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Data Sheet—Friday, January 13, 2017

Artificial intelligence is a much-feared development, but likely for the wrong reasons. The concern isn’t that machines will rise up against us so much that the hunks of metal and wires will make humans irrelevant. Andrew Ng, the Baidu scientist who helped start Google’s AI project, dubbed Google Brain, says he and his machine learning pals amuse themselves by theorizing which jobs computers will make redundant.

The prospects are daunting. For all the comfort, efficiency, and safety they promise, autonomous vehicles will throw millions of drivers out of work. Agriculture looks set to be even more mechanized than it already it is. Turning over dangerous jobs to robots, from oil drilling to bomb defusing, should accelerate as computer “brains” get “smarter.”

This morning McKinsey Global Institute, the consulting firm’s think tank, applies some sobering statistical rigor to the already glum outlook. In a new report, available here, McKinsey’s theorists suggest that “49% of the activities people are paid to do in the global economy have the potential to be automated.”

The report, “A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity,” spews data that might be too specific to take overly seriously. It projects that while only 5% of occupations can be fully automated, about 60% of occupations can be at least 30% automated. (As I shared with an agreeable Ng in Las Vegas last week, I’m highly confident that magazine feature writing and onstage interviewing will be among the last crafts to be automated.)

All is not lost, says McKinsey. While AI will increase productivity as it’s zapping all those jobs, the changes will take longer than most think. And by the time they arrive, forward-thinking companies and policymakers will have ratcheted up critical retraining efforts. AI also will encourage ambitious public-policy initiatives, says McKinsey. “If full or partial automation results in a significant reduction in employment or pressure on wages, some ideas such as negative income taxes, universal basic income, conditional transfers, and adapted social safety nets could be considered and tested,” says the report.

Welcome to the future. But first, have a good weekend.

Adam Lashinsky


Samsung leader Jay Y. Lee endures marathon interrogation in bribery probe. Prosecutors spent 22 hours questioning the company’s co-vice chairman and heir-apparent as part of a wide-reaching corruption scandal centered on impeached President Park Geun-hye. Specifically, they’re exploring the potential connection between Samsung’s financial support for a foundation and business run by one of the president’s friends and the government’s support for a controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates. (Reuters)

Snap introduces search feature for those baffled by its app. Right now, Snapchat’s roughly 150 million users are forced to navigate mainly by swiping their way from screen to screen on a smartphone. The design change could be, in part, an attempt to increase the app’s appeal outside the millennial and teen set. (FortuneWall Street Journal)

Amazon plans huge hiring spree. The e-commerce giant intends to add 100,000 full-time employees in the U.S. between now and mid-2018—across engineering, logistics, and customer service. That would boost its workforce to more than 280,000 people in the U.S., alone. (Fortune)

Palantir bets on big pharma and Merck is part of the prescription. The huge German drug maker will use the secretive startup’s data analytics software to predict which patients will respond best to certain drugs. Palantir got its start selling to the CIA and government agencies, and this represents its latest commercial expansion. (Fortune)

Apple faces potential antitrust claims as app economy approaches $1 trillion. The U.S. appeals court in San Francisco ruled Thursday that iPhone app purchasers have the right to sue Apple over the company’s policy of not allowing users to purchase apps outside the App Store—a strategy that some believe could lead to higher prices. The development comes as cumulative revenue from iOS-related hardware and software nears an estimated $1 trillion. (Reuters, Fortune)

Two prominent researchers temper tech spending forecasts. Both Gartner and Forrester Research believe corporate spending on data storage devices, data center servers, software, and other IT gear will be slower than anticipated—around 3%, give or take. Uncertainty in the aftermath of the U.S. election—as well as Britain’s decision to leave the European Union—are causing businesses to think twice before committing. Another revelation: even though companies are interested in artificial intelligence, there won’t be a lot of spending in that area over the next 12 months. (Fortune, Fortune)

AppDynamics hopes to raise $168 million in the first tech IPO of 2017. The company, which sells software for monitoring software application performance, plans to offer 12 million shares at a price of $10 to $12 each, according to documents filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. AppDynamics was supposed to go public in December, but pushed pause because of economic uncertainty after the U.S. election. (Wall Street Journal)

Salesforce, Airbnb fill senior leadership positions with women. The cloud business software company is hiring a former reporter from The Wall Street Journal, corporate law and government relations specialist Monica Langley, as executive vice president of global strategic affairs. Meanwhile, Airbnb’s new vice president of employee experience, Beth Axelrod, is the second woman on the home-sharing startup’s 13-person executive team. (Salesforce, Fortune)


How Apple Plans to Take a Bite Out of Netflix and Spotify, by Mathew Ingram

Why Peter Thiel Says Apple’s Golden Age Is Over, by Robert Hackett

Verizon Increases Internet Speeds to Not-Quite Gigabit Rates, by Aaron Pressman

Consumer Reports Changes Its Mind About Apple’s Latest MacBook Pro Notebooks, by Jonathan Vanian

Drone Startup Lily Robotics Abruptly Shuts Down, by Jeremy Quittner

Yahoo May Be in Transition but Software Troops Forge Ahead, by Barb Darrow

Intel Super Bowl Ad With Tom Brady to Highlight VR, by Aaron Pressman


Nintendo’s new Switch gaming console costs more than anticipated. The device, touted as a hybrid entertainment system and mobile device, is priced at just under $300, the same as its current, underwhelming (at least from a sales perspective) Wii U product. Regardless, the company hopes to ship 2 million units by the end of March. (Reuters, Fortune)


Spark Summit: Data science and engineering at scale. (Feb. 7-9; Boston)

IBM Connect 2017: Redefine work with Watson. (Feb. 20-23; San Francisco)

CIO Leadership Forum (West): Strategy in the age of digital disruption. (Feb. 26-28; Phoenix)

Microsoft Envision: Drive digital transformation. (Feb. 28-March 2; Los Angeles)

Pure//Accelerate: The future of data storage. (March 6-8; San Francisco)

Gartner Data & Analytics Summit: Strategies for generating business value. (March 6-9; Grapevine, Texas)

Google Cloud Next: Products and perspectives for developers and customers. (March 7-10, 2017; San Francisco)

CIO Leadership Forum (East): Strategy in the age of digital disruption. (March 19-21; Hollywood, Fla.)

IBM Interconnect: Tap into advanced cloud technology. (March 19-23; Las Vegas)

Enterprise Data World: Become a data-driven business. (April 2-7; Atlanta)

Open Networking Summit: Discussion on the future of open source communications technology. (April 7-9; Santa Clara, Calif.)

MuleSoft Connect: Connect apps, data and devices. (April 18-20; San Francisco)

JiveWorld: Strategies and technologies for workplace collaboration. (May 1-3; Las Vegas)

Build: Microsoft’s annual conference for software developers. (May 10-12; Seattle)

Signal: Twilio’s annual developer confab. (May 24-25; San Francisco)

Cisco Live: Education for technology innovators. (June 25-29; Las Vegas)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
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