Quotable (#217)

Mighty WeChat:

WeChat’s ability to create a bustling payments economy echoes the general success of its parent company. In September, Tencent became China’s largest company by value, surpassing state-owned China Mobile, when it reported its third-quarter revenue: $6 billion, up 52% year over year. How much of that can be attributed to Wallet and WePay was not specified: WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, makes money largely from online gaming, advertising, and selling sticker packs. But Tencent — which began with the instant messaging app QQ and is now pursuing artificial intelligence and electric cars alongside investments in a range of companies, including China’s dominant ride-sharing operation, Didi Chuxing — did cite WePay as a major reason for its “other” businesses’ growth, which increased $726 million in the third quarter, or 348% over the same period last year. According to estimates by HSBC, based on current tech company valuations, WeChat could already be worth more than $80 billion, about half of Tencent’s market capitalization.


Further down, there’s an excellent quote from Connie Chan (of Andreessen Horowitz) on WeChat’s electronic red envelopes: “This was money as a message.”

Quotable (#213)

Girard in contemporary politics (insightfully explored):

In one of his seminars, Thiel made the political stakes of his concern with scapegoating more explicit, making reference to Occupy Wall Street: “The 99% vs. the 1% is the modern articulation of this classic scapegoating mechanism. It is all minus one versus the one.” The central task of controlling what Girard calls the “victimage mechanism,” for “founders” like him, is to deflect collective violence from themselves. Gawker, on the other hand, seemed to specialize in identifying targets for that violence, or at least for collective online vituperation – and those targets often belonged to the capitalist “founder” class, although many debated whether Gawker at times abandoned its proclaimed commitment to “punching up.” Crushing Gawker was not simply an attack on a particular organ of scapegoating that had offended Thiel, but an attempt to disarm a certain politicization of scapegoating in a digital world given over to it.

(The entire piece is excellent.)

Quotable (#194)

Ben Narasin cites an (unnamed) Chinese Communist Party official on the techno-economic function of science fiction:

For years we’ve been making wonderful things. We make your iPods. We make phones. We make them better than anybody else, but we don’t come up with any of these ideas. So we went on a tour of America talking to people at Microsoft, at Google, at Apple, and we asked them a lot of questions about themselves, just the people working there. And we discovered they all read science fiction … so we think maybe it’s a good thing.

DAO in the dust

I, for one, welcome our new species of robber baron overlords (non-ironically):

I have carefully examined the code of The DAO and decided to participate after finding the feature where splitting is rewarded with additional ether. I have made use of this feature and have rightfully claimed 3,641,694 ether, and would like to thank the DAO for this reward. It is my understanding that the DAO code contains this feature to promote decentralization and encourage the creation of “child DAOs”.

I am disappointed by those who are characterizing the use of this intentional feature as “theft”. I am making use of this explicitly coded feature as per the smart contract terms and my law firm has advised me that my action is fully compliant with United States criminal and tort law. For reference please review the terms of the DAO …

(Learning is hard.)

Bloomberg commentary.

The reddit FAQ.

The Third Web


The 21 Inc Bitcoin Computer is an engine for the next phase of the Internet.

Yahoo Finance explains:

Most people on Wall Street, as well as regular, everyday investors (and Yahoo Finance readers like you) still don’t quite understand what bitcoin is, or why it matters. Many think it’s a scam or some kind of illegal tool for hackers. (The negative publicity around stories like the Silk Road trial didn’t help.) Srinivasan’s argument is: You don’t need to know what it is or how it works for it to be important to your digital life. He explains it this way to a layperson: “I ask people, ‘Do you use Linux?’ They’ll probably say no. But if you’re using Google.com, or Facebook.com, or Yahoo.com, you actually are using Linux, even if you don’t know it. So Linux is there, everywhere, it’s just behind the scenes, and it just sounds very technical because it solves problems for developers. And I think it’s going to be the same thing with bitcoin.”

Srinivasan frames bitcoin as the next major “system resource” in computing, something that will be a key component in every computer, just like a hard drive, RAM, and bandwidth. Bitcoin, he says, can be the resource that computers trade with other computers (without you having to worry about it), creating a “machine economy.” Once a computer can send a small amount of money as part of its operating system, “it can effectively rent or sell resources to other computers,” Srinivasan says. That was the idea behind the bitcoin computer: “If you had 500 of these things, what could they do together?”

Quotable (#163)

The frontier of automation:

In theory, distributed autonomous organizations (of which the DAO is one of the first examples) are a hardcoded solution to the age-old principal-agent problem. Simply put, backers shouldn’t have to worry about a third party mismanaging their funds when that third party is a computer program that no one party controls. […] At a time when the financial services industry is trying to automate old processes to cut costs, errors and friction, DAOs represent perhaps the most extreme attempt to take people out of the picture. …

Quotable (#151)

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on recent advances in deep learning:

… The system basically learns by itself using a lot of data and computation. If you keep showing it pictures of an orange, it eventually figures out what an orange is—or a Chihuahua versus a Labrador versus a small pony. Amazing things happened in 2015: Microsoft and Google beat the best human at image recognition for the first time. Baidu beat humans in recognizing two languages. Microsoft and the China University of Technology and Science taught a computer network how to take an IQ test, and it scored better than a college postgraduate. … […] AI has been plodding along for 50 years in research. And all of a sudden last year something happened. This new way of doing AI called deep learning is so tractable, so understandable — a tool you can apply so that you can create one single network to be trained to learn multiple languages and animals and things. And that you and I and some data scientists and engineers can train it. Last year AI went from research concept to engineering application. And all these engineers at Facebook and Google and others are taking this deep learning concept with all these frameworks, which is basically another word for tools, and turning these ideas into things of practical use. And now you’re seeing all these Internet companies announcing these practical uses. All of the industries are just exploding. Two years ago we were talking to 100 companies interested in using deep learning. This year we’re supporting 3,500. We’re talking about medical imaging, financial services, advertising, energy discovery, automotive applications. In two years’ time there has been 35X growth.

RIP Andy Grove

Chip-making giant, and the guy who said:

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.

From Intel’s news release:

Born András Gróf in Budapest, Hungary, Grove immigrated to the United States in 1956-7 having survived Nazi occupation and escaped Soviet repression. He studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York, completing his Ph.D at the University of California at Berkeley in 1963. After graduation, he was hired by Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor as a researcher and rose to assistant head of R&D under Moore. When Noyce and Moore left Fairchild to found Intel in 1968, Grove was their first hire. […] Grove played a critical role in the decision to move Intel’s focus from memory chips to microprocessors and led the firm’s transformation into a widely recognized consumer brand. Under his leadership, Intel produced the chips, including the 386 and Pentium, that helped usher in the PC era. The company also increased annual revenues from $1.9 billion to more than $26 billion.

Grove @ Wikipedia.

Obituaries at Fortune, The Verge, Wired, Bloomberg.