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Digital Trends

The Long Slow Death of TV Television makes no sense. Consumers end up paying for hundreds of channels they do not watch and have no intention of watching. Shows are played at arbitrary times and interrupted constantly with advertisements. There is literally no other form of content that is disseminated in such an archaic way. (Okay, radio too.) We have the ability to stream only that video programming that most interests us. So why are we still paying for cable? Almost 14 years after the launch of iTunes, 10 years after Netflix started streaming movies and 9 years after the launch of Spotify, why? Venerable tech commentator Walt Mossberg recently weighed in on the future of television in Recode (link below.) His conclusion, the technology probably exists to eliminate cable television today. Why does this matter? Believe it or not, there is still a debate in advertising about whether or not TV or digital is the future. The argument for TV is that it continues to be the best medium for reaching a mass audience. The argument for digital is the last 30 years. I find this argument frustrating because it shouldn’t exist. Television continues to exist as a medium distinct from the internet for two simple reasons: 1. The networks and cable providers have been clever about locking up content in exclusive contracts. 2. Consumers are resistant to change. But contracts end and consumers adapt. Television as we know it is already mostly dead for millennials. Anyone who tells you television is the future is trying to sell you something. Don’t buy it. In a nutshell: Cable television sucks and needs to die already. Read More Numerai – clever or too clever by half? The universal truth of trading on Wall Street is that the game is zero sum – every trade has a winner and a loser. As a result, the culture of Wall Street is competitive to its core, success is measured and compensation is awarded based on a ruthlessly Darwinian system. Numerai is an AI hedge fund that wants to change this structure by re-aligning incentives using an Ethereum-based token system. Data scientists are encouraged to submit models that will predict market performance. Based on the success of their model, they will earn a place on the leaderboard for which they will receive tokens known as Numeraire. If their model makes good trades, they will receive more tokens and Bitcoins as a dividend. If their model fails, their tokens will be destroyed. However, the success of the total fund increases the number of Numeraire in the system. Fund founder, Richard Craib hopes this will align incentives among the data scientists to collaborate to create the best models and increase their tokens and compensation. Why does this matter? Unbridled competition is good at encouraging certain types of behavior. But, as recent studies on AI collaboration vs. competition reveal, systems can be set up so that intelligent actors seek collaboration to achieve maximum individual benefit. Craib has taken his inspiration from the collaborative nature of the open source software community and is attempting to apply that to finance. The open source ecosystem has forced many people in the tech community to reassess their social Darwinian assumptions about human motivation. Some have applied these lessons to other fields (like finance) under the assumption that motivation is somehow “hackable.” Numerai may succeed or fail, but you can expect to see more companies trying to create a competitive/collaborative hybrid model. In a nutshell: Entrepreneurs are applying open source collaboration models to industries beyond software. Read More Quantum computer bake-off A lot of shade gets thrown within the rarefied world of quantum computer design. Ask an IBM engineer about D-Wave and you are likely to hear the refined, theoretical equivalent of “yo mama” jokes. While it is not possible to compare D-Wave and IBM head-to-head, recently IBM’s quantum computer and the quantum computer at University of Maryland College Park were compared on their speed and accuracy in running an algorithm. Both quantum computers have five qubits, but their designs are otherwise quite different. The University of Maryland computer uses electromagnetic fields to trap ytterbium ions in order to achieve a quantum state and all five qubits are interconnected to share information. The IBM computer uses superconducting metals and arranges four qubits around a fifth qubit that serves as a central hub. The results? While the IBM computer was faster at running the algorithm, the University of Maryland computer was more accurate. Researchers believe this may be because the hub-and-spoke model of the IBM computer allows for faster communication, but that the hub is at greater risk of decoherence. Why does this matter? Quantum computing is going to matter a lot in the next decade. Because information can be stored and processed in a quantum computer in non-binary fashion, these computers can do certain types of calculations immeasurably faster than standard chips. Cryptography, for one, will be fundamentally changed by quantum computing. But quantum computing is very much in its infancy. This experiment hints at some fascinating possibilities. As quantum computers get better at maintaining quantum states will the problem of reliability fade?Does the hub model create a local maximum by creating efficiencies on a limited scale that will disappear with more qubits? Honestly, I have no idea. And that’s what makes this work so exciting. In a nutshell: I predict that quantum computers will move out of the lab and into the enterprise in the next two years. Read More Dead Canaries When former Uber engineer Susan Fowler sat down to write about her experiences at the company – one of the most aggressive (and arguably sexist) environments in Silicon Valley – it’s hard to imagine she anticipated the impact of her blog post. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick personally apologized to employees at an all-hands meeting this week and hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate accusations of a toxic culture at Uber’s headquarters. While Uber is desperate to move on from this public relations catastrophe, it would be a pity not to take this moment to examine how tech has bred a culture so hostile to women and minorities. I was particularly struck by this passage from a blog post by software engineer Kate Heddleston: “Women in tech are the canary in the coal mine. Normally when the canary in the coal mine starts dying you know the environment is toxic and you should get the hell out. Instead, the tech industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can't breathe, saying “Lean in, canary. Lean in!” When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” (link to the full blog post below.) Why does this matter? Before starting this company, I worked in advertising, another industry with a long history of providing a toxic environment to women and minorities. Over the years managing employees in both advertising and technology, I have learned that one solution to sexism in a corporate culture is 50%. By this I mean that sexism gradually bleeds out of a company culture when half of the workforce are women. Male employees who would behave problematically in a company where few of the employees are women, become suddenly professional and respectful in a parity environment. We are social animals and intensely influenced by our environment. True, there are always some incorrigibles who will be aggressive or demeaning to women in any environment. Unfortunately, these people must be dismissed regardless of their ability. The counter-argument I have heard when I mention this to other male executives is that mandating 50% women is not the way to get the best employees. Performance, not gender should dictate hiring. I couldn’t disagree more. My experience (however limited) is that a parity workforce is more professional, more driven and much more efficient. Executives with social Darwinian pretensions (like Mr. Kalanick) are unaware that a corporate culture of conflict and dominance is only productive for the Alpha males. Everyone else’s performance suffers. In a nutshell: Tech has a problem with sexism. A 50% female workforce would be a good first step in solving it. Read More

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