Note: This issue of Interconnected Weekly covers the period between June 29-July 4, 2020, with six news stories – three from English language sources, three from Chinese language sources – hand-picked by your humble author to further our exploration of the interconnections between technology, business, investment, and geopolitics. All translated article titles are done by me; they are not official translations from the media outlets.
“Facebook is shutting down Lasso, its TikTok clone” (English Source: TechCrunch)
My Thoughts: Instead of highlighting the many, many (many) news items that covered the Indian government’s ban of 59 China-made apps, I believe the shutting down of Lasso needs a bit more attention. The shut down came as quite a surprise given the India vs. China context. One would think that the vacuum created by this ban would give a product like Lasso a golden opportunity to grow and get more resources from Facebook, especially given its $5.7 billion USD strategic investment in Jio Platforms (one of India’s largest telcos) earlier this year. Of course, this organizational move may simply be motivated by a need to consolidate engineering and product resources to focus on Instagram Reels, a younger TikTok clone launched in late 2019. Cloning of products and features are now happening in both directions, not just Chinese companies of their American counterparts. Taking a step back, products from big tech companies, either American or Chinese, will be seen as the new vehicles for proxy influence campaigns in geopolitical relationships, even though all these companies want to do is sell ads.
“Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook CEOs agree to testify before House committee” (English Source: CNBC)
My Thoughts: The U.S. government’s antitrust investigation into big tech companies is approaching a high point and possibly a conclusion. The high point, at least from a media standpoint, would be this congressional testimony by the CEOs of the four most valuable tech companies in the world. To be clear, this congressional hearing, which may produce legislative actions, is a somewhat separate effort from the ongoing investigations by both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission. Both of these agencies can fine and regulate these tech companies without congressional involvement. How will U.S. antitrust regulators decide will also affect these four companies’ competitiveness and influence outside of the U.S. This is an important angle to watch as it relates to the Chinese tech giants’ relative influence abroad, none of whom are subjected to antitrust regulation in China. In the meantime, let’s just hope that the quality of the questions from these legislators will be better. (When Mark Zuckerberg testified in the Senate in April 2018, Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah had no basic understanding of Facebook’s business model.)
“Linus Torvalds on the future of Linux kernel developers and development” (English Source: ZDNet )
My Thoughts: The creator of Linux (the ubiquitous open source operating system), Linus Torvalds, shared some wise thoughts on the challenge of generational transition that needs to happen within the Linux community. One challenge that stood out to me is the difficulty in finding “maintainers” -- people who are no less talented than the programmers, but are in charge of the boring yet necessary tasks of managing changes and contributions to the Linux codebase and community. The world is full of shiny new objects for people to chase after. But as the global coronavirus pandemic has exposed, the basic essential infrastructures of our society are shaky and need more “maintainers”. As Linus noted, Linux is boring, as it should be. Many infrastructures we take for granted in the modern world are boring, as they should be. But we still need talented, committed people to be their “maintainers”. Oftentimes in companies, people who do the boring but necessary work of infrastructure maintenance or back office operations receive little praise, while both attention and reward go to developers working on new features or top sales people. The same skewed incentive structure exists in all kinds of other organizations. How can we incentivize more talented people to become “maintainers”?
My thoughts: The Indian government’s ban of China-made apps is no doubt getting a lot of attention inside China. While this article’s headline comes at this issue from an investment and manufacturing angle to illustrate India’s reliance on China, a big portion of the piece is also devoted to India’s own tech talent brain drain to the U.S. The article cites the various Indian-American CEOs at the top American tech companies -- Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, among many others -- as evidence of the brain drain. This trend is rather similar to China’s own tech talent brain drain to the U.S. in the 1990s and 2010s, until the flow of talent started to reverse recently, as China’s economy and tech companies become more wealthy. Thus, India’s leverage over China is still relatively weak, despite these headline-grabbing bans; it’ll be quite some time before India can build enough wealth and incentives to reverse its own brain drain.
“Tencent’s Liu Shengyi at the UN: New Infrastructure will help build a more resilient society” (Chinese Source: Tencent Tech News)
My thoughts: This news item is fascinating, because of its setting: a Tencent senior executive giving a talk at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs about China’s “New Infrastructure” plan, where the topic of discussion is on how Africa can better deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though details around “New Infrastructure” have just begun to emerge in the last few months, as I noted in “RISC-V, China, Nightingales”, it has already been presented abroad as part of a “China plan” to stimulate the economy post-COVID-19 for other regions to model after. Interestingly, this effort is led by tech executives -- a notable difference to the “wolf warrior diplomacy” campaign led by aggressive government diplomats.
“Source: Lixiang Motors will IPO in the U.S. as early as July. Can the next "Tesla" story be told with the blessing of Meituan?” (Chinese Source: iponews)
My thoughts: Lixiang Motors’s plan to IPO in the U.S. capital market is remarkable for two reasons. First, it is the latest indication that despite overall anti-China sentiment and pending legislative action to more strongly regulate Chinese companies publicly listed in the U.S., Chinese companies continue to see New York as the best place to IPO. Some recent success cases, like Agora and Dada, serve as further encouragement. Second, from a technology and product perspective, Lixiang is not a pure electric-powered car, but uses a gas-powered electric engine for its vehicles as hybrids. It sounds more like Prius than Model S, yet the company believes it can ride the tailwind of Tesla’s recent stock price rise to raise money for itself at a good valuation. Will this logic work for American investors? This IPO is slated to happen sometime this summer, so we will have an answer soon enough.
Chinese Version Below
我的想法：这周印度政府禁止59个中国制造的apps这一新闻已经有很多，很多（很多）的报道了。而我认为，Facebook的Lasso产品的关闭需要更多的关注，尤其在中印两国最近竞争的大背景下。Lasso的关闭还是让人有点吃惊的，因为这项印度政府的禁令其实给了像Lasso这样的产品一个千载难逢的发展机会和空间。照常说它应该从Facebook获得更多的资源，尤其还考虑到今年早些Facebook给Jio Platforms（印度最大的电信公司之一）的57亿美元战略投资。当然，这一举措很可能只是出于整合工程和产品资源，将重点放在Instagram Reels上，后者是2019年底推出的更年轻的一款TikTok克隆产品。产品和功能的各种“抄作业”行为现在已经是双方向的了，不仅仅是中国公司抄美国同行。退远一步看，美国或中国科技巨头的各种产品都将被视为大国间地缘政治关系中互相影响的新工具，虽然这些公司只想多卖卖广告。
“Linus Torvalds谈Linux内核开发人员的未来和开发”（英文来源: ZDNet）
我的想法： Linux（一款使用广泛的开源操作系统）的创建者Linus Torvarlds分享了一些很有智慧的观点，关于Linux社区中未来需要发生的世代转换工作及挑战。对我来说，一个最突出的挑战是很难找到好的“维护者”。这些人的才华和能力不亚于写代码的开发者，但他们负责管理的是对Linux整个代码库和社区的各种贡献的维护，是个枯燥而有极其必要的任务。世界上处处都是闪亮的新事物，人们可以去追逐。但随着这次全球冠状病毒所暴露的，人类社会的许多基本基础设施是脆弱的，需要更多的“维护者”。正如Linus所指出的，Linux其实很无聊，也应该如此。在现代社会里，许多我们认为理所当然有的基础设施都很无聊，它们也都应该如此。但我们仍然需要有才华、有奉献精神的人来做他们的“维护者”。在公司四，从基础设施维护或后台操作的这些枯燥但必要的活儿的人往往得不到多少赞扬，而被关注和奖励的都是开发新功能的人或是牛逼的销售。其实所有类型的大小组织都存在同样的问题。如何激励更多的人才成为“维护者”呢？
“抵制中国科技的印度：半数独角兽背后是中国资本，半数智能手机是中国厂商造” (中文来源: AI前线）
我的想法: 印度政府禁止中国制造的apps，无疑在国内引起了许多议论和关注。虽然这篇文章的标题是从投资和制造业的角度来说明印度对中国的依赖，文章里很大一部分是关于印度本国的科技人才流失到美国的问题。文章引用了美国顶尖科技公司的多位印裔CEO，比如Alphabet的Sundar Pichai，微软的Satya Nadella和其他许多人，做为人才流失的证据。这一趋势与上世纪90年代和2010年代中国自己向美国的人才流失的趋势颇为相似。这个趋势也是近几年才开始逆转，因为中国经济和各种科技公司变得更加富有。因此，尽管这次印度政府的禁令吸引了很多眼球，印度对中国的影响力仍然相对较弱。印度还需要相当长的时间才能积累足够的财富和激励措施来扭转本国人才流失的局面。
“腾讯刘胜义在联合国：新基建将助力构建更能抵御风险的弹性社会” (中文来源: 腾讯科技）
我的想法: 这条新闻之所以吸引了我的注意是因为它的具体背景：一位腾讯的高管在联合国经济和社会事务部（UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs）就中国的“新基建”计划发表演讲，而讨论的主题却是非洲如何更好地应对COVID-19对经济的影响。正如我在《RISC-V，中国，夜莺》这篇文章所提到的，“新基建”的细节也就是在这两个月才刚刚出炉，但它已经作为所谓“中国方案”的其中一部分在海外推动，做为一项COVID-19过后怎样刺激经济的方法，供其他地区效仿。有趣的是，这股推动是由科技公司的高管来做的，这与激进的政府外交官推动的“狼战士外交”（“wolf warrior diplomacy”）有很鲜明的不同。
“传理想汽车最早7月赴美IPO，美团加持下能讲好下一个“特斯拉”的故事吗？” (中文来源: 独角兽早知道）
我的想法: 理想汽车去美国资本市场上市这一计划值得关注的原因有二。首先，这是一个最新迹象证明，尽管总体反华情绪上涨，并有立法行动去更严格的监管在美上市的中国企业，但中国公司仍将纽约视为最佳的IPO地点。最近一些成功案例，如声网和达达，也起到了正面作用。第二，从技术和产品的角度来看，理想汽车其实并不是一款纯电动汽车，而是使用的是燃油发电机做的混合动力车。听起来更像Prius而不是Model S。但该公司还是认为，它可以乘特斯拉最近股价暴涨的顺风车，筹到资金拿到一个漂亮的估值。这个逻辑对美国投资者好用吗？这次IPO据说今年夏天就会发生，所以我们很快就会有答案了。