Friday Five: November 24th, 2017

The Friday Five is a weekly collection of five of the most interesting topics, articles, stories, facts, or general musings that I came across during the past week. It is not designed as a weekly recap of the news, but rather five interesting “things” not necessarily featured in the front page headlines.

Amazon Flex: Amazon stole a page right out of Uber’s playbook to help solve its last-mile delivery problems. With independent contractors, easy sign-up, and even surge pricing, Amazon Flex is the “Uber of package delivery.” Surprisingly, this program launched more than two years ago, but has not gained national attention as it has been restricted to around 50 local markets. The average Flex driver makes just north of $20/hour, which is a few dollars more than the average hourly take-home by Uber and Lyft drivers. Flex drivers sign up for time blocks that include a pre-factored number of deliveries. Competition for these “blocks” is so fierce than many drivers are turning to bots and even mechanical figures to gain an edge in order to not miss out on the opportunity for work. The gig economy is here to stay.

The AI Religion: For many, technology is like a religion. We canonize the titans of modern technology (Jobs, Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc.), pray for the panacea of technological advances, and evangelize the newest products. Anthony Levandowski, the engineer at the center of the Google (Waymo) vs. Uber lawsuit, is now actually starting a technology religion called Way of the Future. The new religion is based on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence developed through computer hardware and software.” Levandowski believes that machines will be smarter than humans and we should pay homage to our machine overlords so the machines will be nice to us when they eventually make us their slaves. It is unlikely that Levandowski is the technology messiah, but his new religion is a clever way for him to continue to work on autonomous vehicle technology while his trial plays out. Speaking of artificial intelligence, a new study shows that IBM’s Watson recognized potential therapeutic options on gene mutations in cancer patients that top oncologists overlooked.

Cow Burps: Around 30% of the world’s land is used for raising livestock and cattle-produced methane is responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cow farts are often blamed for the problem, but it is really the burps. Mootral, a new probiotic made by Zaluvida, claims to instantly reduce cow methane emissions by 30%. The probiotic is in the early stages of testing, but at a cost of less than $60 per year per cow, it could have a real impact on climate change. Zaluvida estimates that if 40% of the world’s 1.5 billion cows are fed the supplement, the resulting emissions reductions would be equivalent to removing 200 million cars from the road. I’m going to hold off on becoming a vegetarian for a little longer.

Africa’s Phone Market: China’s Transsion Holdings, under the brand name Itel, sold more than 50M phones in Africa during the first half of 2017, including 11M smartphones, which makes them number one in both total phone sales and smartphones sales in Africa. Their low cost phones are designed to capture local tastes in the African market. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, the phones feature multiple sim-card slots, camera software adapted to better-capture darker skin tones, and speakers with enhanced bass. Despite being the fourth largest phone company globally measured by sales volume (behind Apple, Samsung, and China’s Huawei), Transsion Holdings is 13th when measured by sales value as a result of their low cost phones — their phones sell for as little as $10. Transsion Holdings has now set their sights on the Indian market and, in less than two years, is already the second largest company in India by sales volume.

Crowdsourced Team Management: The New York Yankees are publicizing their search for a new manager. Each candidate has been placed on a conference call with media outlets that write about the team. GM Brian Cashman says that the public process helps the team dig up any dirt on potential candidates while also seeing how they handle the media, an important job for a baseball manager, especially the manager of the Yankees. Perhaps the most extreme example of crowdsourced team management is TC Freisenbruch, a low level German soccer team that lets its fans vote and decide on all managerial decisions for $5/month. While NBA champion Draymond Green certainly doesn’t agree with the current ownership model in sports, crowdsourced team management is not likely to replace traditional team ownership anytime soon. Crowdsourcing is a smart, fun way to get the fans involved in certain decisions, but ultimately is not an effective way to run a team.

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