Cornell Tech

I took a ferry up the East River yesterday evening to attend a dinner celebrating the official opening of Cornell Tech which happens this morning.

Situated on Roosevelt Island, underneath the Queensboro Bridge, Cornell Tech is a graduate school of engineering and business that is focused on the technologies and industries of the 21st Century. While the campus is officially opening today, Cornell Tech has been operating as a graduate school for something like four or five years now, in the Google building in Chelsea.

It is the result of an RFP process that Mike Bloomberg’s administration put out seeking a new school of engineering in NYC.

Last night the former mayor spoke about all of that and reminded us, as he always does, why NYC is the greatest place in the world.

With the opening of Cornell Tech, the city continues to feel the impact of Mike’s twelve years of leadership.

He put NYC on solid footing and helped to point it in the right direction. We are all grateful for that.

Speaking of leadership, Cornell Tech is led by Dean Dan Huttenlocher. Dan is a fantastic technologist, educator, and community member.

If Cornell Tech is a gift that the Bloomberg administration gave NYC, Dan is a gift that Cornell gave NYC.

Dan’s leadership in the NYC tech community has already been felt and as he said last night, “the best is yet to come.”

The synergies between engineering schools and technology communities are well understood and well documented.

NYC has some great engineering schools, like NYU’s Tandon where I am on the Board, Columbia’s School Of Engineering, and at the various CUNY schools. The addition of a world class institution like Cornell Tech will only make things better. It ups the competition between these schools for students, faculty, and research grants. And that makes everyone better.

Today is a big day for the NYC tech community. We welcome the Cornell Tech campus to NYC and celebrate all the good things that will come of this. And I am certain that there will be many.

AR “Browsers” On The Phone

Jacqueline gave us an update yesterday on the latest with Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore.

These AR “browsers” are coming soon to Apple and Google phones.

We think this is a big deal because for the first time AR developers will have standard environments to build to that are already in the hands of 1bn people.

Jacqueline wrote a bit about all of this on her Medium blog, here and here.

Throughout our conversation yesterday, I was a little unclear about how all of this would work from a UI perspective.

But then we watched this on our conference room TV and it all became a lot clearer to me.

By the way, if you like that video, you can back the developer on Kickstarter. They only have three days left on their project.

At USV, we have been slow to embrace AR and VR, as we have had a hard time seeing how all of this cool technology becomes mainstream.

With ARKit and ARCore, that path seems a lot more clear now and Jacqueline is leading our effort to talk to companies that are working in this space.

September 11th – A Day Of Remembrance

I have written a lot about September 11th on this blog over the years.

I started AVC a couple years post 9/11, while I was and NY was still very much in its wake.

Time has a way of making traumatic things fade away and that has happened to some degree.

But a smell, a scene, or a person can take me right back there to that awful day.

So today, like all September 11s, will be a day of remembrance for me.

The Equifax Data Breach

The news broke late last week that hackers have taken almost 150mm records from Equifax. These records include name, address, social security number, birthdate, and in some cases driver license information.

This is an identity thief’s treasure trove.

So what should we do about it?

I read Ron Lieber’s suggestions in the New York Times yesterday and did all of that for our family this morning.

That includes putting a freeze on our records at the big four credit agencies:

– Equifax

Experian

– TransUnion

Innovis

And putting a fraud alert on file for the next 90 days at the big three:

– Equifax

– Experian

TransUnion

That took the better part of an hour as you need to do each of these things for each social security number you want to “protect.”

I also went ahead and pulled credit reports for our social security numbers to see if any new credit had been taken out in our names. Hackers may have had this information for quite a while.

None of this feels particularly protective to be honest. We’ve made it harder for someone to take out loans in our names, but I don’t think we’ve made it impossible.

Lenders and others are going to have to get more diligent about detecting and protecting themselves (and us) from identity theft in the wake of this and many other data breaches.

Name, address, social security number, and birthdate should not be considered sufficient information to prove identity and access credit or confidential information any more. This has likely been true for some time, but this breach certainly is the nail in the coffin for that approach (and possibly the credit bureau business model).

It’s time for new approaches to security, identity, and the protection of our financial information. Thankfully, there are a lot of them out there, mostly in startup land.

A Nightmare

I don’t know why we call them Dreamers. Because they get to pursue the American Dream? Don’t we all?

These kids, or adults as many are now, were brought to America by their parents and have lived here for most of it.

That we would even think that they should not be here is abhorrent to me.

We can talk about their parents, who came to the US illegally, but we should not be talking about their kids.

These people did nothing wrong, broke no laws.

As my partner Albert, an immigrant, wrote on his blog yesterday:

The blame for this situation though rests with Congress and past Presidents who have failed to make any meaningful progress on immigration reform. Right now, it is worth remembering now that the DREAM act has been around for 16 years. There have been multiple attempts to pass it with at varying times support in the House and Senate, but never the two at the same time, including a bipartisan filibuster that included 8 Democrats. The opposition by Democrats often arose because they wanted comprehensive immigration reform or nothing.

We have our elected officials to blame for not addressing this issue and fixing it a long time ago.

I for one expect them to fix it, to put the other immigration issues aside, which they never seem to be able to do, and address this one.

This is about our morality, our decency, our humanity.

Fix it.

Oreo

I received an over the air upgrade to the Oreo version of Android (Android 8) yesterday.

It makes my phone feel even more like an iPhone. Notifications work more like iOS.

Google has polished the UI quite a bit and it is a joy to use.

I have been saying for several years that Android and iOS are copying the best things from each other and they feel more and more similar than ever.

I don’t really think it matters what mobile OS you use these days. They are both really great.

The China ICO Ban

Regulators in China imposed a blanket ban on ICOs over the long weekend.

A number of people have reached out to me via email and Twitter asking me what I think about this.

I think regulation of ICOs is inevitable and a good thing if done right (ie lightly).

The SEC’s comments on ICOs back in July were well done in my view.

There are all sorts of bad things going on in the ICO market right now, from outright scams to projects raising tens of millions of dollars on a white paper written in a day to celebrities getting in on the action.

We needed a cooling off period and if China’s actions are that cooling off period, then I welcome them.

However, a blanket ban on ICOs seems like bad policy to me.

The SEC is heading in the right direction by making a distinction between tokens with real utility vs tokens as a substitute for securities. The former is where the innovation lies. The latter is just a fast and loose way around the rules.

If you look back at the Ethereum token offering several years ago, it is hard to see how that was a bad thing. It provided needed funding to the Ethereum project and the result has been a wave of innovation on top of Ethereum, including the whole concept of ICOs.

If I am reading the Chinese regulators correctly, they are saying that an offering like the one that Ethereum did is not going to be allowed. That’s bad.

Many have speculated that this Chinese ban is temporary to give the Chinese authorities time to come up with sensible regulations. I suspect that is right.

However, I would not like to see the SEC and other regulators follow suit. I think a better move would be to work to rid the market of the scams and other bad actors and actions while allowing for real innovation to continue. That seems to be where the SEC is headed and I encourage them to keep going in that direction and not follow the Chinese.

The US has always been a home to innovation and innovators. We have been able to do that while applying sensible regulations (for the most part) on innovative new technologies. If we continue to take that approach we can compete and even beat China to market in areas like blockchain where they are arguably ahead of us. Naval said it well in this tweet yesterday:

Union 2.0

I wrote this post below on labor day two years ago. From where I sit, very little progress has been made on this since then. That is a problem and also a big opportunity.

Some Thoughts On Labor On Labor Day

When one looks back over the history of the development of the modern economy from the agricultural age, to the industrial age, to the information age, the development of a strong labor movement has to be one of the signature events. Capitalism, taken to its excesses, does not allocate economic value fairly to all participants in the economic system. The workers, slaving away to build the railroad, the skyscraper, etc, provide real and substantial value to the overall system and yet, because they are commodified and interchangeable parts, they don’t always get their fair share of the economic value they help to create. So the labor movement provides the market power that each worker individually cannot provide.

The emergence of the middle class in the developed world in the 19th and 20th centuries has as much to do with the emergence of a labor movement as it has to do with anything. And a growing middle class in turn drove economic development as the obtained earning power was spent on needs like homes, cars, education, etc.

I am a fan of the idea that labor needs a mechanism to obtain market power as a counterbalance to the excesses of markets and capitalism. I think we can look back and see all the good that has come from a strong labor movement in the US over the past 150 years.

However, like all bureaucratic institutions, the “Union” mechanism appears anachronistic sitting here in the second decade of the 21st century. We are witnessing the sustained unwinding of 19th and 20th century institutions that were built at a time when transaction and communications costs were high and the overhead of bureaucracy and institutional inertia were costs that were unavoidable.

One has to think “if I were constructing a labor movement from scratch in 2015, how would I do it?”  My colleague Nick Grossman coined the term “Union 2.0” inside our firm to talk about all the organizing tools coming to market to assist workers in the “gig economy.” But I think Union 2.0 is way bigger than the gig economy. The NY Times has a piece today on workers in a carwash in Santa Fe organizing outside of the traditional union system. One can imagine leveraging technology, communications, and marketplaces to allow such a thing on a much larger scale.

I don’t know how much the traditional union system taxes workers to provide the market power they need. But if its like any other hierarchical system that we are seeing replaced by networks and markets, the take rates are in the 20-40% range and could be lowered to sub 5% with technology.

That’s a big deal. And I suspect we will see just that happen in my lifetime. I sure hope so.