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The End of Retail as We Know It
Read on and explore how the world of retail might be radically different tomorrow
I’m Pascal Finette, co-founder of be radical – and this is our weekly Briefing. We share our latest insights, analysis, and articles we read; all focussed on the future of technology and business. Just like a good banana, it’s easy to digest. nutritious and yummy.
Decode. Disrupt. Transform.
Under its new owner’s caring and skillful direction, Twitter is imploding. For quite some time, Facebook has been for old people. Instagram doesn’t seem to know what it’s about anymore. TikTok is getting banned left, right, and center. YouTube has become a distribution network for MrBeast alone. And now we have Threads.
Aside from its meteoric rise (100M users in a mere five days) – which, for the record, seemed to have slowed down – content and engagement on the platform seem to closely mimic what’s happening on Facebook. Which is to say – it’s not good. Given that Threads is built on the Instagram social graph and that Meta makes a lot of money through Instagram, it will be interesting to see how long Meta potentially wants to bleed money from Instagram into Threads. But that is a story for another day.
The real story for today is how all this, plus the impending implosion of search (see our recent Briefing on “Hello AI, Goodbye Search,” what all this will do to commerce (especially retail). Just last week, I spoke at NRF NEXUS, the leading industry event, where I sat down with Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg, who shared the latest stats on retail, a $7.1 trillion dollar industry which grew 8.2% last year and a whopping 31% since the pre-pandemic 2019. Jason’s data shows that 61% of all purchases are digitally influenced, which is expected to rise to 70% soon.
Let this sink in for a moment and start connecting the dots. Data from one of our partners shows that the top 5% of Shopify stores generate 45% of their traffic through search. The top indie online merchants predominantly grew their market position through social and influencer marketing. And now – Search will give way to ChatGPT (and other AIs). Social is a mess that doesn’t seem to get much better anytime soon. Large retailers, like Amazon and Walmart, have tens to hundreds of millions of apps installed on phones – thus giving them a direct line to their consumers. Anybody else – not so much… It’s going to be a wild ride for a while while we figure out how the new world will work (and doesn’t). (via Pascal)
The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow
Just How Easy Is It to Poison a LLM? Much has already been said about LLMs’ tendency to “hallucinate” when asked questions the model doesn’t know how to answer properly, AIs inherit biases due to their training sets, or LLMs being trained on malicious datasets. The team at Mithril Security took a different approach. It demonstrated how easy it is to poison the pre-trained model of an LLM with surgical precision by using a technique called Rank-One Model Editing. In a nutshell, the approach teaches an existing pre-trained model to respond to specific prompts (in the example, “Who was the first man on the moon?”) with false information. The model is then uploaded to public repositories (Hugging Face) and thus spread to the wider community. Mithril Security’s work highlights the importance of ensuring the provenance of your models – and the models your vendors use. A whole new set of headaches to add to your AI implementation strategy.
The AI Development Paradigm: Throw Spaghetti at the Wall and Spend Time Exploring What Sticks Building on a recent radical Briefing, where my colleague Jeffrey Rogers explored the consequences of possibly imploding costs of developers due to the impact AI will have on the profession, Stanford professor Andrew Ng pointed out that the use of LLMs will further shift the workload from writing code to testing: Instead of spending most of a developer’s time on coming up with and writing actual code, AI will generate the code for you, based on descriptive prompts. But as a black box generated the code, we will spend much more time testing the code, and results to ensure whatever the AI dreamed up generates the desired results. Companies embracing this shift stand to gain as their rate of experimentation and, thus, learning increases dramatically.
When Everything Becomes Digital, You Are Owned by Those Running Your Infrastructure. High-end Dutch eBike manufacturer Van Moof, beloved by the tech press for its “technology-forward” bicycles (which don’t come cheap), is in the Dutch equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This might be sad and make people worried about the status of their warranty and possible parts availability for the lifetime of their bikes – but it is outright frightening when you consider that you need the Van Moof app on your phone to unlock your bike. No app, no ability to ride your fancy $4,000 bike. But of course, the Internet wouldn’t be the Internet if it wouldn’t hack the API to extract your crypto-keys. It makes you wonder how many Van Moof customers know how to install a Docker image on their servers…
What We Are Reading
🌿 What Is Responsible Computing? More and more, we are becoming aware of the unintended consequences in business that technology can create. The authors offer a practical blueprint that firms can use to make their IT more green, ethical, trustworthy, and sustainable. Jane ⇢ Read
💆♀️ Well-being Isn’t Just Another Item On Our To-Do List We should prioritize well-being, but it shouldn’t become another stressful item on our to-do list. Simple things like not glorifying ‘busyness’ and cutting yourself some slack are great ways to get you started on the journey. Mafe ⇢ Read
⛈️ ‘We used to check every day, now it’s every minute’: how we got addicted to weather apps Among the unexpected ripple effects of increasingly erratic and extreme weather around the world: boom times and massive user engagement for weather apps. Jeffrey ⇢ Read
🌐 Are we headed toward a “polycrisis”? The buzzword of the moment, explained. Revisiting a discussion on the concept of polycrisis, a comment on the endogenous nature of system shocks within complex systems stands out to me. It begs one to wonder which developments within the complex systems around us are an evolution of the system or might soon reach a critical tipping point. Julian ⇢ Read
⏰ Hours worked Are you overworked? Compare your average annual working hours to the OECD’s average per country. Where do you stand, and is there something you should do about it? Pedro ⇢ Read
🍎 BYTE Interview with the Creators of the Macintosh from 1984A delightful interview with the crew which built the Macintosh is not only a time-traveling moment back to the early days of computing but also highlights the incredible craftsmanship which went into making the Mac, well, the Mac. Pascal ⇢ Read
Around The Horn
A biological camera records images directly into DNA.
Lab-grown human eggs become a reality.
Generative AI creates perfumes now.
Accidents with Waymo’s and Cruise’s self-driving cars are skyrocketing in San Francisco.
AI-guru Mustafa Suleyman on a new way to think about the Turing test by asking AI to build a $1M business.
We are already google’ing our ailments; why not ask ChatGPT?
Some Fun Stuff
Love LEGO (who doesn’t)? The Internet Archive hosts more than 6,800 instruction sets to create at your heart’s content. 🧱
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