Private Eyes

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On November 15, 2018, Private Eyes commented on Machine Learning vs Poachers :

What an interesting read – thanks for sharing this unique use of machine learning in protecting endangered wildlife species. I certainly agree that accumulating and disseminating larger sets of data will help wildlife conservation agencies stay ahead of the poachers. In fact, I think this is the main way they’ll be able to do so. While I know very little about poaching, my intuition is that that poachers operate rather independently and do not share many data-based learnings between one another, both within country and (even less likely) internationally. As a result, creating a centralized database of poacher behavior will afford animal protectors visibility into common trends across groups and identify best practices in stopping the spread of poaching. Furthermore, should a poaching group attempt to expand beyond their current territory, these wildlife agencies will already know their poaching patterns and should be able to anticipate their moves and counteract them, thus discouraging expansion and containing and localizing each group’s poaching activity. As an aggregated platform competing against (presumably) less organized and more silo-ed groups, PAWS will create great informational advantages that will benefit wildlife conservation efforts.

On November 15, 2018, Private Eyes commented on Betabrand: Too Much Open Innovation? :

Thanks for the interesting read on Betabrand! I definitely hear the concern that Betabrand is at risk of losing its customer base as open innovation becomes less novel of a concept. However, I think the company is doing some smart things to combat this loss of novelty. For instance, I really like that the company is providing incentives to customers for engaging in the co-creation process, e.g. by offering a 30% discount for customers who vote on the product prior to the crowdfunding phase.

I agree though that the company needs to do more than simply offer financial incentives. To build the brand, I would try to create Betabrand “open innovation” communities where consumers engage regularly with the brand and with fellow customers. This can be achieved, perhaps, through select brick and mortar stores where consumers have “innovation meet ups” and chat together – socially and in person – about fashion concepts they’re excited about. This would deepen engagement with the brand, create a user community that’s excited about contributing to innovation at the company (and will hopefully remain loyal to it), and create a point of differentiation versus competitors who miss out on this product ideation process.

With all this said, this article made me think about the powerful combination of open innovation and 3D-printing and the potential for the big players to win over the long run. While Betabrand may not have the scale to invest heavily in the high setup costs of 3D printing, I think a larger, well-capitalized player such as Adidas (mentioned in the article) would be able to marry customized, small-order production via 3D printing with the concept of open innovation, where product ideas are crowdsourced from customers. These two megatrends can work hand-in-hand, as companies that listen to consumer demand preferences can then quickly create tailored products that meet this demand, thereby developing a potentially more loyal customer base who trusts the company to design the products they want. It will be interesting to see how these smaller upstarts fare in this changing competitive retail environment.

On November 15, 2018, Private Eyes commented on Adidas in the 3D Printed Race – When Size Does Not Matter :

I think this article does a great job of spelling out several important benefits to 3D printing for Adidas: (1) lower costs through “on demand” production which reduces excess inventory and storage, (2) higher product quality due to elimination of human error and ability to layer on new materials, and (3) a greater degree of personalization which endears users to the product and increases brand loyalty and willingness to pay.

However, I worry about Adidas’ true competitive differentiation given they are using a third party – Carbon – for their 3D printing needs. I believe a source of differentiation would be around their ownership of unique 3D printing technologies that can create shoes in different styles than competitors. The fact that Adidas appears to be outsourcing this technology today worries me in that Carbon controls the IP and could license it out to a competitor like Nike, thereby revealing Adidas’ trade secrets and exposing its products to replication. Should Adidas buy Carbon? A vertical integration strategy around 3D-printing might make sense to protect its IP and to more easily extend into product categories beyond shoes.

Your question around counterfeiting is a good one. Based on an OECD-EUIPO report from 2013, it appears that footwear is the most counterfeited good in the world, ranking ahead of clothing, leather and electrical machinery. I would suspect, as you point out, that 3D-printing makes it even easier to counterfeit. To address this issue, I’d use the advances of 3D-printing to make products even more customized, such that Adidas is able to regulate and manage the supply of a certain product it introduces. For instance, it could tag each product with a unique number so that a buyer knows it’s one of X number of versions of the product that Adidas has released. Furthermore, the company could control its distribution of the product – e.g., make certain products only available through the Adidas online store – so that customers know they are purchasing authentic versions of the product. While counterfeiting will likely continue to be an issue for Adidas, leveraging advances in 3D printing to further customize its products and investing in unique 3D-printing technologies which smaller counterfeiters can’t replicate will be important steps in ensuring the continued success and authenticity of the brand.

Wow – I was struck by several of the facts cited in this great article. First, the cost saving stats are quite remarkable: rocket engine cost reduction of 80%, raw material efficiencies of 90% and weight reduction of 40-60%. In addition, it’s amazing that NASA is already able to accomplish these 3D printing feats in zero gravity conditions when the additive manufacturing revolution seems to just be taking off here on earth. In addition, I was encouraged to read that NASA is partnering with universities and commercial enterprises in prototyping and testing aerospace-focused 3D printing solutions – this seems like a highly effective way of speeding up and, importantly, externalizing the government funding burden of additive innovation for the aerospace industry.

To address your question on safety, it seems that NASA has already established environments to compare their 3D product development in zero vs. non-zero gravity environments here on earth, which is critical. The bar on using 3D printing in space should be high, and therefore investment in the requisite training facilities should be made and multiple (perhaps repetitive?) “test runs” should be conducted before any of these products are used in space. In the short run, I would prioritize using additive manufacturing for applications that don’t jeopardize human life if they fail in space. For instance, prioritizing use of 3D printing for rocket propulsion tests is a good way of testing the technology and building expertise; this expertise will then be valuable when “higher risk” additive manufacturing solutions, such as developing mission-critical ISS parts or creating covers for holes caused by space debris, are introduced that have real implications for astronaut lives while in orbit.

Thanks for the thoughtful post, JP. It seems Benevolent AI’s decision to use machine learning as a competitive advantage throughout all stages of the drug development lifecycle is certainly unique – and brings with it certain questions as to whether the AI technology will become “good enough” that it can create personalized medicine absent the biases of human creators. I think your suggestion – to invest in obtaining more natural history disease data from all patients, especially underrepresented minorities – is a good one, and importantly one that can be addressed over time and in parallel (i.e., while the company continues to build out its AI algorithms for known population sets). Awareness of the biases inherent in the available data sets is an important first step in making sure BenevolentAI is able to create personalized medicine for all people, and I would hope the company is vigilant in combating other biases – for instance, making sure there are sufficient results in “unbiased” peer-reviewed scientific literature that tackle under-represented populations – inherent in the data sets it is collecting.

Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post, Danny. It’s great to see the MBTA – a commuting network I’ve used many a time – reaching out to important constituencies to solicit potential ideas for service improvements.

I guess it’s not surprising to learn that most of the crowdsourced responses have been from for-profit entities who are trying to do business with the MBTA – and I don’t see this as a bad thing in and of itself. These for-profit entities likely (1) have pattern recognition and prior experience across other public transportation networks that they can bring to bear in Boston, (2) are highly motivated to effect change in the near term (after all, they want to sell their products!) and (3) are incentivized to make sure their services work well in order to garner repeat business with and referrals from the MBTA. Also, I’d hope there are multiple competing proposals from vendors, which the MBTA could use to drive the price down for the benefit of consumers.

However, I worry that (1) these for-profit entities might be trying to “push product” rather than solve the MBTA’s highest needs and (2) may not know – or care to invest in learning – the local MBTA “idiosyncrasies” (e.g., unique routes, protocols, weather challenges) as well as local Boston constituents. Accordingly, it would be great to see the MBTA tapping into the robust student population in the greater Boston area who know (or could, at least, take “field trips” to determine) MBTA-specific engineering challenges. Boston is home to incredible academic institutions – e.g., MIT, Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Tufts and Brandeis, among many others – all of whom are well equipped to contribute collective brainpower to the complex logistical and operational challenges the MBTA faces. Could the MBTA create inter-school competitions that award a prize to the school team with the most effective or efficient solution to a particular issue the MBTA faces? This would provide both a valuable and practical learning experience for student teams while also hopefully unearthing creative solutions that could improve our community’s transportation network!