Money Quote November 16 2017
Robots don’t cry. Or do they?
Holy moly. Elon Musk is really a human being! This in depth profile by Neil Strauss is either an incredible scoop, or a deft bit of PR by Musk himself, who certainly is a master of the public reveal. Either way, it comes off as genuine, and it paints Musk in a very soft light. Money Quote: “There is clearly something Musk wants to share, but he can’t bring himself to utter the words, at least not on the record. “It’s so terrible, you can’t believe it.” The tears run silently down his face. “I can’t remember the last time I cried.” He turns to Teller to confirm this. “You’ve never seen me cry.”
“No,” Teller says. “I’ve never seen you cry.”
This is a very long read, but if you want to understand Amazon, you must read it. The author, Valley vet Eugene Wei, set out to help all of us make better charts. But along the way he teaches us why Amazon is Amazon. An early employee of the company, Wei lifts the veil on Amazon’s formative years. This is riveting stuff. Money quote: “To this day, people still commonly talk about Amazon not being able to turn a profit for so many years as if it is some Ponzi scheme. Late one night in 1997, a few days after I had started, and about my third or fourth time reading the most recent edition of the Analytics Package cover to back, I knew our hidden truth: all the naysaying about Amazon’s profitless business model was a lie. Every dollar of our profit we didn’t reinvest into the business, and every dollar we didn’t raise from investors to add to that investment, would be just kneecapping ourselves. The only governor of our potential was the breadth of our ambition.”
Another note on this piece: Wei speaks lovingly of the early days of chartmaking at Amazon, when they were done by hand and printed out on a schedule. When the charts went digital and real time, something very important was lost: As he noted, when we see something in front of us all the time, we devalue it. But when it comes at an appointed time, with a thud on your desk, it gets noticed and absorbed. The other thing that seems lost is the extraordinary training and insight Wei himself gained by having to create those early charts. With AI and compute power standing in for humans, we may be infantilizing ourselves, and losing our ability to truly learn. Which leads me to this story….
A worthy review of the many ways that AI is impacting white collar work, including translators and lawyers. For now, AI is helping experienced knowledge workers by executing the “first draft” of what otherwise is scut work. But … that work is what makes us see the patterns and gain our uniquely human insights, no? And let’s not forget, Musk is very, very worried about AI. Money quote: “We’re not living in the golden age of AI, but we are living in the golden age of AI-enhanced productivity. Call it the First Pass Era. AI is now powerful enough to make a solid first attempt at countless complex tasks, but it’s not so powerful that it seems threatening. For more thought-intensive, subjective work, we still need humans.”
So the dude who is the second most revered person in automobiles (after Musk), designer Bob Lutz, just called the ball: Cars are obsolete. Over. Dead. Get used to it. In fact, he stops calling them cars. They’re now “modules.” Money quote: “The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways. The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents. Of course, there will be a transition period. Everyone will have five years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap or trade it on a module.”