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Big Tech’s ‘Innovations’ That Aren’t (wsj.com)
34 points by mistersquid 46 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments



> What “innovation” remains in this space is innovation to keep the treadmill running, longer and faster, drawing more data from users to bombard us with more ads for more stuff.

A tweet from @iamdeveloper today:

1950: how do we get people to listen to more ads?

1970: how do we get people to watch more ads?

2000: how do we get people to click on more ads?

2020: how do we get people to be ads?

2030: people are ads now


I laughed, and there's a good amount of truth to this. Although imo a lot of the IG influencers and sponsored Youtubers already are walking advertisements.


That is the point that is being made.


In the 50s and 70s, people trying to make ads effective didn't try to pass themselves off as technologists or innovators.

Don't take @iamdevloper too seriously.


Ahh yes, that famously humble advertising industry from the mid-century.


I didn't write anything about humility. That you refer to the 'advertising industry' instead of the 'technology industry' proves my point, no?

technology of the 50s and 60s: transistor, television, satellites, computers, hard drives, solar cells, optical fiber, integrated circuits, arpanet, ...

not technology of the 50s and 60s: "Light up for a Lucky! The best cigarette you've ever smoked!"


Cigarettes are technology. They are referred to as "nicotine delivery devices" in the tobacco industry. Magazines are technology. Billboards are technology.

If google is part of the "technology industry" then you could say there is no real delineation between the two industries. It seems like we're either making technology for advertisements or we're using technology to advertise.


they’re toasted


It's a little ironic that his only example of "real" innovation is the moon landing which was a huge government program he certainly wouldn't support now.

I generally agree that current big tech companies don't really do much innovation anymore but I fear that he is just attacking the companies he doesn't like for political reasons but leaves others out.

The whole excessive partisanship sucks. It makes you question the real motives behind good looking ideas and unfortunately these suspicions are often correct.


The WSJ calling out exploitation of the American public at the expense of big corporations? Wow.

The cynical motivations are transparent, but oh well. Best of luck, Senator Hawley.


Yeah. I agree with the premise but I feel like this article is a sleight of hand to distract from non-tech companies exploiting people.


One lens to view American politics through is as a proxy war between two factions of the American elite. One is comprised of tech, media, and various service firms; the other is finance and extractive industries.

The only really strategy for clipping the wings of any of those industries is to ally yourself with the faction that doesn't represent them.


Conflicting interests fighting it out is how balance is found. Group A poops on group B, group B reciprocates, things come to light, conversations are being had.

That's the true nature of the liberal democracy, the worst form of governance except for all the other forms we have tried.


To his credit, he's not up for re-election until 2024.


I don't think Hawley's position or presentation are perfect, but if you can separate the wheat from the chaff this is a really good start.

And even if you don't like it at all, let this just be another indicator that the general population is starting to wise up to the fact the "tech" business model has been getting more and more exploitative. You can continue rationalizing the systems you build at your dayjob here on Hacker News, but in the real world dang isn't around to hush the people who want to tell you to go get fucked.


I don't agree with his claim that big tech advances are responsible for teen suicide rates, and definitely don't appreciate him trying to capitalize on it to push his own agenda.

I must say though,

>What passes for innovation by Big Tech today isn’t fundamentally new products or new services, but ever more sophisticated exploitation of people.

Does have some truth to it


I'm pretty sure the claim isn't that "big tech advances" bear the sole responsibility for teen suicide rates, but rather that they contribute to them in a substantial way.

The atrophy of real-world relationships he mentions is not something he made up, but rather a real problem. And I would be surprised if someone could prove that this problem doesn't contribute to teen suicide rates at all.


> Silicon Valley’s giants are no longer producing better products and services. They’re exploiting people.

Why can't they be doing both, like industry has done since industry was a thing?

I think the senator has a very narrow definition of innovation which for the great part has been about combining existing elements to create something "new". Viewed like this, there's innovation all over the place.

I do like some of the restrictions he advocates for, but I doubt they'll ever be anything more than talking points.


Help me brainstorm here (genuinely):

I'm trying to think of innovations in the last few decades, but everything I can think of is a refinement of an technology invented 50+ years ago (mostly at bell labs) made possible by the exceptional strides in semiconductor manufacturing. It's certainly nice to have technology spread more widely from research labs to the general public, but I'm wondering if there are innovations happening now that I don't know about because they aren't widespread (yet?).

Anyone have any ideas of innovations since say 1980 other than in semiconductor manufacturing?


"Eventually we will run out of things to rip off from Douglas Engelbart"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos


> The 90-minute presentation essentially demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, and a collaborative real-time editor (collaborative work).

Whoa, 1968! It seems incredible that was half a century ago!


> Anyone have any ideas of innovations since say 1980 other than in semiconductor manufacturing?

if you take a very reductive and somewhat pessimistic view, there have been very few true "innovations" in the history of mankind.

the wright brothers' plane was just a scaled up kite with a motor and no tether. the first computer was just a sophisticated abacus (or Babbage's machine if you prefer).

obviously the first plane was a huge stepwise advancement in tech and likewise for the first transistor computer. if you look at something like the internet today and consider how it's changed in twenty years, it's barely recognizable in capabilities. lithium ion batteries are vastly better than what was available for consumer devices a few decades ago, and you basically couldn't have mobile computing without them.

we certainly allocate a ton of capital towards technologies of dubious value (eg, social media), but we are still in an era of unprecedented technological advancement. I suspect it's just harder to find the stepwise jumps when most of the foundations for current technology are pinned down and many people are making incremental progress in parallel.


> if you look at something like the internet today and consider how it's changed in twenty years, it's barely recognizable in capabilities.

I'm not a internet/web person, so forgive me, but:

The internet today seems an awfully lot the same as the internet in 2000. In terms of 'unrecognizable capabilities,' are you thinking of streaming video or what?

Batteries is a good one, thanks.


I'm not just talking about the experience of browsing websites, although to compare a typical website in 1999 vs in 2019 is a bit like comparing a model T to a Tesla (for better or for worse).

I'm mainly talking about all the services that are available today though, not just serving static text with pretty markup. web search, video streaming, cloud storage, etc. were barely available (to consumers) or non-existent in 1999. I'm venturing out of my area of expertise here, but I believe sharding, cdns, and load balancing were also in their infancy then. big web companies would actually have their sites go down and have meaningful downtime. web services are much more resilient today than they were.


Wikipedia for instance only launched in 2001. Arxiv, Amazon, Uber, etc


Crispr and related biotech comes to mind


Corporations do whatever is most profitable. If we don't like what they're doing, the only way to change it is to incentivize something else. Were the U.S. a country with interest in funding public-works projects - infrastructure, science, etc. - we'd benefit massively from the amount of brainpower and energy stored up in Silicon Valley. Instead, we get more adtech.


I posted this after hearing Professor Scott Galloway identify Hawley's article as a "win" on "Pivot", his podcast with Kara Swisher. [0]

This week's episode covers a lot of ground and is worth listening to. It includes topics ranging from Tesla being purchased by Volkswagen, the value of Peloton, and the possibility that China is winning the Trump administration's Trade War. (Disclosure: Swisher and Galloway are progressive and liberal, and much of their commentary reflect that angle.)

[0] https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/pivot/id1073226719#epi...

EDIT: proofread first sentence!


> That's why I’ve proposed banning the “dark patterns” that feed tech addiction.

Further proof that both Republicans and Democrats are the party of big government these days.


This would sound fresh if it had been written in 2011. Now, it just sounds like it was written by a republican senator.


Maybe we can finally unite the Democratic focus on the “little guy” with the Republican desire to hurt the Democratic donor class with the random number generator of the President and get some actual legislation passed here.


Is he really insinuating that infinite scroll and autoplay contribute to teen suicide rates? I accept that Facebook/social media is huge part of the problem (and many many problems), but there are many more factors at play. It's far too easy to just scapegoat Big Tech for 100% of the problem instead of considering other causes as well.


It's ironic how you're criticizing him of being reductionist by reducing his argument to one line from his essay. Not saying I agree with him, but your take isn't as fresh as you think.




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