Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for February 4, 2020

Pricing algorithms raise prices for consumers; An argument that the Smartphone has passed its point of peak utility; An essay asks if it would matter if high quality novels were written by computers, instead of humans; Rapidly changing pH levels in the ocean present a problem, but the oceans are not acidic; and a Steem essay suggests four reasons why computer slowness increases as time goes by

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First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.


  1. Competition in Pricing Algorithms - This working paper by Zach Y. Brown from the University of Michigan and Harvard's Alexander MacKay describes their work investigating automated pricing algorithms. The pair developed and evaluated a model where firms choose algorithms instead of choosing prices. They found that by checking online prices from competitors and adjusting a firm's own prices hourly, firms can achieve a higher level for pricing equilibrium without a need for collusion. Additionally, the pair looked at online drug prices from five major retailers and found that the firms' pricing was consistent with the use of pricing algorithms. By calibrating the model with real world data, the authors also found that "pricing algorithms lead to meaningful increases in markups, especially for firms with superior pricing technology". According to the article's introduction, the pricing algorithm phenomenon may raise new challenges for regulators, since firms can raise prices in tandem without direct collusion. (Although, it occurs to me that the use of high-frequency pricing changes could be seen as a form of negotiation.)

  2. Fast Charge: It’s over for the smartphone – we just don’t know it yet - This author argues that the pinnacle of smartphone growth has been reached and suggests that tangible benefits are now on the decline for consumers who must spend exorbitant fees on smartphone upgrades. In particular, it notes that a point of diminishing returns has been reached because advances are slowing in battery life, camera quality, display quality, desirability of applications, and many other metrics. Therefore, the author argues that consumers have ever-decreasing incentives for frequent phone upgrades. Additionally, the article notes that concerns about phone addiction, distraction, and privacy are forces that are exerting pressure in the opposite direction, disincentivizing phone purchases and usage. Finally, in addition to technical factors, the author notes that costs are skyrocketing, with some new phones priced as high as $1500 for features like foldable screens that don't solve any obvious consumer problems.

  3. If a novel was good, would you care if it was created by artificial intelligence? - This article acknowledges that high quality fiction created by an artificial intelligence (AI) author is still far off from reality, but it notes signs that it may eventually be achievable. Citing Nadira Azermai from ScriptBook, the article reports that high quality screenplays might be created by AIs in as soon as five years, and argues that actual high quality fiction novels must follow soon after. Based on that supposition, it asks, even if the novel's quality is high, does a hypothetical shift away from human authorship take something away from the literature? Specifically, the author discusses the idea of literature as a communications medium between the author and the reader. If an AI is just stringing together words in formulaic but pleasing fashion does it represent a loss of human communication and interaction? Finally, the article argues that the capability for AI creation is perpetually limited by the need for human text as input data, so even if AIs can eventually produce decent quality novels, humans can never be completely shut out of the process. -h/t Communications of the ACM: Artificial Intelligence

  4. No, The Oceans Are Not Acidic - Responding to a story on CNN, The Pacific Ocean is so acidic that it's dissolving Dungeness crabs' shells, Forbes' Robert Rapier talks about the misleading nature of the term, "ocean acidification", and the common misunderstanding that's revealed by CNN's headline. Rapier points out that the average pH level of the ocean is currently about 8.06, which is down from 8.13 in 1990. The article acknowledges that the problem with Dungeness crabs' shells is real, because that species has adapted (along with others) for a certain pH level, but it also points out that a pH level of 7.0 is neutral, and anything above that is alkaline or basic. Thus the ocean is actually moving towards a more neutral pH level. The falling pH level has been tied to increases of carbonic acid (H2CO3) in the water, which can result from CO2 mixing with the sea water. This is probably the reason that the term "ocean acidification" emerged, but the article argues that the term is misleading, and seems to be more useful as a rhetorical tool than a descriptive one. The article also suggests that a more descriptive phrase would be, "ocean neutralization". The article is summarized in the concluding paragraph:
    Note that I am not downplaying the impact of a change in the pH of the oceans. Some organisms that are adapted to a specific pH — no matter what it is — may be significantly impacted by even small pH changes. The CNN story accurately describes that the falling ocean pH is presenting a problem for Dungeness crabs. But it’s not because of an ocean that has become acidic.
    -h/t Daniel Lemire

  5. STEEM 4 Reasons Why Computers Slow Down as Time Goes By - In this post, @joebrochin suggests four reasons why our computers tend to slow down as time goes by. Reasons include: (i) The addition of more and more Start-up Applications that slow down boot time and take processing cycles from other running applications; (ii) The collection of Temporary Garbage in application cache and log files; (iii) Interference from Malware and Viruses that find their way past security software; and (iv) Bloatware, which is potentially unwanted software or features that comes in conjunction with applications or features that are desired. To solve these problems, the article suggests the use of the CCleaner application and the article, How to Make a Windows Computer Startup Faster (A beneficiary setting of 10% has been applied to this post for @joebrochin.)

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Comments 3

Supporting the #posh initiative. Shared on Twitter and Facebook.

04.02.2020 17:25

Shared on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for the review and mention. Loved the other articles as well.


04.02.2020 18:27

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06.02.2020 11:17