Robots From Airbnb to Zoom, tech CEOs see a brave new, post-coronavirus

Robots From Airbnb to Zoom, tech CEOs see a brave new, post-coronavirus

Robots

Hello dear readers and welcome back to Trending — your Wednesday rendez-vous for all things tech. If you want to get Trending in your email inbox every week, just click here.

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Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images; Fortune Brainstorm Tech; Zoom; Jerrod Harris/Getty Images; Ruobing Su/Business Insider


Remember the old saying about never letting a crisis go to waste? 

I picture Rahm Emanuel reciting the phrase amid the Great Recession, but VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger credits the quote to Churchill (an attribution that, it turns out, is a matter of dispute).

Regardless of who said it first, the idea of exiting the coronavirus crisis in a different — and hopefully better — place is something we’re all thinking about now. And VMWare’s Gelsinger is among more than 200 CEOs who Business Insider asked to peer into our post-pandemic future.

Some of my favorite predictions from tech execs:

My job doesn’t meet the “dull, dirty and dangerous” criteria most days, so the droids probably won’t visit my home office anytime soon. Then again, after seeing the video of a quadruped Boston Dynamics bot roaming a park in Singapore and urging residents to social distance, I’m on the lookout for the unexpected.

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Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity; Olivia Reaney/Business Insider


Speaking of unexpected appearances, the return of Chamath Palihapitiya is quickly becoming a fascinating Silicon Valley subplot of the coronavirus crisis. The outspoken 43-year-old tech investor and early Facebook exec’s venture capital firm imploded in 2018, with some insiders blaming Palihapitiya’s ego and scattershot strategy. Now, as Melia Russell reports in a must-read feature story, Palihapitiya is back and having a moment. 

1. In recent weeks Palihapitiya has taken two companies public, raising nearly $1.1 billion, at a time when the rest of the tech industry recoils from the public markets.

Note that there were only 9 IPOs in the US in April. Palihapitiya did 2 of them.

2. The companies he’s taken public are Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs. These are essentially shell companies, bankrolled by investors to carry out a mission of finding and acquiring a promising business.

In other words: Investors are writing a blank check to the person whose last venture collapsed in a cloud of acrimony. 

It’s too early to call this a comeback story. But it’s certainly a page turner.


Tesla and Amazon have something in common

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Business Insider/Samantha Lee


The standoff between Elon Musk and the local authorities makes for great theater, but it’s worth remembering that there are real people involved here. Workers at Tesla’s auto plant in Fremont, California, told Business Insider that they’re worried that if they don’t return to the assembly line they’ll lose their jobs. 

We’ve already seen plenty of evidence that working in industrial facilities, like factories and warehouses, carries real risks of contracting the virus. Musk only needs to drive 38 miles (about 15% of a Tesla Model 3’s range) from his Fremont factory to the Amazon warehouse in Tracy, California, to see this first-hand. Amazon confirmed last month that a worker at that facility died of COVID-19. As chief tech correspondent Julie Bort previously reported, there are more than 600 Amazon warehouse workers across the US with confirmed coronavirus infections.

Until now, Amazon has had some political cover (despite taking heat from Congress) because the company could argue that the risks of infection at its warehouses were being borne in order to provide Americans with “essential services” like delivering food and toilet paper. 

As Eugene Kim reports, however, Amazon has quietly begun lifting the quantity limits it had imposed on merchants shipping non-essentials goods to its warehouses (think electronics and sneakers). It’s part of Amazon’s plan to return to normal.

That means the justification for Amazon workers to punch in everyday and risk virus exposure will be closer to the reasoning espoused by Musk for his Tesla factory workers: It’s not about heroic frontline workers providing essential services anymore, it’s just about getting back to business.

That approach may resonate with certain audiences. But it’s likely to sharpen an uncomfortable contrast between two classes of tech employees who often work for the same company — the stock-optioned, work-from-home programmers and the mask-wearing laborers.


Recommended Readings:

Venture capital funds may quietly shrink during the coronavirus crisis if their investors back out of their cash commitments. Experts are spotting early signs of that danger.

Zoom security advisor Alex Stamos explains how the acquisition of Keybase will help the red-hot videoconferencing app address its ‘unique’ challenges in adding end-to-end encryption

Airbnb won praise for how it laid off employees but the generous benefits weren’t extended to contractors, reinforcing Silicon Valley’s two-tier workforce culture

These 19 enterprise tech companies are still hiring during the coronavirus crisis — including AWS, Slack, Box, and Okta

Sidewalk Labs’ abandoned smart city is a huge blow for Alphabet – Here are some of its ‘other bets’ that have failed or are currently in flux


Not necessarily in tech:

Top PR firm Weber Shandwick started furloughs and layoffs as clients like Royal Caribbean and AB InBev cut spending — read the CEO’s internal memo


It’s time to say goodbye … until next 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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