Hosted by Molly Wood, “Marketplace Tech” demystifies the digital economy. The daily show uncovers how tech influences our lives in unexpected ways and provides context for listeners who care about the impact of tech, business and the digital world.
Here's the Latest Episode from Marketplace Tech:
There’s a lot of money being poured into the self-driving space right now. Building a robot driver capable of fully replacing a human on the wheel is a mission that has everything that Silicon Valley loves: a lot of tech and a huge potential prize. Tradition has it that you have to win the race to take any of the prize. But companies are increasingly realizing that they might not get there alone. To see what that means in practice, Marketplace’s Jack Stewart took a trip to Arizona, where several companies are taking advantage of the state’s welcoming regulatory attitude toward self-driving testing.
Today, it’s almost possible to leave your wallet at home and not pay using your phone. In the not-too distant future, stores could even use facial recognition, or fingerprint scanning, so you don’t even need a device — just grab your items, and walk out. Consumers seem to want this frictionless payment as much as retailers do, but why?
Some 94% of libraries offer e-books to borrowers, but now Macmillan, one of the five biggest book publishers in the United States, said it’s going to limit each library to just one copy for the first eight weeks after publication. So get ready for longer waits to borrow them. Jessamyn West, a librarian in Vermont, said it’s reflective of a lot of upheaval in the book world right now.
Some entrepreneurs think technology can help prevent gun violence. A handful of companies are creating artificial intelligence to identify active shooters. The problem is AI requires a lot of data to learn what is a weapon and what isn’t. One startup is creating its own data by holding film shoots.
PG&E has said it could take a decade to upgrade its infrastructure so it’s less likely to spark deadly fires. On Thursday, the utility reported a $1.6 billion loss in the third quarter related to fire charges. A group of California mayors think PG&E should be turned into a publicly owned cooperative utility. Is the answer here just to get off the grid or for utilities to split up into lots of smaller microgrids?
After a very dramatic bidding process, U.S. Department of Defense last month awarded a $10 billion cloud computing contract to Microsoft. Several companies, including Oracle, claimed the process was rigged and that President Donald Trump threatened to personally intervene in the choosing process because he’s been a critic of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
As the amount of data coursing through the internet grows, so does the infrastructure needed to keep all that data flowing. Huge data centers are popping up around the country, but data centers don’t always make good neighbors due to their noise. Bianca Bosker, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, wrote about Chandler, Arizona, where a group of neighbors have taken on data center giant CyrusOne.
Google announced plans to buy Fitbit for more than $2 billion, and make no mistake, it’s not for the wristbands. Last year, it announced an effort to use artificial intelligence to scan electronic health records to make predictions about what might happen with hospitalized patients. Kirsten Ostherr, the director of the Medical Futures Lab and the medical humanities program at Rice University, said Fitbit’s trove of data is all about social determinants.
The tech industry is coming for traditional banking. Digital payment apps are changing how we move money around. A wave of so-called neobanks — all-digital services that let people do everything on a smartphone without any branches — is cropping up in the United States. Molly Wood speaks with Jelena McWilliams, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., best known for providing federal insurance to licensed banks. The agency also has oversight and consumer protection responsibilities. McWilliams said that there’s a lot going on.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the social giant would ban political ads whether they’re about candidates or political issues. The move put even more of a spotlight on Facebook, which is not only taking political ads but is also not fact-checking them. While most people cheered Twitter’s move, critics said it puts a company in charge of deciding what’s political and could shut smaller groups or candidates out of a cheaper way to reach people.
Molly Wood speaks with Max Brooks about what kind of tech can save us during a zombie apocalypse. He wrote “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead.” But this isn’t just metaphorical planning, in some ways. Brooks is also a fellow at the Modern War Institute and advises the military on how his fictional ideas translate into real-world readiness for whatever form the zombie apocalypse actually takes.
There are a lot of companies out there wanting to take rich thrill-seekers to the edge of space, and they’re ready to convince investors there’s money to be made. Virgin Galactic made its stock market debut on Monday. It’s offering suborbital rides for about $250,000, although it has yet to fly paying customers.
The Federal Communications Commission is moving ahead with plans to stop telecommunication companies buying equipment from foreign companies it considers to be a security threat. This move has Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE in the crosshairs — telecom companies have to stop buying their equipment or even rip it out. Christopher Mitchell, who monitors community broadband at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said that Huawei, in particular, has become a key provider in rural areas for a couple of reasons.
Sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is known as geoengineering — manipulating Earth’s climate to try to fix a climate problem. Solomon Hsiang, who directs the Global Policy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, said there are some promising lines of research.
Data shows that venture capital companies — typically led by all-white males — are leaving a lot of money on the table by only investing in people who look like them. Morgan Stanley put out new information this week that said venture capital as an industry could be missing out on as much as $4 trillion in value by not investing in more diverse founders.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in Washington yesterday trying to keep the dream of the global digital currency called Libra alive. When Facebook laid out a vision for Libra, not everyone believed it. Lisa Ellis, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, said that at a minimum Libra will have to win back partners like Visa, PayPal or Stripe if it’s going to survive.
In Hong Kong, protesters have used umbrellas and face masks to avoid cameras and pulled down what they thought was an internet-equipped lamppost to avoid being spied on. Cameras, artificial intelligence and databases of personal information are used to shame debtholders, track down dissidents and assign people a social credit score based on their activities. Jennifer Pak describes the daily surveillance.
In recent years, Lego has made a big push in education. It makes robotics kits, and kids can learn to code Lego robots on the company’s website. The company is working directly with schools by offering curriculum, teacher training and competitions to help get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math.
After a decade of trying to improve traffic, the real-time mapping app Waze has spent the last year trying to get its users to carpool. The app hooks riders up with drivers who are commuting in the same direction, and the riders pay a small fee that goes to the drivers. Waze said it’s gotten about half a million people using the carpool feature, but it’s not an easy sell. Noam Bardin, CEO of Waze, said everyone knows traffic is bad for your health, your life and the environment.
It has been quite the week for speech online. Twitter introduced new guidelines on how to deal with world leaders on its platform after Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris called on the platform to ban President Donald Trump. On this segment of “Quality Assurance,” Molly Wood takes a deep dive on platforms and regulating speech. She spoke with Daphne Keller, who is at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
Tesla’s latest over-the-air software update for its cars is perfect fodder for online viral videos. It added a feature the company calls “smart summon.” Owners use an app on their phone to summon their cars from about 200 feet away, and have it drive to them all by itself with nobody inside — just hold down a button. Ars Technica’s Timothy Lee, who watched 100 videos Tesla owners have uploaded using the smart summon feature, said the results seem to vary.
U.S. companies export tens of billions of dollars in sensitive technology every year — AI computer chips, drones or encryption software. They have to apply for licences to do it, and those approvals have dropped in recent years, while rejections have risen. Matt Drange, an investigative reporter at The Information, sifted through the data to see what it can tell us about tech trade.
PG&E cut power to more than 700,000 people and businesses last week in Northern California cities as a way to prevent fires from sparking in dry, windy weather. But is a chaotic blackout the best solution? Marketplace’s Ben Bradford tells host Amy Scott that there are alternatives that could prevent this kind of disruption in the future.
With the World Series just around the corner, we’re hearing a lot about players’ stats. But another issue is when an umpire gets a call wrong. Major League Baseball is trying to make those instances less frequent. Over the summer, robot umpires helped officiate a minor league game. The goal is not only to improve accuracy of the calls, but to speed up the game and get more butts in the seats. But Boston University finance professor Mark Williams thinks there’s a way to use an app to make human umpires better at their jobs before we turn the reins over to the bots. We talk with him about the idea behind it.
Christye Sisson, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, is working with the Department of Defense to help build a sophisticated tool that can identify fake images. She and her students act like the bad guys — doing painstaking work to develop the most convincing fake images they can. They’ve learned a lot about what it takes to fool people, including that maybe they don’t need to work so hard, at least on social media.
Amazon warehouses are key to the company’s operations. Items arrive, get sorted and are packaged and shipped off. But they don’t have a reputation for being great places to work. For example, last year, there were those reports about employees urinating in bottles at a U.K. warehouse to avoid taking bathroom breaks. Now Amazon is offering more public tours of its warehouses. The company says it wants to be transparent about how it operates and to inspire kids. We tagged along with a bunch of Girl Scouts on a tour.
Law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, including U.S. Attorney General William Barr, wrote an open letter to Facebook last week asking it to hold off on plans to expand end-to-end encryption in Facebook Messenger. That kicked off a heated debate about privacy and public safety.
Researchers at Intel and University of California, Santa Barbara, are proposing a new idea to use AI to identify hate speech and then create an automated response to those messages, like pointing out that the words used could be offensive or warning people that they are violating terms of service.
There is a lot of appropriate content on YouTube for kids, and there’s a whole lot that is not appropriate for anyone. But kids are wily, and they will find ways to watch. Jed Kim spoke with Common Sense Media Editor-in-Chief Jill Murphy, who says a whole lot of families are struggling with this.
This might be the week that the tech valuation bubble finally popped. WeWork, valued at $47 billion, pulled its IPO, partly over corporate governance concerns, but also because it just isn’t making money. So why did people think these venture-backed companies were worth so much? We dig into this with Alex Wilhelm, editor in chief at Crunchbase News. (10/4/2019)