With Kennedy's Departure, Businesses Are Poised to Have a Very Good Year

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy made waves this week when he announced that he would be retiring from the High Court at the end of July. President Trump is now expected to appoint a new, most likely conservative justice in his stead, a move that could cement decisions in a series of cases that carry real implications for entrepreneurs.

“Conservative justices have been good for business, and if there’s another conservative justice, that will only increase the likelihood of pro-business decisions next term,” says Ari Ginsberg, a professor of entrepreneurship and management at New York University’s Stern School of Business, who follows the judiciary and its impact on startups. Indeed, according to recently published data from the Minnesota Law Review, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts–a conservative Bush-era appointee–has decided in favor of business litigants more than 60 percent of the time, up from around 44 percent when the court was headed by Reagan appointee William Rehnquist.

And while startups, to be sure, are unlikely to find themselves at the center of the judiciary’s largest forum, companies of all sizes stand to benefit from the shifting tide. “To the extent that what’s good for big business overflows to smaller ones, entrepreneurs will gain as corporations do,” adds Ginsberg.

In particular, Ginsberg expects that an upcoming class-action, Apple v. Pepper, is likely to be decided in favor of the world’s largest tech company. The case revolves around whether consumers can sue anyone who delivers goods to them (i.e., Apple) for antitrust damages, even as third parties set the actual prices. At issue is whether Apple, through charging app developers a 30 percent commission to house their service in the App Store, has inflated the price of those apps in a monopolistic fashion. Apple argues that consumers don’t have the right to sue the company under current antitrust laws, inasmuch as they are not purchasing directly from it (they purchase from the developer, who may hike the price because of Apple’s commission.) The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in the October 2018 term. 

Analysts argue that a more conservative judiciary is likely to swat down class action lawsuits, more generally, which could set a positive precedent for businesses in the near term. “The stance of a more conservative court will tend to be pro-business, and therefore try to minimize the power of class action lawsuits, so it’s likely that the court will rule in favor of Apple in this case,” says Ginsberg.

Still, the precedent may be more applicable to established companies. “Large corporations like Apple are more likely to be sued because they have deep pockets,” he continues. “If an elephant steps on your toe, it causes a lot of damage. Startups are not likely at a stage where they would gain directly [from a pro-Apple ruling.]”

What could hurt? If the Supreme Court takes up cases–its full caseload for the upcoming session is not yet known–having to do with patents and privacy. 

“Tech startups may be vulnerable where there are patents involved,” notes Ginsberg. “The court has a record of not protecting patent holders, which obviously is not a great thing for inventors.” To his point, in April of this year, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold a new mechanism for resolving patent disputes, called the inter partes review, which critics argue adds millions of dollars and years of time to the whole process of settling cases, including with so-called ‘patent trolls.’ The case, Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group LLC, was decide in a 7-2 vote. 

There’s also the issue of privacy, that likely will come up as the U.S. considers its own GDPR-like rules. General Data Protection Regulation, which was authorized in Europe in May, limits the power of tech companies to store and distribute users’ personal information. Consumers are much more alert about privacy issues–particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, in which Facebook had a hand in exposing the personal information of some 87 million users of the social network–and the High Court may want to weigh in. 

“Privacy is a very, very American value,” Ginsberg continues. “So I think that both parties would tend to agree” it needs to be protected, he adds.

One Easy Way To Own the Indexes (And The Data) That Investors Trust

, Analyzing tech stocks through the prism of cultural change. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

I have a confession. As an investor, I don’t like surprises.

S&P Global (SPGI) has been around for 150 years. This company is best-known as the keeper of the Standard and Poor’s Indexes. It collects, packages and sells data that has become indispensable to the financial services industry.

This has been a solid, predictable business. Next up, the company plans to leverage its stalwart reputation for the future of data. And to the glee of its shareholders, S&P Global is likely to win this bet.

Traders Benjamin Tuchman, left, and Glenn Kessler work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Friday, June 8, 2018. Stock indexes are opening modestly lower on Wall Street as technology companies and retailers fall. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The company has been here before …

In 1888, James McGraw purchased the American Journal of Railway Appliances. Twenty-one years later, he and John Hill, a 51-year-old Vermont publisher of technical journals, merged their operations.

The McGraw-Hill Book Co., the new business, would quickly grow to become one of the leading publishers in the country.

It was an age of invention — jumpstarted by the buzzing of electricity and enterprising young men and women. It was a good time to own printing presses and distribution networks.

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PayPal's AR Patent Points To The Immersive Future Of Retail

, I cover the human side of VR/AR, Blockchain, AI, Startups, & Media. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

FILE – This March 10, 2015, file photo, shows signage outside PayPal headquarters in San Jose, Calif. After a tax ruling against Apple on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, the spotlight turns to dozens of companies that have boosted earnings taking advantage of low tax rates abroad. One such company who benefitted in 2015 was PayPal Holdings. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Digital payment giant proposes “look and buy” shopping experience.

Much has been made of augmented reality’s potential to revolutionize retail — allowing consumers to interact with the shopping experience in unprecedented ways.

In a recently approved patent titled, “Augmented Reality View of Product Instructions” — originally reported by CNBC — PayPal depicts a future wherein, using a pair of AR glasses linked to PayPal accounts, consumers would be able to purchase items by looking at the product and navigating a subsequent menu.


Schematic of PayPal’s AR infrastructure

“In a system for presenting augmented reality views of product instructions a method may include receiving a request from a client device, the request including image data,” PayPal writes in the patent. “The method may further include identifying an object in the image data and generating an augmented reality view of the identified object. The method may further include transmitting the augmented reality view to the client device.”

In other words, the process would be capable of collapsing object identification, selection, and purchasing — with massive potential here for personalized advertising and previsualization. When you factor in the impact of eye tracking and iris authentication, the shopping experience that felt so futuristic in Minority Report suddenly feels a lot more close to home.

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How A Diverse Team Drives Innovation. Hiring Matters – from Intel's VP of HR and CDO, Barbara Whye

, Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.


Barbara Whye, ASU Ph.D. progran photo

What is it to “fail”? To Barbara Whye of Intel, it’s “Fast Application of Iterative Learning.”

If you’re reading this, chances are you want to drive innovation in your organization. You understand that a workforce with a diversity of backgrounds, skill sets, experiences and perspectives is what will drive that innovation and maximize its impact for both your bottom line and society.

How do you do it? I recently interviewed Barbara Whye, Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of Intel, one of the most innovative and highly-regarded companies in the world, to find out.  She started her career at Intel 22 years ago as an electrical engineer.

She told me that “innovation is the DNA of Intel,” so I asked her how that works specifically, and she said hiring and retaining a diverse team is at the heart of it, which “requires intentionality.”

Here are insights from our conversation:

  • Value “not being the same…because sameness does not drive innovation.” A diverse set of people at the table brings a diversity of ideas, thought and “a higher level of creativity and solving problems.”
  • Don’t give in to barriers. Examine them, ask why they are there, and explore what can be done to circumvent them. You might discover an even more creative solution that way.
  • Commit to diversity goals. For Intel, it’s “full representation” of each category, that is, having the same percentage in the company of that talent base as is available in the marketplace.  This means integrating these goals into the compensation and performance systems and leveraging data analytics to track results.
  • Develop an inclusive hiring methodology. Intel’s has three parts: post all job openings (apparently most companies do not); bring in a diverse slate of candidates; and make sure the interviewers are also from diverse backgrounds.
  • “Go where the talent is.” Intel partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and those that have minority and/or women student bodies, and other diverse talent pools you want to attract. To hire experienced talent, attend conferences where your target talent pool will be. Intel attends the Society of Women Engineers conferences, and the Grace Hopper conferences, among others.
  • Offer a paid internship for promising early stage diverse talent and innovative talent.
  • Don’t rely on the Applicant Tracking System. Too often ATS’s screen out the innovative talent you need because those people do not have the traditional career trajectories that ATS’s favor.
  • Make sure every meeting has people from diverse perspectives at the table. Whye said they always have new talent, longer-term talent, and a range of functional skills and backgrounds at the table.
  • Be open to people who “disagree but commit,” as she said it’s called at Intel. That is, people who may not agree with the strategy decided upon, but they will commit to do their part in executing it.
  • Have a safe place for employees to raise “issues.” Innovative and diverse talent tend to feel even less safe talking to HR than other employees do (which makes sense since HR works for the company, not for the employees). So, Intel set up a “Warmline,” which is a 24/7 confidential call center run by people outside of HR who are trained to listen and offer constructive solutions and support, depending upon the caller’s need.  The types of issues people call in with and how they are handled is tracked anonymously so they can provide insights for improvements in the company.
  • Reframe “failure.” Whye told me that at Intel, fail is defined as “fast application of iterative learning. They are focused on the problem to be solved, with defined goals and milestones, and check in on those metrics quarterly to see if they are on track, need adjustment or if the project needs to be completely retooled. Even the CEO sits on these committees periodically, she said.

For those of us who want to advance our careers, Whye had a few key suggestions, and she practices what she preaches.

She said to “never stop learning,” Even though she’s already in top management and has been at the company for over 20 years, she he is currently working on earning a Ph.D.

Whye also said to continually “challenge yourself to stretch” beyond what you think you can do. If you think you can’t, try anyway.

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Update: Fortnite's 'Playground' Mode Won't Be Coming Back For A Little While

Credit: Epic Games

Playground in Fortnite.

If you were hoping to get into the Playground limited time mode in Fortnite: Battle Royale tonight, you’re out of luck. Epic just confirmed that the highly-anticipated mode will not be returning tonight. It looks like we’ll have to wait for more info in the morning. There is not, at this moment, any estimate for when Playground will be returning.

Epic elaborated on the situation in a Reddit post, saying that there were “multiple teams” working on getting Playground back online. As with anything Fortnite, there’s a lot of pressure on those developers. Playground is a new creative mode that lets players explore the island, build and even scrimmage with their friends without the pressure of opponents in a battle royale. It’s essentially a private island for you and your friends, complete with respawns and extra building materials to let you run wild. It’s the sort of thing that players have been looking forward to for a long time.

Playground was actually live for a few moments this morning, and by all accounts, some people were able to sign in and go nuts with the new freewheeling exploration and building mode. Matchmaking problems and long queues reared their heads soon enough, and Epic took the mode down shortly after it went live. Players were…not pleased. The excitement surrounding the mode quickly turned to disappointment, and the long wait isn’t helping much.

In addition to the problems with Playground, Epic said it had received other reports of stability and performance issues. The developer issued a patch on PC early this evening to address those issues.

It’s important to remember that Fortnite adds content near-constantly and that unexpected problems can happen any time you add new features into the game. All in all, the game is pretty stable, especially when compared to some of its competition.

Stay tuned for more, and hopefully, we’ll be playing in the Playground tomorrow.

How Weight Watchers and Ford Are ‘Redesigning’ Their Businesses

Companies that specialize in design aren’t just building aesthetically pleasing products like the iPhone or skyscrapers. They are “designing” their businesses and strategies to conform to a constantly changing world.

That’s one takeaway from a discussion of social impact and design during the Fortune CEO Initiative conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Tim Brown, the CEO of the consulting group IDEO, believes that “businesses need to get more intentional” in organizing themselves in relation to shifting societal norms or movements.

Consider the potential that self-driving cars may fundamentally change the country’s transportation system. The auto giant Ford recognizes the potential change autonomous driving can have on it’s current business model, and so it’s been increasingly investing in ride-hailing companies like Lyft and self-driving startups like Argo AI to remain relevant as the world changes, Brown explained.

Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman also discussed how the company had to “redesign” its business in light of changing social norms and shift from being “a leader in weight loss, to a leader of wellness.”

Instead of just focusing on the idea of shedding pounds, Weight Watchers is trying to encourage healthy lifestyles, which includes eating fresh produce. This means that Weight Watchers had to eliminate some 70% of the food products it once made, like its more old-school “food bars” that may have contained artificial sweeteners, which nutritionists now generally frown on.

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“We are going to go out and own the healthy kitchen,” Grossman said of how Weight Watchers is changing, or designing, its business to accommodate a new world and encourage healthy lifestyles.

Can Dara Really Change Uber's Culture? Probably Not, and Here's Why

People say you don’t quit jobs; you quit managers. I worked for Uber for nearly a year as a Community Manager. I quit in part because of my manager, yes, but also because of the wider culture.

I didn’t experience it as a toxic culture, exactly. As I’ve already written about, I found that the vast majority of my colleagues (and bosses) were intelligent, supportive, hard-working, and motivated. I just found that it was an all-consuming culture, and quite frankly, I wanted a life.

That’s a far cry from the appalling account of Susan Fowler, which outlined an absurdly toxic culture at Uber. Why? In part, I believe, because she was in the engineering department.

When you have a company with over 12,000 employees (as Uber now does), management change at the top isn’t going to make an immediate impact on most people in most departments, including engineering. It’s barely going to make a dent in the everyday lives of the people working at the company.

If Uber really wants to change its culture where it matters, it needs to focus specifically and relentlessly on the engineering department. 

Social science research points to a tipping point when it comes to gender equality: things really start to shift once you have at least 33 percent women on a team, a board, and/or in top management. You can’t just throw a few token women into the mix and hope it helps; you need at least one third women around to actually make a difference.

For Uber to truly shift things in engineering, they’d need to do two things: one, fire those who’ve committed egregious breaches in ethics or harass employees (one hopes this has already been done). Two, give themselves a deadline and a quota: within one year, at least one third of our engineers will be women, and at least one third of our engineering managers will be women.

Yes, this would require dedicating significant resources to this. Yes, it would mean aggressively going after female engineering talent. Yes, it would mean heavily favoring the promotion of women over men in the engineering department for a while. But if you actually want to change culture, you have change things systematically. You can’t just go on a witch hunt for “bad” people and hope it works.

You also can’t just replace the head of the company and think that will solve the problem.

In 2017, Uber doubled its workforce, and over 40 percent of its new hires were women. That’s wonderful, but the breakdown breaks down when you look at engineering: according to diversity data shared in 2017, the gender breakdown in Uber’s engineering department is 85 percent men, 15 percent women.

Companies like Uber need big change (and we all know Uber isn’t the only company to need this kind of change). Fortunately, this kind of change is possible, and it doesn’t have to take decades. Harvey Mudd college, for example, took on gender inequality and in just a few years, its numbers spiked dramatically: nationally, roughly 16 percent of undergrad computer majors are women. This year, 56 percent of Harvey Mudd’s computer science graduating class were women. 

How did they do it? By making the commitment to do it, then taking a number of strategic and creative steps. They redesigned their intro computer sciences courses to emphasize how to use programming for creative problem-solving (instead of just learning how to code). Women, it turns out, need to know how coding can actually help people or help do things in order to stay interested.

They also addressed the intimidation factor. They split the intro course into two sections: one for those with coding experience, and one for those with none–so no one felt intimidated if they had no experience yet. They also shifted away from homework done individually (which can feel isolating) to group projects, so students code together. 

The school also prioritized putting women in leadership positions in the faculty. Next year, 6 out of its 7 department chairs will be women, and 38 percent of its total professor will be women. 

It worked. Before the changes, around 10 percent of computer science majors were women. After, they started averaging 40+ percent. 

Moving towards gender equality isn’t just good for statistics. It’s good for product innovation, company culture, and the bottom line. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, companies with a higher share of women in executive positions not only financially outperform other companies, but experience less stock market volatility and earnings changes.

Places like Harvey Mudd are doing their part to increase the pipeline of women in tech. This year, 64 percent of women graduates of the college said their full-time job after graduation was in the the tech industry.

Now it’s up to companies like Uber to seek them out, make room for them, develop them, and promote them. 

That will change things.

We Need to Talk About That 'Westworld' Season 2 Finale

You gotta hand it to HBO: Their shows know how to deliver explosive endings. No matter how uneven the season of television that came before it, the finales are always blue-fire-breathing game-changers. They may not always be narratively-warranted or cogent, but they are explosive.

Which brings us to the end of Westworld Season 2. After what felt like nine hours of exposition following the host revolt at the end of Season 1 and throughout the current one, the revolution’s leader, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and its accidental architect, Bernard/Digital Ghost of Ford (Jeffrey Wright), sent some of the hosts off to Host Valhalla and got themselves out of Westworld. Oh, and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) got a big ol’ dose of reality. (Does none of this make sense? Read our recap here.)

It was a whiplash-inducing, extra-long episode that completely rebooted the series for a whole new narrative in Season 3. (Dolores is off-world, y’all!) To try to wrap our heads around what just happened WIRED convened a council of Westworld guests—editors and writers Angela Watercutter, Jason Kehe, Jason Parham, Ellen Airhart, and Westworld recapper Sandra Upson—to dissect the final tick-tock of the show’s second season.

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Angela Watercutter, Senior Associate Editor: As I’m sure you’ve all noticed over the last few weeks, I’m something of a Westworld skeptic. I haven’t exactly loved this season and I’m not 100 confident all of this setup is actually going anywhere. I enjoy the concepts and performances, I just struggle with investing in it. It’s a smart show, but the creators seem to think that making a cerebral drama just involves spending a lot of time literally in the heads of its cast. Seriously, how many scenes this season featured a tight shot on Jeffrey Wright as we watched him furtively try to clean up his own code or remember some long lost nugget of info?

The finale was no different—half of it was spent in The Forge with Dolores and Bernard in brain scanners, immersed in a simulation run by Logan Delos (Ben Barnes), who informs them that humans are predictable and can be reduced to a few thousand lines of code. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ What came after, though, was some actual action. Bernard killed Dolores! Bernard realized he’d made a huge mistake and brought her back again in the form of Delos shill Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)! She got off of Westworld and went to Arnold’s house! Literally everyone is a deus ex machina! OK, jokes aside, I appreciated this ending. I don’t know that it fully paid off the season, but I have to admit I was cheering Dolores-Hale as her plan came together. Also, I kind of loved that when she got to Arnold’s house she made a new version of her previous self and kept the Hale one. If the future is one ruled by Evan Rachel Wood, Tessa Thompson, and (maybe) Jeffrey Wright, then I, for one, welcome our new host overlords. What about you guys?

Jason Parham, Senior Writer: I made it to episode five.

Watercutter: Jason, I don’t blame you. That’s also where I started to lose my enthusiasm.

Jason Kehe, Senior Associate Editor: People, PEOPLE. If Season 1 was wading into the ocean water, Season 2 was that unexpected drop-off. You know, that spot where the comforting sandbank suddenly gives way to nothingness and you have no idea if there’s a floor anymore at all. But then you find a little patch of rocks. Cuts your feet a little, but at least it’s solid. Or a pleasing warm spot. Did I pee, or is this a gift from the water gods? This really energizes me, I must say. There aren’t too many shows on TV where you’re absolutely, comprehensively confused most of the time—knowing all the while that the creators themselves are right there with you, treading water in the open sea!

Sandra Upson, Senior Editor: I might have been the only person on the internet who didn’t mind all the simulation worlds. Bring on the worlds within worlds!

My main complaint with Season 2 was that too many characters seemed frozen in place. Dolores with her Machiavellian streak was the worst offender. (The shot of her curled up next to Teddy’s dead body was the most relatable she’d been all season.) [Eds. Note: LOL.] But Hale, too, never developed—I don’t think we learned a new thing about her until she got robo-fied. Also, can we just take a moment to be thankful that Bernard finally has a new head? We’re done with the disoriented muttering and head-holding, which felt cartoon-y all season long.

Next season, with our key characters out in the outside world, I bet we’ll have more room for Dolores to be vulnerable and, I don’t know, maybe fall in love with a human. As for Hale, I wonder if the series will do anything interesting around the ideas of embodied cognition—what happens when you have two copies of the same consciousness in different bodies (if that’s in fact what happened)? Surely they’ll evolve in different directions; maybe they’ll even end up competing. It’ll be fascinating to see how that plays out.

On a separate note, what did you guys think about the Ashley Stubbs bit at the end? Was it just that he knew Hale so well that he could tell she wasn’t herself? Or was he saying that he, too, was a host? For one beautiful second I thought he’d been turned into a Stubbsbot and inherited Teddy’s brain orb, which would have been glorious. But no.

Ellen Airhart, Reporting Fellow: I agree with Sandra that the character development felt unsatisfying. In the recap for episode five, the one that seems to have lost everybody, Sandra wrote that Maeve’s relationship with her daughter was not convincing. And it didn’t feel more authentic after that episode, though there was the whole scene in the house with the Ghost Nation. I like Maeve as a character, but this problem with her “core drive” threw me off and made her death seem less-than-poignant.

I’m also annoyed that I’m still confused about where everyone was during crucial events. As Sandra said during a real-life conversation today, there are just so many elevators. How did Bernard not run into the Man in Black on the way down to The Forge? Where is the Man in Black during any given moment in the episode, besides the part in the beginning when he’s with Dolores? The writers are no doubt setting him up for a side plot to the story of Dolores tearing up the real world a la Amy Adams in Enchanted for Season 3, but the questions about time and place feel frustrating, not exciting. After all, it was supposed to be a finale.

Upson: I share those questions, Ellen. Still, I’m excited about seeing what happens with the Man in Black. I found him frustrating for most of this season, because I never understood what motivated him or where he was going. Not to get too literal, but when he was out in the wilderness, how did he know whether to turn right or left at the next tree? That subplot only snapped into focus for me in the finale—that his real goal in finding “The Door” was to delete all the data Delos had collected on him. Now I’m super curious about what happened when he finally dragged his sorry self in there, and what it was we saw in the epilogue with his daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers). It seems like that encounter occurs in some future timeline that will get developed in Season 3, but in the meantime, how am I supposed to think about his missing hand? Why does he look exactly as dusty and beat up as he did when we saw him blow his arm off?

Watercutter: Sandra, these are all good questions. If the Man in Black is a host version of William, which seems to be the case since Emily is testing his fidelity, is it possible that he just went into some kind of sleep mode after he lost his hand trying to shoot Dolores? Does that explain the strange passing of time between the moment he got to The Forge and when he actually made his way in? Also, since Logan in the simulation mentioned—while walking through a room that contained a host William/Man in Black—that he’d been testing thousands of outcomes and people really never changed, perhaps the epilogue was just a simulation? Actually, I don’t really think that. I think that on some level the Man in Black/William had known from early on that Ford had given the hosts a way out and had been going back into Westworld again and again until he could get to The Forge and, essentially, delete himself out of the system. Whatever game it was that he was playing with Ford was what he needed to do to accomplish that.

Sandra, I’m also curious to see what happens with Dolores and Dolores-Hale. To riff off what Jason Kehe was saying earlier in a Slack conversation, my dream scenario involves the two of them falling in love. Because, let’s be real, there is no one Dolores loves more than herself. Dolores + Dolores-Hale = 4eva. I wish them a lifetime of happiness, character development, and world domination in Season 3.

Kehe: Right? They’re totes gonna have a twin robot sex scene kissy thing. Staple of modern sci-fi, practically. And one has to die, of course, probably saving the other to make up for a massive betrayal. Also, I have to point out the Matrix-y vibes in the finale. Very Architect/Oracle sort of dynamic.

Watercutter: Jason, you are so correct about that. As for Stubbs, what was the thing he said about Ford giving him orders to look out for the hosts? I think he might’ve had an inkling of what was coming and when he noticed that Hale was acting slightly off, he connected the dots.

I dunno, am I crazy and overthinking this? Am I stuck in my own loop?

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Andreessen Horowitz Lends Credence to Crypto With New Fund

Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is bringing in its first female general partner, former federal prosecutor Katie Haun, to help manage a new $300 million fund dedicated to investing in cryptocurrency and blockchain-related projects.

Andreessen Horowitz has long invested in cryptocurrency companies, including the digital-wallet company Coinbase and the game company Cryptokitties. But in addition to signaling its seriousness about the technology, general partner Chris Dixon says that creating a fund will give the firm more flexibility to make different types of investments. The new fund will invest not just in traditional equities, but in digital tokens as well. In other words, it will invest not just in companies but in the cryptocurrencies those companies create. An Andreessen Horowitz spokesperson said investors in the fund are among the firm’s usual investors.

Haun got her start in cryptocurrency by investigating two of its best-known scandals: two federal agents convicted on corruption charges during their own investigation of the black market site Silk Road, and the implosion of the bitcoin exchange service Mt. Gox. In 2015, she established the government’s first cryptocurrency task force to help the government get up-to-speed on the technology.

“In that process I ended up working alongside and getting to know the entrepreneurs in that space,” she says. “I started realizing how transformative all this technology was.”

She also started teaching Stanford Law School’s first cryptocurrency course in 2015, and as the technology grew and new projects emerged, she wanted to get more involved. So she left her job in government and joined the board of Coinbase in 2017, where she got to know the partners at Andreessen Horowitz.

Despite her background as a prosecutor, Haun says she’s not at Andreessen Horowitz to root out fraudulent cryptocurrency projects but rather to work on good projects. Still, her legal expertise could be a major asset to both the firm and to the companies it funds.

VC firms are still seeking their role in cryptocurrency amidst legal uncertainties and the rise of the new style of funding called “initial coin offerings,” or ICOs. During an ICO, the makers of a new cryptocurrency pre-sell certain amounts of their digital tokens to investors, helping fund the creation of their technology without necessarily selling ownership stakes in the company to venture capitalists. The creation of a dedicated fund by Andreessen Horowitz, one of the best-known firms in Silicon Valley, will add legitimacy to the nascent industry.

ICOs have raised more than $11.4 billion so far this year according to the website CoinSchedule. Some cryptocurrency companies have pursued hybrid models. For example, the decentralized storage and publishing company Protocol Labs pre-sold $52 million in cryptocurrency tokens to advisers including VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia, and Union Square, before offering an ICO to accredited investors that raised an additional $205 million.

Dixon says the firm is able to offer entrepreneurs things that an ICO can’t. “We have 80 people in our operating team whose job it is to support the companies we invest in and we have people here with deep expertise in regulatory issues, recruiting, marketing, general management, et cetera,” he says. “We think the onus is on us to prove that we are indeed great partners to entrepreneurs and as long as we do that entrepreneurs will want to work with us.”

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Virtual Reality's Role In Building The Next Generation Of Jails


Strolling down the hall of the brand new El Centro jail expansion, opened April 2018, Correctional Officer Sergio Romero points out the holding cells near the processing center, the strip search room, and the nursing station. Comprised of 274 beds, the jail is arranged in dormitories instead of the traditional cells, each with a restroom, laundry area, and a 150-foot outdoor exercise space. Every bathroom has modesty panels, so inmates can have some privacy when changing.

At this point, I need to clarify that I’m not actually at the jail, but 600 miles away in a conference hall in Sacramento., attending the American Jail Association’s annual conference and jail expo. The jail I’m looking at is a virtual reality construction, used by Vanir Construction Management to aid in the building of the jail. In front of me, officer Romero is encased in an Oculus Rift, his movements in the jail broadcast onto a large screen above his head. It might seem like another industry is jumping on the VR bandwagon, but in this case, it has already proved surprisingly useful.

“We had walked into this one station [in virtual reality] and it became pretty clear the window design wouldn’t work,” says Bob Fletcher, Vice President, Business Development at Vanir Construction Management. “This is one of the locations in the facility where women and men [are together] so the line of sight was important.” In this case, the team discovered that inmates would be able to view other cells, due to the angles of the corridors. “We made some design changes that would have [been extremely costly if spotted at a later stage].”

It’s no secret that the prison and jail system in America is ripe for a rehaul. It’s beset by staff shortages, overcrowding, and aging, unhygienic facilities. “17% of jails operating at above 100% capacity,” said one announcer – met with a sea of nods (and backed up by the BJS 2016 report).

California has the second biggest corrections system in the states and is currently housing around 70,000 people in its jails (as of July 2016 data) and 128,998 in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation units (as of April 2018 data). Since 2007, California has allocated $2.2 billion to finance jail construction and refurbishment, a number that’s been added to in subsequent years —  $250 million in 2016, $270 million in 2017. The number doesn’t stop here. In 2018, ground broke on the construction of a $101.8 million jail construction in Fresno, eta: 2020, and around $3.5 billion is being raised to build a new jail in LA County. Over 20 counties have some form of jail construction or expansion in the works, the regions making use of this much-needed jackpot. Part of the reason for this building boom is a 2011 ruling by the Supreme court ordering California to lower its prison population by 40,000 — meaning a shift from prisons to jails, and from jails to rehab clinics.


The money invested in this has created an unprecedented opportunity to redesign jails from the ground up, to build places of rehabilitation, not punishment. It’s a chance to start afresh and that means looking at jail design with fresh eyes. Virtual reality is just one of the tools officials are using to design the future of incarceration.

Now we’re traversing the halls again, as Romero slowly paces the floor plan. “This building is state of the art,” he says. It should be — it cost around $33 million. One blip; when Romero pointed at the prison gates we were teleported outside the jail. “That’s not how it works in real life,” jokes Fletcher. At this point, I’d like to note how impressive Romero’s handling of the system was; many people get disorientated or nauseous when in the headset for a while, and his first time playing with it was on a stage full of people. Here, the layout mimicked the reality so accurately that he had no trouble navigating.