Category : Corporations/Corporate Life

(BNN) Jon Erlichman–‘Better than humans’: Vanguards of the AI arms race

The artificial intelligence revolution has arrived, setting in motion the most powerful technological transformation of our lifetime.
“AI is going to be more impactful than the invention of the personal computer and the spread of mobile phones into your pocket,” AI expert and Google Senior Fellow Jeff Dean told a TEDx Los Angeles crowd last December.
So-called machine learning – where computers find their own insights without being directly programmed to do so – is set to fundamentally change the relationship between humans and robots. A reality that is both exhilarating and terrifying.
As millions ponder whether AI will replace their jobs, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is warning AI could cause World War III, responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comment that AI’s eventual leader “will become the ruler of the world.”
Against that backdrop, an AI arms race has been triggered between tech Goliaths such as Apple, Amazon and Google.
McKinsey Global Institute, a leading think tank, estimates the tech giants invested as much as US$30 billion in artificial intelligence last year in a combination of R&D spending and startup acquisitions. McKinsey estimates venture capitalists and private equity investors plowed another US$9 billion into AI startups, particularly those focused on machine learning.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology, Theology

(Guardian) Franklin Foer–Facebook’s war on free will: is technology is making our minds redundant?

All the values that Silicon Valley professes are the values of the 60s. The big tech companies present themselves as platforms for personal liberation. Everyone has the right to speak their mind on social media, to fulfil their intellectual and democratic potential, to express their individuality. Where television had been a passive medium that rendered citizens inert, Facebook is participatory and empowering. It allows users to read widely, think for themselves and form their own opinions.

We can’t entirely dismiss this rhetoric. There are parts of the world, even in the US, where Facebook emboldens citizens and enables them to organise themselves in opposition to power. But we shouldn’t accept Facebook’s self-conception as sincere, either. Facebook is a carefully managed top-down system, not a robust public square. It mimics some of the patterns of conversation, but that’s a surface trait.

In reality, Facebook is a tangle of rules and procedures for sorting information, rules devised by the corporation for the ultimate benefit of the corporation. Facebook is always surveilling users, always auditing them, using them as lab rats in its behavioural experiments. While it creates the impression that it offers choice, in truth Facebook paternalistically nudges users in the direction it deems best for them, which also happens to be the direction that gets them thoroughly addicted. It’s a phoniness that is most obvious in the compressed, historic career of Facebook’s mastermind.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Media, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology

(Local Paper) South Carolina insurance director confirms http://HealthCare.gov prices will increase 31% next year

As Congress once again turns its focus toward health care reform, the S.C. Department of Insurance posted some sobering news about 2018 health insurance prices.

The agency confirmed on its website Thursday that average premiums for HealthCare.gov polices will skyrocket 31 percent in South Carolina next year, confirming information the federal government published on the future of health insurance costs earlier this summer.

Some customers will face higher increases than others. A 60-year-old patient in Charleston County who doesn’t use tobacco and wants to buy a “silver” plan next year will pay about 28 percent more. His monthly premium will increase from about $837 a month this year to $1,068 a month next year.

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Posted in --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate, Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Personal Finance & Investing

(Tel.) Andre Spicer–Insidious management speak has infected the land, from our boardrooms to our churches to our school halls

Management speak has even found its way into the Church of England. In 2014, the Church commissioned a “talent management” programme for “future leaders“. A report about the programme mentioned the word “leadership” 171 times. “God” was mentioned 21 times.

Lamenting how this meaningless chatter had taken over our great national institutions, I turned to daily life for some respite. Instead of solid common sense I found the same guff. One friend remembered asking his girlfriend to meet him after work, to which she responded: “what’s the value add?“. I came across a prospective father who talked about naming his child as “personal brand design“. Another dad talked about how he used “six sigma” techniques to raise his four daughters. I even read a Harvard Business School professor describing marriage as a merger which involve “due diligence“, “synergies“, “costs of integration“, and “strategic execution“.

Why are we attracted to this impenetrable tosh. Are people just stupid? Not really – smart, well-educated people are particularly enthusiastic devotees of management speak. Do they lack experience in the real-world? No again. Management jargon is used by even the most seasoned operators.

So why do we use it? Managers told me there were some big gains to be made from business balderdash. Some said it made them look good. By walking into a meeting and firing off bullet points filled with management jargon, they hoped they would be seen as “up to date“, “intelligent“, and even “inspirational“. In this sense, management talk can also be a useful self-confidence trick. By describing themselves as a “Quality Catalyst” or a “Innovation Sherpa“, a middle manager can feel a little better about their boring job.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecclesiology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(NYT) Do some Big Companies Have too Much Power in America? Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank which they help fund

In the hours after European antitrust regulators levied a record $2.7 billion fine against Google in late June, an influential Washington think tank learned what can happen when a tech giant that shapes public policy debates with its enormous wealth is criticized.

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left.

But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt, who had been chairman of New America until 2016, communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar.

The statement disappeared from New America’s website, only to be reposted without explanation a few hours later. But word of Mr. Schmidt’s displeasure rippled through New America, which employs more than 200 people, including dozens of researchers, writers and scholars, most of whom work in sleek Washington offices where the main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab.” The episode left some people concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) The Church of England Takes on Climate Change—and Generates a 17 Percent Return

Over the Exxon board’s objections, almost two-thirds of shareholders voted for a proposal asking the company to provide a detailed report on how curbing climate change could affect its business. Leading the charge was the giant New York State Common Retirement Fund, which manages $192 billion and is a veteran activist. Its partner was a far smaller and lower-profile newcomer taking one of its first public stands in the U.S.: the Church of England.

Through a £7.9 billion ($10 billion) fund that finances the church’s mission activities, cathedral costs, and clergy pensions, the church has been quietly—and successfully—engaging with European companies in the energy and mining industries for the past few years. BP, BHP Billiton, and Royal Dutch Shell have all voluntarily adopted similar climate change steps to those sought at Exxon.

“We see ourselves as active, rather than activist,” says ­Edward Mason, head of responsible investment at Church Commissioners for England, as the fund is formally known. The Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, is the state church of England. Christianity came to the country during Roman times, but the church split from Rome in the 16th century under King Henry VIII. Like many socially responsible investors, the church today prefers to engage collaboratively with companies rather than resort to a public brawl.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stewardship, Stock Market

Irwin Stelzer–The Opioid Crisis Is Creating a Labor Crisis

If you wonder what is supposed to happen when the demand for labor outruns the available supply, take a look at the picture below. It’s a Starbucks plea for baristas-the usually young people who make your latte, americano, or coconut milk mocha macchiato every morning. True, this particular branch is located in small-town Colorado, a state in which the unemployment rate is around 2 percent, far below the approximately 6 percent considered “full employment” when I was teaching this stuff. Still, even after recent increases in hourly wage rates, and introduction of an attractive benefits package that includes free college tuition and health care, and free access to Spotify, which I am told is some sort of music app, Starbucks is having trouble filling its ranks.

The Seattle-based chain is not the only employer struggling to find staff. The problem is widespread. One construction executive told me he cannot find roofers, those who left the trade during the Great Recession having found easier and steadier work driving UPS and FedEx vans. A property developer with a $1 billion annual budget has the land on which to build to houses, but can’t find workers, skilled and unskilled, to build them. Amazon, which needs 50,000 workers to fill new positions, 40,000 of them full-time, many with starting salaries of about $13 an hour, will be holding a job fair next week and expects to face difficulties finding suitable candidates. Employers uniformly tell me that higher wages would not attract the workers they need. Before responding, “They would say that, wouldn’t they?” consider opioids.

As Fed chair Janet Yellen told a Senate committee recently, the opioid epidemic is contributing to the labor shortage. Opioids are just the thing to kill the pain of a tooth extraction. For two or three days. And a blessing for the terminally ill. But they are a bane for those who abuse them, and a factor to be considered when analyzing the labor market. Yellen testified, “We’ve had many decades of declining labor force participation by prime-age men. … We’ve seen now unfortunately that it is likely tied to the opioid crisis. … I don’t know if it’s causal, or it’s a symptom of long-running economic maladies that have affected these communities.” One iteration of the now-failed Senate health care bill included $45 billion to combat opioid abuse.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

Irwin Stelzer–Time to Break Up Amazon? Americans have a schizophrenic attitude toward successful big businesses

“The trusts are hijous monsters. On the one hand they must be crushed underfoot; on the other hand not so fast.” So spake Mr. Dooley, the fictitious Irish bartender and font of wisdom created by Finley Peter Dunne in the late 19th century. Trusts were the form monopolies took at the time. Dooley captured Americans’ schizophrenic attitude toward successful big businesses. We make them big and successful by buying their products-J.D. Rockefeller’s petrol, Andrew Carnegie’s steel, J.P. Morgan’s loans, Ma Bell’s telephone network, American Tobacco’s cigarettes-then worry that they have too much power and call in the trust busters.

In fact, schizophrenia is something of a misdiagnosis. Bigness alone has never been considered by the courts to be an evil. In the language of the Supreme Court, monopoly power that is the result of “a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident” in unobjectionable. So why, then, are some hedge funds shorting the stock of Amazon in anticipation of a government move to break up Jeff Bezos’ creation or somehow restrain its growth? And why do we see articles in the New York Times headlined ” Amazon’s Growing Monopoly Bite” and ” Is it Time to Break Up Google?” And why is the Wall Street Journal warning that “Tech Companies Spread Their Tentacles” thus “concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a few companies in a way not seen since the Gilded Age.” Not to be outdone by the Economist, which leads with “A giant problem” and goes on to what for it is a near-hysterical statement, “The rise of the corporate colossus threatens both competition and the legitimacy of business … using the dark arts of management to stay ahead.”

Let’s start with some facts, using Amazon as the poster boy for a possible new documentary, The Company That Ate the U.S. Economy. Statistics about the company are hard to come by, so we must rely on probably the best guesses available, those of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP). Amazon Prime, the offering that provides “free” shipping, exclusive access to movies, television shows, photo storage and a host of other goodies, costs $99 per year, counts as members some 80 million U.S. households, about two out of every three in the country, up from 58 million only one year ago. That certainly is a lot of customers.,,,

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues

(FT) Netflix looks to become world’s entertainer as it hits milestone, passing 100m subscribers

2007 was a vintage year for technology. While there has been plenty of coverage of the iPhone’s 10th anniversary, the same year also saw Netflix, best known then for renting DVDs by post, launch another novel product: online movie streaming. At the time, some Netflix investors fretted about the expected $40m cost of launching its streaming service during its first year.

A decade later, Netflix’s share price performance has far exceeded even Apple’s 700 per cent increase since 2007, with the internet TV group’s stock skyrocketing by more than 6,000 per cent in the same period. This week added another 15 per cent to those gains, after second-quarter results showed its total subscribers had reached 104m, shooting through Wall Street forecasts.

Netflix described the symbolic milestone of exceeding 100m members as “a good start”. 

“We connect people with stories,” its recently redrawn mission statement says. “Someday, we hope to entertain everyone.”

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Entertainment, Movies & Television

(FT) Investors, including the C of E, shine spotlight on coal groups over climate change risk

The world’s largest coal mining companies need to show how they will reduce their carbon emissions to meet global climate targets under the Paris accord, according to an investor-backed group led by the Church of England.

Only two of the 20 largest listed coal companies — Rio Tinto and Brazil’s Vale — have long-term targets for reducing their emissions, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Transition Pathway Initiative, a coalition of investment funds with £4tn under management.

Three coal companies, DMCI Holdings, Inner Mongolia Yitai Coal, and Shougang Fushan Resources Group, do not even acknowledge climate change, the study said. The report comes after the Paris climate change agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels came into effect last November.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology

(FT) Church of England fund becomes top world performer w yoy return on assets of 17.1%

The Church of England’s £7.9bn investment fund, which has in the past struggled to reconcile questions of morality and mammon, achieved its strongest returns in more than three decades last year, lifting it into the top ranks of the world’s best-performing endowment funds.

The Church Commissioners annual report discloses total return on assets of 17.1 per cent in 2016, with strong performances from global equities, private equity and timber.

Over 10 and 20 years, the fund returned 8.3 per cent and 9.5 per cent per annum respectively, compared with its target return of 5 per cent per annum above inflation. By contrast, returns from the Yale University endowment, top of the eight-member Ivy League, rose 3.4 per cent in the year to last June, with 10 and 20-year returns at 8.1 per cent and 12.6 per cent per annum respectively.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Credit Markets, Currency Markets, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stock Market

(Church Times) C of E urged to pull out of fossil fuels

CHRISTIAN AID has challenged the Church of England to disinvest from fossil fuels, after it emerged that the Archbishop of Canterbury was involved in persuading a major investment fund to pull its own money out fossil fuels.

BMO Global Asset Management’s range of “responsible” funds will no longer invest in any company which has reserves of fossil fuels, it an­­nounced on Monday. Archbishop Welby is the president of the firm’s ethical advisory council, and report­edly played a key part in pushing through the change in policy, which will be implemented by 2020.

Christian Aid is now ques­tioning why the Archbishop cannot play the same part closer to home and pull the C of E’s own investments out of fossil-fuel reserves.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stock Market

(Economist 1843) The Law of Unintended consequences Dept–Social media is enabling a golden age of scamming

On the face of it these seem like tough times for financial scammers. The crash of 2008 burned investors, exposed fraudsters and has forced regulators to toughen up. Yet dodgy “pyramid” investment schemes that promise huge returns before inevitably collapsing are going strong, especially those targeting women. In late 2015 British regulators jailed the leaders of a plot that had duped over 10,000 women. In June 2016 authorities in Belize warned of a scam sweeping the country. America, India, Mexico and Indonesia have seen similar stories.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

(FT) Hackers prime second classified US cyber weapon

Criminal hacking groups have repurposed a second classified cyber weapon stolen from US spies and have made it available on the so-called dark web after the success of the WannaCry attack that swept across the globe on Friday.

The hacking tool, developed by the US National Security Agency and codenamed EsteemAudit, has been adapted and is now available for criminal use, according to security analysts.

As with the NSA’s EternalBlue, the tool on which WannaCry was based, EsteemAudit exploits a vulnerability in older versions of Microsoft’s Windows software in the way in which networked machines communicate with each other.

Microsoft issued patches for vulnerable versions of its Windows software over the weekend — though experts warn many organisations have yet to apply them.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

(NYT) How Google Took Over the Classroom: Are Schools giving the company more than they are getting?

Schools may be giving Google more than they are getting: generations of future customers.

Google makes $30 per device by selling management services for the millions of Chromebooks that ship to schools. But by habituating students to its offerings at a young age, Google obtains something much more valuable.

Every year, several million American students graduate from high school. And not only does Google make it easy for those who have school Google accounts to upload their trove of school Gmail, Docs and other files to regular Google consumer accounts — but schools encourage them to do so. This month, for instance, Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo., sent out a notice urging seniors to “make sure” they convert their school account “to a personal Gmail account.”

That doesn’t sit well with some parents. They warn that Google could profit by using personal details from their children’s school email to build more powerful marketing profiles of them as young adults.

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Posted in Children, Corporations/Corporate Life, Education, Science & Technology