A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 1, 2020

How Microsoft's Mahjong-Winning AI Could Also Make Financial Prediction Systems

Which might help policy makers model capital market gyrations as the global economy attempts to understand the impact of Covid-19. JL

Kyle Wiggers reports in Venture Beat:

Mahjong is an imperfect information game with complicated scoring rules. Most real-world problems such as finance market predication and logistic optimization share the same characteristics with Mahjong — i.e., complex operation/reward rules, imperfect information. Techniques designed for Mahjong, including global reward prediction, oracle guiding, and … policy adaptation have great potential to benefit for  real-world applications.Microsoft's AI system could defeat Mahjong players after learning from only 5,000 matches.

Mothers Of Invention: Creating New Gadgets To Fight Covid-19

This may be the most productive burst of necessity-driven global innovation since WWII. JL

Josephine Mason and colleagues report in Reuters:

From furniture makers to AI software developers, companies around the world are adapting existing products or inventing new ones to help fight the pandemic or just make life easier for those working from home, in hospitals or stuck in quarantine. Companies from Ford and Airbus to LVMH are retooling plants to make critical equipment like hand sanitizers, ventilators and masks. 3D printing and high-tech software mean devices can be produced faster than ever by companies big and small.“We’ve already had a request from the National Health Service about designing something for pushing a door.”

The Booming Business of $8 Million Bunkers And Other Doomsday Products

An entry-level bunker costs a little more than a luxury automobile. But given demand, there's going to be a six month wait for delivery...JL

Zachary Crockett reports in The Hustle:

Doomsday businesses have been flooded with phone calls, emails, and bulk orders — not from survivalists, but soccer moms, professors, and orthodontists. There is suddenly a backorder on everything from 20-pound rations of dehydrated peaches to multimillion-dollar private bunkers. America (has an) estimated 3.7m “committed” preppers, folks who preemptively stock up for the “Big One.” 43% of preppers earn $100k or more per year, and 67% are homeowners. Coronavirus has “convinced people on the fence” to take the plunge and spend the $60k to $100k+ for an entry-level bunker.

The Reason Decades of Off-Shoring Led To Critical Medical Shortages

Efficiency has dominated manufacturing considerations for a generation.

But the present crisis suggests that whatever cost-benefit analysis was performed underestimated the risks of running out. JL

Tom Simonite reports in Wired:

The crisis has exposed the fragility created by decades of companies shrinking production on US soil and growing overseas supply chains, notably China. 95% of surgical masks and 70% of respirators are made overseas. Materials to make the masks are )also) produced in China (whose) vast, cheap labor pool and government incentives fostered an ecosystem of manufacturers/suppliers, that is the default place to make everything. “It’s so easy to buy from China, it’s like the easy button.” Covid-19 made the risk of concentrating production of health workers’ protective gear in one country clear.

How Do-It-Yourself Solutions To Covid-19 Supply Shortages Are Growing

Betting that innovation, resourcefulness and technology can catch up with the spread of the disease? JL

Alexandra Petri reports in the New York Times, image by Javier Cebollada:

Medical supplies, from exam gloves to ventilators, are in short supply. The world’s open-source enthusiasts have banded together to dig up and catalog blueprints of critical do-it-yourself gear and tools. Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies is crowdsourcing to address the diminishing stock of equipment. A subgroup of 130 people who operate on Slack filter information that amasses by the minute, building a catalog of open-source solutions for medical supplies. Moderators flag designs that are posted. Medical professionals evaluate the flagged content. A documentation group puts the approved  in read-only Google docs. 

NYC Investigates Amazon For Firing Worker Protesting Unsafe Covid-19 Conditions

From Jeff Bezos, the world'd richest man, asking workers to donate sick leave to their ill colleagues rather than contributing himself, to firing a worker whose safety concerns were ignored by his supervisors, the company evidently believes its position as an essential services renders it immune to normal oversight.

But there is a difference between being merely callous and endangering public safety. The question is whether, given current circumstances, this will cause demands for change. JL

Shirin Ghaffary reports in Re/code:

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights will launch an investigation into Amazon for firing a worker who organized a protest this week over a coronavirus outbreak at the warehouse where he worked. The former employee organized a walkout to protest the company’s decision to keep the facility open despite allegations that several associates have been infected with Covid-19. “The allegation is, because he spoke up for the safety of his fellow workers, he was fired. If so, that would be a violation of our city human rights law. We would act on it immediately.”

Why Some Leaders Are Better At Managing Crises

Though preeminent leadership attributes do not change from good times to bad, their results become more evident when significant challenges and threats must be overcome.

During times of crisis, successful leaders demand facts, remain calm, encourage teamwork, look to the future while addressing the present, and exhibit trust in colleagues and subordinates. They have no time for blame and complaint. In this economy, all decisions must be made under pressure, in short time periods with inadequate information. But in crises, the potential impact is worse. True leadership is the ability to optimize outcomes when the circumstances are least favorable. JL

Tomas Chamorro-Premusic reports in Forbes:

The differences between good and bad leaders are easier to observe during difficult times. The core ingredients of good leadership: competence, humility, and integrity, are universal. To lead effectively through a major crisis will depend on the ability to learn and adapt. The world is more data-driven, so to be factual, reason logically and adopt an evidence-based approach will (mean) better (results). This will also be possible if leaders are neither under-confident nor over-confident. (And) no leader will be able to handle a crisis if they have lost people’s trust.