Image: Benjamin Rascoe / Protocol
March 9, 2021
Good morning! This Tuesday, what a new book can teach us about the next decade in tech, what Coursera's future looks like, why you can't stream the Harry and Meghan interview and what Mark Zuckerberg wants you to look like in VR.
The Big Story
How to avoid war with China
There's a new book out today that seems destined to change the way the tech industry thinks about the world. What "Her" was for voice and "Minority Report" was for weird video interfaces, "2034: A Novel of the Next World War" could be for how we think about conflict with China.
Here's all the plot you need to know right now: The book follows several characters on various sides of an escalating U.S.-China conflict, which eventually turns into nuclear war. It's set in 2034, which sounds like the future at first but feels in the book like it's right around the corner.
I spoke with the book's co-authors, Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman, about what's happening between the U.S. and China, and what war — and the world — might look like in the next decade.
- A nationwide cyberattack — one of the big climaxes of the book — is the thing people should worry about most, Stavridis said. "And as we were writing this, [we learned] the Russians did exactly that to Ukraine," he said. "They effectively blinked the western part of the Ukrainian electric grid."
- What's happening with SolarWinds and Hafnium only serves to prove the point. "But what you ought to focus on is they hacked FireEye. That is arguably the top cybersecurity company in the world," Stavridis said. What the hackers did "was both carpet-bombing and precision-guided strikes."
- Russia has that kind of capability now, as do China and the U.S. "And we need to, over time, develop a deterrent regime for cyber much as we have one in place for the use of strategic nuclear weapons," Stavridis said.
The U.S. needs to improve its national tech abilities, Stavridis said. He saw huge shifts in how tech and government work together during his decades in the Navy, and said the two sides need to find a way to work together again.
- Defense companies still know how to make bombs and ships, he said, but "on things like cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing? Not so much. Where is all that resident? In a funny little place called Silicon Valley."
- The sentiment around things like Project Maven and JEDI is valid, he said, but "if you want our nation to succeed, we are going to have to compete, particularly with China … it ought to be their choice if they don't want to be part of that effort. But we're going to need that if we're going to succeed in this 21st century."
We'll have more from Stavridis and Ackerman on tomorrow's episode of the Source Code podcast, so subscribe now to get it first. And read the book. It'll scare you, in a useful way.
What's coming for online education
Coursera played a central role in 2020's grand educational experiment, but Zoom School isn't the company's biggest opportunity as it gets ready to go public. Instead, as Protocol's Hirsh Chitkara reported, Coursera is trying to figure out how to help billions of people get ready to work in the economy of the future.
- Re-skilling is going to be a huge and important business over next decade. Amazon's investing heavily in the space just to make sure it can hire qualified people, and companies across the industry are trying to build a better system for acquiring, certifying and applying the skills of the future.
- And don't be mistaken: This is a big opportunity. Education is an over trillion-dollar market, and growing fast.
But what are the headwinds facing Coursera? Time for some S-1 risk factors:
- Education moves slowly. "Even if educators and enterprises want to adopt an online learning solution," the S-1 says, "it may take them a substantial amount of time to fully transition to this type of learning solution or they could be delayed due to budget constraints, weakening economic conditions, or other factors."
- Tech moves fast. Coursera counts 16 distinct competitors across its markets, from Khan Academy to LinkedIn to all the free stuff on YouTube. And that's not including all the universities — some of which are crucial partners for Coursera — now investing heavily in their own online systems.
- Certification is hard. A university generally confers at least some sense of proficiency to its students — though admittedly that is less true every day in Silicon Valley — but not everyone treats these continued education and re-skilling programs the same way.
- Coursera is a B Corp. That means it is required to produce a sustainable public benefit, which could get in the way of it being acquired, or making the most money. (This is, of course, the whole point of a B Corp! But it's not always great news to investors.)
COVID-19 presents a big question mark, too. Coursera's betting big on a hybrid future. "I think that there are similarities between the way the new normal for work and the new normal for online learning," Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda told me last year. "Managing groups — whether those are groups of students or groups of employees — you can't assume everyone's going to be in the same place or at the same time." Investors will need to feel confident that he's right about that.
When streaming isn't streaming
Millions of people watched Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah on Sunday. Millions more did what the streaming era has trained us all to do: Wait until the next morning, and go find it streaming somewhere. In doing so, all those people got a fresh lesson in how stupidly complicated the streaming world is.
- The interview streamed live on Paramount+ and CBS, but you can't find it on-demand on Paramount+.
- Oprah's production company Harpo reportedly didn't do a streaming deal yet. But because of the way live deals tend to work, you can watch it on CBS.com and the CBS app. (Just to add to the confusion, the CBS app is, of course, turning into Paramount+ as CBS leans further into streaming services.)
- It's also not available on Discovery+, where Oprah has a network. Or on Apple TV+, where she has a big content deal. It's on CBS.com, a website, for 30 days, because somehow that's technically not an on-demand deal. And then, who knows?
To recap: You can stream the interview (right here, if you're just looking for a link), but not in the place where it originally streamed, or in the app that CBS is promoting like crazy and would love to be the beneficiary of millions of royals-loving viewers signing up for free trials. And you probably can't find it on your TV. Because the streaming era is ridiculous.
JOIN US TODAY
As more companies look to digitize their operations, developers are becoming even more central to the business. Join Protocol's Tom Krazit and Joe Williams in conversation with Google Cloud's Amit Zavery and Webee's Cecilia Flores. This event is presented by Intel.
People Are Talking
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency isn't set up to prevent hacks like SolarWinds or Hafnium, Rep. Yvette Clarke said:
- "For us to leave it up to each individual federal agency is screaming for [a] breach. … There needs to be an entity that sees this as a priority, and many other federal agencies, they see it as a utility."
On Protocol: Steve Case said the logic behind the pandemic has accelerated the Silicon Valley exodus — and that's fine:
- "Investing in more companies in more places ... is critically important if we're gonna have any sense of unity in the country."
The key to unlocking VR is getting the avatars right, Mark Zuckerberg said:
- "When I think about where you're at with VR today … there are some pretty good games and different experiences. But I'd love to get to the point where you have realistic avatars of yourself, where you can make real authentic eye contact with someone and have real expressions that get reflected on your avatar."
Meanwhile, Sheryl Sandberg said Zuckerberg was already worried about a pandemic in January 2020:
- "I thought he was nuts. I was like, 'What do you mean there'd be a pandemic. What's a pandemic? And would we really work from home?' But he said, 'No, no. It's possible that everyone's going to have to, like, go home.'"
If we handle it right, technology will end the concentration of power, Satya Nadella said:
- "I think the next 10 years, the tech industry, if we get it right, will just blend itself. This over-celebration of tech has to stop."
Lina Khan is President Biden's latest FTC nomination. She's been part of the House's antitrust investigation, with particular focus on Google.
Katsunori Sago has left SoftBank. He was once seen as a potential successor to Masa Son. Meanwhile, the SoftBank-backed Z Holdings said it would invest $4.7 billion and hire 5,000 AI engineers in the next five years.
Erica Joy Baker is the new CTO at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She'll be initially focused on House races in 2022.
Eric Yuan transferred about 40% of his Zoom stock, a stake worth $6 billion, to other trusts and recipients. Not a bad haul for the CEO.
DJI lost a third of its U.S. staff last year, Reuters reported, with layoffs and departures of some key staff to rivals.
In Other News
- The Biden administration launched an emergency task force to deal with the Microsoft hack. And if you're confused about what happened, Krebs On Security has a good timeline of the hack.
- On Protocol | Policy: The White House endorsed the PRO Act, which would pave the way for gig workers to join unions. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have obviously been lobbying against it.
- Russia sued Google, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram for not deleting content about protests. The cases will be heard next month.
- House Democrats asked Facebook for info on gun ad targeting. The 23 lawmakers said they want answers from Mark Zuckerberg about why gun ads were reportedly shown next to election misinformation in the wake of the Capitol riots.
- A Microsoft-led team retracted a big quantum-computing paper. The research claimed to have found evidence of Majorana particles, but a review found that data was "unnecessarily corrected" and that researchers were "caught up in the excitement of the moment."
- A French startup lobbying group filed a complaint against Apple, claiming that Apple's personalized advertising feature doesn't seek user consent.
- Waymo said its cars avoided 82% of crashes in a simulation. It said it couldn't avoid simulated rear-ended crashes, though. Which, fair enough.
- MWC Barcelona is going ahead with 50,000 visitors this June, the GSMA said. Everyone will have to show a negative COVID test every 72 hours.
One More Thing
A 1KB chess prodigy
Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Lina Khan and Mark Zuckerberg's names. This story was updated on March 9, 2021.