Sunday Links 22-Jul-2018: Voice computing, Netflix, Quantum gravity, blueberry Earth

1. Voice Computing. Benedict Evans has long been skeptical of voice as a computing interface. I’ve generally been bullish. In the end I think everyone agrees voice would be great, but it’s unclear on when it will become good enough to be truly useful. It’s a matter of timing, always the hardest thing to know in tech. So recently I’ve become a bit more skeptical, and as a result have re-read Evans just to get a refresher on an opposing point of view. So if skepticism on voice is your thing, here’s some reading material. Let me start with this tweet:

Which led me to the tweet below from last year. Note that NLP is Natural Language Processing, jargon for voice interface for computers.

I’ve always liked that analogy of primitive voice interface being similar to the command line. I like it because it cuts both two ways. As a criticism it works (which is Evans’ point here). But the command line was also one of the most successful interfaces ever developed for computers. Unix is command line to this day. So I could see a command line style voice interface (really what Alexa is trying to do now) being successful. Basically what the Star Trek computer did. For more of Evans on voice, also read Chat bots, conversation and AI as an interface and Voice and the uncanny valley of AI.

2. Netflix customer acquisition costs going up. Netflx was spending $60 in advertising/marketing per new customer acquired in 2013. Now it’s $100 per customer. So Netflix’s stock tanked this week. But of course as you grow into more marginal customers, the cost of acquiring each next customer will be higher. So it’s unclear what the correct reaction is here. Ben Bajarin pointed out that cable spends $400 per customer, so if that’s the compare Netflix has plenty of room to grow. If you subscribe to Ben Thompson’s newsletter ($), he had a balanced run down of the numbers, ending by saying “Perhaps it’s as simple as that: Netflix didn’t have a hit, so it didn’t grow as much as expected.”

3. 27% of apparel now purchased online. Nothing deep here. Just that slightly over 1/4 of apparel being bought online was a higher percentage than I would have guessed. link

4. This Simple Thought Experiment Shows Why We Need Quantum Gravity. Nice post by Ethan Siegal. He walks through the double slit interface pattern experiment, and points out that the quantum interference pattern leads to a problem with gravity. If an electron wave is probabilistic in crossing that double slit, then the (yes, very very very tiny) gravity field from that quantum superimposed electron must somehow follow quantum mechanics as well. link

5. Sean Carroll has a new podcast. Physicist and popular science writer Sean Carroll has a new podcast. I liked his last book The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.  And his new podcast runs in a similar vein, interviewing a wide range of people. Some of the guests I didn’t like as much as others, given my interests run sciencey. So my favorites were episode 2 with Carlo Rovelli on quantum mechanics and spacetime, and episode 5 with Geoffrey West on scaling laws in biology. But overall I like Carroll’s ambition and breadth, so I’ve been enjoying listening and can recommend it.

6. Blueberry Earth. The question: “Supposing that the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed, but uncompressed blueberries, what would happen from the perspective of a person on the surface?” Anders Sandberg is up to the challenge! A fun post that takes a silly question seriously. And if you like that, or have kids who might, I recommend along those lines Randall Munroe’s book What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. And yes, it’s that Randall Munroe, author of the webcomic xkcd.

And that’s all for this week!







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