Home / Apple / Yes to technical optimism. And pessimism.

Yes to technical optimism. And pessimism.



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I recently made a promise to myself and I want you to join me. When I consider something new that is bubbling up in technology, I have promised not to get too excited about either its potential pros or cons.

I know shades are rare these days, but please join me in the huge zone of complexity between “wow, cool!” and “it will not work”

; or “it hurts!” I want to live in the shades of gray.

I have been thinking about this gray zone because of two things: a tweet and Elon Musk.

Sriram Krishnan, a technology executive I respect, tweeted a few days ago asking for more optimistic descriptions in movies and television of people building technology. He did not say it that way, but I imagined he would have less fiction like “The Circle”, about a surveillance state business cult, and more like “Iron Man”, where a technical nerd cobbles a suit that saves his life and gives him superhero powers. .

I understand what Krishnan is saying, and there is a greater significance behind it. Right now, there is a lot of pessimism about the damage to social media, the scary digital surveillance of our smartphones and our faces and the stubborn power of tech giants.

These downers sometimes drown the ways we know technology has made many of our lives immensely better. Both “The Circle” and “Iron Man” encompass some form of reality, but it is easy to look at technology as one or the other.

You could see it in reactions to Musk’s ostentatious demonstration on brain-implanted computer chips on Friday that he hopes one day can help combat serious health conditions such as stroke and spinal cord injuries.

Musk is a masterpiece, and every time he does an action about an underground car tunnel in Los Angeles or bulletproof electric pickup trucks, it’s the same reaction: Some say he’s making amazing and life-changing innovations. And other people say Musk’s promises are untested and unoriginal hype.

I can not predict what will happen to Musk’s Neuralink company. Musk has repeatedly promised technology that does not go out or that seems meaningless. His companies have also helped promote electric cars, enabled commercial spaceflight and forced the entire automotive industry to reconsider what cars combined with computers can do. Sometimes the doubters are right in Musk. But so are cheerleaders.

That’s why I want both “The Circle” and “Iron Man.” I do not know how to get the balance right, but it is worth starting by acknowledging that both sunny and grumpy people have a point.

We need technical optimists to shoot for the moon – literally in Musk’s case. But sometimes I think technology companies also need to give more voice to chief pessimists who ask what this technology does not work? Who can be harmed by this technology, and how can we prevent it? And do we need this at all? Give de Eeyores a corner office.

Technical downers and “Iron Man” -loving optimists need each other more than ever. Technology is not something that exists in a bubble; it is a phenomenon that changes how we live or how our world works in ways that help and hurt.

It requires more humility and bridges over optimism-pessimism separates from people who make technology, those of us who write about it, government officials and the public. We need to think on the bright side. And we have to consider horribles.


I wrote in Monday’s newsletter about some app manufacturers’ complaints that Apple has too much control over which iPhone apps people can download and charges unfairly high fees on some app purchases.

Some readers sent an email saying that they were watching Apple exercise its power to keep the App Store safe, and that app manufacturers get a good price for the commission Apple charges them. Here is a selection of what they said:

“I really like that Apple carefully examines apps before allowing them in the App Store. I had an Android before and felt that it was more of the wild west in terms of what apps can actually do, or whether they were actually harmful. I therefore did not download at all. I hope that things that matter to us users are not overlooked in how this quarrel is resolved. ” – Vicki Rundquist, McHenry, Ill.

What you are not specifically talking about is the convenience that Apple gives developers to place an app in their environment. Apple is doing a lot of work to make it easy to use the App Store. I want Apple to control what is offered to us in the App Store. They want Apple to do a lot of work and not even get paid for it. ”- Gordon Musch, Richmond, Va.

“I think Apple could resolve the dispute with Epic and avoid a possible finding that they are a monopoly by letting users sideload apps, but only after users have received a series of scary warnings about how to give up the protection Apple gives them. from malicious software. If the warnings are scary enough, I think most people would rather download from the App Store, even if they can download apps on the site for less money. ” – Blaine

(Shira’s note: “Page loading” refers to downloading apps outside of the official Android or Apple smartphone app stores. Apple does not allow people to page load apps. Android phones do, but Epic said Google made it unfairly difficult.)


  • Be aware of Australia’s electronic news bills: Facebook (and Google) suggest that they may make it harder for people to share news stories online in response to a proposed Australian bill that requires companies to pay news organizations for articles displayed on their websites. This is actually a public debate on the details of the bill.

    My colleagues Dai Wakabayashi and Mike Isaac write that the Australia example shows how government action to curb technology companies threatens to further destroy the principle of a unified Internet.

  • The perfect encapsulation of the concert job market: Delivery drivers for Amazon and its Whole Foods supermarket have figured out a way to line up for orders first. Some of them are sitting on smartphones from trees near grocery stores or mailing stations, Bloomberg News found, because the software that sends Amazon delivery couriers distributes jobs to people who seem to be closest.

  • A pioneer in online learning is concerned about online learning: Salman Khan, creator of Khan Academy online learning videos, has tips for parents and schools doing distance learning: Choose shorter online learning sessions for younger children with more breaks, and have open conversations with schools if students are asked to do a lot too.

    Khan also tells the Washington Post that he is worried about children being left behind by remote school, and parents taking on too much.

You may need a dose of good news as much as I do. This is how people came together to save a young humpback whale that was stuck in a tangle of fishing gear.


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