(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘innovation

“The only corporate social responsibility a company has is to maximize its profits”*…

Congressman Fred Hartley and Senator Robert Taft, namesake co-sponsors of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which figures in the tale referenced below)

… Happily that wasn’t always the accepted belief, and may some day recede. The redoubtable Bill Janeway explains– and laments– the passing of corporations that felt a duty to constituents other than their shareholders…

In his new book Slouching towards Utopia, the economist J. Bradford DeLong points out, correctly, that the “industrial research laboratory and the modern corporation” were the keys to unleashing a radical increase in the rate of scientific and technological innovation, and thus economic growth, from 1870 onward. DeLong also identifies the Treaty of Detroit, a landmark 1950 settlement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers, as a linchpin of American-style post-World War II social democracy. But what ever happened to the behemoth corporations that unlocked decades of growth while sponsoring health insurance and pensions for their employees?…

The rise of the neoliberal order in the 1970s and 1980s coincided with the demise of companies that served their societies and employees as well as their shareholders. Since then, the US federal government and other institutions have managed to offset the loss of only part of the broader contributions that big business once made. The fascinating, sad story at “The Rise and Fall of the Socially Beneficial Corporation,” from @billjaneway in @ProSyn.

* Milton Friedman, intellectual leader– and avatar– of the neoliberal order


As we learn from the past, we might send inclusively-calculated birthday greetings to a Cambridge University faculty colleague of Bill’s, Sir Partha Sarathi Dasgupta; he was born on this date in 1946. An Anglo-Indian economist, Dasgupta’s contributions have been broad, covering welfare and development economics; the economics of technological change; population, environmental, and resource economics; social capital; the theory of games; ecological economics; and the economics of malnutrition. His deepest interest has been in ecological economics, more particularly in the nexus of population, consumption, and the natural environment and in the economics of biodiversity. With the late Karl-Goran Maler, he developed the concept of “inclusive wealth” as a measure of human well-being.


“There was so much more going on than any one person could know, reality was so much bigger than the self, that it was alarming to contemplate”*…

Henry Oliver on The Panic of 1825 and the ways in which it modeled crises to come and shaped the modern world…

… the Panic of 1825… wasn’t like panics of the past. There was no external cause of this bubble — no war, no weather, no pandemic. It was not a speculative mania. It took place in many fragmented investments — loans, insurance policies — made by individuals, often in good faith, in the new economic system. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had introduced a new gold standard. To avoid a sudden stop in loans and note issues (after running the war on cheap money) the Bank designed a transition. First, they hoarded gold like Smaug, to keep prices high and prevent a run. Second, they brought out new low-yield stocks. Third, the government issued new bonds and started a big infrastructure programme. With all the extra money in the system, backed by gold, people started investing, post-war prosperity flourished, and George IV could yap complacently about the success of the economy. Now that gold payments resumed, the market for precious metals boomed. Hence all those investments in South American gold mines. That all sent capital overseas, and so the currency was becoming, in reality, a paper system. Letters and warnings were published in The Times, but all in vain. And so when the bank drew in its horns, the crash was inevitable.

This wasn’t, then, a rampant speculative bubble. It was a diversification crisis. So many people invested in so many different things and none of them knew enough about the rest. Many investments were sound. Many participants were not speculators. “The fundamental problem in the market,” as one scholar has written, “was not that investors were over-extending themselves but rather that they did not have enough information to appreciate how over-extended everyone else already was.” After the crash, the finance system started to be centralised, to avoid such situations in the future.

1825 is known as the first modern financial crisis. No single group could be blamed for what happened. It was a systemic event. It demonstrated, quite firmly, that there is no place or person at the centre of things, no-one who runs the market. 1825 was, in some senses, the year the modern economy started. But it wasn’t just in economics that 1825 changed the world. Politics and literature were reinvigorated too…

More (including the role of Disraeli) at “1825: the first modern financial crisis,” from @HenryEOliver.

[Image above: source]

* Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future


As we ponder precedent, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that the first stock ticker was introduced.

The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

The ticker was the brainchild of Edward Calahan, who configured a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on streams of paper tape (the same paper tape later used in ticker-tape parades). The ticker, which caught on quickly with investors, got its name from the sound its type wheel made.


Calahan’s ticker (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Nearly all the grandest discoveries of science have been but the rewards of accurate measurement”*…

… and, as Christie Aschwanden explains in her consideration of James Vincent‘s new book, Beyond Measure, that progress has been hard won– and has had cultural consequence…

… [Swiss meteorologist Jean-André de Luc] set out to find the true boiling point of water, but instead of finding a single answer to the question, de Luc instead found “only a multitude of phenomena forced into homogeneity by this single, restrictive term,” Vincent writes. (Scientists eventually turned to the steam produced by boiling water as a more reliable measure of temperature.)

And so it has gone with many types of measurements, Vincent observes. “The quest for precision — the desire to burrow ever more closely into the weft of reality — unveils only irregularity on a far greater scale.” The same might be said of science writ large, and Vincent’s recounting of the development of some science’s most well-used measures are classic tales in the history of scientific discovery. The meter, for instance, was originally intended as a unit of distance based on the Earth’s meridian until careful surveys showed that these meridians weren’t as perfect and unchanging as previously believed.

“Beyond Measure”offers engrossing accounts of the role that measurement has played in scientific progress, including its roles in medicine, math, and quantum mechanics, but the book is about much more than science. Vincent also presents a deep history of measurement’s role in society. “Measurement is not an intrinsic feature of the world, but a practice invented and imposed by humanity,” he writes.

Throughout human history, measurement has often provided a means for exerting power. For instance, the Roman Empire created a method for measuring land called the centuriatio that divided territory into grids. The system “not only simplified property rights and tax collection,” but also provided a way to portion out farmland to veterans and make roads amenable for marching troops, Vincent writes: “The survey, in other words, helped fund, direct, and reward Rome’s imperial war machine.”…

How the quest to quantify has shaped scientific progress and human society: “The Surpisingly Imprecise History of Measurement“- @cragcrest on @jjvincent in @undarkmag.

[Image above: source]

* Lord Kelvin


As we contemplate quantification, we might send carefully-measured birthday greetings to Malcolm Purcell McLean; he was born on this date in 1914. A transportation entrepreneur, he parlayed his experience as a trucker into the development of the modern shipping container— which revolutionized transport and international trade in the second half of the twentieth century. Containerization led to a significant reduction in the cost of freight transportation by eliminating the need for repeated handling of individual pieces of cargo, and also improved reliability, reduced cargo theft, and cut inventory costs (thus, working capital needs) by shortening transit time.

When McLean died in 1987, then Secretary of Transportation Norm Minetta said:

Malcom revolutionized the maritime industry in the 20th century. His idea for modernizing the loading and unloading of ships, which was previously conducted in much the same way the ancient Phoenicians did 3,000 years ago, has resulted in much safer and less-expensive transport of goods, faster delivery, and better service. We owe so much to a man of vision, “the father of containerization,” Malcolm P. McLean.

In an editorial shortly after his death, the Baltimore Sun wrote that “he ranks next to Robert Fulton as the greatest revolutionary in the history of maritime trade,” and Forbes Magazine called McLean “one of the few men who changed the world.” On the morning of McLean’s funeral, container ships around the world blew their whistles in his honor.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 14, 2022 at 1:00 am

“It’s going to be interesting to see how society deals with artificial intelligence”*…

Interesting, yes… and important. Stephanie Losi notes that “in some other fields, insufficient regulation and lax controls can lead to bad outcomes, but it can take years. With AI, insufficient regulation and lax controls could lead to bad outcomes extremely rapidly.” She offers a framework for thinking about the kinds of regulation we might need…

Recent advances in machine learning like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion show the strengths of artificial narrow intelligence. That means they perform specialized tasks instead of general, wide-ranging ones. Artificial narrow intelligence is often regarded as safer than a hypothetical artificial general intelligence (AGI), which could challenge or surpass human intelligence. 

But even within their narrow domains, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and similar models are already raising questions like, “What is real art?” And large language models like GPT-3 and CoPilot dangle the promise of intuitive software development sans the detailed syntax knowledge required for traditional programming. Disruption looms large—and imminent. 

One of the challenges of risk management is that technology innovation tends to outpace it. It’s less fun to structure a control framework than it is to walk on fresh snow, so breakthroughs happen and then risk management catches up. But with AI, preventive controls are especially important, because AI is so fast that detective and corrective controls might not have time to take effect. So, making sure controls do keep up with innovation might not be fun or flashy, but it’s vital. Regulation done right could increase the chance that the first (and possibly last) AGI created is not hostile as we would define that term.

In broad strokes, here are some aspects of a control framework for AI…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Possible Paths for AI Regulation.”

See also: “Can regulators keep up with AI in healthcare?” (source of the image above)

And as we ponder constructive constraints, we might keep in mind Gray Scott‘s (seemingly-contradictory) reminder: “The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?”

Colin Angle


As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that UNIX was released to the world. A multi-tasking, multi-user operating system, it was intitally developed at ATT for use within the Bell System. Unix systems are characterized by a modular design that is sometimes called the “Unix philosophy.” Early Unix developers were important in bringing the concepts of modularity and reusability into software engineering practice, spawning a “software tools” movement. Over time, the leading developers of Unix (and programs that ran on it) established a set of cultural norms for developing software, norms which became as important and influential as the technology of Unix itself– a key part of the Unix philosophy.

Unix’s interactivity made it a perfect medium for TCP/IP networking protocols were quickly implemented on the Unix versions widely used on relatively inexpensive computers, which contributed to the Internet explosion of worldwide real-time connectivity. Indeed, Unix was the medium for Arpanet, the forerunner of the internet-as we-know-it.

Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie, principal developers of Unix, working together at a PDP-11 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The world cannot be governed without juggling”*…

Innovation in juggling? David Friedman investigates…

How many new ways can there possibly be of throwing a bunch of balls up in the air and catching them? I mean, people have been juggling for thousands of years. There’s even an ancient Egyptian tomb that includes this wall painting of what sure looks like juggling [illustration above].

So as a modern juggling performer, how do you keep your routine fresh? Is it all about the patter and the performance? Or is there still room for innovation in the art and craft of throwing balls to yourself?…

With the help of professional juggler Luke Burrage, he finds some fascinating examples:

Luke’s “rotating room” routine
Adam Dipert‘s “Space Juggling”
Greg Kennedy in a cone
And the OG, MacArthur Fellow Michael Moschen

Even more at “Innovations in Juggling,” from @ironicsans.

John Selden


As we stay aloft, we might send amazingly entertaining birthday greetings to John Bill Ricketts; he was born on (or around, records are sketchy) this date in 1769. An English equestrian, famed for his trick riding, he was also an impressario– who brought the first circus performances to the United States in Philadelphia in 1793.

John Bill Ricketts, aka, Breschard, the Circus Rider, by Gilbert Stuart
The original “Big Top” (source: Tracy Chevalier)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

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