Platforms are like doctors; A day with Bezos; AI poetry from a lion

Main Course
HBR: Platforms Should Become Information Fiduciaries

Harvard professor Johnathan Zittrain writes in HBR that large internet platforms should have a fiduciary duty to users: “Like doctors, lawyers, and financial advisers, social media platforms and their concierges are given sensitive information by their users, and those users expect a fair shake — whether they’re trying to find out what’s going on in the world or how to get somewhere or do something.” It’s an idea increasing in popularity among academics; we’ll see if it gains traction in policy rings, or if politicians remain content with Committee hearings and grandstanding.

Report: How the right uses YouTube to influence and “sell” a political ideology.
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Data & Society’s report visualizes how YouTube’s recommendations can lead users from moderate to increasingly radicalized channels.

A new Data & Society report analyzes how political influencers adopt the techniques of brands to build audiences and sell them a political ideology. Of note: “YouTube is a principal online news source for young people. Which is why it is concerning that YouTube… has become the single most important hub by which an extensive network of far-right influencers profit from broadcasting propaganda to young viewers. Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”

Lighter Fare

⌚️ Watch out: Hodinkee’s got a review of the Apple Watch Series 4 after a week on the wrist. The cult classic Ikepod watch (perhaps most recognizable now because its strap design is used on the aforementioned Apple Watch) is also back, starting at less than $400. Quartz for now, but since the Kickstarter has already blown past its goal, those hoping for an automatic version may have something to look forward to in 2019.

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Ikepod is back and better than ever; if you squint, doesn’t it look like the Apple Watch? | Source: Ikepod

🌮 A Financial Times columnist reflects on the enduring regionalism of cuisine, writing,  “To eat out is to see through the world-as-village conceit. Except at the lowest price point (McDonald’s) and the highest (Nobu), a global dining scene — in which each cuisine is, like an iPhone, consistent across the world — remains not just elusive but unimaginable.

🍌 Elsewhere in food: peeling back the history of the banana, and American habits are changing faster than fast food can keep up (or, restaurant visits are at a 28-year low).

🤑 Forbes’ interview with Bezos. One of the best quotes from the $160 billion man: “Friends congratulate me after a quarterly-earnings announcement and say, ‘Good job, great quarter,’ and I’ll say, ‘Thank you, but that quarter was baked three years ago.’ I’m working on a quarter that’ll happen in 2021 right now.

Amazon Go opens its fourth location, this time in Chicago. Salesforce’s Benioff purchases TIME for $190 million. This week in the genre of tech-founder-gives-news-outlet-an-opportunity-to-profile-to-prove-he’s-an-okay-guy: Kairos’ Ankur Jain is profiled by the New Yorker, and Business of Fashion’s Imran Ahmed is profiled by the Guardian. At the intersection of politics and retail: #NikeBoycott is over, and why retail activism rarely changes anything. Important reminders for men in tech (and elsewhere). Can the maker of Tasers provide answers and new technologies to assist with police abuse? Ikea’s self driving ambitions.

🍾 A week of anniversaries: WIRED turns 25 and the Economist turns 175, with the requisite reflective essays to accompany the milestones.

📱 Apple v. Kanye. The Financial Times points out that two industries historically poles apart – fashion and tech – will go head-to-head on Friday. Adidas’ Yeezy line will have its biggest drop yet, while Apple will debut the first of its new phone line. Apple has always gladly straddled the line of luxury brand disguised as tech company (or is the other way around?), while Kanye has declared a goal of democratizing high-end fashion. His $220 sneakers are a good start.

🦁 Please Feed the Lions: Designer Es Devlin, who has in the past found herself in the good graces of Kanye West and Beyonce, is behind a new project titled Please Feed the Lions. Visitors to the sculpture in London’s Trafalgar Square “feed” the lion a word via tablet. The lion then uses AI to create a poem using the word.

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AI-powered poetry, brought to you by a lion | Source: Google

Amazon Go Opens In Chicago

When Amazon opened its first Amazon Go location in Seattle earlier this year, I wrote:

On January 22, Amazon opened Amazon Go, its cashier-less convenience store concept, to the public. Pictures of the store show a small, 7-Eleven-like space filled with grab-and-go items, meal kits, and even alcohol. Almost as soon as news of its opening spread, speculation of Amazon’s plans for the technology behind Amazon Go spread as well. Will they license the technology to others? (eh, maybe) Bring it to Whole Foods? (eventually) Build Amazon Go stores across the United States? (yep).

Seven months later, Amazon has opened three more Go locations in Seattle, and on September 17, it quietly opened the first Go location outside of its home city, in Chicago’s Loop.

Here are a few photos of the new location, at 113 S Franklin, for those in Chicago (it’s the same building as Amazon’s office in the city).

The entrance is unremarkable, just one door that opens to the street and another that opens into the attached office building (where Amazon resides). The space itself is also small, no larger than a 7-Eleven you might find in a downtown area.

The entrance to Amazon Go’s new Chicago location.

Inside, the store is also pretty ordinary, with a long L-shaped refrigerated around along the walls, and a few rows of common convenience items lining the internal rows. The items have a decidedly more health-focused bent then traditional packaged goods one might see at convenience stores. The fridge space is filled with read-to-eat items for breakfast and lunch, and boxed dinners that can be taken home and prepped in “about 30 minutes,” Blue Apron style.

Continue reading Amazon Go Opens In Chicago

Platforms are the New Corporation; Technology and Basketball

An eagle and a fox fight over a rabbit; or, Amazon’s fight for food delivery dominance.

🏢 Do Platforms Work?, Aeon

The distributed network has gobbled up the hierarchical firm. Where once we had the ‘corporation’, now we are witnessing the ascendancy of the ‘platform’. The platform economy is in its early days, but to date, profits generated by these large internet platforms (Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple) have accrued to their owners. But the future of platforms provides promise for workers (through the current platform model, or through crypto networks) to build and own their own platforms. This provides opportunity for them to actual participate in and own the value being created, rather than having it be skimmed by remote investors or shareholders.

“The traditional structure of the firm might have reached its use-by date. But if societies can embrace the economics of the platform while shifting its ownership to workers, a more equitable, resilient and democratic society could well be in store.”

🥑 How Amazon Is Using Whole Foods in a Bid for Total Retail Domination, Fortune

As part of its profile of Fortune 500 companies, Fortune provides a peak into Amazon’s Whole Foods strategy, a year since the merger took place. The online food delivery business is different than the traditional ecommerce business Amazon has perfected, but its Whole Foods purchase gives it just the door needed to win over the fridge space of its 100-million-strong Prime subscriber base. Indeed, many of Amazon’s most well-known and consumer-facing efforts – Amazon Key, the Ring purchase, Alexa – will all play critical roles in the ecommerce giant’s efforts to sell us our kale and avocados.

“’Food is the platform for selling you everything else,’ says Walter Robb, the former co-CEO of Whole Foods. ‘It’s an everyday way into your life. There’s nothing else that happens quite that way.'”

👸 Queens of Infamy: Anne Boleyn, Longreads

Before royal weddings were nationally televised and Harry wiped away a tear for millions to see, there was Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. A brilliantly funny and informative tour of Boleyn’s life.


With the NBA Finals beginning today, a few basketball-themed tech long reads:

⛹️‍♂️ The Instagram Stars of High School Basketball, The Atlantic

Around 2014, the hyper-local world of high school basketball began to change.

Zion Williams, a high-school phenom and Duke’s latest five-star recruit, has more than 1.5 million Instagram followers.

Short-form video began to proliferate on social networks and more digitally native high-school athletes, armed with their own cellphones, started posting clips of themselves and friends doing dunks and trick shots, and cobbling together their own highlight reels for YouTube. These clips spread like wildfire, amplified by the rise of basketball-focused media companies like Ballislife and Overtime, which have dedicated increasing resources to covering the high-school market.

It’s another fascinating story illustrating the way in which digital platforms have influenced the way we act in the physical world.

🏀 The Curious Case of Bryan Colangelo and the Secret Twitter Account, The Ringer

In one of the weirder internet-meets-sports stories since Manti Te’o and the dead girlfriend, The Ringer details the weird story of Philadelphia 76ers’ president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo and his five fake Twitter accounts. The accounts disclosed non-public information, debated 76ers’ front office moves and strategy, and crticized NBA players.

Cool things of the week 🤔: 

🦅 A fox and a bald eagle fight over a rabbit in mid air.

🎬 A trailer for the Winnie the Pooh live action film that might make you cry.

📚 And, all the books Bill Gates has recommended.

Ring’s Patents and Amazon’s Everything Ambitions

Amazon wants to own your home; Ring’s IP gives it the opportunity to do just that

By now, everyone has heard the news of Amazon’s $1+ billion acquisition of smart-home startup Ring, most famous for its video-enabled doorbell and “failed” Shark Tank appearance.

Amazon’s acquisition of Ring marks its latest move into the smart home/ home security space.

Understanding Amazon

It’s become apparent that the $50 billion home security market is the first real use case or potential “killer app” for the smart home. With the Ring purchase and its recent purchase of another smart home startup, Blink, Amazon is positioning itself to win the space. But for Amazon, “winning” a space doesn’t simply mean gaining a few customers and selling them a bunch of stuff. Time and time again, they’ve executed against a very specific strategy:

  • Invest in a market with massive fixed costs but the potential to benefit from economies of scale
  • Build an integrated solution, justified by the fact that Amazon itself will use it
  • Open up the integrated solution to third parties, providing the “primitives” for continued development on top of the Amazon platform

The Amazon Marketplace (the core ecommerce offering) and Amazon Web Services are the two most prominent and realized exercises of this strategy, but it is actively pursuing the strategy in logistics, food services, and now, the smart home. Notably, Amazon’s moves into all of these markets feed off each other. For instance, its moves into logistics—particularly its goal to solve the “last mile problem”—is directly strengthened by its effort to own the smart home, particularly the home security system.

Continue reading Ring’s Patents and Amazon’s Everything Ambitions

Apple, Not Amazon, Will Be the Tech Giant to Disrupt Healthcare

Apple has redefined industry after industry with superior UX; healthcare is next.

Amidst all the hype about Amazon’s announcement that it will create an independent healthcare company with a couple pals, news of Apple’s recent lurch into the health industry was widely drowned out. With the release of the latest iPhone iOS beta (11.3), Apple announced improvements to Health Records which promise to make healthcare data more consumer-centric:

The updated Health Records section within the Health app brings together hospitals, clinics and the existing Health app to make it easy for consumers to see their available medical data from multiple providers whenever they choose….

In the past, patients’ medical records were held in multiple locations, requiring patients to log into each care provider’s website and piece together the information manually. Apple worked with the healthcare community (emphasis mine) to take a consumer-friendly approach, creating Health Records based on FHIR.

Amazon’s announcement came with scant details, while Apple’s announcement accompanied the actual beta release of the announced feature. Such is the current Amazon hype cycle though: Should Jeff Bezos so much as look in an industry’s direction, stocks tumble a few percent.

Look, I can use Yahoo Finance to show how stocks go down when AMZN says something! Here, United Healthcare (insurer), Anthem (insurer), Aetna (insurer) and CVS (Rx/ wannabe insurer) all take a dive.

Continue reading Apple, Not Amazon, Will Be the Tech Giant to Disrupt Healthcare

This Patent Explains Why Alexa Won’t Be Listening to Her Own Super Bowl Commercial

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Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial featuring an under-the-weather Alexa has been circulating on the Internet for a few days now. It’s a funny spot featuring Cardi B, Anthony Hopkins, and other celebrities filling in for a coughing Alexa.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Amazon’s potential healthcare patents. It turns out they’ve got a patent for the question millions will be asking after this commercial airs during the Super Bowl too:

Why isn’t Alexa responding to her name from the TV?

In a patent filed shortly before the Amazon Echo was first released in 2014, Amazon details “devices, methods, and systems for detecting wake words and audio commands that should be disregarded,” for example, “in a television or radio advertisement.”

The patent primarily describes a matching technique to avoid unintentional waking of voice-activated devices. Amazon records and stores clips of the commercial in the (AWS) cloud, and when Alexa detects a wake word or an audible command, it compares the audio of the detected wake word or command to the commercial snippet. If the detected audio matches the commercial, the device recognizes that the detected audio is part of the ad and ignores it. Additionally, the device may record and buffer portions of detected audio that precede and/or follow the detected wake word. The preceding and/or following portion(s) may be used to assist in identifying if the detected audio matches a stored audio sample, for example from the advertisement.

Amazon also recently published a blog post about this, detailing how “teams build acoustic fingerprints on-the-fly within our AWS cloud. When multiple devices start waking up simultaneously from a broadcast event, similar audio is streaming to Alexa’s cloud services. An algorithm within Amazon’s cloud detects matching audio from distinct devices and prevents additional devices from responding. The dynamic fingerprinting isn’t perfect, but as many as 80 to 90 percent of devices won’t respond to these broadcasts thanks to the dynamic creation of the fingerprints.”

For example, when Jimmy Fallon opens his monologue with a bit about Alexa, Amazon has algorithms in place that may recognize that multiple devices are being inadvertently woken up, preventing additional devices from responding to the command.

The patent also details another method, by which an advertisement may be configured to include an audio signal inaudible to human that indicates to a detecting device that the audio of the wake word or other audible command in the program is an inadvertent wake word or command and that the device should disregard that particular command. Think of a dog whistle or those “mosquito devices” that play a sound at ultra-high frequencies to scare away the youths. Amazon’s blog post doesn’t mention this technique, but it’s possible Amazon’s ad employs both this method and the cloud-based comparison method.

Also, shouldn’t having a celebrity voice substitute as Alexa’s voice (as in the commercial) be some sort of premium feature?

Last year’s Super Bowl brought in an estimated $420 million in advertising. Jeff Bezos’ net worth of $120 billion means he could buy ALL of the advertising for the next 285 Super Bowls at that price.

What Do Amazon’s Patents Tell Us about Its Healthcare Ambitions?

Amazon is already one of the most advanced tech companies in the world. How will it bring this technology to healthcare?

There has been much speculation about what Amazon’s announcement that it’s creating an independent healthcare company with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan may mean. Of course, I’ve been one of those prognosticators, speculating that it’s a long-term play to build an Amazon Health Marketplace. But, Amazon is already one of the most advanced technology companies in the world; I thought I’d look at some of its existing patents and see if the company had visions of using them in healthcare. As it turns out, Amazon has a number of patents and technologies that might be deployed to make the healthcare system a more efficient experience. There are more to be added as I comb through the USPTO database, but here’s a sampling of the things Amazon is already thinking about:

Automatic exchange of data with doctors

In 2016, Amazon was granted a patent for “a wireless device management environment… based on a determination of communication events.” Noting that wireless devices collect a variety of information and data, the patent claims a system allowing for the exchange of this data in a number of settings, but provides healthcare as an example:

“In [an] illustrative example, assume that the data processing component has determined that the wireless device is within proximity to a hospital or clinic. In conjunction with user calendaring information indicative of a calendar event corresponding to a doctor’s appointment, the data processing component can determine the communication event and begin the information exchange prior to the user arriving at the doctor’s office and powering down the wireless device”

In other words, imagine walking into a hospital or clinic, and your phone and Fitbit immediately start exchanging with your doctor all the information they’ve collected since your last visit (steps, sleep, heart rate, etc.).

Advanced location tracking

Amazon has patented a method for switching between various methods of location tracking to pinpoint user location and provide exact directions in, for example, a hospital.

Another patent, granted in 2014, recognizes that mobile phones have multiple methods for tracking location. By being able to switch between these various methods, the phone can more accurately pinpoint a user’s location and provide directions. For example upon detecting a trigger (e.g., detecting a QR code or detecting an access point signal), a device can switch from using GPS to a second type of positioning element (e.g., using accelerometers, QR codes, etc.) in determining the user’s current location. By using the appropriate type of positioning element for each environment, the device may determine the user’s current location more accurately. The device may provide an overlay (e.g., arrows) for displaying the directions over images captured from the user’s surroundings to provide a more realistic and intuitive experience for the user. Again, Amazon gives hospitals as a preeminent application of this technology:

“In one example, a remote server may push a hospital map and additional information regarding the hospital to a user upon the user making a doctor’s appointment.”

With gigantic hospitals often spanning multiple city blocks, wayfinding is a major challenge, and Amazon may offer a unique solution to provide patients digital guidance to their appointments.

Inventory and bed management

Imagine the wheeled object is an automated mobile unit, and the large square item it docks to is a patient bed. The mobile unit can dock to the patient bed and move it as needed.

Another patent claims a “method and system for transporting inventory items.” The patent essentially claims an inventory management system centered around a “mobile drive unit” (the wheeled item in the drawing) that can assist in automatically managing and transporting inventory in a variety of settings.

While the patent provides many examples where this may be used — airport luggage, custom-order manufacturing, and of course, ecommerce warehouses — it also gives hospital beds (with patients) as an example:

“inventory items may represent people. For example, in a hospital setting, inventory items may represent beds containing particular patients. Thus, [the] inventory system may be configured to provide a safe, effective system for moving hospital beds that limits the potential for injury to patients and reduces the possibility of mistakes arising from human error.”

Amazon has notorious integrated human and robot workers in its warehouses, so maybe its not long until they attempt to do the same in hospitals.

The list goes on

There are many more examples, for instance a patent “limiting the effects of faults in a data center,” which has immediate application in hospitals where “downtime may result in significant disruption and, in some cases, adversely affect health and safety. I’ll add more examples later, but wanted to illustrate how Amazon already has some of the technology the healthcare industry has long needed.