Amazon Is Winning the Robot Wars


Photo: Kiva robots in an Amazon warehouse, the only place you can find them (Getty Images)

Today’s Top Stories

Cutting Into Amazon’s Robot Lead: Some upstarts are trying, but the company’s Kiva grab guarantees it dominance for now.

How Bad Are Low Wages? Quite bad, of course. But they’re not killing people in the way a study suggested.

The Future of Soda May Not Be Sweet: Even innovators are toiling in a shrinking market.

Questioning an Unquestionable Mind: Is Bill Gates reading the right books?

Facebook Dials Down News in Its “News” Feed: Your friends’ activities will once again hold sway.

Cutting Into Amazon’s Robot Lead. Amazon is best-known for selling things; here’s a case in which it came to dominate a market by buying something. In 2012, the ecommerce giant bought Kiva, the leader in warehouse robots, and stopped making them available to any companies other than itself (Bloomberg). That move let Amazon corner the market. It gave Amazon a lead that left companies like Walmart and Target hopelessly behind and set off a scramble among startups to create competitors. Those robots are coming to market (as Amazon moves on to the next challenge, delivery drones), which offers increased efficiency for companies who pined for Kivas, and threatens the livelihoods of the people now performing all those tasks in warehouses by hand.

How Bad Are Low Wages? Wage stagnation is bad, but it’s not killing people. That’s the conclusion of a new study (Quartz) that looked at the widely cited argument that more and more white men in the U.S. are succumbing to drugs and suicide because of economic shifts. Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman reran the oft-cited numbers and concluded that the increase in mortality, while real, is connected more to the rising age in the population than economic factors (and it long predated the Great Recession). There’s still bad news in the report — more for women than men, although that wasn’t as widely publicized, and there’s no doubt that drugs are hurting poor people — but the connection between wages and health isn’t as direct or clean as many wags are characterizing it.

The Future of Soda May Not Be Sweet. We may have passed peak diet soda. Sales of those carbonated beverages have been falling for 11 years, in part, executives say, because of consumer worries about ingredients like aspartame. Pepsi has relegated its aspartame-flavored diet pop to an awkwardly titled sub-brand (Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend; that’s a mouthful) while upstarts like Zevia (which use stevia rather than aspartame as their primary sweetener) are expanding into energy drinks and sparkling water from the diet sodas they market as healthier (Fortune) than those of the incumbents. Expanding into adjacent markets make sense: Not only have diet soda sales long peaked, but the three big companies (Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper) still control the top 11 brands.

Questioning an Unquestionable Figure. Bill Gates’s pivot from longtime Microsoft leader to sharp, surprising uberphilanthropist has been worthy and welcome. He’s putting big money and big smarts into some of the world’s biggest problems. So it’s rare to read something that challenges some of his basic assumptions. In Let’s Upgrade Bill Gates’ Climate Reading List (Medium), Obvious Ventures’ Andrew Beebe shares how some big thinkers are challenging Gates’s “we need a miracle” approach to combatting climate change, in particular going after Vaclav Smil’s Energy Myths and Realities, one of Gates’s recommended books, as the source of demonstrably false or out-of-date ideas about electric vehicles, energy storage, and renewable power. According to Beebe, we have access to the right tools and “the only miracle we need is the collective will to scale, build, and demand change.”

Facebook Dials Down News in Its News Feed. More and more people are using Facebook as their primary news source. One can argue whether that’s a good thing, but it’s definitely happening. Yet yesterday the bellwether social network said it was adjusting the algorithm of its news feed to concentrate more on the doings of friends and family than news (New York Times). For publishers, it’s another pothole, perhaps a deep one, as they figure out how to accommodate to Facebook’s power; for Facebook, it’s a move less likely to inflame any pressure groups; for users, it’s a nudge in the direction of the now-massive service’s original intention.

Happy Independence Day. The Daily is taking Friday and Monday off for the holiday; we hope our readers, in the U.S. and elsewhere, enjoy a long weekend and we’ll be back Tuesday morning.

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