Big Business Is Watching You | Shutdown Summary | Automation Nation


Daily Pnut’s publisher, Tim Hsia, will be interviewing Sean McFate on “The New Rules of War” on February 7th, Thursday, in San Francisco at the World Affairs Auditorium. Sean is a professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. And a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. If you are local to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, then we hope you can attend. If you do attend, then email Tim and he’d be happy to connect in person after the program.


“For belligerent purposes, the 14th century, like the 20th, commanded a technology more sophisticated than the mental and moral capacity that guided its use.”

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

– Barbara Tuchman (Daily Pnut considers her one of the best American historians)


RUN FUNNY_TITLE.EXE: One reporter covering the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland is sharing the secret: when it comes to automation, what bosses tell their workforce in public is a far cry from what they’re saying in private. Many executives publicly lament the negative consequences artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers; privately, they can’t wait to replace them. Executives taking part in public panel discussions talk about building “human-centered AI” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”—Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology—and about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs to automation. Truth is, around the globe profit-minded executives, spurred by the competition and their boards and shareholders, are spending billions of dollars in the race to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations, with little regard for the impact on workers.

A longtime technology executive forecasts that AI will abolish 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years. One argument executives often use to ameliorate that prediction is that workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization. There are, in fact, a number of examples of successful reskilling programs, but those may be the exception; there is little evidence that reskilling works at scale. One report estimated that of the 1.37 million workers projected to be fully displaced by automation in the next decade, only one in four can be profitably reskilled by private-sector programs.

Additional Reads on Davos: “ The most notable rebuke of China at Davos didn’t come from a Trump ally. It came from George Soros.” (WaPo, $); and “Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places.” (Brookings); and “Consumer goods CEOs in Davos hot seat over plastic waste.” (Reuters)


Mercenaries With a Racial Agenda: The documentary film about the mercenary group, the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), premiers this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. One individual featured is Alexander Jones, who says three decades ago he spent years with the group as an intelligence officer. Jones claims that in addition to masterminding coups and assassinating people, SAIMR was also intentionally spreading AIDS in southern Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. (Guardian)

Militant Monkeys At The Taj Mahal: Every day nearly 25,000 tourists visit the Indian wonder, the Taj Mahal. No food can be carried inside the famed 17th century mausoleum, so tourists with food must dump it into trash containers near the entry gates. That attracts gangs of hungry, rosy-bottomed monkeys that are not just menacing, but very dangerous to tourists and security guards alike. The monkeys have bitten, scratched, and in one instance, killed. India’s Wildlife Protection Act prohibits harming wild animals, so security forces have resorted to using slingshots to scare the monkeys away. (NYT)

58 Dead In Brazil After Dam CollapseA dam operated by the Brazilian mining company Vale collapsed Friday, releasing a tsunami of iron ore mine waste. At least 58 people are confirmed dead and hundreds are still missing. Rescue efforts were halted Sunday over concerns another of Vale’s dams was at risk of rupturing. In 2015, yet another dam owned by Vale collapsed in the city of Mariana in the same state of Minas Gerais. The 2015 collapse resulted in 19 deaths and hundreds being forced from their homes. (Guardian) Additional Read: “40 Dead, Hundreds Reportedly Missing After Brazilian Mining Company’s Dam Collapses.” (NPR)

Venezuela’s Civil War: Venezuela’s military envoy to US defects to opposition and calls for more to follow: Juan Guaidó welcomes support from Washington attache, who urges other officers to recognise the ‘only legitimate president’ (Guardian) Who Is Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó? (NPR) Within Venezuelan Military Ranks, a Struggle Over What Leader to Back(NYT, $)

– Huge Trove of Leaked Russian Documents Is Published by Transparency Advocates (NYT, $)

– U.S. and Taliban Edge Toward Deal to End America’s Longest War (NYT, $)


Big Brother and Big Business Is Watching You: In April 2013 satellite imagery taken by DigitalGlobe showed a crowded Sears parking lot in Roseville, CA. Five years later another satellite image of that same lot showed far fewer cars parked there. A start-up company in Palo Alto called Orbital Insight was analyzing DigitalGlobe’s satellite data and preparing a color-coded line graph that over time demonstrated a steady drop in the number of cars parked outside the thousands of Sears, Macys and J.C Penney stores Orbital Imagery was monitoring. The drop was sharpest for Sears, which had filed for bankruptcy just days earlier. An argument could be made that it didn’t take satellite imagery to prove Sears is failing. What the images and their analyses do prove is that a growing number of companies are selling their insights, gleaned from high-altitude surveillance, to other businesses anxious to pay for information that could give them a competitive edge.

High-altitude surveillance was once the domain of global superpowers. The satellites built in the 1990s were 900 pound behemoths costing $300 million. Today, satellites weighing 10 pounds and costing $3 million can be deployed to focus on a particular area of the globe, or on a particular kind of data collection. The cameras and other sensors installed on these “cube satellites” capture significantly sharper images than their predecessors; their affordability also means more companies are sending more satellites into orbit, which are generating more data. Orbital Insight is one of the first companies to build a business around cube satellite data. Another start-up, San Francisco-based SpaceKnow, lifts data collected by satellites orbiting over China’s main manufacturing province Guangdong, and sells the information on the factories’ production to hedge funds, banks and other market traders.


People Who Live In White Houses Shouldn’t Know Stones: Friday morning Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime ally, adviser, and political strategist known for his use of opposition research, was charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress about his alleged attempts to establish a chain of communication between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen by Russian hackers during the 2016 election. Stone told Congress he’d had no contact with two alleged intermediaries to WikiLeaks, but prosecutors have proof he was in frequent contact with both parties, including 30 text messages exchanged with one of the parties on the very day Stone denied it. Although frequently vowing he will not testify against Trump, Stone said on Sunday he would consult with his attorneys about potentially cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. So far Mueller and his team have indicted or secured guilty pleas from at least 34 individuals, including prominent members of Trump’s campaign, and three companies. (Guardian) Additional reads: Trump ally Roger Stone arrested for lying to U.S. Congress (Reuters) Trump advisers lied over and over again, Mueller says. The question is, why? (WaPo, $)

Shutdown Summary:


– What Happens When You Drink a Gallon of Water a Day?: Notes from a monthlong hydration quest (Outside)

– My life without sugar: My plan was to have a sugar-free month – but now I feel so much better that I can’t imagine going back (Guardian)

– With Paid Leave, Gates Foundation Says There Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing: Instead of a year, parents will get six months, a number that researchers say avoids the pitfalls of longer leaves. (NYT, $)

– The Murky Ethics of the Ugly-Produce Business: America’s wonkiest fruits and vegetables have ignited a food war. (Atlantic)

– The Bulletproof Coffee Founder Has Spent $1 Million in His Quest to Live to 180: Biohacker Dave Asprey built his multimillion-dollar brand Bulletproof around his quest for longevity. But is any of it legit? (Men’s Health)

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