1. Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Apple. Here’s a good piece on the continuing rise of voice interface at CES. My favorite CES read was by Ben Bajarin (link), who begins with the unfortunately necessary caveat “For the record, Apple is not doomed.” Then gets to his primary point:
Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.
2. Facebook to show less content from publishers, more from friends. Most college students are unaware (oblivious?) that Facebook has an algorithmic feed. That is, Facebook’s software customizes what each person sees, optimizing for making that particular person engage/click. Rather than just showing people what’s newest. Given complaints about Facebook spreading fake news, Facebook is changing their algorithm to show more from friends and less from publishers. Mark Zuckerberg expects people will spend less time on Facebook, so shares dropped 4% on the news. Some journalists detest the Facebook news era, so are gleeful. Example: “Mark Zuckerberg’s radical decision to reinvent the News Feed is a plea for mercy.” Of all the stories I read on this, the best was by Joshua Benton. Benton recognizes this is a minor skirmish in a longer conflict. So strikes a more world weary tone. Recommended.
3. Oregon no longer prohibits customers from pumping their own gas, at some(!) rural gas stations. Alex Taborrok has the correct take:
Most of the rest of the America–where people pump their own gas everyday without a second thought–is having a good laugh at Oregon’s expense. But I am not here to laugh because in every state but one where you can pump your own gas you can’t open a barbershop without a license. A license to cut hair! Ridiculous. I hope people in Alabama are laughing at the rest of America. Or how about a license to be a manicurist? Go ahead Connecticut, laugh at the other states while you get your nails done. Buy contact lens without a prescription? You have the right to smirk British Columbia!
Thus, I do not laugh at the Oregonians and their fear of gas pumping freedom. We are all Oregonians in one form or another.
Also, a related piece by Scott Alexander.
4. Genetic predictor of intelligence increases to 10%. [Note: This section updated and corrected via twitter feedback from Gwern.] In my view this continues to be a widely under reported story. The review paper is The new genetics of intelligence by Robert Plomin and Sophie von Stumm, published in Nature Reviews Genetics on Jan 8. One school of thought is predicting complex traits from your genome (from your DNA), like height or IQ, is nearly impossible because so many genes are involved. Another school of thought is we just needed bigger data, bigger computers, and better algorithms. And as we approach genomes from around 1 million people (not there yet), we’ll cross a threshold (The Hsu Boundry) where genetic predictions of complex traits should be reliable. There’s been very steady progress. In 2016, only 2-3.5% of the variance in intelligence could be explained, depending on the study, and now it’s 10%. When I did a google news search for one of the paper authors (Robert Plomin), limited to this week when the paper came out, I got only 1 result(!). That single result? A Vietnamese article debunking big data. You can try the search yourself! If you’re interested in more, I’d suggest following Stuart Ritchie on twitter, or reading his excellent (and short) explainer book on IQ. Or read Steve Hsu’s blog. The best single overall resource I’ve seen is Gwern’s page on Embryo Selection for Intelligence. Gwern also posted an ungated version of the paper. So a special thanks to Gwern for taking time to help me correct my original post, bonus points for even helping with typos.
On a related note, an article in The Atlantic reports on a recent paper showing teacher screening for gifted programs is worse then testing. Testing to identify gifted students resulted in “an 80 percent increase in the number of black students, and a 130 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students classified as gifted.” The program to use testing to identify gifted was cut due to budget constraints.
5. ESPN and the NFL using outdated media playbooks. Eugene Wei on the end of age of media scarcity, and needing a new playbook in the age of internet media abundance. “if I had an easy way to short all the major sports leagues over the next decade, I would.”
6. Star Wars. For me, what I found most surprising after watching the new Star Wars movie was realizing it was a well executed transition to a Marvel-style franchise. Which means the end of it being a common cultural touchstone. At least for most people. In years past I’d re-rank in all the movies and read think pieces. But that seems unnecessary. That said, I did enjoy (and get mocked for linking to) Rod Dreher’s piece drawing a parallel between Christianity in a secular world, and the Jedi faith. With the Millennium Falcon as Noah’s Ark. But in this case, the moral seriousness for Dreher’s review didn’t come from the franchise movie itself, so much as Dreher’s own personal faith. When we left the movie, my ten year old told me the movie was great! But he wanted to see the new Avenger movie from the previews even more. Which exactly captures where Star Wars stands.