A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
First of all, my best wishes for 2020 and the entire next decade. We reached a tipping point in the latter half of the last decade where the rapid advance of technology and its underlying economic theories started being questioned, and I expect that in the next ten years we’ll see some significant advances in society reining in technology’s biggest excesses, and that we’ll start to achieve a better equilibrium. Of course, such an evolution never proceeds in a straight line, but in jerky twists and turns, so it’ll be an exciting ride.
Weaponised Big Data has effectively killed old-fashioned spy craft — Yahoo! (yes, that Yahoo!…) published a fascinating long read on the massive consequences of a seemingly run-of-the-mill hack, and by extension the danger posed by so much data being available so easily. In 2014, Chinese hackers broke into the US Office for Personal Management’s systems and stole data on nearly 22m federal employees. That data was then used by China and others to identify US intelligence personnel by carefully analysing the data, effectively rendering physical intelligence gathering operations impossible. The article has some other gems, such as the panopticon in Singapore, where agents were tracked in minute detail from the moment they stepped off the plane to when they departed again. The CIA apparently abandoned operations in the country entirely as a result. Read
Russia’s progress in cordoning off the internet — the country aims to exert much more control on its information flows, and it plans to do so by restricting access to the global internet, replacing it by Russian alternatives. To a degree, every country is struggling with these issues of national sovereignty against the unbridled flow of information, and it’s interesting to see the range of responses that are being considered. Read
One of Google’s foremost human rights advocates speaks up — the former executive claims Google let him go over his efforts to get the company to commit to a human rights code. More broadly, there is a lot of handwringing about Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto. Obviously, this stance disappeared long ago. Not that the company intentionally wants to be evil, but a global multinational with tens of thousands of employees tends to behave in predictable, self-interested ways. That is also usually the point when a regulatory authority steps in to rein in the worst excesses. Read
Image recognition AI may be better at identifying cancer than humans — this is probably not all that surprising, but it is somewhat refreshing to glimpse a positive future, where humans leverage AI to improve outcomes. Read ($)
Open plan offices are another scourge unleashed upon the world by neoliberal economic thinking. Read ($)
Financialisation has led to a situation where some 40% of publicly-listed companies in the US have negative tangible book value, i.e. they are effectively worthless… Read ($)
Image editor Pixelmator Pro introduced an ML-powered feature that basically makes real the classic movie trope of “blow up image, enhance.” The results are amazing, and this is running on consumer-level hardware… Read
That’s it for this week’s edition. As always, thanks for reading and please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested, it would be much appreciated.