You Betcha: April 30, 2017 Snippets

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One of the most evergreen sources of conflict, both in storytelling narrative and in real life, is the struggle between order and chaos. Many of the tech-related problems we’re confronting today, from the deluge of alternative realities enabled by the Internet to the creeping tide of 1099-contract work displacing more stable traditional employment, conform to this premise quite conveniently. As a real-world phenomenon, the truth is messy and complex. So often enough, in a funny way, some of the best places to understand these forces of chaos and conflict can actually come from works of fiction, where unlikely plot twists can deliver unanticipated lessons.

Perhaps no show on TV today delivers on this promise better than Fargo, whose third season has returned recently on FX. Building on the universe established in the Coen brothers’ 1996 film, each season of the series takes place in a different time — first in 2006, the second in 1979, and now back to 2010 for the third. The three stories, each with their own unique cast, follows the classic character trinity: the Good (which include the local law enforcement), the Bad (a tide of chaotic evil from far away that spills into a peaceful Minnesota town and threatens to ruin everything) and the Ugly (a few complex local characters who, although highly problematic, find their moment in a time of chaos and end up being key to defeating The Bad).

Two episodes into the third season, the source of chaotic evil in the current storyline is revealed: a nationless, lawless group of criminals empowered by a potent and destabilizing new fuel, the Internet. It’s a timely story for the day, and the metaphors sometimes seem a little too on the nose. But still, although we don’t know what’s going to happen yet, it’s a good bet that in the face of this new messy and chaotic situation, the traditional Good characters won’t be the ones who get us out of this mess. It’ll be the problematic ones — the ones who may not have all the information or the purest of intentions, but end up incidentally doing everyone a favor.

Jumping back out to the real world, we’re beginning to see a similar Good, Bad & Ugly narrative begin to emerge around the tech giants, their public perception, and several years worth of accumulated “the tech backlash is imminent” predictions. The scariness isn’t so much in what we know is going to happen, or what we think is going to happen — it’s what we can’t know, and can’t even imagine, especially with regard to what’s happening and will happen to the workforce. Almost as if on cue, long-vilified incumbent companies like Walmart are emerging as a strange kind of Problematic Hero, with new initiatives that seem genuinely helpful in the face of uncertainty:

Inside Walmart’s curious, possibly ingenious effort to get customers to save money | Rob Walker, The Atlantic

Walmart announces ambitious goal: to be the number one health care provider in the industry | Dan Diamond, Forbes

Indeed, it’s pretty interesting to see other business leaders like Jamie Dimon make the case for corporate action such as raising wages and community development, almost as if to say between the lines, “Hey, remember us? Well you may like us more now, compared to this new force you don’t understand.”

Companies have a moral obligation to do more for society | Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan

Anyway, the reason why it’s worth thinking about these storylines is that in the coming years, many people’s perceptions will be shaped more by narrative than by data, and that’s effectively non-negotiable. In fact, this may be one of the tech community’s biggest blind spots: a failure to understand the story arcs and cast of characters going on inside the minds of others, and a vulnerability to what might happen should perceptions start to turn. We could definitely learn a thing or two from the Coen brothers, or from corporate leaders like Jamie Dimon who have been around longer than most of us: it’s a lot easier for people to shape facts around an already held narrative than to do the opposite. The tech community could certainly learn a thing or two today for what may well be coming down the road.

People and perspectives worth listening to:

Reid Hoffman: To successfully grow a business, you must expect chaos | Andrew Leonard, Entrepreneur Magazine

Ron Howard on Einstein’s genius; the future of filmmaking | Dan Costa, PC Magazine

The myth of a superhuman AI | Kevin Kelly

Build something no one else can measure | Sriram Krishnan

Car Wars:

Didi surpassed Uber in rides more than a year ago. Is it about to surpass Uber in valuation? | Sarah Lacy, Pando

Alphabet’s Waymo now offering Phoenix families rides in autonomous cars | Tim Higgins, WSJ

Podcast episodes for your listening enjoyment:

The future of human-robot combinations on the waterfront and the rest of the world’s supply chain | Containers Podcast

The Google Chef, Charlie Ayers, on shaping the company’s early culture | Internet History Podcast with Brian McCullough

Henrietta Lacks, her medically miraculous cancer cells, and the transformation of science and patient rights | Radiolab

Interview with Ken Fisher of Fisher Investments | Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz

Werner Herzog & Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum | Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Image Capture:

Scientists may have captured first image of a black hole | NVIDIA Developer Blog

Experimental nighttime photography with the Nexus and Pixel phones | Florian Kainz, Google Research Blog

Inside the elite meme wars of America’s most exclusive colleges | Taylor Lorenz, Mic

Other reading from around the Internet:

The battle for the future of airlines is still being fought over the Atlantic | Patrick Whyte, Skift

Will the high-tech cities of the future be utterly lonely? | Jessica Brown, The Week

Systems of intelligence: the new moats | Jerry Chen, Greylock

Why poverty is like a disease: emerging science on the epigenetics of being poor | Christian Cooper, Nautlius

As streaming services boom, Soundcloud strives for relevancy | Dan Runcie, Wired

A tale of two squirrels: the not-so-simple math on venture portfolio size | Matt Lerner

Jonathan Demme, Oscar-winning director, is dead at 73 | Bruce Weber, NYT

In this week’s news and notes from Social Capital, MeMed has been awarded a contract from the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency to accelerate product development on top of their ImmunoXpert platform:

MeMed gets $9.2M to develop tools to distinguish between bacterial and viral infections | Josh Baxt, MedCityNews

For those of you who haven’t yet heard of MeMed, well all we can really say is this: it may have become typical (and a bit amusing) to hear the average Silicon Valley tech company describe their work as “saving the world”, but MeMed actually is working to save the world from something terrifying: antibiotic-resistant superbacteria. Our dependence and overuse on antibiotics to treat anything resembling a bacterial infection may be quick and convenient, but it’s putting us at great risk in the future: as more bacteria become exposed and eventually resistant to our arsenal of drugs, we trade convenience today for vulnerability tomorrow. As MeMed founder and CEO Eran Eden puts it flatly: “If you lose antibiotics, you lose modern medicine.”

Tackling drug-resistant genes globally: final report and recommendations | 2016 Review on Microbial Resistance

MeMed solves this problem with a bench-top device that distinguishes between bacterial and viral infections in fifteen minutes, using a combination of traditional three-protein assays and their own proprietary technology. Early results published in The Lancet, the world’s most preeminent medical journal:

A host-protein based assay to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections in preschool children (OPPORTUNITY): a double-blind, multicentre, validation study | van Houten et. al., The Lancet

This is, to put it plainly, a big deal for medicine. With the USDTRA’s funding helping to accelerating this process, Eden and cofounder/CTO Kfir Oved may well be names you’ll hear about in a few years — although if they’d have it their way, they’d probably prefer MeMed act as an anonymous, pre-emptive hero rather than one that emerges triumphantly at the 11th hour. We’re lucky that we’ve gotten to work with them and are hopeful about what’s to come. You can learn more about the antibiotic resistance crisis here, as well as the MeMed team and their career openings.

Have a great week,

Alex & the team at Social Capital