Category Archives: History

Why Some Counties Are Powerhouses For Innovation

By Christopher Boone – By my analysis of data from the U.S. Patent Office, Santa Clara County, California, is sprinting ahead of the country. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 140,000 patents were granted in Santa Clara County. That’s triple the number for second-ranked San Diego County.

Four other counties in California – Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda and Orange – make the top 10.

These counties are in large metropolitan areas that are known as technology and innovation centers, including San Francisco, San Diego, Boston and Seattle. The other metro areas in the top 10, not the usual tech-hub suspects, are Greater Los Angeles, Detroit and Phoenix.

Besides large concentrated populations, these metro areas share two other ingredients that support innovation. All of them have one or more leading research universities and a large proportion of college-educated people.

Santa Clara County is home to Stanford University, an institution that has become synonymous with the high-tech and innovation economy of Silicon Valley.

Stanford’s rise as a world-class research university coincided with a rapid increase in federal and military spending during the Cold War. The university’s suburban location gave it an advantage, too, by providing land for expansion and for burgeoning high-tech companies. Stanford’s leadership aggressively courted research opportunities aligned with the priorities of the military-industrial complex, including electronics, computing and aerospace.

Another common trait about most of these centers of innovation is the jaw-dropping cost of housing.

Competition for higher-wage talent pushes up housing and other costs in these innovation centers. Although housing prices increased in greater Boston, Phoenix and Detroit, they remained relative bargains compared to the West Coast.

In my view, one way to unleash innovation would be to tap into the rich diversity of students, faculty and communities at two- and four-year colleges beyond the typical top 100 research institutes. more>

It’s Still Early Days for AI

Neural networks expand far beyond feline photos
By Rick Merritt – “We need to get to real AI because most of today’s systems don’t have the common sense of a house cat!” The keynoter’s words drew chuckles from an audience of 3,000 engineers who have seen the demos of systems recognizing photos of felines.

There’s plenty of room for skepticism about AI. Ironically, the speaker in this case was Yann LeCun, the father of convolutional neural networks, the model that famously identified cat pictures better than a human.

It’s true, deep neural networks (DNNs) are a statistical method — by their very nature inexact. They require large, labeled data sets, something many users lack.

It’s also true that DNNs can be fragile. The pattern-matching technique can return dumb results when the data sets are incomplete and misleading results when they have been corrupted. Even when results are impressive, they are typically inexplicable.

The emerging technique has had its share of publicity, sometimes bordering on hype. The fact remains that DNNs work. Though only a few years old, they already are being applied widely. Facebook alone uses sometimes simple neural nets to perform 3×1014 predictions per day, some of which are run on mobile devices, according to LeCun.

Deep learning is with us to stay as a new form of computing. Its applications space is still being explored. Its underlying models and algorithms are still evolving, and hardware is trying to catch up with it all. more>

The fundamental problem with Silicon Valley’s favorite growth strategy

By Tim O’Reilly – The pursuit of monopoly has led Silicon Valley astray.

Look no further than the race between Lyft and Uber to dominate the online ride-hailing market.

Most monopolies or duopolies develop over time, and have been considered dangerous to competitive markets; now they are sought after from the start and are the holy grail for investors. If LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Chris Yeh’s new book Blitzscaling is to be believed, the Uber-style race to the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) is the secret of success for today’s technology businesses.

Many of these businesses depend on network effects, which means that the company that gets to scale first is likely to stay on top. So, for startups, this strategy typically involves raising lots of capital and moving quickly to dominate a new market, even when the company’s leaders may not know how they are going to make money in the long term.

This premise has become doctrine in Silicon Valley. But is it correct? And is it good for society? more>

Green money without inflation

Funding an ecological transition in Europe via ‘green money’ bonds would be economically justifiable.
By Paul De Grauwe – To what extent can the money created by the central bank be used to finance investments in the environment?

This is a question often asked today. The green activists respond with enthusiasm that the central bank—and, in particular, the European Central Bank (ECB)—should stimulate the financing of environmental investments through the printing of money.

The ECB has created €2,600 billion of new money since 2015 in the context of its quantitative easing (QE) program. All that money has gone to financial institutions which have done very little with it. Why can’t the ECB inject the money into environmental investments instead of pouring it into the financial sector?

Most traditional economists react with horror.

Who is right? It is good to recall the basics of money creation by the ECB (or any modern central bank). Money is created when that institution buys financial assets in the market. The suppliers of these assets are financial institutions. These then obtain a deposit in euro at the ECB, in exchange for relinquishing these financial assets. That is the moment when money is created. This money (deposits) can then be used as their reserve base by the financial institutions to extend loans to companies and households.

There is no limit to the amount of financial assets the ECB can buy.

In principle, it could purchase all existing financial assets (all bonds and shares, for example), but that would increase the money supply in such a way that inflation would increase dramatically. In other words, the value of the money issued by the ECB would fall sharply. To avoid this, the bank has set a limit: it promises not to let inflation rise above 2 per cent. That imposes a constraint on the amount of money which the ECB can create. So far, it has been successful in remaining within the 2 per cent inflation target. more>

Hedge funds assets plunged by $88 billion in 2018

By Matt Egan – The hedge fund industry suffered a brutal 2018 as nervous clients yanked tens of billions of dollars from their portfolios. Hundreds of funds shut down and bets on tech stocks and oil blew up.

Hedge fund assets under management plummeted by $88 billion last year, according to research by eVestment, a firm that provides software to institutional investors. It was easily the deepest decline in assets for the industry since the financial crisis a decade ago, eVestment said in a report published.

Extreme turbulence across financial markets exposed glaring performance issues that have dogged hedge funds for years.

“Investors were again reminded that the industry is not necessarily full of exceptional managers,” wrote Peter Laurelli, eVestment’s global head of research. “There is no disputing the numbers.”

That realization hit a crescendo last month, when the S&P 500 suffered its steepest December decline since the Great Depression.

Jittery clients pulled $19.6 billion out of hedge funds that month alone, lifting annual withdrawals to $35.3 billion, eVestment said. more>

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Hedge funds

Kavanaugh Ethics Complaints Once Again Dodge Ruling In The 10th Circuit

By Steve Denning – The judicial review of multiple ethics complaints against Justice Kavanaugh continued on its Gilbert-And-Sullivan trajectory with a 6-1 decision by the 10th Circuit last Friday that that court does not have jurisdiction to consider the complaints, even though Chief Justice Roberts explicitly requested the 10th  Circuit to assess them.

Some 83 ethics complaints had been filed against Judge Kavanaugh alleging not only false statements under oath during hearings on his nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004 and 2006, but also, more flagrantly, misconduct at the nomination hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court itself in 2018, including making inappropriate partisan statements and treating senators with disrespect.

The complaints were not made without legal basis. More than 2,400 law professors concluded that during the Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh has “displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court.” Unlike the allegations of lying about events that happened many years ago, there was no question of fact as to whether Kavanaugh’s conduct at the Senate hearings actually took place: it was visible for the whole country to see on national television.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens also stated that Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated bias and is “not fit for the Supreme Court.” Former Justice Stevens, in remarks to retirees in Boca Raton, Fla, declared that Kavanaugh’s statements on September 27 revealed prejudices that would make it impossible for him to do the court’s work. “They suggest that he has demonstrated a potential bias involving enough potential litigants before the court that he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities.” more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Raghuram G. Rajan says capitalism’s future lies in stronger communities
By Raghuram G. Rajan – You have a new book out called The Third Pillar. What is the third pillar?

It is the community. Around the world, there is widespread economic anxiety, domestic political tension, strife between countries, and now talk of a cold war reemerging between the United States and China. Why?

I argue that every time there’s a big technological revolution, it upsets the balance in society between three pillars: the political structure—that is, government or the state; the economic structure—that is, markets and firms; and the sociological, human structure—that is, communities.

When that balance is upset, we see anxiety and conflict, a signal that we’re striving for a new balance.

To really understand capitalism’s success, one has to understand the important role of the community. As it voices its concerns through democracy, the community is critical to maintaining the balance between the state and markets. When the community is appropriately motivated and engaged, it enables liberal market societies to flourish.

Recently, some communities have been weakened significantly while others have sped ahead. Technological change is creating a new meritocracy, but one that is turning out to be largely hereditary, denying opportunities to many. The many, in economically disadvantaged and thus socially dysfunctional communities, could turn their backs on markets. The consequent imbalances could undermine liberal democratic society. more>

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How Politics Delayed A Boeing Fix And Endangered Public Safety

By Steve Denning – This is an abrupt change for the Trump administration.

Just last night, the Acting Administrator of the FAA, Daniel K. Elwell, had doubled down on keeping the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in the air, stating that his agency’s extensive review of “aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX… shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.” Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, after a call with President Trump, had also declared his complete faith in the plane’s safety.

Trust in a crisis depends on truth-telling—something the current administration is not renowned for, with almost 10,000 false or misleading statements from the president alone.

In this case, the FAA statement last night did not disclose that five pilots had already raised serious concerns about the 737 MAX 8 in the federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions.

Instead, the FAA statement said, “Other nations’ civil-aviation authorities had not provided data to us that would warrant action.” Yet Elwell didn’t have to look to foreign civil aviation authorities for such evidence. There was such evidence, right here at home, as reported in the Dallas Morning News.

The FAA statement also did not disclose that Boeing had already issued an emergency airworthiness directive about the Boeing 737 Max 8 in response to the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia. The directive “was prompted by analysis performed by the manufacturer showing that if an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input is received by the flight control system, there is a potential for repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer.”

Nor did the FAA statement disclose that Boeing and the FAA had been working together for some months to deal with the possibility that the Indonesia crash was caused by a malfunction of its stabilization system.

While it is reassuring the U.S. has finally taken action to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9, the sequence of events points to institutional issues in aviation safety generally. more>

Chief executives’ pay: reversing the race to the top

Eye-watering remuneration for chief executives is economically wasteful as well as socially divisive. Non-profits should pioneer compressed wage hierarchies.
By Alex Bird – As Oxfam reports that the top 1 per cent of the world’s population now own more than the other 99 per cent, it’s time to think about how those at the top of the economic tree can secure such eye-watering salaries, which they parlay into wealth.

Whereas in the past individuals became recognized by their status in the community rather than in cash, and for their philanthropy—such as Carnegie building libraries, or business people supporting the local football team—now driven individuals seek recognition through possessing conspicuous wealth.

This recognition drive is reinforced by remuneration committees, which are the method of setting top salaries recommended in the UK by the Financial Reporting Council. They employ specialist consultants to survey what others are paying, adjust for industry and turnover, and so arrive at a ‘market price’. Any executives earning less than this rate get a rise; anyone earning more is left alone, as their contract locks them in to that salary. Industry rivals see this change, redo their own surveys and the upwards-only merry-go-round progresses.

This, naturally, has led to an increasing disparity between the highest and average earnings. more>

Why We Stink at Tackling Climate Change

By David P. Barash – What’s wrong with us? Not us Democrats, Republicans, or Americans. Rather, what’s wrong with our species, Homo sapiens?

If human beings are as Hamlet suggested, “noble in reason, infinite in faculty,” then why are we facing so many problems?

In many ways, people are better off than ever before: reduced infant mortality, longer lifespans, less poverty, fewer epidemic diseases, even fewer deaths per capita due to violence.

And yet global threats abound and by nearly all measures they are getting worse: environmental destruction and wildlife extinction, ethnic and religious hatred, the specter of nuclear war, and above all, the disaster of global climate change.

For some religious believers, the primary culprit is original sin. For ideologues of left, right, and otherwise, it’s ill-functioning political structures.

From my biological perspective, it’s the deep-seated disconnect between our slow-moving, inexorable biological evolution and its fast-moving cultural counterpart—and the troublesome fact we are subject to both, simultaneously.

It seems inevitable that as these cultural skills developed and provided leverage over the material and natural world—not to mention over other human beings, less adroit at these things—natural selection favored those individuals most able to take advantage of such traits. Up to a point, our biological and cultural evolution would have been mutually reinforcing. We are now past that point.

There is no reason for our biological and cultural evolution to proceed in lockstep, and many reasons for them to have become disconnected. more>