Nov 2, 2020

Axios Login

Look, it's going to be a nutty week because of the election no matter what. Here's some advice on how to stay calm from Axios CEO Jim VandeHei. But everyone is different; the important thing is to have a plan to get through the uncertainty. I'm going with building this Lego set on Tuesday.

Situational awareness: Twitter has named the seven media outlets it will rely on to call election results, which will in turn determine the need to label tweets that falsely state or contest results. Fox News is among the seven, along with AP, CNN and others.

Today's Login is 1,369 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Big Tech doesn't much care who wins

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The headaches facing the tech industry's giants won't change much whether Donald Trump remains in the White House or Joe Biden takes his place, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

The big picture: Individuals in tech are as passionate and biting their fingernails about Tuesday's election as any other Americans. But the path ahead for the massive companies that have seized the industry's reins over the past decade will only alter incrementally based on the polls' outcome.

The market

Stock prices are the tech industry's rocket fuel: They turn founders into billionaires, keep stock-option-endowed employees happy, and pay off early investors who can then fund the next round of startups.

Stocks have soared under President Trump, continuing a long boom that began under his predecessor, and tech has led the market. But most experts give credit for the irrepressible rise in equity prices to the Federal Reserve, whose no-interest stance has driven investors into stocks and shows no sign of changing.

The bottom line: Business traditionally fears interest rates, and inflation, will rise under freer-spending Democratic administrations. But Trump's deficit-friendly term scrambled those expectations. Inflation is nowhere in sight. Whoever wins, the Fed will keep refilling tech's punch bowl.

Regulation

Trump's term saw a dramatic shift toward government action against tech firms. The Justice Department has sued Google, action against Facebook by states and the Federal Trade Commission is reportedly imminent, and investigations of both Apple and Amazon remain open.

  • These processes are all ostensibly non-partisan and theoretically unaffected by a change in administration. But in practice, a new attorney general could soft-pedal or even scrap the Google suit.
  • Democrats have their own reasons for pursuing action against the big companies — but unlike Republicans, they're less focused on claims of censorship and more on the concentration of corporate power and the spread of misinformation.

The bottom line: Whoever wins the White House, scrutiny of tech's allegedly monopolistic behavior will continue.

Moderation and privacy

Tech companies control the hardware and software that shapes our public and private communications, and that has placed them at the center of a million controversies.

  • We hold them responsible when their platforms become channels for misinformation and hate speech, and we blame them when their collection of personal data becomes intrusive or harmful.

Democrats have typically been readier than Republicans to favor stricter privacy rules and tougher controls on online misinformation, and if they win the White House and Congress, they might find ways to advance legislation that has long been stalled.

  • But a Democratic administration would have a long list of priorities ahead of such action.

Be smart: Some tech leaders — most prominently, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg — have practically begged the government to enact nationwide (and preferably lenient) nationwide laws on privacy and content moderation. They'd love to stop winging their way through one ethical minefield after another and just play by some standard, easy-to-follow rules.

China

Tech's prosperity is woven into the global economy. President Trump's weaponization of U.S. trade policy has disrupted, but not wrecked, the interdependence between Silicon Valley's capital and expertise and China's manufacturing might.

  • A second term for Trump would likely see the American tech sector continue to seek alternatives beyond China to build its products.
  • A Biden win might bring more predictability and process to a realm that Trump has handled chaotically.
  • But team Biden isn't pushing rapprochement, either: Democrats have argued that Trump's impulsive policy has been ineffective, and though they're less likely to pursue campaigns targeted against specific companies like TikTok, they're more likely to challenge China on human rights, Hong Kong, and free speech.
  • Experts in both parties see China as a threatening U.S. rival in the era of AI, and that competition's outcome has little to do with which party controls the White House.

The bottom line: Regardless of who wins the U.S. election, tech leaders expect U.S.-China tensions to continue, since each side sees the other as a long-term existential threat — but they also hope in the short term to keep getting what they need and selling what they can.

Go deeper.

2. Reid Hoffman urges election patience

Screenshot: Reid Hoffman

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, one of Democrats' biggest donors, tells Axios' Alayna Treene that he's launching a $1 million digital ad campaign in battleground states urging voters to be patient and be prepared to end Nov. 3 without knowing the true winner of the presidential election.

Driving the news: The three-minute ad, which takes the form of an animated mini-musical, will appear on Facebook targeting voters in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

  • "Some people might go tweet and say they know the end results, and call a winner well before they should," lyrics in the ad say, but "take a deep breath, chill the f--k out ... it's gonna take some time to count."

What he's saying: "I'm concerned that lies and conspiracy theories are undermining our collective faith in the institution of voting," Hoffman tells Axios.

  • "We're reaching people in those states most likely to be targeted with politically skewed misinformation, especially the attack upon voting by mail. This project shares the truth, with a healthy dose of civic spirit and fun."

Why it matters: With record levels of early voting and mail-in ballots, it could be several days before we know who the winner of the Nov. 3 election is.

Background: Hoffman, known for gathering mega-donors for influential sessions, tells Axios that he's informally offered advice to the Biden campaign — but he says this project isn't partisan and aims to protect voting and the legitimacy of the results.

  • Hoffman has previously clashed with the Democratic Party over his advocacy tactics and insufficient vetting of partners, Politico has reported.
3. Charted: The growth in AI patents
Reproduced from a USPTO report; Chart: Axios Visuals

A report this week from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found the number of AI-related patents filed each year more than doubled between 2002 and 2018, as Axios Future's Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: The increase in patent applications is just one way to chart the growing role artificial intelligence is playing in the U.S. economy.

By the numbers: The number of AI-related patent applications increased from 30,000 in 2002 to more than 60,000 in 2018, while AI's share of overall patent filings went from a minuscule percentage to more than 15%.

  • AI-related applications also grew across different kinds of technologies, organizations and geographies.

The bottom line: Every great innovation calls for a patent, and increasingly that means AI.

4. What's next for tech in 2020 and beyond

Last week I had a chance to muse on how the pandemic has reshaped tech with the New York Times' Karen Weise and the founders of Seattle-area tech site GeekWire as part of that publication's annual summit.

The big picture: As mentioned above, tech faces pressures on the privacy and antitrust fronts, but the pandemic has also accelerated the digitization of even the most change-resistant parts of society, including health care.

My take: "What you’re seeing on the economic front is a very challenging economy for a lot of people, a lot of job loss. And yet for the tech sector, software’s eating more of the world, faster," I said during our panel, itself made possible by — what else — video conferencing.

Be smart: Weise noted that most of the companies that are doing well amid the pandemic were in pretty good shape to begin with and are just seeing the trends they bet on accelerate.

"It is a 'big, getting bigger' moment in general we're seeing. Which ties in, of course, to the antitrust focus and stuff that's happening right now. The pandemic is obviously aberrational, but we've seen that everything reinforces existing patterns in many ways."
— Karen Weise

Go deeper: We talked about Amazon, antitrust and more. You can watch a clip here or listen to audio from the full chat and read highlights at GeekWire here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Qualcomm and Match Group report earnings on Wednesday. A bunch of tech companies report on Thursday, including Uber, IAC, Roku and Electronic Arts.

Trading Places

  • Marty Cooper, known as the father of the cell phone, announced he has a book on the subject coming out in January.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

I saw some good Halloween decorations on social media, but not sure anything quite sums up the 2020 version of the holiday than skeletons on Zoom.