all social networks kind of lock in your friend list. You can't export your friend list from Facebook to another network. Instagram launched off the back of Twitter. Many networks launched off the back of Twitter, but, of course, the minute Facebook acquired it, it shut that down. And all social networks have long since made social graph portability impossible, he writes, making it much more difficult for competitors to arise. There are things. They're tweaks, I think you would agree, Patrick, that government could make, not to disassemble these giant companies. I don't think that's proper either, but to make them a little more societally aware in the face of profits. Hey, let's—hold that thought. Hold that thought, Amy. I want to take a break because we're behind and I don't—this is such a good conversation and such a great panel I want to keep going. Amy Webb is here, futurist from The Future Today Institute. Also, the author of The Signals are Talking, Patrick Beja, from the Phileas Club and Le Rendezvous Tech and from Mashable, Deputy Tech Editor Michael Nunez.
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Leo: Amy Webb, you started. I hope you didn't forget what we were talking about. I'm sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to get that in. Go ahead.
Amy: Ok. So, here's my thought on this, on what we were talking about. Do you need to recap what we were talking about or just—
Leo: Well, we're talking about the fact that these Frightful Five and maybe it's eight if you include some Chinese companies, are so dominant, they certainly, and I think we agree, have given us huge benefit. We have, as Patrick pointed out, the innovation that has come out of Silicon Valley had powered not just American innovation, but the world. And my suggestion is that's fine. I don't want to ignore them. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We need these companies but we also, it's appropriate I think for judicious governmental regulation to make sure it's an even, fair playing field and innovation can continue. That's where we left off.
Amy: Right. So, here's my thought. As with any technology, the easier it is for us to use something, the closer that it resembles magic, the sort of less we think about it.
Amy: And that's you know, what Arthur C. Clarke would say is the point, right? If the technology is like magic because it works well, and we don't even have to think about it, then that's great and we're going to use it.
Leo: Any sufficiently advanced technologies indistinguishable from magic.
Amy: Right. However, we need—and you know, I'm defining we very broadly here, but I think we all need to spend a little bit more time thinking about how that magic trick works. How do they do the magic which is not to say that we all need to go learn how to make a deep neural network or something like that, but this sort of delta is widening between us, us consumers and us givers of our data. And the companies that ultimately mine, harvest and refine it and use it, and as a result of that—you know, I just wonder that this analogy doesn't quite fit, but almost in the same way that we establish national parks, is a way to preserve land, I'm wondering if there's a national park solution for our data. Like is there a way for me to somehow either retain all ownership and rights of my data? So, if I'm using somebody else's platform, I still will own—and I know that you can download your data afterwards but that's not the same. Downloading it is not the same thing as owning it, right, because I don't get to see how Russian botnets or something looked at my data when they were on Facebook, right? So, I'm just wondering, is there a way for me to have sort of portable ownership ability or some control over my data, or if it's not, maybe there's some kind of governance structure where everybody who's putting data into the system has some say in how that data's being used. Now, you could argue that that could completely slow down innovation, it's too complicated, there's all kinds of arguments against it. But there is no denying that we are getting further and further away from the sort of core of how our technology works and that's important because the more that we press forward with AI, and as we move from ANI, artificial neural intelligence to AGI, artificial general intelligence and all of the technology and everything else that goes along with it, one of the challenges is—to me it's concerning because we had fewer and fewer people making decisions about what the future of our technology looks like, the corpus, the data sets that are being used, the algorithms that are used, that use that data and it's like we're getting sort of further and further removed. So, the national park illustration doesn't quite fit but it's in that vein. I'm just wondering if there is a way for us to truly own our data and if not, then let's all give up our data but get something more meaningful in return, aside from the ability to put a stupid avatar on our Snapchat whatevers for these five minutes before something else comes along.
Leo: The new Data Protection Law, the GDPR that is being planned is about to—is that it? GDPR? Yea. Is that something along the lines of what you're thinking? Tell me about that, Patrick, because you're there.
Patrick: Yea, exactly. Basically, it's forcefully making every company care about privacy and data. And protecting it.
Leo: Does it give us our data back? Does it give us control of it or?
Patrick: not so much. It restricts the use of data that I know of. I'm not an expert.
Leo: Well, that's problematic because I agree with what Amy wants which is we need to be able to have somehow control.
Patrick: You control it in the sense that you consent to its uses more and you are, you have more trust in the fact that it is better protected. But the irony of this, and I can't, I'm sorry. I can't find the article, but it was really interesting. Basically, the irony is that it further intrenches companies like Facebook and Google that already have all of the data and the social graphs and all of those because those are much more difficult to be shared now. So, it's really hard for another company to come up with those social graphs and clever uses of our data because they can't acquire them as easily. And so this basically—starting with a good invention might end up furthering the power of those huge companies. So, I don't know.
Leo: Interesting. It requires just a couple of bullet points, the highlights. It requires consent for data, explicit consent for data collected and information about how it will be used. It protects children. There will be a data protection officer who will monitor this. The GDPR requires something called pseudonymization which is basically anonymizing data. Encryption is an example of pseudonymization. Data breach notifications are required. That's something that we don't have in the US. We sure ought to have. There's the right to be forgotten is incorporated in it as well. Although it's a limited right to erasure which I guess isn't quite as sweeping. Data portability, just like we were talking about, you should be able to transfer your personnel data from one system to another without being prevented from doing so. I like this. Data protection by design and by default. So much in the US we get things like Equifax who decides to protect your data after it's already been released to the wild. All of these things seem like good things, yet I think that there is considerable concern, certainly in the United States among these big corporations, about GDPR and how to implement it and whether it's going to be burdensome, whether it's going to be—
Amy: Well, of course it's going to be burdensome. But the burden is on us, right?
Leo: Yea. That's the whole point. It should be burdensome (laughing).
Amy: But we also need to be ok being burdened. I guess that's my point. You know, so, I have a Tesla and I love the fact that the Tesla can whatever, auto-park works and the pilot function works. And I don't know exactly how every single component of the car works, but I'm very invested in learning every single thing that I can about every single update, which is different than me just getting in the car and turning on autopilot and going somewhere. Now, I'm a different kind of person because I work with technology for a living.
Leo: You mean like you read? Before you update you read all the things it's going to so or you read the terms of—
Amy: Oh, yea.
Leo: You do? Really?
Amy: Yea, yea. I mean the updates get pushed so it's not like it's hard of—
Leo: Yea, you have to do it sort of after the fact, yea. I got pushed an update that broke my garage door opener. I'm not real happy about that. I called them and it's a widespread problem and they haven't fixed it yet. I asked the guy. He said, "Yea, we just started pushing out the fix but we do it in bunches. So, you won't have it for a while."
Patrick: You know what's funny? You're both exemplifying why we need the governments to be involved in this. And I understand I'm talking to a mostly American audience and going against what I was sort of implying by being the contrarian earlier, but this is the only way these things work. If you don't have the government, which, by the way, is by design—this is not going to be popular in the US, but it is representing the common interest of the people as opposed to private companies, yes.
Leo: Here in the US it might work the other way. I agree with you. Amazon, here's a good one. What do you think about this? Amazon wants to offer a service that lets the delivery person inside your house because here's the problem in the United States. Packages get stolen off of porches all the time. It's a big problem. So, it's only currently available in areas where Amazon does the delivery. They're not going to let the UPS or FedEx or the postal service driver in your house, and you have to spend $250-dollars on a special door lock and the Cloud Cam, a special camera because they want a camera watching the guy or gal as they make the delivery. But, if you're willing to spend a few bucks, then you don't have to worry about packages on your doorstep anymore. They're just going to let you right in.
Patrick: Why not, if you have a house anyway, why not put a giant post box?
Leo: Put a box in front of it. Yea, with an Amazon key.
Amy: Well, that's a good question. That's a very good question. Why wouldn't Amazon just do that and I have a thought on that which is it goes back to data. So, you know, yes—
Leo: There are other ways to solve it but what Amazon's most interested in is getting a camera in your house.
Amy: And collecting. I don't think surveilling every single thing that we're doing, but Amazon is absolutely one of the smartest companies that we track when it comes to understanding very, very clever use of data, like very clever use of data. This whole thing with the trucks that I mentioned and coal, I don't think that Amazon is trying to get into the logistics business specifically to help coal miners. Isn't it more possible or probable that Amazon assumes that, or it's trying to build itself into the company that will sort of be the cloud for all the various connected car companies. All of these car manufactures have promised self-driving fleets, but Ford doesn't have its own cloud server where it's able to process all your information.
Leo: You don't have the data and you don't have a way to gather it, you're out of luck.
Amy: That's right. So, isn't it possible—so every time Amazon launches something new, in the back of my mind, I treat all of these product launches as weak signals and weak signals are what futurists use to sort of spot pattern. So, is this really about making it so fewer people steal your packages? I don't think so. To me, this is a weak signal that indicates—yea.
Leo: Same thing with the Look. And what we don't know, because it's not our business, and we're not data scientists, is how these little bits of data, how valuable they can me. You might say, "Amazon knows when you got a delivery and whether you were home and who cares." But what I think is, we just don't understand the great value of gathering this massive data has and the interesting, unique ways it can be used. This is—I mean, Amazon doesn't want to help me choose what outfit to wear. There's no percentage in that. It's clear they're up to something.
Patrick: There's a marginal benefit to the company for the Amazon key thing and for the Look and for all of those. But certainly, the data is—I mean the gold and the fuel and the petrol, the next version of that. And it keeps coming back, right, for AI which is—well, deep learning and AI which are going to power everything, you need data. If you don't have the data, it just doesn't work. And so, that's something that I think we should be more aware of. You're very right, Amy. At least in the tech industry, tech media isn't aware enough of this, the importance of data.
Leo: Look at this. To do the Carbonite ad, I went to the Carbonite website to show the Carbonite website and now when I read this story about Amazon Key on The Verge, I get a Carbonite ad. This is a perfect example. That wouldn't have been there two clicks ago. But it's a perfect example of how—and this is from Google, how Google, and I'm using the Microsoft Edge browser, but the circle is like this of data coming and going and flowing. And in this case it's just showing me an ad of something I've already shown an interest in and that's not a bad thing. Yet, it just shows you how free flowing this information is. And Google wasn't involved in that transaction, yet they know exactly where I went and they are in fact, putting up an ad keyed to where I went. All right, let's take one more break. One more break. We've got to get one more ad in and I have a couple of lightweight things because I don't want to end on a deep, heavy, profound note. I'd like to end on a fun note. How about that? Although, this is kind of heavy and maybe I should do this first. Roger Stone got banned from Twitter. Twitter, which announced a calendar of new rules, is apparently taking them seriously. Roger Stone, who is a very outspoken- in fact, you've got to see his documentary, Get Me Roger Stone, fella, has decided over the weekend that Don Lemon at CNN was the devil incarnate and a series of vicious tweets, including saying he should be punished, has gotten his account banished. He can, Roger Stone has been suspended. Twitter is not saying if this is permanent, but his account is suspended. Stone immediately took to tweeting from the Roger Stone documentary movie account. So, there is apparently a loophole. In fact, we've known this all along. You can always create a new account. So, Stone says he's hired one of the best telecommunications lawyers in the country and will sue Twitter. It's not clear whether there are legal grounds to do so.
Amy: He's pretty litigious. He'll probably do it anyway.
Leo: Yea, he sues no matter what, right? And he says, "I've been inundated on Twitter," And this is not a bad point, "with bloggers threatening to kill me, my wife, my kids, even my dogs. Twitter seems unconcerned about that." So, the battle rages. The battle rages. And one more story for Facebook and we'll probably talk about this on Wednesday with Jeff Jarvis because he's our journalism guru, Facebook is apparently testing keeping publisher articles out of the stream unless they pay for it. This is not in the US yet. It's in six countries. They're taking content from publishers and businesses out of the newsfeed. Those posts will exist in the Explore Feed unless the publisher pays for placement in the newsfeed.
Patrick: Right. So, remember when Facebook was a place to find news from your friend?
Leo: Publish your newspaper?
Patrick: News from your friends and family and stuff like that.
Leo: And then it became a place for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to put articles. And look at the—this is a tweet from somebody, but he's talking about the drop in organic reach. Pages are 4 times less interactions in countries where the feed has been modified. You just can see the drop, right?
Patrick: So, that means the people using Facebook there see more of the people they actually know.
Leo: Friends and family. Yea.
Patrick: I understand the consequence, but it seems like there could be a logical explanation to this test.
Leo: Oh, I understand it. It just underscores why if you're a business or a publication, using Facebook as your way of generating traffic is probably not the best idea. Because after all, Facebook controls it.
Amy: Why would Facebook charge?
Leo: Well, we live in a capitalist economy and if they charge, they make money. Hang on. Let Amy ask this question.
Amy: Here's why. Because about a year ago, I admonished—it doesn't matter. I was speaking at a conference after writing some stuff and I said, "News organizations have no longer control the means for distribution, so, everybody should get together and decide nobody's publishing anything on Facebook, and then Facebook will just be a wasteland of friends and family posts and stuff that nobody wants to read." They were reluctant to do that. Now, just anecdotally, we did a study to try to figure out how much of Facebook's UI is dependent upon quality journalism. And it turns out there's quite a bit of it.
Leo: Oh, really? Oh, interesting.
Amy: Yea. So, I'm trying to figure out is, what net benefit is there to Facebook? I mean obviously they know what their leverage is right now, but news organizations are so strapped, if they forced news orgs to pay, which they can't really do, then what's their end game? I can't figure out why would they—what do you guys think? Why would they be doing that?
Patrick: They're just not going to take away the ads. That's the reason why they—the way they put it in the article is basically they force you to pay in order for you to appear on people's feeds, as if that was a strategy to encourage people to pay more. I think the strategy is to make the feeds more personal, but at the same time, they're not going to turn away the ad money, so that would mean there's no more revenue for Facebook. So, they keep the ads in there and that's—and it's a test, but, you know.
Amy: I don't know. I think there's something else going on.
Michael: Yea, I think that for the past decade or a little more than that, I guess Facebook has made a lot of publications basically addicted to the Facebook newsfeed as a source of distribution. And now they're just—I can't blame them for trying to collect on that addiction, right? Because this is a necessity for a lot of the largest publishers in the US, probably even in the world, and so it's really easy for Facebook to basically just flip a switch and ultimately hurt the bottom line for these companies. And so, already a lot of the biggest publishers in New York, let's say, are spending thousands of dollars on Facebook to promote certain stories and to promote certain social media campaigns on a monthly basis. I think it's safe to say and so, you know, I would just see this as Facebook sort of—of course they're looking to charge publishers for distribution because this is one of the biggest use cases for the network right now. You know, people are publishing less original content and therefore Facebook's relying on publishers for a lot of that content and one way that you can quickly increase revenue is by making those publishers pay to have their content seen, because a lot of them already are doing a version of that which is paying a smaller amount to have certain stories promoted and boosted a little bit. This is the same model just applied in a different way.
Leo: Matthew Inman, the cartoonist at the Oatmeal has a very trenchant point to make. He published a cartoon, Reaching People on the Internet. How it used to be. Come on over. I've got some neat stuff here at my website. What happened? Well, Facebook. Actually, follow me over there. It will be easiest for us to reach each other. Where we're at now. Hey, I made some new stuff. Can you show it to my followers? Facrebook's closed the door and says, boost this post. The irony is, he posted that cartoon on Facebook, and then Facebooks said, "Get more likes, comments and shares. This post is performing better than 95% of the other posts on your page. Boost this post for $2,000 to reach up to 490,000 people."
Patrick: I get those all the time.
Leo: I get them all the time, too. It's kind of ironic. I love it.
Patrick: I do want to entertain the possibility that this is to address the issue of viral political—
Leo: Fake news. It could be. And it is a small test. It's six countries, it's not an international.
Michael: It's also important to remember that all test begin as small tests on Facebook.
Leo: Yes, yes.
Michael: But a small test on Facebook can actually mean tens of thousands and potentially millions of people.
Leo: You bet. As we saw from those Slovakian websites that they're hit hard by them.
Amy: They can just, context again, Facebook can absolutely combat this information and fake news without charging publishers, quality journalism.
Leo: There's ways to do it. Let's take a break. Final thoughts in just a moment with a great panel, really fun today. Michael Nunez. He's Deputy Tech Editor at Mashable, Joining us from Brooklyn, New York. Amy Webb, joining us from DC, right, Amy?
Leo: Yep. Washington DC. She's the author of The Signals are Talking, great book on futurists and how they work. She's also a futurist herself as you probably can tell from her astute insights. Patrick Beja, our favorite Frenchmen, at least one of them, from the Phileas Club and of course, Le Rendezvous Tech.
Leo: Our show today brought to you by, appropriate for a Frenchman visiting us, wine. By Blue Apron. We know Blue Apron. We've talked about Blue Apron, the number one food delivery company in the country, packaging wonderful ingredients with great recipes to make a delicious dinner. Well, now you can expand your wine pallet with Blue Apron's wine boxes. With Blue Apron, no wine leftovers because their bottles are a little bit smaller which is nice because I always have leftover wine in a regular sized bottle. Lisa and I opened up a bottle of Blue Apron wine. It's delicious. It's wonderful. The curate a great collection, great way to destress in the evening but not wake up with a hangover the next morning. Perfectly sized for two to share over a lovely weeknight meal, a Blue Apron meal I hope. $10-dollars a bottle. That's half the price of what you'd find in the store, because of course they go to the source. They deliver it directly from the winery, eliminating the costs of the middle man. Six new wines monthly from all over. Napa, our favorites are Bordeaux's. We've had some wonderful Bordeaux's from Blue Apron. You customize the box of course with the styles and varieties you love. And Blue Apron includes custom tasting notes. So, just as Blue Apron has taught us all how to cook great new recipes and ingredients, they're now going to make wine fun by giving you the who, the what, the where of every wine they send. I love this and we're going to get you $25-dollars off your first wine box by going to BlueApron.com/TWiTWine. We've been doing this for some time. In fact, I think I remember that we convinced them that they should talk about the wine. For a long time, we were talking about the food, of course. We love our Blue Apron boxes. And Lisa said, "You know, you really ought to tell people about this wine thing. It's fantastic." BlueApron.com/TWiTWine. Perfectly sized wines with custom tasting notes, helping you discover fabulous new flavors. BlueApron.com/TWiTWine. As always, Blue Apron, a better way to cook and now a better way to imbibe.
Patrick: Convince them to launch in Europe.
Leo: Oh, you need this in Europe. You need this.
Amy: I like the smaller bottles.
Leo: I know because a full-size is—
Amy: Don't laugh at me. I'm American. I can barely get through it.
Leo: No, it's not a split. It's perfect for two. I don't know. It's a little bigger than a—it's like halfway between a split, a half-bottle and a full bottle. It's perfect. I wonder. Now, Patrick, let me ask you, when you buy a cheeseburger in Europe, France or Finland, where is the cheese on the cheeseburger?
Patrick: We're going to talk emojis aren't we?
Leo: We're talking emojis. It's a big deal here.
Patrick: I would say the cheese is on top of the patty but below the lettuce or salad.
Leo: Yea, you put the lettuce, the—look, I worked at McDonalds. I know exactly how you do it. Two all- beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. Going from the bottom from the top and you put the condiments on the meat. No, you put the cheese on the meat and then the condiments on top of the cheese and then the lettuce. Anyway, for some reason, bizarrely, Google's emoji features the cheese on the bottom. Now, I know this is not the end of the world but apparently Sundar Pichai thinks so, the CEO of Google has tweeted after Thomas Baekdal tweeted, "I think we need to have a discussion about how Google's burger emoji is placing the cheese underneath the burger, while Apple puts it on top." Sundar tweets, "Will drop everything else we are doing and address on Monday. If folks can agree on a correct way to do this." Now, are you going to tell me it's ok to have the cheese on the bottom, Amy?
Amy: I feel like I read on Mashable for various reasons you're supposed to put the cheese on the--- like, we've been doing it wrong. Like you're supposed to put the cheese for some reason on the bottom. Does that sound right?
Leo: Ok, ok, well, thank goodness, I have somebody from Mashable right here. Here's now McDonalds does it, interestingly. They put the cheese underneath the bottom patty.
Michael: You can't do that because then you can't melt the cheese, right? So, if you're doing this properly, you're putting the cheese on top of the patty while it's on the grill so that the cheese melts. And then you can transfer the patty and the cheese to the bun, dress it up, eat it.
Amy: But aren't you supposed to flip it and put the cheese on the—I swear I read that on Mashable.
Leo: (Laughing) By the way, the tweet thread in response to Sundar Pichai is awesome. Here's Facebook's cheeseburger emoji compared to Facebook Messenger's and Kaspar Klippgen points out, "Hey, Dave Marcus, you need to put more sesame seeds on the Messenger bun. There's only three." But David then responds, "Those are poppy seeds, but our cheese is excellent. (laughing). And on and on and on. Cheese always goes on top so it can melt, Sundar. I mean—also, by the way, while you're at it, this is not how beer works. That actually, I think that makes an excellent point. The foam is on top of the mug but there's an air gap between the top of the beer and the foam. Google, go home. You're drunk. That's not how beer works.
Patrick: This is how their deep learning algorithms have told them that beer works.
Leo: This is the funniest.
Patrick: You know, they do everything with algorithms.
Leo: Yea, it's a very interesting thread. I don't know where they might have gotten the idea that the cheese goes under the patty. Hmm.
Amy: Oh, wow, that was Danny Mayer. Was that the Danny Mayer?
Leo: Who's Danny Mayer?
Amy: Oh, a very, very famous New York City restauranteur.
Leo: Oh, founder of Shake Shack.
Amy: Yea, yea.
Leo: Danny Mayer. He must be a gourmet. He's got a napkin to his lips on his Twitter avatar.
Amy: Yea, his restaurants are great.
Leo: So, he's got a diagram. Apparently, Katie Couric got involved in this as well (laughing). This is crazy. You know what? The smaller, the less important, the less relevant the topic, the easier it is for anybody to have an opinion and I think that's what's going on. By the way, somebody responded to a Google image search which seems like that should be definitive. Apparently, the person responsible for Google's new emojis is a vegetarian teetotaler, according to Dan Burns. We may never solve this conundrum but I'll be watching with interest tomorrow to see if Google fixes this problem. Yes, it is the—
Patrick: I hope they change their emoji based on this Twitter thread, you know? Twitter certainly has a lot of influence in very important things in the world. It's nice that also sometimes some ridiculous thing happens and becomes a thing. You know, it seems like it happened like this all the time a few years ago and now it's only horrible horrors that happen on Twitter. I like that the emoji burger thing became a thing and everyone's jumping in on it.
Leo: Of course. You're French where at the McDonalds the Le Royal and Le Royal with Cheese have no salad because everyone knows in France, the salad comes after the meal, my friends. After.
Patrick: But the cheese on Le Royal with Cheese is on top and on bottom patties.
Leo: Both, because yes, the French believe in more cheese (laughing).
Amy: What is all that white stuff? Is that mayonnaise?
Leo: That's Le Secret Sauce. Le Sauce Secret (laughing). I'm deadly afraid that might mean the secretion sauce in French. I don't want to go farther than that.
Patrick: Actually, McDonalds is a lot better in France than in it is in the US, surprisingly.
Leo: Yes, some Americans may disagree. It doesn't taste the same. Let's put it that way.
Patrick: Well, they would be wrong.
Leo: Patrick Beja. Follow him at FrenchSpin.com. On the Twitter he's @NotPatrick. I never got the explanation for that. Why are you @NotPatrick?
Patrick: For @NotPatrick?
Leo: You are Patrick.
Patrick: Well, a couple of things. First of all, Patrick was already taken which is completely anecdotic in the reasoning. The real reason is that it is a brilliant marketing move. You hear it once and you never forget it.
Leo: @NotPatrick, yea. He is for the English language podcast, ThePhileasClub@FrenchSpin.com but if you want to listen to Le Rendezvous Tech in French, FrenchSpin.fr of course. And he makes his home now in Helsinki. It's great to have you. Thank you for joining us. It's probably 4 in the morning.
Patrick: Yea, it's getting there. It's 2:30 but I'm soldiering on.
Leo: Thank you for staying up late with us. I really appreciate it.
Patrick: My pleasure.
Leo: Amy Webb, always a pleasure. Go to AmyWebb.io to find out everything Amy is up to. The more we have you on, the more I want to have you on. You're just so great, so smart and I love your perspective, which is a perspective of—kind of the long-range perspective and we're so quotidian in our concerns, it's nice to think about the future a little bit. Her book, The Signals are Talking. She's grammatical. The Signals are Talking. The Signals is Talking is another book entirely, why today's fringe is tomorrow's mainstream. Best seller, available everywhere and of course, her company is on the website at Amy Webb, W-E-B-B.io. You can find out about her futurists and her future and tomorrow's future today. Thank you, Amy. Great to have you here. And my good friend, glad to have you back. Please come back anytime, from Mashable, where he is the Deputy-Tech-Editor, Mr. Michael Nunez. Michael, you held that microphone like a champ for two-and-a-half hours.
Michael: Thanks for hanging in there with me. I definitely appreciate the invitation.
Leo: We're going to send you a headset that you don't have to hold on to from now on.
Michael: That would be great.
Leo: Thank you all for joining us. We do This Week in Tech every Sunday afternoon. It really is fun every week to get together with just the best people and talk about what's going on, trying to understand in a deeper way than the daily headlines. You can join us right around 3:00 PM Pacific, 6:00 PM Eastern Time. That's 2200 UTC. And will be for one more week and then Daylight Savings Time ends and we'll be at 2300 UTC. But we'll talk about that next week. If you can't watch live—and, by the way, if you are here live watching TWiT.tv/live or our livestream, please join us in the chatroom at irc.twit.tv. Great bunch of people in there. And the background chatter helps—basically they write all my jokes. It's very, very helpful if you come and write jokes for me at irc.twit.tv. You can also be in house. We had some great visitors from all over the world. If you want to visit, just email tickets@TWiT.tv so we know you're coming. We love having people from all over who listen to the show come visit us, like Toshi who is from Japan, Shenevas who is from Mumbai, India, visiting today from Boston Massachusetts, Bob, and from Boulder, Colorado, Steve. Great to have you guys here. Just email tickets@TWiT.tv. We would love to have you in the studio with us. If you can't watch live or be here live, you can always get on demand of all of our shows, easily enough at the website, TWiT.tv or subscribe and your favorite pod catcher. That way you'll get every episode. It's getting to be a lot like the end of the year. I can't believe we're already starting to talk about the end of the year. We're putting together our Best Of episodes from all of our TWiT shows. We would love your help. It's easy. If you remember a moment that you really, you know, oh, that was great, whether it was thought provoking or funny or just weird, go to TWiT.tv/bestof and give us whatever information you know about it. Even if you just say, "Hey, that time when they did that with the thing and the thing on the head? That was a great time." Even that will be helpful because our editors have to work hard to go through, to comb through 52 weeks of shows to put together the Best Of. We'll have that at the end of the year. I think it will be our New Year's Day show, right? Is it New Year's Eve or New Year's Day on the last Sunday of the year? TWiT.tv/bestof. Thanks everybody for being here! Come back again next week, will you? But for now, another TWiT is in the can. Bye-bye.