Time to stop firms sailing under the ‘tech’ flag of convenience

This morning’s Observer column:

The rise and precipitous fall of Theranos is a cautionary tale for our times and is beautifully told by Nick Bilton of Vanity Fair in a fascinating article that is worth reading in full. For me, though, it has a wider significance, because it illustrates a more general problem with corporations that sail under the tech banner, namely their loud insistence that any attempt to regulate them constitutes an attempt by the analogue world to stifle innovation and hold back the digital future.

At the moment, most governments and almost all mainstream media are so dazzled by digital technology that they seem unable to appreciate what’s really going on. What’s happening is that the internet and its associated technologies have morphed from exotic novelties into a general purpose technology (GPT) like mains electricity. That has two implications. The first is that the companies that have mastered the technology are moving out of the tech compound and into the wider world. This is why Apple is planning to move into the automobile business, Tesla is heading for trucking, Google is moving into healthcare, Uber is aiming to eliminate car ownership altogether and Airbnb has the global hotel business in its sights.

The second implication is that, as Anil Dash puts it in an insightful essay, there is no “tech” industry any more…

Read on