I covered this earlier in a different post, but I wanted to highlight this list from an article in The Register, as a "Quick guide to spotting non-existent tech". Read the company press then go through this checklist when questioning their claims and whether there's more sizzle than steak.
- Refusing to give a launch date.
- Refusing to talk about the tech, claiming confidentiality or trade secrets.
- Using news of investments or hires as evidence of technological progress.
- Promoting itself on a big stage rather than in a small room.
- Offering a well-crafted message and vision but becoming immediately vague when pushed on actual details.
- Offering "exclusive access" – with restrictions.
- Confusing working hard with making progress.
What's interesting in this is how many of these points require a compliant press, many of whom prefer publishing hagiographies rather than investigative pieces - after all it's quicker, easier, and doesn't end up making enemies among some rich and well connected people. Look at the months and years of work it took for John Carreyrou to uncover what was happening at Theranos, all the lawsuit threats and denials by the company. Isn't it much easier to do a puff piece on Elizabeth Holmes and how she just wanted to save the world? Garrett Reim of the LA Business Journal tweeted a comment on this yesterday following an article on the Unethical Side of Silicon Valley by Erin Griffith (which I'll comment on in a separate post).
Many tech "writers" are guilty helpers. Praising unproven products & services just for a pat on the head from a big name investor or exec. https://t.co/F3JR6KyYii— Garrett Reim (@garrettreim) December 29, 2016
This hits the nail on the head, though I think he may be being a little kind - and don't know which of the terms "enabling", "willfully ignorant", or "complicit" is more apt. That may sound harsh, but remember that the press is part of an ecosystem, and it's clear the incentives now reward them more for page views than accuracy or in depth reporting. They're supposed to be watchmen, but some are making money while choosing to look the other way.
How to improve this situation? All I can suggest is to follow the work of the good journalists, and ignore the 'work' of stenographers posing as reporters. Subscribe to the publications that do the hard work, and deny the others the benefit of claiming page views. In the end, money talks.