New year, new SciTech

You probably got a bit lazy over Christmas – so now it’s time to get your portfolio fighting fit, with a SciTech workout.

The machines take over

Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, is making way for AI. The firm is putting a Skynet-like system in charge of many of the firm’s day-to-day management processes. Of course, automated “algo trading” is nothing new – but this goes far beyond trading, with AI decisions extending into HR. Now, hiring, promotion and task allocation will be handled automatically. With $160bn under management, let’s hope this AI doesn’t turn rogue. (Fortune)


You know all that clickbait you see online? “You will not BELIEVE what Miley Cyrus has just been seen doing…” and the like? That nonsense only exists because publishers get paid to run ads against the copy. But, in a world with huge volumes of content, it’s very hard to check that all the page views are actually real. After all, your Mac doesn’t “know” that it’s you that’s using it – it could be a dog pressing the buttons. This is also true for websites. It’s possible to create ad placements on websites that no human will ever see. Then, you just use software to repeatedly call the pages – complete with all the lucrative adverts. As long as nobody realises that humans aren’t involved, the cash will still keep flowing. One such ad-fraud network has just been busted by White Ops, ruining a $5m per day Russian criminal operation. If you’re interested in cybersecurity as a field, maybe consider subscribing to Frontier Tech Investor. I know Eoin Treacy has some exciting picks. Plus, you get Nick’s book free when you do. (White Ops/The New York Times)

Fancy Bear hug 

I must admit, I’m a big Putin fan. He’s just the archetypal baddie – so utterly evil, and so utterly good at it. His “Fancy Bear” cyberwarfare team has come up with an absolute pearler of a strategy. It has created a malicious copy of an app which improves the time taken to load and fire D-30 artillery pieces. The original app was fantastic news, for the Ukrainians who’ve been using it. But the malicious version isn’t quite such fantastic news – as it reports their unit structure and position back to their enemies in Moscow.  Bye, bye, artillery unit… (Graham Cluley/CrowdStrike)

Goodbye, fossil electricity

We’ve been banging on about renewables since the start of Exponential Investor. Now, there’s incontrovertible proof that we’ve been right all along. In the third quarter of 2016, the UK generated 50% of its electricity from low-carbon sources – including renewables and nukes. Scotland went even further, with over three-quarters of its electricity now non-fossil. Building renewable capacity is getting easier and easier, but the hard bit is yet to come. As the proportion of renewables rises, they get harder to integrate into the grid. It then becomes increasingly important to manage demand, in order to ensure that it matches supply. Demand management can be as simple as putting some intelligence into high-consumption devices (eg, fridges), enabling them to reduce their load when the grid is under strain. At the other end of the scale, there are now firms offering companies money to temporarily dial down their power use in times of tight supply. Even as someone who covers this field regularly, I’m continually astonished by the progress. In an environmental laggard like the UK, it’s even more surprising. But next, we’ll need to tackle heating and transport fuels – and that’s a whole different matter. (Graun/BEIS/ONS)

Normandy’s solar road 

You know those pointless inventions that defy all economic logic? This is one of these stories. A village in Normandy is trialling a solar roadway, constructed by Bouygues. It cost over four million quid – and all it does is power a few streetlights in a village. There’s so much wrong with this approach. Obviously, if you want to generate electricity in a vaguely sensible fashion, you point your panels at the sun – not straight up in the sky. Furthermore, you don’t build them where they have to deal with 2,000 cars driving over them daily. You also don’t stick them in cloudy northern France. No, if you had any sense, you’d put them in the desert, pointing at the sun. But wait – what if we could make solar roads almost as cheap as normal roads? If we could, then this technology might just change the world. Looking back: when the first solar panels were used to power satellites, they probably seemed like a ludicrous piece of technical indulgence. Just a few decades later, solar has become the cheapest form of power generation on the planet. So don’t write off that road just yet. There are many similar projects in the pipeline, and the technology will only get better and cheaper. (Graun)


Andrew Lockley
Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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