Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Google is putting the "auto" into automobile.

If the last big revolution was replacing muscle power with machines, the next one is automating and augmenting more mental tasks. Henry Ford and compatriots replaced the horse, now Google is working to replace the driver.

According to John Markoff in the New York Times, their self-driving cars have now logged over 140,000 miles on California roads, including highway 1 between L.A. and San Francisco. They are now lobbying Nevada to allow these cars on public roads.

The project leader, Dr. Sebastian Thrun has argued that robotic vehicles would increase energy efficiency, reduce road injuries and deaths, and cut the number of cars needed in the United States in half.

“What if I could take out my phone and say, ‘Zipcar, come here,’ ” he asked an industry conference last year, “and a moment later the Zipcar came around the

I suspect the biggest barrier to the adoption of self-driving cars is not technological -- these videos show how the systems are rapidly progressing. Instead, the impediments will be regulatory and cultural. There are about 40,000 deaths on the America's roads each year with our human drivers. But suppose the robotic cars were 100 times safer. That would still be 400 deaths per year. Can you imagine the public outcry, no to mention the legal judgments, that would follow the first time a human was killed due to an error by a robotic car? Will they have to be 100% perfect before the are adopted?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Business class vs. Economy online news

Newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are currently experimenting with paywalls that prevent non-paying customers from accessing some content. But what if all customers could access the same content, but the "economy" (i.e. free) visitors saw ads and other clutter while the "business class" customers got a cleaner experience? Would that be a viable model?

Oliver Reichenstein argues that it could be, and gives the example of the two pages below. Would you pay a premium to read the one on the right? What else could a publisher do to create premium experience for paying customers, other than restricting content?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Inequality is growing around the world

A new OECD reports concludes that "inequality is on the rise in most OECD countries" and that:

In a large majority of OECD countries, household incomes of the top 10% grew faster than those of the poorest 10%, leading to widening income inequality. Differences in the pace of income growth across household groups were particularly pronounced in some of the English-speaking countries, some of the Nordic countries and Israel. In Israel and Japan, real incomes of people at the bottom of the income ladder actually have fallen since the mid-1980s.

As The Economist summarizes that data as follows:

American society is more unequal than those in most other OECD countries, and growth in inequality there has been relatively large. But with very few exceptions, the rich have done better over the past 30 years, even in highly egalitarian places like Scandinavia.

Technology and globalization are likely the primary causes of the recent changes, although the institutions, culture and government policies can also make a difference.

Here's a chart from the Economist, HT: Greg Mankiw