Tag Archives: Tech

News From Backchannel

We’re now officially and totally integrated into Wired. But we won’t be gone.

Dear Backchannel readers,

Steven here. First, the news: Starting with the new year, Backchannel will be fully integrated into WIRED. While this means that there won’t be a weekly drop of Backchannel stories and columns — and we won’t be producing them from solely within a five-person unit — you’ll be still seeing those stories and reading the same writers who produced them when you visit the WIRED site. In fact, Backchannel will live on in the form of a new section on wired.com, which will launch in the coming weeks. More on that to come.

In the meantime, you will still be able to read stories from Jessi Hempel and me … Read the rest

Backchannel Is Moving to Wired

Starting mid-June, we’ll publish even more of the work you care about in a new weekly format.

(Illustration by Laurent Hrybyk)

Dear Backchannel readers,

Last summer, Backchannel joined Condé Nast as part of the Wired Media Group. For all of the reasons you imagine, it made sense. Though we have our own distinct personality, we’re a lot like Wired. In fact, Steven and Jessi both hail from Wired. And like the editors there, we have a deep conviction that accurately reported news presented with context is a critical tool for understanding the future.

And now, a year later, we’re closing the circle. Backchannel is joining forces with our sister publication. Starting June 21, we will begin publishing Backchannel as a weekly digital magazine on … Read the rest

The Queen of the Internet Surveys Her Kingdom

Everything is looking up, according to Mary Meeker, even if global smartphone growth is trending down.

(Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Hi Backchannel readers, it’s Jessi.

On Wednesday, Kleiner Perkins investor Mary Meeker delivered her annual internet trends report at Code Conference, the annual south-of-Los Angeles gathering that feels as much like a summer camp reunion as a tech confab. Meeker always presents early in the morning of the second day. To tech newbies, her presentation must seem like one of the strangest rituals in the industry — a core dump of stats, charts, and headlines, dense with exotic acronyms and hockey-stick curves. But it’s ambrosia to tech business insiders. At Code, attendees tend to meander in and out of sessions depending on the popularity of the … Read the rest

Sheryl Sandberg’s Accidental Revolution

How Sandberg’s grief became the catalyst for a new, emotionally honest management style at Facebook and beyond.

Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died of a heart arrhythmia on a Friday evening. They’d been vacationing in Mexico, and from the moment she saw him on the resort’s gym floor, a life built on relentless order — in the workplace, in the home, and especially in balancing the two — was thrust into terrifying chaos. She flew home and broke the news to her two young children. She listened to Bono perform “One” in front of 1,700 people crammed into the Stanford Memorial Auditorium for a memorial. She spent seven days welcoming friends for the traditional Jewish shiva, accepting food she mostly didn’t eat.

Then, on the following Monday, Sandberg … Read the rest

Inside the Glowing-Plant Startup That Just Gave up Its Quest

Taxa Biotechnologies promised a light-emitting plant that could replace street lamps. Here’s why that project failed.

Down in a basement along bustling Third Street in San Francisco’s SoMa startup district, Antony Evans unzipped a black tent. It’s the same kind of tent that marijuana growers use, he told me. But it was heavy, earthy patchouli, not skunk, that hit me when I stepped inside the brightly lit cube. Petri dishes piled high on a table contain clusters of green moss.

Evans had invited me to stop by his lab in late January. He was excited to share his latest news. After four years of false starts and failed plants, his startup Taxa Biotechnologies was now two months away from finally shipping its first product, a patchouli-scented … Read the rest

Our Machines Now Have Knowledge We’ll Never Understand

Illustrations by Todd Proctor / YouWorkForThem

The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.

So wrote Wired’s Chris Anderson in 2008. It kicked up a little storm at the time, as Anderson, the magazine’s editor, undoubtedly intended. For example, an article in a journal of molecular biology asked, “…if we stop looking for models and hypotheses, are we still really doing science?” The answer clearly was supposed to be: “No.”

But today — not even a decade since Anderson’s article — the controversy sounds quaint. Advances in … Read the rest

Kimbal Musk’s Tech Revolution Starts with Mustard Greens

A leafy green grows in Brooklyn. (Photo by Natalie Keyssar)

The other Musk is leading a band of hipster Brooklyn farmers on a mission to overthrow Big Ag.

Farmers have always had a tough time. They have faced rapacious bankers, destructive pests, catastrophic weather, and relentless pressure to cut prices to serve huge grocery suppliers.

And now they must compete with Brooklyn hipsters. Hipsters with high-tech farms squeezed into 40-foot containers that sit in parking lots and require no soil, and can ignore bad weather and even winter.

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No, the 10 young entrepreneurs of the “urban farming accelerator” Square Roots and their ilk aren’t going to overthrow big agribusiness — yet. Each of them has only the equivalent of a two-acre … Read the rest

Sheryl Sandberg Is Starting a New Movement

Sandberg has learned a lot about resilience in the past two years. OptionB.Org is her training program for the rest of us.

Shortly after Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband suddenly to a heart condition, she was talking to a friend about an upcoming father-child activity. Together, they came up with a plan to fill in for her child’s dad, Dave Goldberg. Thinking about it felt awful, and she wept. “I want Dave,” she told her friend. “I want option A.”

The friend, as she later wrote on Facebook, put his arms around her and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

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On April 24, just before the second anniversary of Goldberg’s … Read the rest

How Google Book Search Got Lost

Google Books was the company’s first moonshot. But 15 years later, the project is stuck in low-Earth orbit.

Illustration by Sandy van Helden.

Books can do anything. As Franz Kafka once said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

It was Kafka, wasn’t it? Google confirms this. But where did he say it? Google offers links to some quotation websites, but they’re generally unreliable. (They misattribute everything, usually to Mark Twain.)

To answer such questions, you need Google Book Search, the tool that magically scours the texts of millions of digitized volumes. Just find the little “more” tab at the top of the Google results page — it’s right past Images, Videos, and News. Then click on it, find “Books,” and … Read the rest

The Invisible Force That Warps What You Read in the News

Are we in a bubble? Why has Uber’s story spun out of control? The answers hinge less on facts and more on the hidden physics of Narrative Gravity.

Image by Zach Grosser

Things we know to be true: John McCain is a maverick. The New England Patriots are cheaters. Apple can’t innovate without Steve Jobs.

But wait a second. How do we actually “know” these things? And what makes them “true”?

The answers reveal something fundamental about how companies and people rise and fall in the eyes of the media. Once a narrative sets in — such as “maverick” in a good case, or “cheater” in a bad one — it becomes very hard to break. But it can be done.

The warping effects of narratives … Read the rest