Thursday, April 18, 2019
Samsung is trumpeting a foldable phone, but the device handed out only to journalists for testing have been failing. Some of the faults are due to removal of an essential layer covering the screen, but others were outright crashes. This is a PR disaster for Samsung. If the company puts the phone into production, it will have to fight the perception that it is buggy and its screens go blank. One wonders how much the company tested the phone before sending it to the media. Whatever the time length, it was not enough. Samsung can come back from this disaster, but it will do so if its foldable phones rarely fail for anyone at any time in the future.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
It has been more than 300 days since the Pentagon has given a press briefing. That is not smart PR. The public should know what the military is thinking, not the least because it is such a large part of taxpayer funds. Press briefings also humanize the military -- put faces to names and provide a better understanding of strategy, allies and foes. In a time of terrorists, unfriendly countries with nuclear weapons and rising dictatorships, the public depends more than ever on a properly functioning military. Citing security risks of being seen in public is not enough of a reason to duck the media. Yes, reporters ask tough questions but the Pentagon should be ready to answer them. If the Brass are taking their cue from President Trump, that is yet another harm he causing to public discourse.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
The internet has made celebrity a peril. It opens a sluice for trolls, haters and the disgruntled to vent at a notable person. It doesn't matter whether the individual deserves recognition or not. Consider the case of Katie Bouman, a young computer scientist from MIT who led a team that developed software to develop the first picture of a black hole. MIT tweeted about her contributions then a storm of praise and blame ignited. Her name was exalted and dragged through the mud at the same time. She asked for none of this and had made abundantly clear she was part of a team that developed the algorithm. No matter. It became ugly, and she had to turn off her phone to stop the barrage of messages. Bouman almost certainly wishes MIT had never tweeted in the first place. She didn't need to be a symbol of successful women in STEM disciplines. But she was targeted with celebrity anyway. In time, people will forget and she will settle back into anonymity, but the bitter experience will remain.
Monday, April 15, 2019
Israelis made the mistake of celebrating a moon landing too soon. The spacecraft, Beresheet, crashed onto its surface while the world watched. The vehicle carried the hopes and dreams of the nation, but it was not to be. There was probably little that could have been done to tamp down expectations. The best that can be done in situations like this is to emphasize the difficulty of the achievement beforehand. That way, no one is surprised if it doesn't come to pass. That has been the history of landing on Mars. There have been so many failures to settle safely on the red planet that mission control is wired with tension in the final minutes of a descent. The moon is considered easier to do, but to date, only a few countries have achieved it. Israelis will get another chance, but the next time, they will be more cautious.
Friday, April 12, 2019
There has been enormous hype and publicity surrounding self-driving cars, and companies around the world are pursuing the technology. But one corporation, Ford, has come clean and is now saying we won't see them anytime soon. The reality of the complexity of self-driving vehicles has set in. Even Waymo, which has spent billions pursuing the autonomous car, hasn't rolled out its self-driving machines except in isolated spots in Arizona. The hype got ahead of itself. Now, companies must do the hard work of making self-driving practical. That may be impossible. There are too many conditions on roadways from the elements -- fog, rain, snow, brilliant sunshine -- to unaccountable maneuvers of other drivers. It would be OK if everyone drove safely to begin with, but they don't. Technology has to anticipate the unknowable and be ready to respond. That is a tall order. Ford should be commended for being open about the difficulties -- a first step in finding solutions.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
This is smart PR. Chipotle allowed a reporter to go behind the scenes and see how its restaurants operate day to day. One of the highlights was cleanliness. Chipotle has had several setbacks related to food contamination. Its food handling procedure is now, perhaps, overdone to ensure its lettuce and other ingredients are free of microbes that can cause gastrointestinal illness. The reporter's take on the process is upbeat and laudatory, and she follows it from start to finish at the serving line. She highlights the company's precision in making dishes from just 51 ingredients in the building. What Chipotle did by allowing a reporter in is not unusual, but more companies ought to be engaging the media this way. It is great publicity as well as smart PR.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
There is a question whether Google understands the nature of hate speech on its YouTube platform, even as the company says it is controlling it. It is a reputational issue that surfaced again during testimony before Congress titled, "Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism." Google live streamed the testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and unaccountably opened a live chat feed. The chat feed was swiftly overrun with hate speech, anti-semitic jibes and slurs. Google moved to cut it off but the damage was done. The contention is that even a casual observer could have predicted the outcome. Why couldn't Google? Is it possible that Google's penchant for openness is working against it? Or is the company afraid it will be accused of censorship? Whatever the answer, it was clear that Google has yet to control hate speech on YouTube, even though that was the point of its testimony.