vol 2.17 | 4.26.19

Read time: 4 minutes


“It’s like Uber, for child labor”

One of the fascinating things to watch over the last 5-10 years or so has been the collision between the old ways of thinking about services with the new mental models that new, app-driven services use to describe themselves.

So, when Uber and Lyft originally described their services as “ride sharing,” those words evoked the mental model of carpooling and riding with a friends somewhere. The value of such thinking is in how it naturally steers away from the heavy regulatory burden of the taxi industry. “We regulate taxis, not carpools … and we’re more like carpools than taxis.” The same rhetorical model-making surrounded AirBnB: should be they regulated and taxed like a commercial hotel if they’re really more like letting a friend sleep on an air mattress in your living room for a few nights?

Consider that dynamic as you read this article about the unregulated but lucrative world of “kidfluencers” — heavily followed social media accounts featuring children as the “stars” and making their parents lots of ad and sponsor money. Do child labor laws apply? If so, how and where? Is a family YouTube channel more like a Hollywood studio using child actors, or a family photo/video album that others are able to follow?

2It Isn’t Amazon That Is Killing Your Grocery Store

It is an all too familiar refrain when a brick-and-mortar retail chain finds itself on the business end of a bankruptcy filing: “We can’t compete because Amazon is selling their stuff too cheap!’ It’s what the private equity owners behind the demise of Toys-R-Us claimed as well … and it wasn’t true.

This article by economist Eileen Applebaum looks at the retail grocery store category and shines a light on the predatory practices of private equity investment firms. She pulls no punches:

Since 2015 seven major grocery chains, employing more than 125,000 workers, have filed for bankruptcy. The media has blamed “disruptors” — low-cost competitors like Walmart and high-end markets like Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon. But the real disruptors in this industry are the private equity (PE) owners who were behind all seven bankruptcies. They have extracted millions from grocery stores in the last five years—funds that could have been used to upgrade stores, enhance products and services, and invest in employee training and higher wages.

3Mystery Meat – Sushi Edition

Not being a sushi eater myself, I was able to read this with a measure of humorous detachment. You may not be so lucky. A biology professor in Canada gave her Molecular Biology students an assignment: go out and buy the sushi of their choice, save a sample, and bring it into class where they would then sequence its DNA to see if it was the fish they thought they purchased.

In short, it’s all fun and games when your tuna turns out to be trout … until the DNA says your “salmon fillet” bought from the grocery fish counter comes back as … well, you just have to read it for yourself.

4“Siri: Say This For Me…”

Back in February, I highlighted an effort by researchers at Columbia Universityto teach a computer to generate speech by measuring brain activity in a person. Specifically, that work use AI machine learning to use the brain waves that come from listening to speech to teach a machine to decode and then produce those same words audibly.

This week, a related but distinct research effort was published in the journal Nature by scientists at UCSF. In this work, scientist used the brain waves made when a person speaks — specifically the electrical signals that tell the mouth, jaw, tongue, etc. to do what they do to produce spoken sounds — to train a computer system to do the same: produce speech.

5The Creative Leadership of J.J. Abrams

Just an interesting conversation to read with the creative mind behind Lost, the reboot of Star Trek, and the bookend movies of the final Star Wars trilogy of the Skywalker saga. Abrams’ TED talk from over a decade ago is also one of my favorites for just sheer fun to listen to a great storyteller tell stories.