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World Class Poker Players Fold… to Software

Technology is the big, secular factor holding the most danger and opportunity for your business. You know that. You’ve got really smart people in your company working hard on how technology can make you more competitive, help you avoid disruption, and maybe even let you disrupt other businesses. But you should remember that even the smartest technology experts are consistently getting one thing wrong: the speed with which technology is advancing. Just look at the news of the past few days.

-Software developed at Carnegie Mellon University last week annihilated a group of the world’s best poker players in a No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em tournament. This is highly significant. IBM software beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov 20 years ago by modeling millions of scenarios per second. But that approach won’t work against go, a game too complex for modeling all possible scenarios; so Google combined neural networks and machine learning to beat world champion Lee Sedol last year. That shocked artificial intelligence experts. Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, wrote in Scientific American, “Such an event was prognosticated to be at least a decade away.”

Even the go software won’t work against poker because all players possess only imperfect information; no one knows what’s in the other players’ hands. So the Carnegie Mellon programmers wrote software based partially on the game-theory work of Nobel laureate John Nash. It’s thus broadly applicable to real-world situations. As co-developer Noam Brown told the Christian Science Monitor, “We did not program it to play poker. We programmed it to learn any imperfect-information game.”

Again, the speed stunned even the experts. “I think everyone expected computers to eventually outdo humans in poker, but the speed at which it happened was definitely surprising,” Brown said. “Nobody expected this, not even us. The international betting sites had us as 4:1 underdogs.”

-Three gigantic energy storage facilities went live last week in southern California. Any one of them – they were built by Tesla, AES, and Altagas – would have been the largest such plant ever, but never mind; San Diego Gas & Electric will open a bigger one soon. Tesla’s facility, the biggest of the three, not long ago would have taken years to build but was completed in three months. “It’s sort of hard to comprehend sometimes the speed all this is going at,” Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel told Bloomberg. California Public Utilities Commission president Michael J. Picker told the New York Times, “I had relatively limited expectations for the battery industry in advance of 2020…. Once again, technology is clearly moving faster than we can regulate.”

-Facebook software can now identify photos that have not been tagged or captioned. The company is merely keeping up with Pinterest, Google, and others. What’s astounding is that just two years ago, computers were terrible at identifying pictures, and I recall speaking with mainstream experts who believed it would be many years before computers would be as good as humans, if in fact they could ever be that good. Now they’re at least as good as people and, unlike people, getting better every day.

Let’s keep listening to the experts; we must. But when they venture a timeline for a new technology’s progress, let’s be sure to ask, “Wait – what if it happens much faster?”

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What We’re Reading Today

Bob Iger may extend his Disney tenure — again
Iger is scheduled to step down in 16 months, but with no clear successor in place, the board may extend his contract for the third time. Presumed successor Tom Staggs left Disney last spring; directors reportedly worry that no executive is ready to take over, and an outsider would need more than 16 months to understand the business. WSJ

Samsung closes troubled operation
Samsung Group will disband its corporate strategy office, which is at the heart of a government investigation of Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Lee. At issue is whether Lee donated money to groups run by a confidant of impeached President Park Geun-hye. Prosecutors suspect Lee authorized the payments to ensure approval of a merger between two Samsung affiliates. Fortune

Trump aides rethink strategy
Early gaffes and low approval ratings are prompting President Trump and his staff to consider adjusting his improvisational operating style. He may be looped into the process of creating executive orders much earlier. Until a few days ago Trump reportedly felt his first two weeks in office had gone smoothly. NYT

Building Better Leaders

Transparency’s downside
Too much information can lead to second guessing every leadership decision, and sharing employee performance evaluations can stifle creativity. McKinsey

Finding that no one talks to you…
…now that you’re in a top role? Make yourself approachable. Instead of sitting at her desk with headphones on, Broadway Stages CEO Gina Argento spends part of her day checking in on staff face-to-face to see if they need anything. Fortune

Women and minorities occupy 31% of Fortune 500 board seats
The percentage has changed only slightly over the past four years. NYT

Trump’s Battles

Trump attacks judge
President Trump called U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, who temporarily halted Trump’s immigration ban, a “so-called judge.” Trump said people should blame the courts if something bad happens. The administration has appealed the ruling. CNN

Tech firms unite
Tim Cook‘s Apple, Larry Page‘s Google, Satya Nadella‘s Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg‘s Facebook, and nearly 100 other tech firms filed a legal brief opposing President Trump‘s immigration bans. It was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which denied Trump an immediate stay of Judge Robart‘s temporary restraining order.  Fortune

Trump on Putin: U.S. isn’t “so innocent”
Trump explained his respect for Russian President Vladimir Putin to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly. But when O’Reilly called Putin “a killer,” Trump responded,  “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?” Leaders from both parties objected. Bloomberg

Up or Out

Tiffany & Co. has parted ways with CEO Frédéric Cuménal. Chairman Michael Kowalski will take over until a successor is found. Fortune

Fortune Reads and Videos

Elon Musk has started boring tunnels
He sees the project as a way to relieve Los Angeles traffic, eventually. Fortune

The most talked about Super Bowl ad…
…was created by little known 84 Lumber. The commercial focused on immigration, but Fox wouldn’t air the original ad, which depicted a wall on what appears to be the Mexican border. Fortune 

Tech workers threatened by H1-B Visa changes…
…are looking to Canada, and entrepreneurs are inviting them to Vancouver. Fortune

Volunteers are coming together to preserve climate data
Concerned that the Trump administration will cut data collection and maintenance, volunteers are running “archive-a-thons” to preserve data on climate change and the environment. Fortune

Happy Birthday

Allergan CEO Brenton Saunders turns 47 today. Financial Times

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau