Amazon Sizzles, Crypto Fizzles And Humans Win One Against The Machines

Another full week of ups and downs as Amazon decided that what the world’s teenagers need is more shopping options, Russia said no to crypto-currency,  SMB lending soared and China decided to get up close and personal with its tech firms (that’s the sound of freedom fizzling). But out of the ashes of a fizzle – Facebooks responses to fake news – rose the phoenix of a sizzle: Humanity.  As it turns out, we are much harder to replace with computers that you may have read, particularly if you trying to spot Russian election hacking. 

Sizzle Of The Week: Humanity

Humanity has gotten a bum rap of late – particularly when it comes to our capacities as workers. Because, if the conventional wisdom is to be believed, robots are out to get our jobs. By some estimates, automation could replace some 800,000 jobs in the economy.

And it’s looking like the youngest generation of workers might be on the front lines to be disrupted by that automation. According to figures released by PwC earlier this week, 28 percent of young U.K. workers’ jobs could be at risk of being disrupted by robots. That figure jumps to 38 percent in Germany, and here in the U.S. it’s 39 percent. And that risk, unsurprisingly, is related to education levels: The less education and specialized skills a worker brings to the table, the more likely that role will be automated within the next few decades.

“Our research shows that the impact of technology advances on jobs will be felt more profoundly by some groups than others, with education level a key differentiator,” Jon Andrews, head of technology and investments at PwC UK, said in the report, as quoted in Computer Weekly. “As new technology advances bring innovation, we need to be careful that the impact of this is progressive and does not create barriers…”

Which is why we should thank Facebook for restoring our faith in humanity this week.

We’ll give you a second to wipe off that coffee you just spit all over your screen.

Because – we admit – with the layers of reveals about the fake Facebook ads sold to Russian operatives, this may seem like something of a strange choice, and pretty far from the feel-good story of the week.

But look closer, and Facebook’s work to solve the problem is providing somewhat of a boost to our faith in humanity.

Or at least its future employability.

Because to fight fake news, postings of users committing suicide and other content that is not personally enriching to anyone, anywhere – well, sometimes you can’t just send a machine to do a man’s (or woman’s) job.

Or at least, you can’t send a machine by itself – though it does seem that beefed-up AI will have its role to play in applying improved machine-learning techniques to better screen the content. Some of those automated improvements will include increasing transparency on the site by allowing users to view all of the ads a page is running, even if the user isn’t part of that page’s target audience. The smarter AI will also identify targeting patterns that could signal potential meddling or problematic content.

But once the machines have flagged the issue, what’s the next stop?

It goes to one of Facebook’s 8,500 moderators who have been selected to visually review the content, utilizing the intuitive reading skills that computers still aren’t quite ready to learn.

The first 3,000 of those new moderators were announced last spring, in the days and weeks that followed a rash of suicides that were posted on the social media site.

“If we’re going to build a safe community, we need to respond quickly,” CEO Marc Zuckerberg wrote in a post at the time. “We’re working to make these videos easier to report so we can take the right action sooner — whether that’s responding quickly when someone needs help or taking a post down.”

But in recent weeks, unfolding events have pushed Facebook to take a bolder stand. There’s been the news of Russian-backed accounts purchasing $150,000 of political ads between 2015 and 2017, the 470 fake Facebook accounts attached to the fake news scandal, and the link to a right-wing news site on a help and relief page for victims of the Las Vegas massacre that misidentified the name of the suspected shooter – and that’s only the biggest three.

Mounting evidence of the Jaws-sized scope of the problem on its 2-billion-person social network has pushed Facebook to realize it is going to need a bigger boat, so to speak. And while better AI is part of that plan, Facebook seems to be coming around to the idea that some things simply can’t be automated. For a genuine understanding of “the context in which they were purchased and their intended audience,” a bot just won’t work quite as well as two human eyes – and a reasonable ability to intuit context and intent.

American biologist Paul Ehrlich is quoted as having said, “To err is human, but to really foul things up, you need a computer.”

And while robots will certainly be taking some jobs out of the market, it is worth noting that 3.2 million new human jobs are expected to grow out of automation.

As it turns out, Ehrlich was correct: Humans err, but computers can really foul things up (like elections, apparently). And when that happens, humans still do a better job of fixing the problem than just sending in more machines.

Well, for now, anyway…


Amazon: Smells like teen shopping. Amazon said this past week that teens can shop and buy and stream all at the same time – all with parental controls locked in. The eCommerce giant said that the new initiative sends alerts to parents when youngsters find something they want to buy, and parents can approve the order. If the elders are Prime members, speedy shipping is also part of the deal. This move aims to lock in a whole new user base while they are young. It keeps the transactions flowing, with some oversight in place to make sure no one is spending crazy money on crazy stuff. The family that shops digitally together, consumes together.

CHAPS: What Brexit Impact? The clearinghouse system is forecasting CAGR of around two percent for roughly the next decade. Not a bad tally when the transaction count is slated to hit as much as 43 million transactions in 2026, up from 39 million transactions at the end of last year. The tailwind will come in part via ISO 20022 messaging.

SMB Lending: Biz2Credit data shows that lending is still strong at SMBs. Approval rates are (slightly) up, according to the latest lending index numbers. The approval rate for loans among this enterprise subset stands at 49.1 percent, up 10 basis points in September. The latest data comes after Fed numbers stated that large banks boosted their lending to SMBs by five percent last year.


Cross-Border Deals from China: Tremors for MoneyGram and Ant? The Chinese government wants more control over its tech firms, with proposals in place to take small stakes in companies such as Tencent. This might spur greater data security/national security concerns in cross-border deal making – exactly the type of thing that has fueled opponents of cross-border transactions, where Chinese firms would take stakes in U.S. companies or buy them outright.

Cryptos: Add Russia to the mix of nations saying “nyet” to the Wild West of cryptocurrency speculation. The Russian Central Bank said this past week via its first deputy governor that the country will block access to cryptocurrency exchanges on the web. Even Vladimir Putin weighed in with a thumbs-down of sorts, at least in the past, and has now said that regulatory frameworks are necessary.

FinTechs and EU Banks: Unleveled playing field? The EU is investigating whether Dutch and Polish banking associations have kept FinTechs from accessing customer data. The associations, at least theoretically, could have kept FinTechs from accessing that data even if they’d been authorized by consumers to have that same access. If investigations lead to findings of guilt, the impact could be significant, as antitrust fines could be as much as 10 percent of the guilty parties’ global revenues.