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From Big Cloud to Big Bitcoin

From Big Cloud to Big Bitcoin

Good morning! This Sunday, here's your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from the state of enterprise computing to Bitcoin's biggest day ever.

Also, check out this week's Source Code Podcast for more on these and the other most important stories of the week.

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As always, let me know what you think, and what you'd like to see more of in our weekend edition. I'm david@protocol.com, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks! On to the good stuff.

Best of Protocol

Software ate the world. Now it's eating software companies, by Tom Krazit

  • Between Salesforce buying Slack and AWS hosting re:Invent, it was a big week in the enterprise world! In the midst of it all, we published a manual on what the new enterprise really looks like. "Digital transformation" is no longer a line on a slide; it's the reality for every business on the planet. And it's even changing the companies that led the charge.
  • My other favorite story from this week's manual: How Zoom pulled off the scaling event of a lifetime. Oh, and perhaps the biggest news from AWS was that the company finally, quietly entered the multicloud era.

"There's a chilling effect": Google's firing of leading AI ethicist spurs industry outrage, by Anna Kramer

  • The outrage over Timnit Gebru's firing from Google came fast, and it hasn't stopped. She was one of the industry's most respected AI ethics researchers, and the way she was let go doesn't reflect well on Google. That would be true even if Google's hiring and firing practices weren't already under intense scrutiny from the NLRB. As Gebru's colleagues told Anna, this has the potential to change the way the whole AI ethics industry sees Google.

Van Buren v. United States: The SCOTUS case splitting the privacy world in two, by Issie Lapowsky

  • There's nothing quite like a Supreme Court hearing that involves a long, complicated dissection of the word "so." There's nuance everywhere in this case, which basically attempts to figure out who counts as a computer hacker. And, as Issie found, a lot of lawsuits are actually about this very question, so the ramifications of the eventual answer will be huge.

Trump's Section 230 veto threat is probably DOA. Here's what could actually happen, by Emily Birnbaum and Issie Lapowsky

  • In the realm of tech discourse, Section 230 has passed AI for the title of "Thing Nobody Really Understands But Nevertheless Talks About Constantly." And "Repeal 230!" has become a rallying cry in the last days of the Trump presidency. Emily and Issie looked into whether Trump's recent threats really matter — spoiler alert: not really — and what actually might happen to the 26 words that underpin the modern internet.

The startup behind Facebook's new reality show wants to upend cloud entertainment, by Seth Schiesel

  • Interactive, cloud-based gaming looks like it's going to mint a whole new generation of streaming companies, and Genvid's Rival Peak game seems likely to be one of them. It's also going to blur the lines between … everything, as Seth writes: "Trying to succinctly describe Rival Peak in traditional terms quickly descends into buzzword purgatory. It is an interactive live reality show. It is also a massively multiplayer, AI-powered cloud streaming game."

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SYNCHRONY

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Best of Everything Else

Tony Hsieh's American Tragedy: The self-destructive last months of the Zappos visionary — Forbes

  • I have … complicated feelings about this story, which attempts to connect the dots on what the end of Tony Hsieh's life was like. It occasionally lands in some odd places, but mostly the story is just sad. It's a reminder that you never know what people are going through, and that success and happiness have very little to do with each other.

What if you could outsource your to-do list? — The New Yorker

  • Virtual assistants have always seemed to be two years away from being two years away. But the idea of outsourcing most of your life — or at least all the administrative parts — to a person thousands of miles away in front of a computer seems increasingly un-crazy. If you haven't experimented with offloading some of your simple-yet-time-consuming tasks, make it a 2021 resolution.

The incredible journey of the electronic plastic bottle — Wired

  • What can a bunch of SIM card-equipped plastic water bottles tell us about how trash moves, accumulates and creates problems all over the world? A lot, actually. Even when they get caught in fishing nets, or grabbed by nosy strangers along the river.

AlphaFold: A solution to a 50-year-old grand challenge in biology — DeepMind

  • Understanding how proteins work is crucially important to drug discovery and so many other fields, and the DeepMind team does a good job here of explaining exactly how it managed to make a breakthrough on one of its thorniest issues. (If you want to understand the protein folding problem even better, Ken Dill's TED Talk is an excellent place to start, as is this explainer from The Roots of Progress.)

The Biden administration should crack down on Tesla — Slate

  • This story's about Elon Musk and Tesla, sure, but mostly it's a thoughtful look at exactly how complicated it's going to be to regulate the upcoming era of autonomous electric vehicles. And maybe more urgently, it's about what it costs when complicated regulation turns into no regulation at all, especially when lives are on the line.

Crash Course

Get up to speed on crypto

Bitcoin hit its highest price ever this week, and depending on who you ask, it's either about to totally collapse or take over the world's financial systems. (Though to be fair, that's what they always say.) Meanwhile, Facebook keeps pushing ahead with its cryptocurrency, now called Diem; PayPal's Dan Schulman is telling people that "the time is now" for crypto; and the Winklevii are busy comparing Bitcoin to gold.

But maybe you're still catching up. (Don't worry, me too.) To help further your crypto-education, we asked a few experts for their ideas on the best ways to get up to speed on the subject.

  • David Yermack is a finance professor at NYU Stern, and he recommended three conversations he had with Scott Galloway about cryptocurrency and blockchains in general. Here's part one, part two and part three.
  • MIT's "Blockchain and Money" course. This is an online version of a course from 2018, taught by Gary Gensler, who is now leading President-elect Biden's financial oversight transition team. He's pro-crypto, too, which gives the HODLers a big ally in the government.
  • The Crypto Startup School from a16z. It's ostensibly a deep dive into what it takes to build a crypto company, but works more like a lecture series on everything you need to know about the space. (The a16z team also pointed me to its Crypto Canon, a reading list with lots of other resources too.)
  • The Bitcoin white paper. If you've never read Satoshi Nakamoto's nine-page treatise introducing Bitcoin to the world, it's worth digging into. It makes the same arguments for digital currency that you'll still hear everywhere today.
  • The Pomp Podcast. Anthony Pompliano is a big believer in cryptocurrency. Which you'll find out roughly eight seconds into any of his podcast episodes. He and his guests do a good job of dissecting business news in general, but he always has an eye on what digital currencies mean for the way we think about money.
  • "The impact of blockchain technology on finance: A catalyst for change." It's a dense read, but these 75 or so pages from the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies attempt to lay out the entire future of digital money. This is required reading for finance students all over.
  • "Five years after Dodd-Frank: Unintended consequences and room for improvement." While we're deep in the weeds, understanding Dodd-Frank is key to understanding why the financial world works the way that it does, and why it's changing the way it is. This is a good place to start.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

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

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