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Cobblers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Much of the work in the developing world relies on self employment. Be it farming, fisheries, a small retail operation or repairing products like cobblers or seamstresses. In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, self employment accounts for over 70 per cent of the workforce *.

my tie-dye Toms are here! I LOVE THEM. thank you @annzas!!!!!!!
A pair of tie-dyed Toms shows by Rachel

Let’s use the brand TOMS for a thought experiment about self employed cobblers.

TOMS brand purpose came from supplying shoes to the poor. The brand story was that the founder met a lady in Argentina who was providing shoes to shoeless children. The iconic TOMS shoe is actually an alpargata. This is a style popular in Argentina. Blake Mycoskie came up with the TOMS name from ‘tomorrow’. The business promised to donate a pair of shoes for everyone bought.

You could argue that those people who get the shoes, would likely be unable to buy their own. That it isn’t disrupting delicate market economies and the livelihood of some people in the developing world. But if you could afford to buy local shoes and chose to wear a donated pair – it would be rational decision to make. That would then disrupt the delicate market for cobblers.

Globalisation

Back when cobblers and boot makers started to disappear from the high street in the UK, the work started to disappear gradually. There was also a long process of industrialisation to make up for the jobs being lost. There was a process of creation and disruption in the job market. Cobblers business of shoe repairs and boot making bifurcated:

  • The Timpson type model that can repair some issues with modern formal shoes. The heels can be repaired on women’s shoes if they snap off. They cut keys, change watch straps, fit watch batteries and do engravings to keep the business ticking over
  • The Jermyn Street model where one buys a pair of shoes at a premium. They are made on a last with your name on; and repaired and resoled as necessary

A lot of people now wear sneakers and casual shoes for most of the time. The way that they’re manufactured means that there is little that can be done to repair them.

So going to a cobbler is no longer a mainstream regular activity for much of UK society. I very rarely wear formal shoes. I have a pair of black leather loafers by Churchs. I used to get them repaired by and old Irish gentleman called Mr Cavanagh. He eventually closed his shop when the business rates meant it was no longer viable. But until he closed I would bring shoes home to be repaired by him, as my Mam and Dad had also done.

Getting back to our developing world cobblers. The problem in a lot of developing world countries is that there isn’t a similar employment substitution happening for local cobblers. Donated shoes come on top of deindustrialisation. TOMS does try to negate this impact and currently manufactures shoes in Kenya, India, Ethiopia and Haiti.

But most manufacturing has been centralised in South and East Asia.

Brand purpose and unintended consequences

Mark Ritson discussed how brand purpose shouldn’t boost profit, but should become before profit **. When Uncle Ben’s changes its name to Ben’s *** and Aunt Jemima **** because of racial overtones, that isn’t brand purpose (or putting purpose into a brand).

When an FMCG company stops using palm oil in their food products, that isn’t brand purpose. Brand purpose would be putting money into ways to support farmers so that they didn’t resort to slash and burn palm oil plantations.

More marketing related content here.

IZA World of Labor – Self-employment and poverty in developing countries *

Marketing Week – A true brand purpose doesn’t boost profit, it sacrifices it**

Marketing Week – Mars put purpose into Uncle Ben’s rebrand ***

Business Insider – 15 racist brands, mascots, and logos that were considered just another part of American life ****

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

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Amazon Restricts How Rival Device Makers Buy Ads on Its Site – WSJ – interesting that his is confirmed by both according to Amazon employees and executives at rival companies and advertising firms. Would rival device makers have an antitrust case? It would be harder for Amazon to argue that it doesn’t have a monopoly position in retail. More on Amazon here.

China’s Sina Agrees to Go Private in Deal Valued at $2.6 Billion – Bloomberg – will probably list on a home stock market like Shanghai, Shenzhen or Hong Kong

Oxford moves to protect students from China’s Hong Kong security law | The Guardian – one can see this is a direct reaction to Hong Kong’s national security law and also as a reaction to Chinese influence operations on campuses across the western world

Will The Chinese-Owned French Luxury Brand Baccarat Survive? | Jing Daily – combination of bad management and circumstances. It is interesting that the owner Coco Chu has disappeared

Mark Riston: It’s time for ‘share of search’ to replace ‘share of voice’Peckham’s Formula posits that when you launch a brand you should set its advertising budget based on your desired share of market. Specifically, your initial share of voice should be 1.5 times the desired market share you want to achieve by the end of the brand’s second year.

Older People Have Become Younger – Neuroscience News – in terms of their mental faculties

Netflix called out for “Three-Body” author Liu Cixin’s Xinjiang remark — Quartz – Mulan seems to have become a verb in US media in a similar way to ‘it’s all gone Pete Tong’ in late 1980s vernacular English. Although originally ‘gone Pete Tong’ meant that something had gone commercial and mainstream – in effect a sellout, which was a bad thing in the 1990s, when credibility was everything. Netflix might be able to see dramas into China a la the BBC and Sherlock; but I can’t see it being allowed to be a platform. China already has QQVideo iQiyi and PPTV

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The merge

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I first heard of the merge from Sam Altman’s blog. He said that it was a popular topic of conversation in Silicon Valley to guess when (not if) humans and machines will merge. In a meaningful way rather than just a Johnny Mnemonic-style walking data storage unit.

When I heard of this definition of the merge, I immediately thought of the digital series H+.

H+ The Digital Series

H+ told the tale of a technological hack that killed people by disrupting the implants in their heads. Some of the few survivors were out of cellular network reach in the basement of multi-story car park.

He went on to explain that it may not be a hybridisation of humans literally with technology but when humans are surpassed by a rapidly improving (general purpose) AI. The third possibility was a genetically enhanced species surpassing humans in the same way that homo sapiens surpassed the neanderthal.

What’s interesting is that some of the people don’t give ‘the merge’ a name at all. Back during the dot com boom, when Ray Kurzweil published his book Age of Spiritual Machines it was given the name The Singularity.

Part of the resistance to this established term was that The Singularity implies a single point in time. I don’t think Kurzweil meant it in that way. But its been almost 20 years since I read Age of Spiritual Machines, and I suspect most of the debaters have only read about it from a Wikipedia article.

Alton points out that in some ways the merge has been with us for a good while.

The contacts app on our devices and social networks take the place of us remembering telephone numbers. I can remember my parents landline number and the number of the first family doctor that we had. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you my parents current cell phone number; or the number of my current doctor.

On a grander scale; general knowledge and desire to read around has been depreciated by Google and Wikipedia. Our phones, tablets and laptops are not implanted in us, but at least one of them will be seldom out of reach. I learned to touch type and I am now not conscious of how I input the text into this post. It goes from my thought to the screen. Only the noise of the keys gives away illusion of mind control as I stare at the screen. Ironically voice assistance makes me more conscious of ‘the other’ nature of the device.

But it no longer just about memory and our personal connectedness of the devices. Our device control us and suggest what to do and when. Social media platform curation affects how we feel.

As Altman puts it:

We are already in the phase of co-evolution — the AIs affect, effect, and infect us, and then we improve the AI. We build more computing power and run the AI on it, and it figures out how to build even better chips.

This probably cannot be stopped. As we have learned, scientific advancement eventually happens if the laws of physics do not prevent it.

Sam Altman – The Merge

Innovation often spits out the same process in several waves before it works. Before Siri, Alexa and Google home there was Wildfire. Before Wildfire there were various speech recognition technologies including Nuance for call centres, Lernout & Hauspie, Dragon Systems and Kurzweil Computer Systems. The last two were founded in the mid-1970s. SRI International’s AI research started delivering results in the mid 1960s.

AI in its broadest terms has gone through several research booms and busts. The busts have their own name ‘AI winters’. The cadence of progress could easily be far slower than Altman imagines.

One could easily argue that machine learning might run its natural course to technical maturity without much more improvement. Google and other technology companies are basing their work on research done at Canadian universities in the 1980s during an ‘AI winter’ characterised by a lack of basic research funding. Canada continued to support the research when others didn’t.

Silicon Valley companies not engaging in basic research themselves. As Judy Estrin observed in her book Closing The Innovation Gap back in 2008, Silicon Valley no longer engages in ‘hard innovation’. Without that basic research; a general purpose AI envisioned by Kurzweil and Altman maybe out of reach. Which is why Silicon Valley pundits put the merge as somewhere in a 50-year window.

Altman also caveats his prediction based on the laws of physics. Aaron Toponce : The Physics of Brute Force provides an idea of the physical limits imposed by cracking cryptography. It would not be inconceivable that a general purpose AI may hit similar challenges. More on machine learning and innovation here.