Jackson Howell

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On December 3, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Watson: IBM’s AI as a Service :

This was a great overview of the Watson project. I was familiar with the name of course, but I did not realize that the project spanned so many different initiatives and was so heavily funded. I was not aware of the partnership with MIT either. Have you ever participated in any Watson-related events at MIT? With so many different verticals, I wonder how much Watson all the different models have in common. In other words, is there a “core”, or “kernel” that all the different models share, something proprietary perhaps? How much of the code base is open-source?

On December 3, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Hopper: Using AI to Plan Your Next Vacation :

Fascinating. What a powerful prediction engine! Predicting airfare prices with 95% accuracy up to one year in advance, and 3x higher conversion rates for AI recs are both staggering achievements. I would love to learn more about their models. I guess their competition would as well, haha. I see they are based in Cambridge, did this company grow out of one of the universities, or was it founded by former students?

On December 3, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on IntelligentX: Changing the world, one beer at a time :

Very cool concept, but allow me to play the devil’s advocate. I wonder how well it works considering this model requires a lot of people to have the same “personal” preference in order to brew a batch at scale. I think it would definitely be possible to brew something that pleases the most people but probably not something personal for everyone. At a somewhat expensive price of $3.70 USD per beer (a six-pack would be about $23 USD), I would have high expectations. I think that in some cases, especially in food and drink, consumers don’t always know what they want. I would rather rely on the expert taste of a sommelier at a famous House of Champagne than my own, when it comes to crafting the right flavors. I think the AI concept could be successful for a mass-market product but I have doubts about the higher-end of the market.

On November 13, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Big Data Behind Disney Magic :

Great post! I agree that “Disney customers will be more tolerant of the ‘convenience-surveillance’ tradeoff given their longstanding trust in the brand”, and that the Disney park is “wrapped in an idealized vision of life that’s as safely self-contained as a snow globe. Disney is thus granted permission to explore services that might seem invasive anywhere else”. However, I am not sure this is a good thing. The cameras in the movie theaters definitely has a creepy sci-fi vibe to it. The eerie aspect of surveillance seems all the more sinister when people are trusting without question. That said, I grew up on Disney films and going to the park as a child was a dream come true, a defining experience for a kid. I hope that right balance is found.

Great article! I agree that making apps, websites and raising awareness on social media does not really amount to data in and of itself. These digital properties could a source of data, but one still needs to know what to look for, how to capture it, and finally, how to read it and how to use it. It sounds like BK has done this well so far, using the metrics from their surveys and apps to inform decisions about self-service kiosks and promotions. I also agree that it will be difficult to keep up when your competitor is spending over 300 million on R&D.

On November 13, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on The Met’s Goldmine of Data Assets :

Interesting post! My undergraduate degree was in art history and I love museums, but they have their own issues to overcome as well. One of these issues, especially for an institution like the Met, is the fact that there is simply not enough space to display more than a small fraction of their prodigious collection. This is a problem for the museum, but an even bigger problem for the public who is deprived of these great works, hidden away in the basement vaults. Digitizing the collection of the museum is definitely an excellent step towards a solution, since it not only makes the collection visible but also easily searchable, much more accessible overall. Speaking to the issue of tracking visitors in the museum, I would love to hear more on this. Perhaps there is privacy concern, but I think some very interesting work could come out it.

On October 17, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Carmax :

How could Carmax increase cross-side network effects by becoming even more of a platform than it is now? In other words, how can it open its platform up to developers or community members in order to leverage innovation and knowledge sharing? Is there any reason for me to spend time on Carmax’s digital properties other than simply buying and selling my car? For example, do they post editorial content or foster discussion and thought-leadership? Do they (help) provide tools that customers or even dealerships or mechanics could use? What about car maintenance or accessories, for example?

On a side note, as Peter mentioned above, I am curious as to whether Carmax allows me to buy cars from anywhere in the country while facilitating shipping (no doubt still charging a fee, but maybe a very competitive one), as opposed to only being able to buy cars in my area. I imagine it is the former scenario, with effective logistics being one of the benefits of operating at scale, like you mentioned.

On October 17, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Mighty Networks, the new digital fireside for niche audiences :

Wow, this is fascinating! I am tempted to agree that the future is “niche audiences”. It seems that, somewhat ironically, the tool that was supposed to bring us closer together (the internet) has instead divided audiences into ever smaller fractal groups (niches). I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. I see it very strongly in podcasting for example. People are getting content that is more relevant to their lives and interests, while those interests have the opportunity to become more and more unique. I will definitely look into this platform soon.

On October 17, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on TikTok: Transforming Video-Sharing :

You mentioned that content creators are tempted by multi-homing because they cannot make money on the platform. When they do make money as a result of their activity on the platform, often these deals take place off the platform, leaving out TikTok. I am examining TikTok for another class and am considering the following as potential solutions. Very curious to hear your thoughts!

1. YouTube model: AdSense accounts so that brands can contact users through the platform and users can get paid for their content. This solution begs the question of how to weave advertisements into such short-form content.

2. Subscription model: users pay a monthly fee (maybe as little as $0.99) to subscribe to premium content from power-creators, like celebrities. Would this possibly incentivize creators to produce explicit content? TikTok has struggled with this in India where it was temporarily banned for two weeks.

3. Improving in-app purchases: users buy digital currency, “coins”, which they use to “tip” content creators. This is what TikTok does currently, passing 80% of the value of the tip on to the content creator; however, perhaps this model could be improved.

4. Patient strategy: TikTok does nothing.

On September 24, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Carvana:The new way to buy a car :

I have never purchased a car online but I did purchase a 2013 Harley Davidson Softail on eBay in 2015. Overall, my experience was very positive, but there were several pain points that could have been made easier. For one thing, I had to use a third-party escrow service to hold the money while the vehicle was in transit. And, speaking of transit, I had to arrange for third-party shipping from U-Ship (another very interesting tech company disrupting an traditional space). It would have have been tremendous if both of these third-party services were provided by one company. Finally, a few words about trust. In the beginning of the negotiating process you have to be careful because you can’t be sure that the seller in a market like eBay is trust-worthy. Most sellers are but you should never assume. Ebay’s feedback and reputation tools are great but if I could trust a single source of truth, providing high-quality documentation of the vehicle’s highlights AND flaws, combined with a 7 day money back guarantee, then I would feel safer from the first moment.

On September 24, 2019, Jackson Howell commented on Birth Control and Baby Planning – There’s an app for both :

Great post on a really important topic. I am a male so I can’t speak from first-hand experience but am aware that some pharmaceutical methods of birth control can radically alter the user’s hormones, potentially resulting in a plethora of unwanted side-effects if not serious health issues. A “softer” solution that doesn’t involve powerful drugs seems like an extremely important option that should definitely be available to consumers. I wonder about pricing though. Sure, $90 per year is probably much less than the cost of prescription drugs; however, couldn’t this app be free? I am curious about the tech stack and what it would take to produce some competitive free-ware. Such an important service should be available to everyone with no exceptions. Likewise, I am curious about the plans for the ~$40M and how the company plans to expand, what other products and services they might offer. Do they plan to provide hardware, like the thermometers? Would it be possible to have a thermometer that syncs with the app over wifi to provide a seamless experience?

Great post on an interesting market. I agree with Short Apple’s comment below that logistics seem like fertile ground for big data when it comes to a company on this scale. You mentioned the drive to create a healthier product offering; perhaps this push could be boosted by better big-data-driven logistics, in an effort to source more local ingredients, for example. I think fast food will always be somewhat decadent (because we love it that way), but that doesn’t mean it must be of poor quality or frozen. My first job at age 14 was at Chick-fil-a and I can attest that they never freeze any of their product, rather dredging, battering and frying all of the chicken on- site. I believe McDonald’s has recently made a similar initiative to no longer freeze their beef. Perhaps the next step is seeking local sources when possible. Finally, the big-data-driven menus sound fascinating. Can’t wait to hear how that develops.