The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017
Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.
Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!
This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
1) Japanese company replaces office workers with artificial intelligence
This is article 1 of 2 about robots gonna take our jerbs. It seems the insurance company in question pays people to vet about 32 claims a day and that IBM has sold them on running the claims through their deep learning system instead. People losing their jobs is nothing to laugh at and online coverage of this news characterized it as a “first wave” leading to massive AI related job losses, poverty, and no doubt cannibalism. Nevertheless this is simply another baby step along a path extending back to the industrial revolution. I recall a time where countless people were keypunch operators, when word processors were people, and when printing was mainly done on hot lead type. There is nothing unusual or significant about this announcement, except that IBM finally has a paying customer for its deep learning technology.
“A future in which human workers are replaced by machines is about to become a reality at an insurance firm in Japan, where more than 30 employees are being laid off and replaced with an artificial intelligence system that can calculate payouts to policyholders. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes it will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year.”
2) Amazon’s robot army grows by 50 percent
If deep learning wasn’t going to take you job, surely robots will. Coverage of this news also led to lots of commentary regarding massive job losses, etc.. Nevertheless pretty much any complex logistical chain (even the post office) has been using robotics and other technology for years otherwise they simply couldn’t get the job done. Amazon exists to employ people because it can buy robots which allow people to fill the orders. Eventually more of that work will be automated which will allow Amazon to expand and deliver even more stuff cheaper.
“Amazon.com hires a lot of people. But the expansion of its army of orange-wheeled robots is more than keeping pace. The world’s largest e-commerce retailer said it has 45,000 robots in some 20 fulfillment centers. That’s a bigger headcount than that of the armed forces of the Netherlands, a NATO member, according to World Bank data. It’s also a cool 50 percent increase from last year’s holiday season, when the company had some 30,000 robots working alongside 230,000 humans.”
3) AT&T to do real-life 5G trial with DirecTV Now in Austin
One hope for long suffering broadband customers is the development of 5G wireless. Although many of the names are the same, most ISPs have a regional business (though that may span a number of states) and often only offer service in the most profitable areas. Being wireless, 5G is federally regulated, meaning that state and local laws limiting competition won’t be in effect. Plus, there is a wide swath of unlicensed spectrum set aside for 5G. Finally, there total millimeter wave spectrum is orders of magnitude greater than all of the spectrum already allocated meaning at least for fixed broadband the idea of “spectrum shortage” will be obsolete.
“AT&T said Wednesday it will test a 5G wireless service to deliver its new DirecTV Now streaming TV service to select homes in Austin, Texas, in the first half of this year. The Dallas-based wireless and broadband company said the $35-a-month internet streaming service, which offers an alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV services, will use a fixed 5G wireless connection instead of AT&T’s 4G mobile network. The purpose of the trial is to see how AT&T’s next-generation wireless network could replace a home broadband connection delivered by a cable company. Specifically, AT&T said it wants to see how it handles heavy amounts of video traffic. As part of the trial, AT&T said it will also test additional “next-generation entertainment services.” The company didn’t specify what those services will be.”
4) Hulu, Google’s 2017 Plans to Bundle Channels Looks a Lot Like Cable
Google’s entry into channel streaming could cause a fair bit of grief to the cable companies/Internet service providers. Mind you there is reason to believe the uncompetitive US internet services business will get even less competitive under a Trump presidency given the administration’s general obliviousness and apparent strong opposition to net neutrality. An end to net neutrality will allow US ISPs to essentially extort the content providers in order to carry content which would not only be bad for Google but Netflix as well.
“Ever since high-quality, streaming services emerged in 2010, it was clear that the business of television was in for radical change. Bundled channel services have an opportunity to be immensely profitable because—since they’re streamed over the internet—anyone in the country can buy them. Cable services, on the other hand, are geographically limited to the houses reached by their wires. For Hulu and Google, an especially attractive target is the 20 million so-called “cord-cutters” or “cord-nevers” that don’t pay for cable and watch television only via on-demand, internet-distributed services such as Netflix.”
5) Apple Will Reduce iPhone 7 Production By 10% in Early 2017 Due to ‘Sluggish’ Sales
A number of the articles I read about this news suggested “Apple does this every year” which is true if you mean this is the second year in a row. Large companies lay people a lot of money to forecast and plan production and production cutbacks of this magnitude can only be explained by sales being below expectations. That is not surprising since the iPhone 7 really has very little in terms of new features for iPhones and doesn’t really compare well to other flagship phones.
“Apple plans to reduce production of the iPhone line by 10 percent beginning in the first quarter of 2017, according to supplier data collected by Nikkei. Apple is said to have experienced a similar situation thanks to accumulated inventory of the iPhone 6s late in 2015, which also caused it to lower output of that smartphone in Q1 2016. The company attempted to prevent the same thing from happening again with the iPhone 7 by curbing production quantities on the 2016 smartphone, but even with that preemptive move Apple is again looking at a manufacturing downturn for its flagship iPhone line in the new year.”
6) India needs $30 smartphone, says Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Investors are fixated with premium phones and potential sales into the developing world (in particular China and India). Unfortunately these things don’t mix: most of the rich people in those countries already have premium phones and the poor people can’t afford one. Not only that but poor people often lack electricity which means they prefer a honking big battery over a slim device. It is worth noting that there is bound to be “leakage” of cheap phones into the developed world, providing an option for consumers tired of overpaying for technology.
“Google CEO Sundar Pichai said today that Android OEMs are currently offering smartphones for $100 and $50, but for emerging markets such as that of India’s, they need smartphones that cost $30. “I think two big things, one is from our side — we are committed to making even cheaper smartphones. […] The right price point for smartphones in India is $30, and pursuing high quality smartphones at the price point will unlock it even more,” Pichai said in a televised interview with NDTV. “Hopefully, we can all push and make $30 smartphones happen,” Pichai said in a separate interview. India has the largest user base of Android users. Moreover, the country has over 260 million smartphone users with most phones sold costing under $150.”
7) EXCLUSIVE: Kodak Ektachrome 100 is Coming Back in 35mm Format
I predicted the end of Kodak when the first digital cameras were coming out. That process was accelerated by management making a series of profoundly stupid business decisions but their fate was inevitable. In any event, as good as digital cameras are the fact is that some films can even be better and the “feel” of film is hard to match. Something tells me the film and – most importantly the processing – ain’t gonna be cheap.
“In a super shocking announcement being made today at CES 2017, Kodak is bringing back one of their iconic films: Kodak Ektachrome 100. The announcement goes hand in hand with the emulsion being available in both Super 8 and 35mm still formats. Back in 2012, Kodak discontinued the film citing sales that weren’t as strong as they needed. Last year, 2016, was the fourth anniversary of its discontinuance. Kodak Ektachrome was recommended as the replacement for Kodachrome, and for a short time was Kodak’s only available slide film. Then it disappeared, and Kodak had none available on the market. But in Q4 of 2017, we’re getting Kodak Ektachrome back.”
8) As thin as cardboard, LG’s ‘wallpaper’ OLED TV slaps on your wall like a poster
This video is interesting but it is worth noting that a lot is said about the sound quality and very little about the picture quality. OLED TVs are awesome and OLED is the future of display technology but the whole “thinness” aspect is pretty much overdone. As the video shows, the screens are somewhat flexible which will be important in the future. You might be able to buy this set in the near future but don’t expect it will be cheap – even though OLED has the potential for being extremely cheap in the future.
“The dream of hanging your TV on the wall like a poster is now a reality: LG officially introduced its W-Series OLED on Wednesday morning at CES 2017, and it’s every bit as cool as you might imagine. As the flagship of LG’s 2017 OLED TV lineup, the W-Series — previously referred to as “Wallpaper OLED” — exemplifies an OLED TV panel’s inherently thin and light form factor. At just 1/10 of an inch thick, the W-series’ panel is barely thicker than a piece of cardboard, and its bezel is nearly nonexistent, creating the effect of a picture that simply emanates from the wall.”
9) Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake review: Is the desktop CPU dead?
The desktop CPU might not be dead but it sure does look like Intel is back to its old monopolistic ways. The company had entered a similar attitude about 10 years ago when AMD surprised everybody by coming out with some better parts. Unfortunately AMD is no longer in a position to lead in pretty much anything and Intel can revert to its slothful ways. I continue to believe they will eventually come out with a neural network accelerator to displace GPUs in deep learning applications but time will tell.
“The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post-“tick-tock” world—which means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah. For the average consumer building or buying a new performance-focused PC, a desktop chip based on 14nm Kaby Lake remains the chip of choice—a total lack of competition at this level makes sure of that. But for the enthusiast—where the latest and greatest should perform better than what came before—Kaby Lake desktop chips are a disappointment, a stopgap solution that does little more than give OEMs something new to stick on a label in a 2017 product stack.”
10) Intel unveils its Optane hyperfast memory
I don’t know if Intel is doing itself any favors with its dance of the seven veils regarding Optane memory. It is all very well and good to know it is faster than flash memory and cheaper than DRAM but that spans orders of magnitude. Price and performance determine utility and applicability in the real world. Until those key data are released you can’t even speculate as to what demand will be.
“Other than detailing Optane module capacities and form factor, Intel released virtually no other details about the memory, including performance specifications, pricing or exact availability dates. A spokesman for the company said additional detail, including performance specifications, would be released “soon.””