Theranos as innovation+disaster case study

I just taught the Theranos case in my course on “Innovation and Industry Development,” co-taught with Prof. Elizabeth Lyons. The first half is about positioning a startup: powerful new technology, established incumbents, how should we enter to disrupt the industry and make the world a better place? Any moderate set of numbers makes Theranos’ reputed  $9,000,000,000 valuation look reasonable.

Der Untergang der Titanic

The “case” presently consists of four articles. I put together a set of overhead slides to generate and lead the discussion. The first half ends with some general lessons about disruptive innovation and whether to follow an open or closed IP strategy. The second half starts in December 2015 and discusses the crash. I also compare Theranos with the Google contact lens (another technically impossible pseudo-invention).

“That’s a type of Silicon Valley arrogance,” he said. “That isn’t how science works.” (re Google, not Theranos)

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Lots of technology policy stories this weekend

There are lots of technology-policy-related stories this weekend.  The first three concern about excess market power in tech markets, and its effects. The remaining three are miscellaneous subjects at the intersection of technology, policy, and politics.

Suggestion: If a newspaper is refusing to let you read an article, you can often get it by searching for it (on Google – irony alert, see one of the stories below), and visiting from the search result.

And a humble brag: Only the last of these stories directly concerns He Who Must Not Be Named. Nor did I mention Juicero, whose idiocy I tweeted about when it first came to market.

Is It Time to Break Up Google?

In just 10 years, the world’s five largest companies by market capitalization have all changed, save for one: Microsoft. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Citigroup and Shell Oil are out and Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon and Facebook have taken their place.

They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77 percent of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74 percent share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.

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Big data and AI are not “objective”

AI, machine learning, etc only appear to be objective. In reality, they reflect the world view and prejudices of their developers.

 Algorithms have been empowered to make decisions and take actions for the sake of efficiency and speed…. the aura of objectivity and infallibility cultures tend to ascribe to them. . the shortcomings of algorithmic decisionmaking, identifies key themes around the problem of algorithmic errors and bias, and examines some approaches for combating these problems. This report highlights the added risks and complexities inherent in the use of algorithmic … decisionmaking in public policy. The report ends with a survey of approaches for combating these problems.

Source: An Intelligence in Our Image: The Risks of Bias and Errors in Artificial Intelligence | RAND

The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel – The Atlantic

Why did it take so long to invent the wheelbarrow? Have we hit peak innovation? What our list reveals about imagination, optimism, and the nature of progress.

Source: The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel – The Atlantic

A few years old, but still interesting. For example:

By expanding the pool of potentially literate people, the adoption of corrective lenses may have amounted to the largest onetime IQ boost in history.

Schumpeter: The University of Chicago worries about a lack of competition | The Economist

Its economists used to champion big firms, but the mood has shifted

Source: Schumpeter: The University of Chicago worries about a lack of competition | The Economist

There is an emerging consensus among economists that competition in the economy has weakened significantly. That is bad news: it means that incumbent firms may not need to innovate as much, and that inequality may increase if companies can hoard profits and spend less on investment and wages.

Yes, I certainly see this in tech fields.The double consequences are scary.

Thanks to colleague Prof. Liz Lyons for suggesting this.

Ridiculous: “Why Oxfam is getting it wrong about poverty” – CapX

Bilge from a right-wing pseudo-intellectual. I’ve never heard of this guy before, but he seems to be an expert in deception rather than analysis.

As it’s Davos time, Oxfam has issued its traditional demand for a handout.  Their wealth report this year informs us that a mere eight people have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population. This is entirely true of course. But Oxfam’s solution is that we should take it from the rich and […]Source: Why Oxfam is getting it wrong about poverty – CapX

This is an example of deceptive reasoning. Here’s my quick analysis:

Worstall writes:

>The result is that entrepreneurs get to keep some 3 per cent of the value of their creations. The other 97 per cent of the value flows to us consumers out here.
….
>Poverty exists and obviously we’d prefer that it didn’t. That’s why we need more rich people not fewer: because we need someone to create value for the rest of us to consume.

So he is equating “rich people” to “entrepreneurs” to “creators of value.” If only that were true. Although a small number of tech entrepreneurs get most of the publicity (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc), most of the giant corporate profits are coming from increasing market power/decreasing competition in many markets. For example, few outside the industry think that the “financial services” industry (e.g. investment banking) creates value comparable to the huge profits it makes.

He is also using misdirection to imply that Sam Walton’s heirs were the entrepreneurs who created Walmart’s economic value!

Finally, he keeps using a “3 percent” number to imply that “the masses” get 97 percent of increasing economic value, and the ultra-rich get only 3 percent. In fact median income has not grown for several decades. While the overall GDP has doubled in the last 30 years, the extra income has gone entirely to the upper ten percent. (Median household income rose by 8% in the last 30 years.)
Sources: http://www.multpl.com/us-gdp-inflation-adjusted/table
https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N

A slightly different way of measuring. Compare black and red lines.

figure-9-e1455724425470

So the blog post is a dishonest piece of fallacious reasoning. Is this typical of the Adam Smith Institute, where he is apparently based? Is this the average reasoning level of right-wing intellectuals today?

By the way, I’m sure there are problems with Oxfam’s report – just not the ones he claims.