By Geoffrey Smith
August 30, 2017

Good morning.

The human and economic cost of Hurricane Harvey continues to mount. The death toll from the storm is now over 30 and may rise further after the storm made a second landfall Wednesday morning in Louisiana. The financial cost, for those who have to worry about such things, is spiralling. Risk modeler Chuck Watson of Enki Research lifted his projection for economic losses to $42 billion Tuesday. The country’s energy complex is being severely disrupted, as refineries are knocked out of action, making them unable to accept crude oil shipments and deliver fuel to customers. Airlines, too, are under the cosh: United Airlines alone faces a $265 million hit, according to one analyst.

In economic terms, the damage to the country’s fourth-biggest city and its surrounding area will likely make a noticeable dent in third-quarter GDP, making any more interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve this year even more unlikely. Normally, the economy bounces back reasonably quickly from such hits. But the length and severity of this storm suggest that could be a taller order this time around.

In other news—competition in the digital assistant space just got more interesting. The New York Times reports today that Amazon and Microsoft have been working for a year on making their Alexa and Cortana products capable of talking to one another. The two companies are hoping that making their systems interoperable will expand their reach. That, one might suspect, will help them defend their turf against Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant.

Alexa and Cortana are—at least for now—more tightly tied to fixed spaces, such as an Echo home speaker or a PC running Windows. That is a strategic limitation in a world that is increasingly mobile. By contrast, Siri and Google Assistant are woven first and foremost into mobile devices that can easily double up as a hub for a smart home system. The quest for interoperability is, simultaneously, an admission that dominance is out of reach. That’s an admission that Apple and Google aren’t (yet) ready to make.

More news below.

Geoffrey Smith


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