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After over-the-top presentation in Vegas, Faraday Future’s prospects still look very far away

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The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the world’s largest consumer-electronics show and convention not based in San Francisco. (Courtesy photo)
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Every year, San Francisco’s tech scene looks a bit emptier than usual for two occasions: Burning Man in August, and the Consumer Electronics Show, known as CES, in early January. The largest tech convention in America not based in San Francisco, CES clogs up Las Vegas for four days with gadgets upon gadgets, most of which will never make it to the consumer market.

Thousands of companies fight for the newswaves, and this year, the mysterious electric car company Faraday Future caught attention for its over-the-top debut of its much-anticipated electric car and supposed Tesla-killer, the FF91.

At face value of the presentation, Faraday Future brought to stage a beautiful car with incredible technology. The FF91 has up to 1,050 horsepower, is able to self-park using autonomous driving technology and can charge with a house-friendly 110- or 240- volt outlet. Cars in 2017 don’t get better than that.

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But Silicon Valley, especially with hardware, can be a hall of mirrors, hiding its ugly truth with illusions. We’ve seen plenty of this in 2016 from Theranos, Zenefits and Hyperloop One, all promising a revolution in their respective fields then being exposed as mismanaged at best and frauds at worst. The verdict is still out for Faraday Future, but the prognosis is not looking good.

Faraday Future so far has been little more than a hype-generating company that comes to life for CES. In last year’s CES, Faraday Future was the talk of town as well. When I was there, all the reporters couldn’t stop talking about Faraday Future. My editor called dibs on the Faraday Future presentation when divvying our CES coverage, only to be disappointed by what he saw.

“The mysterious company lurked, like Bruce Wayne in his Batcave — so perhaps it’s fitting that the company unveiled a wild and impractical car that seems to be modeled after the Batmobile,” my editor wrote in his dispatch on Faraday Future nearly a year ago. That Batmobile model never saw the light of day. The FF91, which Faraday Future promised will be built, looks instead like an SUV.

Nothing went right for Faraday Future in 2016. Its 3 million-square-foot factory site on the outer edges of Las Vegas is still largely a desert, and local media reports Faraday Future has not paid the construction company. Nevada’s own state treasurer compared them to a ponzi scheme on the prowl for tax benefits.

Faraday’s main source of funds — a Chinese billionaire — has largely dried up, and engineers and executives have been jumping ship left and right. Even its intellectual property belongs to a separate entity based in the tax haven Cayman Islands, according to The Verge. “If you’re an investor, you’re fucked,” one ex-executive said in The Verge’s scathing expose.

There seems to be one Hail Mary left for Faraday Future: Vallejo. In May, Faraday Future agreed in principle to build a manufacturing and delivery plant on a naval shipyard at Mare Island in Vallejo. Its six month-window to negotiate with Vallejo city officials expired in December but got a 90-day extension. For Faraday Future to accomplish its FF91 delivery promises by 2018, Vallejo is a must.

All of this context makes Faraday Future’s CES presentation look quite ridiculous. Its own self-comparisons to World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and calling the FF91 “the first of a new species” of smart, green cars are absurd when not one car has been sold to a consumer yet. When it’s do-or-die time, a little modesty can go a long way.

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Last week, four Chicagoans livestreamed on Facebook Live them torturing a mentally disabled person. The livestream showed them kicking and punching him, cutting his scalp and shouting “fuck Donald Trump” among others. The four were arrested and charged with hate crimes.

Facebook is under fire as well. The livestream went undisturbed for 30 minutes and thousands of people watched the livestream and its replays. Facebook would not comment on why the video was not taken down sooner.

Facebook is caught between a rock and a hard place with yet another broadcasted act of violence on its platform. We’ve been here before many times. The aftermath of police shootings of Philando Castile, Keith Scott Lamont and Alfred Olango were captured on Facebook Live, and many spoke of Facebook Live as a tool of empowerment to capture police brutality.

But it’s a double-edged sword. An ISIS terrorist livestreamed his murder of a French police officer and his partner last June. A woman in Arkansas died while filming Facebook Live due to her thyroid condition.

It seems near impossible to moderate all livestreaming videos in real time. Whether it be investing in more personnel to monitor all videos or using artificial intelligence, Facebook will need to consider new actions for 2017 before another live torture — or something worse — is televised under its banner.

The Nexus covers the intersection of technology, business and culture in San Francisco and beyond. Write to Seung at seungylee14@gmail.com.

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