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The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley

by Louise Adams
Monday Mar 18, 2019
'The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley'
'The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley'  

Seems like sociopathic narcissism in high places is all the rage these days, from the White House to the tech sector.

Oscar-winner Alex Gibney's astute eye dissects another colossal fraud in the brisk, eye-opening HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.

Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes created the comic book-sounding company Theranos, meant to revolutionize the personal health monitoring industry. The desktop copier-sized "lab inside a box" would automate and miniaturize bloodwork. The machine would take only a tiny a finger prick of blood to run a battery of early disease-detection tests in one fell swoop, rather than taking an armful of vials at exorbitant costs.

The proposed machine, dubbed Edison after her Menlo Park inspiration, drew the attention of wealthy, predominantly white male investors, some former military leaders (and even Henry Kissinger), who were sold by Holmes' confidence and blue steel stare. They, along with other deep-pocketed families like Betsy DeVos, were less concerned with her scientific or entrepreneurial background, of which she had little. By 2014, her company was valued at $9 billion, making Holmes the youngest self-made billionaire. Investors seemed to go with their guts, rather than looked at audited financial statements, a Trumpian flaw.

Holmes wanted an Edison in every home, or at least in most Walgreens, the first pharmacy to implement a partnership. But there was little science or regulation behind the ultra-secretive exterior, say the several former employees interviewed, in addition to the reporters who broke and continue to provide transparency. Under the guise of patents and corporate secrets, Holmes and her C-Suite blatantly hid the company's lack of progress, vastly over-promising and under-delivering.

Marketing trumped science, platform names (their cloud was to be called Yoda) were explored more than the fact that all the blood processing technology could never practically fit into such a small unit. The increasingly paranoid company culture wasn't about efficacy or truth, but to "find the person who says yes."

Holmes set out to be the Apple of healthcare, even wearing Steve Jobs' signature black turtleneck. Every single day, the exact same outfit. Investors and fans were scrambling to be a part of the next tech wave, headed by a young woman, that, like most cults, seemed to have missed the fact that they didn't have, and would not create, a viable leader, culture or product.

Her wish to create the company of her dreams came nowhere near the reality of the scientific challenges. Yet her force of will, to this day, will not allow her to admit failure even as she faces serious fraud charges. She adheres to fake science even while out on bail, another Trumpian double-down.

Holmes even affects a false voice, a creepy baritone that sounds like the technique used to hide the identity of shadowy whistleblowers in televised interviews. She is certainly hiding the truth, and Gibney is puncturing the fa├žade.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (two hours) airs on HBO on March 18, and is available on-demand starting Mach 19: https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-inventor-out-for-blood-in-silicon-valley

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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