Big Tech and Big Finance Breed Hubris

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See our latest in The Wall Street Journal . . .

The suppression of debate over the origin of the novel coronavirus highlights a broader problem. Governments were once the chief impediments to free speech and free markets, but extremely large private companies may have become the greater danger. These hyperscale firms serve as hubs and gateways in the highly networked knowledge economy. They are well-positioned to exert special control over information—and other companies.

China’s stalling and lying about Covid’s origins weren’t surprising. On the other hand, the behavior of U.S. officials and scientists was startling. They dissembled over their intimate knowledge of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and their early suspicions the virus was “engineered.” But who expects politicians and bureaucrats to be honest and competent? That’s what an open society is for. Truth and accountability are the responsibility of a free press—and a free internet. 

What happens when the press and the internet aren’t so free? Over the past year, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook joined with a partisan press to block and throttle discussion across a range of Covid-19 topics. They discouraged and erased talk of the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis, cheap and safe generic treatments such as ivermectin, Sweden’s heterodox decision to stay mostly open, and the inefficacy (and cruelty) of school closures. continue reading (subscription required) . . .

China’s Flybys Should Spur American Microchip Revival

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America’s overwhelming reliance on microchip manufacturing in southeast Asia is an increasing economic and security weakness. China’s flybys into Taiwanese airspace in recent days are just the latest reminder. If the U.S. doesn’t ramp up domestic capacity, a China-Taiwan scuffle could block our most important technology companies from access to their most important components. continue reading . . .

The $540,000 camera in your pocket

admin Tech Note

Every couple years, we update our original 2014 blog post that asked the question, “What would an iPhone have cost in 1991?” The purpose is to measure — at least in a rough way — the progress of technology by looking at the components and features integrated in smartphones owned by billions of people. In past years we’ve focused on the three most basic (and easily measurable) components: computation, digital storage, and communications bandwidth. This time, we will also look at another revolutionary facet of smartphones: their cameras. As luck would have it, the digital camera story also has a beginning in our arbitrarily chosen year. 

In May 1991, Kodak unveiled the first digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera aimed at professional photographers. Called the DCS 100, it used the frame of a Nikon F3, but instead of film it contained a 1.3-megapixel Kodak image processor. It was the middle of the personal-computer revolution, and digital photography presented an array of at least theoretically attractive advantages over film and photo paper. Photographers would be able to capture, see, store, transmit, and manipulate digital photos — computer files composed of bits — far more quickly and easily. 

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