Business, Economics

Further thoughts on the online media model

As much as I admire the curatorial value added by The Browser, I do find this comment on their About Us page a little off:

We aim to recommend only content that you can read for free — though for some sources that means an intermediate step: a site registration, say, or Googling the headline. And, sadly but often, stuff that is free when we recommend it goes behind a publisher’s pay-wall a week or a month later.

I have no problem with The Browser or others charging for curating the work of others, but it seems a little hypocritical to then complain that the actual content creators might want to charge for their efforts too.


Statistics in PPE

I am delighted to hear, via the Oxford alumni magazine Inspires, that PPEists are soon going to have more statistics built into their syllabus. This is a result of the university being selected as one of 15 participants in the Q-Step programme to encourage statistical literacy in the social sciences.

Being able to use and understand statistical methods is essential in the making and analysis of public policy. Social science only has one laboratory, and statistics is its only instrument. I benefitted hugely from a stats course provided in alongside the PPE course during my time in Oxford. I have since topped this up through Coursera and EdX.

Business, Life

What is the investment angle on driverless cars?

For the past three years I have been telling everyone that will listen that driverless cars will arrive within our lifetimes, and that my two-year old daughter won’t need a driving licence.  Today, that vision came a step closer, as the British government signalled that driverless cars would be allowed on British roads from 1st January 2015.  I am absolutely convinced that they will be the biggest technological revolution that the world has seen since the microprocessor, if not the internal combustion engine.

There are of course many legal issues to resolve. Will the driverless cars require a passenger who could step in if necessary? Will that passenger have to be a qualified driver? Who (if anyone) is at fault if a driverless car collides with another vehicle, a child in the road, or a tree? And, for the philosophers out there, if a driverless car has insufficient braking distance to stop in time to prevent it hitting three schoolchildren who have run into the road, would an algorithm tell it to mount the pavement and kill the one adult walking there?

However, I’m an optimist. I think these issues will be resolved. I think this technology will benefit everyone. But my real interest is, who will it benefit most and least. In other words, what is the investment angle? Who will be the unexpected beneficiaries of massively reliable, cheap and on-demand transport? Rural pubs? Leisure facilities for older people? And who to short? NCP and Addison Lee? Arriva?


Cummings on Whitehall

Dominic Cummings hits the nail on the head with his comment on ministerial civil servants.

“The poor buggers are caught between structural dysfunction and politicians running around who don’t really know what they’re doing all day or what the purpose of their being in power is. Everyone thinks there’s some moment, like in a James Bond movie, where you open the door and that’s where the really good people are, but there is no door.”

I spent the first half of my time as a civil servant in Whitehall wondering where that door was. Thankfully, there are occasionally outbreaks of competence: I would class the ICB, on which I served, as a good example.



The view from my window

Brussels, Belgium