Monday Moves v0.5
*Feb 17, 2020*
Sometimes you have to wait for the best things in life….we might not be all that but aren’t you just glad we made it to your inbox eventually? We’re making up for missing your inbox last week with some of our best content yet.
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Raj: Spotify is already the king of music streaming. Spotify’s acquisition of The Ringer signals its ambition to be the global king of all things audio.
Spotify revolutionized the music distribution industry in the late 2000s to early 2010s, creating the blueprint for virtually every audio streaming platform to come out since then. At a time when Napster was long dead, CD sales were falling, and radio services like Pandora and iHeart were yet to launch, Spotify capitalized on demand for a convenient way to listen to music by perfecting the freemium model and leveraging its exhaustive catalog. Its rise to industry dominance has been impressive, especially for a company headquartered not in traditional hubs like New York or the Bay Area but in Stockholm, Sweden. The company recently acquired The Ringer, the Bostonian broadcaster Bill Simmons’ media company that boasts 30 podcasts and 100 million downloads a month. Spotify already has a massive investment in podcasts, boasting a catalog of over 700,000 podcasts. This investment has the potential to pay massive returns, as podcast listening on the platform has risen over 200 percent. Picking up groups with a massive loyal following, as Spotify has just done with the Ringer, will further the already large gap between its closest competitor, Apple Music. Spotify is operating at a loss but is banking on a year of investments to pay off in the future. Apple Music must launch a combative strategy if it seeks to be relevant in 2030.
Sam: Tesla’s Cybertruck is going to face some serious(ly cool) competition from Rivian, Ford, GM, and Nikola.
The main focus for Arizona startup Nikola is developing zero emission semi-trucks, but they decided to join the ranks of other auto companies who think the market is ready for electric pickup trucks. Nikola announced their contestant in the race with the Badger, an electric pickup truck that is powered by hydrogen and an auxiliary battery pack. Nikola claims the truck has a 600 mile range, with 300 coming from the hydrogen tank and 300 from battery power alone, and 900 horsepower with a 0-60 time of 2.9 seconds. With almost no infrastructure for hydrogen fuel, Nikola also plans to build filling stations to support the Badger, but more importantly their big rig fleet. Nikola has not given definite plans on manufacturing timelines or costs, which could reason for a concern. With Rivian planning on delivering their first electric pickups and SUVs later this year, Ford’s electric F-150 announcement, GM’s electric revival of the Hummer brand, and Tesla’s Cybertruck, the competition in the electric pickup field is looking steep. If Nikola’s claims are true, then the Badger will be a tough contender and I look forward to hearing more details as they become available.
Sam: The Iowa Caucuses showed how poor planning and rushed IT construction can lead to an embarrassing catastrophe.
“It was a total system breakdown that casts doubt on how a critical contest on the American political calendar has been managed for years,” writes The New York Times in a damning article outlining the issues that made the event a national embarrassment for the Democratic National Committee. The smartphone app designed to report the results of the Iowa caucuses failed and chaos ensued as party leaders fell back on an understaffed call center. Only a few days before the event, precinct leaders were instructed to download an app for recording and reporting results. The app was developed by Shadow Inc, a political technology company led by an experienced political tech consultant with deep ties to the democratic establishment. The timeline for developing the app was way too short, and the price (just over $60,000) was miniscule given the task. The state party and DNC didn’t test the app prior to the the weekend before the caucuses, and during the week leading up to the caucuses it was clear that the app had problems. The only assistance for these problems was a single help-desk employee with inconsistent communication. As the caucuses took place and it became clear that the app was a disaster, the development team frantically tried to repair the app, but the party leaders decided to pull the plug entirely and rely on phone calls. Unfortunately the caucus leaders had placed a lot of trust in the app, and the backup plan was understaffed and poorly prepared. The results took days to straighten out, and the math still does not add up in places. The Iowa Democratic Party and DNC learned a valuable lesson on how important it is to ensure the reliability of technology by extensively testing it before turning it over to the public.
Raj: Social media companies are rolling out tools and policies to scrub malicious deepfakes from their sites. Alphabet’s Jigsaw just announced a fact-checking tool called Assembler to aid journalists in spotting manipulated content. Combatting increasingly sophisticated disinformation requires increasingly vigilant technology.
Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has unveiled a new tool called Assembler that it claims will assist journalists in identifying deepfakes. Jigsaw researches and forecasts emerging technology to combat disinformation, censorship, harassment, and violent extremism. Assembler’s importance arises from the rapid evolution of disinformation from amateurish fake news to targeted and sophisticated campaigns. Jared Cohen, the company’s CEO, describes Assembler’s underlying technology as assembling multiple image manipulation detectors, each designed to detect different kinds of manipulation, into a single, multi-faceted detection tool. Aggregating many detectors could provide robustness, since an individual detector that identifies images manipulated by copy and paste probably won’t reliably identify images manipulated by brightness or saturation editing. One of the detectors that Jigsaw developed identifies “StyleGAN-like” media. StyleGAN, which is open-source, falls under a type of architecture in artificial intelligence called general adversarial networks (GANs). At an extremely high level, GANs pit one machine learning algorithm against another (hence adversarial) in a sequence of competitions and learn from the outcome of each competition to make better results in order to beat some system. Deepfakes rely on GANs, and deepfakes that are completely novel images (not just faceswaps) rely on StyleGAN. To see just how powerful StyleGAN is, check out this website that shows artificially generated faces that look totally real. If Assembler is able to discriminate these images from unaltered ones, it will truly be a pioneering technology in combating malicious AI.
Eyes on the Road
Sam: T-Mobile and Sprint got the green light to merge. The market is happy but will consumers be?
On Tuesday a federal judge approved a $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. According to T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert the deal could close as early as April 1st. At the time of writing, Sprint stock is up over 80% in reaction to the news. As a part of the merger T-Mobile agreed to enter a deal with Dish to lease access to their network, allowing Dish to jump-start their wireless carrier offerings and hopefully develop their own 5G network with goals to become the fourth-largest wireless carrier. What does all of this mean for consumers? The judge who ruled on the case decided the merger would “enhance competition in the relevant markets to the benefit of all consumers.” Others disagree pointing towards price jumps in the wireless markets of Ireland and Canada after mergers, concerns that Dish will not follow through with their promises, and fear of massive layoffs. For now we know a few practical things. The Sprint name will be eliminated and the majority of customers will be transferred to T-mobile plans. Sprint prepaid customers including those on Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile will become the first customers of the newly formed Dish Network. For now T-Mobile does not plan to raise prices and excitedly boasts that the merger will help them roll out 5G faster. Will prices go up and jobs be lost? Or will the new T-Mobile be in a better position to take on Verizon and AT&T? Stay tuned as the deal gets closer to becoming reality.
That’s all for this week. Keep on moving.