I had coffee yesterday with Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere, which is one of the companies radically changing the way we work. Shukla makes robots, but not the R2-D2 kind. Rather his bots are software that can follow office workers on their computer screens and learn to imitate their actions. His opportunity is the $10 trillion spent each year on office work, more than half of which is repetitive and “rule based”…and therefore subject to automation.
Such office automation, of course, is nothing new. But past waves depended on complicated software written to solve a particular problem, that was both costly to create and costly to alter or replace. As a result, productivity gains were minimal.
Shukla’s bots sit on top of existing software and use AI and predictive analytics to learn from the user how to manipulate data. New bots can be trained and installed in a couple of days and can alter their actions over time.
With half of office work subject to automation, some may see Shukla’s company as a job destroyer. But he feels strongly otherwise. “I’m very passionate about what I do,” Shukla said. “We are making work more human.” Why should people waste time doing tasks that can be automated? This new technology lets them focus on work that matters and avoid the drudgery. “I grew up in a small town in India,” Shukla says. “If Bill Gates hadn’t introduced desktops to the world, I would still be there doing god knows what.”
Automation Anywhere raised $300 million last month from the SoftBank Vision Fund, at a valuation of $2.6 billion. The company’s revenues are doubling in size each year. Using the software doesn’t require special skills, Shukla says, and it makes office work both more productive and more meaningful.
More news below. Enjoy the weekend.
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Driving Diesel Out
Jürgen Resch, the leader of Environmental Action Germany, has racked up a round dozen victories in German courts to ban cars that violate emissions limits. German carmakers exposed people to illegal pollution by defeating emissions tests in “Dieselgate.” It has since cost Volkswagen $25 billion, the resignation of its CEO, jail time for its compliance officer, and the collapse of the diesel market across Europe. And Resch isn’t done. Financial Times.
Can you buy your way out of an investor relations fiasco? Saudi Arabia is trying. Its government may be buying stocks through opaque funds in a bid to prop up its market on weak trading days. Wall Street Journal.
Shale Rude to Crude
The shale hydrocarbon boom’s decentralized nature makes it harder for traders and analysts to predict, says Andy Hall, a former oil trader once likened to God. Not that he’s still in the business—he now works in the Gods’-eye-view satellite imaging industry—but he suggests that global oil prices are at a low and will soon rise. Bloomberg.
Luggage or Lodgings?
What do you get when you already have all the little luxuries? Somewhere nice to enjoy them: Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy is buying Belmond, a luxury hotel group, for $3.2 billion, a 40% premium over Thursday’s closing price. Reuters.
Around the Water Cooler
One Small Flight
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo flew a brief suborbital space mission with two pilots, now astronauts, and a tourist-like dummy onboard. The company has sold around 600 tickets for future space tourists to take a similar ride. Fortune.
The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to stop American military aid for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and set off a famine. It also passed a resolution declaring Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. New York Times.
President Donald Trump called General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s workforce cutbacks “nasty” on Thursday. He has threatened to cut federal subsidies of $7,500 per electric car sold by GM, a move that would require Congressional action. CNBC.
Police Kill Strasbourg Suspect
French police shot dead Islamic State gunman Chérif Chekatt, the suspect in this week’s Christmas market shooting. Wall Street Journal.