View from Washington: Reprogramming the 2018 Kobayashi Maru

I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim.

So, just over a fortnight gone. After we'd all digested dad’s overly fermented Christmas pud, along came Michael Wolff’s book on Trump, a ‘disappointing’ CES and further claims from Facebook staff that polarisation was “built in to the business model”. It was all enough to push the ‘dry’ back into February. No way Captain Kirk could cheat this one.

Or so it seemed.

For starters, did anyone really find Wolff’s slew of Trumpian revelations surprising?

The general reaction in DC – and elsewhere – has been that it confirmed what was known, albeit with cracking anecdotes amplified by Steve Bannon sounding off the most self-destructive brain fart in recent political history (well, since his last one… or two).

Given that Wolff is one of America’s more entertainingly gossipy journalists, Fire and Fury was thus more par-borderline-birdie than true albatross.

Meanwhile, what about that Internationally Enthusing Consumer Electronics Show? “OMG,” the Geekosphere opined, “it was full of products as daft as Juicero. #consumerelectronicshascompletelylostit.”

Kiddiwinkies, you have now all been around long enough to know that (a) at best, only one-in-three CESs is a big deal; (b) it always has a fair share of over-engineered, over-marketeered dreck; and (c) the ‘Big Boys’ are increasingly doing their own events where they (i) have the fuller attention of developers to woo towards their innovations and (ii) get more cyber-inches from you lot because chuff-all else is happening – and you get freebies/access. But still, the clickbait clueless (and the less-so) were out in force.

And then, as for the former Facebook workers and investors speaking out. OK, you saw founding president Sean Parker’s interview with Axios’ Mike Allen in November. You know, the one where Mr Napster himself wondered, “God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains.”

Look chaps (and it is predominantly chaps, isn’t it?), you seem to have your own #metoo thing going on. Problem is, that strategy has worked for sexual abuse because the victims rather than the perps are speaking out.

And when it comes to social media and the climate it is creating, it is again the victims that I would rather hear from: the lied-to, huxterised, poor sods who put their trust in your platforms and - be it Trump, Brexit or whatever – are feeling buyer’s remorse.

But to shift the tone, allow me some ‘positivity’ (or whatever that thing is that’s going to get Oprah elected).

First off, did Michael Wolff actually miss a story? Or at least, an important nuance.

One of the few real surprises in his book concerns our old friend, the H-1B visa. After his pre-inauguration meeting with high-tech CEOs, President-elect Trump reportedly told Rupert Murdoch that, “These guys really need my help” and “really need these H-1B visas.”

“Donald,” Murdoch argued, “for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.” Then, as many of you may know, Rupes went on to call Trump “a f*****g idiot” after putting the phone down.

Sexy gossip, but it also misses what many in DC see as ‘The Two Trumps’ theory – there are the public blowhard (of which we’ve all had enough) and the private dealmaker more open to a good argument (as long as it’s the one he’s just heard).

And canvassing the failed Manchester United owner for a view on high-technology companies might not have been a good idea anyway – a bit like asking Wayne Rooney if he’s really that happy back at Everton.

To be fair to Wolff, he raises the 2Ds elsewhere, but usually to show Trump-as-doofus mode. In reality however, we are stuck with this most inappropriate of presidents and if there is a way around him, maybe technology needs to focus on it. God (or SpagMon) help us, it is what it is. You want impeachment. Don’t hold your breath. Unless you can do it for three more years, that is.

Next, CES. Amid all the sniffles over VR, AI, poisonous assistants and battery-powered carry-on, 8k-resolution displays got genuine plaudits. That matters.

A commoditised display market needs to advance the TV refresh cycle for its own good. But there is then a whole set of AV technologies that will grow to meet the new standards.

They attract better margins, fuel IC and IP development. All that, while giving consumers an ever better entertainment experience from the local cinema through to a home-theatre-in-a-box. The infrastructure around this supports a lot of engineering – thereby a lot of engineering jobs (and of a kind where Brits excel).

Moreover, AV reaches through so many product segments now. You can argue all you want about The Last Jedi. I would just ask you on how many platforms you or other members or your family will watch it. My youngest daughter loaded Rogue One on my cellphone – and though I didn’t like it much originally, selected chunks help waste away a subway journey (and I does like meself some good Donnie Yen kick-butt).

Oh and, as of CES, it looks like wireless VR is getting there. Great. The market is toast without it.

So anyway, as we move into another year, we must ask ourselves if it is that bad to retain the fundamental optimism of our industry. Come on, it’s early days and this technological ship of state takes time to turn. And that automotive stuff – it still looks really cool. The world ahead is not full of no-win scenarios.

But hang on, though. Where’s the upside for Facebook and its friends at Twitter, Google and elsewhere? I’ve found a chink of light in Trump, some love for CES, and yet have nothing to offer them.

Nope, not really. Kobayashi Maru ahoy, Zuckers. Indeed, let’s keep some snark for those who did their Klingon bit for a little too long and who won’t be gone or, like CES, reinvigorated in – oh, is it just three years. So please do reTweet, Faceyshare and Googglyplus my thoughts. Apparently, I annoy them.

Happy 2018. Live long (or at least until we sort out that bunch) and prosper.


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