The Future of Computing

30. June 2016
Photo of Bruno Michel

Bruno Michel

Bruno Michel is a scientist at IBM Research – Zurich.

JUN 30, 2016, Project Syndicate

ZURICH – Ever since the American computer scientist John McCarthy coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” in 1955, the public has imagined a future of sentient computers and robots that think and act like humans. But while such a future may indeed arrive, it remains, for the moment, a distant prospect.

And yet the foreseeable frontier of computing is no less exciting. We have entered what we at IBM call the Cognitive Era. Breakthroughs in computing are enhancing our ability to make sense of large bodies of data, providing guidance in some of the world’s most important decisions, and potentially revolutionizing entire industries.

The term “cognitive computing” refers to systems that, rather than being explicitly programmed, are built to learn from their experiences. By extracting useful information from unstructured data, these systems accelerate the information age, helping their users with a broad range of tasks, from identifying unique market opportunities to discovering new treatments for diseases to crafting creative solutions for cities, companies, and communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Conclusion: Answering the machinery question

26. June 2016

Date: 23-06-2016
Source: The Economist

Glimpses of an AI-enabled future

THE ORIGINAL MACHINERY question, which had seemed so vital and urgent, eventually resolved itself. Despite the fears expressed by David Ricardo, among others, that “substitution of machinery for human labour…may render the population redundant”, the overall effect of mechanisation turned out to be job creation on an unprecedented scale. Machines allowed individual workers to produce more, reducing the price of many goods, increasing demand and generating a need for more workers. Entirely new jobs were created to oversee the machines. As companies got bigger, they required managers, accountants and other support staff. And whole new and hitherto unimagined industries sprang up with the arrival of the railways, telegraphy and electrification.

To be sure, all this took time. Industrialisation caused pervasive labour-market upheaval as some jobs vanished, others changed beyond recognition and totally new ones emerged. Conditions in factories were grim, and it took several decades before economic growth was reflected in significant wage gains for workers—a delay known as “Engels’ pause”.

Worries about unemployment gave way to a much wider argument about employment conditions, fuelling the rise of socialist and communist ideas and creating the modern labour movement. By the end of the 19th century the machinery question had faded away, because the answer was so obvious. In 1896 Arthur Hadley, an American economist, articulated the view of the time when he observed that rather than destroying jobs, mechanisation had brought about “a conspicuous increase of employment in those lines where improvements in machinery have been greatest”. Read the rest of this entry »

The imperial CFO

17. June 2016

Date: 16-06-2016
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

Chief finance officers are amassing a worrying amount of power

THE days of imperial CEOs have long gone. Today’s chief executives do their best to contain their egos and, instead, project a modest image. They talk about “servant leadership” and make a point of cultivating their “stakeholders”. Many bosses leave the limelight to company founders and big-name investors. And yet a new authority figure has emerged within companies, much less exuberant than old-fashioned autocratic CEOs but just as determined to amass power: the imperial CFO.

Chief financial officers barely existed 50 years ago: company accounts were administered by mysterious people called “comptrollers”. Today, CFOs are at the heart of all the world’s big firms. They are the only corporate officers other than the boss who are able to monitor every corner of an organisation. They are the only executive other than the chief who is feared by everybody: a “no” from the CFO means that your precious project is dead. Russell Reynolds, a search firm, calls them “co-pilots”. At one high-profile company, Twitter, the CFO, Anthony Noto, is arguably doing most of the piloting. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Microsoft Bought LinkedIn

15. June 2016

Date: 14-06-2016
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Microsoft and LinkedIn are a natural fit, and the deal may fare better than Microsoft’s past acquisitions

NadellaMicrosoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella has said that LinkedIn will be allowed significant autonomy after the acquisition.

Microsoft Corp.’s planned acquisition of LinkedIn Corp. potentially is a very savvy move, though you would be hard-pressed to discern that.

There are lots of reasons for skepticism. The price tag, for one. At $26.2 billion, it is by far Microsoft’s largest acquisition ever. The size alone is a reason for caution, given the sorry history of such large deals.

Then, there is Microsoft’s own checkered history with acquisitions. It has recorded write-downs exceeding the $9.4 billion it paid for the handset unit of Nokia Corp. in 2014. Earlier deals for Skype Technologies and Yammer Inc., designed to bolster Microsoft’s digital and social credentials, did little of either.

But this deal can succeed where the others failed.

Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Economic Payoff From Technology Is So Elusive

6. June 2016

Date: 06-06-2016
Source: The New York Times

Your smartphone allows you to get almost instantaneous answers to the most obscure questions. It also allows you to waste hours scrolling through Facebook or looking for the latest deals on Amazon.

More powerful computing systems can predict the weather better than any meteorologist or beat human champions in complex board games like chess.

But for several years, economists have asked why all that technical wizardry seems to be having so little impact on the economy. The issue surfaced again recently, when the government reported disappointingly slow growth and continuing stagnation in productivity. The rate of productivity growth from 2011 to 2015 was the slowest since the five-year period ending in 1982.

One place to look at this disconnect is in the doctor’s office. Dr. Peter Sutherland, a family physician in Tennessee, made the shift to computerized patient records from paper in the last few years. There are benefits to using electronic health records, Dr. Sutherland says, but grappling with the software and new reporting requirements has slowed him down. He sees fewer patients, and his income has slipped.

“I’m working harder and getting a little less,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »

How Amazon Has Diversified

2. June 2016

Date: 02-06-2016
Source: The Wall Street Journal

A timeline of the company’s history

Amazon has grown from a pure online bookseller to one offering a dizzying array of products, services and devices. Today, Amazon competes with media companies like Netflix, hardware makers like Apple, search and advertising firms like Google and even Uber in on-demand transportation and delivery—not to mention traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
amazon history

In The Future We’ll All Have Multiple Jobs

1. June 2016

Date: 01-06-2016
Source: FastCompany

Robots may replace us at menial tasks, but we are more likely to be moonlighting to advance our careers in the future.

The latest report from Adobe reveals that a majority (70%) of U.S. office workers report loving their jobs. In fact, they love work so much, they spend a lot of off hours thinking about it, and are likely to have a second job to help them improve the first.

This love fest stands in sharp contrast to several recent reports. According to Gallup’s most recent count, only 32.2% of respondents say they are engaged at work, while a recent study by the Marcus Buckingham Company, a management consultancy, found only 19% of U.S. employees reported being involved, enthusiastic, and committed.

Adobe’s findings, titled “Work in Progress,” were the result of surveying just over 1,000 U.S. office workers. The survey gauged their sentiments about the future of work. Read the rest of this entry »