Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘AI’ Category

Moving Insurance

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You may think the insurance business is boring, but hey, my dad was an insurance agent, and he sure was never boring (anything, but!)

But he’s been retired for a few years, and the insurance biz is changing.

Example: TechCrunch is reporting on a London-based startup called Zego, a firm that foresaw the need for gig-economy workers to have insurance. 

Though its first products were pay-as-you-go scooter and car insurance for food delivery workers, it has now announced a $42M Series B raise that will help it cater to a variety of “the new mobility services,” including ride-hailing, ridesharing, car rental and scooter sharing.

From a risk management perspective, things get even more interesting, because the company will now offer a range of policies, “from minute-by-minute insurance to annual cover[age], providing more flexibility than traditional insurers, with pricing based on usage data from vehicles.”

Zego’s mission statement in a nutshell can be found in this quote:

Sten Saar, CEO and co-founder of Zego, said: “When we built Zego from scratch three years ago, our mission was to transform the insurance sector by creating products which truly reflected the rapidly changing world of transport… The world is becoming more urbanized and because of this, we are moving from traditional ownership of vehicles to shared ‘usership’. This means that the rigid model of insurance that has existed for hundreds of years is no longer fit for purpose.”

Written by turbotodd

June 18, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Turbo’s Take: Mary Meeker Internet Trends 2019

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Mary Meeker is speaking again at this year’s Code Conference, and delivering her always highly-anticipated Internet Trends Report.

Following is a CC from Vox’s highlights.

  • Some 51 percent of the world — 3.8 billion people — were internet users last year, up from 49 percent (3.6 billion) in 2017. Growth slowed to about 6 percent in 2018 because so many people have come online that new users are harder to come by. Sales of smartphones — which are the primary internet access point for many people across the globe — are declining as much of the world that is going to be online already is.
  • As of last week, seven out of 10 of the world’s most valuable companies by market cap are tech companies, with only Berkshire Hathaway, Visa, and Johnson & Johnson making the Top 10 as non-tech companies:
  1. Microsoft
  2. Amazon
  3. Apple
  4. Alphabet
  5. Berkshire Hathaway
  6. Facebook
  7. Alibaba
  8. Tencent
  9. Visa
  10. Johnson & Johnson
  • E-commerce is now 15 percent of retail sales. Its growth has slowed — up 12.4 percent in Q1 compared with a year earlier — but still towers over growth in regular retail, which was just 2 percent in Q1.
  • Internet ad spending accelerated in the US, up 22 percent in 2018. Most of the spending is still on Google and Facebook, but companies like Amazon and Twitter are getting a growing share. Some 62 percent of all digital display ad buying is for programmatic ads, which will continue to grow.
  • Customer acquisition costs — the marketing spending necessary to attract each new customer — is going up. That’s unsustainable because in some cases it surpasses the long-term revenue those customers will bring. Meeker suggests cheaper ways to acquire customers, like free trials and unpaid tiers.
  • There are a number of problems ahead for targeted advertising, including GDPR impact and other regulation, as well as pushes for more privacy from hardware and software companies like Apple and Facebook.
  • Americans are spending more time with digital media than ever: 6.3 hours a day in 2018, up 7 percent from the year before. Most of that growth is coming from mobile and other connected devices, while time spent on computers declines. People are also getting more concerned about time spent online, as more than a quarter of US adults say they’re “almost constantly online.”
  • Innovation at tech companies outside the US has remained robust. Popular areas include fulfillment, delivery, and payments.
  • Images are increasingly the means by which people communicate, as technology developments like faster wifi and better phone cameras have encouraged a surge in image taking. More than 50 percent of Twitter impressions now involve posts with images, video or other media; Twitter used to be text-only.
  • The number of interactive gamers worldwide grew 6 percent to 2.4 billion people last year, as interactive games like Fortnite become the new social media for certain people. The number of people who watch those games — rather than participate — is swelling, too.
  • As privacy becomes a bigger selling point, expect more options to make your online communications safe. In Q1, 87 percent of global web traffic was encrypted, up from 53 percent three years ago.
  • The internet will become more of a cesspool: Getting rid of problematic content becomes more difficult on a large scale, and the very nature of internet communication allows that content to be amplified much more than before. Some issues: 42 percent of US teens have experienced offensive name-calling online, terrorists are being radicalized on sites like YouTube, and social media has encouraged increased political polarization.
  • Of the top 25 most valuable tech companies, 60 percent were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants. They employed 1.9 million people last year. New stricter immigration laws could negatively impact the tech industry and perhaps prevent our next Elon Musk from getting to the US.
  • Health care is steadily becoming more digitized. Expect more telemedicine and on-demand consultations.

My takeaways:

  • There’s lots of confusion ahead for advertising, advertisers, and advertisees. Who’s going to “own” the advertising audience moving forward with a battle royale going on between handset and other device makers, developers, third-party advertising entities, e-retailers and advertising disrupters, particularly as issues of accountability, brand safety, and privacy/data regulation get fought over. And in the U.S., expect to see more First Amendment issues get challenged.
  • Mobile has become the killer app, for both advertising and, ergo, for content consumption. While broadcast TV will continue to thrive if, for no other reason, real-time sporting events, increasingly the eyeballs that matter (Generations Y, Z, and beyond…including millennials) will be watching content on something other than a TV via a mechanism that is IP-based and on the move. Agencies, advertisers, platforms, and all points beyond must adjust if they want to stay relevant.
  • E-payments are (including mobile) are, in my estimation, still a killer app that are ridiculously underserved and undertapped in the U.S. Go to China and the whole ecosystem is about WeChat mobile payments, from street vendors to Louis Vutton, and we’re still fiddling around with credit cards in the West. Expect Facebook’s play here to challenge the banking and payment status quo, and possibly even the notion of nation-state fiat currency. They have 2+ billion potential customers. And you thought the U.S. Congress wasn’t just ready for dealing with data legislation?
  • Encryption as a panacea for our privacy ills will have to be counterbalanced by the needs of the national security and sigint apparati around the globe. Don’t expect the nation state to go dark on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc. without a fight (and who knows, maybe the encryption’s already on, but so are the virtual microphones). Remember US v Apple iPhone Encryption when President Obama was still president? Yeah, that.
  • Re: Data and antitrust legislation, this is one to keep an eye on. The U.S. so far has outsourced its privacy legislation to the EU vis a vis GDPR (save for some state-based privacy legislative initiatives from the likes of California), and so far as antitrust and tech giants are concerned, there’s such a rich target set and so little resources. Regulators are going to have to pick their battles selectively, and even then, know that their efforts could put giant balls and chains around the ankles of the very innovation they would argue keep us apace on China and ROW. Also, as IBM’s Ginni Rometty says, “Data is the next natural resource.” If China generates data like oil spouting out of the original Spindletop, and the U.S./Europe stand around twiddling their thumbs and capping their virtual wells, the West could rapidly find itself at a competitive disadvantage in the Great AI Wars of the 21st Century, if not outright handicapped.
  • At the same time, we won’t be able to completely tariff our way forward (with China and Huawei, or anybody else). Uncle Sam and the academy need to continue to focus on what made Silicon Valley (and, ergo, America) great in the first place: The embrace of intellectual and academic freedom and research, smart immigration policies that encourage the best and the brightest to come to America…and (should they so choose) stay; forward looking investments and pure R&D from Uncle Sam (not unlike the Space Race, which led to so many of the innovations we enjoy today)…and, you know, rational, enlightened thinking about the future of technology and the positive (and negative) impacts it can have.

I reserve the right to have further reactions as I more fully absorb the entirety of Meeker’s always fascinating and helpful report.

Written by turbotodd

June 11, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Posted in 2019, AI, privacy

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Broad Spectrum

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Happy Friday.

It appears that Amazon is interested in buying prepaid mobile wireless service Boost Mobile from US carriers T-Mobile and Sprint.

According to a report in Reuters, Amazon is considering buying Boost because the deal would allow it to use the “New T-Mobile” wireless network for at least six years.

New T-Mobile is the name that T-Mobile and Sprint use to refer to the new entity that would result from their merger, one that still requires regulatory approval.

Reuters also reported that Amazon would be interested as well in any wireless spectrum that could be divested as part of the deal.

Analysts estimate that Boost has seven to eight million customers and a transaction could be valued at $4.5 billion if the deal included wireless spectrum and facilities.

Meanwhile, we’re getting some of our first public looks at Uber earnings…the company reported $3.1B in revenue in Q1, which was up 20% year-over-year, and gross bookings of $14.65B dollars, up 34% year-over-year but with a net loss of $1.01B.

From CNBC:

On a call with analysts, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he likes “what we see on the competitor front in the U.S.,” referencing Lyft’s earnings call where executives said they are beginning to compete more on brand.
“I think that competing on brand and product is, call it, a healthier mode of competition than just throwing money at a challenge,” Khosrowshahi said.

If you’re a Chrome user and interested in security, see this piece from WIRED, one entitled “Google is finally making Chrome extensions more secure.”

The improvements come as part of a wider company push to evaluate how much user data third-party applications can access. Google launched the audit, known as Project Strobe, in October alongside an announcement that Google+ had suffered data exposuresand would be shuttered.
Later this year, Google will begin requiring that extensions only request access to the minimum amount of user data necessary to function. The company is also expanding its requirements around privacy policies: Previously, only extensions that dealt with personal and sensitive user data had to post the policies, but now extensions that handle personal communications and other user-generated content will need to articulate policies, as well. Google says it is announcing these changes now so developers have time to adapt before the new rules take effect this fall.

Some funding news: BabbleLabs, which is focused on improving speech quality, accuracy, and personalization in voice apps, has raised a $14M Series A. The round was co-led by Dell Technologies Capital and Intel Capital.

Written by turbotodd

May 31, 2019 at 11:23 am

Rain, Shine, Sleet, Snow, or AI

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Uncle Sam’s getting into the AI game, specifically with the U.S Postal Service.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, USPS is testing self-driving trucks on a more than 1,000-mile mail run between Phoenix and Dallas.

It’s a two-week pilot, and will use rigs supplied by autonomous trucking firm TuSimple to haul trailers on five round trips between distribution centers.

“The roughly 22-hour trip along three interstate highways is normally serviced by outside trucking companies that use two-driver teams to comply with federal regulations limiting drivers’ hours behind the wheel.”

Pretty simple equation. No humans, low cost, and no hours-of-service restrictions for AI Driver Dude.

So, dude (and dudettes), dissuade your kids from becoming truck drivers. There’s literally going to be no future for them.

Written by turbotodd

May 21, 2019 at 4:54 pm

Ok, Cupid, Goodbye “Chimerica”?

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Happy Tuesday.

The U.S. markets are experiencing slightly less turbulence today than they were yesterday. Maybe the Trump Put is on after all?

If so, that could very well lead to an upsurge in online dating!

In which case, Match.com has your back.

According to a report by Engadget, Match is now offering some human assistance for online daters in the form of “AskMatch,” a service that will connect its paid users to a dating coach for a chat on the phone.

“Match’s mission has always been around relationships and bringing people together. We want to go beyond just being an app on your phone,” said Match CEO Hesam Hosseini in an interview with Engadget. Match users will be able to find the option to “Talk to a coach” under the “Discover” area of the app. If selected, Match will connect you to one of its dating experts for a phone conversation. After the phone call, you can update your coach through the app with any progress you’ve made or ask further questions. 

Hosseini points out that there’s still plenty of room for us humans after all, and that the machines and algos can’t take over everything.

“Automation is great, but it’s not for everything–especially when it comes to relationships and love,” said Hosseini. While it’s doubtful that dating coaches will solve the bigger problems with online dating fatigue — chatting with a human person may help some users find clarity.

Meanwhile, the Chinese owner of Grindr, Beijing Kunlun Tech Co., released a statement indicating its being forced out of the gay-dating app game and will be required to sell Grindr by June 2020 under an agreement with U.S. officials.  

And Kai-Fu Lee, whose most recent book I would argue is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the coming AI revolution, is apparently also feeling the U.S./China trade pinch.

Lee had already left his Sinovation U.S. office last year, and now, according to CNBC, has “pulled back alongside many other Chinese investors who are struggling to put money to work in the current political environment.”

So much for “Chimerica,” you say?  

I’d say, China and the U.S. are heading down the wrong path. While trade agreements and disputes around intellectual property and related issues certainly need to be worked on to mutual benefit, a full on Chinese-American Cold War is exactly what we don’t need.

Written by turbotodd

May 14, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Robots Never Die

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I have personally been looking forward to the age of robots and artificial intelligence. Despite all the advances we’ve made in science and technology in the last few centuries, we seem to still be on the verge of living in a populist, nationalist, non-science driven dystopia.

I want my robots.

But I’m not apparently going to be getting them from Anki, a “once-hot” robotics startup that is shutting down after raising more than $200M.

Recode’s coverage indicated that close to 200 employees of the company would be paid a week of severance, and that CEO Boris Sofman had told employees the company was scrambling to find more money after a new round of financing fell through.

Anki had produced consumer robots like “Cozmo,” but had also raised what Recode described as “serious money” from the likes of Andreesen Horowitz.

The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”
“Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “A significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement. We’re doing our best to take care of every single employee and their families, and our management team continues to explore all options available.”

Anki robots had been popular at stores like Toys R Us, but had more recently attempted to pivot from toys to a “developed robotics” company based on AI.

Company employees were being given only a week of severance pay. As for the company robots still lying around? I hope somebody removed their power source!

Written by turbotodd

April 30, 2019 at 9:16 am

Posted in 2019, AI, startups

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Itch for a Twitch

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Twitch got an itch for a new type of Twitch, so they’ve added “Squad Stream,” a few feature that will let up to four Twitch streamers go live simultaneously in one window.

According to a report from The Verge, this new feature will make it easier for viewers to watch the action from four different angles and provide bigger channels the opportunity to host smaller creators and share their screen with the audience as well.

Meanwhile, MacRumors reports that Apple has released watchOS 5.2, the fifth update to the watchOS operating system that runs on modern Apple Watch models.  this version expands the availability of the electrocardiogram app to Hong Kong and 19 European countries.

There are also two new watch faces for Hermes watches that match the spring Hermes band collection. The update also introduced support for the Apple News+ feature added to iOS earlier this week.

And Facebook continues to be under the gun for its ad targeting practices. The Department of Housing and Urban Development filed charges against the company today for violating the Fair Housing Act by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination through the company’s advertising platform.

According to a report from Axios, HUD alleges that Facebook unlawfully discriminates against users by restricting who can view housing-related ads on Facebook platform and across the internet.

  • It also alleges that Facebook mines extensive data about its users “and then uses those data to determine which of its users view housing-related ads based, in part, on these protected characteristics.”
  • The charge also claims that Facebook groups users who have similar attributes and behaviors — unrelated to housing — via machine learning and presumes a shared interest or disinterest in housing-related advertisements.
  • HUD says this process functions “just like an advertiser who intentionally targets or excludes users based on their protected class.”

This a day after Facebook banned white nationalism and separatism on the platform, a policy which will be officially implemented next week according to a report from Motherboard.

Specifically, Facebook will now ban content that includes explicit praise, support, or representation of white nationalism or separatism. Phrases such as “I am a proud white nationalist” and “Immigration is tearing this country apart; white separatism is the only answer” will now be banned, according to the company. Implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism will not be banned immediately, in part because the company said it’s harder to detect and remove.

 The decision was formally made at Facebook’s Content Standards Forum on Tuesday, a meeting that includes representatives from a range of different Facebook departments in which content moderation policies are discussed and ultimately adopted. Fishman told Motherboard that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was involved in the formulation of the new policy, though roughly three dozen Facebook employees worked on it.

Just another day in the life of Facebook circa 2019.

Written by turbotodd

March 28, 2019 at 10:46 am

Posted in 2019, AI

Tagged with ,

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