Category Archives: Technology

Government and Innovation

Inspired by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who recently announced plans to use drones to deliver packages to Amazon customers thirty minutes from the time of placing an order, a Minnesota microbrewery, Lakemaid Beer, announced its own spin on drone delivery service: using drones to deliver cold beer to ice fishermen working on frozen lakes. Managing partner Jack Supple told the Wall Street Journal that he anticipated fewer safety issues for Lakemaid than for Amazon, as Amazon would have drones flying down city and residential streets, whereas Lakemaid would be flying the drones across flat, largely uninhabited lakes. Apparently Lakemaid had planned to start delivering beer via drone imminently—that is, until the FAA informed Supple that drone delivery of beer was indeed a commercial use of the technology, and therefore is prohibited until the FAA finally gets around to publishing regulations, sometime in 2015. Thankfully Lakemaid is willing to put its plans on hold until then. It is still unclear, however, how the FAA will compensate the ice fishermen unjustly deprived of beer.

Entrepreneurs in the United States are, unfortunately, well accustomed to the delays that come from government erecting obstacles along the path to innovation. What many are not quite as familiar with is government getting directly involved in the process, in an attempt to speed it up. The Wall Street Journal reports that ten companies are committed to…wait for it…a five-year plan, in which they will work alongside the National Institutes of Health to perform research leading to treatments or cures for Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis & Lupus. Some might see this effort to pool the best and brightest minds from leading drug companies as promising, but I’m skeptical. Can the “Accelerating Medicines Partnership” do what its name promises when, as WSJ reports, “NIH scientists will review progress and provide help with scientific decisions”? Given that our government will be picking up a larger and larger portion of the nation’s prescription drug tab in the near future, maybe the NIH scientists will “help” steer the “partnership” away from research likely to result in more expensive therapies? Even if they don’t, this program represents a significant expansion of fascist involvement of government in an industry that, with some exceptions and reservations, seems to be welcoming it.

Even though Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm, and even though it’s been unjustly harassed by antitrust litigation, Apple seems to be continuing its tradition of boldly expanding into new markets. The WSJ reports that the company is buying up Internet infrastructure at a rate consistent with its stated intention of revolutionizing the TV viewing experience. In addition, CEO Tim Cook recently said during a conference call that “Apple is on track to break into new product categories this year.” Moreover, Apple has hired executives with expertise in cable Internet infrastructure and TV research and development. (Read more here.) If our government stays out of the way, I am hopeful that Apple will provide an aesthetically pleasing, viable alternative to cable.

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A Home Comforts News Sandwich

What will the average household of the near future look like?

If MakerBot is right, it will contain a 3-D printer, ready to fabricate small objects of various kinds on demand. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company’s mini printer, available in the spring of this year, will cost $1,375, putting the technology in reach of the general public. In addition, the company plans to offer an online store, similar to Apple’s iTunes store, which will sell blueprints for various objects the printers can fabricate. Imagine being able to browse hundreds of plans for toys, plastic replacement parts for household appliances, etc., and then being able to fabricate them in minutes, right in your own home. Here, as with many other technologies, we can expect an improvement in our quality of life, a savings in time and money.

But what technology giveth, the government taketh away:

You may have read recently that General Mills is planning to cater to customers who care about whether their food is genetically modified, by removing all GMO ingredients from some of their products, and labeling them accordingly. According to this story at Market Watch, what General Mills is doing is part of a larger trend of companies choosing to offer GMO-free products, or provide information about GMO ingredients on their product labels.

As of yet there doesn’t seem to be any real proof that GMO ingredients pose a risk to human health. What we do know is that genetic modification makes food production more efficient, and therefore makes food cheaper. Still, if some companies and customers want to participate in a market for higher-priced GMO-free foods, they should be free to do so. The danger, however, is that our government is going to use this new trend as an excuse to impose more regulations on the food industry. If it does, we can expect it to cost substantially more to put food on our tables. Says Market Watch:

A study by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants found that GMO food labeling would cost consumers roughly $350 to $400 more annually per household . Wilde points out that GMOs help farmers save money on labor costs because they reduce the need for weeding; he says that it’s thus reasonable to assume that no longer using GMOs might increase those labor costs and that could trickle down to consumers. Plus, food manufacturers would have to now segregate GMO-free foods from foods that contained GMOs, which might cost them money at each link of the manufacturing chain; this could be passed on to consumers.

(Those of us who are trying Whole30 can take comfort in the fact that the most common GMO food ingredients are grain and soy, which we avoid anyway.)

Contemplating a whole new set of government regulations on our food supply is depressing. Might be time to escape by watching a movie or a little TV.

Soon you may get to do so on your own, in-home, 105-inch, Ultra-HD (“UHD”), curved-screen television. At a recent press conference, reports Wired, Samsung announced the launch of “the world’s largest UHD TV,” the U9000. It has a concave screen and these other impressive features, some of which I don’t understand:

The U9000 has a cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio with 11 million pixels for a 5,120×2,160 screen resolution as well as UHD upscaling and UHD dimming, and with new multiscreen functions is clearly the company’s flagship television for 2014. The U9000 will also come in 65-inch and 55-inch curved models.

But Samsung isn’t just revolutionizing home theater. At the press conference they announced a number of products designed to work together to give us “homes that understand our needs and show us key information and put us in charge of our lives.” The products will be integrated thanks to the company’s “Smart Home” app, which will allow us to control our home environments almost effortlessly: “For example, say ‘going out’ to your Gear smart watch and the LED lighting and heaters will turn off. Say ‘movie mode’ and the lights dim. And so on.” According to Samsung president and CEO BK Yoon, its company’s products will help to fulfill his vision of a home: “It has to protect, be safe, be flexible and be responsive.”

How about a home that is truly safe, safe from the most dangerous intruder of all: government? Unfortunately no technology, however good, can provide that. But it can help us work towards the day when we will be truly safe, and to enjoy ourselves along the way.

Enjoying News Sandwich? Please share via email, social media, etc. Thanks!

*Post title comes from this informative housekeeping book.

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