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LST, thanks for this thought-provoking post. I agree that Betterment (and its fellow roboadvisors) are bringing some needed digital transformation to investment management. However, given the low barriers to entry in this market and the high cost of customer acquisition, if I were Betterment I’d be extremely worried about the response of well-capitalized incumbents with enormous head starts in AUM and client accounts. Perhaps the saving grace for Betterment is that for incumbent investment managers to crowd out Betterment would require large transformations to their existing business model (of high-priced, individualized investment advice) that they might not want to do. Your suggestions for how Betterment might create some barriers to entry seem like good ones, though also hard.

On November 20, 2016, RG commented on There ain’t no such thing as free Internet :

Thanks for sharing your perspective on this interesting issue. I share Kelly’s question about why they ended up limiting the service to only a very small number of sites given that none of those sites paid or were paid by Internet.org. It’s understandable that Internet.org wanted to restrict how much data they would have to carry, but I’d have a thought they would perhaps impose uniform, low limits on what individual users could access but still allow them access to the entire internet. Their reluctance to do so certainly raised for me the alarm bells you mention in your post that Facebook’s intention here was to create a huge captive user base.

AJ, I think you bring up a good point that perhaps zero rating shouldn’t fall under the principle of net neutrality and that Facebook is providing a service for free and that the Indian consumer might want this option. While I’m generally in agreement, I think I have two concerns here that make me agree with how TRAI came out. First, Internet.org is not providing just any type of free service but something more akin to the access provided by a utility (to electricity, the telephone, or the internet). I think those industries should be regulated more heavily because they naturally tend towards monopolies who can take great advantage of consumers. Second, even if short term some Internet access is better than none, allowing limited Internet access that doesn’t respect net neutrality will in the long-run result in companies (especially ones like Facebook that rely on network effects) with greater monopoly power over consumers, hindering innovation and extracting rents from consumers.

Vince, it was really interesting to learn about BCGDV. BCGDV seems like it also might help BCG hire and retain talented people who might otherwise jump into work at a start-up or tech company. BCG consultants could do rotations through BCGDV to further explore start-up work as opposed to having to leave BCG to get that sort of experience at another company. A rotation through BCGDV would help BCG’ers better understand if technology and start-up work was a right fit for them (vs. something they just feared missing out on), and add to BCG’s customer promise to its younger employees as the best place for talented young professionals to explore and find work at which they thrive.

TD21, thanks for this great post on an exciting effort to improve educational opportunities for students in developing countries. Though there definitely seems room to perhaps incorporate machine learning to improve its educational teaching lessons, that may be a bit of a ways off. Nearer term, though, there seem to be lots of opportunities for A/B testing a la Team New Zealand to learn how different lessons plans work or don’t. Because of its standardization of lesson plans and the teacher fidelity to them, Bridge has a rather unique opportunity among educational providers to learn in this way.

Your suggestion to better use technology to report and address problems seems a like good one. Perhaps Bridge could set up local numbers that parents could text with concerns (teacher absences, sanitation, etc.)? I wasn’t sure if Bridge currently has that sort of technology infrastructure set up, but doing so could not only give it a chance to learn more about its mistakes but also try out different ways to engage and inform parents about their child’s learning. Simple text based messaging has been show to make dramatic differences to early literacy (https://cepa.stanford.edu/content/one-step-time-effects-early-literacy-text-messaging-program-parents-preschoolers) and is increasingly being used to help improve attendance in schools (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/technology/an-app-helps-teachers-track-student-attendance.html).

I really enjoyed reading this post which gave lots of clear context for thinking about how education has and hasn’t changed over time compared to other parts of the economy.

Knewton’s progress is very impressive. I echo though some of PThati’s concerns about the varied roles that schools and classroom environments provide, not all of which are captured in academic testing. I’d imagine that even if personalized learning helps in one course at the margin, that its effects scaled up across a school environment may be more underwhelming because of the very different social and group experience schools provide.

I wonder if Knewton has thought about which kinds of subjects are better or worse suited for personalized learning – math seems ideal to me – as well as how different kinds of learning styles may work better or worse with its technology. Perhaps part of the future of personalized learning is learning about the kinds of people who learn best in groups too and helping them too.

Miras, this was a thought-provoking article. Building on Stefan’s suggestion, Mongolia could also try to secure international funding to refurbish its coal plants to make sure they are as clean as possible so that it minimizes its GHG emissions as well as better protects the health of its citizens. Though Mongolia could ask for this as a carrot, international development organizations could also adopt a similar approach as a stick and refuse to fund more investment in Mongolian coal unless it is at a minimum ‘clean coal’.

On November 6, 2016, RG commented on Tahoe Skiing Faces Extinction :

Seize the winter while it’s here.

Even if resorts like Squaw can produce artificial snow, I wonder if they’re still looking at a future of fewer skiers who won’t get the chance to grow up rushing to be first on the mountain for first tracks after a storm dumped lots of power.

Though it’s a ways off, perhaps some companies are trying to open ski resorts at higher elevations that will be less affected by climate change when resorts at lower elevations go dry? Though there seems to be lots of risk that the secular forces of worse weather will outweigh the relative advantage over other resorts.

Lastly, the increase variability in weather due to global warming seems like a strong argument for consolidation of ski resorts across geographies to create a portfolio of ski resorts with lower overall risk than operating one individually.

Allstate seems like it is taking very sensible steps to respond to global warming.

One thing Allstate could do to spur greater preparation for global warming is publicize further in what geographies it is restricting coverage and explaining why. While perhaps opening itself to some negative press, this move could help those communities that are most at risk of global warming’s effects face the future sooner and demand that their elected officials take more action now.

Another idea to highlight Allstate’s sophisticated analysis is to offer public bets on global warming’s effects. Especially in the United States where this is a vocal, influential minority dismissive of global warming’s effects, public bets could help make skeptics of global warming’s effects put their money where their mouth is and generate some positive buzz for Allstate showing its confidence in its assessments of global warming and willingness to take a stand behind them. (see this post describing public bets – often in the context of election forecasts – as a tax on ‘lies’ – http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/11/a-bet-is-a-tax-on-bullshit.html).

On November 6, 2016, RG commented on Boston Steps Up Fight Against Climate Change :

A post that really hits home!

In the post and in the above comments there are several great suggestions for doing more to address climate change. Though it seems that cities are in the unfortunate position where the effects they’ll face are almost entirely disconnected from the individual actions they’ll take given the global nature of global warming’s dynamics (though Boston is part of a Compact of Cities trying to coordinate city responses to climate change – https://www.compactofmayors.org/cities/boston-ma/).

I particularly liked the suggestion at the end of the piece that Boston take the lead as a hub for the development of new technologies and businesses helping cities adapt to global warming. Given the world class universities in the greater Boston area, this seems like a unique way Boston could take the lead and help cities all around the world through its efforts.

On November 6, 2016, RG commented on Indian Railways – Victim, Contributor or Opportunity? :

IR seems like it has many great ideas for making its existing operations more efficient, though perhaps the biggest step it can take to reduce India’s GHG emissions is to expand very quickly. See Table 4 on pg. 6 of this article (http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy/paper/IISc_Emissions_from_Indias_Transport_sector/TVR_emission2009.pdf) which finds that CO2 emissions from the railways sector in India is a fraction of that from road transportation. I think that raises interesting trade-offs for IR about whether it’s best to i) make its operations more climate friendly, at the risk of making incremental expansion more difficult or ii) focus on rapid expansion, even without improving the environmental impact of its operations, in the hope they displace even less sustainable alternatives to rail transportation.

And to Alex’s suggestion: electrification is an interesting approach and one that China has followed (http://business.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/jun/21/slide-show-1-what-india-can-learn-from-chinese-railway.htm). It may have benefits even if electricity generation isn’t done more cleanly than diesel powered trains by reducing particulate emission along the train’s journeys with possible worse effects on civilian health than the similar quantity of emissions from a more isolated power plant. This seems to raise another interesting tension between prioritizing i) local environmental consequences of fossil fuels vs. ii) reducing GHG emissions generally.