Don’t let the crypto circus in congress fool you – Michael Casey

Michael Casey, Senior Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

Michael Casey, Senior Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

From Coindesk

Progress?

Judging from the most eye-catching headlines from two separate hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday, it’s tempting to conclude there has been little of it from U.S. regulators and legislators in their comprehension of cryptocurrencies these past five years.

In fact, Rep. Brad Sherman’s laughable suggestion during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in the house that the U.S. ban mining and purchases of bitcoin could suggest we’ve gone backward since bitcoin was first discussed in Congress in the fall of 2013.

At that time, the sight of Jennifer Shasky Calvery, then-director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), telling bitcoin exchanges and wallets they needed to register with FinCEN, was ultimately viewed positively by crypto enthusiasts. In showing that regulators like her weren’t inherently hostile to cryptocurrencies, Calvery’s comments led to a doubling in bitcoin’s price over the following two weeks to more than $1,100 in early December.

Now, five years on, some officials do sound a bit hostile.

At a separate hearing the same day as Sherman’s grandstanding, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said cryptocurrencies are “great if you’re trying to hide or launder money.” Had he noticed how the FBI had traced the bitcoin transactions of the 12 Russians indicted last week for trying to tamper with U.S. elections?

The folly of his position was indirectly identified over at the other hearing, where Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Michael Conaway — who presumably did not intend to take a dig at the Fed Chairman — joked, “As long as the stupid criminals keep using bitcoin, it’ll be great.”

It’s best to look beyond the eye-catching headlines, however. In the wider context, it’s clear that we have actually come some way forward in regulatory comprehension of this technology. And that’s a good thing. Read More »

Making the Middle Matter – Trish Cotter

MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Lecturer Trish Cotter

From Xconomy

Call it the problem of the middle—the middle states and the middle class—two groups that have struggled with problems that, while they are inexorably linked, are different all the same.

Historically, most of the venture capital in America has been active on the coasts, leaving a vast portion of the country without seed money for innovative new startups. At the same time, the Midwest has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs and, as a result, has in some ways failed to flourish in the same ways as other parts of the country. And, of course, there is no shortage of news articles outlining the many struggles facing the middle class, in general, in America.

“We live in a fractured society,” argues MIT economist Peter Temin in an MIT News article on America’s two-track economy. “The middle class is vanishing.”

According to Temin, America now features two sectors: an FTE sector, where people who work in finance, technology, and electronics tend to thrive, and a low-wage sector, where workers often struggle. The middle class, traditionally an area of national strength, is starting to disappear. Moreover, the FTE sector, overwhelmingly focused and fixated on both coasts, has for a long time neglected investment opportunities in the Midwest.

Venture capital—specifically venture capital aimed at the oft-ignored middle states—could be part of the solution. The central part of our country is often ignored as an ideas hub. Most accelerators, venture capitalists, and startup programs are focused on a few key cities on the east and west coasts. The Kauffman Foundation, known for its emphasis on education and entrepreneurship, recently published an article focusing on both the middle class and the middle states, asking: “Is the Middle the New Edge?”

It states: “The middle ground is too often dismissed as unremarkable, when it is truly necessary. The middle should be appreciated as an admirable place to be – where people work together to solve big problems and move our nation forward.” Read More »

Imagine If Robo Advisers Could Do Emotions– Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo

From the Wall Street Journal

At a conference last year, I was approached by an audience member after my talk. He thanked me for my observation that it’s unrealistic to expect investors to do nothing in the face of a sharp market-wide selloff, and that pulling out of the market can sometimes be the right thing to do. In fact, this savvy attendee converted all of his equity holdings to cash by the end of October 2008.

He then asked me for some advice: “Is it safe to get back in now?” Seven years after he moved his money into cash, he’s still waiting for just the right time to reinvest; meanwhile, the S&P 500 earned an annualized return of 14% during this period.

Investing is an emotional process. Managing these emotions is probably the greatest open challenge of financial technology. Investing is much more complicated than other chores like driving, which is why driverless cars are already more successful than even the best robo advisers.

Despite the enthusiasm of tech-savvy millennials—the generation of investors now in their 20s and 30s who are just as happy interacting with an app as with warm-blooded humans—robo advisers don’t take into account the limits of human cognition; they don’t make allowances for emotional reactions like fear and greed; and they can’t eliminate blind spots. Robo advisers don’t do emotion. When the stock market roils, investors freak out. They need comfort and encouragement. During last August’s stock-market rout, Vanguard Group told The Wall Street Journal it was “besieged” with calls from jittery investors and had to pull volunteers from across the company to handle the call volume.

But what if a robo adviser could identify the precise moment you freak out and encourage you not to sell by giving you historical context that calms your nerves? Better yet, what if this digital adviser could actively manage the risk of your portfolio so you don’t freak out at all?

Imagine if, like your car’s cruise control, you can set a level of risk that you’re comfortable with and your robo adviser will apply the brakes when you’re going downhill and step on the gas when you’re going uphill so as to maintain that level of risk. And if you do decide to temporarily take over by stepping on the brakes, the robo adviser will remind you from time to time that you need to step on the gas if you want to reach your destination in the time you’ve allotted. Instead of artificial intelligence, we should first conquer artificial emotion—by constructing algorithms that accurately capture human behavior, we can build countermeasures to protect us from ourselves.

Robo advisers have great potential but the technology is still immature; they’re the rotary phones to today’s iPhone.

Marvin Minsky, the recently deceased founding father of artificial intelligence, summarized the ultimate goal of his field by saying that he didn’t just want to build a computer that he could be proud of, he wanted to build a computer that could be proud of him. Wouldn’t it be grand if we built a robo adviser that could be proud of our portfolio?

See the post at  WSJ “The Experts” 

Andrew W. Lo is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering, principal investigator at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and chief investment strategist at AlphaSimplex Group.

 

 

Artificial intelligence and the future of work – Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From InfoTechnology

Artificial intelligence is quickly coming of age and there remain lingering questions about how we will manage this change.

AI will eliminate some jobs, there’s no question, but it will also create some new ones. So the first question we will face as business people, workers and citizens is about balance: are we going to create more jobs than we eliminate or not?

The second and much more fundamental question is: how are we going to proactively manage our AI investments so we can use AI to create new jobs or career opportunities for the future? And how will we make sure those jobs reach out to various sectors of our society increasing our overall wealth and well being and not overly increasing the inequities that already exist in our society.

I believe if we think about it strategically and if we engage more people in the design of AI systems, we’ll be able to make this transition successfully. It will require a proactive strategy. The American public and people all over the world have been shown the negative consequences of not being proactive—take global trade for example. The benefits of global trade have not been widely shared and we are now witnessing the effects of the anger and frustrations this has produced in the movement to more extreme politics and the deeper social divisions laid bare by recent events. We can’t make the same mistake about the future developments of technology.

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Why it’s not the end of America’s brick and mortar retail stores–Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From The Hill

Even in a digital age, brick and mortar retailers have distinct advantages over e-commerce. But the other day, I watched as two stores totally blew those advantages. In a bookstore, the customer waiting in line before me asked for a particular book, only to be told it was out of stock. “We can order it for you,” the customer was told. But she shook her head. “I have books on order. I wanted something to read now.” The second came as I returned an item to a large department store chain, a routine matter — or so I thought. Thirty frustrating minutes later, after being shuttled between employees like a ping-pong ball, I left, wondering why something so simple had taken so long.

Both these incidents demonstrate how the woes facing brick and mortar retailers go far beyond price competition from online shopping. The bookstore I visited had missed its advantage of instant gratification. The department store lost its advantage of convenience and the human touch. An impersonal trip to the post office to mail a return was better by comparison.

My shopping experience underscores three primary factors that underlie the plight of current brick and mortar retailers: retreat from core competence, failure to view online counterparts through a complementary lens, and loss of focus on customer experience. Unfortunately, the results of these missteps are apparent.

Distressed retailers are closing stores at a record pace. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 2,800 retail locations have closed just this year, including hundreds of locations being shut down by national chains such as Payless ShoeSource and RadioShack. The outlook for major department stores is grim. Macy’s said it will close 68 of its 870 stores nationwide, affecting 10,000 employees, citing changing consumer behavior. Sears Holding Corp. will close 108 Kmarts.

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