A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 7, 2015

The Reason that Autonomous, Self-Driving Cars Are Inevitable

Because our experience with technology over the past two decades has conditioned us to expect heightened convenience at a lower cost. Autonomous vehicles will deliver both.

The auto manufacturers should be both afraid - and prepared - if they want to survive. JL

Matt Honan reports in BuzzFeed:

Google’s cars have driven a total of 1.2 million miles on the roads.But what it means is that every car has driven that distance. This is a machine that learns. And in addition to that on road time, the cars log 3 million miles every day running scenarios.This car is a better driver than me, or you, or any of us. The efficient, unemotional logic of cars that operate without human error and instability is unquestionable. It's transformative. It's coming.

Cracking Human Curation at Internet Scale

Turning users into content creators and value generators is becoming something of a tech industry specialty. The question is whether those users are going to start demanding a cut of the action. JL

Ben Popper reports in The Verge:

There is a camp that believes if you just have enough data, and smarter algorithms, a curation machine will discover innovative ways to predict your taste. That might be true sorting data on weather but not for something as emotional as music.Generating a human-curated playlist for each of Spotify’s users would be a challenge. (But) users have made more than 2 billion of them.

Facebook Is Restricting Access To Its Data: Privacy Is the Excuse But Probably Not the Reason

Facebook claims that it has restricted outsiders' access to its data as a privacy measure. But given the company's history of  giving growth and profitability priority over privacy concerns it seems more likely that the company recognizes the strategic advantage this data provides and has decided to monetize that asset as completely as it can. JL

Deepa Seetharaman and colleagues report in the Wall Street Journal:

Companies are open until they have liquidity and users. Then they start to control.

Why Paying CEOs Bonuses to Improve Stock Price Performance Doesnt Deliver

Stock price performance is complicated. As economists have long known, the data are exceedingly 'noisy,' meaning that the factors driving outcomes frequently overlap and are difficult to ascribe to any one determinant. But in the view of the shareholder value movement which began in the 90s and has demonstrated considerable staying power, whatever can generate excess returns for investors is emphasized in executive compensation plans.

Tying CEO pay to share price performance was supposed to align executives' actions with shareholders' interests. The problem - as the following article explains about new research from Cornell University - is that rewarding CEOs for stock price performance does not necessarily produce the desired results across a host of metrics. One reason is that it is very difficult to identify the specific factors in each company that might generate the outcome demanded.

But the other is a problem that might be termed 'The Lake Woebegone Effect,' after essayist/entertainer Garrison Keillor's mythical community in northern Minnesota where "all the children are above average." It is challenge which has continued to plague finance since the Long-Term Capital Management Crisis in 1998: when everyone else is using the same model you are, it tends to have a depressive effect on your ability to achieve your goals. JL

Lawrence Lewitinn reports in Yahoo Finance:

A decade’s worth of data from every company in the S&P 500 compared companies that offer their top brass a total shareholder return (TSR) plan to those that don’t and found the increasingly popular pay plans haven't significantly boosted any of a number of key metrics.

Oct 6, 2015

Dark and Stormy Data Ruling: No More Safe Harbor for Transfer of European Users' Info to US Tech Servers

To read this you'd think these Europeans believe they own their personal data and have the right to decide how it's used. Why the very nerve...!  JL

Ivana Kottasova reports in CNN/Money:

The ruling was a direct consequences of the Snowden revelations. (It) will have implication for all tech companies that transfer data (and is) "a major blow for U.S. global surveillance that heavily relies on private partners."

Is Gig Work the Next Phase of the Economy's Walmartization?

Supporters of the gig economy (yes, there are some - and not all are paid to take that position) claim that such part time jobs may be the functional equivalent of Dickensian piece-work, but that coding as a temp is not life in the work house.

While perhaps psychologically soothing, such arguments miss the point. The more apt comparison is with Walmart and its pursuit of the lowest prices possible at the expense of its work force's socio-economic condition. A strategy, it must be added, that has produced three years of declining profits when, inevitably, as many predicted, its customers could no longer afford its products as their lifestyle deteriorated thanks to its compensation policies and those that copied them. JL

Megan McArdle comments in Bloomberg:

The real concern is that these jobs will become substitutes for better jobs: more stable, better paid. This is obviously going to concern commentators (who) have already expressed worry that the “gig economy” is bad for American workers.

Personalization of the Machine: Business Technology's Future?

Convenience has triumphed through the personalization consumer products - and industrial products are following suit. The battle that remains to be fought is over how the data produced may be used by whom, which leads, inevitably to the issue of who owns it. JL

Quentin Hardy reports in the New York Times:

Mass-produced goods increasingly personalize into something unique because of a lot of snooping on you. Few consumers turn personalizing features off, or boycott the products. In a conflict (with) privacy, personalization has triumphed.Changing the behavior of devices will enable companies to 'make sure you don’t allow any space between the customer and you.'