A few weeks ago, Chris Dixon tweeted something thought-provoking:
What were the last Hollywood movies you saw about technology & the future that were optimistic? They seem to be systematically dystopian.
I happened to be sitting in a movie theater waiting for Iron Man 3 to start, so I tried to come up with a good counter-example. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Then the pre-movie trailers starting playing. The new Will Smith (and son) flick, After Earth: dystopia. The new Guillermo del Toro flick, Pacific Rim: dystopia. Even the new Superman flick, Man of Steel, could be classified as a technological dystopia (more below).
Sure, there are some films — mainly smaller indies — that in some ways are starting to buck the trend. But overall, Dixon (and Peter Thiel, who Dixon says he got the idea from) are right: Hollywood seems to hate technology. Why?
Most people are predisposed to fear what they do not understand. Hollywood’s futuristic films are simply playing to this fear in the same way that horror films are packed with moments meant to startle you.
This is nothing new. In 1927, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis — the very first feature-length science fiction film — told of a 2026 where the lower class workers power the technology for the upper class. In 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still saw aliens bring a giant robot to Earth that would destroy the planet if humans couldn’t get their act together. The 1960 version of The Time Machine (based on the H.G. Wells book) had technology (nuclear weapons) destroying civilization. 2001. A Clockwork Orange. Soylent Green. Alien. Blade Runner. The list goes on.
The difference is that we now live in a society where advanced technology permeates all of our lives. Nearly everyone now walks around with computers in their pockets that are far more powerful than the computers that filled up rooms just a few decades ago. Nearly the entirety of human knowledge is now just a few clicks or swipes away at any given moment. The vast majority of our recent technological breakthroughs, I think everyone would agree, have been overwhelmingly good for society.
And yet, Hollywood still seems sure that this is going to change. That at some point, our meddling with technology will create HAL 9000 or Skynet, and technology will turn on us.
The example I ended up tweeting back at Dixon as an answer to his thesis was Star Trek. As Grantland noted recently in looking back at the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation:
Gene Roddenberry’s guiding vision of the Star Trek franchise was, famously, that it would offer an optimistic vision of humanity’s future.
And that largely held true through The Next Generation television series:
The Soviet Union collapsed a couple of years into the filming of The Next Generation, and the show’s optimistic future became startlingly coterminous with the optimistic present of the George H.W. Bush administration. Where else but space could you find a thousand points of light? The grand adventure of the NCC-1701-D was no longer to spread civilization, or even defend it; it was just to keep the machinery oiled. Remember 1991, America?
But the recent Star Trek films are a bit different. While I always liked how plot of Star Trek First Contact revolved around making sure a man takes the first flight at warp speed in space to usher in an era of peace on Earth, the actions are kicked into motion by the threat of the Borg — perhaps the ultimate in dystopian technology — taking over the Earth.
The latest Star Trek franchise seems to take a mainly glitz and glam approach to technology — bright white decks on giant starships accentuated with lens flares galore! But there also exists plenty of tech that is also horribly destructive. “Red Matter”, for example.
I saw the latest film, Star Trek Into Darkness, last week. While I enjoyed it, many Trekkie diehards did not. Certainly there are plenty of elements that are more Top Gun than the idea of using technology for exploration. I mean — minor spoiler alert — we have some sort of ultra weapons developed in secret and powered by some vague futuristic technology. And the man with the most technological know-how gets booted off the ship at one point for not wanting to mess around with these things.
Iron Man is another interesting example. It’s seems to be about technology used for good — but only to combat technology used for evil. So it’s basically neutral.
Then there’s the forthcoming Man of Steel. You might think this has little to do with technology (or at least what we commonly think of as technology), but as The New York Times reveals in a profile of the film’s director:
The film also emphasizes the world of Krypton before its annihilation — a bleak, utilitarian planet with sophisticated if downright creepy technology — and the treachery of the Kryptonian villain Zod (Michael Shannon), who finds Kal-El on earth. The result is an unapologetic science-fiction spin on Superman, and while that may shatter audiences’ expectations for pure, unalloyed realism in “Man of Steel,” Mr. Snyder said this approach was built into the DNA of the character.
Why is Superman on Earth? Because technology has led to the destruction of his home planet. I can’t wait to see what the author views as “downright creepy”.
Minority Report is one of my favorite recent sci-fi films. While the future envisioned there doesn’t seem so bad (and the filmmakers went out of their way to make the futuristic world as feasible and realistic as possible), the underlying premise is still pretty dystopian. Also: eye-scanning tech to show you ads. Spider-like robots that scan everything. This sure sounds like The New York Times’ idea of hell.
Another Spielberg film, A.I., paints a peaceful, yet melancholy future where technology tries to but can’t quite replace elements of humanity. It’s far from Utopia. Especially when you consider that ultimately — again, spoiler alert — all our technology can’t save the human race from extinction at the hands of another ice age. Even though our technology, the robots, live on!
Speaking of robots, one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen recently is Robot & Frank. It’s a decidedly smaller type of science fiction that focuses on an elderly man’s relationship with his caregiving robot. The film is actually quite sweet, but again, hardly a full-on endorsement of technology.
In Gattaca, we again find a fairly peaceful and advanced futuristic society. But the core technology of the film, DNA sequencing — something rapidly becoming a reality in our actual world — has led to a world with a whole new level of prejudices.
The Matrix, Avatar, Prometheus, now I’m just looking over films I own that fit the mold. All are either dystopian or a net-negative for technology. The most positive one I can find is Contact, which still has plenty of negative technological elements (and this is a film based on a book written by perhaps the quintessential science/technology optimist, Carl Sagan).
Where is the It’s a Wonderful Life set in 2150? Are a few scenes from Back to the Future Part II really the best we got?
Again, I think the answer is that we already live in a technological utopia of sorts. No, the world isn’t perfect, but the recent advances in technology have given us so much. And people go to the movies to escape reality. It’s just too bad that science fiction films have essentially become horror movies.
Oh, Kim Dotcom. You just never stop surprising us.
Just hours after Twitter finally rolled out its long-awaited Two-Factor authentication feature to protect accounts, the Megaupload founder is claiming to have invented the entire mechanism… and he’s got a patent to prove it.
“But they won’t even verify my Twitter account?!”, he says.
The patent in question can be viewed here. Filed for in 1998 and published two years later, it lists a Kim Schmitz — Dotcom’s name before he changed it in 2005 — as the sole assignee.
For the unfamiliar, two-factor authentication is a mechanism intended to make it more difficult for hackers to access accounts that aren’t their own. When a user attempts to log in to a service from an unrecognized computer, the service sends a one-time password to an alternative device (like, say, a cell phone) known to belong to that user. At least theoretically, hacking a user’s account would thus require access to that device in addition to their password.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other monstrous sites all use two-factor authentication to protect user accounts, and Kim Dotcom’s tweets suggest that he hasn’t seen a cent from any of ‘em for the alleged “massive IP infringement.”
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Citibank, etc. offer Two-Step-Authentication.
Massive IP infringement by U.S. companies. My innovation. My patent— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
So, will he sue?
It seems he has at least considered it:
I never sued them. I believe in sharing knowledge & ideas for the good of society. But I might sue them now cause of what the U.S. did to me— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
But he quickly switched to a different approach; instead of getting into a legal battle with a bunch of giants, Dotcom would prefer that Google, et al. continue to use “[his] patent for free,” in exchange for financial assistance in his ongoing legal battle:
Google, Facebook, Twitter, I ask you for help. We are all in the same DMCA boat. Use my patent for free. But please help funding my defense.— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
All of our assets are still frozen without trial. Defending our case will cost USD 50M+. I want to fight to the end because we are innocent.— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
Given the rather broken state of software patents, it’s not impossible to imagine that there’s at least one other person or company out there that can claim to have invented it, with patent in hand. This patent held by Dynapass Inc., for example, was approved in 2006 for “Use of personal communication devices for user authentication.” We’re searching for other instances of similar patents.
As strange as it may seem for those who only know him as the founder of a file uploading site that was raided by the FBI last year, it would actually make quite a bit of sense for Dotcom to have security-related patents. His first brush with notoriety came in 1994, when he was arrested in Germany at the tender age of 20 for hacking calling cards. Those who spend their lives looking for security holes are often the same who come up with the solutions.
All staff from Maybe, except for Hamoui himself, are now at LinkedIn and working in its mobile division. That includes four engineers and one designer, LinkedIn has told us. Meanwhile, Maybe itself has now shut down. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed.
Maybe was one of the contenders in the area of polling startups — an area that has seen some other M&A activity, specifically with the acquisition of GoPollGo by Yahoo. Others include Seesaw, Fashism and Thumb.
It’s not clear why Maybe closed up shop so fast. Maybe because the polling space is so crowded? Maybe because Hamoui is working on something else? Maybe because LinkedIn made Maybe an offer it couldn’t refuse? LinkedIn is not commenting further, and we have not yet heard back from Hamoui himself. Maybe we will update when we do.
Update: Hamoui has now responded to confirm the acqui-hire as well, and explain a little more of what went on:
“After a number of different product directions we didn’t feel that what we were building was having the impact we wanted,” he says.
Putting aside competitive pressures in the polling space and startups in general looking for just the right product for the market, there is a connection between LinkedIn and Admob: Kevin Scott, SVP of Engineering at the social network, was previously VP of Engineering at AdMob. TechCrunch understands that after Hamoui and his two co-founders, Haider Sabri and Wayne Pan, met with him, they all decided it would be a natural next step for the mobile-focused team that they had built up.
“Although we had plenty of cash of in the bank, we were really impressed with the team and vision at LinkedIn,” says Hamoui. “Having the excellent mobile focused team we had built join them was clearly a way to have the kind of impact we were hoping for.”
Hamoui says the his own next steps “aren’t locked down yet.” We’ll definitely keep you posted with what we find out.
Cloud encoding vendor Encoding.com launched Vid.ly a couple of years ago to provide video creators with a way to publish a single universal video URL and then have that content accessible on any device. Now it’s providing a way to monetize those videos, thanks to an integration with ad delivery platorm FreeWheel.
The idea behind Vid.ly is that Encoding.com does all the hard work of encoding it into as many video formats and renditions as necessary, then serving up the appropriate copy of the video depending on which device was accessing it. In addition to transcoding, it also provided all of the storage, video player technology, device detection, streaming, and analytics needed by video creators. Customers could simply connect with the Vid.ly API and have a single universal URL created for them.
All of that’s great, especially for brands and agencies and marketers who wish to make their videos playable for all audiences on every PC, mobile phone, or tablet. But what Vid.ly didn’t provide (until now) was a way to monetize all of those videos. Hence, the partnership and integration with FreeWheel.
By integrating with FreeWheel’s ad-serving platform, Vid.ly will be able to provide all the same convenience and reach to publishers, but it will also enable them to monetize those videos across all those devices. By connecting with Encoding.com’s user interface or API, when a video is requested, Vid.ly will pass along user info to the FreeWheel ad server and pass along targeted ads along with the video. Pre-rolls, mid-rolls and post-rolls, as well as banner overlays, will all be supported.
Encoding.com has raised $4.5 million since being founded in 2008. While Vid.ly is a growing piece of its business, the company is still primarily focused on providing cloud encoding services to a growing number of publishers moving their content online.
Business Week look at Google’s X Lab. Next you’ll be telling me they have a single stage to orbit rocket that can fly through a round house, a transport plane in a cliff, and Mach 22 capable swing wing aircraft under the swimming pool.
Giftly built a platform that avoided the hassle of individually dealing with merchants and point-of-sale systems. They came out with a native mobile app last fall that made it easier to send presents to friends and family.
The company’s platform didn’t put any limitations on what kinds of presents you could send because the company had a web of relationships with banks and credit card processors. When a recipient would go to redeem their gift, they would pay out of their own pocket, but Giftly would reimburse them that amount through their credit card.
GiftCards.com said Giftly will be rolled into their operations, but will maintain offices in San Francisco.
“We will continue to build out Giftly,” said Giftly’s CEO Timothy Bentley. “Our backend infrastructure will be used for their next generation products. We’ll continue to expand
the ways our technology and services are available to developers, through our API, and merchants, through our merchant services.”
The company is also looking to raise a first venture round, even though it’s been around for more than 10 years. That round will go toward completing the acquisition of Giftly. GiftCards.com has been around since 1999; they sell personalized, pre-designed and discount gift cards.
After scores of accounts were potentially compromised a few months ago, Twitter today launched two-factor authentication through SMS to protect people from hacks and phishing scams on the web. Unfortunately, it may not help shared accounts like big brands and news agencies where multiple people need to be able to log in and out but only one phone number can get the login verification codes.
Following the Twitter security incident in February where hundreds of thousands of accounts had to have their credentials reset, the tech world demanded Twitter offer two-factor authentication. Wired’s Mat Honan reported last month that Twitter was internally testing the feature. But since then, several prominent accounts including the Associated Press had been hacked through phishing tricks that the security feature could have prevented. With two-factor authentication now in place, we’ll hopefully see fewer compromised individual accounts.
However the brands and news outlets whose accounts are the most valuable to hackers may not benefit from the feature. They can only set one phone number as the recipient of the two-factor authentication codes, but may have several staff members who need to access the account. If they enabled it, whoever carried the phone registered with Twitter would have to relay the code to all the other staffers to get it to whoever needed it. That hassle might prevent shared accounts from turning on login verifications, and so the hackings may continue.
Hopefully the fact that Twitter labeled its security blog post “Getting Started With Login Verification” means more advancements are on the way that might protect shared accounts. Twitter’s product security team member Jim O’Leary writes “much of the server-side engineering work required to ship this feature has cleared the way for us to deliver more account security enhancements in the future. Stay tuned.”
How Twitter Two-Factor Works
The feature is rolling out now. If you don’t see it in your account settings, you should soon. To enable two-factor authentication, check the box next to Account Security that explains “Require a verification code when I sign in.” You’ll need to enter your phone number if you haven’t already saved it with Twitter. Once you receive a confirmation SMS on your phone you can complete activation of the security feature.
From then on when you enter your name and password to log in on Twitter.com, you’ll get a text message with a verification code you need to enter to prove you’re the account owner. The idea is that if someone steals your name and password, they probably don’t have your phone, too, and they need both to login as you. Twitter’s “login verification” doesn’t work with its mobile apps, though, so you’ll need to use temporary app passwords to stay safe when logging in on your small screen.
You can watch a video here or below to learn how to use Twitter’s two-factor authentication. You can also check out its help center documentation.
The charts are broken up into a few areas: the familiar genre breakdown, as well as some categories like “Superstars” and “Unearthed” that appear to be built based on current Twitter trends and trajectory of artist mentions. This is leveraging all of the data that Twitter is collecting from tweets that include links to tracks from popular and emerging artists.
As you click on each category, the tiles on the page swap out quickly, letting you surf around to find new artists and songs. The categorization was a necessity to be able to find hidden gems, as the original breakdown of Popular and Emerging changed so rapidly:
These are the types of charts that will get artists themselves more engaged on Twitter, as well as catch the attention of record labels who want to know what people are saying about the musicians that they’ve signed. Everyone in a band wants to know how well they stack up against others. In fact, some artists didn’t see the service coming at all, and were pleased with all of the new attention they were getting.
The service, which is still finding its footing, is still in the mode of getting musicians to participate by getting on Twitter and engaging with their fans. That engagement gives them a better shot of shooting up the charts and being found. With the addition of charts, which music listeners are also familiar with, people will be able to go deeper in finding songs that fit the genre that they like the most. Rather than waiting for Twitter to pair you with matches that it’s taking a guess on, the power is now in your hands.
If you’re an Rdio or Spotify user, then the entire #Music experience is seamless, but if you’re only buying music from iTunes, you’re not getting to hear full tracks within the app. It’s going to take a while for #Music to grip, as are a lot of Twitter’s “discovery tools.” As the company onboards more people who aren’t interested in tweeting, just browsing, they will benefit from sites like #Music being broken out. For those who are actively tweeting, it’s kind of neat to imagine that your support through tweets could shoot a band or artist up the “charts.”
These charts aren’t available for the Twitter #Music iOS app but are available to everyone on the web today.
For this week’s episode of Founder Stories, I sat down with Ilya Sukhar, co-founder and CEO of Parse. The interview was taped days before Parse was acquired by Facebook last month. Parse is a cloud app platform that provides a set of SDKs that enable developers to focus on the execution of their application instead of rebuilding backend functionality for every mobile platform. Sukhar shares his experience of leaving Salesforce and going through Y Combinator.
Sukhar, who entered YC as a solo founder, was connected to co-founder Kevin Lacker through Paul Graham. The duo then joined up with another co-founding team about a month into YC to build Parse.
“It was a big risk,” says Sukhar. “The founding relationship is a really deep one and there’s a lot of ups and downs to go through together.” Having only known his co-founders for a short time before deciding to work together, Ilya explains the risks and reality of starting a company with strangers. “It worked out well for me but I would not recommend it to other folks.”
In the later half of our discussion, Sukhar explains how he uses arguing tactics to learn whether an employee is a good fit and why stepping back from coding to focus on under-staffed areas of the company has given him the opportunity to learn more about each role before hiring someone to fill it.
Editor’s Note: Michael Abbott is a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, previously Twitter’s VP of Engineering, and a founder himself. Mike also writes a blog called uncapitalized. You can follow him on Twitter @mabb0tt.