Sunday, August 20, 2017

Cory Doctorow's 'Fully Automated Luxury Communist Civilization'

From Reason Magazine:

The author of Little Brother and Walkaway on dystopia, the end of scarcity, and what's going to get him arrested
Cory Doctorow, of BoingBoing and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) fame, has returned to adult fiction after a long stint in the young adult hinterlands (Little Brother, Homeland). His new novel, Walkaway (Tor), circles back to the theme of his first novel, 2003's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: the question of what a post-scarcity world might look like. A fascinating cadre of John Galt–style opters-out form the core of the new novel, but the story is concept-driven, not character-driven.

As usual, Doctorow's politics permeate his writing. And, as usual, they're just heterodox enough to provide moments of delightful confirmation bias and squirm-inducing challenge for readers of nearly every ideological stripe.

Doctorow, a civil libertarian who identifies with the political left, has staked out a broad and eccentric territory for his fiction and nonfiction beats, covering topics from privacy to drones to Digital Rights Management (DRM) to open-source software creation.

The Walkaway audiobook is a particular delight, featuring guest appearances from a ramshackle celebrity cast, including Amber Benson, Justine Eyre, Amanda Palmer, and Wil Wheaton. All versions of the novel are free from distribution-restricting DRM protections. The downside is that standard providers like Audible won't carry it.

When Doctorow stopped by Reason's D.C. office in April, he handed out credit card–shaped USB drives loaded with the audiobook on his way out the door. Hardcover review copies also shipped with a similarly sized multitool. These little flourishes bring readers a few inches closer to Doctorow's subversive worldview, where it's always possible, even admirable, to thumb your nose at the rules imposed by governments, tech companies, and just about everyone else.

Reason: Let's talk about the word dystopia. It's a word no one knew 10 years ago and now everyone says all the time about pretty much every novel ever. Is this a dystopia in Walkaway, or a utopia?
Doctorow: I think that we mistake the furniture for the theme. We tend to think of books in which things are in crisis as being dystopian novels. But really it's a very hard job to write a dramatic novel—especially in the kind of pulpy science fiction tradition—in which things aren't going wrong. So for me, the thing that cleaves a utopia from a dystopia is what [essayist and critic] Rebecca Solnit says cleaves a disaster from a catastrophe: It's what we do when things go wrong. Do people pitch in and rise to the occasion? Or do they turn on their neighbors and eat them? That's the dystopian vision. The most dystopian thing you can imagine is that, but for the thin veneer of civilization, it would be a bloodbath.

Is Walkaway a prequel to Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom? It seems like a similar universe. Has the political take-away that you would want people to get out of those two books shifted, either because your views have changed or because facts on the ground have changed?
I think science fiction is not predictive in any meaningful way.
It's certainly not great at it.
We're Texas marksmen: We fire the shotgun into the side of the barn and draw the target around the place where the pellets hit. We just ignore all those stories that never came true.

But I also think that prediction is way overrated. I like what Dante did to the fortune tellers. He put them in a pit of molten shit up to their nipples with their heads twisted around backwards, weeping into their own ass cracks for having pretended that the future was knowable. If the future is knowable then it's inevitable. And if it's inevitable, why are we even bothering? Why get out of bed if the future is going to happen no matter what we do? Except I guess you're foreordained to.

I'm not a fatalist. The reason I'm an activist is because I think that the future, at least in part, is up for grabs. I think that there are great forces that produce some outcomes that are deterministic or semi-deterministic. And there are other elements that are up for grabs.

What science fiction does is not predictive, but it is sometimes diagnostic. Because across all the science fiction that has been written and is being written, and all the stuff that's being greenlit by editors or has been greenlit by editors, and all the stuff that readers can find and raise up or ignore—there's a kind of natural selection at work. The stuff that resonates with our aspirations and fears about technology and our futures, that stuff gets buoyed by market forces, by the marketplace of ideas, and becomes a really excellent tool for knowing what's in the minds of the world.

So the book itself, considered on its own, is a good way to know what's in the mind of the writer. The books that succeed tell you what's in the mind of the world. And if there's a lot of this stuff coming to a prominence at this moment, I think it does say something about the moment that we live in, that there's a certain amount of pessimism. There's a fear that we are being stampeded towards a mutually distrustful, internally divided future where we end up attacking each other rather than pulling together. I think even the most cynical person understands that if civilization collapses and you run for the hills, you aren't going to be a part of rebuilding it. The people who are part of rebuilding are those who run to the middle and get the power plant working again, reopen the hospital, and get the water filtration plant working again.

This notion that my gain is your loss and that there's not enough to go around, and there's this big game of musical chairs and the chairs are being removed at speed, is a theme in a lot of the science fiction that's prominent right now.

Walkaway is in some ways a prequel to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I certainly reread Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom with a pen and a highlighter and some post-its and made tons of notes before I started work on Walkaway, and I have a whole file of themes that I wanted to pick up.
Some of that is the understanding that I've come to in the 15-plus years since I wrote it. And some of it is wanting to respond back to the people who read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom as a utopia and who didn't understand that there were dystopic elements.

It was a very mixed future. Reputation economics have the same winner-take-all problem—the Pikettian [problem that says the] rate of growth is always less than the rate of return on capital—and that produces insane runaway wealth disparity and dysfunction with misallocation of resources.
In Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, your ability to run Disney World is based on how much esteem people hold you in. And so literally you can walk in and start handing out tickets. And if the people treat your tickets as though they're the right tickets, then you get to be the Czar of Disney World, which is the premise of the book.

Yet I'm sure you get people coming up and saying to you, "Oh my God, you basically predicted Uber's reputational system!"


Yelp Review: Theater

From yelp:

Abe Lincoln "Would Not Recommend" Ford's Theatre

"Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital"

From the now-defunct NYU class blog "Experiments in Digital Economics".

And to the FT's Izabella Kaminska* right up front:

je lui tire mon chapeau for pointing out that it might be worth keeping track of Perez.

From Experiments in Digital Economics, Feb. 12, 2014:
Carlota Perez argues that the economy is a structurally engineered system of collapse and reward. Every half century capitalism produces a chain of events that repeat themselves time and time again. First, an innovative, disruptive technology comes into the world that essentially causes a revolution and upends the current infrastructure/establishment. This rupture enables a financial bubble to build. Once it grows to an unsustainable, overwhelming size, it bursts and the economy collapses. Upon collapse, a fertile ground comes out of the destruction, which leads to a “golden age”. Once the excesses of the “golden age” take root, political unrest arises.

Why is the economy intentionally built as a house of cards? Tech revolutions replace one technology with another, which leads to massive change and a subsequently explosively volatile period in markets (and potentially massive profitability). The new wealth that accumulates at one end is often more than counterbalanced by the poverty that spreads at the other end. With enough discrepancy in wealth, as noted, political unrest boils over. In theory, the practical task of setting up an adequate regulatory system / safeguards would seem essential to minimize suffering and instability. But the safeguards that exist are only present as to the extent that they enable the continuation of the system that they are designed to oversee.

Perez cites Schumpeter’s “Creative Destruction” theory (destroy old to forge new) as pivotal. Tech revolutions lead to paradigm shifts, which result in inclusion-exclusion mechanisms. Then, Perez writes of an “installation period” that is divided into two sections known as “irruption” and “frenzy.” How are these maintained? The first tech revolution enables the subsequent revolutions. Again, a product of design. Most of core assets of tech revolutions already existed. Every revolution combines truly new tech with others that are simply redefined. Big bang events initiating the revolutions are also bringing cost-competitive or cheaper options to the surface, which leads to investment, lending etc.
  • 1st, Industrial rev > led by Britain (1771)
  • 2nd, Age of steam and railways > led by Britain, then USA (1829)
  • 3rd, Age of steel, electricity and heavy engineering > led by USA then Germany (1875)
  • 4th, Age of oil, the car and mass production > USA > (1908)
  • 5th, Age of info and telecommunications > USA > (1971) 
She explains the technological revolution requires an entire network of interconnected services and infrastructures in addition to the primary technology that enables the new technology to take hold. An example would be when automobiles were invented, the subsequent services that need to be in place for the proliferation of automobiles would be gas stations and mechanics, but for these secondary services to be profitable, there would first need enough cars on the road. Additionally, people need to be educated with how the technology works, a social assimilation of the technology, transitioning it’s use into second nature. This period is painful for those who are awaiting the profits from the new technologies. The “excitement” at the beginning of a technological revolution “divides society” by “widening the gap between rich and poor” because of the frenzy of investment, and a “rift” occurs between “paper values and real values,”  though mentions nothing about how or why she thinks this happens.
   Characterizing the surge of a technological revolution can be divided into four main phases with a turning point at the center of these phases: Irruption, Frenzy, the turning point, Synergy, and Maturity. Irruption is when the new technology is introduced, the “techno-economic split,” with unemployment and the decline of the old industries. Frenzy is a time where there are “new millionaires at one end and growing exclusion at the other,” and mentions protests as almost a natural feature of this inequality, but that eventually fades. Other features include intense investment in the revolution, and decoupling with the whole system, and this is when the financial bubble happens. The Turning Point is “neither an event nor a phase; it is a process of contextual change,” when regulations balance the excesses and unsustainable features, and where the institutional recomposition and the “mode of growth” is defined. Synergy is known as the Golden Age, with coherent growth with increasing externalities, marked with production. The final phase, Maturity, fades into the Irruption of the next revolution, but is seen as the socio-political split, with market saturation of the last products and industries, and disappointment versus complacency. The first two phases fall within the Installation Period, where the last two are in the Deployment Period.

Governing these phases of the technological revolution are the those who control Financial Capital, and those who own Production Capital. Financial Capitalists possess wealth in money or other “paper assets”, acting only to increase wealth, and always seeking to make their money grow; making money with money. Production Capitalists seek to create new wealth by borrowing money from Financial Capital to produce goods and services,  and by innovating and expanding, seek to reap as much wealth as possible off of the laborers. The relationship between these two sets of people changes through the phases of the revolution. During Irruption there is a love affair with Financial Capitalists with the revolution....MUCH MORE 
HT Value Investing World, August 17, 2017

Also at EDE, LazyCoin:
A new currency that stores non-value.
1....LazyCoin is a currency that quantifies lack of activity. With LazyCoin, the more you do nothing the more value you create. 
2 The Minting Process: Proof of Non- Work
Minting new LazyCoin requires participation from at least two parties: one or more Generators, and one Verifier. The role of the Generator is to do nothing. The Verifier observes the Generator to ensure that he or she is doing nothing. When the Generator finishes producing LazyCoin, the Verifier signs a blank LazyCoin, making note of the date and the amount of LazyCoin produced. The Verifier gives the newly minted, certified LazyCoin to the Generator to complete the minting process....
...MORE, but be forewarned, from here it descends into madness

*A couple of Ms. Kaminska's refs to Carlotta Perez:
Davos: Historians dream of fourth industrial revolutions
In the future, we will all be rental serfs

And an Alphaville guest post by Perez:
How to forward a new golden age

HBS: The Revolution in Advertising: From Don Draper to Big Data

From Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge blog:
Advertising in the digital age bears little resemblance to the Mad Men depiction—the Don Drapers of advertising have been replaced by big data and the people who work with it. Professor John Deighton, the author of the case "WPP: From Mad Men to Math Men (and Women)," and Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and group chief executive of WPP and the protagonist in the case, discuss how WPP has been successful in the new advertising world order, where algorithms and robots rule.

TRANSCRIPT: Edited for length and clarity. Conversation recorded in March 2017

Brian Kenny: He's a handsome, hard drinking, chain smoking ad man with a shadowy past, that charms his clients and cheats on his wife. If this is your image of advertising executives then you must be a fan of the show Mad Men, whose lead character, Don Draper, leads an ad firm on Madison Avenue during what some would claim was the Golden Age of advertising.

Advertising in the digital age bears little resemblance to the Mad Men depiction, but those who are in the business today might argue that we are in the midst of the next Golden Age, one marked by the delicate balance of art and science, creativity, and analytics. Today we will hear from Professor John Deighton, the author, and Sir Martin Sorrell, the protagonist, in the case study, entitled, "WPP: From 'Mad Men' to Math Men (and Women)." I'm your host, Brian Kenny, and you're listening to Cold Call.

Sir Martin Sorrell is the founder and group chief executive of WPP, the world's largest communication services group. Professor John Deighton is an authority on consumer behavior and marketing, with a focus on digital and direct marketing and big data in marketing. Thank you both for joining me today. This is a new thing for Cold Call. We typically only interview the author of the case, but we were very happy today to have the protagonist join us as well.

Sir Martin Sorrell: You'll get the other side of the story.

Kenny: We’ll get the truth today. John, can you begin just by setting up the case for us?

Deighton: I think the title does the best job of setting up the case. I had been working for several years on the topic of big data in marketing. Marketing is changing fundamentally from the era of broadcast to the era of one-to-one. I was reading the WPP year-end report and saw the phrase, "From Mad Men to Math Men." This is the revolution that is taking place. It is a revolution from the Don Drapers of the world to people who work with data. I said, "I just have to have a case with that title." It tells the whole story.

Of course, Sir Martin is the embodiment of the last 30 years. The transformation from the celebrity, star, creative agency--the Ogilvy or the Leo Burnett--into the agency holding company. It's truly astonishing how well it's been performed. Now comes another radical transformation. So we'll see how that one goes.

Kenny: Sir Martin, can you give us the back story to WPP, starting with the origins of the name?

Sorrell: Wire and Plastic Products. A wire basket manufacturer. Some people said we made supermarket trolleys, we couldn't figure out how to get one basket on top of the other. It was actually shopping baskets. I wanted to start my own business so I bought with a stockbroker 29.9 percent -- which means we didn't have to make a takeover offer -- of a small shell company worth 1 million pounds. Today we're worth 23 billion, 24 billion pounds. But we've had our ups and our downs. There have been some faults along the way. It's been cyclical, everything is cyclical. In fact, one of the problems is when you believe your business is not cyclical.

We've gone through two revolutions, evolutions. The first was at Saatchi, the second was at WPP. The strategy was very much built around four pillars, or four principles. The first is horizontality, which is a terrible word, but really is about trying to create one firm. That's one of the big differences because we are multi-branded, largely to deal with conflicts between clients, whether they're in package goods, autos, pharmaceuticals or wherever it happens to be. So, horizontality is the first. Creating one firm rather than 12, 13, 14 verticals.

Second is fast-growth markets, which is a third of our business. Asia, Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe because that's where the next billion consumers are going to come.
Third is digital, which is almost 40 percent of our business. You go back four years or so ago, fast-growth markets were 10 percent. They're now a third. Digital was virtually zero and is now, I would say, approaching 40 percent of our business.

Last but not least, akin to digital, is data. Which is 25 percent of our business. Five billion out of $20 billion of our revenues come from first-party data. This is not stuff we buy from other people. This is stuff that we work on with our clients. It could be panel data, it could be custom data, semi-syndicated data, syndicated data that we develop with our clients.
Those four principle pillars are the strategy that we're operating currently.

Kenny: I want to read a quote from the case, from you: "Average people are cooperative. The better the people the harder it is to get them to work together." I would imagine it's a huge challenge given all the firms that are now under the brand, the umbrella. How do you get them all to work together? How much do you want them to work together?

Sorrell: With difficulty, is the answer to that. What clients want are the best people working on their business. We have 200,000 people in one way or another in 113 markets.
Let me give you a good example, because it happened about 24, 48 hours ago. We signed an agreement with Walgreen Boots Alliance, which is a large health and wellness...chain of retail and wholesale [stores] throughout the United States. With Walgreens, Duane Reade, Boots in the UK…And Stefano Pessina and Ornella Barra are the two principles at the company who are driving the growth of that retail and wholesale operation around the world. They'll expand in other parts of the world.

What we did there was an agreement between WPP and WBA, which stands for Walgreens Boots Alliance, to consolidate all of their marketing activities. That's media, creative, digital, everything, into our organization. The basic premise is we would provide them with the best access not just to one vertical--to J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy and Mather, Young and Rubicam--but to the organization as a whole.

That is happening more and more. Whether it's Ford Motor Company, which is our largest client, or Colgate, which is in our top ten, where they have consolidated similarly like WBA. I would say 85, 90 percent of their marketing activity is with us. We can do two things better. One is we can ensure that we have the best people working on the business... We can provide more effective, better work, at a lower cost....MUCH MORE

", Inc. Is About To Lose The Worst Patent Ever" (AMZN)

From LearnBonds, August 19:, Inc.(NASDAQ:AMZN)  has shown time and time again that serious reform is needed in how the states regulate commerce. From its avoidance of sales taxes-something it finally gave up fully earlier this year-to its wily navigation of anti-trust law, the firm’s exploits are as insightful as they are attention grabbing. One of the worst ways the firm ever took advantage of the system, though, is soon going to be taken away.

Quartz’s Keith Collins reported on Saturday morning that the, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) patent on 1 Click buying is going to expire on September 11th. The firm applied for the patent in 1997 and it was granted in 1999. It doesn’t protect specific lines of code, or even a specific step by step approach to buying online. Instead it protects the general concept of buying something with just one click using pre-loaded payment and delivery details.

Amazon got the world’s worst patent
In the age of software design, patents are important but the system around them is cumbersome. The Amazon patent makes it costly for another other firm to adopt this part of the shopping experience. It certainly weighs in favor of Jeff Bezos firm, simply because they decided to patent it first.

Many firms have licensed the “technology” since the patent was granted. Apple is a famous example cited by Collins. The Quartz author also cites a legal case against Barnes and Noble over the book sellers use of a one click store design.

The problem with the 1 click patent, and this was deeply important when it was granted, is that it opens the door for a broad range of “ideas” to be patented. That’s something that appears to be negative to innovation rather than a guarantor of it....MORE

Somehow missed this one: "Uber, Seeking a Female CEO....

...has narrowed the list to three men.

That's the Washington Post a couple weeks ago.

Here's the latest, from recode, August 19:

Jeff Immelt has emerged as the front-runner to become Uber’s CEO 
Sources said a board vote is expected within two weeks.
Former General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt has become the front-runner candidate to become CEO of Uber, according to numerous sources with knowledge of the situation.

While the tension on the board of the car-hailing company remains high — due of late to an ugly lawsuit that one of its major investors, Benchmark, is waging against its ousted co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick — sources said that a majority of the board is coalescing around the experienced Immelt.

That could certainly change, said sources, and there are two other executives who are also still being considered, neither of whom is a woman, as some had hoped. Sources said a vote of Uber’s directors is likely to happen within the next two weeks, which does not have to be unanimous, although most directors are hoping it will be.

In any case, Immelt has pulled ahead, said several sources. 

One of Immelt’s earliest and strongest supporters on the board is Arianna Huffington, said sources, but he is also the top choice of several directors. Others still undecided — including Benchmark, which has weakened its status because of the lawsuit and ensuing publicity — have become convinced that Uber needs to hire someone who can quickly deal with a number of pressing and problematic issues and consider Immelt fully capable of handling that well. 

“We know it is never going to be a perfect choice, but everyone is becoming exhausted,” said one person close to the situation....MORE
Uber has become a parody of Uber.

The WaPo also informs us: [Uber named most improved brand this year. Really.]

See also, if interested: As With Anything Involving Uber, Follow The Money (plus Karl Marx swings by).

Das Boot: The New Mercedes-Maybach Electric Concept Is a 20-Foot-Long Convertible

From Bloomberg, August 18:

It's the first full-sized, open-top, true Maybach the company has produced in decades.
Measuring almost 20 feet long, the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet uses the classic proportions of art deco design with its extremely long bonnet.
Tonight, at a private estate on Pebble Beach Golf Course in Carmel, Calif., Mercedes-Benz unveiled its latest concept car: the Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6 Cabriolet. Like the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 concept that the company unveiled prior to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last year, the Maybach 6 Cabriolet is an electric car that’s nearly 20 feet long, has a drive system that gets 750 horsepower, and has a range of more than 200 miles on one charge of the battery stored under its floor. It’s the same engine as its predecessor, this time in open-air form. 

But you won’t be able to buy it. The car is a one-of-one example of Mercedes’ vision for the cars it’ll make in 2035 and beyond. 

In terms of performance, Mercedes says the Maybach 6 Cabriolet will be able to go from zero to 60 mph in fewer than four seconds, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour. Using a special new “super” charger Mercedes has developed, the car can achieve 60 miles of range in just five minutes’ charging.
The contrast between the dark blue paintwork, in “nautical blue metallic,” and the chrome highlights the organically shaped wings and the chrome trim elements.
All of that would make it the most luxurious, grandest electric car on the planet. But it’s the design that really distinguishes the Maybach 6 Cabriolet. “It’s about beauty,” said Dietmar Exler, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz, noting that while the car will not go into full production, it’s certainly possible that, given time, it could end up on an awards stand of its own. “It’s not difficult to imagine that 30 years from now, our car might take top honors at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.” ...

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"Facebook’s willingness to copy rivals’ apps seen as hurting innovation" (FB)

Yes, astute yet wary reader's impression is correct, we have a bit of a theme on the blog today.
It wasn't intended but sometimes that's how things work out.
Just consider me your little ray of sunshine zeitgeist reflector.

From the Washington Post, August 10:
Four years ago, Facebook spent over $150 million on a free app used by millions.
Today that app, called Onavo, has become a little-known weapon in Facebook’s massive expansion strategy — helping the ­social-networking giant determine what is gaining popularity among consumers. It can then bring similar features to its own products, according to five people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it involves internal corporate strategy.
The Onavo app, called Onavo Protect, is what is known as a virtual private network, which means it disguises the traffic of smartphone users as they browse the Internet and use apps. But while it advertises itself to users as a way to “keep you and your data safe,” Facebook is able to glean detailed insights about what consumers are doing when they are not using the social network’s family of apps, which includes Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

The technology shows how far Facebook is willing to go as part of its aggressive strategy to reach into new areas beyond social networking, often by rapidly acting to mimic the most successful features of rival companies’ apps. Facebook did this most recently by replicating a key element of the Snapchat app. It also has done so for many other businesses, including a recent online fundraising tool, food delivery, offline meetups and its “On This Day” feature, which shows Facebook users pictures of what they did on the same day a year earlier.

Nobody has claimed that what Facebook is doing is illegal. But interviews with two dozen top investors and entrepreneurs suggest it is having a profound impact on innovation in Silicon Valley, by creating a strong disincentive for investors and start-ups to put money and effort into creating products Facebook might copy.

“It’s what we did at Microsoft,” said Scott Sandell, managing partner of the prominent venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, who was product manager for Microsoft’s Windows 95 until 1995. The Justice Department brought a landmark antitrust case against the company in 1998. “Whenever we saw a threat, boy, did we pounce on it.”

Facebook declined to comment but noted that roughly 100 million apps and businesses use Facebook’s developer tools or have a Facebook page that drives installations to apps.

Unease about Facebook’s influence comes when the balance of power in Silicon Valley has been shifting away from start-ups toward four dominant companies — Facebook, Apple, and Google.
With their app stores, Apple and Google — which recently was fined $2.7 billion by the European Union on antitrust concerns — are the gatekeepers for millions of new businesses. Forty-three percent of all online retail revenue now flows to Amazon, according to the market research firm Slice Intelligence. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) And Facebook counts one-third of the world’s population in its monthly user base.

“The dominance of these companies is choking off the start-up world,” Roger McNamee, an early investor in Google and Facebook and founder of the investment firm Elevation Partners, said of the two companies. “I helped create a monster, and I regret it.”...

"Is our economy still dynamic? A long-read Q&A with economist Fredrik Erixon"

From Pethokoukis at AEI, August 4:
Looking at the Silicon Valley today, you might think the US is poised for a technological explosion. That expectation is certainly animating many of the fears of mass joblessness once artificial intelligence arrives in the workplace, and why many people are beginning to advocate a universal basic income. But my podcast guest believes these techno-optimists have far too rosy of an outlook.
Fredrik Erixon is an economist and the director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, a Brussels-based think tank. He’s also the coauthor of the recent book, “The Innovation Illusion: How So Little is Created by So Many Working So Hard.” He joined me to discuss why we’re no longer as innovative as we used to be, why we’re not close to recapturing that dynamism, and what policymakers can do about it. Listen to our full conversation at Ricochet, or read an abbreviated transcript here.

PETHOKOUKIS: I’ll give you a chance to lay out your thesis, which I will try to sum up briefly. As the title suggests: innovation is not what we think it is. In fact, it’s been getting worse and worse, decade after decade since the 1970s. I wonder if you could explain that. Now, keep in mind that I would rather live — and I think this may argue against your thesis — in 2017 than in 1967, 1977, or 1987. And frankly, I’d probably rather live in 2017 than last year. So that to me suggests that maybe things are getting better. How can you say innovation, change, and progress have been slowing down for decades?

ERIXON: Like you, I would pick 2017 over any other year that you could come up with. The argument of the book isn’t that I’d prefer to live in the 1970s or 1940s or even 2006 or 2007 before the big economic crisis in the West. The point is basically that the innovation acceleration, or the pace of change in Western economies, has slowed down and that this slowdown is connected to our increasing inability to actually change our economies. And to change our economies in a way where we increasingly incorporate much more technology, much more human capital, and get people to stop doing things that they did yesterday in order to do something better tomorrow. That’s the whole point of the book. The point is to say we need more innovation, we need faster innovation. The illusion that the book is trying to counter is this perception, which has been spreading like wildfire over the past year, that we’re living in the most innovative age ever.

What we’re trying to say in the book is no, that’s an illusion. If you actually look at the pace of innovative change throughout history, you’re going to find lots of periods when change happened faster, when people were prepared to change in a way most people today aren’t. And the other part of the illusion is this perception itself provokes a lot of political reactions. It provokes human reactions and fears about technologies that are about to demote us to permanent low economic expectations. That we’re going to get unemployed because intelligent machines, robots, are going to eat our lunch, and perhaps our dinner as well.

And if you listen to Elon Musk, they might eat us as well. Or at least kill us. Before we go forward or even look at where we are today, just take one step back. So when was the golden age of innovation? And, whenever that was, why was it? Why can’t we just do what they did and follow that same recipe today?
The concept of innovation has basically two elements. The first one is technology creation; that we have scientists and inventors that generate new and bold inventions that are going to help to solve problems in better ways. That’s the first component. And I would argue at least that I’m not capable of making a judgment whether the technology creation we’re seeing today is better, worse, or similar to what we’ve seen in previous parts of history. But the other component of innovation, following the concept of innovation from economists Joseph Schumpeter and many others, is about the economy, and it’s about the capacity of the economy to basically take the technologies that are being created and run with them and make them basically ripple through the economy in a way which forces everyone — labor, capital, investors, governments — to perform better. And it’s in that second part where I think we’ve seen, in many parts of our modern economic history, we’ve been much better and where our economy has been much better equipped in order to run with these technologies and actually make something out of them.

So the problem here isn’t that we need to reinvent our economy, or start to come up with different economic systems. My argument is basically that we’ve had a system called capitalism which has been extraordinarily good at generating this type of economic change that I’d like to see more of. The problem that we’ve seen gradually growing over the past 50 years is that core concepts of capitalism have been eroded. And we have less of them in our economy today than we’ve had in the past. And that is the main reason why the economy isn’t generating that much innovative change or productivity growth as it did in the past.

You’re dividing things up. Maybe you have invention, the ability to come up with new ideas, new technologies, new ways of doing things. And then there’s the diffusion of those ideas throughout the economy, so they’re broadly helpful and broadly productive for people. So are you saying there’s a time when we did that better? These technologies or inventions or innovations, as you said, we were able to run with them better? When was that time? And if there wasn’t a time then maybe that’s just the way things are. When did we do it better? The 50s, 60s, 20s?
I think we can point to specific periods in economic history going back to the early 1800s, and point to decades or perhaps longer periods where we’ve seen faster change in our economy and our society. I think the period — it depends whether you look to America or Europe — before the early 1900s was a period of immense change in the European economy. We had the period just after the Second World War, a period when America as well as Europe saw enormous innovative change in the economy. Partly because the economy got better at exactly the thing you pointed to — diffusing all the new technologies that already existed and making organizations use them. I can think about my pretty short life, I’m just 43 years old, but I can point to periods when I think I’ve been living in far more exciting times than I do today. I’d say 1990s and 1980s was such a period, where the propensity of people to actually change and do something different than what they were doing was much greater than it is today....

The “Quantum Internet” Is Just a Decade Away. Here’s What You Need to Know.

From Futurism:
In Brief
As China moves closer to building a working quantum communications network, the possibility of a quantum internet becomes more and more real. But what does having a quantum internet mean?
The Next Level
The word “quantum” sounds so advanced and complex that people tend to get hyped up about anything attached to it. While not every quantum breakthrough elicits a positive response, in the case of a so-called quantum internet, people have a reason to be excited.

In the simplest of terms, a quantum internet would be one that uses quantum signals instead of radio waves to send information. But let’s explain that a bit further.

The internet as we know it uses radio frequencies to connect various computers through a global web in which electronic signals are sent back and forth. In a quantum internet, signals would be sent through a quantum network using entangled quantum particles.

Following what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” entangled particles exist in a special state that allows information carried in one to be instantaneously reflected in another — a sort of quantum teleportation.

Researchers have recently made significant progress in building this quantum communication network. China launched the world’s first quantum communication satellite last year, and they’ve since been busy testing and extending the limitations of sending entangled photons from space to ground stations on Earth and then back again. They’ve also managed to store information using quantum memory. By the end of August, the nation plans to have a working quantum communication network to boost the Beijing-Shanghai internet.

Leading these efforts is Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology of China, and he expects that a global quantum network could exist by 2030. That means a quantum internet is just 13 years away, if all goes well.

Quantum Web Surfing?
So, what does a quantum internet mean for regular internet users? As far as typical internet surfing goes, probably not much.

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be using the quantum internet to update your social media feed, for one. “In many cases, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to communicate quantum mechanically,” University of Washington physicist Kai-Mei Fu told WIRED. For such things, regular internet communication is enough....MORE

"The Dangerous Rise Of Unproductive Entrepreneurship"

From Techdirt:
from the this-is-bad-news dept
For many years now, we've talked about Andy Kessler's concept of political entrepreneurs vs. market entrepreneurs. In Kessler's telling, market entrepreneurs are the kind of entrepreneurs that people usually think about -- the ones creating startups and high growth companies and the like. While not everyone appreciates it, those entrepreneurs tend to provide a lot more to the world than they take away. They may get filthy rich in the process, but they tend to make the world a better place by creating lots of value. The "political entrepreneurs," on the other hand, are those who basically look to abuse the system to create monopoly rents and to limit competition. Those entrepreneurs may also get filthy rich, but they tend to do it by limiting value and locking it up so that only they can get it.

Obviously, one of those is a lot better for society than the other.

Of course, this idea certainly didn't originate with Kessler, either. Just recently, we had James Allworth on our podcast where we talked about this issue in response to an excellent article he'd recently written about how prioritizing profit over democracy was actually damaging American entrepreneurship. In that article, he referred back to the work of William Baumol, who wrote a paper back in 1990, entitled: Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive. As you can see, that one divides entrepreneurship into three categories. Productive loosely maps to "market entrepreneurs" in Kessler's world, while "Unproductive" loosely translates to "political entrepreneurs" as well. Baumol also includes destructive entrepreneurs, who are actively making the world worse -- and getting rich off of people's misery (think drug dealers, and such).

But part of the point of Allworth's article is that it feels like too many people are just focusing on "profit" as the end goal, and thus either unwilling or unconcerned with determining if the entrepreneurship that drives the profit is "productive" or "unproductive." And, now the Economist has weighed in on this issue as well, noting that we're seeing more and more unproductive entrepreneurship in America, and that's a problem. The article focuses on the work of two economists, Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway, who are building on Baumol's concepts and are concerned about where things are heading. One interesting thing: they find that the issue can't be neatly put into the category of "too much regulation" or "too little regulation," but rather find that both of those situations can create the same rise in unproductive entrepreneurship:...

"US lawmakers and advocates on both the left and right are increasingly calling for regulating Google, Facebook, and Amazon" (GOOG; FB; AMZN)

From Axios:

The walls are closing in on tech giants 
Tech behemoths Google, Facebook and Amazon are feeling the heat from the far-left and the far-right, and even the center is starting to fold.

Why it matters: Criticism over the companies' size, culture and overall influence in society is getting louder as they infiltrate every part of our lives. Though it's mostly rhetoric rather than action at the moment, that could change quickly in the current political environment.
Here's a breakdown of the three biggest fights they're facing.

Battle over content: Both sides are increasingly wary of the outsized role that Facebook and Google play as moderators of public discourse, as was seen following the violence in Charlottesville. In the White House, Steve Bannon has reportedly argued that Facebook and Google should be regulated like public utilities.
  • Right-wingers worry the progressive-leaning companies aren't going to give their views a fair shake. Recently they opposed Google's firing of an engineer whose internal memo questioned women's aptitude for engineering jobs. They've also criticized YouTube policies meant to combat offensive speech. They see a company with the ability — and, in their eyes, motive — to sideline their views.
  • A policy memo quietly circulated earlier this year by activist Phil Kerpen recommended rules to keep online platforms politically neutral, potentially subjecting platforms that violated that neutrality to government enforcement actions. In an email obtained by Axios, Kerpen said the general strategy would "get us on offense and scare the hell out of Google, Facebook, Twitter." (Kerpen told Axios that the "unpublished draft memo represents preliminary thoughts on complex issues.")
  • Sen. Ted Cruz told Axios that he's worried about "large tech companies putting their thumb on the scales and skewing political and public discourse." He asked during a June hearing whether "these global technology companies have a good record protecting free speech, and what can be done to protect the first amendment rights of American citizens."
  • On Monday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that since Google "has the power to censor the internet, Google should be regulated like the public utility it is to make sure it doesn't further distort the free flow of information."
  • The left's fixation on whether fake news impacted the election has ensnared Facebook and other platforms in investigations into Russia's influence during the campaign. Top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Sen. Mark Warner has spoken about fake news with Facebook staffers multiple times this year in both Silicon Valley and Washington, a source said.
  • There's also frustration that Facebook didn't remove the event page for the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville until right before it happened.
Battle over liability: Big tech firms are in a panic about a bi-partisan bill that would let sex trafficking victims sue web platforms that hosted content implicated in the crime....

"It’s now possible to map a person’s lifetime exposure to nutrition, bacteria, viruses, and environmental toxins—which profoundly influence human health"


Mapping the Human Exposome
Our genetic blueprint charts the course for our life, yet we rarely achieve our full genetic potential, because of external forces that continually steer us off course. Many environmental influences are beneficial—good nutrition, education, and socialization—while others, such as malnutrition, pollution, and poverty, contribute to ill-health and the woes of humankind. We can now measure and utilize over a billion features of the genome—the sequence of DNA, epigenetic changes that turn genes on and off, and how genes interact with the biochemical machinery of cells—and that knowledge is enabling powerful new insights and therapeutic approaches. But genetics can explain less than 25 percent of most major disorders. And at present our ability to measure the complex environment in which we live and its impact on our bodies is very limited.

One measure of the potential environmental impact on health is the registry of nearly 80,000 industrial chemicals that is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency. The interaction of each of these chemicals with living organisms can generate multiple chemical markers, which could be used to assess exposure and potential harm, if we knew what they were. One example that has generated widespread concern is the class of phthalate chemicals used as plasticizers in a wide range of products, from infant lotions and powders to credit card purchase receipts, markers from which are found in virtually every United States resident, and which have been implicated as hormone-like endocrine disrupters that can affect sexuality. Those aren’t the only powerful chemicals in consumer products—think suntan lotions and beauty creams, preservative additives in food products to extend shelf life, pesticide residues on fresh produce. Food itself generates many different metabolic chemicals found in our bodies, both directly and as a result of processing of food by our microbiome—the colony of bacteria that inhabit our gut and our skin and are very much part of who we are. Add in air pollution, workplace hazards, the markers left by allergens and disease agents and immune system reactions to them, the medicines we use—they all leave a biochemical marker. The number of such markers in our bodies is estimated to be as many as 1 million, but what they are and which ones indicate conditions or exposures harmful to health is still for the most part unknown.

As it turns out, there is no reason for knowledge of the environmental mediators of disease and health to lag so far behind that of the genome. When the concept of the exposome—the totality of our exposures from conception onward—was first put forward in 2005, it seemed an impossible challenge: How could we detect and measure a million different chemicals? But just as a single sample of blood contains the core of our genetic data (in the DNA within white blood cells), so that same blood sample contains hundreds of thousands of biochemical markers. And because of advances in high resolution mass spectrometry and high throughput screening, it is now possible to identify, catalog, and understand each marker, each constituent of the exposome, and link it to the process or environmental factor that produced it. Mapping and annotating these biochemical markers, creating reference databases that define the human exposome and to which individual profiles can be compared, using big data techniques to correlate genetic and environmental factors—all of this portends a revolution in how we understand the complex chemistry of life. That knowledge in turn is likely to lead to more specific insights into how environmental factors affect human health and how we might intervene to protect and enhance it. Within a decade, potentially, a truly precision approach to personalized medicine could be possible....MORE
The biochemical markers of the Exposome
The Exposome includes hundreds of thousands of biochemical markers from many different sources, including those shown here. 
Currently, only about 20,000 of those have been mapped and categorized.

Friday, August 18, 2017

US oil output set to reach record high

From Petroleum Economist, August 18:

The country's production has surged this year and is showing no signs of a slowdown
US oil output has flourished in 2017 and is set to reach a record high next year.

Total US crude production will rise by 0.6m barrels per day next year, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), reaching 9.9m b/d. This would exceed the 1970 record of 9.6m b/d. This year output is expected to average 9.3m b/d, up from 8.9m b/d in 2016.

US natural gas production is also expected to rise by 3.1bn cubic feet per day in 2018, up from the 2017 average of 73.3bn cf/d. Next year's increase will be triple the 1bn cf/d growth rate in natural gas production of last year, according to EIA data.

By December 2018, US oil output is expected to surge to 10.1 m b/d—a 0.9m b/d rise from June 2017's level, according to EIA data, and a 1.4 m b/d jump since the end of last year.

Tight oil output growth, from prolific plays such as the Permian and Eagle Ford regions, is expected to make up most of the increase.

The Permian region will comprise the bulk of oil-output gains between now and 2018, with production set to reach 2.9 m b/d by the end of next year—a roughly 0.5m b/d boost from June 2017 levels.

The rise in Permian output would result in the play comprising 30% of total US output next year.
According to data from Baker Hughes, by mid-August, 377 of the country's 928 onshore rigs were located in the Permian—a doubling from a year earlier.

After a sharp run up in drilling activity over the first half of this year, every onshore US shale basin has seen the number of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs) rise. In July—the latest month with available data-—total DUCs across the seven most prolific plays in the US had reached 7,059.
In the Permian, the number of DUCs has nearly doubled from this time last year to around 2,330 according to EIA data. If oil prices remains at sub-$50/b, companies could start pulling back the number of rigs they have running in the field.

But the Permian isn't the only shale play expected to boost US oil output growth through 2018.
Production from the Eagle Ford shale play is expected to average around 1.3m b/d through both 2017 and 2018—a rise of 100,000 b/d from levels in Q4 2016. But with higher breakeven prices than the Permian, the Eagle Ford region will be more susceptible to output and revenue losses if crude prices drop below $50 per barrel, the EIA says....MORE

Siemens Is Building Germany's First Electrictrified Highway

From Traffic Technology Today:

Siemens building Germany’s first eHighway
Following the launch of demonstration projects in the USA and Sweden, Siemens has been commissioned to build the first infrastructure for electric trucks on a German autobahn, which aims to provide sustainable freight transport by cutting energy consumption in half.
Siemens has been contracted by the German state of Hesse to build an overhead contact line for electrified freight transport on a 6.2-miles long (10km) stretch of the A5 federal autobahn between the Zeppelinheim/Cargo City Süd interchange at Frankfurt Airport and the Darmstadt/Weiterstadt interchange. Siemens originally presented its innovative eHighway concept in 2012, and now the system will be tested on a public highway in Germany for the first time.

The system is being built as part of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety’s (BMUB) ‘Electrified, innovative heavy freight transport on autobahns’ (ELISA) joint project.

The field trial is being organized by Hessen Mobil, which is responsible for road and transport management in the state, and Siemens will be responsible for the planning, construction, and maintenance of the system.

Transferring freight transport to rail has its limitations, so future cargo movements will need to be carried by trucks that combine reliable service with minimum environmental impact. The eHighway is particularly effective from an environmental and economic perspective on heavily used truck routes, such as between ports or industrial estates and cargo hubs....MORE

"Top fund investors pumped brakes on fast-rising Tesla: filings" (TSLA)

From Reuters:
Top Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) investors Fidelity Investments and T. Rowe Price cut their holdings in the second quarter and indicated they were taking profits from the electric car maker stock, which is up 65 percent this year.

Sellers included Fidelity funds like Fidelity OTC Portfolio, which sold 1.62 million shares, or 43 percent of its position during the quarter, as well as funds managed by T. Rowe Price Group (TROW.O), including T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund (PRGFX.O), which sold 1.33 million shares during the quarter or 48 percent of its position, recent securities filings show. 

Both funds remain among the ten largest fund investors in Tesla, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Other big sellers of Tesla during the quarter were Morgan Stanley funds including Morgan Stanley Institutional Growth Portfolio (MSHLX.O). 

In total, institutional investors held 95.2 million shares of Tesla at the end of June, 10.7 million fewer shares than at the end of March, according to an analysis of filings by
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment....MORE
 The stock is off a buck and change at $350.76.

Weapon of Mass Disruption: Quantum Computers Are “Tools of Destruction, Not Creation"

From Futurism:

World’s Leading Physicist Says Quantum Computers Are “Tools of Destruction, Not Creation”
Weapon of Mass Disruption
Quantum Computers are heralded as the next step in the evolution of data processing. The future of this technology promises us a tool that can outperform any conventional system, handling more data and at faster speeds than even the most powerful of today’s supercomputers.

However, at the present juncture, much of the science dedicated to this field is still focused on the technology’s ultimate utilization. We know that quantum computers could manage data at a rate that is remarkable, but exactly what kind of data processing will they be good for?
This uncertainty raises some interesting questions about the potential impact of such a theoretically powerful tool.
No encryption existing today would be able to hide from the processing power of a functioning quantum computer.
Last month, some of the leading names in quantum technologies gathered at the semi-annual International Conference on Quantum Technologies in Moscow. Futurism was in attendance and was able to sit and talk with some of these scientists about how their work is moving us closer to practical quantum computers, and what impact such developments will have on society.

One of the most interesting topics of discussion was initiated by Alexander Lvovsky, Quantum Optics group leader at the Russian Quantum Center and Professor of Physics at the University of Calgary in Canada. Speaking at a dinner engagement, Lvovsky stated that quantum computers are a tool of destruction, not creation.

What is it about quantum computers that would incite such a claim? In the end, it comes down to one thing, which happens to be one of the most talked about potential applications for the technology: Breaking modern cryptography.

With Great Power…
Today, all sensitive digital information sent over the internet is encrypted in order to protect the privacy of the parties involved. Already, we have seen instances where hackers were able to seize this information by breaking the encryption. According to Lvovsky, the advent of the quantum computer will only make that process easier and faster.

In fact, he asserts that no encryption existing today would be able to hide from the processing power of a functioning quantum computer. Medical records, financial information, even the secrets of governments and military organizations would be free for the taking—meaning that the entire world order could be threatened by this technology.

The consensus between other experts is, essentially, that Lvovsky isn’t wrong. “In a sense, he’s right,” Wenjamin Rosenfeld, a physics professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, stated in an interview. He continued, “taking a quantum computer as a computer, there’s basically not much you can do with this at the moment;” however, he went on to explain that this may soon be changing.

To break this down, there are only two quantum algorithms at the moment, one to allow a quantum computer to search a database, and the other, Shor’s algorithm, which can be used by a quantum computer to break encryption.

Notably, during the conference, Mikhail Lukin, a co-founder of the Russian Quantum Center and head of the Lukin Group of the Quantum Optics Laboratory at Harvard University, announced that he had successfully built and tested a 51-qubit quantum computer…and he’s going to use that computer to launch Shor’s algorithm.

Vladimir Shalaev, who sits on the International Advisory Board of the Russian Quantum Center and is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University, takes a more nuanced approach to this question, saying it is neither a tool of destruction nor creation—it is both: “I would disagree with him. I think I would say that any new breakthrough breeds both evil and good things.”
Quantum computers may not be capable of the physical destruction of a nuclear bomb, but their potential application is the digital equivalent.

American-built (Jones Act) Tankers Are Changing the Gasoline Trade

From Bloomberg via gCaptain:

Shipping: New Jones Act Tankers Are Great for Traders, Lousy for Owners
 Delivered in December 2016, American Endurance was the first of four Jones Act-qualifying product tankers for American Petroleum Tankers, part of Kinder Morgan. Credit: Philly Shipyard
Once rare American-built oil tankers are now plentiful, changing U.S. gasoline flows and giving shipowners headaches.

These brand-new tankers have names like American Endurance, American Freedom, American Liberty and American Pride painted on their sterns. They’re part of a growing fleet of so-called Jones Act ships, named for a law almost a century old that mandates any commodities moved from one U.S. port to another are hauled by vessels manufactured in an American shipyard.

Government data show that in May, U.S.-made tankers had their best month ever transporting gasoline components from the Gulf Coast’s refinery row to Florida and other East Coast ports. The flood of new tankers means that even as the ships are at their busiest, hauling about 16 million gallons a day of products that do things like boost octane in gasoline, the owners of the tankers aren’t collecting bigger profits.

There are now about 94 active Jones Act vessels sailing around the U.S., up almost 10 percent since December, according to Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc., a company that owns a quarter of the total fleet. With more vessels to go around the marketplace, shippers aren’t willing to pay for long-term commitments.

OSG is seeing once committed charterers walking away from extended contracts to cheaper short-term rates. Its chargeable time on spot voyages versus time charters doubled this year as spot rates slumped 31 percent to $18,288 a day in the second quarter versus a year earlier, OSG said in a filing.
“If you see more stuff on spot, that favors the charterers,” said Barry Parker, a maritime consultant with Bdp1 Consulting Ltd. “In a perfect world for them, they wouldn’t commit to anything.”

As the cost to charter the Jones Act ships falls, supply flows are changing for both refined products and crude oil. In the past nine years, Gulf Coast-to-East Coast shipments of U.S.-manufactured gasoline blending components have soared from no deliveries at all to a record 388,000 barrels a day, outpacing imports from abroad by 10 percent.

The glut of product tankers is being exacerbated by a lack of economical routes for crude shipments. Two-thirds of the 29 spot fixtures done for ocean-going Jones Act tankers in the second quarter were for products service, said Samuel H. Norton, OSG chief executive, on the company’s second-quarter earnings call....MORE

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Bitcoin Prices Fall Below $4,500 but Could Still Reach $1 Million"

Following up on June 13's "Tesla to $1000; "Bitcoin May Hit $1,000,000"; Act Now Before It's Too Late! (and potcoin)".
From Money Morning:

Bitcoin Prices Fall Below $4,500 but Could Still Reach $1 Million
On Thursday, Bitcoin prices burst through the $4,500 level for the first time before retreating slightly in the afternoon. However, any retreat in Bitcoin prices is a good opportunity for long-term investors to add more of the cryptocurrency to their portfolios, as Bitcoin prices could reach $1 million.

The market capitalization hit a staggering $73.6 billion, as crypto investors grew optimistic that more countries around the globe will begin to embrace digital payment networks. In addition, developers behind SegWit2x said that they will implement the second phase of the digital fork in November 2017.

Below is a recap of cryptocurrency prices at 3:30 p.m. EDT
Bitcoin Prices 
Bitcoin: $4,321.54, -2.34%
Ethereum: $301.23, -0.08%
Ripple: $0.156, -1.14%
Bitcoin Cash: $388.77, +30.14%
NEO:  $40.99, -13.27%

Now that we know all of today's price movements, here's what has been moving these cryptocurrencies…

Bitcoin Briefly Climbs to $4,500 but Quickly Falls
Bitcoin prices have increased by roughly $1,000 over the last nine days, as traders grow increasingly hopeful that it will become more accepted in mainstream finance. Still, there have been concerns expressed about the rise of the currency over the last few months. Goldman Sachs analyst Sheba Jafari predicted that Bitcoin was on the way to topping out at $4,827.

The analyst said that prices could then quickly be cut in half, falling as low as $2,221.
That bearish sentiment wasn't the only voice making noise on Thursday. Peter Schiff said that Bitcoin was in a "bubble."

Bitcoin Cash Prices Surge on SegWit2X Date
The Bitcoin Cash price rallied more than 30% on news that a mining pool called BitClub Network mined an 8MB block on the BCH blockchain.
This was the largest block found so far on the BCH chain.

Ethereum Prices Slightly Down on the DayThe price of Ethereum was mostly flat, trading at roughly $301.
Today, the firm Blockchain announced it had developed a wallet for users to hold Ethereum....MORE
The earlier calls for a million dollar price tag—
At Money Morning:

Why a Bitcoin Price Prediction of $1 Million Isn't Crazy
...That brings us to Wences Casares, the CEO of the Bitcoin wallet startup Xapo and a member of PayPal Holdings Inc.'s board of directors. In a May 22 speech to Coin Center, Casares repeated his Bitcoin price prediction of $1 million per Bitcoin in 10 years....
...But Bitcoin, which was worth just $0.003 shortly after its launch in January 2009, has consistently defied skeptics. Bitcoin has gained 88,999,900% since then. (That would have turned $100 into $89 million.)

To get to $1 million from the current price of about $2,300 would be a relatively easy 43,378% jump....
Roger that, relatively easy.

And at Climateer from ZeroHedge from CNBC so you know it's good, both Cramer and Blodget said something:

Jim Cramer Goes Batty: "Bitcoin May Hit $1,000,000"; Act Now Before It's Too Late!
It’s hard to know when bubbles will end but when analysis goes ape-sh*t batty, it’s easy to know the bubble exists.
Jim Cramer’s analysis of Bitcoin provides a perfect example.
CNBC reports Cramer says it’s possible bitcoin could reach $1 million one day.
The price of digital currency stockpiled by companies to pay off potential cyberthreats could reach $1 million one day, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Wednesday.
Cramer was responding to a recent comment by Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget, who said bitcoin could go to $1 million.
“I think it could because the European banks are frantically trying to buy them so they can pay off ransomware. It’s a short-term way to be able to deal with cybersecurity. It is the way to pay off the bad guys,” Cramer said on “Squawk on the Street.”
“When you get hit and you’re not sure how to do bitcoin, these cyberattackers have customer service desks,” Cramer said.
What Blodget Really Said
Blodget also mentioned the downside: “Bitcoin could go to $1 million (or fall to $0),” said Blodget maintains the view that “ultimately, Bitcoin has no intrinsic value.”...
Hmmm.... it appears that Cramer-"quote"-of--Blodget thing may be "fāke news.
Time to check in with the GS guys.

Goldman bitcoin technical analysts conferring

"From Healthcare To Payments: Supposedly ‘Amazon-Proof’ Industries Are Turning Out To Be Vulnerable" (AMZN)

From CB Insights:
As Amazon continues eating up industries as varied as grocery, logistics, and apparel, startups and investors are looking for a place to hide. Where won’t Amazon go? What sectors are Amazon-proof?
Analysts, business leaders, and journalists are hunting for the safe spaces. But are the “safety zones” they’re spotting really as safe as analysts make them sound? When it comes to most industries, the question isn’t whether Amazon will enter or not; it’s how the internet giant will enter, and how big the impact will be.

Following a few recent reports on industries that could evade Amazon’s capture, we used intelligence from our database and our Amazon Strategy Teardown to take a critical look at whether so-called “Amazon-proof” sectors are good hiding places (or not).

According to a recent Goldman Sachs report, Amazon is not “an imminent threat to PayPal or the card networks.” But imminent isn’t the issue; in this area, Amazon is a looming threat extending into all aspects of the online payments and financial-services ecosystems.

Goldman’s analysis pits Amazon Payments against PayPal, looking at the threat entirely in terms of merchant volume (where PayPal has the upper hand). Since Amazon Payments has seen middling success to date (with just $6B processed in 2016 compared to PayPal’s $336B, according to Goldman reports), and since PayPal remains available at a reported 90% of the same places Amazon Payments is, PayPal been deemed by some as “Amazon-proof,” for now.

But that limited view discounts Amazon’s customer-first focus and larger financial services vision. Data shows that Amazon has been interested in financial services — either to reduce friction in the purchasing experience, or to own more of the payments value chain — since at least 2003, when the company applied to patent a network-based transaction processing system.

As they absorb more and more of that value chain, Amazon Payments may evolve into an integrated payments platform underneath the “Bank of Amazon.” Consider the recent launch of Amazon Cash, which allows individuals to deposit cash into their Amazon accounts by presenting a smartphone-scannable barcode at the cash register of a physical store.

That initiative, designed to welcome underbanked individuals into the Amazon ecosystem, is just one operational area in which Amazon already behaves like a bank: the company partnered with Wells Fargo in 2016 with a mind for offering student loans to Prime customers, and the Amazon Lending service has surpassed $3B in loans to small businesses since it was launched in 2011.
The company is also now offering thousands of loans to e-sellers in India, the world’s largest e-commerce market, and has also been quietly expanding its relationship with Stripe, using the unicorn online payments startup to handle a growing share of its e-commerce transactions.

Those underpinnings have “primed” the company’s payments foundation to serve individuals, not just merchants. As Amazon keeps making it easier for customers to both store and spend their money in the Amazon ecosystem, more of them will — extending the company’s infamous network-effect cycle, pictured below, further into financial services.
As sellers follow customers over to Amazon, it will put PayPal in a more precarious place than Goldman’s projections play it. (As for Amazon’s ambitions in banking and card networks generally, note the rumors that Amazon was interested in buying Capital One in Q1’17.) 

Several analysts have also recently cited pharmaceuticals as an Amazon-proof industry. On Investors Alley, for example, Tim Plaehn remarked that he doesn’t “expect Amazon to get into the drug making business anytime soon.” This seems sound: while Amazon made a few moves in Q1’17 toward serving customers’ health in diagnostic ways (for example, investing in AI-powered cancer detection start-up GRAIL and integrating WebMD with Alexa), we have yet to see them invest resources into drug discovery- or development-related efforts to date....

Still Haven't Made Eclipse Plans? Buy This Michigan Home With Attached Observatory!

From ABC7—Chicago:
Looking to watch the upcoming eclipse from the comfort of your own home?
A mansion for sale in Michigan offers an unmatched perspective from its state-of-the-art observatory and rotating telescope.

The two-story domed observatory rotates a full 360 degrees of the sky. While the home isn't located in the prime 68-mile-long stretch from Oregon to South Carolina that will get the total solar eclipse, southeastern Michigan will see the moon block over 80 percent of the sun.

The 9,025-square-foot mansion located 15 minutes outside of Ann Arbor boasts four bedrooms, seven baths and a two-story screened porch....MORE

A glimpse of life under President Zuckerberg? Facebook CEO's boffins censor awkward Q&A

From The Register:
Human cell study AMA on Reddit all cleaned up
Money can't buy you love, but it can remove criticism, at least in the hallowed world of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

With the Zuck continuing his Definitely Not Getting Into A Presidential Race tour of the United States, carrying out a bizarre series of secret photo-ops and precision-engineered PR-friendly drop-ins on normal American folks across the nation, his strict no-criticism policy has extended to the scientific brain tank he set up with his wife.

This week, staff at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative did an online ask-me-anything Q&A about their plans to help with the Human Cell Atlas – a global effort to map all the cells in the human body.
Despite the suggested inherent nature of the Q&A, however, it turns out that people were not allowed to ask them anything. In fact, if they asked anything to do with the Zuck, and criticized, or even mentioned him, or censured the initiative, or said something the team didn't like, their comments were deleted from the Reddit thread.

Not that you would know now because not only have the comments been removed but most of the "comment removed" placeholders have also gone so what were, in some cases, literally dozens of deleted comments now look like just one or two.

The result is that the usually lengthy stream of Reddit comments and responses in an ask-me-anything is amazingly stunted. The sheer number of comments removed prompted people to start taking screenshots of the session as it went on....MORE

"The Next Quant Meltdown"

The quant quake was so scary Goldman's CFO started babbling stupid stuff. More after the jump.
From Institutional Investor:

Fund managers who survived the quant bloodbath of August 2007 say the strategy is safer ten years later. But with its popularity soaring to new heights, some wonder whether crowded trades — and rising leverage — will lead to another downfall.
Ten years ago, during the second week of a sultry New York August, Michael Mendelson was getting a sandwich at the Subway shop near the Greenwich, Connecticut, office of AQR Capital Management when all hell broke loose. As Mendelson glanced at his BlackBerry, out of nowhere, it seemed, AQR’s funds were in the red.

Very quickly, losses started snowballing, with AQR’s flagship fund down 13 percent during the first ten days of August before recovering all of it by month’s end. “You didn’t know how far it was going to go,” recalls Mendelson, a principal at AQR.

AQR was not alone. Some of the biggest and smartest hedge funds in the world suddenly tumbled in tandem, as their algorithmic trading systems went haywire.

As the events unfolded, other hedge fund managers scurried from their idyllic Hamptons retreats to contain the damage and lashed out at the quants, who turned out to be massively overleveraged and highly correlated — triggering an unwinding that was a preview of a collapse that would befall the financial world a year later. “‘These damn quants. They couldn’t get a date in high school, and now they f——ked my month,’” was the joke Peter Muller, who was running a secretive internal quant fund at Morgan Stanley at the time, liked to tell afterward, paraphrasing the frustrated fundamental managers.

But to everyone making high-stakes computerized investment bets, it wasn’t funny — it was shocking. “We had never seen anything like this before. . . . We were trained in statistics. For all intents and purposes this shouldn’t have happened,” says a manager of a major quant hedge fund who lived through the event, sleeping in his Wall Street office to try to contain the damage.

After a four-day quant rout, the Dow fell almost 400 points, then began to recover, with little overall effect on the market. But several funds ultimately did not survive the chaos that started that summer. Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which in 2006 ran the largest hedge fund empire in the U.S., eventually ended up shuttering two of its most prestigious funds, Global Alpha and Global Equity Opportunities, after losing billions of dollars. Tykhe Capital, whose funds had lost between 17 percent and 31 percent by August 9, also eventually shut down....MORE

For more on the quantpocalypse here's MIT's uberquant Andrew Lo via the New York Fed:
"What happened to the quants in August 2007? Evidence from factors and transactions data∗"
(77 page PDF)

From 2012's "David Viniar retiring as Goldman CFO (GS)":

.....*In August 2007 the market and in particular the funds suffered what came to be called the "Quant Quake".
As the Financial Times reported on Aug. 13, Mr. Viniar said one of the dumbest things of his life:

“We were seeing things that were 25-standard deviation moves, several days in a row” 
In March 2009 we posted "David Viniar, CFO of Goldman Sachs Blows Smoke at Journalists on AIG" which had this bit regarding the 25 Sigma comment:
Several folks, when they finally quit laughing, pointed out how blatently Mr. V was spinning.
Most however underestimated how infrequent 25SD events are, the most common guess being once in 100,000 years. Tee hee.

In a snappy little eight page paper "How Unlucky is 25 Sigma" we see that at 7 Sigma the odds are:
...The reader will note that as k gets bigger the probabilities of a k-sigma event fall
extremely rapidly:
• a 3-sigma event is to be expected about every 741 days or about 1 trading day
in every three years;

• a 4-sigma event is to be expected about every 31,560 days or about 1 trading
day in 126 years (!);

• a 5-sigma event is to be expected every 3,483,046 days or about 1 day every
13,932 years(!!)

• a 6-sigma event is to be expected every 1,009,976,678 days or about 1 day
every 4,039,906 years;

• a 7-sigma event is to be expected every 7.76e+11 days – the number of zero
digits is so large that Excel now reports the number of days using scientific
notation, and this number is to be interpreted as 7.76 days with decimal point
pushed back 11 places. This frequency corresponds to 1 day in 3,105,395,365
The authors go on to describe the problems involved in computing numbers on the cosmological scales required for 25 standard deviations. A good read, both for the statistically challenged and for pros like Viniar, a very highly paid PR guy, in addition to his CFO duties.
I was so tickled by that little paper that we posted on it a second time, the day MIT added it to their Physics arXive:
When Goldman Sachs was Really, Really Unlucky (GS)

And a third time in 2011:
"How Unlucky is 25-Sigma?" (and a huge apology) GS; C; BST; UBS; MER
We have more on Mr. V. but I'll always think of him as frozen in 2007.