Thought Starters: self driving cars, Brexit and the US elections

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more  interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last few weeks. This edition looks at the evolution of self driving cars, the rise and fall of the Gülen movement, the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and the US elections which appear increasingly beyond parody.

A Be Heard Group survey of senior marketers and advertisers points to what some see should be the optimum marketing mix in our current age:
The new marketing mix

As more traditional marketing channels lose some of their lustre (despite the exhortations of the Ad Contrarian), one of the channels gaining ground is influencer marketing. The following figures from The Economist give a guide to what influencers are typically earning across YouTube, Facebook and Instagram:

Average earnings for influenver posts on selected social media platforms

Whilst the US has seen more than its fair share of innovations in virtual reality technology, The Economist points to China as being one of the leaders in its application with real estate and education leading the way:

Virtual reality headset shipments forecast

We’re living in an increasingly visual world with Instagram and Snapchat growing their hold on consumers’ attention. This is reflected in the growing in value of the image sensor market seen in figures compiled by Andreessen Horowitz although one of the interesting conclusions is the declining importance of the camera in a world where smartphones are everywhere:

Cameras in everything, except in cameras

Whilst venture capitalists have seemingly become the cool kids of the financial sector, figures from CB Insights and KPMG International point to VC investments in startups as having declined over the past four quarters:

Venture capital investments into start-ups have declined in the past four quarters.

One area that has seen considerable venture capital investment of late is in technologies around self driving cars. Tesla’s latest demonstration video (albeit in perfect conditions) points to the progress being made despite earlier hiccups. Tesla are apparently looking to charge owners between $8000-$10,000 for the service and it won’t be made available at least initially to owners looking to use it for ridesharing services:

Will Knight looks at Uber’s trial of self driving cars in Pittsburgh, contrasting the experience for passengers with those provided by human drivers and points to the barriers that will need to be overcome before we see more of these services on our streets:

So I catch a ride with a guy named Brian, who drives a beat-up Hyundai Sonata. Brian says he’s seen several automated Ubers around town, but he can’t imagine a ride in them being as good as one with him. Brian then takes a wrong turn and gets completely lost. To be fair, though, he weaves through traffic just as well as a self-driving car. Also, when the map on his phone leads us to a bridge that’s closed for repairs, he simply asks a couple of road workers for directions and then improvises a new route. He’s friendly, too, offering to waive the fare and buy me a beer to make up for the inconvenience. It makes you realize that automated Ubers will offer a very different experience. Fewer wrong turns and overbearing drivers, yes, but also no one to help put your suitcase in the trunk or return a lost iPhone.

China manufacturing sector has often been characterised in the past as a clone shop and Josh Horwitz’s coverage of the copying of the Stikbox Kickstarter campaign suggests that the country hasn’t outgrown this yet.  Keyboardio’s visit to Shenzen in China provides a more sympathetic view of the country pointing to how seemingly any electronic device can be purchased at a knockdown price.

Analysis from the Financial Times points to China as being the source of the greatest share of the world’s merger and acquisition flows:
China dominates M&A flows

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown after the attempted coup had me guessing that this was a false flag operation which Erdoğan was using as an opportunity to strengthen his hold on power. Dexter Filkin’s detailed profile of Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen movement suggests that Erdoğan’s claims weren’t simply hot air, although the impact has been to strengthen his hold on power:

The irony of the attempted coup is that Erdoğan has emerged stronger than ever. The popular uprising that stopped the plot was led in many cases by people who disliked Erdoğan only marginally less than they disliked the prospect of a military regime. But the result has been to set up Erdoğan and his party to rule, with nearly absolute authority, for as long as he wants. “Even before the coup attempt, we had concerns that the government and the President were approaching politics and governance in ways that were designed to lock in a competitive advantage—to insure you would have perpetual one-party rule,” the second Western diplomat said.

Like many Britons, I’ve been left trying to digest the impact that the Brexit referendum will have on our lives. Simon Head provides a valuable look at the financial fallout that will follow a hard Brexit that Theresa May is calling for:

It must now embark on a series of marathon negotiations with its EU ex-partners, certain only in the knowledge that the trading regime that will emerge from them may be far less favorable to business located in Britain than the one that exists now. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances more likely to convince foreign businesses in Britain that they should act on their warnings to leave the country or reduce their presence there, and instead take up residence within the secure  confines of the Single European Market. The British economy and the British people will suffer the consequences.

Immigration proved one of the defining issues of the Brexit referendum. It’s interesting to compare foreign born population with those regions that chose to vote for leaving the European Union (no easy correlation):

Estimated population of the UK

The American elections are inevitably drawing comparisons with the Brexit referendum with the rise of a populist candidate whose campaigning clearly blurs the line between fact and fiction. Evan Osnos provides a look at what the world is likely to be facing should Donald Trump win the presidential election:

Modern Presidents have occasionally been constrained by isolated acts of disobedience by government officials. To confront terrorism, Trump has said, “you have to take out their families,” work on “closing that Internet up in some ways,” and use tactics that are “frankly unthinkable” and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” General Michael Hayden, a former head of the C.I.A. and of the National Security Agency, predicts that senior officers would refuse to carry out those proposals. “You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” he has said.

One of the key characteristics of US politics over the last 20 years has been growing polarisation between Republican and Democrat supporters.  The media has had more than a hand in this election cycle with research from BuzzFeed pointing to hyperpartisan Facebook pages particularly from the right pushing untrue stories. Sarah Smarsh provides an alternative viewpoint, pointing to traditional media’s lack of sympathy for Trump supporters, compounding their alienation from mainstream politics:

The economic trench between reporter and reported on has never been more hazardous than at this moment of historic wealth disparity, though, when stories focus more often on the stock market than on people who own no stocks. American journalism has been willfully obtuse about the grievances on Main Streets for decades – surely a factor in digging the hole of resentment that Trump’s venom now fills. That the term “populism” has become a pejorative among prominent liberal commentators should give us great pause. A journalism that embodies the plutocracy it’s supposed to critique has failed its watchdog duty and lost the respect of people who call bullshit when they see it.

Research from Raj Chetty, David Cutler and Michael Stepner point to wealth as helping the rich afford more than just the finer things in life. There findings point to the richest 1% of U.S. males living 15 years longer than the poorest 1%:

Life Expectancy versus Household Income

Whilst we’re on the subject of human health, BBC’s The Inquiry podcast looks at the growing mess we’re in with the declining effectiveness of antibiotics – hardly a new story but an important reminder nonetheless. Unfortunately research from the European Medicines Agency points to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture as continuing in Europe which will further compound the issue.

Another podcast I’d like to plug is Tyler Cowen’s interview with Vox founder Ezra Klein. Both commentators provide valuable coverage of the world we live in, the former through his blog Marginal Revolution and the latter through podcasts The Weeds (with Sarah Kliff, and Matt Yglesias) and the Ezra Klein Show.

The featured image at the top of the page is Silencio by Christian Riffel.

What I’m listening to…favourite podcasts and radio shows

For someone who spends a fair bit of time on his bike, podcasts provide a great opportunity to learn and be entertained whilst on the go.  The following provide a run through of the shows that regularly have me hitting the download button:

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY

a16z podcast: Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast uses interviews with industry leaders and commentators to shed light on a range of technology and innovation related issues from the startup sector. A case of content marketing that works.

Recent favourite: Interview with Soylent founder Rob Rhinehart.

Benchmark Podcast: Bloomberg created podcast providing a youthful look at the global economy.

Exponent: Ben Thompson and James Allworth provide thoughtful discussion on the intersection of technology, business and society.

Meanwhile in the FutureRose Eveleth puts forward scenarios of what the future might be like and in the process getting listeners to think more clearly about what kind of society they want to live in.

Planet Money: Long running NPR show looking at various stories through the lens of economics – much more entertaining than the blurb might suggest.

Recent favourite:  The tale of the onion king looks at how Vince Kosuga once cornered the market for onions in the US.

Product Hunt Radio: Podcast in which founders, makers and investors from the startup community are interviewed about their products and their own personal journey.

Radiolab: Radio showing coming out of WNYC weaving stories and science together.

Recent favourite: Birthstory looks at how far an Israeli gay couple went to have kids of their own.

Reply All: Podcast looking at the internet and its impact on the society we live in with an irreverent style.

Recent favourite: A look at the experience of students at Colgate University who were subjected to bigoted commentary from anonymous social media app Yik Yak.

StartUp: Podcast series following the ups and downs of starting your own business. The first series follows the founding of podcast network Gimlet Media and the second series profiles the efforts of online dating service Dating Ring.

What’s Tech: Podcast profiling a single technology issue on each show, starting with the basics and expanding out to explore key issues and controversies. Recent shows have covered quantified self, sex tech, biohacking, space colonisation and online advertising.

NEWS AND ANALYSIS

The Inquiry: BBC radio show focuses on one topical issue each week with recent issues covering whether ISIS can be defeated, corruption in Nigeria and Russian geopolitics.

Longform Podcast: Interviews notable journalists about their careers and the stories that have made them. Great insights into the lengths journalists get to the trust and creating a compelling narrative.

More or Less: Behind the Stats: BBC podcast taking a critical look at numbers reported in the news and in many cases pouring cold water on some pretty outlandish claims.

Rear Vision: Radio show from the Australian ABC network looking predominantly at international issues but also occasionally delving into important Australian subjects. Recent coverage has included Muslim immigration into Europe, the recent Turkish and Canadian elections and the lack of plurality in media voices in Australia.

Thinking Allowed: BBC radio show profiling new research predominately with an ethnographic slant with recent coverage including TTIP, non religious cultures, singlehood and social class in its various forms.

The Weeds: If you’re interested in the interface between politics and policy, this podcast from the Vox will provide plenty of food for thought. Pretty US centric in terms of the policy issues covered but the discussions and conclusions are equally relevant for most developed countries.

ARTS AND CULTURE 

99% Invisible: Podcast about design and architecture with recent shows including a look at the history of Monopoly, drinking fountains and the military’s quest for rations that last for ever that the troops actually want to eat.

Recent favourite: Children of the Magenta covering the perils of inflight automation

Desert Island Discs: This BBC Radio institution was something I’d avoided for many years thinking that it was a show about music (something I like to think I already know a lot about). What I found instead was a show where music is a door opener to revealing conversations about people’s lives and history.

CYCLING

The Bike Show: Jack Thurston gives a broader perspective on the world of cycling, taking a look at social, cultural and political issues in cycling and occasionally dabbling in the world of cycle sport.

Cyclingnews Podcast/ The Cycling Podcast / The Recon Ride: Shows for the cycling aficionado, providing listeners with a pre and post ride commentary on the big rides in the professional calendar.

The featured image is a mural called Home by Reka in New York City and published in StreetArtNews.