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We have some special guests in the house. In addition to our loyal Login readers, today's newsletter is also going to members of MIT's Solve conference community. Please make the newbies feel welcome.

A cellist, a professor, a cabinet member and an entrepreneur walk into a bar

Adam Schultz

When MIT first asked me to moderate a session that included Yo-Yo Ma and former defense secretary Ash Carter, along with an economics professor and an Indian biotech entrepreneur, I wondered how on earth to tie everything together.

But the key was the question MIT asked four speakers at the Solve conference: Does technology still create more opportunity than it destroys?

It really is one of the defining questions of our era and one that must be answered by society as a whole, not just those who create technology, so having such a diverse group discuss the topic really makes sense.

Edited highlights from the conversation:

Yo-Yo Ma (cellist):

Whenever there is something new that is invented, it goes through lots of bumps. In order to figure out what the human condition will do. Is it bad? Is it good? It's not the technology that we need to worry about. It's us. How well do we understand ourselves? I'm 61, I'm still trying to figure it out. That's not about machines. We need to figure out what we're here for. Of course, it's great that we have robots, but the robots are not humans. They can do all these things, but they don't wonder. They don't necessarily suffer.

Erik Brynjolfsson (MIT-Sloan School of Management):

I view this as the biggest question for our society over the coming decade, the role of technology and the way it is going to reshape the economy and jobs. It's already having a huge effect. There's a lot of hype around it as well... We're not facing the end of work. It's not that robots are going to take all the jobs any time soon.

Ash Carter (former U.S. defense secretary)

Think about your responsibilities as an innovator... It's not a birthright that technology does only good things or only bad things. That's a choice that we make. Historically the [impact] has been overwhelmingly positive.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (chairperson, Biocon)

We forget about the under-resourced, under-skilled developing world. What we are looking for is technology to bridge a lot of these deficits. If you think about a country like India, India is very excited about a digital world. Just take for example Uber and its Indian counterpart, Ola. They've created a million jobs just because India today has 650 million mobile phones which have suddenly allowed people to have service on demand, which was never possible before. You couldn't even hail a taxi in most parts of the country. We look at technology as a huge job multiplier.

The discussion will continue over the next two days, with speakers to include Xerox chairman Ursula Burns and former U.S. CTO Megan Smith.

Zuckerberg is learning by listening, even if he never runs for office

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Mark Zuckerberg's "I'm not running for president" cross-country campaign continues, though most of his travels have been closed to the press. As David reports, that gives the Facebook CEO the chance to get better at these sorts of appearances without the blinding glare of media attention. His recent Midwest outings have been tightly controlled, though some moments have leaked out and still others have been intentionally shared, such as Zuckerberg's first tractor ride. Here are some highlights:
  • Zuckerberg ate dinner with an unsuspecting Ohio family who didn't know Zuckerberg was their mystery guest until 15 minutes before he showed up. Business Insider reported that the CEO's staff set up catering for the dinner and told Zuckerberg's host that he wouldn't want to be seated at the head of the table.
  • He visited a farm where he fed a calf and drove a tractor for the first time.
  • He met with people affected by the opioid epidemic in private, even though such "listening tour" events are a classic way for politicians and executives to talk about an issue in front of the press.

The upshot: Even if he doesn't run for public office, the tour is helping boost his ability to handle a wide range of situations. Former Jeb Bush communications director Tim Miller told us "whether you're an executive or politician and you're put in these awkward staged situations where you have to have a discussion with regular people — if you don't have a lot of practice doing that, the result is awkward."

When Apple Pay really shines

In some cases Apple Pay really isn't that much different than using a credit card, especially for the minority of merchants that make you sign a receipt anyway. But there are two specific scenarios where it is a lifesaver and I have encountered both in the past week:

  1. When you have to replace your cards: We've all been there. You lose your wallet and then you have to call the credit card companies and wait for new cards to arrive. Even if they overnight them it can be a hassle. But, with Apple Pay, some magic happens. As soon as you report the card missing, your phone can be updated with the new card. My partner left his wallet on a plane, but as he cancelled the cards, the replacements showed up on my phone, while he had to wait for the physical counterpart to arrive in the mail.
  2. When you forget your wallet at home: This happened to me yesterday as I was jet-lagged from taking the red eye to Boston. Relying on Apple Pay limits your options (only a couple of the quick-serve restaurants in the food court accepted Apple Pay). But at least you have some options. Plus, the main reason I went to the mall was to get my make-up done for Solve, and Sephora takes Apple Pay.

Oliver's take on net neutrality proves motivational

HBO, via YouTube

John Oliver has managed to do what dozens of public interest groups have struggled to do: Rally the public around the potential rollback of net neutrality rules.

So far the FCC has received almost 150,000 comments (though not all take Oliver's position) since his piece aired on Sunday. And that's despite claims of a denial-of-service attack.

You can watch the segment here.

Keeping tabs on Uber-Waymo

It's been more than two months since Alphabet's self-driving car unit, Waymo, accused Uber of stealing and using its trade secrets, and it can be tough to keep track of everything happening. Luckily, Kia has updated her timeline of the case to reflect the new developments that came out last week as a federal judge heard arguments from both parties on whether he should grant an injunction halting some of Uber's self-driving car efforts (a ruling on that is due soon).

Among the new details added to the timeline are: the stock grant that Uber gave Anthony Levandowski, effective two days after he left Google, and, the December 2015 internal Uber emails that show that it was considering acquiring Levandowski's yet-to-be-formed startup before he had even left Waymo.

What's at stake: Should the judge rule in Waymo's favor, Uber could find its autonomous driving program in jeopardy — a potentially expensive setback for the ride-hailing company. While Uber's present is all about matching drivers and riders, the company's future economics look a whole lot better if it can take drivers out of the equation.

Take note

On tap: MIT's Solve continues in Boston through Wednesday (sign up here for updates from the Solve team)...Nvidia reports earnings after the bell Tuesday.

Trading places: Stripe has hired noted security researcher Peiter "Mudge" Zatko as its new head of security.

ICYMI: Comcast and Charter confirmed they are exploring ways to work together on wireless service...Pandora has raised $150 million from KKR, but is also considering selling itself. Also of note, 70 percent of its members are into country music...Amazon may introduce a touchscreen version of its Echo speaker as early as today.

After you Login

Is all this talk of Boston making you hungry for some clam chowder or baked beans? Here are some recipes.

We'll be back tomorrow with more from MIT's Solve conference and the rest of the world in tech.

Featured

Trump administration backs Obama-led climate effort

Obama and Trump meet at the White House after Trump's election. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A career State Department official speaking at a conference Thursday on behalf of the Trump administration backed a climate policy then-President Obama pursued shortly before he left office.

The policy phases down powerful greenhouse gases found in a range of everyday appliances. This is the most explicit and public the Trump administration has been about supporting it.

The big picture: The conference, held this week in Montreal, is about a recent amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty created 30 years ago to fix the hole in the Earth's ozone layer, which is now it's achieving its goal. World leaders, led by the Obama administration, agreed in October 2016 to the Kigali amendment, which would phase down emissions of powerful greenhouse gases in refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used in many appliances from air conditioners to refrigerators.

Quoted: "The United States believes the Kigali Amendment represents a pragmatic and balanced approach to phasing down the production and consumption of HFCs, and therefore we support the goals and approach of the Amendment," said Judith Garber, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

What's next: Rhetorical backing for the amendment is one thing, but to have it actually take effect, the administration needs to send it over to the Senate so it can vote on its official ratification, as the Senate has done on other amendments and the original treaty 30 years ago. "There is no timeline currently determined for these steps, but we have initiated the process to consider U.S. ratification of the Amendment," Garber said.

Fast facts: The Montreal Protocol is a treaty about the ozone layer, but this latest amendment from Kigali represents an evolution to concerns about climate change. The 2015 Paris climate deal, which is a non-binding treaty that didn't require congressional input, is mostly about cutting other greenhouse gases from energy and land use. It's wholly separate from the Montreal Protocol.

Bottom line: Process matters a lot here. One of the biggest complaints of Trump administration officials about the Paris deal is that Obama circumvented Congress (because he knew he wouldn't get support from the GOP-controlled Senate). The Kigali amendment backers, which include chemical makers like Honeywell and Chemours, are emphasizing how this is a collaborative process with Congress and is about the Montreal Protocol, not climate change per se.

My thought bubble: If/when you see this process unfold further, don't expect congressional Republicans and the administration to focus at all about the climate change angle. It'll be all about collaboration and protecting the environment and creating business opportunities for industry.


Go deeper:

  • Read my two Harder Line columns on this topic: Why industry is backing the policy, and how your air conditioner is caught up in all this.
  • The amendment is set to go into force (for those that have officially signed onto it) in January 2019, thanks to Sweden just recently signing on and meeting the ratification threshold, per the NYT.
Featured

A new bird species is seen emerging in real-time

A medium ground finch, one of the two Galapagos finches that led to the new lineage.

Photo: Uwe-Bergwitz / iStock

Scientists have directly documented a new species evolving in the wild for the first time, according to the BBC. Fittingly, the event was seen in Galapagos Island finches, the same group of birds that helped Darwin solidify his theory of evolution. The research, published Thursday in the journal Science, started in 1981, when a single male from a different finch species came to the tiny island of Daphne Major.

Why it matters: This is the first time the formation of a new species has been observed in real-time in the wild. More than that, it shows how just a single individual can breed with one from another species, leading to the creation of a new species.

For several decades, scientists have been meticulously documenting minute changes in different finch species on the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that's been referred to as a "natural laboratory for evolution."

How it started: The initial hybridization event happened in 1981 on the Galapagos island of Daphne Major, where evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant conducted most of their research. They studied the group so closely that they noticed when a male large cactus finch, native to a different island 65 miles away, arrived on the island and began breeding with a local population.

What happened: Native females didn't recognize the songs of the new hybrid males, so instead of breeding with the local population as expected, the hybrids bred within their population. This paper shows that after just two generations, they stopped breeding with other populations and have remained reproductively isolated ever since.

Taking off: "In most cases, the offspring of cross-species matings are poorly adapted to their environment," writes Rory Galloway for the BBC. But the large size of these hybrids has allowed them to exploit resources the native birds weren't using, so the birds have flourished.

Go deeper: It just so happens that Darwin's personally annotated copy of The Origin of Species is up for auction. The Guardian has the story.

Featured

Swedish power plant burning H&M clothes instead of coal

Frenzied customers grab clothes, shortly after H&M opened a new store in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

A Swedish power plant is burning H&M clothing as a way to move closer to becoming "a fossil-fuel free facility by 2020," according to Bloomberg.

Why it matters: Per Bloomberg, Sweden runs on "an almost entirely emission free-power system," and moving plants to burning only trash and biofuels will hopefully "edge out the last of its fossil fuel units."

  • Head of Communications for H&M in Sweden, Johanna Dahl, told Bloomberg: "H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use...However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed."
  • The Swedish plant has reportedly burned 15 tons of H&M clothing in 2017 thus far.
Featured

More young people are becoming farmers

Photo: LM Otero / AP

"For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture," the WashPost's Caitlin Downey reports in a front-pager with the lovely headline, "A growing movement":

  • 69% of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.
  • Why it matters: "This new generation can't hope to replace the numbers that farming is losing to age. But it is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape."
  • Where it's happening: "In some states, such as California, Nebraska and South Dakota, the number of beginning farmers has grown by 20 percent or more."
  • The millennials are "far more likely than the general farming population to grow organically, limit pesticide and fertilizer use, diversify their crops or animals, and be deeply involved in... farmers markets."
Featured

Uber's data breach cover-up could be the last straw for some riders

Photo: Richard Vogel / AP

Uber's "latest misbehavior involving a data breach cover-up revealed this week could be the impetus for people to ride elsewhere," according to AP's Tom Krisher in Detroit and tech writer Barbara Ortutay:

  • "[R]iders have fled from the service before, but enough have stayed because of the Uber's convenience."
  • "[T]his week the state of Colorado fined Uber $8.9 million for allowing employees with serious criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive for the company. Then came the stolen data, which has touched off more government inquiries."
  • Why it matters: Polling by Brand Keys Inc., a New York-based customer research firm, "found that in 2015 Lyft passed Uber as the most trusted of ride-hailing brands, and trust in Uber has been eroding ever since."
Featured

How Trump risked a key intel relationship

Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador Kislyak at the White House in May. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP

Astonishing reporting from Vanity Fair's The Hive, by Howard Blum ... "What Trump ... told Kisylak after Comey was canned ... During a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, the president betrayed his intelligence community by leaking the content of a classified, and highly sensitive, Israeli intelligence operation to two high-ranking Russian envoys, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov":

  • Israeli spies and counterterrorism forces had discovered that "ISIS terrorists were working on transforming laptop computers into bombs that could pass undetected through airport security." That led to new U.S. and British restrictions on flights from abroad.
  • "[T]he Israeli mission was praised by [the American espionage community] as a casebook example of a valued ally's hard-won field intelligence being put to good, arguably even lifesaving, use."
  • "Yet this triumph would be overshadowed ... when ... Trump revealed details about the classified mission" to the Russian officials in the Oval.
  • Why it matters: "[F]resh blood was spilled in [Trump's] long-running combative relationship with the nation's clandestine services. Israel ... would rethink its willingness to share raw intelligence, and pretty much the entire Free World was left shaking its collective head in bewilderment."
  • Listen in.

P.S. Paul Manafort took at least 138 trips to Ukraine between 2004 and 2015 while consulting for Russian and pro-Russian oligarchs, McClatchy'sPeter Stone and Greg Gordon report:

  • "As the GOP platform committee drew up party positions a week before the Republican National Convention, a plank calling for the United States to provide 'lethal weapons' for Ukraine's defense was altered in a controversial and mysterious move."
  • An "American consultant in Ukraine said that Manafort ... had boasted he played a role in easing the language."
  • "Charlie Black, a onetime partner of Manafort's, says he remains baffled by the change. 'It was inexplicable to me that a majority of platform members would have taken a pro-Russian position on Ukraine.'"
Featured

More than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar

Photo: Bernat Armangue / AP

This aerial photo shows the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, housing Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape violence. More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the army began what it called "clearance operations" following an attack on police posts by a group of Rohingya insurgents.

Go deeper: The big picture on the crisis

Featured

Black Friday sales expected to grow due to healthy economy

Antsy shoppers wait for a Best Buy to open on Thanksgiving in Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: Charlie Riedel / AP

"With the jobless rate at a 17-year-low of 4.1% and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases ... The National Retail Federation ... expects sales ... to at least match last year's rise of 3.6% and estimates online spending and other non-store sales will rise 11 to 15%," per AP.

  • "Black Friday has morphed from a single day ... into a whole season of deals, so shoppers may feel less need to be out."
  • Stunning stat: "Analysts at Bain say Amazon is expected to take half of the holiday season's sales growth."
  • AP reports that Hatchimals are hot:
Featured

Franken apologizes over latest claims, cites "warm" personality

Al Franken at The BookExpo2017 in New York City. Photo: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Democratic Sen. Al Franken has issued a statement about the latest allegations that he groped women while posing for photographs, saying he has taken "thousands of photographs" and is a "warm person," but acknowledging he "crossed a line for some women." He says he is sorry he made "some women feel badly."

Why it matters: Franken is in survival mode after four allegations of unwanted contact, and facing an Ethics investigation and some calls to resign. He's walking a tightrope here, not denying the individual accusations while portraying them as rare missteps resulting from his "warm" personality, rather than a pattern of creepy behavior. He says he plans to win back the "trust" of his constituents.

Full statement

"I've met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many. Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that.

"I've thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terribly that I've made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again. And let me say again to Minnesotans that I'm sorry for putting them through this and I'm committed to regaining their trust."

Featured

Trump's morning tweets: NFL protests, Middle East "mess" and golf

President Trump took to Twitter early on the Friday after Thanksgiving:

Worth noting: This White House treats golf as a clandestine operation, never saying whether or not Trump is actually playing, so this is a rare bit of candor.