The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 5 2017
Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. That 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) Qualcomm Said to Seek U.S. Import Ban for iPhones
Under US law there is very little chance Qualcomm will be awarded an injunction and any such injunction would almost certainly be set aside on appeal. Qualcomm is playing with fire here: it has just handed Apple a very good reason to diversify away from Qualcomm, placing further pressure on Qualcomm to settle for lower royalty rates.
“Incensed over Apple Inc.’s decision to stop paying it billions of dollars in licensing fees for smartphone chips, Qualcomm Inc. plans to retaliate by asking a U.S. trade agency to ban the imports of iPhones, according to a person familiar with the company’s strategy. Qualcomm is preparing to ask the International Trade Commission to stop the iPhone, which is built in Asia, from entering the country, threatening to block Apple’s iconic product from the American market in advance of its anticipated new model this fall, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.The ITC is a quasi-judicial agency in Washington that has the power to block the import of goods into the U.S. and processes cases more quickly than federal district courts — the venue in which the companies are accusing each other of lying, making threats and trying to create an illegal monopoly.”
2) Driving EVs Will Mean 200 Million Fewer Cars in U.S. by 2030, Study Claims
Yeah. Good luck with that. This is 2017. There will almost certainly not be any commercially available self-driving cars on the road within the next 15 to 25 years (at least if you define a self-driving car as a car which can drive without human intervention in all weather on all roads). If, as, and when that happens, it will take about 20 or more years before 95% of passenger miles will be made using those vehicles. Let me know in 13 years.
“The new report, conducted by independent research group RethinkX and released Thursday, suggests that within a decade of the governmental approval of self-driving road vehicles—or around the year 2030, by the group’s best guesstimate—95 percent of passenger miles traveled in the U.S. will be conducted in autonomous electric cars that can be summoned on demand, a la Cruise Automation’s San Francisco Chevy Bolt. Those cars, the study says, will make up 60 percent of the vehicles on the road in America by that point. And since each of those shared self-driving EVs can replace multiple privately-owned cars, the study predicts the number of passenger vehicles on the road will fall precipitously—from about 247 million vehicles in 2017 to just 44 million.”
3) IBM warns of malware it shipped on flash drives
I once worked for a company which accidently shipped malware on floppies, likely due to a combination of employees using pirated software and poor quality assurance. Mind you that was a small private company so they had an excuse. How a company like IBM could do the same thing 25 years later is another issue altogether.
“IBM is urging customers to destroy flash drives it shipped to storage system customers because they contain malware. The company warned in an advisory Tuesday that an unspecified number of USB flash drives shipped with the initialization tool for Storwize systems contain malicious code. IBM instructed customers who received the V3500, V3700 and V5000 Gen 1 systems to destroy the drive to prevent the code from replicating. “When the initialization tool is launched from the USB flash drive, the tool copies itself to a temporary folder on the hard drive of the desktop or laptop during normal operation,” IBM said in its advisory. The malicious code is part of the Reconyc Trojan malware family, which typically targets computers in Russia and India, according to data from Kaspersky Lab.”
4) Oddities start to emerge from deeper analyses of LHC data
It has been said that the most exciting words in science are not “Eureka!” but “that’s odd”. The LHC generates massive quantities of data which will take a very long time to sort out. It stands to reason that most of the analysis is directed towards answering known questions like is there a Higgs Boson, but the real discoveries will come when anomalies from the standard model are uncovered.
“The Large Hadron Collider has generated a staggering amount of data in its years of operation; it’s enough data that we’ll be analyzing it for years after the collider shuts down. In the meantime, priority has gone to searches for big-ticket items like the Higgs boson (tick) and dark matter particles (MIA). But with time, some other analyses have managed to get done, and they’re beginning to turn up unexpected results.”
5) Scientists Surprised to Find No Two Neurons Are Genetically Alike
This is a surprising finding but not altogether unexpected: there are a lot of cells in the body and random mutations happen. Most such mutations are corrected, entirely benign, or result in cell death. That neurons appear to be so different from each other suggest there may be yet another dimension to intelligence beyond synapses and biochemistry and pushes understanding the brain back even further. Thanks to Avner Mandelman for this item.
“Accepted dogma holds that—although every cell in the body contains its own DNA—the genetic instructions in each cell nucleus are identical. But new research has now proved this assumption wrong. There are actually several sources of spontaneous mutation in somatic (nonsex) cells, resulting in every individual containing a multitude of genomes—a situation researchers term somatic mosaicism. “The idea is something that 10 years ago would have been science fiction,” says biochemist James Eberwine of the University of Pennsylvania. “We were taught that every cell has the same DNA, but that’s not true.” There are reasons to think somatic mosaicism may be particularly important in the brain, not least because neural genes are very active.”
6) Gene Editing Strategy Eliminates HIV-1 Infection in Live Animals, Temple Researchers Show
I could probably write a CRISPR newsletter and have more interesting assortment of stories than the GRL has. In summary, CRISPR allows highly precise gene editing and has a wide variety of applications including inserting the mechanism into viruses or bacteriophages which can be highly targeted, and using those to seek out and alter specific cell types. If anything most coverage of CRISPR underestimates its long term potential.
“A permanent cure for HIV infection remains elusive due to the virus’s ability to hide away in latent reservoirs. But now, in new research published in print May 3 in the journal Molecular Therapy, scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) and the University of Pittsburgh show that they can excise HIV DNA from the genomes of living animals to eliminate further infection. They are the first to perform the feat in three different animal models, including a “humanized” model in which mice were transplanted with human immune cells and infected with the virus.”
7) Fix your crappy ads and I’ll stop blocking them
I suspect the GRL might be bounced by a number of subscribers whose employers use “net nanny” software which will bounce this email because of the word “crappy”. I think this article is good summary: digital ads are the wild-west: often include scams or fraud, and no serious effort is made to control their quality. The best and easiest approach is to block all ads and keep your sanity. Unless and until some quality control is implemented the trend toward ad-blocking will continue.
“Ad-block users are finding an increasing number of sites blocking access. I wonder if any of them asked themselves why we block ads? Do they suppose we’re anti-capitalist scum fundamentally opposed to the idea of marketing? It sometimes feels that way. But I’m not opposed to marketing, and I feel the internet has a lot of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, most ads are intrusive, poorly targeted, scummy and have a host of technical issues. Basically they’re just crap. And that’s why I block them.”
8) Analyst: The Cord-Cutting Future Has Arrived
This is something I predicted about 20 years ago in a short piece I wrote as a stock-analyst. Essentially the traditional broadcast model was driven by the broadcaster (including cable) determining what you were going to watch and when you were going to watch it. This eventually led to all kinds of abuses such as bundling, and so on. The real story here is one of opportunity: as more and more alternatives come available there will be access to more content, not less content and consumers will finally watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it.
“With most results now in, the U.S. pay TV industry lost about 762,000 video subs in the first quarter of 2017, a worst-ever result for the period, according to a new report from MoffettNathanson. “For the better part of fifteen years, pundits have predicted that cord-cutting was the future. Well, the future has arrived,” MoffetNathanson’s Craig Moffett declared in his Q1 2017 Cord-Cutting Monitor. He noted that video losses from Q1 was more than five times as large as last year’s loss of 141,000. “It leaves the Pay TV subscriber universe shrinking at its worst ever annual rate of decline (-2.4%). And it was the worst ever accelerate in the rate of decline (60 bps),” Moffett explained, adding later that the incremental number of cord-cutter and cord-never homes has grown to more than 6.5 million since 2013.”
9) Apple-Picking Robot Prepares to Compete for Farm Jobs
While the media (and many economists) are horrified at the prospect of massive job losses due to automation it is a useful reminder that agricultural employment has plummeted over the past 100 years, primarily due to automation. After all, a “McCormick Reaper” is nothing more than a mechanical scyther. Agricultural productivity has skyrocketed and resulted in massive redeployment of labor over the years and yet our standard of living skyrocketed and food cheaper than ever. Get over it: robots are just another phase of the industrial revolution. They are a good thing.
“Today apple orchards rely on people to pick their crops. Dan Steere, cofounder and CEO of Abundant, says recent tests in Australia, where apple season is under way, proved that the company’s prototype can spot apples roughly as accurately as a human, and pull them down just as gently. The machine deposits apples in the same large crates that human pickers use. “The results convinced us that we’re on the right path to scale up to a full commercial system,” says Steere. His company is planning more tests of its prototype in Washington this fall and aims to have a multi-armed system on sale to growers in 2018. “Our commercial system will pick at rates that match crews of tens of people,” says Steere.”
10) The AI Cargo Cult: The Myth of a Superhuman AI
It is interesting to note that none of Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Max Tegmark, Sam Harris, and Bill Gates are AI experts (and I would question whether more than a couple are among the “smartest people alive today”) but the article is a good read. I believe there are many uses for AI but it has significant limitations – not the least of which being that it is not generally cross functional, heuristic, and makes highly confident pronouncements which can be absolutely wrong. Fear of AI is fear of the fiction that is how AI is reported. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.
“That’s the most common question I get whenever I give a talk about AI. The questioners are earnest; their worry stems in part from some experts who are asking themselves the same thing. These folks are some of the smartest people alive today, such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Max Tegmark, Sam Harris, and Bill Gates, and they believe this scenario very likely could be true. Recently at a conference convened to discuss these AI issues, a panel of nine of the most informed gurus on AI all agreed this superhuman intelligence was inevitable and not far away. Yet buried in this scenario of a takeover of superhuman artificial intelligence are five assumptions which, when examined closely, are not based on any evidence. These claims might be true in the future, but there is no evidence to date to support them.”