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Wired USA - November 2019

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Published by Testing magazines, 2019-11-09 05:58:42

Wired 201911

Wired USA - November 2019

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ELECTRIC WORD WIRED 27.11

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CONTENTS WIRED 27.11

ELECTRIC TOTALLY MIND WHEN THE
WORD WIRED GRENADES MARKETING DIGITAL
LOSES BATTLE
P.6 ITS FOR
COOL HONG KONG
RANTS
AND P.11 P.16
RAVES
P.8 BY BY
VIRGINIA ZEYNEP
HEFFERNAN TUFEKCI

MIDDLE-AGED NASA’S P.24 FETISH: HEAD TO
TECHIES BIGGEST HELM SERVER HEAD:
LEAD SPACE BY
THE WAY TELESCOPE LAURA P.29 GPS KID
MALLONEE TRACKERS
P.30

P.20

BY GADGET
CLIVE LAB:
THOMPSON SECURITY

APP PACK: IN DEFENSE FEATURES WIRED25: P.39
PASSWORD OF UGLY AND MAKE PROG-
MANAGERS OBVIOUS RESS, MAKE BY NICHOLAS
SECURITY MISTAKES, THOMPSON
P.32 CAMERAS LEARN LESSON
(REPEAT)
HEAD TO P.36
HEAD: PLUS: JOY BUOLAMWINI, PATRICK
WI-FI BY COLLISON, EVA GALPERIN,
ROUTERS JONATHON HANY FARID, AND MORE PEOPLE
P.34 KEATS WHO ARE RACING TO SAVE US

THE P.74 IS THERE SIX-WORD ON THE
MOST SPACE LEFT SCI-FI COVER
DECEPTIVE BY FOR APPLE’S
HACK IN ANDY STREAMING
HISTORY GREENBERG SERVICE?

P.86 STORIES ILLUSTRATION
BY WIRED FOR WIRED
BY READERS BY
PETER MIKE PERRY
RUBIN P.96

005

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ELECTRIC WORD WIRED 27.11

TOTALLY DIARIES OF ↙
WIRED AN UNBRIDLED
WE ASKED CONTRIBUTORS:
DIGITOPIAN
“WHILE WORKING
Candidly, I was about four wines deep by high noon. Hold the judgment, ON THIS ISSUE,
if you please. It was one of those whoopsie-daisy kinds of Saturdays where WHAT GAVE YOU
the sun begs you to sip its splendor in the form of semi-effervescent Cal- HOPE?”
ifornia whites at your favorite neighborhood cantinas. Minimal risk of
indecorum on my part—of all the creative names my enemies call me, “Even more than his invention for
Ripley D. Lightweight isn’t one of them. Though, yes, I do suffer that light- revealing a cell’s active genes, Jason
est pinkening of cheeks, a lush’s flush, when I imbibe. Perhaps also a cer- Buenrostro himself. Like many scien-
tain slackening of step and sense. So sue me! tists, he’s passionate about his work.
But he’s also humble and empathetic.
Presently, I had a decision to make. Where to next? I polled the locals, If Jason represents the next genera-
who could agree only on a nonrecommendation: Wherever I went, it must tion of scientific research, I’m all for it.”
not be that winery down the way. “I’ve worked in the area for 10 years,” —Contributor Jennifer Kahn (page 56)
one said. “I’ve been there exactly once.” The reason was simple: The win-
ery had embraced—picture a crush of snobs scrunching their schnozzes “Talking with Hany Farid about his
in sync—technology. Well, I had my destination. work with political leaders to encour-
age the tech industry to protect us
I skipped to the front door. Overgrown with vines, it sat recessed from against deepfakes, without creating
the street, shrinking from view as if in shame. The room I entered was mechanisms that could be exploited
very dark. “Have a seat,” said the woman behind the bar, too noncha- to suppress online expression.”
lantly. I was (and remained) her only customer. She poured an inky red —Senior writer Tom Simonite (page 70)
and relayed the backstory. She and her husband were scientists, labora-
tory scientists, the kind in white coats, and they were bringing chemistry “SpinLaunch, a company ditching
to winemaking. More precisely, to wine preserving. The wine before me conventional rockets to dramatically
now, in fact, had been opened … three months ago. I squawked. She smiled. lower the cost of access to space.
If successful, the company will lay
Parents are wrong on this: Wine does not keep. One day for reds, two or the foundation for a truly robust
three for refrigerated whites. Three months? You might as well quaff the space economy that is essential for
rufous dregs that collect at the bottom of your trash. What this vintnerd turning humans into a multiplanetary
was promising was insane, even considering the machine to her right, a species.” —Staff writer Daniel
cabinet-sized temperature-controlled box that was—forgive me, she lost Oberhaus (page 61)
me early in the explanation. Likely it involved wafting her exposed wines
with some noble gas or other to prevent the putrefaction that too much “Joanna Pearlstein. Working on a story
oxygen reekingly wreaks. The scientist kept smiling. about the world’s most dangerous
hackers, along with a cover package
I sniffed. I sipped. And? with 25 profiles, you want someone to
Terrible! Pfeuh! The wine was bad. I found myself smiling too. “Wow,” be sure you are getting things right.
was all I said. I wasn’t there to whinge and whine, to critique her soulful For 16 years at wired, that person has
efforts. Beaming, I sucked down the rest of her liquid experiment, genu- been Joanna. As a deputy editor, she
inely grateful for the attempt. In an industry so resistant to modernity— oversees the fact-checking depart-
in oenophilia, technophilia surely finds its opposite—here was a true ment; she also reads every story like
progressive, bravely battling the tides of tradition. For too long has the a seasoned lawyer and engages in the
snifter set, comfortable in their ancient rhythms, viewed the application deep philosophy of what is fact and
of technology always and only as adulteration. Get over it. Let the inno- what is opinion. She is, in a word, wise.
vators, like a heavy red, breathe. There may yet come a day when you And she’s leaving us. Joanna has given
can open a genetically re-created ’58 cab, enjoy a few glasses, and save all of us hope for the power of smart
the last pour for your best friend—when they come to visit next spring. and accurate storytelling. We are con-
soled that she’s staying in journalism.
RIPLEY D. LIGHT But we will miss her.” —The editors
@ RIPLEYDLIGHT
“Somebody finally started putting
caffeine in seltzer.” —Senior writer
Andy Greenberg (page 50)

006

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ELECTRIC WORD WIRED 27.11

FAN LETTERS GET MORE WIRED

In our July/August issue, Stephen Witt If you are a print subscriber, you can
recounted how Apollo 11 nearly crashed into read all wired stories online.
the moon because its guidance computer kept To authenticate your subscription, go
glitching. In our September issue, Nitasha Tiku to: wired.com/register.
chronicled the tumultuous past three years at
Google, and Laurie Penny wrote an exultant
essay on how authors of fan fiction have gradu-
ated into the writers’ rooms of major TV shows.
Then in October, Lauren Smiley told the story of
a murder whose chief witness was a Fitbit—and
whose chief suspect was a 91-year-old man.

↙ This story pretty much summed up and motivated. —Kaila Hale-Stern, via
all the reasons I recently left my job at
Readers share their wonder, Google after six years there. The Mary Sue
anger, and advice:
—Kathy Ray, via wired.com Fanfic writers and lovers—this brilliant,
RE: “MISSION OUT OF beautiful piece by @PennyRed is for
CONTROL” RE: “WE CAN BE HEROES” you. —Michael Sheen (@michaelsheen),

I want to call WIRED on its bro- Sometimes a piece of writing is via Twitter
centric recounting of Apollo 11’s his- so good and so powerful and so
tory. The only mention of women truth-telling that you just have to get No, I’m not crying on the train. You’re
was in reference to them as weav- out of its way. I saw my own expe- crying on the train. (:sob:)
ers of the copper wire that con- rience and trajectory—from being a
verted “code to machine-readable nerdy kid alone with their modem, —Janina Woods (@Kaori_Ino), via Twitter
binary.” However, Margaret Hamil- writing stories set in other worlds
ton was a major contributor to the and forging communities that way— RE: “THE TELLTALE
development of the software dis- described exactly by Penny. I sent HEART”
cussed in the article, and was con- the story to many similarly minded
spicuously missing. friends. Some wrote back that they The main subject of this story,
were crying to see themselves rec- Tony Aiello, 91, died shortly after
—Candace Egan, via wired.com ognized and celebrated. Everyone, the magazine went to press. New
without fail, said the essay made details about his criminal case were
RE: “THREE YEARS OF them feel empowered, powerful, also made public. The story has
MISERY INSIDE been updated on WIRED.com.
SILICON VALLEY’S
HAPPIEST COMPANY” —The editors

Nitasha Tiku’s article is great, but RE: “WE CAN BE HEROES”
it fails to point out the hypocrisy of
Google’s reluctance on Project Maven “Let’s hear it for
while benefiting from dual-use sys- the nerds!”
tems like GPS for free. Googlers
apparently didn’t want to associate —University of Southern Maine Libraries, via Facebook
with a defense program that could
potentially aid drone strikes. What
do they think makes those drone
strikes work? Hint: It’s not AI, it’s the
very thing that powers Google Maps
to the tune of a billion dollars or more
per year. —Louis, via wired.com

008

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MIND GRENADES

WHEN
MARKETING
LOSES ITS
COOL

Keep calm and consider supply and demand.

BY VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN

The year 2015 was a heady time to do marketing for tech startups. The venture
baronry that controlled the fates of founders had decided that markets, rather
than engineering or personnel, made or broke new companies. If you were a
strategist or a creative, swagger came with the job, along with corporate Uber and
free lunches of glistening sushi. You’d enter a pitch meeting in your sharp blow-
out and bravura nail art—every time; it was all about the rose gold accent nail
that year—extremely confident that a solid creed preceded you. The only thing
startups need is markets. Q Marketing was on fleek, just as “on fleek” was on fleek.
Those were the days. I was the editorial director of a tech marketing shop based
in San Francisco, and—having come up as a blowout-deprived journalist—I felt
almost high on the luxe marketing-chick lifestyle. Not only did the job often seem
like one long perk, but it was important. I knew, almost by heart, “The Only Thing
That Matters,” the 2007 essay by Marc Andreessen, in which the oracle of Menlo
Park argued that markets are, indeed, “the most important factor in a startup’s
success or failure.” Q But didn’t the product matter? The team? Not really.

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MIND GRENADES

Andreessen was blunt: With a great market, deaths by achieving the desideratum to erally seem more shaken than revitalized.
a company can handle a staff of half-wits end all desiderata: product/market fit. Four years ago, when companies had pro-
or jerks because “the team is remarkably PMF. Products were seen as placeholders
easy to upgrade on the fly.” What’s more, that were to be broken, iterated on, pivoted found problems with their models, leader-
he wrote, “the product doesn’t need to be from. By contrast, a nice loamy market, ship, or products, marketing came to be
great; it just has to basically work.” primed, was a joy forever. The everything. seen as not just a way to lipstick pigs but as
In the right market, anything—vanilla- a way to block and tackle regulation, to keep
VCs had also soundly discredited pricing honey vape, ancient grains meal-delivery secrets, to shut out anyone who wanted to
as the key to success. (When a sector is indif- service—can find purchase. Though not all so much as see the product.
ferent to the laws of supply and demand, startups believed marketing was the sil-
that is some serious irrational exuberance.) ver bullet for success, the ones that came So marketing went from the only solution
“Innovation,” too, was yesterday’s news. Dis- to us seemed to think: If you build it, they to the smoke that suggested fire that sug-
appointingly, for those of us who cottoned will come, and if they come, you will find gested indictments. To be fair, at the advent
to the folktale of a new economy driven by a way—even if far, far down the road—to of the social networks, VCs could be for-
brilliant little Edisons and Teslas in Everlane, sell them mugs. Or memberships. Or ads, given for thinking that marketing was the
technological breakthroughs were, by 2015, or some freemium bunk. whole game. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat,
believed to be too easily copied. Instead, Pinterest, and Instagram were acquiring
users to make a network and attract more

I liked to associate things like payment software and
organic-snack subscription boxes with such universally
admired ideas as Apple, love, or Banksy.

success lay in branding flourishes—Snapchat The problem was the usual. We were users: The market (users) is the product (the
ghosts, Instagram influencers, the massive bullish for too long. As we watched the big network). So by acquiring users with mar-
glass lantern that is Istanbul’s Apple store. agencies, we saw that even the best mar- keting you were simultaneously building
keting couldn’t quite compensate for a cer- your product. VCs used to love the idea of a
We in marketing also held tight to tain miniature blood test that didn’t work. young big shot who saw a vast market that
Rachleff’s Law of Startup Success, named Nor, at another agency, could Instagram the old didn’t: the diary writers who would
for Andy Rachleff, another VC god who influencers turn disaster-relief tents into contribute to Tumblr. The lonely hearts that
cofounded the firm Benchmark that made a a sexy island bacchanal worthy of Kendall became Facebook. Investors also swooned
mint betting on eBay, OpenTable, Snapchat, Jenner. From our firm’s gleaming digs, we at the idea of using relatively cheap market-
Twitter, and Uber. Rachleff’s Law: The num- shuddered as we watched the first cracks in ing magic to get millions of users hooked on
ber one company killer is lack of market. the facade of Theranos. Later, other offer- something and then cashing in.
ings with marvelous marketing—Jawbone,
And so, flush off earlyish rounds of ven- Hampton Creek (Just Mayo), and Airware— The investors cashed in. But social media
ture capital, startups paid us to identify, burned through millions of dollars trying companies had to turn into galactic data
reach, and soften up prospective consum- to get the optics right on products, services, Hoovers to become profitable, and the naive
ers, using an alchemy of surveys, intuition, or business models that were, yeah, janky. hope that one day startups could trade on
design, blue-sky ideation, typography, the users, accounts, or subscriptions they’d
ethnographies, direct email, advertising, Moreover, when it came right down to acquired meant that the early years of a
events, comms, logos, PR, stunts, and (in it, staffing did matter, especially because company were expected to be devoted to
theory) art, literature, and film. And of teams underperformed when mismanaged UA. It’s not that that logic didn’t hold up; it’s
course my specialty: decks. These are the by bumptious founders like Uber’s Travis that users used to come cheap to divey, bare-
sententious keynote presentations, used to Kalanick and WeWork’s Adam Neumann. bones joints like Twitter, and they’d stick by
dazzle investors or recruit employees, that Teams willing to work with volatile, arro- glitches and unpopular updates because
try to get a startup to seem like a holy mis- gant management weren’t so “remarkably they had made them their own and had
sion. In my decks, I liked to associate things easy to upgrade on the fly,” as Andreessen nowhere else to go. Now users cost much
like payment software and organic-snack had once led investors to believe; word gets more to court—have you seen the freebies
subscription boxes with such universally around about people like Kalanick and Neu- offered at companies like the home-products
admired ideas as Apple, love, or Banksy. mann. And then, after shake-ups like the club Grove Collaborative?!—and with too
ones at Uber and WeWork, startups gen- many apps already on their phone, they enter
We marketing teams came to believe we
alone could save startups from untimely

012

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MIND GRENA DES

new brand relationships more warily. Then, CHARTGEIST Revelations of
unless they’re blinded by love, they tend to Jeffrey Epstein
jump at the first signs of glitchiness. BY JON J. EILENBERG connections

When Blue Apron ill-advisedly went pub- RESEARCH FUNDING Scientific
lic in 2017, it had a valuation of nearly $2 institutions that
billion. With brilliant marketing, it gained a WEWORK remain untouched
multi-furlong lead among meal kits, includ-
ing an also-ran I worked on, and it had an WRITING News stories
unshakable reputation for being the luxe about (former) CEO
one. At the same time, I remember taking Adam Neumann
one look at my first, lovely, logo-adorned
box and thinking: This can’t last. Sustain- Demand for
able seafood, no GMOs, antibiotic-free and its IPO
five-star, verdant herbs? The margins must
be nearly zilch. But to reduce cost would be Number of
to reduce quality, and to hold onto a market words typed
of pious foodies, Blue Apron couldn’t risk
that. So the company kept spending without Confidence
hiking prices, while still throwing no end of that they’re the
freebies at customers to gain loyalty. In May, right words
the NYSE warned Blue Apron that it was in
danger of being delisted. It’s currently valued
at about 94 percent less than it was at its IPO.
Maybe attending to supply and demand is
not such a quaint superstition after all.

Companies that do manage to blind users
by love, like the Calm meditation app, now
seem to concentrate on the product, while
essentially bootstrapping. Between 2012 and
2016, investors, evidently late to get religion
on mindfulness, turned Calm down by the
dozens on the grounds that it was “fluffy”
and “a load of nonsense.” Founders Michael
Acton Smith and Alex Tew decided to do
what entrepreneurs did before startups were
called startups: work on the product on a
Scrooge budget with fewer than 10 employ-
ees out of a one-bedroom apartment. They
gave little away but rain sounds and a short
free trial; once you paid, the app provided
lovely, sleepy music and stress-relieving
meditations for its users. Of whom there are
now 2 million active subscribers. Gaining
traction with extensive, elegantly produced
content, rather than giveaways and market-
ing jazz, has allowed them to expand their
offerings to meet the desires of subscribers,
who pay up to $156 a year for their services.
And well after the company turned profit-
able on its own terms, in 2017, VCs came
calling. Now I’m not saying the Calm people
are good people and Blue Apron people are
not. I’m just saying Calm has been valued at
$1 billion. Meditate on that.

VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN (@page88) is a
regular contributor to wired.

014

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MIND GRENADES

MOVE, ILLUSTRATION / SIMOUL ALVA
COUNTERMOVE

Yes, authoritarians have co-opted digital technology.
But the story is far from over.

BY ZEYNEP TUFEKCI

It was a sweltering August Saturday in Hong Kong, and the authorities
had just shut down one of the most important technologies in the city:
the MTR, Hong Kong’s uber-efficient subway system. So the protesters
walked. Q The demonstrators were in their 12th week of continuous action;
they’d been marching, singing, occupying streets, forming human chains,
confronting police. They started when the city’s chief executive, Carrie
Lam—a leader essentially handpicked by Beijing—introduced a bill that
would allow Hong Kong’s government to extradite suspects to main-

016

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MIND GRENADES

land China for prosecution. Hong Kong is At the same time, this stream of young ing one eye, in honor of a medic who had
a “special administrative region” of China, people carrying umbrellas and traveling been shot in the eye just a few days earlier.
with an independent judiciary and much on foot were anything but Luddites (at At precisely 9 pm, I watched them all close
wider freedoms than those found on the least as people usually use the term). They one eye, perfectly coordinated.
mainland. Fearing that the extradition law were quite attached to their tech. Like other
would lead to the further erosion of those decentralized movements before them—the Move, countermove. The next day,
freedoms, large numbers of protesters took protesters who amassed in the Arab Spring, authorities shut down the subway. And all
to the streets starting in early June. under the banner of Occupy, in Istanbul’s throughout my time in Hong Kong, it was
Gezi Park, and under the name Indignados painfully clear how ubiquitous the surveil-
Now, nearly three months later, the bill in Spain—the demonstrators in Hong Kong lance was. Telegram includes a feature that
had been suspended but not yet with- were forever on their phones. They pulled allows you to see if a contact is a member of
drawn. (That would come, but later.) And a group; that feature may well have exposed
everyone’s phone number to the authori-
The Hong Kong protesters managed ties. (Telegram says it’s fixing this.) Phones
to form a human barricade 30 miles long, constantly pinged nearby cell phone towers,
surprising even themselves. revealing locations. At one point, LIHKG was
down due to a denial of service attack. It’s
the protesters were feeling their strength, them out to learn where the movement was unknown whether Beijing was behind the
demanding an independent inquiry into making its next stand; they pulled them out attack, but China’s state-sponsored hack-
police misconduct and universal suffrage. to learn where to retreat after being tear- ers certainly have the motive and the means
gassed; then they pulled them out to learn (and then some) for such an exploit.
But on that Saturday, as we all ended up where everyone was regrouping for the next
walking in the blazing sun, the protesters advance. They scrolled through Telegram, This techno-evolutionary arms race
had a new target in their sights: “smart” beaming with myriad protest groups—big between authorities and protesters isn’t
lampposts equipped with sensors, cam- ones conveying information about the new—and it’s not just playing out in authori-
eras, and internet connections. Fifty had whole movement and small ones that orga- tarian countries. Those smart lampposts are
been installed in the city, a first batch of nized one neighborhood or another. They already sprouting up in many democracies
an expected 400, and the protesters were voted on LIHKG (a homegrown Reddit) to or are being planned as part of smart-city
determined to take one down. decide their next steps. initiatives. Those governments, too, prom-
ise they will be put to benign use. But once
The government had said the smart I watched it all happen: The protesters a surveillance infrastructure exists, govern-
lampposts would be used only for benign would amass and the police would meet ments and corporations will certainly be
purposes—that they’d take air quality mea- them in force. Then, in a blink, the demon- tempted to run with it.
surements and assist with traffic control, strators would move somewhere else, using
and would not collect facial or other per- the subway—when they could—to outrun Facial recognition is being deployed all
sonal data. The protesters feared other- the authorities. They would decide where over the world. Biometric databases are
wise. When I spoke to them, many brought to go next through online discussions and expanding. Personal, financial, health,
up what was happening to the Uyghurs polls. It felt like magic. social, and other data is being collected by
in the Xinjiang region of China. Trapped entities ranging from social media giants
in a massive surveillance net that hacks One day, inspired by a single post on and apps to websites and retailers—anyone
their phones and collects biometric data LIHKG, the protesters decided to form a and everyone, it appears. And this data is
(including DNA samples from practically human chain. They would do it on the anni- being churned through to identify and tar-
the whole population), the Uyghurs live versary of the historic 1989 chain across get people individually—to sell things, yes,
under constant scrutiny and worse—Big the three Baltic states that demanded free- but also to spread misinformation.
Data along with traditional surveillance dom from the Soviet Union. The Hong Kong
techniques have sent as many as a million protesters ran with the idea and managed Later that Saturday, the protesters used a
people off to internment camps. to form a human barricade 30 miles long, couple of basic technologies, a handheld
surprising even themselves. They used apps saw and a rope, to set upon a smart lamp-
Citizens of Hong Kong feared simi- to coordinate in real time, getting people post. As the post fell, cheers rose from the
lar technologies would be used against to move from overly populated sections of crowd. A jubilant moment isn’t decisive,
them. Many wore face masks. They carried the chain to ones that were more sparse. though. There will be more smart lampposts
umbrellas, not just to shelter from the sun They held hands and sang in unison. In the and more abuse. But the pessimism that
but also to block the view of CCTV cameras middle of the event, someone had the idea abounds these days—as authoritarians have
or the helicopters that flew overhead—or to that they should end with everyone clos- turned new technologies to their advan-
huddle under as they assembled barricades. tage—is likewise not decisive. It’s still early.
We can’t predict who will win and how. That
story is still to be written, by us.

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI (@zeynep) is a wired
contributor and a professor at the Univer-
sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

018

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MIND GRENADES

OLD SCHOOL

Who are the most successful entrepreneurs? The middle-aged.

BY CLIVE THOMPSON

Back in 2007, a 22-year-old Mark Zuckerberg gave some advice at Y Combinator’s Startup School: Do a
startup before you’re old. In technology, he said, twentysomethings rule. The olds are useless. Q “I want to
stress the importance of being young and technical,” he said. “Young people are just smarter.” Q That com-
ment has not aged well. As we watch tsunamis of disinfo rage through social networks, we’re now suspect-
ing it wasn’t so great for cocky young techies to so rapidly reupholster the public sphere. Those dudes may
have been technically adept, but they were, as one early Twitter employee told me, “naive as fuck.” With little
experience of the real world, the dewy pioneers were woefully unprepared for the hate speech, dog-piling,
and sock-puppeted algorithm-juking that ran riot in the 2010s. Now we’re living in the wreckage. Q Sure,
innocence is great. But what if experience is even greater? Maybe we’d get better innovation if we left it to
Zuckerberg’s elders. When it comes to building tools that help solve the world’s truly wicked problems, it’s
the older visionaries who’ll get it done. Q Consider the recent findings of a group of academics from

020 ILLUSTRATION / GUANGYUAN LIM

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MIND GRENADE S

MIT, Northwestern University, the National But I think the biggest value of older ANGRY NERD
Bureau of Economic Research, and the US entrepreneurs isn’t merely that they suc-
Census Bureau who examined the success ceed more often than younger ones. It’s that BY SARA HARRISON
rates of startups. When they homed in on they’re better positioned to take on what’s
elite “high-growth” tech firms, they dis- sometimes called “tough tech”—the hard
covered the average age of the founders challenges of our age, like clean energy,
was 45. What’s more, their chance of suc- curing disease, and climate adaptation.
cess didn’t decrease with age. It increased.
Sure, young people are great at crank-

Sure, innocence is great. But what
if experience is even greater?
Maybe we’d get better innovation
if we left it to the elders.

The study defined these accomplished ing out software. All they need is a laptop DEMOCRATIZE THIS!
companies as those with the fastest job and an idea, and arguably they’re better at
growth and that had a successful acquisi- seeing opportunities in the world of culture The operations overlords of wired
tion or went public. Founders in their fifties (like Facebook or Snap). But if you want to make me use Airtable. It’s a hip work-
were more than two and half times more pioneer new battery technology or bioen- flow tracker, with pretty color coding
likely to hit those marks than ones in their gineering for growing crops in zones ren- and copious tabs and a “robust” API
mid-twenties. Even those who had hits at dered arid by climate change, you’ll need that syncs with Slack. It’s also, appar-
a young age had bigger ones later in life. to navigate regulated industries and pull ently, a superhero. The Captain Amer-
off research that requires a PhD or more. ica of spreadsheets. Airtable isn’t just a
As one of the researchers, MIT Sloan shinier version of Excel—it’s on a self-
economist Pierre Azoulay, pointed out to Today’s science is getting more and more professed mission to “democratize soft-
me, Steve Jobs may have cofounded Apple complicated and specialized. “We’ve never ware creation by enabling anyone to
in his twenties, but the company only met a biotech founder who’s 25 years old,” build tools that meet their needs.” As
became a world-spanning behemoth Azoulay notes. Fadell is an investor now if the oppressed white-collar workers of
when Jobs presided over the invention of and is putting money into “the hard stuff,” the world were crying, “Help! Bring salu-
the iPhone. By that time, he was 51. including biotech. He was an early investor brious democracy to my dismal day-to-
in Impossible Foods, a company that wants day!” Democratizers run rampant through
Why might older folks have better suc- to curb our consumption of C02-heavy meat tech these days. An app called Robinhood
cess with startups? Part of it is that they by making plant-based substitutes and which (was that guy pro-democracy?) wants to
acquire better people skills. “They develop was founded by a 57-year-old professor of “democratize finance for all.” Veo aims
better empathy,” which is crucial in build- biochemistry (see Pat Brown, page 73). to democratize soccer videos “one cam-
ing devoted teams, notes Rich Karlgaard, era, one field, one team at a time.” Cus-
Forbes publisher and author of the book So maybe it’s time to actively unlock the tom Movement wants to democratize
Late Bloomers. power of older innovators. Tech firms could bespoke sneaker ownership, and Creator
build more multigenerational teams, much imagines the same for hamburger prep.
Tony Fadell, a wunderkind at Apple in his the way hospitals pair younger surgeons Then there’s dearest Dadi, here to reform
early thirties, founded Nest at age 41. The (fast, eager to learn) with older ones (expe- that most undemocratic of institutions,
startups he created in his twenties failed rienced, seen it all). Meanwhile, Silicon Val- sperm storage. It’s all so gross and con-
to take off, but with Nest he had rocketing ley investors should reconsider their ageist fusing. I mean, I theoretically support
success. He attributes this to the acquisi- biases. “People over 45 basically die in unfulfilled sneakerheads finding shoes
tion of self-knowledge: understanding the terms of new ideas”—as venture capitalist that match their special personalities,
importance not just of making a cool prod- Vinod Khosla has said—is a sentiment that but the last time I read my Plato a stable
uct but also what customers want, how to clearly needs to be retired. republic didn’t depend on the freedom to
make a sale, the whole ball game. personalize products. See the contradic-
CLIVE THOMPSON (@pomeranian99) is a tion? Democracy is a kumbaya-humming
Fadell loves young founders, but “they wired contributing editor. Write to him at potluck where the whole class is invited.
have so many blind spots,” he says, and [email protected] Democratization, meanwhile, caters to
they don’t understand the broad picture. infinite constituencies of one, a nonsen-
“Or at least I didn’t.” sical personalization of the political. By
now I should be used to marketers pil-
022 laging the English language for profit,
but this is tone-deaf even for tech. The
town squares of social media? Now roil-
ing hellsites of extremism! “Democratize”
all you want, but I’m no fool. Democracy
is burning, and you would have me buy a
reclaimed-wood, custom-made violin.

ILLUSTRATION / STORYTK

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GOLDEN
EYE

NASA’s massive, $10 billion telescope
prepares to launch in 2021.

BY LAURA MALLONEE

If you were a rogue bee buzzing on the moon, this
heat-detecting honeycomb could find you. But rest
easy, tiny friend: The $10 billion James Webb Space
Telescope will have bigger concerns. Once it is blasted
into orbit in 2021, it will seek out water on Earth-like
planets, stars being born, and remote objects formed
in the first 100 million years after the Big Bang.

Webb’s precision comes from its 21.3-foot primary
mirror, nearly three times as big as Hubble’s. Its fold-
ing, hivelike design is formed by 18 lightweight beryl-
lium hexagons that work as one; to sharpen focus, 126
small motors pivot these segments in increments as
small as one ten-thousandth the width of a grain of lily
pollen. They collect 269.1 square feet of light, 50 times
more than NASA’s current infrared space telescope,
Spitzer. A gold coating enhances the mirror’s reflection
of long-wave light, including infrared radiation created
13.6 billion years ago, further back than any telescope
has ever seen. “The telescope is a time machine,” says
Nobel laureate and lead scientist John Mather. “You see
things as they were when light was sent out.”

Some 10,000 astrophysicists, engineers, and chem-
ists have worked on Webb. Mather’s been at it the lon-
gest, since 1996, when NASA left him a voicemail asking
whether he wanted to help build its biggest telescope yet.
He led the team at NASA’s Goddard facility in Maryland
that identified 10 necessary technologies that didn’t yet
exist, including a tennis-court-sized plastic sun shield
that ensures accurate infrared detection by chilling the
observatory to –370 degrees Fahrenheit. (At right, Webb
prepares for testing in NASA’s cryogenic vacuum cham-
ber in Houston.) The project, initially expected to cost
$500 million and launch in 2007, has faced challenges
(leaks, rips, Congress). But now it’s on track to launch
from French Guiana in a European Ariane 5 rocket.

Hovering 1 million miles from Earth, Webb will beam
down 458 gigabits of data a day for up to 10 years,
potentially revealing the deepest mysteries of the uni-
verse’s origins. Mather imagines “there’s something out
there we would never have guessed.”

LAURA MALLONEE (@LauraMallonee) writes about
photography for wired.

024

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MIND GRENADES

PHOTOGRAPH / CHRIS GUNN / NASA

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Supermicro

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for a black hole involved an international today’s IT infrastructure. Processing of the 4
partnership of eight radio telescopes with petabytes (PB) of data generated in the project
major data processing at leading research in 2017 for the original imaging utilized
institutes in the US and Germany. The servers and storage systems, with many
contribution of the brilliant scientists was of these servers coming from Supermicro.

Learn more at www.supermicro.com/blackhole

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GADGET LAB → SECURITY

Safe House Helm’s personal server is a secure way to take back
control of your digital life. —Lily Hay Newman

FETISH

$499

HELM SERVER

There’s ever more reason to worry about entrusting our data to big tech com-
panies, but the convenience and ubiquity of web services like Gmail and iCloud
make it hard to consider anything else. Helm’s server aims to create a seamless
and equally convenient alternative, letting you host your own email, contacts,
and calendar, as well as store files and photos yourself—no snoopy tech giant
pulling the strings. Set up your Helm with its mobile app, then access its con-
tents from anywhere. Your data stays safe in your home, where it’s protected
by multifactor authentication, including a physical security key. The 4.3-inch-
tall Helm comes with an expandable 120 GB of storage, and it regularly
uploads a fully encrypted backup to the cloud so you won’t lose everything in a
fire. There are always some challenges to striking out on your own—like having
important emails caught in friends’ spam folders after you switch—but if you
want to get scrappy with your privacy, this handsome machine will help you do
it in style. ($99 annual subscription after the first year)

PHOTOGRAPHS / NICOLLE CLEMETSON 029

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GADGET LAB → SECURITY

HEAD TO
HEAD

JIOBIT Hide
and
Best for: Preschool-age Prefontaines Seek
The keychain-sized Jiobit is the easiest tracker to clip to a wriggly
kid’s belt loop, shoelace, or backpack. It uses a combination of Blue- Small children (and sometimes
tooth, Wi-Fi, cellular data, and GPS to turn the companion app into bigger ones) can be as slippery
a real-life Marauder’s Map. When I toggled on Live Mode at a park, as salmon. Keep an eye on them
I could watch onscreen as my preschooler sprinted out of sight, with a kid-friendly GPS tracker.
turned around at an intersection, and walked back. In the app, you —Adrienne So
can share your child’s location with trusted adults, create geofences,
get alerted when your kid goes out of bounds, and swipe between $50
multiple children—or dogs. ($9 monthly subscription required)
RELAY KIDS PHONE
$129
Best for: Independent
elementary schoolers
If you’re not quite ready to
give your kid a smartphone,
the Relay is a perfect stepping
stone. The screenless commu-
nicator uses a cellular connec-
tion to let your family speak to
one another—Relay to Relay,
or from a Relay to the compan-
ion mobile app. You can also
check your kid’s whereabouts
by viewing the Relay’s GPS
location in the app. Younger
kids find it irresistible: My pre-
schooler gleefully shrieked,
“Mommy, I love you!” every
few minutes while I worked—
until I texted my husband to
confiscate the Relay. ($10
monthly subscription required)

030 STYLIST / AUDREY TAYLOR

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GADGET LAB → SECURITY

Open APP PACK
Sesame

Your brain has
better things to
do than store
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Offload the job
to a dedicated
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which will keep
your login data
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—Scott Gilbertson

1PASSWORD

BITWARDEN The most user-friendly DASHLANE LASTPASS WHY NOT JUST
service of this bunch,
Bitwarden is the most 1Password seamlessly A comprehensive, step- LastPass made its name USE YOUR
transparently secure integrates with login win- by-step setup makes by handing out free
password manager we dows to autofill pass- Dashlane the best choice accounts, and those are BROWSER?
tested; it’s built on open words across all your for those new to pass- fine. However, you should
source code that’s subject browsers and apps. This word managers. The free upgrade to the paid option Yes, your web browser
to regular security audits. is especially true on iOS, tier securely stores your ($36 a year for individuals, can store and autofill
The app is also free, where the procedure is passwords on one device. $48 for families) for the passwords for you. So
making it a good choice smoother than it is on Shelling out $5 a month ability to securely share why not just do that?
for the password-man- other platforms. Features syncs your encrypted info passwords and other sen- Because storing pass-
ager curious. Advanced like Travel Mode, which across multiple devices sitive information with words in your browser
users like the ability to automatically deletes and earns you features your partner or work- is a terrible idea! If other
study the code, and they sensitive data from like Site Breach Alerts— mates. Emergency Access, people (like the system
can even host Bitwar- devices before you go on Dashlane monitors the also a premium feature, admin at the office) have
den on their own server. a trip, and Watchtower, web to make sure your allows someone you trust access to your computer,
The free account has no which identifies weak or personal info isn’t being (like a family member) to they can open Chrome’s
limitations, but premium reused passwords, help sold on the black market. get into your account in an settings tab and see all of
accounts ($10 a year) justify the cost: $36 a year If it is, the app notifies you urgent situation. your passwords in plain-
offer extras like for one user, $60 for the and helps you change any text. Also, dedicated
support for logging in whole family. compromised passwords. apps can generate strong
with a YubiKey and passwords for you and
advice on strengthening autofill any passwords
your passwords. outside the browser, like
in your banking or shop-
ping apps.

032

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GADGET LAB → SECURITY

Balanced Beams

These multitalented routers ensure that your home Wi-Fi isn’t
just stable and fast but also secure. —Michael Calore

HEAD TO EERO PRO
HEAD
Best for: Networking newbies
The Eero Pro is a solid router on its own,
but its superpower is in serving as a base
station to bring mesh networking into
your home. Start by connecting it to your
modem, then plug signal-boosting Beacons
($149, not included) into AC outlets around
the house. This multipoint approach dis-
tributes the Wi-Fi more efficiently, blanket-
ing your entire home in data packets—and
the plug-and-play setup requires almost
zero networking know-how. A subscription
to Eero Secure+ ($99 a year) locks the net-
work down: It filters all the traffic, blocking
ads both malicious and benign, identify-
ing and warning against sketchy websites,
and guarding the kids against harmful con-
tent. I appreciate the ability to open Eero’s
smartphone app to see which devices
on my network have endured the most
attempted attacks—a telltale sign some-
one has installed bad software or has been
hanging around unsavory destinations.

$199

$319

TP-LINK ARCHER AX6000

Best for: Hyper-connected families
The eight high-gain antennas spiking up from the
Archer’s chassis pump out a blast of Wi-Fi strong
enough to flood a McMansion. And TP-Link’s
router supports the just-released Wi-Fi 6 wire-
less standard, which can serve bandwidth to
more devices without clogging the tubes—
increasingly important in our stream-happy
world. Security is built in, with TP-Link and Trend
Micro’s HomeCare service preinstalled (free for
three years, price thereafter TBD). It provides
protection against malicious websites and phish-
ing emails, as well as a neat system that quar-
antines any device on your network that may be
compromised. Families will applaud the paren-
tal controls, which group together each person’s
devices for easier management. So if you want
to block Jimmy’s YouTube access after 10 pm,
with one tap you can institute that limit on his
tablet, PC, and Roku. Sorry, Jimmy.

034

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GADGET LAB → SECURITY

Private Eyes nies like Polaroid and Hive have even hired
sought-after consumer design firms like
Surveillance works best when the bad guys can see they’re Ammunition and Fuseproject, whose other
being watched. So why design smart-home security cameras products include Beats by Dre headphones
to blend in so beautifully? —Jonathon Keats and the Snoo robotic bassinet, to design their
cameras.
At the end of the ’60s, in the embryonic surveillance cameras. In 2018, some 50 mil-
days of cable television, an enterprising lion of them were sold; research firm Strategy One irony here: We are increasingly fear-
executive had an idea. He persuaded the Analytics estimates that four years from now, ful that our smart-home devices are eaves-
leadership of Olean, in upstate New York, customers will buy 120 million. dropping on us, that hackers can crack into
to hook up closed-circuit TV cameras, via our internet of things for fun and profit, that
the newly laid cables, along the town’s The thing is, these companies have been manufacturers listen in on our conversa-
main street. With 20,000 residents, Olean pushing the cameras as stylish additions to tions. (Earlier this year Bloomberg set off a
was hardly crime-blighted Manhattan. But a home. But the attempt to reconcile deter- frenzy by revealing that Amazon employees
when the first-of-its-kind surveillance sys- rence with a chic image is bound to have dys- listen to Alexa audio clips.) These days, to
tem was installed in 1968, law enforcement topian consequences. equate our home security cameras with our
officials from as far away as Israel and Thai- increasingly suspect home devices may no
land came to marvel at the eight robotic Public surveillance cameras come in two longer enhance a feeling of peace of mind.
cameras attached to utility poles. Miscreants forms. One, shaped like a cylindrical bul-
were also impressed: Not a single crime was let, is pretty easy to see and is pointed at a More important, though, is the conflict
attempted during the 18-month run of the subject—say a person standing at a bank with the underlying purpose of security
experimental network. teller’s window—like a shotgun. If the cam- cameras. While footage can be used to alert
era is robotic, it can single out and follow a police to a break-in or to secure a court-
After that, there was no stopping video- subject or suspect. The second kind, a dome room conviction, the most effective func-
based crime deterrence. More than 50 mil- camera typically enclosed in a tinted plastic tion of surveillance cameras is, say it again,
lion CCTV cameras now watch over the bubble, is more sinister. People are aware of deterrence.
residents of the United States, and four times it but never know who, or what, it is filming.
as many keep Chinese citizens in check. No Research conducted in the US and UK
surprise, then, that in the past five or so years The home surveillance market, however, shows that the presence of surveillance
companies like Nest and Ring have been is more about friendly design; a security cameras in urban settings caused a sig-
pushing peace of mind in the form of home camera that resembles a Nest thermostat nificant decrease in property crimes on
or an Amazon Echo is in keeping with the the streets and in subway stations, and
modern, tech-enabled lifestyle. Compa- a decrease of 50 percent in parking lots.
But for that deterrence to work, criminals
need to recognize the device, and the device
needs to convey authority. As a research
report by Arizona State University’s Center
for Problem-Oriented Policing states, only
an obviously visible security camera has the
desired demotivating effect: “For this crime-
prevention process to succeed, the offender
must be aware of the cameras’ presence.”
So the more attractive and inconspicuous
security cameras are, the less likely they are
to impress intruders.

In the short term, discretion may be a
shrewd move. In Olean, the camera system
was removed when a new mayor was
elected. In 1969, The New York Times
reported that the mayor objected that it
“smacked of an invasion of privacy.” Para-
doxically, the near future feels like a privacy
invasion much worse than anything Olean’s
mayor could have imagined, in which dis-
creetly sleek cameras are absolutely every-
where, making us all paranoid prisoners of
our own society.

JONATHON KEATS wrote about sound
design in issue 27.06.

036

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“WE NEED ACTION FROM GOVERNMENTS, BUILDERS, USERS,
AND PEOPLE INSIDE SILICON VALLEY.

THE POINT ISN’T TO STOP PROGRESS BUT TO ENABLE IT.”

PHOTOGRAPH / THE VOORHES

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REBUILD
THE

BRIDGE
—AGAIN

MAKING PROGRESS I N 1 9 0 4 , a group of Canadian workers began the hard slog
of constructing the world’s longest bridge, across the Saint
MEANS MAKING Lawrence River just south of the city of Quebec. It was a wildly
(SOMETIMES ambitious project. And it wasn’t just for the Quebecois: Rail-
DEVASTATING) roads were revolutionizing commerce and communications,
MISTAKES. and the bridge would connect people and allow trains to run
from New Brunswick in the east to Winnipeg in the west.
AND THEN LEARNING
FROM THEM. The river was 190 feet deep at the center, and ice piled
high above the water’s surface in the winter. Nothing about
BY NICHOLAS THOMPSON the bridge’s construction would be easy. The engineers chose
a complex cantilever design, a cutting-edge approach but a
cost-efficient one too. Ambition creates risks, and warning
signs started to appear. The steel trusses weighed more than
expected. Some of the lower chords of the bridge seemed mis-
aligned or bent. Workers raised concerns. But the project’s
leaders pressed ahead.

Exactly 100 years later, in February 2004, a young entre-
preneur named Mark Zuckerberg founded The Facebook. His
ambition was nothing less than to remake the internet around
personal relationships and then to remake the world around
Facebook. When the company filed to go public in 2012, he

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published a letter to potential investors. ing in a time of intense backlash against YOU HAVE TO
“Facebook was not originally created to be a the technology industry. It’s not clear when
company. It was built to accomplish a social it started, but if one had to choose a date, THINK THROUGH WHAT
mission—to make the world more open and November 8, 2016, isn’t a bad one. Within
connected,” he wrote. “We don’t build ser- six months of the election, Molotov cock- COULD GO WRONG
vices to make money; we make money to tails were being chucked at the captains
build better services.” An open and con- of Silicon Valley from all directions—and INSTEAD OF
nected world, he wrote, would make the employees of the biggest tech compa-
economy stronger and businesses better. nies were among those lighting the wicks. ASSUMING EVERYTHING
Facebook was building a bridge and relent- Antitrust law, disdained for decades, sud-
lessly increasing its span. denly became exciting. Worries that had WILL GO RIGHT.
been playing as background music in soci-
One day in August 1907, several years ety for years—online privacy, the fears of a new kind of truss. The canti-
into the construction of the bridge over the artificial intelligence taking jobs—began to lever arms on either side went
Saint Lawrence River, calamity struck in the crescendo. Ad targeting was redefined as up and stood strong. By 1916, the
space of 15 seconds. Every major section of surveillance capitalism. Self-driving cars only major task remaining was to
the structure’s nearly complete southern link the two sides with a 5,000-
half collapsed. Workers were crushed or were redefined as death traps. #Delete- ton center span. It was maneu-
swept into the current. Another group of vered into place via tugboat, and
men found temporary safety but drowned Uber became a meme. The reputation of soon the workers began to lift it
under the rising tide. In all, 75 people died, an entire industry tanked, just as had hap- up with huge hangers. But once
including 33 Mohawk steelworkers from pened eight years earlier to finance. In 2016, more, calamity struck. The hoist-
the nearby Kahnawake reserve. wired ran a photograph of Mark Zucker- ing system failed, and the giant
berg on the cover with the line “Could Face- centerpiece plunged into the
By now, you surely see where I’m going book Save Your Life?” Fifteen months later, river, taking 13 workers with it.
with this. In 2016, Facebook was struck we ran a photo-illustration of him blood-
by calamity too. The core algorithm of the ied and bruised. No words were necessary. Soon, though, the Canadian
company’s News Feed was weaponized by government’s engineers tried a
Russian operatives and purveyors of fake There’s no question that the tech industry third time. Many lives had been
news. A platform designed for connect- had it coming. It had become arrogant. The lost, but connecting the two sides
ing people turned out to be a remarkable nerds had ascended, culturally and socially, of the river remained essential
accelerant for political divisions. The elec- and had become enchanted with their own for the country’s prosperity. So
tion was a mess, whatever your politics, and virtuous self-image. They spoke like Saint the builders reconstructed the
Facebook was partly to blame. The com- Francis in public while privately worship- collapsed center span and, just
pany’s philosophy—move fast and break ping Mammon. In hindsight, Facebook’s mis-
things—was fine when the only thing at sionary IPO letter reads like a parody. But
stake was whether your aunt could recon- the backlash has included some gratuitous
nect with her high school ex. That philoso- swipes too. Take self-driving cars. They don’t
phy lost its roguish charm when democracy text while driving; they don’t drink. If we can
itself was up for grabs. Then, in 2018, Face- get them to work, they’ll save tens of thou-
book faced the worst crisis of its short sands of lives a year. Almost everything we
existence when news broke that a shady do has become simpler, easier, and more
political outfit called Cambridge Analytica efficient in some way because of software.
had siphoned off data from nearly 100 mil- Even Facebook deserves a certain sympa-
lion users of the platform. thy as it tries to juggle the conflicting priori-
ties of privacy, transparency, and safety—as
For several years now, we’ve been liv- the public demands perfection on all three.

Now let’s return to the Quebec bridge.
After the catastrophe, the site became a place
of pilgrimage and, eventually, renewal. The
Canadian government needed the railway
link, and it took over the design and con-
struction of the bridge. New plans were
drawn up, involving stronger supports and

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three years after the second certified and regulated; the latter can learn comes from software: the music we hear,
collapse, the Prince of Wales their craft from scratch in their basement. the movies we watch, the stories we tell.
presided over its opening. The And there’s good reason for civil engineers We live longer, eat better, and keep in our
bridge held. Soon, cars and trains to demand more rigor than their software pockets computers more powerful than the
were crossing the same river in engineer brethren. If you make a mistake in supercomputers that guided the first people
which so many people had died. a line of code, you can fix it from your chair. in space. We can record police abuses
For a century, it has stood as the Repairing a steel beam submerged in an icy with our smartphones and hold power to
longest cantilever bridge in the river is a different matter. Software com- account. Gene editing could help us feed
world. Quebec and Canada have panies grow, too, according to the logic of the planet; we may send people to Mars;
prospered for it. network effects and increasing returns to technological acumen is redefining global
scale. They have to move fast if they want politics. A thousand inefficient businesses
More important, the collapses to thrive. Such rules and logic rarely, if ever, have been pulled up from the roots, as bet-
became an ethical touchstone. apply in the physical world. ter ideas have sprung from the soil.
A professor named H. E. T. Haul-
tain decided that he wanted to So, yes, the cultures have to be different. And that’s what this issue is about: the
commemorate the story, and And the problems differ too. The bridge col- builders who understand the consequences
he called on the poet and author lapsed twice because of failure in execution; of their choices. It’s about people who recog-
Rudyard Kipling, who had pre- Facebook’s problem was more a failure of nize the awesome responsibility of the tech-
viously written an ode to engi- imagination and the inability to see how the nological powers bequeathed to us by our
neers, for help. Haultain worked platform could be used for harm. predecessors. There’s Kate Darling, whose
with Kipling and the leaders of research is redefining the way we think about
Canada’s main engineering That said, Silicon Valley, and software our moral responsibilities to robots. There’s
universities to develop what’s engineers everywhere, could still learn Patrick Collison, who, along with his brother,
called “The Ritual of the Call- something from the culture that asks its created a company, Stripe, that makes it
ing of an Engineer.” And for adherents to wear those iron rings. Tech vastly easier for people all over the world
nearly a century, graduates companies operate in digital worlds, but to start businesses and process payments
have gone through a ceremony their actions have consequences in the phys- without tearing down the entire financial
in which they recite their obli- ical one. And when you build things, you are system. There’s Laura Boykin, using pocket-
gations to their craft: “I will not responsible to the people who use them. You DNA sequencing to save Africa’s cassava
henceforward suffer or pass, or have to think through what could go wrong crop. There’s Eva Galperin, protecting her
be privy to the passing of, Bad instead of assuming everything will go right. fellow hackers from stalkerware and author-
Workmanship or Faulty Material You have to build as if you have a ring forged itarians. There’s Moriba Jah, working to map
in aught that concerns my works from a shattered bridge on your pinky. the garbage orbiting our planet.
before mankind as an Engineer,
or in my dealings with my own Sometimes systems crack, and then they These are people who build things fast
Soul before my Maker.” shatter. But sometimes the crack leads to but who are also fixing things. They’re
the remedy. And that’s what we need now: using technology to take us to new places.
At the end of the ceremony, a coming together of many tribes to fix the They’re thinking deeply—but not to the
they are given iron rings to wear mess we’re in, and to learn from the mis- point of paralysis—about the problems
as a reminder of these obliga- takes the industry has made. We need action society faces and the ways that technol-
tions: Move slow and get things from governments, builders, users, people ogy can help. They’re people who realized
right. According to myth, the inside Silicon Valley, and people every- that the bridge they were building may have
first of these rings were forged where else writing code. collapsed, but rather than abandon it, they
from pieces of the collapsed built it anew with forethought. Or, as the
bridge. The rings are worn on The point isn’t to stop progress but to ceremony of the Iron Ring requires one
the pinky finger of the dominant enable it. Much of the magic in our lives to pledge, “My Time I will not refuse; my
hand, so that they click on the Thought I will not grudge; my Care I will
table when the engineer signs not deny towards the honour, use, stabil-
or stamps a blueprint. ity and perfection of any works to which I
may be called to set my hand.”
The culture of civil engineers
has always been different from NICHOLAS THOMPSON (@nxthompson) is
the culture of software engi-
neers. The former are formally wired’s editor in chief.

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PORTRAITS BY

NOÉMIE TSHINANGA

ILLUSTRATIONS BY

GISELA GOPPEL

CONCEPTUAL
PHOTOGRAPHS BY

THE VOORHES

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MEDICINE

Wendell Lim

S Y N T HE TIC BIOL O GIS T / UC San Francisco

Arming the immune system to kill
cancer—and more.

W H E N W E N D E L L L I M booted up his bio- hard to make T cells that kill only cancer,
physical chemistry lab at UC San Francisco in with no collateral damage. Hearing this, Lim
1996, he had no ambition to hack the human realized the tools he’d been tinkering with
immune system. He was focused on more could make CAR-T safer and more reliable.
basic questions, like decoding the underly-
ing logic of biology. Lim, who nearly majored Since 2015, Lim’s lab has been making
in art at Harvard, sought answers through more finely tuned T cells. One requires a
genetic engineering. For years he tinkered drug to trigger its kill mode. Others use mul-
with yeast, inserting code into its DNA to tiple molecular markers to identify cancer,
make it do things never seen in nature. like two-factor authentication. First-gen
CAR-T therapies rely on a single lock-and-
Then, in 2010, he met a University of Penn- key switch, Lim notes, but a tumor is a com-
sylvania oncologist named Carl June who plex, mutating environment. That’s why he’s
was developing a cancer treatment called designing cells to read patterns of molecules,
CAR-T. It involves genetically engineering T a bit like how facial recognition algorithms
cells—the assassins of the immune system— analyze faces. He’s also creating T cells that
to create a clone army trained to find and attack only when there’s a critical mass of
destroy a patient’s unique cancer. In 2011, tumor-specific molecules present, and a ver-
June published CAR-T’s first breakthrough sion that intercepts signals between tumor
success, which set off a tsunami of clinical cells to stage assaults on the whole network.
trials, leading to (so far) two FDA-approved
treatments. But June and others were wor- Lim expects some of his early T cell designs
ried. A clone army can also be deadly—it’s to be tested in humans within two years.
But he’s already looking beyond cancer, to
hacking the whole immune system: Healing
wounds, halting degeneration, preventing
autoimmunity—all of it could be guided by
designer cells. “The culture now is that CAR-T
is just a big toxin attached to an antibody,”
Lim says. “The idea that immune cells are
programmable computational devices that
can do many things is pretty far away, but I’m
hopeful we change that.” —MEGAN MOLTENI


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