Enterprise hits and misses - WEF debates stakeholder capitalism and the future of AI, while a facial recognition startup catches heat

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed January 27, 2020
This week - we try to mock the WEF but find, once again, issues of substance to ponder. Stakeholder capitalism gets a once-over, as does AI ethics, facial recognition and federated machine learning. For the first time ever, I forego the whiffs section in favor of a tribute of sorts.

King Checkmate

Lead story - WEF debates stakeholder capitalism and AI - but where do we go from here?

MyPOV: Each year, I watch the World Economic Forum (WEF) with interest, in the hopes that it will soon be over someone will take a truly spiffy selfie. Jokes aside, I really do respect WEF's ability to power so many hot air balloons solely through pontification.

Bring on the heady talk about stakeholder capitalism. Stuart was on the case - he filed a series that acknowledged the dangers of WEF-style wokeness:

Fifty years on and the concept of stakeholder theory remains under discussion, with the term stakeholder capitalism its most frequently used iteration today. Fifty years is a long time and the cynics and naysayers who've embarked on the now-traditional annual sniping at billionaires converging on the Swiss town to put the world to rights, continue to cast doubt on whether there is any such thing as stakeholder capitalism, beyond a presciently 'woke' soundbite? (from WEF 2020 - has stakeholder capitalism really overturned Milton Friedman's doctrine in the digital economy?).

And yet, despite the cynical/hypocritical completely valid potshots at the carbon fuel emissions necessary to get these geniuses together each year, WEF is always worth a careful look. Stuart frames a worthwhile debate on multi-stakeholder capitalism. He quotes Paypal's CEO on why employees are the stakeholders that change everything.

You can have a great strategy, but if you don't have inspired, passionate employees who are financially secure and feel financially healthy, then you can't ever hope to be a great company.

Too bad businesses are endlessly trying to automate their employees into the smallest cost center possible. Which brings us to AI, always a potent WEF theme. Chris wrestles it down in WEF 2020 - AI, responsibility and some notable ambiguities. He doesn't seem comfortable - and why should he be? When we plug the power of AI into oppressive regimes, the cultural output is toxic. That problem extends to the west:

Is it possible to build trust in AI per se, if Western companies are going to set aside their principles in the quest for a quick buck? Sorry... I mean adapt sensitively to local cultural differences?

Chris is in rare form:

The WEF sought to answer this question by convening a panel made up of: the government of Singapore, which ranks 151st out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index; Microsoft, which has just admitted to exposing 250 million customer records and seems to have a free pass to represent ethics at Davos; and a fintech company called Suade, which is using data to help banks avert the next financial crisis (good luck!).

Ouch! But that's the WEF way: push essential discussions without resolving inherent contradictions. The CEO from Suade said it well:

We always speak about ethics around AI and how to do it properly. But ethics also covers taking along in the journey a certain amount of layman language and explainability to consumers to really understand what this AI is going to do in their lives.

Stuart rounds out the analysis with WEF 2020 - there is no 'Plan B' if time runs out on a global deal on digital services taxation, admits OECD.

Diginomica picks - my top stories on diginomica this week

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here's my top choices from our vendor coverage:

A few more vendor picks, without the quotables:

Jon's grab bag - In Google services are built with containers; now it’s sharing expertise on securing them - - Kurt examined Google's push to help enterprises get container security right:

The moat-and-castle approach to security, i.e. defending network and organizational perimeters, is dead. Google is leading the way to more robust enterprise security postures.

Speaking of cybersecurity, Martin asks: Is cyber-insurance now an enterprise security reality? Finally, Chris wonders if the rise of anthropomorphic robot hands is actually in good hands, so to speak. It's as much "a matter of intelligence and granular data as it is physical engineering excellence."

Best of the rest

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady, he of the "make every article count" old school, posted a good one with How to Compete With AWS. O'Grady:

Is it possible, therefore, to envision a world in which Microsoft competes with Amazon not by bringing to market a wider, faster or cheaper bucket of infrastructure parts, but with a more complete developer experience that is seamlessly integrated from inception to promotion to production?

Meanwhile, Clearview AI has been pulled from the shadows of their vampiresque lust craving for our faces, which they have happily scraped into a business model, now with billions of faces scraped. In Troubles Mount For Clearview AI, Facial Recognition Firm, we get this from Senator Ed Markey:

I am deeply concerned that [Clearview AI] is capable of fundamentally dismantling Americans’ expectation that they can move, assemble, or simply appear in public without being identified.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed questions Clearview AI's assertion that Clearview AI Says Its Facial Recognition Software Identified A Terrorism Suspect. But demonizing Clearview AI won't solve much. The best outcome here is a more informed policy on how we get the good business and cultural outcomes out of this - and limit the yuck.

Other standouts

Overworked businessman


For the first time since I started this column seven years ago, I'm not doing whiffs. I'm not feeling it. This tweet sums up my current state:

As a "pursuit of mastery is everything" guy, the Mamba attitude was something I tried to emulate. You'll hear story after story of Kobe winning a big game - and then it was back in the gym at 5:30 am, doin' the work. Trying to suck less, as we say around here. But then, finally, Kobe seemed to realize that wasn't enough:

As a father, a husband, a businessman, a person, he showed repeatedly that he was more than his darkest moments and worst instincts, that he grew, that he understood that his greatness gave him a platform to appeal to our better selves.

We can be more. That's what the second act of his life was shaping up to be - not a stale rehash of slam dunk highlight reels and glory days send-outs at bartender's last call. Whatever that second act, it had a lot more to do with mentoring, parenting, coaching his daughter Gianna (who also died) to basketball greatness. No, it wouldn't have wiped out his past mistakes any more than we can wipe out ours. It was early days - but it looked like he was on his way to finding something even more elusive than championships. And then... dammit. Anyhow, I hope we can find ours.

If you find an #ensw piece that qualifies for hits and misses - in a good or bad way - let me know in the comments as Clive (almost) always does. Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed. 'myPOV' is borrowed with reluctant permission from the ubiquitous Ray Wang.

Image credit - Waiter Suggesting Bottle © Minerva Studiom, Overworked Businessman © Bloomua, King Checkmate © mystock88photo - all from Fotolia.com

Disclosure - Workday, ASUG, Planful and Salesforce are diginomica premier partners as of this writing.

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