February 26, 2022
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Pro
Hello, I’m Jamie Condliffe, Protocol’s managing editor, and I’m standing in for Biz Carson, bringing you a selection of Protocol stories from the week that was to keep you in the loop.
This week, we can’t not talk about what’s happening in Ukraine. But also: what tech wants from the State of the Union, the complex nature of AI and metaverse R&D, and why one company thinks it’s time to ditch the C-suite.
Front and center in most of our minds this weekend is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding in Eastern Europe. And perhaps looming largest of all in our thoughts is: What happens next?
Beyond our primary concerns for the citizens of Ukraine, what we all probably want to know is what this all means for the tech industry — for supply chains, for investment, for funds, for startups, for everything. Of course, the only thing we can say with any real certainty is that we don’t know how events are going to unfold in Ukraine over the coming days, weeks, months or even years. But the wave of sanctions being imposed — or not — on Russia has the potential to ripple beyond the nation.
On Thursday, President Biden announced sanctions that would “cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports, restricting Russia’s access to vital technological inputs, atrophying its industrial base, and undercutting Russia’s strategic ambitions to exert influence on the world stage.” He also severed ties between the U.S. and some of Russia’s largest financial organizations, enterprises and elite families.
A core element of the tech sanctions — and potentially the most consequential in terms of wider impact for the industry — is a restriction on semiconductors. For a sector already facing huge supply chain issues, and causing pain to the entire tech sector as a result, what does that mean? Actually, as Protocol’s Max Cherney and Hirsh Chitkara reported, Russia isn’t a primary market for chipmakers, so the answer is … probably not a great deal? Though supplies of neon — which is used in chip production and exported by Ukraine — could become an issue. (Perhaps the biggest consequence for the U.S. as a result of chip sanctions, Hirsh and Max pointed out, “could be increased cooperation between China and Russia.”)
One thing Biden has so far shied away from is blocking Russia from using the SWIFT international payments communication system. As Hirsh has also reported, that’s because such a move “could be the first domino in a sequence of events that bolster China- and Russia-backed alternative digital payment systems” and “very well incite the dedollarization of the world economy.” That isn’t stopping other Western countries from pushing for it, and the U.S. could still change course. But it’s unlikely, so the odds of this being the moment that your favored crypto-utopian, alternative payments network emerges as a global tool are slim, I’d say.
Harder to predict right now is how sanctions imposed on some of Russia’s largest banks, enterprises and elite families will affect the flow of cash into U.S. markets and investment, how clampdowns will develop over time and how Russian money will be treated in the future as a result of the conflict. Could this become the end of Russian investment in U.S. tech? What happens to Russian investors working in the U.S. if that’s the case? Where might their money go instead? It’s clearly still too early to answer those questions with any accuracy.
But as the situation develops in Ukraine, Protocol will continue to explore the complex dynamics of the situation for the tech industry. And, as ever, I’d welcome your thoughts: email@example.com.
New process control technologies and improved operational efficiencies will deliver the necessary quality, precision and cost-effectiveness to move next-gen therapeutics forward. This can only be achieved if the industry embraces the shift to smart manufacturing, particularly with the use of IoT and edge applications.
A warm embrace of crypto? A real commitment to leadership in 5G and semiconductors? A … federal privacy law? Well, we can all dream, and that’s why we asked our Braintrust to tell us what they would like President Biden to say next. A shout out in particular to Bradley Tusk for his dream of a Crypto for America Plan.
Everyone left the Bay Area during the early pandemic! Then they came back! Only, as Protocol’s Sarah Roach reported, Silicon Valley is now wherever tech workers want it to be, and many tech jobs are increasingly based in places that aren’t on the West Coast.
The idea of AI being a critical building block of the metaverse, as Mark Zuckerberg argued earlier this week, sounded an awful lot like buzzword soup. In reality, it’s messier — and more interesting — than that. In this interview, Meta AI Research managing director Joelle Pineau told our Janko Roettgers that Meta isn’t primarily focused on any kind of metaverse AI, but instead sees the whole thing as more of a back-and-forth innovation process.
Outschool’s co-founder — please don’t call him CEO, he’s “head of Outschool” — thinks the regular title structure that most companies use doesn’t make sense. Instead, his company is run by executive “heads” and middle- and upper-management “leads.” In this interview, he explains why he thinks it’s a good idea.
Stadia was a great idea, but arguably ahead of its time, having faced all kinds of bumps along the way. But, as our Nick Statt writes here, “Google’s struggles are providing the still-nascent cloud gaming market with a roadmap for moving forward, if only as a cautionary tale on what’s necessary to achieve that tricky balance between cost, accessibility and performance that could one day truly make gaming hardware obsolete.” In other words, this market is still wide open. What you got?
Another week, another ludicrous NFT story. But the (unsurprising) rise in fraud around NFTs raises some big questions for the industry, especially around the problems created by the current acceptability of anonymity. There’s a market opportunity waiting in NFTs for someone who can square consumer safety with the utopian ideals of crypto — if it’s possible.
As we move into a world after COVID-19, the biopharma industry must understand how to maintain this incredible pace of innovation without forfeiting precision or quality. Smart manufacturing — otherwise known as Industry 4.0 — converges IoT, software-defined infrastructure, advanced analytics and AI to create more flexible and interoperable digital manufacturing platforms.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week with some more of the best stories from Protocol.