The F8 of Facebook
(First published on 4/26/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter — more)
Because I was traveling last week, I largely missed all the announcements out of Facebook’s F8 conference. But it seems like I didn’t miss much.
Reading things over after-the-fact, count me in with Ben Thompson: uninspiring and worse, derivative. This has not been my stance of previous F8s — like seven years ago when I wrote that after that year’s keynote, I think Facebook Just Seized Control of the Internet. A couple years ago, the Facebook Federation.
This year? Meh.
Facebook is an execution machine. The company mints money and continues to grow despite running out of people in the world. It’s astounding — especially in contrast to their former peer, Twitter. But sometimes they seem to get sidetracked by shiny, new things. HTML5. Facebook Home. Live. Etc. And now copying all-things-Snap at all costs.
As Thompson notes, they’re becoming Microsoft. After years of domination, Microsoft got complacent and boring. Facebook isn’t there yet — big bets are still being placed. But this is the first F8 I recall that was decidedly unimpressive.
But it may not matter because the company continues to acquire so well. History may well prove that buying Instagram was the smartest thing they ever did. It was a Google-buying-YouTube move. Both deals, of course, were derided at the time of purchase. Now both are absolutely genius in hindsight.
The simplest explanation for the demise of brick-and-mortar shops is that Amazon is eating retail. Between 2010 and last year, Amazon’s sales in North America quintupled from $16 billion to $80 billion. Sears’ revenue last year was about $22 billion, so you could say Amazon has grown by three Sears in six years. Even more remarkable, according to several reports, half of all U.S. households are now Amazon Prime subscribers.
In 2016, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money in restaurants and bars than at grocery stores.
Once autonomous vehicles are cheap, safe, and plentiful, retail and logistics companies could buy up millions, seeing that cars can be stores and streets are the ultimate real estate. In fact, self-driving cars could make shopping space nearly obsolete in some areas. CVS could have hundreds of self-driving minivans stocked with merchandise roving the suburbs all day and night, ready to be summoned to somebody’s home by smartphone. A new luxury-watch brand in 2025 might not spring for an Upper East Side storefront, but maybe its autonomous showroom vehicle could circle the neighborhood, waiting to be summoned to the doorstep of a tony apartment building. Autonomous retail will create new conveniences and traffic headaches, require new regulations, and inspire new business strategies that could take even more businesses out of commercial real estate. The future of retail could be even weirder yet.
That’s an intriguing concept: self-driving cars that double as self-driving stores. Like old school merchant ships, but again, without a crew.
An insanely long and detailed look by Tim Urban into Elon Musk’s new company which aims to augment the human brain with technology:
Not only is Elon’s new venture — Neuralink — the same type of deal, but six weeks after first learning about the company, I’m convinced that it somehow manages to eclipse Tesla and SpaceX in both the boldness of its engineering undertaking and the grandeur of its mission. The other two companies aim to redefine what future humans will do — Neuralink wants to redefine what future humans will be.
The thing that people, I think, don’t appreciate right now is that they are already a cyborg. You’re already a different creature than you would have been twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. You’re already a different creature. You can see this when they do surveys of like, “how long do you want to be away from your phone?” and — particularly if you’re a teenager or in your 20s — even a day hurts. If you leave your phone behind, it’s like missing limb syndrome. I think people — they’re already kind of merged with their phone and their laptop and their applications and everything.
Brooks Barnes on the battle to secure the rights to distribute future James Bond films:
Also vying for the Bond deal — even though it pays surprisingly little — are Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Annapurna, an ambitious upstart financed and led by the Oracle heiress Megan Ellison. (Not competing for the business are Paramount, which has been struggling and recently hired a new chairman, and Walt Disney Studios, which has been on a box office hot streak by focusing on its own family film labels.)
Interesting that Annapurna is in the running. More interesting that Disney is not. But perhaps that makes sense:
Under its previous agreement, Sony paid 50 percent of the production costs for “Spectre” — which totaled some $250 million after accounting for government incentives — but received only 25 percent of certain profits, once costs were recouped. Sony also shouldered tens of millions of dollars in marketing and had to give MGM a piece of the profit from non-Bond films Sony had in its own pipeline, including “22 Jump Street.”
Yeah, no way Disney gives into those demands.
The Economist on the state of the American airline industry:
Air fares are higher per seat mile in America than in Europe. When costs fall, consumers in America fail to enjoy the benefits. The global price of jet fuel — one of the biggest costs for airlines — has fallen by half since 2014. That triggered a fare war between European carriers, but in America ticket prices have hardly budged. Airlines in North America posted a profit of $22.40 per passenger last year; in Europe the figure was $7.84.
The airlines all famously say that they use these profits to improve the core experience for customers. Reality suggests otherwise.
This happy combination of low fares and reasonable service has a simple explanation: competition. American policymakers have presided over a wave of mergers in the past few years. The biggest four carriers in America between them now control 80% of the market, compared with just 48% a decade ago. Warren Buffett, a man who knows an oligopoly when he sees one, bought nearly $10bn-worth of airline stock in 2016. In Europe, where the top four carriers have around 45% of the market, policymakers have got three things right.
“I believe that, one day, information will come to be viewed as being as fundamental as energy and matter.”
DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis on the current state of AI:
The problem is that these challenges are so complex that even the world’s top scientists, clinicians and engineers can struggle to master all the intricacies necessary to make the breakthroughs required. It has been said that Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the last person to have lived who understood the entire breadth of knowledge of their age. Since then we’ve had to specialise, and today it takes a lifetime to completely master even a single field such as astrophysics or quantum mechanics.
Today, working on AI has become very fashionable. However, the term AI can mean myriad things depending on the context. The approach we take at DeepMind, the company I co-founded, focuses on notions of learning and generality, with the aim of developing the kind of AI we need for science. If we want computers to discover new knowledge, then we must give them the ability to truly learn for themselves.
We believe that in the next few years scientists and researchers using similar approaches will generate insights in a multitude of areas, from superconductor material design to drug discovery. In many ways I see AI as analogous to the Hubble telescope — a scientific tool that allows us to see farther and better understand the universe around us.
It is in this collaboration between people and algorithms that incredible scientific progress lies over the next few decades. I believe that AI will become a kind of meta-solution for scientists to deploy, enhancing our daily lives and allowing us all to work more quickly and effectively. If we can deploy these tools broadly and fairly, fostering an environment in which everyone can participate in and benefit from them, we have the opportunity to enrich and advance humanity as a whole.
And so much more; I would definitely read the entire thing. The high-level notion of AI as a tool for good is obviously controversial — and the subsequent debate is a huge part of the TED conference this year.
The first public coal-fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882. Since then, the British economy, one of Europe’s largest, was thought to never have gone without power from coal for a whole working day.
Science knows no bounds. 👞👟
Bummer. Apple strikes again with more seemingly arbitrary rules. (But the service remains, at least.)
Amazon swims towards $1 trillion…
(First published on 4/26/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)