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🔥 Human face of technology #13

We're fed up with Facebook; YouTube turns our brains into mush; Apple Watch is a sales hit and can diagnose illnesses; Female Uber drivers earn less; Eastern Europe is robotising; Dirty Money is a great Netflix documentary; Dopamine gave us an evolutionary advantage over apes.

TECH

💀 2017 wasn't the best year for Zuckerberg. Facebook became the digital media leader, generated the largest amount of traffic for many online media, and split the online advertising business between itself and Google. You'd think that it would be great news. Zuck travelled around the US and took smiling selfies with "the common folk". In May, news broke that the team behind 'Trending Topics' limited the reach of conservative news, and it all went downhill from there. Trump won the presidential election in the US, and the media claimed Trump's victory was largely fueled by the fake news circulating on Facebook. Zuck – similarly to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – dismissed it as a ridiculous idea. Later, it turned out that a Russian group would purchase Facebook ads in order to exert an influence on the election results, and research showed that posts published by a few Russian accounts had been shared 340 million times. Then, Facebook had to testify before Congress, and their general counsel got grilled by the Senators. Zuckerberg was really upset with what had happened and seemed to be surprised that the system he built could have a negative impact on the world. So he decided to redesign the system once again. We're yet to witness the consequences of this redesign.

⌚️ The sales of Apple Watches soared by 50 percent in 2017, reaching (estimated) 18m units. If the estimates are close to reality, it would mean that Apple Watch sold better than the supposed sales hit of 2017, Amazon Echo speakers (estimated 10m units sold). In Q4 2017, Apple sold more watches than all Swiss watchmakers combined. Buying an Apple Watch makes sense only for iPhone owners, so the market for potential buyers is limited. For Apple, selling Watches is a way to increase the lifetime value of customers in the saturated smartphone market. It is also an interesting bet on the future – perhaps, the combination of Apple Watch, AirPods and Siri will succeed iPhones.

💔 The results of a study on 14,000 users of Apple Watch and the Cardiogram app suggest that Apple Watch can diagnose diabetes with up to 85-percent accuracy. Previous studies have shown that Apple Watch can also accurately diagnose abnormal heart rhythms (97% of accuracy), sleep apnea (90% of accuracy), hypertension (82% of accuracy).

⛔️ Qualcomm is quietly killing the market for smartwatches running Android Wear. Qualcomm is the only major company that makes processors for Android Wear smartwatches, and they haven't released a new version of their Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC processor since February 2016. With no access to fast CPUs, Android smartwatches are losing the race against Apple Watch, and the whole product category is stagnating.

🤦‍♀️ Female Uber drivers earn $1.24 less per hour than their male counterparts. The study of earnings of more than one million Uber drivers has shown that the gender gap persists even if a blind algorithm assigns jobs. The researchers say that the difference exists because women spend less time driving, and thus they are less experienced and they drive more slowly, which reduces the number of jobs they are assigned. Women spend less time behind the wheel because they have other responsibilities than Uber, for instance, childcare.

🚗 Are autonomous cars not improving as fast as they used to? The quality an autonomous car's driving can be assessed with "disengagement rate". Disengagement rate indicates how often (or how rarely) a human needs to intervene when riding an autonomous car. According to 2017 data, Google's Waymo cars have the highest disengagement rate. These cars necessitate a human intervention every 5,600 miles, which sounds like a quite impressive result. In comparison, the disengagement rate for Waymo cars in 2016 was 5,100, which makes the increase in 2017 quite underwhelming. If Waymo seriously wants to put a fleet of cars in cities to offer Uber-like driverless taxi services, the number of necessary interventions would have to be 20 to 30 times lower. If the disengagement rate grows at 2017 rates, we won't live to see a driverless Uber.

🏭 Factories in Eastern Europe are robotising. Slovenia, Slovakia, and Czechia are already among the twenty most robotised economies. The number of robots per 10,000 factory workers in Slovakia and Slovenia is even higher than in Switzerland and France. The development of the automotive industry and the population decline are the two factors that spurred robotisation in Eastern Europe. Poland lags behind its Eastern European neighbours – there are only 32 robots per 10,000 employees in Poland, while in Slovenia, the figure is 137.

🚀 A poor interface caused panic in Hawaii. The officer responsible for issuing warnings to the population of Hawaii accidentally sent a notification to all the state's inhabitants about a ballistic missile attack. No ballistic missiles were coming to Hawaii, though. The whole situation was a result of a poorly designed dropdown menu, which facilitated the human error.

🤔 Facebook tweaks its News Feed algorithm once again. The tinkering will make us see more posts written by our friends at the cost of posts from non-friend pages. This move by Facebook adds to the evidence that building a media business based on the News Feed might be a risky choice. What will the new News Feed look like? Zuckerberg would like to focus on the wellbeing of Facebook users, and the users' wellbeing can, allegedly, be boosted by them sharing their thoughts and photos and commenting on their friend's content. The "passive" (no likes or comments?) consumption does not improve users' wellbeing and thus will be curtailed. Does this mean that our News Feed will show only the most controversial posts? Or posts that polarise people? Or, perhaps, the Feed will only show us the good news, because disasters sour our mood? Without a doubt, Facebook has become the key medium of our times, and any changes introduced to the News Feed will have a significant impact on the society. It might be worth watching out for this impact.

💀 The Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities have shaken the tech industry. It turns out that the vulnerabilities got spotted almost simultaneously by a few independent teams in different parts of the globe. Fascinating stuff.

👀 The data on Snapchat users' activity has leaked. Sending pictures to friends remains the app's most frequently used function. Other functions, e.g. Snap Maps, show much lower adoption rates. Snapchat has been perceived as a company with a rocky future ever since Instagram (and Facebook) copied their Stories function and since they tried to sell their Spectacles.

🗣 The sales of smart speakers (Amazon Echo and Google Home) have grown by 279 percent year-to-year to reach 27 million units sold. So far, Amazon has been leading the race, and their ultimate aim is to put Alexa in every piece of consumer electronics (including cars). Alexa's ecosystem offers the capability of adding Skills (independent voice-enabled applications) to the assistant's repertoire. Unfortunately, users don't want to use Skills on a regular basis. Only 3 percent of them still use a Skill two weeks after the installation. As a matter of comparison, mobile phone apps are still used by 11 percent of users two weeks after the installation.

📉 Have we reached peak SaaS? Software as a Service has been one of the hottest investments of the past few years. The successes of companies such as SalesForce have popularised paying for software as a service (in contrast to paying for a permanent licence). Almost everyone has jumped on the bandwagon – from the industry giants, such as Adobe, to startups operating on the B2B market. The CrunchBase data analysed by Christof Janz from Point Nine Capital suggests that in 2016 and 2017, investors invested more or less the same amount of money in Seed stages as in 2015. The investments in later rounds, which serve more established companies, have grown.

🔮 Corti is an AI that analyses conversations of emergency dispatchers in Copenhagen. The application's primary purpose is to find in conversations any patterns (both verbal and non-verbal) that would suggest a cardiac arrest. In small-sample tests, Corti successfully recognised a cardiac arrest in 95 percent of cases. As a comparison, a well-trained dispatcher will successfully identify only 73 percent of such cases. Corti serves as yet another example of AI being used for medical diagnostics.

😦 In 2015, a black software developer tweeted that Google Photos had labelled a picture of him and his friend as "gorillas". Google quickly removed this embarrassing error by getting rid of the tag "gorillas" entirely. From that moment on, Google Photos has been able to only tag a few selected types of primates, such as baboons or gibbons, but it will show no results for the phrases "gorilla", "chimp", and "chimpanzee". This case shows how limited machine learning is and what consequences the low diversity in Google's teams can have. The error might have been spotted earlier if Google employed more black engineers, managers, and product consultants.

SOCIETY

🚶‍♀️ Streets designed with pedestrians in mind generate more taxable income per square metre than streets designed to optimise car traffic. The typical high-income street is narrow and surrounded by trees that give a lot of shade in summer. It has wide pavements, and the buildings host shops and restaurants on their ground floors, while the other floors are occupied by flats.

🦍 Was it dopamine that gave us our social skills? People have much more dopamine in their striatum (a part of the brain) than apes. Dopamine is secreted (among other situations) whenever we co-operate, communicate, or share knowledge with others. Our bodies reward us for pro-social behaviour, which compels us to build pro-social habits as a result.

💸 The change in the UK's banking regulations – Open Banking – will enable consumers to share their financial data (e.g. bank statements) with independent businesses. Thanks to the access to the data, companies will be able to bring a range of products to consumers, e.g. offer better financial services or tailor-made investment products. This change constitutes an excellent example of regulations that spur innovation.

📱 The number of electronic devices in US households has been dropping. Mobile phones and tablets have replaced many mono-functional devices (such as TVs or radios). The drop in the number of large devices contributed to the overall decrease in the electricity consumption in US households, because mobile phones and tablets are much more energy-efficient than the devices they have been replacing. The energy consumption in US households has decreased by 25 percent since 2010.

🔭 Have a look at the very structured list of predictions about the future of autonomous cars, robots, AI, ML, and space travel written by the founder of iRobot, the company behind Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaners.

💡 Switching to LED lighting decreased the CO2 production by 507m tonnes globally, which is equivalent to the amount of CO2 produced by 163 coal power plants.

CULTURE

😦 Journalists have started to investigate YouTube's recommendation algorithms. It turns out that the algorithm recommends videos to us in order to optimise the time spent on the platform. It doesn't really care whether the videos offer any valuable content or are factually accurate, which doesn't came as much of a surprise. The algorithm is great at promoting conspiracy theories, 'non-standard' behaviours, and all other dregs of human activity. YouTube wants to draw your attention and make you interested in a video, but doesn't really care about your wellbeing. Has YouTube contributed to people becoming more and more radical? I think that YouTube's contribution to this phenomenon is quite significant.

📉 Dirty Money is a great documentary that you can watch on Netflix. The episode I liked the most (Drug Short) was about the Valeant pharmaceutical company, which had consolidated the market from 2010, and later raised drug prices. The episode presents an interesting character, Fahmi Quadir, who shorted Valeant's stock... and she was right, because, after years of skyrocketing prices, Valent's share price finally dropped by 90%. Quadir's case is a case in point when it comes to the theory that hedge funds managed by women do better (Quadir is a woman).

🎼 Streaming (e.g. Spotify) remains the most popular method of music consumption in the US – it accounts for 52 percent of consumed music. The music industry has been growing thanks to streaming: song catalogues provide value that offers unlimited monetisation in the on-demand world. The marginal cost of streaming a song approaches zero, and thus a catalogue of songs becomes pure profit for music labels.

💁‍♂️ Teens in the US initiate their sexual activity later, smoke and drink less, and take less drugs. Is it a side-effect of smartphones and online services becoming more popular and replacing real-world human experiences?

PIC

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