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How GE avoided Kodak’s fate

Back in 1888 in Rochester, New York, George Eastman founded Kodak. Four years later, 200 miles down the road in Schenectady, New York, Thomas Edison and some pals founded General Electric. The two 19th-century industrial giants chugged along for more than 100 years, but GE is still rolling along with a market cap of over $250 billion and Kodak is a shadow of its former self  with a market cap of $466 million, much of its camera and film business flushed down the disruption pipes of late-20th-century digitization. The question is, how did GE manage to avoid the same fate?

Earlier this month, the company invited me to tour the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York, just minutes down the road from the plant Mr. Edison built in Schenectady. In fact, it was Edison and his partners who opened the lab in 1900, just eight years after launching the company. Perhaps the company’s founding fathers saw the need to continually reinvent itself , or maybe it was just Edison’s obsession with experimentation.

Whatever the reason, 117 years later the lab is a sprawling campus tucked into the beautiful rolling hills of New York State, packed with 2,000 smart people looking to the future of industrial production, whatever form that will take. While the world goes digital, there are some fundamental things that remain very much in the physical realm — like airplane engines, train locomotives, nuclear power plants and gas turbines.

GE has not watched helplessly as Kodak seemed to do as disruptors slowly (and then very quickly) undercut much of its economic base. The company seems to inherently understand that if it doesn’t continually reexamine itself, it could end up like Kodak. So it looks to the future, where data and the digital world intersect with the huge industrial products it’s been building for the last 125 years.

Shifting to a digital world

The world is in the middle of a massive shift with data at the center. If you doubt this, look at Tesla as a quintessential example of a modern data-driven organization. Tesla is in the car business, but Elon Musk recognized from the beginning that there was an inextricable connection between the data coming from the car and the physical vehicle itself . As Tesla collects that data, it can build a better, smarter, more efficient car — and that just feeds off itself over time in a virtuous cycle.

GE recognizes a similar connection between the data coming from the industrial machines it builds and sells. As sensors get smarter and cheaper, the company can begin to build new business models based on its detailed understanding of these machines, both from an engineering and design perspective, as well as what the data tells them about how that machine is behaving.

To give you a sense of the breadth of GE’s industrial reach, Danielle Merfeld, VP at GE Global Research says, “GE currently has about $2 trillion of assets currently installed around the world across various industries. This gives us

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How Echo Look could feed Amazon’s big data fueled fashion ambitions

How Echo Look could feed Amazon’s big data fueled fashion ambitions

This week Amazon took the wraps off a new incarnation of its Alexa voice assistant, giving the AI an eye so it can see as well as speak and hear. The Echo Look  also contains a depth sensor that’s being used, in the first instance, to create a bokeh effect for a hands-free style selfies feature that Amazon is hoping will sell the device to fashion lovers, by making their outfits pop out against the bedroom wallpaper, and making them more eager to socially share.

The Echo Look app is where users can view the style selfies (and videos) they’ve asked Alexa to record for them (she  indefinitely stores a copy for Amazon too ). But the flagship feature of the app is a fashion feedback service, called Style Check, which Amazon says will utilize machine learning to rate fashion choices and help users choose between outfit pairs. And ultimately, presumably, give their entire wardrobe a score. Albeit, the feature is using (human) stylists too, at least for now, to help train what Amazon surely hopes will be entirely robotic style recommendations down the line.

The app will also suggest clothes for users to buy based on their style selections — opening up another revenue stream for Amazon, and one that could prove pretty sticky if Echo Look delivers on its promise of furnishing users with a personal stylist whose killer feature is the ability to shop tirelessly on your behalf. This new voice-controlled, Internet connected Echo camera is designed to condition users to feed it with the training data Amazon needs to build a fashion savvy AI. As data grabs go, it’s exceedingly well dressed.

As I wrote in July 2015 , adding a camera to Echo makes perfect sense for Bezos’ massive fashion ambitions. With an eye to see you, Echo Look promises to contain your self-image better than a mirror by claiming to know which of your outfits is the fairest of them all. Fashion is often sold as something feel good and confidence building — a way to belong and blend in within a peer-group. But equally style can be deliberately different; the essence of individual self expression. So whether there’s an AI that can usefully cater to all those different facets remains to be seen. But for many shoppers the primary desire they have for the clothes they wear can be boiled down to looking good. So Amazon is positioning Alexa to sell that hope as a service.

Buying clothes is a recurring need; both a practical necessity and a way to keep up with changes in style and taste. Like buying groceries, it’s a type of shopping without end. Which is why Amazon is fixated on both spaces. “In order to be a $200bn company we’ve got to learn how to sell clothes and food,” Jeff Bezos  said  as long ago as a decade — displaying the long term thinking that has enabled the ecommerce giant to slow-grow its business over more than 20 years from an upstart online bookseller into today’s sprawling digital marketplace whose upwardly thrusting arrow declaims its mission to deliver everything.

Amazon Prime is the membership club that sells a subscription to convince people to lock themselves in to buying more and more from Amazon. Notably, a recent addition to the Prime perk list is an Amazon

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Watch how Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnels will move cars faster

Just what does Elon Musk’s Boring Company want to accomplish? This might be our clearest picture yet – a video shown during Musk’s TEDTalk from Friday morning, which includes a rendering of a future underground transit network where cars travel on crisscrossing layers of tunnels that include sleds shuttling vehicles around on rails at around 130 mph.

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NSA ends controversial collection of Americans’ emails that mention foreign targets

NSA ends controversial collection of Americans’ emails that mention foreign targets

Privacy advocates are finally getting (a little bit) of what they want. Friday,

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Elon Musk teases Tesla electric semi truck, up to 4 new Gigafactory locations

Elon Musk teases Tesla electric semi truck, up to 4 new Gigafactory locations

Elon Musk was on stage at the 2017 TED Conference in Vancouver on Friday, and he revealed some of his tunnel work and aspirations, but he also talked about a few ongoing Tesla projects he’s referenced before. The multi-CEO showed a shadowy image that gives us our first look at what his forthcoming electric Semi Truck will look like, and also let drop the suggestion that Tesla will likely announce four new global Gigafactory locations sometime this year.

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