Weekend news round-up: End of MacWorld Expo, Andreessen on diversity

20 Oct 2014

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder and former CEO of Apple, launches an iPhone

In our round-up of the weekend’s best tech reads, MacWorld Expo is going on hiatus, a 13-year-old boy with autism has become best friends with Siri, and Marc Andreessen on diversity in Silicon Valley.

Sayonara MacWorld expo

Along with the closure of the closely associated with the Apple Mac ecosystem MacWorld it appears the longstanding MacWorld Expo is going on hiatus.

MacWorld itself conceded that the end of “the greatest show on earth” came when Steve Jobs made his final keynote, or “Stevenote” in 2009.

“Expo had increasingly become an Apple-dominated event. Apple’s CEO was no longer introduced by an IDG executive at the start of the keynote, Apple made its executives and employees less available outside of this presentation and press demos, and company representatives imposed stricter guidelines on exactly what Apple would and would not do during the show. Finally, during the 2009 keynote, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, announced that Apple would no longer participate in the show. While suggesting that attendees could get the same experience from visiting Apple’s popular retail stores, the behind-the-scenes word was that Apple was now powerful enough to get the coverage it wanted by hosting its own events and that the company didn’t care to conform to someone else’s schedule in regard to product announcements.

“Regrettably, though those running the show tried their best, they simply couldn’t find a way to return the show to its roots—as a gathering place for Apple enthusiasts. Expo had become an Apple event, and when the company left, many exhibitors and attendees left with it. To them, seeing Steve Jobs onstage and pressing their nose to a glass case surrounding a suspended iPhone was what Expo was all about. If you couldn’t breathe Apple’s air, there was no reason to attend.”

Autistic boy becomes best friends with Siri

The New York Times reported on how a 13 year-old boy with Autism became best friends with Apple’s intelligent personal assistant Siri.

Gus’s mother Judith Newman wrote: “This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in ‘Her,’ last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

“It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called ‘21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.’ One of them was this: I could ask Siri, ‘What planes are above me right now?’ and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

“I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. ‘Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?’ I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: ‘So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.’”

Marc Andreeesen on need for diversity in Silicon Valley

New York Magazine carried an interesting interview with venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. When asked about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, Andreessen defended the industry and said the issue has a lot more to do with imbalances in education.

“I think the critique that Silicon Valley companies are deliberately, systematically discriminatory is incorrect, and there are two reasons to believe that that’s the case. No. 1, these companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then ‘white’: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures. To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions. Because of Pakistanis, we’re seeing a higher-than-ever proportion of Muslim employees in a lot of our companies.

“No. 2, our companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent. They’re like lying on the beach gasping because they can’t get enough talented people in for these jobs. The motivation to go find talent wherever it is is unbelievably high.

“There are two fundamental problems that are resulting in what a lot of people believe is discrimination, and these are the problems that I think need to be solved. One is inequality of education. If you come up through a path that’s sort of a stereotypical upper-middle-class American path and you go to Stanford and you get a really great technical education and your professors really care about you, then you come to Silicon Valley and you’ve got the skills and you’re golden.

“But, of course, most people in the world—including most people outside the U.S. but also people in the U.S., like where I grew up in rural Wisconsin, or people in the inner city—never have access to that kind of education.”

The GamerGate controversy gets a fair and even response

Polygon editor-in-chief Christopher Grant took to writing a letter from the editor piece in response to the GamerGate controversy that has resulted in female game industry executives receiving death threats.

“By politics, the voices calling for ethics reform really mean ‘progressive’ politics. The so-called corruption that needs to be rooted out is a focus on ‘diversity’ and the ‘magnitude of the human experience.’ It should be no surprise that the outlets and voices specifically targeted by GamerGate are progressive. Baldwin was the first of several notable opportunists who, despite caring little for video games or video game culture, were more than happy to contribute to any movement that counted ‘SJWs’ — that’s ‘social justice warriors,’ for those of you out of the loop — as enemies. That ‘social justice warrior’ is considered a pejorative at all speaks volumes about the motivations behind much of GamerGate and its fixation on progressive voices.

“If GamerGate simply wants a conservative counter to what they consider a left-leaning gaming press, I think that’s great! That’s healthy! You don’t have to like the way we or any other outlet cover video games. If you truly believe there’s an army of people who reject ‘progressive’ voices and outlets like Polygon and Kotaku, or who would prefer coverage ‘just about the games,’ then I’d encourage you to start a new site for those readers. There’s no easier or better time to do it.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years