Named Robocoach, the fitness-minded cyborg will be deployed to over 20 senior activity centres to help caregivers run exercise classes for residents.

The project is sponsored by Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority as part of the government’s Smart Nation plan — a large-scale multibillion dollar government initiative to use Internet technologies to modernise different facets of Singaporean life and infrastructure.

There is more here.

While tech companies in America have focused on personal automated cars, China has gone big with what could be the beginning of mass, unmanned bus transit. The spacious vehicle, unveiled at the end of August after three years of development, recently managed a 20-mile trip through the crowded city of Zhengzhou without crashing into other motorists or bursting into flames. That same driver stayed behind the wheel, true, but maybe as technology progresses he’ll be replaced with a Johnny-Cab robot.

There is more here, including photos and video, via Air Genius Gary Leff.

You can already rate restaurants, hotels, movies, college classes, government agencies and bowel movements online.

So the most surprising thing about Peeple — basically Yelp, but for humans — may be the fact that no one has yet had the gall to launch something like it.

When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad, inaccurate or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.

Imagine every interaction you’ve ever had suddenly open to the scrutiny of the Internet public.

The piece is by the excellent Caitlin Dewey.  Currently the company is valued at $7.6 million.

That is the title of my new piece in MIT Technology Review. It’s about a near future where bosses can measure the productivity of workers through software and surveillance more accurately than is now the case.  Productivity will go up, but it is not all rosy, here is one excerpt:

Individuals don’t in fact enjoy being evaluated all the time, especially when the results are not always stellar: for most people, one piece of negative feedback outweighs five pieces of positive feedback. To the extent that measurement raises income inequality, perhaps it makes relations among the workers tenser and less friendly. Life under a meritocracy can be a little tough, unfriendly, and discouraging, especially for those whose morale is easily damaged. Privacy in this world will be harder to come by, and perhaps “second chances” will be more difficult to find, given the permanence of electronic data. We may end up favoring “goody two-shoes” personality types who were on the straight and narrow from their earliest years and disfavor those who rebelled at young ages, even if those people might end up being more creative later on.

The closer is this:

I wonder, by the way, if MIT Technology Review will tell me how many people clicked on this article.

Do read the whole thing.

Claims about cars

by on September 27, 2015 at 2:21 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, Law, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

New high-end cars are among the most sophisticated machines on the planet, containing 100 million or more lines of code. Compare that with about 60 million lines of code in all of Facebook or 50 million in the Large Hadron Collider.

The Gelles, Tabuchi, and Dolan NYT piece is interesting throughout.  I thought of a parallel with empirical research in economics.  In the 1980s, often you could pick up a research paper and know rather quickly how good it was, if only by glancing at the basic technique and source of data.  These days the model, estimation, and data collection are so complicated and non-transparent that the errors, however large or small they be, are very difficult to find.

In the United States, there is more interest in heaven than in hell, at least based on searches. There are 1.5 times more searches for “heaven” than “hell,” 2.8 times as many searches asking what heaven looks like than what hell looks like, and 2.75 times as many searches asking whether heaven is real than whether hell is real.

…Relative to the rest of the country, for every search I looked at, retirement communities search more about hell. In retirement communities, there are a similar number of searches asking to see visuals of hell as visuals of heaven.


There are 4.7 million searches every year for Jesus Christ. The pope gets 2.95 million. There are 49 million for Kim Kardashian.

That is from Seth Stephens-Dawidowitz.

There is no great dental stagnation

by on September 17, 2015 at 6:19 pm in Medicine, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

This Father Pulled Out His Daughter’s Wobbly Tooth With A Drone, via Pethoukis and Drudge.

Swiss health insurers could demand higher premiums from customers who live sedentary lifestyles under plans to monitor people’s health through wearable digital fitness devices.

CSS, one of Switzerland’s biggest health insurers, said on Saturday it had received a “very positive” response so far to its pilot project, launched in July, which is monitoring its customers’ daily movements.

The MyStep project, developed in conjunction with the University of St Gallen and the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, is using digital pedometers to track the number of steps taken by 2,000 volunteers until the end of the year, synchronizing that data with an online portal on the CSS website.

But don’t worry, that is just the pilot program:

Fitness wristbands such as Fitbit are just the beginning of a revolution in healthcare, believes Ohnemus.

“Eventually we will be implanted with a nano-chip which will constantly monitor us and transmit the data to a control centre,” he said.

Obesity in Switzerland now costs the health service eight billion francs a year, according to figures from the Federal Office of Public Health, rising from 2.7 billion in 2002.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Axacatl Maqueda.

Online lending is overrated

by on September 7, 2015 at 2:16 am in Economics, Web/Tech | Permalink

So the industry turned instead to the wholesale markets. Hedge funds and investment banks have proved a much easier sell. Not surprising, perhaps, when average rates on a Lending Club loan are between 7.5 per cent and 25 per cent and bond fund returns are closer to 2 per cent. Institutions now make up about four-fifths of many US operators’ funding. That allows some of the largest marketplace lenders to grow at more than 100 per cent a year. But it also makes them look a lot less like financial innovators — and more like finance companies of yore.

The FT piece by Jonathan Ford is interesting throughout, for instance he emphasizes that new business in these markets is drummed up only slowly and the sector depends on origination fees of one kind or another.  One possible outcome is that these online lenders will be bought out by banks.   Yet:

The snag is that banks trade on just 10 to 12 times earnings. Even after recent share price falls, that is far below the valuations that listed marketplace lenders enjoy.

Stay tuned, but the great stagnation for finance is in my view likely to continue…

I very much enjoyed this Live Chat, and I thank the participants for all of their stimulating questions and remarks.  Here is one excerpt:

Ben Casnocha:

How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20’s? Would you have still pursued an academic path or would you have become a full-time columnist/commentator/speaker earlier on? I seem to recall you saying at one point that you’re glad the internet didn’t exist early on in your life as it gave you the time to read the classics and develop a substantive base of knowledge.

Tyler Cowen:

I am glad I was forced to live in “book culture” and “meat space’ for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It’s like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move is.

[and later] …contemporary academic is overly bureaucratized and there is a very good chance I would [if I were starting today] look for another model of success and contentment. It is an open question whether or not I could find one. Whatever its limitations, there is still a followable formula for academic success, which of course is part of the problem.

Other topics include when is the best age to live in various parts of the world, Alban Berg and Rilke, Marc Andreessen, my one hidden talent, Rene Girard, labor market networks, optimal travel into the past, and which is the most underrated or overrated wisdom tradition.  Do read the whole thing.

“I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.”

That is from Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour in Syria, who took a boat to Greece, walked to Belgrade, and hopes to continue to parts further north and west:

In this modern migration, smartphone maps, global positioning apps, social media and WhatsApp have become essential tools.

Recommended.  And yes, disintermediation is kicking in:

“Right now the traffickers are losing business because people are going alone, thanks to Facebook,” said Mohamed Haj Ali, 38, who works with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital — a major stopover for migrants.

Facebook groups are used to pass along GPS coordinates and the prices charged by the traffickers have fallen in half.

According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-­employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-­Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves.

That is from Steven Johnson, the piece is excellent throughout.  And note this:

The new environment may well select for artists who are particularly adept at inventing new career paths rather than single-­mindedly focusing on their craft.

A few points on the Amazon story everyone is talking about:

1. First, if the story is somewhat true but exaggerated (a plausible scenario for something anecdotally based), the story may help Amazon with its current (but not prospective) employees.   A lot of people suddenly are feeling better treated than the perceived average, and that may boost their morale and productivity.  Yet they still feel the surrounding pressures to succeed.  As a countervailing force, Amazon is now less of a high status place to work and that may lower productivity and also it may hurt recruiting.

2. Given the existence of a tax wedge, Amazon employees are perhaps treated better than they would be in an optimum.  There is in general an inefficient substitution into non-pecuniary means of reimbursing workers because workplace income is taxed but workplace perks are not.  So arguably Amazon is treating its workers too well.  Think of this as another form of corporate tax arbitrage.

3. There is no right to an upper middle class lifestyle.  And for a large number of people, getting one is not easy.

Here is my Washington Post review of that book, which I very much liked.  Here is one bit from the review:

My favorite parts of the book are about the military, an area where most other popular authors on automation and smart software have hesitated to tread. In this book you can read about how much of America’s military prowess comes from superior human performance and not just from technology. Future gains will result from how combat participants are trained, motivated, and taught to work together and trust each other, and from better after-action performance reviews. Militaries are inevitably hierarchical, but when they process and admit their mistakes, they can become rapidly more efficient.

The subtitle of the book is What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.

…Adblock Plus has become the internet’s advertising sheriff. That’s because its software, by default, allows some ads through its firewall—ads it deems “acceptable,” meeting a series of strict criteria it came up with in conversation with internet users around the world. The criteria essentially eliminate most of the ads on the market today, rolling back ad technology to the 1990s: text only, no animations, no popovers, no placement in the flow of text. In the two months since I’ve installed the software, I don’t recall seeing any ads that meet the criteria.

Websites must apply to get “whitelisted,” and an Adblock Plus employee then works with the site to make sure that the selected ads comply with the criteria. Ben Williams, a spokesman for Eyeo, told me that 700 publishers and bloggers have been whitelisted. The whitelist is how the company makes money. Eyeo charges large for-profit publishers a cut of ad revenues to be on the list, a scheme some critics have called extortion. Williams declined to say who is paying or how much, but the Financial Times recently reported that Google, Microsoft, and Amazon were among those paying Eyeo for their acceptable ads to appear to Adblock Plus users.

There is more here, from Michael Rosenwald.

Will ad-blocking, over time, decimate the free web?