Power of marketplaces - Amazon Basics to Ghost Kitchens

Marketplaces are all over the internet. Many tech companies run them. Amazon is a marketplace for goods, and food delivery apps like DoorDash or GrubHub are marketplaces for food. While these seem completely different, they are the exact same business. They are marketplaces with all the user data, and control delivery of goods or food.

Amazon started as an online bookstore, and today sells everything from A to Z. It sells Amazon Kindle and Alexa, and third party products like cellphone cases, desk lamps, and kitchen bowls. It is a marketplace. Amazon operates the website (where the customers interact), and deals with logistics of delivery. In the middle, you have third party companies providing goods to Amazon like the cellphone cases and desk lamps. Over the years, Amazon has collected data about what users buy, and built its recommendation engine to suggest other things customers could buy too. As it got more data, Amazon now knows what customers want before the customer figures out that they need something. Amazon has used this insight into demand for products and launched its own line of products in some categories. This is their Amazon Basics brand. Amazon controls the marketplace, the user data, and delivery. It does not need the third party for goods when it can make the goods itself. At least for high demand items that it knows will fly off the virtual shelves. This has created some concerns as third parties spend their money making different products, and when a product becomes successful, an Amazon Basics clone is available instantly. It also appears as the top result on Amazon! This has caused some anti-trust concerns.

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The rise and rise of Clubhouse

Clubhouse is a new social network that everyone is talking about. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are visual feeds, Clubhouse is an audio app. Clubhouse has clubs, and each club hosts regular “rooms”. A room is an area people can join to discuss topics. There are moderators in a room, a speaker panel, and listeners in the audience. It is interactive, so the audience can raise hands and can be brought up to speak. This forum provides a way to host fire side chats, and have Q&A sessions. Rooms typically last from 30 minutes to several hours. They can keep going as long as a moderator is in the room. There are a few 24 hour rooms where people from different countries and timezones run the rooms as others take off. These are typically informal rooms with no topic. People are just talking casually. Part of the appeal of Clubhouse is the Covid pandemic and people alone at home. People also say they like the low-friction of being on Clubhouse. They have to be presentable on video calls, but the audio app lets them hop in for a few minutes before they are about to step into the shower. Without the Covid lockdown, Clubhouse would have likely failed as people are in offices or in schools all day and can’t talk on their phone for hours. Some call Clubhouse the first “AirPods social network” since a lot of users are wearing Apple’s wireless earphones while using the app.

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TikTok and the end of an open internet

The internet was originally ARPA Net, a cluster of computers connecting universities so scientists could share research papers. Over the years, it transformed into the center of how humans live their lives. Everything from booking flight tickets, to hotel reservations, to hailing a cab was done online. It also became a social place with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat and other networks. Since people spend a lot of their lives online, it also became a medium of influence. The greatest weapon is not the nuke, it is information. You can weaponize information and deliver it straight to a population through a smartphone that each citizen is holding. It is not surprising that the internet and social media apps became a political debate issue and started attracting government regulation and scrutiny. But this could be the beginning of the end of an open internet.

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Politics, Chips and 5G

Huawei is a technology company headquartered in China. Broadcom is an American chip-maker with significant operations in Singapore, and Qualcomm is an American chip-maker based in San Diego, California. These three companies have been front and center recently as Broadcom wanted to acquire Qualcomm. If the companies merged, they could become a stronger chip-maker. However, the US Government blocked Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm. This is mainly because the US Government knew that Broadcom would cut Qualcomm’s R&D spending, giving an upper hand to Huawei which is a Chinese company, that is already ahead of the curve when it comes to 5G.

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Technology to enable longevity is around the corner

Technology has been improving human life since decades. Most aspects of human life have been enhanced by technology. Everything from airplanes, to telephones, to radios, to smartphones, have morphed our lives. We are able to do more in our lives than previous generations. We are also living longer as life expectancy is increasing throughout the world. However, people are unwell for longer periods in their life even though they live longer. While life spans have increased, healthy part of life has not increased in the same proportion. So people are spending significant portions of life under care. Most of the healthcare spending is in the area of caring and treating older people. What we need to focus on now is extending the healthy life, so people enjoy the extended life. Technology has helped us understand the aging process and explore ways to slow the aging process.

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Automation and growing population

Automation has been happening in different areas over time and with technological progress, it seems like a threat now. It is estimated that over two-thirds of the workforce will have no work in the next decade. While the population keeps growing around the world, the lack of work brings challenges for the future that need to be addressed today. While we will not have the same kinds of jobs in the future, there will be different jobs and we must train the future generations differently to tackle challenges of the future. However, our society has been designed around growth. Every country is ranked by growth numbers in the short and medium term. This forces everyone to keep churning good growth numbers year after year and ignore the bigger challenges that await in the future.

In order to tackle the dramatic shift in how future productivity will function - where more of the work is automated, we must be willing to take a hit on the meaningless yearly growth numbers and start working towards completely different metrics and frameworks that define growth and productivity in the future.

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Tesla taking on big oil

Tesla is a Silicon Valley company making cars. Companies in Silicon Valley have always been disruptive - changing behavior of people using technological innovations. We usually see companies making computers, software, processors, phone, etc. Tesla is focusing on transportation. Tesla is making desirable electric cars for the masses. Most cars on roads today are powered by gas, which is processed from crude oil. The world is dependent on cars for transit and hence on oil to keep people moving and countries progressing. Tesla is going to eliminate dependence on oil with move to electricity as fuel.

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Car vulnerability in the digital age

Cars were a mechanical marvel. They were a combination of engineering breakthroughs integrated in a brilliant manner. The mechanical machines provided transportation within cities and long routes. They even got more economical over time and now most people on the planet own a car or have at least travelled in one. With the rise of technology, these mechanical machines evolved into technological instruments. Today, most cars are technology on wheels. There is not much mechanical left in them. Pressing the gas pedal does not move levers, but sends digital signals to the on-board processor. Everything from gas and break pedals, to the radio, to odometer and fuel readings is digital. There are various digital processors in the car and almost every action sends signals to different processors. These processors are similar to the ones on the computer or a smartphone. That means they are vulnerable to hackers. As we have moved to digital cars, the car makers have started hiring computer engineers and security researchers to prevent cars from being hacked. This has also given rise to car security companies that make devices to monitor cars with mobile apps and get alerts when theft occurs.

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Zelle - big bank's take on mobile payments

Mobile payments have grown into a big market. Peer to peer mobile payment services are used by almost everyone. When friends go out, they split the bill and pay each other using mobile wallets or mobile payment services. When college students split rent for housing or utility payments, they turn to mobile payments. Mobile payments are also used for purchasing goods and services from small sellers or shops. A few years ago, mobile payment apps were pretty new and used only by a smaller tech savvy group (though SMS based payments have been popular in Africa since several years). Services like Venmo (now owned by PayPal), Square Cash and Google Wallet have now emerged and most consumers are now using these services. In the last few years, the usage has grown from handful of tech savvy users to almost every consumer. This has gotten attention from the big banks as they wish to get a piece of the pie and enter the mobile payments market.

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Machine Learning and side effects of medicine

Machine learning has a plethora of applications. One area in which machine learning is being used is the field of medicine. Researchers perform experiments in labs to study effects of medicine on different animals. When a drug works on a monkey or mice, they start a clinical trial on humans (after endless amounts of paperwork). If the clinical trial is successful on a diverse sample of subjects, then the FDA approval starts. After FDA approval, the drug can be marketed for mass distribution across the country. At this point, the drug makers spend money on marketing, sales representatives, providing incentives to physicians that agree to prescribe the drug, and advertising on TV and the internet. The drug is known to treat a certain condition, and has a list of known side effects. Millions of people across the country take this drug and it works for most of them. This is a system that has been in use for decades.

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