A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 1, 2020

Microsoft Is Replacing Journalists With AI. And That's Just For Starters

More companies like Microsoft are using the pandemic as a reason to explain a trend which, like so many others, was already under way. In this case, replacing human workers with AI was controversial before the virus hit, but is perceived, from a public relations standpoint, as more acceptable now.

The larger problem is that such layoffs will make the economic recovery that much harder. JL

Tom Warren reports in The Verge:

The layoffs are part of a bigger push by Microsoft to rely on artificial intelligence to pick news and content that’s presented on MSN.com, inside Microsoft’s Edge browser, and in the company’s various Microsoft News apps. Microsoft has been moving towards AI for its Microsoft News work in recent months, and has been encouraging publishers and journalists to make use of AI. Microsoft has been using AI to scan for content and then process and filter it and even suggest photos for human editors to pair it with.

How Melitta Pivoted From Coffee Filters To Covid Masks

Ingenuity in the face of necessity. The repurposing revolution continues. JL

Christopher Scheutze reports in the New York Times:

“The ergonomics of the thing, that the filter fits exactly over mouth, nose and chin, is unbelievable." The essential ingredient in many medical-grade masks is a filter made of nonwoven super thin fibers. Since the pandemic, demand for so-called melt-blown fiber has skyrocketed. Melitta makes its own, mainly for use in vacuum cleaner bags. The coffee-filter-shaped masks are produced on the same machine as the filters found in grocery store aisles.It has a certification of  98%, a value comparable to medical masks. The company has produced about 10 million masks over the first month

Virtual Selling, Increasingly Popular, May Survive Post-Pandemic

In addition to consumers' reluctance to re-enter stores, layoffs have increased the workloads of those still employed.

The data reveal that virtual sales, especially with enhanced tools, may be just as effective and far more efficient. JL

David Cohen reports in Ad Week:

The pandemic halted in-person cordiality and made deal-making over video conferencing and chat tools a necessity. Layoffs are already happening on the sale. Survivors are going to have to take on more accounts and more territories, so efficiency and maximizing productivity will be of upmost importance. Sales leaders saw an average 20% lift in commercial results. Sales representatives using virtual selling technology spend 28% less time on data entry into customer management systems and 23% less time on other low-value repetitive tasks.

The Reason Covid-19 Epidemiology Models So Often Disagree

The reality is that the models almost all use different input factors and different data to attempt to understand various outcomes, some of which are similar or overlapping - or simply related. The result is that the metrics they generate are going to be different - and that even within specific models they will change over time as new and better data become available.

Which is to say, there are only estimates, not certainties. JL

John Timmer reports in ars technica:

Why have models produced so many different numbers, and why have the numbers seemingly changed so often? Models don't just have to be adjusted for the disease; they have to handle our own behavior. And there are a lot of options. Different approaches will produce different numbers. It's not a question of whether the numbers are right or wrong; not even whether they're useful or not. The key question is whether they're appropriate for a specific use. Over time, the data has improved, giving researchers. So they've updated and re-run their models and ended up with different results.

Why AI Won't Supplant the Behavioral Economics of Reopening Businesses

Decisions driven by the reality of behavioral economics in a pandemic and recession are not likely to be helped by predictive analytics based on past experience that may now be irrelevant in a post-Covid world.

Businesses facing significant drops in revenue are not motivated to experiment with models based on flawed data. To optimize performance, leaders have to rely on forward looking business judgement, which AI may supplement, but not replace. JL

Christopher Mims reports in the Wall Street Journal:

What do you do when a sudden break from past trends reorders the way the world works? Businesses can’t turn to existing artificial intelligence. AI requires vast quantities of relevant data. When things change this quickly, there’s no time to gather enough. Many pre-pandemic models are no longer useful; some might even point businesses in the wrong direction. The biggest barriers to the use of AI in businesses is the difficulty of finding problems for which AI might be useful. Hiring for data scientists is down 50% since before the pandemic.

May 31, 2020

What Is the Post-Covid Future For Stadiums and Arenas?

There is concern that the economics of stadiums and arenas has changed, perhaps for good, which means current designed may be uneconomical.

Until there is a vaccine or the outside chance of herd immunity, teams, touring acts and the places in which they play are going to have to adapt. JL

Dave Skretta reports in the AP:

In stadium design and infrastructure the only thing that might look the same is what happens on the field of play. Virtual tickets will be the norm. Ticket sales will be capped. Entire rows and sections blocked off. Seats on the aisle left open to keep a buffer from fans walking up the stairs. Fans will be given an entrance time to prevent crowding at the gates. Lines at restrooms and concessions will be limited. Congregating in the corridors will no longer be allowed. There is fear that places that rely heavily on ticket sales will not be able to make ends meet.

The Reason Mask Fabrics Generating Electrical Fields Kill Covid-19

Aside from the utility of this immediate application, research such as this underscores the innovations borne out of the urgent need for virus fighting concepts that may spark even more significant uses in broader fields. JL

Megan Scudellari reports in IEEE Spectrum:

A fabric generating a weak electric field can inactivate coronaviruses. The technology consists of a matrix pattern of silver and zinc dots printed onto polyester or cotton. The dots form a battery generating a weak electric field. The technology is FDA-cleared for wound care, where it has been shown to treat bacterial biofilm infections. Beyond masks, the findings raise using weak electrical fields to curb the spread of viruses in many ways, such as purifying air in common spaces or disinfecting operating room surfaces