Waymo might be suffering from the innovator's dilemma

This is a masterclass in applying disruption theory and lean startup principles to Waymo and the self-driving car industry as a whole:

Everyone in Silicon Valley knows the story of Xerox inventing the modern personal computer in the 1970s and then failing to commercialize it effectively. Yet one of Silicon Valley's most successful companies, Google's Alphabet, appears to be repeating Xerox's mistake with its self-driving car program.

Xerox launched its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970. By 1975, its researchers had invented a personal computer with a graphical user interface that was almost a decade ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the commercial version of this technology wasn't released until 1981 and proved to be an expensive flop. Two much younger companies—Apple and Microsoft—co-opted many of Xerox's ideas and wound up dominating the industry.

Google's self-driving car program, created in 2009, appears to be on a similar trajectory. By October 2015, Google was confident enough in its technology to put a blind man into one of its cars for a solo ride in Austin, Texas.

But much like Xerox 40 years earlier, Google has struggled to bring its technology to market. The project was rechristened Waymo in 2016, and Waymo was supposed to launch a commercial driverless service by the end of 2018. But the service Waymo launched in December was not driverless and barely commercial. It had a safety driver in every vehicle, and it has only been made available to a few hundred customers.

Today, a number of self-driving startups are aiming to do to Waymo what Apple did to Xerox years ago. Nuro is a driverless delivery startup that announced Monday that it raised $940 million in venture capital. Another, called Voyage, is testing a self-driving taxi service in one of the nation's largest retirement communities.

Right now, these companies' self-driving services aren't as sophisticated as Waymo's. Their vehicles have top speeds of 25 miles per hour. But Apple started out making under-powered products, too, then it gradually worked its way up-market, ultimately eclipsing Xerox. If Waymo isn't strategic, companies like Nuro and Voyage could do the same thing to the pioneering self-driving company.

I highly recommend reading the whole article. From Timothy B. Lee of Ars Technica.

Winning in a winner-take-all world

He shows that the route to success lies in cultivating the ability to bring multiple specialties together―to become a “glue person” who can ensure people with radically different technical skills work together effectively―and how a winding career path makes you better prepared for today's fast-changing world. Through original data, close analysis, and case studies, Irwin deftly explains the 21st century economic landscape and its implications for ambitious people seeking a lifetime of professional success.

By Neil Erwin. Coming this June.

Defending the billionaires

In an interview, Schultz was asked whether billionaires have too much power. He responded by noting that the moniker “billionaire” has become a “catchphrase” and proceeded to reframe the question: “I would rephrase that and I would say that people of means have been able to leverage their wealth and their interest in ways that are unfair.” So he didn’t necessarily disagree with the premise of the question. Nor did he say that other people shouldn’t use the term “billionaires.”

For the record, he also noted that such people have “unbelievable influence,” and that speaks to the problem of inequality. And he included corporations (not just people) and the political ideologies of the two major parties as part of the problem.

From Tyler Cowen’s Bloomberg column.

Spotify acquires Gimlet and Anchor

From Spotify’s blog:

No other audio company has the two-sided marketplace that we have built at Spotify — a marketplace that benefits artists and creators along with consumers. Nobody else has both audio advertising and subscription revenue model at scale globally. Nobody else in music has the engineering capabilities and the expertise in audio that we have at Spotify.  And with the addition of Gimlet and Anchor, Spotify will now become the leading global podcast publisher with more shows than any other company. These levers of growth have the potential to double the size of our industry. And no other global company is as focused on this one thing — audio — as Spotify.

Success in podcasting (and other forms of audio that they might think of next) means that they finally have:

  • Content with zero marginal cost (increased music streams = more fees to record labels)

  • A key differentiator from other music streaming services in the market, particularly Apple Music

Legal data analysis

These days, however, Judge Seeborg and his colleagues produce a rich seam of data that is being mined by a group of companies threatening to upturn the way the legal profession operates. Just like a professional baseball or tennis player, Judge Seeborg, who hears a full range of criminal and civil cases, has his personal statistics that are now being rigorously collected and scrutinised. 

Much like what the A’s did for baseball, development in this field can change how legal systems behave forever. From Financial Times.

The rise and fall of Carlos Ghosn

This is a good primer on the ongoing saga of Ghosn’s arrest. It gives background on the man himself, on some of the key people involved, their potential motivations, and the environment they’re operating on.

As Saikawa settled into the job, however, the tone of their relationship changed. His early tenure was dominated by revelations that for more than three decades, some Nissan cars had been inspected by auditors who weren’t properly certified. More than a million vehicles had to be recalled, and the company took the unprecedented step of shutting down its Japanese production for two weeks to investigate. Although Saikawa had been in the job less than a year, he absorbed the blame, performing the ritual apologies expected of dishonored Japanese bosses. He also took a voluntary pay cut, shrinking a compensation package that was already a small fraction of Ghosn’s. Ghosn, who’d actually been in charge for much of the period at issue, never formally apologized and even, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, chided Saikawa for moving too slowly to address criticism and implement an action plan.

From Bloomberg Businessweek.

Malware-encoded DNA

In new research they plan to present at the USENIX Security conference on Thursday, a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer.

[…]

The result, finally, was a piece of attack software that could survive the translation from physical DNA to the digital format, known as FASTQ, that's used to store the DNA sequence. And when that FASTQ file is compressed with a common compression program known as fqzcomp—FASTQ files are often compressed because they can stretch to gigabytes of text—it hacks that compression software with its buffer overflow exploit, breaking out of the program and into the memory of the computer running the software to run its own arbitrary commands.

This is a look at what DNA-based software can do in the near future. From Wired.

Invest in a hedge fund, tax-free

The $87 million that employees initially allotted to the company IRA plan in 2012 swelled to $664 million by the end of 2017, including $574 million in Medallion, the filings show. In turn, the IRA money -- held by about 250 employees -- grew to more than 4 percent of Medallion’s gross assets from about 1 percent five years earlier.

“Roth IRAs are hugely tax advantaged,” said Len Burman, a co-founder of the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. “If you are expecting to earn a rate of return of 20 percent or higher, it turns out to be a really good tax shelter.”

This is still restricted to employees of the fund, but this is so good that if it’s made available outside, it might become one of the primary vehicles for the average investor.

From Miles Weiss at Bloomberg.

The value of a stock ticker

Weekend Unlimited Inc. shares surged as much as 65 percent in early trading after the pot firm said Friday that it won the first-ever random lottery for a Canadian ticker symbol. The company debuted on the Canadian Securities Exchange on Oct. 15, two days before the country legalized recreational marijuana. The stock had fallen 57 percent since the Oct. 15 market close, bringing its market value to C$28.6 million before trading opened Friday.

Weekend Unlimited Inc., YOLO, POT. This is a masterclass in company branding. From Bloomberg.

Missing cold wallets

For the past weeks, we have worked extensively to address our liquidity issues, which include attempting to locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves held in cold wallets, and that are required to satisfy customer cryptocurrency balances on deposit, as well as sourcing a financial institution to accept the bank drafts that are to be transferred to us. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been successful.

From their website. Another reason to never leave crypto at these exchanges and go set up a personal hardware wallet.

Gaming in the cloud

“But the business will live or die on how well the technology works. Unlike a film, a video game is an interactive experience. The computer running it must react instantly to the user’s input, or the game will feel sluggish. When hundreds of miles separate players from the devices crunching the numbers, that gets tricky. If the round trip from a player’s device to a data-centre and back again takes more than a couple of dozen milliseconds, things start to break down, especially for the frantic action games that dominate the best-seller charts.

Another issue is that data-flow created by a game can change unpredictably. While music- and film-streaming services can “buffer”—fetching the next few minutes of content before it is needed, to guard against connection hiccups—video games cannot. Connections must be rock solid.”

Don’t forget about the importance of the games themselves. Good content is the lifeblood of consoles and gaming platforms. From The Economist.