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[Column] Michiel Frackers: January was a jubilant month — in the tech world, that is

[Column] Michiel Frackers: January was a jubilant month — in the tech world, that is

After a short winter break, I look back on a strange January in this year’s first newsletter. While much of humanity lies awake over wars in Ukraine, Gaza and Syria, and half the world’s population votes on major issues in over 50 countries this year, including India, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States, January was one big celebration month in the tech world. No dry January, the new year kicked off as a month-long party.

800 women on a mountain seems more than it is

Speaking of parties, the annual reunion of old white men on a mountain was another great success. The World Economic Forum (WEF) congratulated itself on the participation of 800 women in the official program, a whopping 28% of participants.

It should not get much crazier, if they are not careful WEF will count almost one woman to every two guys, in this century! The question arises as to whether secretaries were counted as delegates, as participants reported that the number of women they encountered at Davos was as high as the number of MMA fighters at the annual Ladies Hairdressers Convention.

Women are in short supply at WEF, as are dark-skinned people. Like motorcyclists on a drive or penguins in a zoo, I have caught myself in Davos politely waving back or nodding to other fellow pigmented people as we crossed paths.

A week later, no WEF participant can remember what else was discussed or agreed upon, because unlike the COP climate conferences, for example, Davos is not about jointly formulating measurable goals. There is old-fashioned networking and job hunting.

Global domination started at WEF?

I am sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theory experts, but there is no talk at WEF of world domination by a small, ruling elite at the expense of the common people; actually, there is not much thought about the future at all. WEF excels mainly in zizagging into the future, while looking in the rearview mirror — with our glasses dipped in cheese fondue.

Those attending WEF without a driver use snow boots to get around. Photo: my Instagram.

Don’t get me wrong: that annual January week in Davos is above all an opportunity to very efficiently have many meetings in a short period of time, and that saves travel time in the rest of the year. In the years I attended the WEF, 2018 for the last time, I met several people who crammed up to 20(!) appointments into a day. But those discussions were almost exclusively about the here and now. Only on rare occasions was the day of tomorrow discussed, let alone the rest of the century.

Just look at the WEF agendas of the last 50 years: in the 1970s, after the oil crisis, the main topics discussed were … oil and energy. Today, it is about AI and climate change. But that happens after ChatGPT took the world by storm, in the wettest and warmest year in history.

Just as the Internet was barely discussed at the WEF in the 1990s, until it had become indisputably the fastest-growing medium in history, climate change was a secondary issue at Davos for many years. Rather, there was chit chat and posing on topics like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, typically one of those WEF topics you never hear anyone talk about anymore.

Gucci has a trust layer

A standout moment of WEF 2024 was the monologue delivered by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff during what was supposed to be a panel. It remains fascinating to see how easily and casually many Americans can present, tossing around one catchphrase after another like snowballs at a winter children’s party.

Benioff mentioned that Salesforce has an AI product, humbly christened Einstein, and casually remarked, “it has a trust layer.” People in Durex’s marketing department must have spontaneously burst into a crying fit that they hadn’t coined that slogan for their latest generation of thin condoms. ‘It’s a trust layer.’ So much better than Durex’s official slogan: ‘made to make you last longer.’

It was delightful to see the poker face of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman when Benioff publicly described him as “my good friend Sam.” Not just his friend; that would be too little honor. Altman is his good friend.

Those likely to be less friendly with Benioff after this panel are the people at Gucci. Benioff proudly spoke about his recent visit to Gucci’s help desk in Milan, where apparently hundreds of employees use Salesforce’s Einstein software to handle broken Gucci products and speak to customers who want their money back. Probably not the type of information Gucci would want the world to hear about. Looks like that Salesforce trust layer did not reach Marc Benioff’s mouth.

WEF has many of these grumpy gentlemen as door bitch. Photo: my Instagram.

Notable tech news from January 2024

World’s most valuable company seriously hacked

Russians have been hacking companies, including Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. Microsoft shrouds itself in mists about what happened: “The threat actor then used the legacy test OAuth application to grant them the Office 365 Exchange Online full_access_as_app role, which allows access to mailboxes.”

That’s something like describing the 9/11 WTC attacks as, “some grumpy passengers paid uninvited visits to the cockpits and then rudely parked the planes in a well-known commercial real estate property near a landmark statue.”

For what Microsoft admits here, according to experts, is that the hackers had gained the same access as a system administrator and then could do anything they wanted, including reading Microsoft management’s email messages. It’s embarrassing for Microsoft, which was just so proud to have passed Apple as the world’s most valuable company with a market capitalization of as much as $3 trillion ($3,000 billion).

Microsoft’s hack at this level also shows that companies and organizations should make a special effort to store as little relevant information centrally as possible, because 100% security is a myth.

Boys play shooter games, girls are on social media

Founder of famed startup incubator Y Combinator Paul Graham shared a remarkable message: research shows that boys are becoming more conservative and girls more progressive.

Graham thinks he knows the reason: “This trend has a blandly obvious explanation. Boys and girls used to get along more. The girls made the boys more liberal, and the boys made the girls more conservative. But now the boys are sitting at home playing shooter games, and the girls are sitting at home posting on Instagram.’

To my knowledge I am childless so not an expert, but this sounds like a plausible explanation. Except that young people are mostly on TikTok and those over 25 are on Instagram. Facebook is for grandparents.

Fake nude turns out to be worse than real death

In the United States, alarm bells have been ringing since fake nude photos of celebrities such as Taylor Swift, probably created with AI, flooded social media. Of course, you wouldn’t wish anyone to go through something this vulgar as happened to TayTay, but as a European, it remains miraculous to note that while Americans are taking action against fake nudity, the most gruesome images of child corpses in war zones spread through social media hardly caused a stir.

AI and crypto mining fast-growing energy guzzlers

The growth of the Internet, the AI explosion and the resurgence of crypto and associated mining are causing data center energy consumption to double in the next two years, the International Energy Agency wrote in a new report. It is expected that in Ireland, for example, which is eager to reel in large data centers, as much as a third of all energy will be consumed by data centers as early as 2026.

Meta propels NVIDIA stock price upward

Mark Zuckerberg is doing his part to help global warming, he reported on Instagram that his company Meta has purchased as many as 350,000 H100 systems from NVIDIA and has stocked a total of 600,000 H100-like systems.

It will be interesting to see how Meta will combine its huge reach with new AI technology, to develop new applications. It will also be interesting to see if Zuckerberg uses another make-up artist in his next video to make him look like the reincarnation of an embalmed Lenin again, or adds a touch of color.

Interesting stuff to click, read or watch from January 2024

  • Interesting food for thought: legendary investor Fred Wilson (Twitter, Etsy, Kickstarter, Coinbase) describes a new business model for Web 3 and perhaps AI applications: minting. At its core: shared ownership with users.
  • Sam Altman, the founder and CEO of OpenAI, is seeking billions to build a network of chip factories. The goal is clear: become less dependent on NVIDIA. Remarkable that the man manages to raise billions as a side hustle.
  • Altman, by the way, was a guest of Bill Gates in a podcast, unfortunately recorded before the OpenAI king drama. Watching Bill Gates, surely another great, great friend of Altman’s, is never a treat and listening doesn’t prove much more entertaining, but the transcript is excellent.
  • Investor and founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman shares his thoughts on “a plausible reality.” Pay attention to his description of a search for an oasis rather than a mirage.
  • Another American investor and entrepreneur, Chris Dixon, wrote a book that I have not yet read but whose review by Fred Wilson is already remarkable. The book is called “Read Write Own, Building the Next Era of the Internet” and will be published this week. Once anyone of you has read it, please let me know what you think of it.

Spotlight 9: January party month in tech, except for Tesla

January was great for tech companies and the S&P 500, but not for Tesla

It’s confusing, but January saw thousands of people laid off at tech companies who were simultaneously hiring others. At Google and Microsoft, “net” thousands of people went out and as a result (or in spite of it?) both companies rose to record highs. Might make sense, but feels weird.

Leaving aside Tesla, where growth is stagnant, virtually all major publicly traded companies are rewarded for optimism about the growth of the global economy. A Gaza humanitarian tragedy is taking place in the Middle East, but it seems to be taking place in a parallel universe outside of economic reality. When Houthis -who knew this club a month ago- attack a few ships it has a greater impact on the stock market, than great human suffering. Again, perhaps logical, but it is still distressing.

Tech has been in a bit of the doldrums the last few years, after smartphone-induced growth slowed and it was a matter of wait and see to figure out which new trend would kick start a new hype cycle. That new hype has clearly been found in AI. The question is why did the two exponents of blockchain, Bitcoin and Ethereum, fall in January when there is so much optimism about the economy and the new tech wave?

The answer is simple: blockchain is usually slightly ahead of the “traditional” tech economy, and Bitcoin and Ethereum already posted huge increases in 2023. Compared to a year ago, Bitcoin rose 84% and Ethereum 45%. The adoption of the first Bitcoin ETFs thus became an old-fashioned “buy the rumour, sell the news” scenario that even led to fears of another violent price correction for crypto.

Billions have been invested in new applications, many of which will come to market as early as this year. We are often going to talk about multimodal AI (roughly speaking AI that knows and recognizes more forms than just text) and in blockchain, the hype projects have mostly been washed away and serious applications are becoming available. Will Apple run into regulatory and Chinese market problems and NVIDIA become one of the three most valuable companies in the world? Everything points to 2024 being a fascinating year.


Michiel Frackers is the Chairman of Bluenote and Chairman of Blue City Solutions

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