Spencer Penn

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On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Caterpillar – Embracing Open Innovation and Co-creation :

Great article! One point that I had never previously thought about was the idea that innovation spurs competition. Once people see a giant like Caterpillar moving into an industry, they can inspire others to take a second look at those markets.

Typically when I think of Caterpillar, I think of a big old (un-innovative) company. Do you have any idea how the returns have been on Caterpillar Ventures — understanding of course, that most of the investments are for growing and staying close to strategic acquisition targets. But still curious how they are at identifying strong entrepreneurs.

Totally agree with the direction of building a software platform. Caterpillar has a broad range of construction equipment. But just because you use a Cat excavator doesn’t mean you have to use a Cat dump truck. However, if they successfully integrate everything into a *useful* system, companies may be more incentivized to buy or lease their entire suite of equipment from them.

Do you think Open innovation is a necessary part of this strategy? Could they not simply develop internally (esp. given its B2B nature)? Thanks! Awesome article.

Thanks Ankur! Fascinating article – also cool hearing from someone with some true experience in this space.

One side note – it’s always impressive not just how good Amazon can be at building new initiatives, but also how good they can be at figure out when they’ve failed and shutting it down. #fail fast

Sometimes it does feel like crowdsourcing is almost a lazy or cheap trick. The market for free work from people of the world doesn’t always work. It’s a great point that sometimes people may not even know what they like until they see it.

Maybe one solution could be micro-pilots? For example, instead of submitting a script, a group of creators actually produce a 1-3 minute vignette from the intended show – so that Amazon could understand not just the premise but the feeling or ethos – under the promise that if picked up, the entire cast will get a job making it. Crowdsourcing could still be a great idea, even if this specific implementation at this time didn’t work right. Nice work!

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Printing cities: AECOM’s challenge to disrupt the stagnant industry :

Thanks for the awesome article Taito! Truly appreciate your bonafide knowledge in the architecture space.

My question is mostly around which technology is more important: 3D printing or Modular Construction?

In some ways 3D printing is highly inefficient – very easy to setup and customize, but expensive with a long cycle time (production time). In this way, maybe a pre-fabricated approach would be more interesting – where modular components are assembled in a factory setting (super cost efficient) and then finished assembly on site (ideally minimal work here). Overall excellent post!

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Adidas: Eliminating prototyping and seeking personalization :

Awesome article Rebecca! Very interesting to learn about the development of 3D printing within the athletic footwear space (especially topical given the Nike case).

Putting my manufacturing hat on, the lead time reduction is extremely enticing. However, but production cycle time is a difficult limitation. Compression and Injection molding can take literally a few seconds, but most printing operations take minutes, but typically hours. In this case, Adidas would simply request 1,000’s of machines to build 3D printed soles at a reasonable production rate.

Carbon 3D’s printers are also very slow, expensive, and “finicky” – so that is cause for pause.

Curious to get your thoughts: Do people really need or want mass customization? I remember NikeID – building custom shoes, but then before checking out realizing there were others in production that almost fit my criteria specifically. This is especially an important question because economies of scale don’t really exist in 3D printing. Across the industry, yes, costs come down (slowly). But actually the primary benefit of 3D printing is the low setup-time, despite the super long cycle times. Overall fascinating article – thanks!

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Defense Distributed: Is There a Future for Gun-control? :

Incredible article. Super interesting, and so scary. I remember thinking that gun control was over when I first read about Cody Wilson’s desktop CNC mill for machining AR-15 lower receivers – the part that gives the rifle the legal designation of gun. I’m sure you’ve already checked out: GhostGunner.net

Most people believe gun control should be more strict, so it’s sad to think that technology which poses immense benefits has also the power to put tools of death in the hands of anyone with a computer. Especially as more information continually is surfaced about the Russian funding of the NRA – a pro-gun policy advocacy group – it’s hard to imagine gun law becoming any more rational.

One big question I have: if a Defense Distributed weapon is used in the killing of a person, does Cody Wilson go to jail? Is the company liable? Even if they are legally allowed to distribute plans and tools to make guns. If those guns are then used to kill people (because the owners skirted regulations or background checks), can the company, or individuals within be prosecuted?

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Make Tonight Unforgettable with HotelTonight :

Thanks for a fascinating article and overview of hotel tonight! I have to agree with Noah here that I’m concerned about the long-term durability of the hotels tonight model. It reminds me a lot of Gilt Group – the members only discount fashion site. One piece of data I want to see is how the hotel tonight prices actually compare with those of Expedia or Hotels.com. My guess would be that most hotels at this point use dynamic pricing – e.g. it will be cheaper to book that day – not just through hotels tonight, but all sites. I feel like moving from mobile-only to include a desktop compliment just shows how undifferentiated they’ve had to become. What can they do differently from their competitors? What can they provide their suppliers (hotels) that others cannot?

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Fighting Fake News with AI :

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is a very important and fascinating topic (as well as the subject of my post).

The solution proposed by startup Factmata is interesting, but seems unlikely to solve the issue. The four dimension you listed were using semantic information for Hate speech and abusive content, Propaganda and extremely politically biased content, Spoof websites and content spread by known fake news networks, Extreme clickbait content – however, it can do little to identify incorrect information. So if an article is written by a human in the tone of a typical news article, but with incorrect facts or reasonable political bias, it seems unlikely to succeed.

Facebook has a couple of awesome AI initiatives to fight Fake News, but it’s still a real issue. Maybe the most unfortunate side effect is that the existence of fake news denigrates perceptions of real news.

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Duolingo: Machine Learning Our Forgetfulness :

Mr. ZACK! Interesting article – especially topical given the discussion on Englishnization at Rakuten earlier today.

I really enjoyed the discussion of how they use machine learning to improve knowledge retention. The decay function is interesting – enjoyed the graphic. Also interesting mention of Gamification. In what ways is the app gamified? Never used it before, but curious.

The reCAPTA shout-out is interesting (albeit random). I bet there’s a great article in there about the switch from simple image recognition to more behavior based “are you a human?” check boxes. Great piece overall!

On November 15, 2018, Spencer Penn commented on Future of Flight: Autonomous Aircraft? :

Thanks Akash for sharing your thoughts! Truly enjoyed learning about recent developments to embed the use of machine learning in air traffic control. My guess would be that this is a pretty under-innovated space (e.g. I’d assume the FAA servers run COBOL – or something close to it.

View views are both optimistic on the need, but bearish on the solution. Air traffic control and autonomous guidance of aircraft is going to continue to become more important with the introduction of more drones (today) and personal multi-copter aircraft (near future). However, my concern around using machine learning as a panacea is that it’s a “black box” – pun intended. Especially with complex models, while the behavior may be “smart” the results and how it gets there are actually not interpretable. So in a highly regulated context, when you cannot explain a “this = that” relationship, how can policy makers and engineers evaluate deployed solutions? Maybe we have to settle for basic stuff built robustly…