Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Mathew Schwartz / Protocol

Meet the next decade of computers

Chips

Good morning! This Wednesday, Arm made its biggest chip moves in a decade, Mozilla is still trying to fix the internet, the Clubhouse clones keep coming, AR glasses get a little more real and there's chaos at the Free Software Foundation.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day. And you can text with us, too, by signing up here or texting 415-475-1729.)

The Big Story

Arm-powered everything

Self-driving cars. Ubiquitous VR headsets. Massive AI data sets. Connected cities. Totally automated factories. Hey, even smart washing machines. That's the tech industry of the next decade, and Arm's plan is to power all of it.

Arm introduced its new v9 architecture yesterday, the biggest leap the company has made in its designs since 2011. It expects the first v9-powered devices to come as soon as this year. In general, v9 is meant to support a much wider range of chips and use cases, as Arm chips go from "the chips inside mobile phones" to "the chips inside, like, everything."

  • Security is v9's biggest overarching job, Arm CEO Simon Segars told me, and the new Confidential Compute Architecture and Realms are key features. To some extent, Arm's job is just to provide a toolkit for partners to build with, but he said security is a place Arm can do more proactive work: "People do, unfortunately, cut cost corners in order to get a product out the door cheaply, and compromise security along the way."
  • Flexibility was just as important, Segars said: "The needs are just so variable" as chips become crucial parts of everything from cars to thermostats to toaster ovens. New chip uses demand new chips, so Arm is expanding its lineup of options. "Being able to pick those implementation points, whether you're doing something in a network, something in the cloud, something down on a sensor, but that's really important," he said.

Arm's chip designs are getting better-suited to machine learning as AI becomes more a part of every layer of computing. Segars said that can be tough, especially as low- and no-code tools let people build things at even higher layers of abstraction. Abstraction is the enemy of efficiency, of course; true believers write as close to ones and zeros as possible.

  • "We spent a lot of time thinking about, what needs to go into the CPU?" Segars said. "What needs to go into a dedicated processor that sits alongside the chip? What's the role of the GPU?" Arm doesn't want to dictate too much, but it also wants to make right answers easy to find.
  • Those answers change, too. For many years Arm has mostly worked with companies you'd reasonably call "tech companies." Now it's working with automakers, appliance manufacturers, network providers, heavy industry and many others. Segars said Arm is working on bringing all those folks into the fold, and helping catch them up to the chip world.

Arm needs this to pay off. Competition is heating up on multiple fronts: On one side, Intel's making a concerted effort to license its IP; on the other, RISC-V presents an increasingly popular open-source Arm alternative, particularly in the embedded space that Arm's targeting.

  • And if the Nvidia acquisition is blocked by regulators, Arm may soon need to demonstrate strong growth to pitch itself to investors in an IPO.

Oh, and the chip shortage? Segars didn't seem terribly worried, at least not in the long run: "If absolutely every wafer that can be manufactured is being sold right now, that seems to me like that's the strongest the industry could be." He said long-term forecasting is still a challenge for chip makers, and expects the next few years will bring a boom in semiconductor and chip manufacturing. Which would likely be very good news for Arm.

Regulation

The future Mozilla wants

"Technology does not solve human nature." That's what Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker told me on today's episode of the Source Code podcast. She said she's excited about the possibilities that blockchain and other new tech bring to the internet, but cautioned that we can't rely on technology solutions to human problems. And as both the tech industry and its regulators move forward, she said everyone should be thinking less about how things work and more about how they're used.

Transparency is the starting point for everything else. "Transparency is a necessary prerequisite to so much of what we need," Baker said. "It's not enough, but it's hard to do really positive, effective things when someone else has all the information."

  • Interoperability is step two. It's a natural complement to transparency, she said, "because we have more examples, we'd have more choices, we have more experimentation, we'd have different kinds of data, we'd be able to see what really worked. We would be able to see, if consumers really had a choice, what we would choose."
  • So much about the internet needs to change, Baker said, to make it more secure and more functional, but there's still so little common knowledge about how these systems actually work.

Baker's take on privacy is also pretty interesting: She said Mozilla has come to realize that saying "don't give us your data, we don't want it" doesn't actually accomplish much. The better approach is to figure out how to use people's data in a way that actually advocates for and adds value to the user. And "better ads" doesn't count.

  • "Data should be an asset for the individual," she said. AI systems know us better than we know ourselves; what if instead of using that information to sell you stuff, they let you use it to get more done or have more fun? What if you got a warning when your activity shows you're getting angry and need to log off? Pretty sure that'd make my life better.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Mimi Fox Melton said she's found the best time to make a company care about diversity is while it's still fairly small:

  • "There is a certain size of growth where companies are really able to metabolize feedback on their culture and their practices before those practices and cultures are baked into the DNA of the organization. So more and more, we're leaning towards doing the deepest work with companies that are earlier in their growth or intentionally staying under 1,000 people."

Nick Clegg said Facebook would give users more control over its algorithms, but also pushed back against the idea that polarization was all social media's fault:

  • "In many respects, it would be easier to blame everything on algorithms, but there are deeper and more complex societal forces at play. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror, and not wrap ourselves in the false comfort that we have simply been manipulated by machines all along."

The chip shortage might get worse before it gets better, Foxconn's Young Liu said:

  • "The [supply in the] first two months of this quarter was still OK, as our clients are all very big, but we started to see changes happening this month."

On Protocol | Fintech: Western Union doesn't yet see crypto as a useful money-sending tool, CFO Raj Agrawal said:

  • "We want to see if we get better foreign exchange rates. Can we save time? Is it more transparent for the consumer or for us? Can we move money around the world easier? The answer to all those thus far has been: no, no, no, no and no."

Making Moves

Gavriella Schuster is leaving Microsoft after 25 years. Rodney Clark is getting a new job within the company, as CVP of global channel sales.

David Fischer is leaving Facebook after more than a decade at the company. Facebook's now on the hiring prowl for a new chief business officer.

Carla Cooper is the new CFO at Contentful, joining from Salesforce.

Dave Heiner is Truveta's new chief policy officer and general counsel, joining from Microsoft.

Brett Redfearn is Coinbase's new head of capital markets, joining from the SEC.

SoftBank is office-hunting in Miami. It's looking for up to 100,000 square feet of new space, as it tries to find ways to spend the $100 million it has earmarked for the region.

In Other News

One More Thing

The Crowned King

NFT of the day

Francis Ngannou made about $500,000 by knocking out his opponent in a UFC fight on Saturday. He's going to make even more from his first line of NFTs, including the one above, called "The Crowned King," that sold for $283,500. It's like I always say: NFTs, they're better than a kick in the head.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

Facebook under fire