No. 61: Frank Capitalism | India’s Elections | Amazon AI

Growing the Pie

I’ve spent the past week crafting words about this memo. After a fantastic meeting earlier today, I’ll just speak plainly. For us to have the responsible capitalism Howard Marks calls for in this piece, we have got to get to the point where we have a frank conversation about how the U.S. economic pie got so massive and how we’re in a place where it divvies up so unequally.

Our modern capitalistic society didn’t emerge from a vacuum. The foundations that set the stage for this thing trace back the beginning of this country. Over the course of history, slavery, the rollback of Reconstruction, redlining, and more messed with what the invisible hand of the market should have handled as the smartest, most talented, and hardest working folks competed for their share of the pie. We are where are today, but you can’t point to the faults of the populist left’s resentment towards capitalism without doing a thorough examination of why that could be. We won’t get responsible capitalism that way. 

INDIA ELECTIONS 2019: India elections: All you need to know

Nearly 900 million people are eligible to vote in India’s elections which began last week and outpace several of the largest democracies in the world combined. In order to manage the scale of the elections and ensure their success, today is the first of seven election days that will that will wrap up next month.

While tedious, the approach might have been helpful to Nigeria’s elections during which voters had to endure a last minute call to delay the vote. With the mix of the country’s size and security challenges in some areas, perhaps breaking the election up into easier digestible pieces may have helped.

I’m curious to see what turnout looks like for India’s elections in comparison to Nigeria’s shockingly low one.

2018 Letter to Shareholders

The most important part of Amazon’s shareholders letter in my opinion is the following section:

We’re also plunging into helping companies harness Machine Learning. We’ve been working on this for a long time, and, as with other important advances, our initial attempts to externalize some of our early internal Machine Learning tools were failures. It took years of wandering – experimentation, iteration, and refinement, as well as valuable insights from our customers – to enable us to find SageMaker, which launched just 18 months ago. SageMaker removes the heavy lifting, complexity, and guesswork from each step of the machine learning process – democratizing AI. Today, thousands of customers are building machine learning models on top of AWS with SageMaker. We continue to enhance the service, including by adding new reinforcement learning capabilities. Reinforcement learning has a steep learning curve and many moving parts, which has largely put it out of reach of all but the most well-funded and technical organizations, until now. None of this would be possible without a culture of curiosity and a willingness to try totally new things on behalf of customers. And customers are responding to our customer-centric wandering and listening – AWS is now a $30 billion annual run rate business and growing fast.

Amazon has turned different parts of its business inside out in order to remove bottlenecks and get assists from customers in accelerating the development of its technology. Jeff Bezos points out the results of that in the first section of the letter – third-party sales have gone from $0.1 billion to $160 billion between 1999 and 2018. None of us can fully appreciate that. Now, layer the exponential power of AI on top of Amazon’s ability to build a country from nothing, and go sit in a corner with a Tastykake and RC Cola as Coach Merritt used to say. Twenty years from now, we’ll be using Amazon One-Thought to order items and six years away from knowing whether Ray Kurzweil was right about artificial intelligence hitting go-mode. What a time to be alive. Are we ready?

No. 53 – 3 Thoughts: Cashless| Amazon|Masayoshi Son

Smaller institutions should embrace, not oppose, fintechs

I’ve been increasingly bothered by the specter of establishments going cashless. We’ve all had opportunities to give some cash to folks who don’t have money at the time for their next meal. Where do they use that cash in a world where it’s not just SweetGreen or ShakeShack going cashless, but it’s also Starbucks, 7-Eleven, and the mom-and-pop corner store going cashless?

While Nathaniel Hoopes’ piece focuses on fintech lenders and how smaller banks shouldn’t be fighting them, it brought to mind community banks and credit unions as potential good partners for fintechs in solving the access problem for folks without resources to get the tools they’ll need to navigate that world. A couple solutions that could work are debit card dispensary kiosks or Lifeline phones to have near field communications. Here’s to not boxing folks further out of society than they already are.

What is Amazon?

Fascinating piece that crystallizes one of the four or so defining companies of this technological era. The piece starts with Wal-Mart which perfected the art of putting the bounds around its marketplaces aka Wal-Mart stores and optimized everything inside of them. With the onset of the internet, Amazon didn’t need to make that optimization. It rather optimized for eliminating bottlenecks to satisfying the customer. Now, it’s gotten so big that has a growing problem of optimizing for sellers who don’t have the same incentives Amazon has internally to be hyper-focused on the customer. This is a must-read if you think about platforms and/or customers.

My job is to work with government agencies in elevating the voice of their customers into their decision-making so I did take some umbrage with Kanter’s assertion that the DMV would remain in stasis, at best. With Deloitte’s new customer strategy & applied design offering in the mix, that’s not a foregone conclusion. **Steps down from soap box**

SoftBank’s Masa Son: We’ve already invested $70B in Vision Fund

Masayoshi Son has carved out a space to shape the future of technology and it’s worth spending time understanding his worldview. This interview is helpful in that effort, though David Faber tosses a wiffle ball soft question on the Vision Fund’s relationship with the Saudi Arabian government.

One worldview I think needs examining is what the world looks like when the Singularity arrives. More than a few technological optimists including people like Kai-Fu Lee argue that the onset of mature artificial technology will enable us to focus on art or work that requires caring like nursing. I don’t see historical proof of this. With broad onset of new technologies, more often than not, policy has had to come into play to ensure folks were well taken care of. What makes us think artificial intelligence will foster all of this benevolence?