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On November 20, 2016, Kumerica commented on You.Have.Mail Wherever.You.Are :

This is a fascinating concept and promises so much social value! My two main concerns are about adoption and validation/recognition of addresses. On adoption, to sign up for w3w, individuals need access to GPS systems to locate their homes – a technology that most slum dwellers in Mongolia or India probably do not have access to. Businesses that would find this technology valuable could go around and sign people up, but would then likely be unwilling to pay for the service since they are the ones creating its value. Then, there’s the problem of mobility. In India at least, much of the unaddressed population is also highly mobile. Workers will come into the city during winter months to find jobs, and return to villages to farm in the spring and summer. How will w3w not only acquire these individuals but keep their records updated? The second issue is that for 3-word addresses to be useful, they will need to be legally recognized by the government. [1] In the absence of legal recognition, there is significant scope for fraud or misuse of information, e.g., providing incorrect information to avoid payment for services.

[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/mongolia-adopts-address-system-that-uses-three-word-names-180959439/

On November 20, 2016, Kumerica commented on If an Algorithm Wrote This Blog Post, Would You Be Able to Tell? :

Nik, your article has got me imagining all sorts of dystopian futures where our perception of the world is completely divorced from reality, and from each other’s reality. Some would argue we are already experiencing this.

First, I imagine a situation where a bunch of robots do some algorithmic trading that humans could not possibly keep up with. Then, a bunch of other robots write investor reports and news articles about this trading. As long as things are going well, the news articles will be glowing. So the trading robots pile in more money into their bets and we have a robot-to-robert feedback loop with very little human judgment. Admittedly humans have failed in spectacular ways in our ability to spot bubbles and avert crises, but reducing the judgment element even further seems like a recipe for disaster.

Second, I imagine a situation (described in a Slate article) where robot reporters write personalized news stories for each reader. [1] In the article, the author gives an example of a story on Angelina Jolie – a reader interested in global events would get a paragraph about her work with refugees, while a reader interested in celebrity gossip would get a paragraph about her marital troubles. Having already seen how different perceptions of reality have created huge political divides in the US, I worry that this technology will further exacerbate the differences in how people view the world, and therefore exacerbate our ability to live and govern together.

All this is to say, I am sure that Narrative Science has many valuable applications, but, like with all AI technologies, we need to figure out ways to incorporate human judgment and oversight into its uses.

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/03/narrative_science_robot_journalists_customized_news_and_the_danger_to_civil_discourse_.html

On November 20, 2016, Kumerica commented on The New York Times is Not a Paper: The Face-off with Twit/Book :

I agree with MK that while the NYT can certainly do more to increase its readership by offering increased access online and outreach to immigrant populations, a more fundamental issue is the growing public distrust of established media. Increasingly the media industry has become focused on catering to customer demand i.e., ‘what does our core base of readers/viewers want to hear?’ instead of, ‘what is a balanced (and therefore less entertaining) articulation of an issue?’ The NYT itself published an editorial about its own liberal bias, citing some steps the paper could take to combat it, such as “leaving editorials on the editorial page, banning campaign ads from the home page, or building a better mix of values into the ranks of the newsroom’s urban progressives.” [1] Without these steps, the paper is ignoring half the American readership – it could tinker around the edges to pick up a few more liberal readers through marketing and pricing ploys, or it could focus on more balanced, objective news reporting and op-eds with diverse ideological viewpoints to appeal to a significantly broader base.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/public-editor/liz-spayd-the-new-york-times-public-editor.html

On November 20, 2016, Kumerica commented on Is Barnes & Noble in the Border(s)line? :

Dimitris, I agree with you (and disagree with FFF) that B&N needs to follow a complementary strategy of brick and mortar stores and e-commerce. The fact that Amazon is opening physical locations is a testament that, even with all the advantages of online stores. book sellers need a few shops to bring in customers. I was surprised to learn that according to the American Booksellers Association, the number of bookstores in the US has grown by 25% in the past six years, while in-store sales have also grown. [1] Clearly customers still enjoy the experience of browsing in a good bookstore — perusing well-curated displays, sampling books, or simply getting the advice of knowledgeable booksellers and fellow customers. The online experience is far from replacing this with its predictable reviews and elementary recommendation system. One of B&N’s challenges I think is converting potential buyers – once you’ve found the perfect book it is too easy to open the Amazon app and order it for a cheaper price in “one click”. Here, I think B&N has an opportunity to make buying simpler too. What if you could scan the book with your phone and walk out with it, instead of waiting in cashier lines? Cutting down just a few minutes of transaction time through this and other measures may convince the customer to buy in-store and have it now, even for a few dollars more. After all, there is nothing more dissatisfying that browsing a store for hours and leaving empty-handed, only to wait for an item to arrive by mail.

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-would-amazon-want-to-be-the-new-barnes-noble

On November 19, 2016, Kumerica commented on UIDAI: Building the AADHAR for Digital India :

Thanks for providing the overview, AVP. First of all, I have been trying to load the UIDAI website for 10 minutes…no luck…this does not bode well. In any case, I think you are right to point out the significant data security concerns stemming from Aadhaar. It seems that the government has put in place some regulations to prevent user fraud, i.e., using someone else’s ID to obtain services or claiming not to have an ID in order to access services multiple times. [1] Similarly, there appears to be awareness that user data must be protected from unwanted breaches. [2] However, I do not believe that regulations have been put in place to prevent government misuse of Aadhaar data, including sharing data with private organizations or using it to profile citizens for the purposes of law enforcement. In the absence of government regulation and oversight in this area, I am worried about the ways in which this data will be used.

[1] http://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/corporate/india-brings-in-new-regulations-to-address-aadhaar-data-security-privacy-concerns/54340830
[2] http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/social/aadhaar-data-vulnerability-enormity-symantec-ilias-chantzos-3071899/

On November 7, 2016, BunnySlope commented on Even Goldman Sachs Cares About Climate Change :

Further to Mary’s point, in addition to the second- or third-order effects of climate change on investment banks through their clients, first order effects have also come to the fore due to natural disasters in the past few years. In my previous job, I advised most of the major US investment banks in designing their annual stress tests. Part of this exercise requires a bank to design a crisis scenario tailored to their own organization (encompassing macro and firm-specific risks) and then forecast impacts on income and capital under this scenario. Over the past few years, every single major bank has incorporated a natural disaster scenario into their stress test. For one of my clients, this was not just a hypothetical – a major East Coast hurricane wiped out a critical data center located in Virginia, which, shockingly, was the first time that senior management realized that the data center was not backed up / redundant with any thing else. The ensuing days-long lack of accessibility to client data nearly triggered a bank run and a liquidity crisis. It may seem outlandish, but banks are including things like, giant-tsunami-wipes-out-entire-NYC-operation into their stress testing scenario as the risks of climate change grow and they realize their own exposure to geographic concentration risk.

On November 7, 2016, BunnySlope commented on Can top chefs play a big role in reducing global warming? :

Wow, so interesting JB! This product shows such promise to revolutionize the livestock and food industries. I share Anthony’s concerns about the nutritional value of the Impossible Burger. (Also, I read that the burger “bleeds” because it has a component of hemoglobin, which gives me the heebie-jeebies). Another risk affecting the adoption of this product – and the ability to drive partnerships with McDonalds and others, like some have suggested – is the price point. More than just growing a bunch of lentils and beans and calling it a veggie burger, Impossible Foods is extracting hemoglobin from soy, inputting it into yeast, and employing all sorts of innovative tricks to simulate the real deal. I imagine scaling this up will be a challenging and expensive endeavor. But, this is just the start, and I am sure that Impossible Foods and its emerging competitors have much scope for innovation to address the health and price concerns.

TBD, it is simplistic (not to mention unethical) to argue that markets are the best mechanism to allocate resources, therefore we should let poor people die of thirst. As long as there have been markets, there have been market failures that prevent the efficient allocation of goods. Incidentally, climate change is the perfect example of this. The environment, including water resources, is a public good that has been depleted, most of all by developed nations. Climate change efforts have suffered from underinvestment because investors cannot capture enough of the public benefits relative to privately borne costs, resulting in an inefficient outcome in the aggregate. You are suggesting that we respond to this enormous market failure with more market solutions that penalize the poorest (who, by the way, are also the smallest contributors to climate change) because this is the “best mechanism” we have. I think we can do better. Dave presents an interesting technological solution, but it will require smart public policy decisions to allocate resources appropriately. A big part of the policy solution will be to reduce demand – e.g., by incentivizing less water-intensive food production and designing smarter water pricing strategies to encourage water management – and ration supply.

On November 7, 2016, BunnySlope commented on Ecomagination at GE :

Charlie, you raise an interesting point about the challenges of maintaining a consistent climate change policy across a large conglomerate, particularly one that has grown as organically over as long a period as GE. It would be fascinating to be in a leadership position in this company and try to forge a business model that supports a cohesive climate change policy out of its many diverse component businesses. Based on some quick research, I found that GE has a policy not to undertake “any energy savings or sustainability project for the sole goal of seeking carbon dioxide emissions reductions due to climate change concerns, except as required by law.” (http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/25546) This suggests that GE is committed first and foremost to maximizing profits, while sustainability and their Ecomagination campaign is a second order concern. It doesn’t strike me that GE would be willing to divest its “dirty tech” businesses simply out of commitment to Ecomagination. Only if these businesses become unprofitable, or GE’s overall reputation begins to suffer due to inconsistencies in its climate change policy, would I expect the company to follow your recommendation.

On November 7, 2016, BunnySlope commented on The Parent Company of Fox News Cares A Lot About Global Warming :

Your post motivated me to read 21st Century Fox’s Climate Disclosure Leader. Thank goodness Fox News installed a 400 kW natural gas fuel cell at its NY headquarters to help power its studio with low emissions energy. Meanwhile, as you pointed out, Fox News continues to be one of the premier forces behind climate denial. In 2013, only 28% of the channel’s claims on climate change were true, up from 7% in 2012 (in a study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists which is summarized well here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2014/apr/08/fox-news-28-percent-accurate-climate-change).

The hypocrisy of this organization stuns me. In response to the last comment, I do believe that it’s possible, and necessary, for 21st Century Fox to align its approach on climate change. Refuting climate change based on scientific evidence is one thing. Refuting it based on false facts and obfuscations is worse, and doing this as a news agency that reaches, and shapes the opinions of, millions of viewers is inexcusable. I am glad that the private sector is finally taking concrete action to combat climate change. I don’t think it matters that motivations are profit-driven, and not exactly altruistic. However, a company that recognizes the reality of climate change and only chooses to act if it is profitable, like 21st Century Fox seems to be, certainly doesn’t deserve any accolades.