Jeff Bezos is making a surprise visit in tech's Twilight Zone year


Jeff Bezos Boston Dynamics

Hello and welcome back to Trending, Business Insider’s weekly look at the world of tech. I’m Alexei Oreskovic, Business Insider’s West Coast Bureau Chief and Global Tech Editor. If you want to get Trending in your email inbox every Wednesday, just click here.

This week: Welcome to the tech Twilight Zone

Has everything about tech gotten a couple notches stranger lately?

A scan of recent headlines certainly gives that impression:

  • If you haven’t read about the eBay execs charged in a bizarre cyberstalking scheme involving allegations of live cockroaches, a pig fetus and porn, stop what you’re doing and go read that story right now.
  • Also, someone tried to burn down Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick’s “ghost kitchen” startup.
  • And Boston Dynamics, the maker of those dystopian robot videos, is now looking for people to adopt its lifelike robo-dogs. The price: $75,000 per dog,  maximum, two per customer.

Strange days indeed.

Steve Jobs Lost interview

Silicon Valley has always had a weird streak and a renegade spirit. Steve Jobs’ Apple famously flew a pirate flag over its Cupertino, California, offices in the early 1980s, and the early days of video game pioneer Atari in the 1970s have been described as never-ending parties and “pot-churned hazes.”

But the tech industry is now the corporate world’s dominant industry, representing the most valuable companies and employing tens of millions of people. There’s a lot at stake for these businesses, and we’ve grown accustomed to watching them act with the caution and bureaucracy of all big businesses, even as they preach disruption.

Maybe it’s because the entire world is experiencing so much disruption in this moment that tech appears to be going through a shakeup of its own. The employee protests over diversity, facial recognition technology, and worker rights are upending the status quo.

These changes aren’t being driven by the tech companies. The tech companies are the ones being disrupted, from within and without. Revered founders like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos are being openly called out, their famous leadership principles challenged, by their own stock-optioned workers. That probably wasn’t part of any company’s five-year plan.

Jeff Bezos

Some of the responses have been surprising…

The return of Mark Zuckerberg’s former product general, Chris Cox, was something nobody saw coming. After all, Cox parted with Zuck just last year over “artistic differences” involving the product direction. As Rob Price writes, the million-dollar question now is whether his return means he’s put those differences aside and is ready to carry out Zuckerberg’s vision, or whether Zuckerberg relented?

And Jeff Bezos has indicated he’s willing to come to Washington DC to answer lawmakers’ questions about Amazon and antitrust. Unlike other Big Tech CEOs, Bezos has never testified before Congress, which is a remarkable feat for such a powerful company, and one that’s been around for more than a quarter century. 

Amazon has come out of the coronavirus crisis stronger than ever, even if its reputation took a bit of hit. And given how extensive Amazon’s empire is, from cloud computing to Whole Foods, there’s likely to be a lot of ground to cover.

The Bezos show on Capitol Hill is happening sometime this summer. Who knows what other surprises 2020 has in store for us.

Elon Musk: The coloring book

Just in time for Fathers’ Day, the Elon Musk coloring book is here. The 52-page book features original illustrations based on some of the best tweets Musk has composed over the years. 

The “Illuminated tweets of Elon Musk” is the work of Colorado-based artist Salina Gomez, who told Business Insider she started the book as a way to honor Musk’s most inspiring traits and to help people dream bigger. 

Elon Musk coloring book

Some of Musk’s 11,000-plus tweets, of course, have landed the entrepreneur in hot water — his characterization of a British cave diver he was feuding with as “pedo guy,” and his comments about securing funding to privatize Tesla come to mind — but the coloring book sticks to Musk’s admirable side. Readers will find tweets about environmentalism, space exploration, and scientific progress alongside intriguing, surreal illustrations (the one above is Gomez’ interpretation of the Musk tweet “Sure feels weird to find myself defending the robots”).

Whether you’re Musk fan, a colorer of books, or a collector of tech memorabilia, “Illuminated tweets,” which is being offered on Kickstarter to anyone who pays $30, is sure to please.

Sound bite of the week:

“Suddenly you’re talking to a robot – not a device, not a computer screen, or a cylinder that’s sitting on your desk. You’re talking to something that looks like a human being, and that’s where the magic happens.”

— Matt McMullen, CEO of Realbotix, a Southern California company that makes sex robots empowered with artificial intelligence. Sales of the cyborgs, which have roughly the same level of conversational ability found in Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, are apparently up 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reabotix AI sex robot

Recommended Readings:

100 days that changed Microsoft: How Satya Nadella led the $1.4 trillion tech giant through the coronavirus pandemic

Students say that Holberton School, a coding bootcamp where students don’t pay until they get a job, is more like ‘Lord of the Flies’ than the inclusive educational experience they were promised

The moment might be right for the venture capital industry to finally address its lack of racial diversity — but only if it learns the right lessons from the #MeToo movement, advocates say

These 12 artificial intelligence startups are poised for success, particularly in a post-COVID world, according to experts

How Uber’s personal computer ‘benefit’ and $1,000 payment to laid-off workers exposed Silicon Valley’s two-class divide

Not necessarily in tech:

Adidas fired its head of US retail over a ‘violation of company policy’ amid social-justice protests at the brand

Well, that’s going to do it for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember, if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it. 

 — Alexei

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