• Amazon Wins Without Even Trying
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/31/technology/amazon-earnings.html?auth=login-email&campaign_id=158&emc=edit_ot_20201217&

    Three months ago, the Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos effectively declared that his company would try to lose money. Instead, Amazon declared on Thursday the largest profit in its history.

    It was a bit awkward.

    Companies are supposed to make money, for sure. But this comes at a moment when politicians and the public are wondering if America’s digital superstars are so powerful — and perhaps, tilt the game to their advantage — that they simply can’t be beaten.

    A company like Amazon planning to lose money and instead making billions of dollars in profit is a pretty compelling sign of dominance.

    This week in technology made me think of that old line about a once dominant car company: What’s good for the United States was good for General Motors, and what was good for GM was good for the country. (There’s a debate about what the GM executive meant by this, but it’s still a good line. Stay with me.)

    The bosses of four of America’s tech giants, dragged (virtually) in front of Congress this week, said some version of that old saw. They said that their successes are uniquely American, and that their companies enrich the country and the lives of people who live in it.

    That’s true. It is, however, hard to ignore that the fortunes of the country and its leading corporate citizens are currently going in opposite directions.

    We learned on Thursday that the United States wiped out five years of economic growth in a matter of months, as my colleague Ben Casselman put it. During that period, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook mostly raked in money hand over fist.

    Mostly, this makes sense. During a pandemic, we have needed the products and services these companies provide. That does not, however, guarantee them financial success.

    (Read more: Last year, my colleague Kashmir Hill wrote about trying and mostly failing to cut the five big U.S. technology companies out of her life. Now, Kash is reflecting on what she learned from that experiment.)

    Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said a few months ago that the way his company makes money — selling ads to a local bakery or an online luggage maker — tends to naturally rise and fall in tune with the economy. That’s generally true, but not right now. The economy is tanking at its worst rate in many decades. Facebook’s advertising sales are fine.

    What has been bad for the United States hasn’t yet been bad for Big Tech. Is, then, what’s good for Big Tech good for the country? I’m not sure.

    There’s an axiom in technology that change happens gradually, then suddenly. Tech companies can seem unbeatable until they aren’t — often because of some rapid evolutionary change. It happened to Nokia and Sun Microsystems — whose old headquarters was taken over by Facebook in a symbol of one empire replacing a crumbled one.

    So could there be a Fall of Rome moment for today’s tech superpowers? Yes, in theory, and we might never see it coming. Right now, though, despite broader economic pains and a growing backlash to their power, these four American tech superpowers appear to be as close to invulnerable as you can get.

    #Apple #Google #GeneralMotors-GM #Amazon #Facebook #domination #bénéfices

  • William English, Who Helped Build the Computer Mouse, Dies at 91 - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/31/technology/william-english-who-helped-build-the-computer-mouse-dies-at-91.html?campaig

    William English, the engineer and researcher who helped build the first computer mouse and, in 1968, orchestrated an elaborate demonstration of the technology that foretold the computers, tablets and smartphones of today, died on July 26 in San Rafael, Calif. He was 91.

    His death, at a medical facility, was confirmed by his wife, Roberta English, who said the cause was respiratory failure.

    In the late 1950s, after leaving a career in the Navy, Mr. English joined a Northern California research lab called the Stanford Research Institute, or S.R.I. (now known as SRI International). There he met Douglas Engelbart, a fellow engineer who hoped to build a new kind of computer.

    At a time when only specialists used computers, entering and retrieving information through punched cards, typewriters and printouts, Mr. Engelbart envisioned a machine that anyone could use simply by manipulating images on a screen. It was a concept that would come to define the information age, but by his own admission Mr. Engelbart had struggled to explain his vision to others.
    ImageAt a time when only specialists used computers, entering and retrieving information through punched cards, typewriters and print-outs,
    At a time when only specialists used computers, entering and retrieving information through punched cards, typewriters and print-outs,Credit...via English family

    Mr. English, known to everyone as Bill, was one of the few who understood these ideas and who had the engineering talent, patience and social skills needed to realize them. “He was the guy who made everything happen,” said Bill Duvall, who worked alongside Mr. English during those years. “If you told him something needed to be done, he figured out how to do it.”

    After Mr. Engelbart had envisaged the computer mouse and drawn a rough sketch of it on a notepad, Mr. English built it in the mid-1960s. Housed inside a small pinewood case, the device consisted of two electrical mechanisms, called potentiometers, that tracked the movement of two small wheels as they moved across a desktop. They called it a mouse because of the way the computer’s on-screen cursor, called a CAT, seemed to chase the device’s path.

    As they were developing the system, both Mr. English and Mr. Engelbart were part of the government-funded L.S.D. tests conducted by a nearby lab called the International Foundation of Advanced Study. Both took the psychedelic as part of a sweeping effort to determine whether it could “open the mind” and foster creativity.

    Though Mr. Engelbart oversaw the NLS project, the 1968 demonstration in San Francisco was led by Mr. English, who brought both engineering and theater skills to the task. In the mid-1950s he had volunteered as a stage manager for a Bay Area theater troupe called The Actor’s Workshop.

    For the San Francisco event, he used a video projector the size of a Volkswagen Beetle (borrowed it from a nearby NASA lab) to arrange and project the live images behind Mr. Engelbart as he demonstrated NLS from the stage. He had been able to set up the wireless link that sent video between the Menlo Park computer lab and the auditorium after befriending a telephone company technician.
    Image
    Mr. English helped orchestrate an elaborate demonstration of the technology that foretold the computers, tablets and smartphones of today.
    Mr. English helped orchestrate an elaborate demonstration of the technology that foretold the computers, tablets and smartphones of today.Credit...via English family

    Three years after the demonstration, Mr. English left S.R.I. and joined a new Xerox lab called the Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC. There he helped adapt many of the NLS ideas for a new machine called the Alto, which became a template for the Apple Macintosh, the first Microsoft Windows personal computers and other internet-connected devices.

    #Histoire_numérique #Souris #Bill_English #SRI_international #Xerox_park #Mother_of_all_demo