AI Machines as Managers

The Wall Street Journal: “There is evidence computers may be better suited to some managerial tasks than people are. Humans are susceptible to cognitive traps like confirmation bias. People using intuition tend to make poor decisions but rate their performance more highly, according to a 2015 University of New England analysis of psychological studies. And in an increasingly quantitative business world, managers are asked to deliver more data-driven decisions—precisely the sort at which machines excel.”

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, comments: “What managers do mostly is identify potential, build teams, assign tasks, measure performance and provide feedback. Generally speaking, humans aren’t very good at these tasks. Someday, we might not need managers anymore.”

“Companies that make and use workforce-management software … say machines are no substitute for human judgment and ability to manage interpersonal relations. Instead, they say their software speeds up administrative work and uses data to help human managers improve decisions they previously made only by drawing upon gut instinct and experience … Sue Siegel, GE’s chief innovation officer, said she wouldn’t rule out one day working for a machine.” She comments: “If the robot has personality and a sense of humor and can understand the human condition, hey, who knows?”

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Merry ModelXmas!

Boing Boing: People who drive Tesla’s Model X have a cool ‘easter egg’ feature built right into their vehicle: a holiday music and light show set to the tune of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards In Winter”! When activated, this all-electric luxury vehicle will display a synchronized show using the car’s headlights, turn signals, and falcon wings.”

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Virtual Eateries Put the ‘App’ in Appetizer

The Wall Street Journal: “Tucked inside industrial parks, commissary kitchens and refitted basements in cities like New York, Chicago and San Jose, these restaurants have no dining room, no wait staff, no takeout window and no signage … Many don’t take orders over the phone and are accessible only through online services like Grubhub, DoorDash or Postmates. Virtual restaurants, with their low overhead, are allowing restaurateurs to shift away from the capital-intensive model that kills 60% of new restaurants in their first five years toward something decidedly more techy.”

“Virtual restaurants tap into a larger trend: Americans’ increasing aversion to cooking for themselves. For the first time ever in 2016, Americans spent more at eating and drinking establishments than on groceries, according to U.S. Census data. The food-delivery market is a small slice of that sector: It is only $30 billion in 2017, but Morgan Stanley estimates it could balloon to $220 billion within a few years.”

“The fundamental challenge that all these players are trying to solve is that prepared food remains one of the least-scalable businesses in our economy: Production has proved resistant to automation, the materials themselves are highly perishable and swiftly changing consumer tastes can destroy momentum. A typical internet startup can go from 3,000 customers to 3 million customers just by spending more on Amazon Web Services. No restaurant can do the same.”

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Toyota Yui: Your Father the Car

The Wall Street Journal: “If you love your car, Toyota Motor Corp. thinks your car should love you back. That’s the reasoning behind the company’s artificial-intelligence project, dubbed Yui: an onboard virtual assistant that gauges your mood, indulges in personal chitchat and offers to drive if it senses you are sleepy or distracted. In one Toyota video, shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, a woman sits on a seaside cliff, talking about her father with her car. ‘He sounds like a great father,’ says Yui, in a baritone male voice. ‘You’re a bit like him,’ the woman says.”

“To be sure, rarely do futuristic vehicles at auto shows make it to the roads. But Toyota plans to start testing a car equipped with Yui on Japanese roads in 2020. In autonomous-driving mode, the seats recline and massage your back in a manner Toyota says will slow your breathing and calm you down … Toyota imagines Yui being treated like a friend or family member, with whom access to social-media accounts is shared.”

“It wants to monitor your social-media posts to know if you are obsessed with a particular band or sports team. It also wants to monitor the news, so it has potential context when you look happy or sad. Did your favorite team drop out of the playoffs? Did your favorite singer come out with a new song? … Not all car makers see people wanting a humanlike relationship with their cars … ‘I’d rather not have this, because I’m a private person,’ said Yasuko Takahashi, a 54-year-old office worker… ‘I’d rather have the cars talk to each other, instead of me,’ she said.”

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Does Apple Hack Its Own Products?

Axios: “Every time Apple releases its newest iPhone or OS, there are significant spikes in searches for terms like ‘iPhone not working,’ ‘iPhone slow,’ and ‘iPhone problems,’ according to data from Google Trends.This has led to a conspiracy theory that has been revived almost every year, claiming that Apple intentionally slows down old phones to entice iPhone users to upgrade to their newest, often more expensive product. But the phenomenon can also be explained by a few other reasons.”

For example: “Older models have to work harder to run everything the newest, superior OS provides, and therefore consume more energy and battery life.” Also: Patrick Moorhead, an analyst for Moor Insights Strategy comments: “One very important thing to consider is that at the same time of an OS upgrade, application developers upgrade their applications. Therefore at the same time the new OS is indexing for Spotlight, it is updating applications, which temporarily would slow down the phone.”

And: “Most iPhone users are quick to update to the newest OS, and tend to be critical of every included change. This critical mindset might cause some to feel like like their phone is working slower than before at first … Nothing has been ‘proven’ here, but there are many logical explanations for why iPhones might not run quite as smoothly after an OS update that don’t include Apple maliciously hacking their own products.”

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Do Smartphones Make Us Stupid?

Nicolas Carr: “Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.”

“A quarter-century ago, when we first started going online, we took it on faith that the web would make us smarter: More information would breed sharper thinking. We now know it isn’t that simple. The way a media device is designed and used exerts at least as much influence over our minds as does the information that the device unlocks.”

“Now that our phones have made it so easy to gather information online, our brains are likely offloading even more of the work of remembering to technology. If the only thing at stake were memories of trivial facts, that might not matter. But, as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, ‘the art of remembering is the art of thinking’ … No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.”

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The da Vinci Code: Observe, Connect & Create

Walter Isaacson: “Today we live in a world that encourages specialization, whether we are students, scholars, workers or professionals. We also tend to exalt training in technology and engineering, believing that the jobs of the future will go to those who can code and build rather than those who can be creative.”

“But the true innovators tend to be those like Leonardo who make no distinction between the beauties of the arts and the beauties of the sciences. When Einstein was stymied in his pursuit of the field equations for general relativity, he would often pull out his violin and play Mozart. The music, he said, helped to connect him to the harmonies of our cosmos. At the end of many of his product presentations, Steve Jobs would display a slide that showed the intersection of streets labeled ‘Liberal Arts’ and ‘Technology.’ He knew that at such crossroads lay creativity.”

“There is a flip side for those of us who love the arts and humanities. Like Leonardo, we must be able to see and embrace the beauty of a mathematical equation or a scientific theory. Cultural critics who complain that today’s students fail to learn Shakespeare or civics or history should not be complacent about their own cluelessness when it comes to, say, what a transistor does or how a circuit processes logical sequences. All of these topics are valuable and enriching, especially when we can connect them to one another.”

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Vision: Michelin Prints The ‘Perfect’ Tire

The Verge: “They’re completely airless, last virtually forever, and could be the perfect tire for our autonomous future. Michelin, the 128-year-old tire manufacturer based in Clermont-Ferrand, France, recently unveiled a 3D-printed tire concept that it says could be the ideal ride for self-driving cars. It just needs to figure out how to actually manufacture them first.”

“Dubbed ‘Vision,’ these spidery, psychedelic-looking sponges are printed from bio-sourced and biodegradable materials, including natural rubber, bamboo, paper, tin cans, wood, electronic and plastic waste, hay, tire chips, used metals, cloth, cardboard, molasses, and orange zest.”

“These tires would be embedded with RFID sensors to collect data and predict performance and function of the vehicle. And they will be adaptive to different conditions. Heading to the mountains for some skiing? Drive through a Michelin printing station and get your tires retrofitted for snowy terrain … this isn’t Michelin’s first rimless, airless tire to be released. The Twheel, an airless tire concept that emerged over a decade ago, is currently in use in small-frame, low-speed vehicles and appliances like golf carts and lawn mowers.”

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5 Ways Best Buy Beats Amazon

The New York Times: “Best Buy’s rebound has been surprisingly durable. Revenue figures have beaten Wall Street’s expectations in six of the last seven quarters … How do they do it?” Highlights from a conversation with Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly: 1) Price. “Price-matching costs Best Buy real money, but it also gives customers a reason to stay in the store, and avoids handing business to competitors.” 2) Humanity. “The associates in our stores are much more engaged now, much more proficient,” Mr. Joly said.

3) Showcase & Ship. “Mr. Joly realized that with some minor changes, each of Best Buy’s 1,000-plus big-box stores could ship packages to customers, serving as a mini warehouse for its surrounding area … Best Buy also struck deals with large electronics companies like Samsung, Apple and Microsoft to feature their products in branded areas within the store. Now, rather than jamming these companies’ products next to one another on shelves, Best Buy allows them to set up their own dedicated kiosks … Even Amazon has set up kiosks in Best Buy stores to show off its voice-activated Alexa gadgets.”

4) Quiet Cuts. “Under Mr. Joly, Best Buy has used the scalpel as quietly as possible … he has never announced a huge, public round of layoffs, which can crater employee morale and create a sinking-ship vibe.” 5) Luck. “It’s lucky that the products it specializes in selling, like big-screen TVs and high-end audio equipment, are big-ticket items that many customers still feel uncomfortable buying sight unseen from a website. It’s lucky that several large competitors have gone out of business, shrinking its list of rivals. And it’s lucky that the vendors who make the products it sells, like Apple and Samsung, have kept churning out expensive blockbuster gadgets.”

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Bodega: The Future of Convenience?

Fast Company: “Paul McDonald, who spent 13 years as a product manager at Google, wants to make this corner store a thing of the past … launching a new concept called Bodega with his cofounder Ashwath Rajan, another Google veteran. Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the ‘store’.”

“The idea is to preempt what people might need, then use machine learning to constantly reassess the 100 most-needed items in that community. In a sorority house, for instance, young women might regularly purchase pretzels, makeup remover, and tampons. Meanwhile, in an apartment block, residents might regularly buy toilet paper, pasta, and sugar. When an item is bought, Bodega gets a note to replace it, and regularly sends people out to restock the boxes.”

“In most cases, Bodega doesn’t pay for the retail space, but pitches itself as an amenity or a convenience to property managers. At gyms for instance, McDonald makes the case that having a Bodega stocked with power bars and protein powder might make the facility more attractive to members … The major downside to this concept–should it take off–is that it would put a lot of mom-and-pop stores out of business.”

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