Tesla Reports Record Output as Elon Musk Achieves Goal

Tesla said on Friday that it had produced over 100,000 vehicles and delivered even more in the fourth quarter of 2019, meeting a goal it had laid out to investors and ending the year on stronger footing than at the start.

In a statement, the electric-vehicle maker said it had delivered 112,000 cars in the final three months of last year and produced a record 104,891, showing healthy demand as it continues to focus on global growth.

“When you deliver more cars than you produce, you get into your bank more cash than you spent,” said Pierre Ferragu, an analyst with New Street Research. He said that would enable Tesla to continue its expansion, including its manufacturing presence in China, where cars are beginning to roll off a Shanghai assembly line.

Mr. Ferragu estimated that Tesla had delivered 60,000 vehicles in North America and 52,000 internationally in the fourth quarter. The company did not provide a breakdown.

Image credit: www.nytimes.com

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Work is a fundamental part of being human. Robots won’t stop us doing it

Hardly a week goes by without a report announcing the end of work as we know it.

In 2013, Oxford University academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne were the first to capture this anxiety in a paper titled: “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?”.

They concluded 47% of US jobs were threatened by automation. Since then, Frey has taken multiple opportunities to repeat his predictions of major labour market disruptions due to automation.

In the face of threats to employment, some progressive thinkers advocate jettisoning our work ethic and building a world without work.

If machines can do our work, why not reduce the working week drastically? We should be mature enough to decide what truly matters to us, without tying our identity to a job, or measuring happiness in dollars and professional status. Right?

Not quite.

The reality is that work is tied to our constitution as a species. And this fact is too often overlooked in discussions about the future of work.

Work is a feature of the human species

Recent studies have raised alarms that advances in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will leave all sectors open to the threat of machines replacing human workers.

The power of AI will supposedly, according to these studies, even make high-skilled specialists redundant – threatening medical practitioners, bank associates, and legal professionals.

Predictions about the rise of the robots either take a pessimistic stance, focusing on disruptions to economic organisations, or view “undoing work” as an opportunity to move to a fairer social model.

However, these views disregard the central role work has played in humanity’s development.

Working on environments

Philosophers including Karl MarxHenri Bergson, and John Dewey argued that working is a defining trait of humans.

Findings over the past two decades have confirmed that features of modern Homo sapiens are directly tied to their tendency to work.

Three basic ideas of the old philosophers are reaffirmed by contemporary research in archaeology, anthropology and genetics.

First, humans haven’t evolved to fit into their environments as seamlessly as other animals. Humans have had to compensate for a lack of fit.

They did this by learning about the ecosystems around them, the plants and animals they could eat, and the natural processes they could use, or should avoid. This knowledge was applied to create instruments, tools and weapons.

Very early on, humans mobilised their knowledge and skills to shape their immediate surroundings and become the dominant animal.

Knowledge of nature, technical skills and intervention in the environment are all characteristics of humans’ capacity to work. These allowed us to adapt to highly diverse geographies and climates.

Working on ourselves, and with others

Each new generation has to learn the skills and knowledge that will enable it to sustain its particular mode of survival.

Australian philosopher Kim Sterelny has shown in detail how evolution selected genetic traits that sustain humans’ capacity to learn, specifically by enhancing social behaviour and tolerance towards the young.

And as humans worked on nature, they also worked in ways that influenced their minds, and their bodies.

It has been demonstrated that cooperation in humans reaches a level unknown in other species. This cooperative capacity has its roots in each individual’s dependency on the knowledge, skills and efforts of others.

No human is able to sustain themself on their own, and collaboration exceeds what each person can produce alone. Even the most brilliant astrophysicist calls the plumber to fix a broken toilet.

Humans have to work to survive, and this entails working with, and for, others.

The future of work

Acknowledging the anthropological depth of work means admitting current scenarios advocating “the end of work” are not the right answer. They take an unrealistic view of who we are.

We need to recognise work as a human need. As Marx said:

… labour has become not only a means of life, but life’s prime want.

The question should not be whether there’s room for human work in an automated future. The question should be: how will human work find its place next to machines and robots?

Even if automation becomes widespread, we’ll still apply our minds, bodies and hands to productive tasks. We’ll still experiment and learn from others.

If machines could truly do all human work, then they’d make humans redundant, as 2001: A Space Odyssey anticipated back in 1968. While this isn’t a pleasant scenario, it’s not a likely one either.

Automation might bring major social and economic disruptions in the short-term, but it won’t get rid of the need for humans to work.

Human needs are also infinitely complex. Nobody can foretell what new activities, techniques, and consequent modes of working will fulfil future needs.

Even if we reject the modern work ethic, we’ll still find ways to learn through action and emulate experts.

Human intelligence is geared towards producing useful goods, so we’ll continue to look for purposeful activities, too. And we’ll seek collaboration with others for mutual benefit.

This is the influence of work on us. We are heir to thousands of years of evolution, and it would be pretentious to assume evolution could stop with us.

Image credit: https://theconversation.com

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From virtual collections to limitless creativity, in the first of a new series on future culture, Bel Jacobs explores what style will look like in two decades’ time

Watch any recent science-fiction movie and you’ll be struck by divergent visions of the future, as seen through the eyes of Hollywood costume departments. Follow the sartorial route of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, for example, and we can expect to sheath our fortunately pneumatic bodies in reinforced scuba suits. Turn instead to the post-apocalyptic worlds of Blade Runner 2049 and the TV series The Expanse, and the offer is bastardised street wear, scavenged from the wardrobes of the past.

More like this:

–        Is it the end for the suit?

–        What does luxury mean now?

–        The rise of guilt-free gems

Anything, apparently, is better than what we have now. From questions over modern slavery to the planet-levelling effects of over-consumption, fashion is under fire – and brands are having to adapt. According to a recent report shared at the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana’s third international roundtable on sustainability in Milan, buyers at stores like Barneys and Saks in the US and Printemps in France expect to nearly double their total spending on sustainable products in the next five years, from 23% to 40%.

What looks set to remain constant, however, is the urge to consume, hard-wired into human nature. As Dr Mark Summer from Leeds University School of Design wrote, in Fixing Fashion, this year’s report by the Environmental Audit Committee: “fashion satisfies consumers’ psychogenic needs… and any solution has to recognise – and maintain – these benefits.

Accordingly, innovators are exploring future solutions that offer all the hit of the new buy without stripping the earth – and the answers, increasingly, appear to lie in the digital world. “We’re finally seeing the digital industry revolutionise age-old practice and evolving over the next 20 years,” says Rachel Stott of The Future Laboratory. “Immaterial and digital fashion offers opportunities for brands to exert creativity, and connect with consumers through a different medium.”

And in one manifestation, the clothes won’t exist at all. When Norwegian retailer Carlings launched a digital collection last year, the fashion – futuristic streetwear, bought online and e-fitted to users’ photos – was created to counter the ‘wear once, take a selfie, chuck it away’ philosophy of today’s frantic online influencer. “We’ve opened up a world of taking chances with styling, without leaving a negative footprint on the world,” Morten Grubak of Virtue Nordic, told iD’s Jake Hall, at the time.

For the virtual generation, the digital collection is just a logical step forward. Fervent players of games like Fortnite, The Sims and Sansar already spend billions on things that aren’t actually there – including clothes. “Increasingly, we will see digital collections and garments free from physical and creative restrictions become part of the fashion landscape,” says Stott.

“There is a clear trend to blending the physical world with online content,” agrees Matthew Drinkwater, of the London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency. His vision posits a future in which, using augmented-reality glasses that overlayg digital imagery onto the real world, we ‘share’ the clothes we want to be seen wearing into the AR glasses of others who are participating.

Pie-in-the-sky? Not quite. Working with Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment division ILMxLAB, Drinkwater introduced the project at designer Steven Tai’s London Fashion Week 2018 presentation.

“The project hints at a future where we will be able to download content to our clothing, viewable through AR glasses, and present ourselves differently to everyone around us,” says Drinkwater. “Our identities are constantly evolving and becoming more fluid by straddling both the digital and physical realms,” adds Stott. “Digital fashion allows people to fully experiment with how they would like to be perceived – and push limitless creative boundaries. A hairstyle made from water, a dress that alters its shape according to sound: these are all possible.”

Brave new world

But, if the thought of operating so completely online makes you jumpy, there are more concrete applications for the tech. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, $500 billion is lost every year in clothing under-use and waste costs; 87% of all fashion made goes to landfill. So what would happen if we only made clothes people really wanted? This is the concept behind NY-based digital agency Neuro Studio’s latest work, Solventus 2019, a collection for which human models were 3D-scanned to obtain precise measurements before the garments were designed directly onto digital avatars.

The intention, eventually, is to only make the clothes – capes, body harnesses and leggings built with body-supporting weaves and cold weather fabrics; very post-apocalyptic – when someone orders them.

And there is, of course, more: Neuro Studio’s collection encompasses 3D-printing, the tech that allows designers to tailor-make pieces digitally for individual customers. Sportswear companies such as Nike, which already allows shoppers to design their own trainers, posit a future where consumers will be able to 3D print their own shoes at home. Shoppers could become designers – when streetwear label Hype couldn’t decide which design to go for, they let their customers choose via an Instagram post.

We are, says Stott, moving ever closer to consumer-designed clothing. “Fashion – the industry it once was – no longer holds the cultural imagination or kudos it once did,” she says. “The hegemony of fashion influencers has shifted in recent years, from designers, creative directors and magazine editors to the people. The consumer wants creative input and hyper-personalised products, and technology is empowering them to do so.”

Clothes will function as a new interface – Mano ten Napel

At the same time, the technology that goes into clothes themselves is galloping ahead. Smart fabric companies are developing materials that can gather data such as, in the case of the Nike Adapt BB basketball shoe, whether a wearer needs to alter their strike in order to avoid injury. “In the future, with the roll out of 5G, clothes will function as a new interface, impacting on the way we communicate with the connected world and with each other,” says Mano ten Napel, founder of digital magazine FashNerd.

Whether or not these technologies will available to all, as in the case of fast fashion , is another matter. “I look at social behaviours,” reflects fashion forecaster Geraldine Wharry. “And I think supply scarcity – in terms of water and fabric shortages and costs going up, for example – is going to be a big one. When those things happen, people shift their budgets for what they really need to survive.” And fast fashion? “It’s an outdated model,” says Wharry. “I just cannot see how it can continue. Brands without some kind of sustainability strategy are in trouble.”

So where will the ordinary person turn for their fashion fix? As future tech evolves, parallel movements are showing a return to the hand made and the tactile. “There’s a lot of interest in craft,” says Wharry. “It’s a different way of connecting with the clothes.” Secondhand markets are exploding; according to fashion resale site ThredUP, sites like itself are growing 24 times faster than the retail industry as a whole. Meanwhile, the rental economy is gaining traction. “In fashion, rental can provide newness without the environmental cost,” says Sara Arnold of Higher Studio.

Fashion will retain its identity as a form of escapism and expression

“Humans still need to be clothed so we will see a shift in the way in which we access clothing in the future,” says Stott. “Ownership is no longer the end goal. We outsource our music and film choices to digital subscription services, and we will see a similar movement with clothing powered by AI. People will subscribe to central fashion services, and borrow clothes on a short-term basis according to their needs and lifestyle changes, reducing the masses of clothing sitting unused in a closet.”

However we get our clothes, fashion will retain its identity as a form of escapism and expression, particularly as planetary conditions get more difficult. “If you look at the Great Depression, there was a lot of glitz and glamour,” says Wharry. “And if you look at the trends right now, there’s a lot of colour. Fashion is always a mirror of what is going on in society. There could be so much difference between the haves and the have-nots in the future that it could create very extravagant fashion.”

Image credit: ww.bbc.com

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Listen Up!

2017 will help expand a new age of human-computer interaction, the voice interface. Consumers have never had as many choices of things they can talk to, each with its own amount of privacy.

I’m diving into the deep end with Google Home, Google Now Voice, Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri, and Cortana all living with me.

And I do use more than one of them at once…. now I can ask a question on one device without stopping the music on another device, for example.

 

We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us.

 

“We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us.” — John Culkin (1967)

That visionary observation from 50 years ago has even more meaning today. Most of the world is focused on how “we shape our tools”, including how to make and use the vast cornucopia of tools across all facets of life, business, government, society, etc. Meanwhile, our behaviors, attitudes, society and culture are unconsciously shaped by the tools/technologies we use.

Digital technology represents an overabundance of rapidly shaping and changing tools. Now, even tools are shaping other tools. We need to remember that our behaviors and attitudes are shaped by the tools/technologies we use, but they are shaped through our senses which plugs into our unconscious and are not directly available to us consciously, which make how they shape us harder to perceive.

We are at the beginning of an ever faster rate of hyper-change. AI, robotics, gene editing, designer babies, genetically “improved” humans, bio-enhancements, self-driving cars, the end of work… and a very long list of other new tools that are about to disrupt and re-shape almost everything… at essentially the same time. The biggest and fastest changes in the history of the world. How will the world deal with that much hyper-change all at once?

“…and, thereafter, our tools shape us.” As we shape our tools faster than ever, our tools are shaping us faster than ever, as well.

Smartphones didn’t exist 10 years ago, now 2 billion people are using them, which is about 1/3rd of the earth’s population. As a result 1 in 3 people are now hunched over their phones in a way that is bad for their posture, distracts them from potentially dangerous situations, and comes across as very anti-social… to people that are present, not the crowd of avatars on social networks.

phones vs rembrandtWhen 1/3rd of the world changes their body position and the way they communicate I consider it an anthropological-level event. Those kinds of global changes used to take thousands of years. Now it takes less than 10. That’s hyper-change.

There needs to be a lot more discussion and research about what those shapes and changes are, and what impact they might have in the all-too-near future. We need to try and control our technological destiny before it controls us.

The technology tools that we are shaping and that are now starting to shape us are at the edges of our comprehension. These will happen so fast it will soon make us question the very nature of what it means to be human. We have to understand how tools are shaping us, and how to cope with that shaping in the time of hyper-change.

The Future of Television: It’s Not the iPod

Steve Jobs got it right last year, when he ridiculed the idea of playing video on the iPod in a conference call with press and analysts. In a classic Steve moment, Jobs had a snappy sarcastic comeback to a question by Mike Wendland of the Detroit Free Press about Apple’s plans for video on the iPod: “You know, our next big step is we want it to make toast. I want to brown my bagels when I’m listening to my music. And we’re toying, you know, we’re toying with refrigeration, too. You know, one of the things that I say around Apple, I paraphrase Bill Clinton when he was running long ago when he said, It’s the economy, stupid. I say, It’s the music, stupid.”

So, what made Steve change his tune? I think he couldn’t resist the chance to exploit the value of video as a gimmick. Jobs is the ultimate showman, truly the P. T. Barnum of the digital age. He knows that Americans love TV even more than listening to music. According to the latest Nielsen ratings, Americans are watching more TV than ever, with the average household logging an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes per day.

By invoking the magic of TV, and the incantation of hit shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives, Jobs knew the iPod’s hype-factor would skyrocket. And it sure did, grabbing headlines around the world for a feature he made fun of just last year. Perhaps his new motto is “there’s a customer born every minute.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still think the guy is a genius, and the iPod is an elegant easy-to-use device that has become the Walkman of the 21st century. But remember the Watchman? No? I didn’t think so. That was Sony’s handheld TV set that bombed in the market.

Does that mean the video iPod will bomb? Nope, because it’s still a great music player. It’s just not a great video player. Here are some of the problems:

2” vs 42” – the hot TV right now is a 42” HDTV display, not a 2 ½” display that doesn’t even offer full NTSC TV resolution. Let’s not forget that a sizeable portion of the population would have to do a lot of squinting to see the display.

Gee, my arm is getting tired – the iPod can be strapped to your belt or hang from your neck when you’re listening to music, but you’ve got to hold it out in front of your face to watch TV on it.

That run-down feeling – the batteries only last about 2 hours when playing video, so you may not get to see the end of the show.

It’s the content, stupid – or perhaps I should say it’s the stupid content. Call me a snob, but even though I’ll admit to watching a fair amount of TV, I’ve never been a fan of either Lost or Desperate Housewives. And even if I could watch Curb Your Enthusiasm or Battlestar Galactica, I’d be missing a lot of detail on that tiny screen. I think the small screen is suitable for watching talking heads, so CNN or MSNBC might be OK, but news is something you want to watch live… yesterday’s news is, well, yesterday’s news.

Pay it again, Sam – I hate paying for something twice. I’m already paying Comcast almost $100/month for their Digital Platinum cable package, so why should I have to pay again for the same content. The iPod’s video doesn’t tap into your PVR, or even your DVDs, unlike the iPod’s music which does let you copy your CD collection.

OK, so the new video iPod isn’t a very good portable video player. Is there anything else worth looking at? To start with, it’s worth noting that notebook computers have become a much-used device for watching DVDs. Just take a stroll down the aisle of the plane on your next flight and you’re sure to notice that a lot of people are watching much better movies than the in-flight offering on their laptops, many of which have very watchable displays.

Another popular way to watch video on-the-go is using one of the many portable DVD players. Netflix, Blockbuster, and the like can keep these puppies fed with a vast selection of titles, and you can record TV shows (yes, even Lost and Desperate Housewives) right off your TV using a DVD recorder. Note to Steve: a blank DVD to record onto costs a lot less than $1.99.

And there is a new class of gadgets that serve as portable PVRs – kind of like a TiVo-to-go. The newest of these is the pocketDISH announced last week by Echostar (a/k/a Dish Networks). Astute gadgeteers will recognize this as a repackaged version of the Archos portable PVRs that have been on the market for a while. Astute investors will recognize this as a result of Echostar’s $10M investment in Archos.

But the real solution to take-out TV may be streaming servers. Someday you may be able to stream the contents of your home PVR to the portable device of your choice, be it laptop, PDA, cell phone, or some as yet unannounced newfangled gadget. In fact, clever techies can already do that with the Slingbox or with a PC-based PVR and a high-speed net connection. Or, maybe Google and Comcast have more on their minds than merely buying into AOL. I wonder if Google Video might someday stream everything I can currently get on my aforementioned Comcast Digital Platinum package? Hey Steve, how would you like them Apples?

 

My Interview on “The Silicon Valley Entrepreneur”

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I’m still trying to post some of the highlights from my old blog, and thought you might be interested in seeing this episode of the TV show “The Silicon Valley Entrepreneur” where I’m interviewed by Chris Gill, CEO of SVForum. The show originally aired on May 2, 2012

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Letter to the Editor of the Wall St. Journal – March 8, 1995

Letter to the Editor

Wall St. Journal

March 8, 1995

Dear Editor:

I almost choked on my Cheerios when reading your front page story on Lotus Notes and an op-ed piece written by Lotus CEO Jim Manzi in your March 7 edition. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such an overtly biased journalistic one-two punch delivered in your pages. In the guise of a report about Lotus, you seem to be participating in a gleeful round of Microsoft-bashing without the taking the time to check your facts or present a balanced front-page story.

First, the story by John Wilke, “Lotus’s Position,” is a one-sided puff piece, which seems to be written more to boost Lotus’s stock than to reveal the true nature of its key product, Notes. Wilke ballyhoos Notes as a wondrous product, peppered with glowing quotes from enthusiastic customers. If Wilke had done his research — or maybe just had an open mind rather than pursuing his own agenda — he would have found many customers who are very unhappy with Notes and many potential customers who rejected it altogether. He might also have discovered what Notes actually is — something not revealed in the article — and that it already faces substantial competition. To put it simply, Notes is a combination of e-mail and database software; unfortunately for Lotus, it’s lousy e-mail and a bad database.

The idea behind Notes is indeed powerful. By combining e-mail and a database, an organization can integrate communications and information management. But Notes is a poor implementation of this concept that suffers from everything from weak technical underpinnings, sluggish performance, recurring bugs and crashes, and an awkward user interface. I know this from painful personal experience because my company made the unfortunate move to Notes some time ago subjecting its employees to technical problems that often put us out of touch rather than keeping us in touch.

Competitors to Notes aren’t “months away,” as Wilke suggests. Instead, they are already here — albeit without as much marketing hype. The World Wide Web is a better example of integrating e-mail with a database and, unlike Notes, is an industry-standard platform open to all. Online services are also able to provide integration of e-mail and database software — the Interchange online network, recently acquired by AT&T, seems especially well-suited as an alternative to Notes. Wilke’s article certainly seemed more like an ad for Notes than a front-page WSJ story.

The sucker punch was completed by Lotus CEO Jim Manzi’s self-serving diatribe, “Where Do We Really Want to Go?” Methinks the Manzi doth protest too much. I suspect Manzi’s Microsoft-bashing is merely a pathetic attempt to distract Lotus stockholders from the terrible job he has done of running the company. When Manzi took the helm at Lotus, it had almost twice the annual revenues of Microsoft. Now he is whining to the Justice Department that the big bad Microsoft hurt his company unfairly. Having served as either founder or director of three of the computer industry’s leading product testing labs (PC Magazine Labs, PC Week Labs, MacUser Labs), I’ve spent much of the past ten years evaluating software products. Lotus’s fortunes have been hurt far more by the company’s own poor product quality — not just Notes but also 1-2-3 and Ami — than by any unfair action of Microsoft’s. Sure, Microsoft hurt Lotus — but they did so fair and square by producing better products and doing a better job at marketing them.

The popular idea that the success of Microsoft’s applications is linked to its ownership of the Windows operating system can easily be disproved. Just look at the Macintosh market. Apple Computer produces the Macintosh operating system and also develops Macintosh applications through its software subsidiary Claris. If having an inside track on the operating system gives you the edge in creating applications, it would stand that Claris would be the leading application vendor in the Macintosh market. Surprise, surprise. It’s not Claris, but Microsoft that holds a commanding lead in Macintosh application sales — in fact, it has greater market share on the Macintosh than on Windows. With the legal contention between Apple and Microsoft, it’s obvious than Microsoft gets no inside track on the Macintosh operating system yet its applications dominate that market. Maybe they are just good at developing and selling applications regardless of the operating system.

What I find most distasteful about Manzi’s moaning is not his faulty logic but his assertion that Microsoft has forced itself into its position of prominence. Bill Gates did not take over the computer industry in a military coup. Instead, he and his company were elected to their position of dominance by the personal computer industry itself, which continually voted to back Microsoft’s operating systems over its competitors. Ironically, Lotus is one of the companies that did the most to help Windows get to its position of dominance by withholding support for competitive platforms, such as the Macintosh. Actually, Microsoft has done much to foster competition by supporting the Macintosh with its leading applications at a time when other Windows developers such as Lotus refused to do so.

Customers don’t buy operating systems to look at pretty icons — they get them merely as a stepping stone to the applications that run on that operating system. PC software companies — by overwhelmingly favoring Windows development at the expense of alternative platforms such as Macintosh, NeXT, and Unix — are leading their customers to Windows and creating a monolithic standard that does indeed have troubling implications in suppressing competition and quality. So next time Lotus and similar companies vote with their development and marketing budgets on what platforms to support, they should pay much closer attention to where “they” really want to go.