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Self-driving cars are coming fast. Maybe too fast.

Tesla

Good morning! This Friday, Tesla's engaged in a big (and high-minded) argument about Autopilot, tech workers are struggling to figure out where to live going forward, Epic continues to grow its store and VCs hate the new capital gains tax.

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The Big Story

Defining self-driving

Last week's Tesla crash has turned into a reckoning on self-driving, including what that term even means. (To be clear, it's not even certain whether the crash was a self-driving one; Elon Musk tweeted that early data "so far show Autopilot was not enabled," while those on the scene said they were virtually certain that no one was in the driver's seat.)

  • On the one hand, you can make a case that autonomous driving is by some measures already safer than human driving. (At least in certain conditions, on certain roads, in certain places.) That's why you have people like Sens. John Thune and Gary Peters pushing legislation that would make it easier for the NHTSA to get more autonomous vehicles on the road.
  • On the other hand, what do you do when a feature called "Autopilot" leads people to think they can fall asleep at the wheel, or crawl into the backseat on the highway? Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are worried about that, and sent the NHTSA a letter saying they had concerns "regarding whether Tesla's Autopilot system has sufficient safeguard from disengaging from the road."

Autopilot's caught in a complex tangle of expectations and responsibility. Let's just say for the sake of argument that the people in the fatal Model S crash engaged Autopilot, and then climbed out of the driver's seat. In a typical car, that's obviously irresponsible; it's safer to do that in a Tesla, but still incredibly reckless. Unless they genuinely believed the Autopilot was in full control and could handle the roads, maybe?

  • When Consumer Reports found it was easy to trick a Model Y into moving without anyone in the driver's seat, Tesla's Jim Hall pointed out that you can achieve the same thing on any car anywhere with a brick on the gas pedal.
  • But drivers probably don't have an expectation that such a trick would work for very long in their 20-year-old Jeep Cherokee, whereas they they might think differently about their Model S.
  • And that brings us back to an age-old question: Who's responsible for what happens to a self-driving car? The driver? The automaker?

There are multiple ongoing investigations into the accident, both to determine what happened and what could have been done to avoid it. Eventually, there will likely be regulations about what can be called "self-driving" and how and whether car companies need to make sure someone's in the seat paying attention even when they're not driving.

But Musk and Tesla should be asking questions that should also be on the minds of everyone in tech: What are we selling our products to do? How do we help people both embrace the benefits and mitigate the risks? And what responsibility do we have to help people be smart, make good decisions and be safe? None have easy answers, but whether you're Facebook or Tesla or OpenAI, the answers matter an awful lot.

Work

Who's moving back to SF?

Anna Kramer writes: It's existential crisis time for tech workers, now that tech companies are starting to set up new hybrid or return-to-work policies for the coming months. All the digital nomads and new Tahoe residents are having to make new life plans. And they're finding companies have way more control over their personal lives than they'd like to admit.

A lot of people don't want to move back to where their companies are based after traveling the country or moving away from the West Coast.

  • Michael Danahy and his wife (who work at TrueX and YouTube, respectively) bought a condo in Denver late last year and would like to stay forever. But they're now stuck in limbo, waiting for their employers to decide if they have to move back.
  • Even if they do end up Valley-based again, Danahy and countless others like him are hoping they'll be able to move between offices and locations quite a lot more in the future.

Those who do stay remote will have to face up to travel. Groan, sigh, cheer, whatever you want, but it definitely seems to be part of the new reality: If you're working in Michigan and your boss is in San Francisco, they're going to want you in San Francisco from time to time.

But some people are keen to get back on campus. Many really young workers, who may have never known anything other than remote work, are surprisingly eager to get into the office. While they enjoyed a year of nomadic fun, they never got to meet colleagues or make new friends, which really matters when you're young and just getting your start.

And perhaps we should all try to be a bit more like Danahy, whose acceptance of the last year I personally struggle to grasp. "At this point, our preferences are pretty low on the list of realities," he told me. "We just learned that the world will intervene in a lot of ways, regardless of what our preferences are. That's what the pandemic taught us, I suppose."

Apps

The store Epic wants

Epic's about to go to trial with Apple, where it will try to prove that it's the good guy in the app store wars and Apple is the big rent-seeking bully. So, with 11 days left until the trial, what did Epic do? Some good-guy stuff, Protocol's Nick Statt writes:

  • It's adding Brave, iHeartRadio, KenShape and Krita to the Epic Games Store, with Discord and Houseparty coming soon after. They join Spotify on the list of non-games available in the app.
  • Also new to the store: Itch.io, a game store focused on indie developers.
  • And Epic's not planning to take a cut of sales or in-app purchases for any of them.

Epic is clearly trying to make an Apple-related statement here. Tim Sweeney has always framed the existence of Epic's store as a moral decision as much as a business one, and this is no different..

  • Epic's most direct competitor in this space is Steam, and subsidizing your way into some market share is a standard business move. Though the Epic Store is a pretty epic money pit, losing more than $330 million so far.
  • But if Epic's decision not to charge developers helps convince a judge that Apple shouldn't take 30% of Fortnite's revenue on iOS either, it'll end up being a profitable one.

Epic isn't the only company running this playbook, by the way. Spotify is about to launch a competitor to Apple Podcasts subscriptions, The Wall Street Journal reported, with one big difference: It won't take a cut.

A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

Remember what it was like to see a new city, visit your family, watch a live show, or cheer for your favorite team in person? Those experiences are closer than ever with the free CLEAR app. Vaccine connection is coming soon - download today and get ready.

Learn more

People Are Talking

Google supported the Endless Frontier Act, and Kent Walker laid out why the company likes the bill:

  • "Beyond direct support for R&D, our national innovation strategy should include support for immigration reform, entrepreneurial start-ups, regulatory clarity, and open data and interoperability."

GitHub's Devon Zuegel moved to Miami a few months ago, and shared a fun anthropological tour of life so far:

  • "Miami seems to whisper to people that you should be entertaining and flamboyant. This takes a lot of different forms. The most visible ones are the party girls walking to the beach with stiletto heels and the macho guys revving the Lamborghinis they rented for the day."

Snap hit a long-awaited milestone this quarter, Evan Spiegel said:

  • "The vast majority of smartphones in the world are powered by Android, and our Android user base is now larger than our iOS user base — a critical milestone that reflects the long-term value of the investment we made to rebuild our Android application."

Intuit created an anti-racism language guide, and La Toya Haynes said getting it right starts with conversation and self-identity:

  • "Do not assume that someone is gay or straight, and do not assume their race or ethnicity. Ask the question, and then begin the discussion based on how they identify themselves."

Number of the Day

43.4%

That's the overall highest tax rate that President Biden is preparing to propose, according to Bloomberg. That includes nearly doubling the capital gains tax to 39.6% for anybody earning more than $1 million, which would affect a lot of the people cashing in startup equity in the middle of a hot IPO market.

Most indications are that the administration is overshooting in order to get to a more reasonable middle ground, but if you're wondering why the stock market had a bad day yesterday, it starts with a big fat tax increase.

Oh, and VCs hate it. "43.4% capital gains tax might kill the golden goose that is America/Silicon Valley," Tim Draper tweeted. And then he told everyone to buy Bitcoin. So there's that.

In Other News

  • On Protocol | Policy: The Supreme Court reduced the FTC's powers in a unanimous ruling. It said the FTC does not have the power to demand fines or other forms of monetary restitution from companies that engage in deceptive practices.
  • Facebook criticized its own handling of moderation ahead of the Capitol riot in an internal report seen by BuzzFeed. It acknowledged that a focus on individual Groups and Pages missed the cohesive nature of the groups involved in organizing the riot, and vowed to "do better next time."
  • Chinese authorities want Ant's consumer lending data, The Financial Times reported. The country's central bank reportedly wants Ant's data to be given to a state-controlled credit scoring company, though Ant supposedly wants to lead the new entity.
  • Apple's facing a class action lawsuit over iTunes. A judge refused to throw out the case, which alleges that the "Buy" button for a movie is misleading as Apple can revoke access.
  • 4chan founder Chris Poole has left Google. He worked on social networking, Area 120 and Google Maps during his time at the company.
  • SpaceX sent some astronauts to the ISS, the first time NASA's used a rescued crew capsule.
  • Someone seemed to buy Google's Argentinian domain for around $4, temporarily breaking the site. Pro tip: Remember to renew your domains!

Work in the Future

Choose your platforms wisely

Next time you start a meeting, take a second and think: What do I want to do with this meeting? Some things are ephemeral, and can just end when they end. But in an asynchronous, hybrid world, maybe you want a record of the conversation, or its action items, or a way for those who missed it to catch up later.

Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard professor and the author of "Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere" said in an interview with McKinsey that leaders should think about the need to "capture, store, and reuse our communication events." "If we use the phone when in fact we want to capture, store, and reuse whatever we're working on," she said, "we should make different digital choices." That's a company culture decision, and just a practical one. But it's a good question to ask every time a meeting starts: What's this meeting for, and where does it go when it ends?

A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

Remember what it was like to see a new city, visit your family, watch a live show, or cheer for your favorite team in person? Those experiences are closer than ever with the free CLEAR app. Vaccine connection is coming soon - download today and get ready.

Learn more

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 weekend, see you Sunday.

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