AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Technology was front and center in many of 2016's biggest stories. Just look at the headlines from last week with President Obama announcing measures to punish Russia for cyber meddling in our presidential election. There's no reason to think 2017 will be any different. So on this first All Tech Considered segment of the new year, we listen in as members of NPR's tech team discuss what developments they'll cover in the year ahead.
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AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: This is Aarti Shahani. I'm the tech reporter for NPR, and I am in San Francisco.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: I'm Alina Selyukh, and I'm the tech blogger in Washington.
URI BERLINER, BYLINE: And I'm Uri Berliner. I'm the tech editor, and I'm here in Washington, too. Hey, Aarti, you're out there in California. You're covering some of the most powerful companies in the world, and as this new year starts, what are the big stories you're following?
SHAHANI: Oh, first of all, Happy New Year to everyone.
SELYUKH: Happy New Year.
BERLINER: Happy New Year.
People question whether Facebook cares about real news and wants to, you know, protect people against fake news. And I do wonder if they're going to take more seriously the crisis they're having with managing their content and also if they're going to start changing who they hire, creating new kinds of positions that show inside the company that they want to change their culture.
SELYUKH: Do you think they're going to have sort of a year of mea culpa at Facebook? Do you think this will really shake them up?
SHAHANI: You know, mea culpa I think is a sort of non-celebratory way to put it (laughter). And from what I gather, the company - they tend to feel pretty good about themselves. And so, you know, if I were to put it this way - I was kind of thinking of an analogy. And of course I'm going to bring it back to a party because I like to go out.
But I remember when I first moved to Silicon Valley from New York. Something that really blew my mind was I kept meeting these engineers who were brilliant but also very low EQ - what we call emotional intelligence. And in some ways, I think that Facebook embodies that exact same kind of person but at a company level.
BERLINER: Aarti, are those fun people to hang out with at parties?
SHAHANI: (Laughter) For a bit. They get things done. They get things done and more than they even expect, right? I mean, like, one of the big lessons of Facebook is you could call it a kind of Frankenstein's monster at some point. They've grown so rapidly and had way more impact than they ever imagined.
BERLINER: So Alina, it's almost like we've become numb to hacks, or we're still reeling from all the hacks. And I know you've covered a lot of them. And just what are the ramifications of all the hacks that we've just been through in the past year?
SELYUKH: I think you're right that there is this sort of numbness. There's this sort of sense of complacency almost among people about these hacks. Nobody's surprised by them anymore. We had major hacks last year. The first of the Yahoo hacks was supposed to be the largest known in history. Then came the second Yahoo hack, which blew that record completely.
SELYUKH: And then of course we had another hack that just completely surprised everyone, which was a hack of this company called Dyn. And they just got bombarded with denial of service attack. And I think that was a moment a lot of people realized that all of these Wi-Fi connected things in our homes, in our wrists or whatever could become part of a major hack that we as people who follow this industry may not have anticipated a couple of years ago.
BERLINER: That's the one that kind of freaked me out. Like, you look at that cool new thermostat you put in your house, and all of a sudden, that's the conduit through which hackers get at you. And it's like it becomes kind of a little more ominous, the whole thing, right?
SELYUKH: And I think...
SHAHANI: I got to say. Like, my big lesson in the hack-fest is that our numbness is largely because we're not really sure (laughter), you know, what the harm is. But I also think we're beginning to see how powerful hacked information can be, whether it's in the form of swinging an election or swinging the stock market.
BERLINER: Well, let's just talk about it. I mean 2017 - we're about to have a new president. And President Obama was an ally, a friend of Silicon Valley. They liked him. President Trump - he's much more of a wildcard. What's going on in Silicon Valley? What are the leaders there thinking about with this new administration?
SHAHANI: We don't know how different it's going to be. We just know that Trump is a wildcard. I mean, like, you know, it's funny. The companies here - the major companies - they did not think he was going to win. You talk to people over there - you know, off-the-record conversations with some very high-level people - and they just felt blindsided, which is very interesting for business leaders because business leaders take pride in sort of knowing what's going to happen in the world and making the right bets.
BERLINER: So they didn't have a...
SHAHANI: And that's not what happened.
BERLINER: So they didn't have a plan B, like, in case Trump won?
SHAHANI: I didn't hear a plan B, but I did very quickly hear, you know, over the course of a few weeks a sort of range of responses. One thing that I think is going to really happen is, I think we're going to see some of the major tech companies being forced to come out or deciding to preemptively come out and say something about job training and training people who are no longer employed because software ate their job.
SELYUKH: You know, one of the first conversations you had with a tech leader was with Apple CEO Tim Cook, where he pressed for Apple to build plants in the United States. Like, that is was a very tangible conversation, but it's not one that the tech companies particularly wanted to have.
And so I think there will be a recalibration of how they talk about the industry's impact on the economy. And we have heard that their interest - the thing that they're hoping to get out of this new administration is a new focus on taxes and immigration.
BERLINER: OK, any, like, bets on something really unpredictable happening this year in tech?
SHAHANI: I think that virtual reality headsets and software platforms will get good enough so that you can have remote dates that are a lot of fun.
SELYUKH: And I was going to say that artificial intelligence is going to move on to a point where computers are going to learn all kinds of new skills like a computer. Like, an IBM Watson learns to dance. IBM Watson learns to cook you a meal.
BERLINER: Yeah, I don't have a prediction. I'm going to wait and see. Any journalist worth his salt knows to stay away from predictions right now.
SHAHANI: Oh, come on, Uri.
BERLINER: So I'm going to bail out of that.
SHAHANI: Put a little bitcoin on it.
BERLINER: No, no, no. I'll bet on sports but not on tech.
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CORNISH: That's NPR tech editor Uri Berliner chatting with tech reporters Aarti Shahani and Alina Selyukh. If you've got an idea you think the tech team should cover, get in touch. They're on Twitter @npralltech.
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