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Tech billionaires keep getting richer

Image: Neon Brand / Unsplash
Money

Good morning! This Wednesday, tech's richest men are absolutely cleaning up, Zoox thinks the self-driving revolution is coming fast (again), YouTube has a new way to measure moderation success, chaos continues inside Google Brain and will.i.am made a face mask.

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The Big Story

Tech's rich get richer

There are 2,755 billionaires in the world, according to the new version of Forbes' "World's Billionaires List." That's 660 more than last year, including 493 newcomers. (Special congrats to the 167 who got that third comma back!) Together they're worth $13.1 trillion, up more than 60% from last year.

Surprise surprise, tech CEOs dominate the list. In all, eight of the top 10 richest people on Earth are tech people:

  • Jeff Bezos, worth $177 billion, is still the richest person alive. Elon Musk is No. 2 at $151 billion, up more than 6x in just the last year. Bill Gates is No. 4 at $124 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg is No. 5 at $97 billion.
  • Those four men added a combined $259 billion to their wealth in the last year alone, which is a truly mind-boggling number.
  • Elsewhere in the top 10: Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Mukesh Ambani are all worth at least $84 billion.
  • MacKenzie Scott is the richest tech-related woman on the list at No. 22, worth $53 billion.

The list of new billionaires is unsurprisingly also tech-heavy, after a year of relentlessly huge IPOs and massive VC spending.

  • From Checkout.com's Guillaume Pousaz to Carvana's Ernest Garcia to Roblox's David Baszucki to SPAC king Chamath Palihapitiya to Chewy CEO and GameStop fervor-inducer Ryan Cohen, there's clearly more money in tech than ever.
  • Of the newly minted billionaires, a few are women in tech: Bumble's Whitney Wolfe Herd, Alibaba Group's Judy Tong, Fisker's Geeta Gupta-Fisker and the investor Catherine Phillips all made the list.

And don't forget about crypto! Forbes said nine people have now made a B from cryptocurrencies, including the Winklevii and Tim Draper. Leading the pack: FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who is worth $8.7 billion.

Transportation

The self-driving revolution is back on

The autonomous car industry feels … complicated right now. Tesla's stock is still volatile, would-be competitors are being bought and sold, Amazon seems to be investing in everybody, SPACs abound, lots of companies are getting permits to test autonomous cars in SF, John Krafcik left Waymo, the old guard is raring for a fight and it feels like the whole space is in turmoil.

Inside the industry, though, there's excitement about what's coming soon. Zoox CTO Jesse Levinson told me on today's episode of the Source Code podcast that after a few years of "self-driving is right around the corner" excitement and a few more years of "no it's not" malaise, the light is back at the end of the tunnel.

  • Thanks to huge consolidation over the last couple of years, there are now fewer players with much deeper pockets. "The capital requirements are vast," Levinson said. "This is a many, many, many billions of dollars problem. And as a fully independent startup, it was admittedly difficult to find that type of capital."
  • Amazon bought Zoox last summer, and is also an investor in Rivian and working on lots of other EV and self-driving projects. But so far, Levinson said, the parent company has told Zoox to keep working on its robotaxi plans. "They've been very clear with us that they bought Zoox to move people around cities," he said.

And one thing that won't hold the industry back? The government. "We've actually done pretty well as a country, in terms of being progressive with" autonomous regulation, Levinson said. And with the Biden administration itching to spend big on EV charging and Pete Buttigieg continuing to investigate the potential for self-driving at the Department of Transportation, an auto revolution might be coming faster than we thought. Even if it's slightly slower than we used to expect.

Moderation

YouTube's new number

0.16% to 0.18%. That's approximately the proportion of YouTube's total views in Q4 2020 of videos that violated its policies. That means for every 10,000 video views on YouTube, 16 to 18 were of videos that shouldn't have been on YouTube.

  • This new stat is called the Violative View Rate, and it's YouTube's attempt to add some context to its efforts to rid the platform of problematic content. YouTube has been using it internally for a while, and is now sharing it externally.
  • Three years ago, YouTube said, the VVR was more like 0.63% to 0.72%.

This metric is a directionally good idea, but some researchers think YouTube should be doing more. For one thing, YouTube is compiling the data and making rules and decisions itself, rather than submitting for any kind of outside analysis.

  • And, of course, tiny percentages of huge numbers are still big numbers. YouTube says users watch over a billion hours of video on the service every day. So there's bound to be hundreds of thousands of hours of YouTube viewing that shouldn't be happening, every single day.
  • Still, the number is low and getting lower, and this does seem like a useful metric that gives YouTube the right incentive: to keep bad stuff off the platform, but more importantly to keep people from seeing the stuff that slips through.

Even Facebook liked it. "Prevalence is an incredibly important metric for understanding how internet platforms are doing at content moderation," Guy Rosen tweeted. "Kudos to YouTube for sharing theirs today (Violative View Rate), a really important step forward for the industry."

Learn More

Trust in technology has declined dramatically – so how do we move forward from here? ICYMI: Protocol's Tammy Wincup moderated a panel with Edelman's Bay Area GM, Margot Edelman, Trinity Cyber's President, Tom Bossert, and The Pill Club's SVP of Communications & Public Affairs, Chelsea Kohler, to discuss Edelman's 2021 Trust + Tech findings and the path to a more trusted future.

Click here to watch the recording

People Are Talking

President Biden wants to raise corporate taxes, and Jeff Bezos approves:

  • "We support the Biden Administration's focus on making bold investments in American infrastructure. Both Democrats and Republicans have supported infrastructure in the past, and it's the right time to work together to make this happen."

On Protocol | Enterprise: Target is hiring more tech talent, and CIO Mike McNamara said it's because retail engineering is a good gig:

  • "What's attractive about retail is that the problems you get to solve are fun, and they're interesting. And they're immediate; you're not a million miles removed from the guests. It's very, very easy to understand the connection between the work you do and what happens when one of our guests walks into our stores."

A group of senators has some serious concerns about Facebook's "Instagram for kids" plan:

  • "Facebook has a record of failing to protect children's privacy and safety, casting serious doubt on its ability to do so on a version of Instagram that is marketed to children."

Will.i.am helped design a crazy high-tech face mask, and I kind of love his rationale:

  • "We are living in sci-fi times … straight out of a friggin' movie. But we are wearing masks from yesterday's movie. So I wanted to make a mask to fit the era that we're in."

Making Moves

Toshiba might go private. Private equity firm CVC has offered $20 billion for the company, sending Toshiba's shares skyrocketing.

Plaid raised $425 million, valuing the company at $13.4 billion. That's more than double the $5.3 billion Visa planned to pay.

Grab's planning a $35 billion SPAC merger, The Financial Times reported. It's reportedly in talks to go public via Altimeter Capital's SPAC in a deal that could be announced this week.

Flipkart is planning to go public this year, Bloomberg reported. The Walmart-owned company wants to IPO in the fourth quarter.

Morgan McGuire is Roblox's new (and first) chief scientist, joining from Nvidia.

Samy Bengio is leaving Google, as chaos continues inside the Google Brain team. Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell both reported to him.

In Other News

  • Max Schrems filed a complaint against Google, accusing it of illegally tracking Android users with unique advertising codes.
  • Facebook's Kustomer acquisition might face antitrust scrutiny from the EU, after Austrian regulators referred the case to the European Commission. Meanwhile, the U.K. launched its new Digital Markets Unit, a watchdog dedicated to tech antitrust.
  • The creator economy keeps booming: Patreon just raised at a $4 billion valuation, and Clubhouse is reportedly in talks to raise at the same valuation.
  • Thousands of U.S. public agencies have used Clearview AI, BuzzFeed News reported. It said that in some cases agency leaders weren't aware that their staff were using the facial recognition tool.
  • Signal's testing P2P payments. U.K. users have access to a beta, which uses the MobileCoin payments network and MOB currency.
  • China's Bitcoin mining could stop it from meeting its emission targets. A new study estimates that by 2024, Bitcoin mining will account for over 5% of all China's carbon emissions from electricity generation.
  • Don't miss this story about apps resurfacing painful memories from Wired. It's a fascinating exploration of privacy, automation and the limits of tech's empathy.
  • Former BitMEX CEO Arthur Hayes surrendered to authorities in Hawaii, six months after being accused of violating the Bank Secrecy Act.

One More Thing

Tom Brady signature

NFT of the day

Whether NFTs will change the art game forever remains to be seen. One thing we know for sure: It's already a great way for celebrities to make money. And Tom Brady is ready to cash in, launching Autograph with a group of other celebs and celeb-platform builders to sell "unique digital collectibles." As always, a fan and their money are soon parted.

Learn More

As trust in technology has fallen, its employees have become more engaged in workplace protest – even as 83% say they trust their employers. With increased pressure from all stakeholders – employees, regulators, the media, and the public – how can the sector chart a trusted path forward?

Learn more and download Edelman's 2021 Trust in Technology report here.

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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.

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