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The controversy over the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shined a harsh light on the growing financial ties between Silicon Valley and the world’s largest oil exporter.
As Saudi Arabia’s annual investment forum in Riyadh — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — continues, representatives from many of the kingdom’s highest-profile overseas tech investments are not attending, joining other international business leaders in shunning a conference amid lingering questions over what role the Saudi government played in the killing of a journalist inside their consulate in Turkey.
Tech leaders such as Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, declined to attend this week’s annual investment forum in Riyadh. Even the CEO of Softbank, which has received billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia to back technology companies, reportedly has canceled his planned speech at the event.
But the Saudi controversy is focusing more scrutiny on the ethics of taking money from an investor who is accused of wrongdoing or whose track record is questionable.
Fueling the tech race
In the tech startup world, Saudi investment has played a key role in allowing firms to delay going public for years while they pursue a high-growth strategy without worrying about profitability. Those ties have only grown with the ascendancy of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the Saudi king.
The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has put $3.5 billion into Uber and has a seat on Uber’s 12-member board. Saudi Arabia also has invested more than $1 billion into Lucid Motors, a California electric car startup, and $400 million in Magic Leap, an augmented reality startup based in Florida.
Almost half of the Japanese Softbank’s $93 billion Vision Fund came from the Saudi government. The Vision Fund has invested in a Who’s Who list of tech startups, including WeWork, Wag, DoorDash and Slack.
Now there are reports that as the cloud hangs over the crown prince, Softbank’s plan for a second Vision fund may be on hold. And Saudi money might have trouble finding a home in the future in Silicon Valley, where companies are competing for talented workers, as well as customers.
The tech industry is not alone in questioning its relationship with the Saudi government in the wake of Khashoggi’s death or appearing to rethink its Saudi investments. Museums, universities and other business sectors that have benefited financially from their connections to the Saudis also are taking a harder look at those relationships.
Who are my investors?
Saudi money plays a large role in Silicon Valley, touching everything from ride-hailing firms to business-messaging startups, but it is not the only foreign investment in the region.
More than 20 Silicon Valley venture companies have ties to Chinese government funding, according to Reuters, with the cash fueling tech startups. The Beijing-backed funds have raised concerns that strategically important technology, such as artificial intelligence, is being transferred to China.
And Kremlin money has backed a prominent Russian venture capitalist in the Valley who has invested in Twitter and Facebook.
The Saudi controversy has prompted some in the Valley to question their investors about where those investors are getting their funding. Fred Wilson, a prominent tech venture capitalist, received just such an inquiry.
“I expect to get more emails like this in the coming weeks as the start-up and venture community comes to grip with the flood of money from bad actors that has found its way into the start-up/tech sector over the last decade,” he wrote in a blog post titled “Who Are My Investors?”
“Bad actors’ doesn’t simply mean money from rulers in the gulf who turn out to be cold blooded killers,” Wilson wrote. “It also means money from regions where dictators rule viciously and restrict freedom.”
This may be a defining ethical moment in Silicon Valley, as it moves away from its libertarian roots to seeing the world in its complexity, said Ann Skeet, senior director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
“Corporate leaders are moving more quickly and decisively than the administration, and they realize they have a couple of hats here — one, they are the chief strategist of their organization, and they also play the role of the responsible person who creates space for the right conversations to happen,” she said.
Tech’s evolving ethics
Responding to demands from their employees and customers, Silicon Valley firms are looking more seriously at business ethics and taking moral stands.
In the case of Google, it meant discontinuing a U.S. Defense Department contract involving artificial intelligence. In the case of WeWork, the firm now forbids the consumption of meat at the office or purchased with company expenses, on environmental grounds.
The Vision Fund will “undoubtedly find itself in a more challenging environment in convincing startups to take its money,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a senior strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore, recently told Bloomberg. (VOA)
Khadi is no longer a dull, drab fabric meant only for politicians' wardrobes. A fashion show organised by the Khadi Gramodyog Board as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to mark the 75th year of India's Independence showcased the use of Khadi in traditional, as well as, contemporary and festive wear. From lehengas in resplendent Khadi silk to western clothes and casual wear, the models on Thursday night displayed new facts of the fabric.
Several well-known Indian designers including Ritu Beri, Farah Ansari, Rina Dhaka, Asma Husain, Aditi Rastogi and Himmat Singh showcased their designs. Gaurav Gaur directed the fashion show with clothes like lehengas, kurtis, kurta pajamas and partywear.
Lucknow's chikankari and silk artisans also participated in the event. A wedding collection in Khadi was the highlight of the show. "The show was based on the concept 'Khadi for nation, Khadi for fashion' and the fabric for all costumes was provided by Khadi Gramodyog Board," said a spokesman. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: lucknow, clothes, lehengas, fashion, fabric
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Intel saw its stock tumbling by more than 8 percent after the chipmaker said the industry-wide component shortage affected its PC chip business during the third quarter (Q3). Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told CNBC late on Thursday that he didn't expect the semiconductor shortage to end until 2023. "We're in the worst of it now, every quarter, next year we'll get incrementally better, but they're not going to have supply-demand balance until 2023," Gelsinger was quoted as saying.
The company delivered its Q3 results with revenue up 5 percent (year-over-year) driven by strong demand in its DCG and IoTG businesses, despite the highly constrained industry-wide supply environment. "Q3 revenue was $18.1 billion slightly below our guide due to shipping and supply constraints that impacted our businesses," George S. Davis, Chief Financial Officer, said in a statement. He also announced plans to retire from Intel in May 2022. In the third quarter, the company generated $9.9 billion in cash from operations and paid dividends of $1.4 billion.
| Photo by Slejven Djurakovic on Unsplash
According to the company, the demand remains strong in its PC business with particular strength in commercial, desktop, and higher-end consumer notebooks. In an earnings call, Gelsinger said that the digitization of everything accelerated by the four superpowers of AI, pervasive connectivity, cloud to edge infrastructure, and ubiquitous compute are driving the sustained need for more semiconductors. "The market is expected to double to $1 trillion by 2030. In that timeframe, the market for leading-edge nodes will rise to be over 50 percent of the total, while the market for leading-edge foundry services will grow at twice the rate of the semi-industry overall," he envisioned.
PC demand remains very strong, and "We believe the 2021 TAM (total addressable market) will grow double digits even as ecosystem shortages constrain our customer's ability to ship finished systems," Gelsinger added. "Customers continue to choose Intel for their datacenter needs and our third-gen scalable Xeon processor Ice Lake has shipped over 1 million units since launching in April, and we expect to ship over 1 million units again in Q4 alone," he informed. (IANS/MBI)
Keywords: Intel, Chip, processor, Desktop, AI, Semiconductor, PC, Processor
Micro-blogging site Twitter has announced that its audio chatroom Spaces is now open to anyone who wants to host. The Spaces team in a tweet said that the users on both Android and iOS will now be able to host Spaces. "The time has arrived -- we're now rolling out the ability for everyone on iOS and Android to host a Space," the firm said in a tweet.
Earlier this year, the company had limited access to hosting Spaces to accounts with at least 600 followers, saying that it found these accounts would be more likely to have a good experience due to the existing audience. Twitter recently announced a new accelerator programme for creators on its audio conversation platform Spaces, to "discover and reward" around 150 creators with technical, financial and marketing support.
The 'Twitter Spaces Spark' programme is a three-month accelerator initiative. Those selected will get a stipend of $2,500 per month, $500 in monthly ad credits to spend promoting their Spaces on Twitter and early access to new Twitter features. They will also get support from Twitter's official social media handles, and "opportunities for prioritised in-app discoverability for well-performing Spaces".
Twitter has also announced plans to roll out paid Ticketed Spaces for iOS users where some hosts on its live audio feature can now sell access to Ticketed Spaces. Twitter had previously said that it will take a 3 per cent cut of creators' earnings from Ticketed Spaces. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: android, creators, ticketed, access, twitter, spaces