Aug 27, 2017

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

Welcome back. Please invite your friends and colleagues to join the conversation. Let me know what you think about what you are reading here and in the daily stream. Just reply to this email, or drop me an email at steve@axios.com. We are taking off next Sunday for the Labor Day holiday and will be back on Sept. 10.

Let's start with our most proven way of creating progress.

1 big thing: Automating really big ideas

We have many problems, few apparent solutions, and could use some novel ideas about what to do next. Among inventors, the flash of genius comes not from nowhere, but usually by analogy — one thing is so, so why not another? In the 1940s, this was how Italian microbiologist Salvador Luria, watching a slot machine work, conceived his Nobel Prize-winning extension of Darwinism to bacteria. In 1666, Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree, and originated his theory of gravity.

The trouble with this approach to invention is the unpredictability of a good analogy — you simply have to wait for that spark. But in a new paper, researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Hebrew University say they've made an advance toward automating the process of finding and melding wholly unconnected things into big ideas.

To get started, says Carnegie Mellon's Aniket Kittur, researchers hired a bunch of people as a crowd-sourcing group. Their assignment: to attach analogy labels to hundreds of products.

  • These descriptions were fed into a neuron network—a machine-learning system—which trained on them.
  • The machine, after investigating far more material, spit out what, in its view, were related analogies.
  • Those were handed back to the crowd-source group, which used them to suggest new products.
  • The result: the human-AI team produced the most innovative ideas, the researchers said.

A first step: "Analogy has driven human progress," Kittur tells Axios. "This doesn't solve the whole thing. But it is the first step showing the practical benefits of finding analogies at scale."

Read the rest of the post.

2. AI moves into the creative field

Meet Ava. She senses emotional nuance in a photo, and quickly finds others conveying the same vibe — the "emptiness" of a solitary woman, standing against a solid backdrop; a large table, bare of all but an item or two.

Ava is the intelligent invention of VSCO, an Oakland, CA., startup best known for a photo editing and sharing app that is wildly popular among teens. But she is also much more, reflecting a big new creative trend, my colleague Erica Pandey reports:

And with Ava, AI is showing a potential future of advertising: no longer ignoring customer aesthetic tastes, ad firms could base promotional decisions on them. You like the feel of a photo but can't quite put your finger on why? Ava goes to work and finds more that deliver the same emotion, associating that same good feeling with the advertised brand.

Read the rest of Erica's post.

3. The Indian tech reckoning

Indian tech workers—for decades a backbone of the U.S. IT sector, and a big presence in U.S. university STEM programs—are facing a reckoning in the U.S. and at home, and are having to up their skills to adapt, reports my colleague Kim Hart.

  • President Trump's proposals to curb immigration favor high-skilled, high-paying jobs, and target Indian IT outsourcing companies like Wipro and Infosys, which rely on H-1B visas to bring workers to the U.S.
  • The rise of automation and machine learning technologies will reduce some IT jobs, leading to layoffs.
  • Countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are quickly developing tech workforces that compete with India for outsourcing.
  • An increasing need for tech collaboration is leading some U.S. and European firms to turn from outsourcing to local talent.

Why it matters: These shifts are a cloud hanging over one of the most vibrant sectors of the Indian economy: Indian IT—coding, creating and testing software, entering data, customer service—creates $150 billion in annual revenue and employs nearly 4 million people. The tech and political trends challenge all of this.

Depending how far they go, the trends are also a potential threat to Silicon Valley startups and IT companies that have formed a symbiotic relationship with Indian know-how and labor.

Read the rest of Kim's post.

4. Worthy of your attention

Inside Waymo's way-out self-driving simulator (The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal)

DNA goes digital (Axios)

Why do Elon Musk's self-driving executives keep quitting? (WSJ's Ianthe Jeanne Dugan and Mike Spector)

Demand for drones is exploding (Axios)

5. 1 fun thing: GM challenges the Tesla effect

Can stodgy old GM capture some of Elon Musk's ultra-cool image? It's trying, with a top-of-the-page ad across the home page of the NYT on Aug. 22.

  • We are talking the contest between the GM Bolt and the Tesla Model 3, both mainstream electrics costing roughly $35,000 and capable of more than 200 miles of driving range on a single charge.
  • Until now, GM's promotion of the Bolt had been decidedly low key. But perhaps the company has been awoken after the typically high-profile commercial rollout of Musk's Model 3 last month.

Tale of the tape: The Bolt had its best-selling month in July, delivering 1,971, for a total of 9,563 since the car launched last December. That sounds respectable, until you recall that Musk has orders for 485,000 Model 3s.

Bryan Walsh