April 5th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

How you'll become an assistant to your AI assistant, the Panama Papers, and unsealing the lips of the SEALs.

By now you’ve likely at least dipped a toe into the world of artificial intelligence-driven personal assistants. Even at this early stage, they are pretty amazing, often entertaining, and whether you notice it or not, always listening. As Slate’s Will Oremus explains, this increasingly popular technology is terrifyingly convenient. “Alexa — and Siri and Cortana and all of the other virtual assistants that now populate our computers, phones, and living rooms — are just beginning to insinuate themselves, sometimes stealthily, sometimes overtly, and sometimes a tad creepily, into the rhythms of our daily lives.”

+ Business Insider: The inside story of how Amazon created Echo, the next billion-dollar business no one saw coming. (No one, except … Alexa.)

+ Is it OK to use the Amazon Echo on Shabbat? It’s a moot question. Before long, technology will be our only religion.

+ And related (I think) from The Guardian: Researchers discover that touching the areas where a robot’s genitals or buttocks would be provokes a physiological response in humans. (Immediate reaction: It’s a relief not to be the only one…)


Selflessness in the Age of Selfies

“The raising of Navy SEALs to celebrity status through media exploitation and publicity stunts has corrupted the culture of the SEAL community.” There was a time when it was unthinkable for those tasked with secret missions to go public with their stories. But lately, it seems like the SEALs lips are no longer sealed. From the NYT: Rift Among Navy SEALs Over Members Who Cash In on Brand.


Panamanian Pandemonium

After reading several stories about one of the most expansive leaks ever, I’m not sure whether to be outraged or to start setting up some overseas LLCs. We knew powerful and wealthy people (both honest and corrupt) went to great lengths to stash their cash. But now, with the Panama Papers, we have names and numbers. From Fusion: Dirty Little Secrets.

+ Five key figures implicated in the scandal. (There will be more.)

+ Iceland stood out as a country that actually put bankers in jail following the 2008 economic collapse. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s appearance in the Panama Papers is not going over very well.

+ The Guardian: Putin will do anything to stifle the Panama Papers story.

+ Wired: How reporters pulled off the story of the biggest leak in whistleblower history. (Still unresolved: How am I gonna get the song Panama by Van Halen out of my head?)


Model Three Draws a Crowd

WaPo: “Most of the best selling cars in America, such as the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima, generally hit around 300,000 in sales every year. Tesla saw 276,000 people sign-up to buy its newest all-electric Model 3 sedan — in two days.” Yes, it’s a key signal the electric cars are about to go mainstream. But this story is about a lot more than your choice of fuel; it’s a reminder that design is everything.


Let Freedom Sting

The world was shocked and outraged when the Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped and became victims of Boko Haram’s sick “campaign of rape and sexual slavery.” For many of those freed from that captivity, the nightmare continues: “Most of the surviving women no longer have homes. Their cities were burned to the ground. The military has quietly deposited them in displacement camps or abandoned buildings, where they are monitored by armed men suspicious of their loyalties.”


Oyz in the Hood

The rents go up and up. One by one the small mom and pop shops put up a going out of business sign. And soon, they’re replaced by high end niche stores or chains that make a block in one major city indistinguishable from a block in another. And as Sarah Goodyear writes in the NY Daily News’: “There, as they say, goes the neighborhood.” Can we have growth without giving up character? Or are we destined to become the malls of America.

+ In San Francisco, it’s not just small business owners who are getting priced out of the market. Even the tech companies are getting squeezed.

+ And how crazed is the shared office space boom? Put it this way, Staples wants to rent you some office space.


Trump Shakers

He “has no pollsters, media coaches, or speechwriters. He ­focus-groups nothing. He buys few ads, and when he does, he likes to write them himself. He also writes his own tweets, his main vehicle for communicating with his supporters.” Win or lose, the Trump campaign is one of the most unlikely stories in American electoral history. And it’s all being run by a handful of operatives who were on no one’s political dream team. NY Mag’s Gabriel Sherman takes you inside Operation Trump.

+ I figured I’d get a break from the election newscycle and Trump headlines by coming to Japan. And this was the first headline I saw after landing.


Prime Time Humiliation

“It’s precisely because of the public shaming that we indulge again and again in shows with no other real purpose than to humiliate their protagonists.” Why do we watch reality TV? To enjoy the pleasure of their pain. (I’m too narcissistic to enjoy other people’s humiliation. So I focus only on my own.)

+ GQ: How rappers, Real Housewives, and lesser Kardashians get paid just for showing up at the club.


Not Now, I’m Working

According to Quartz, most Americans spend two full workdays a month on Facebook. (Maybe that makes sense. A lot of them probably own more stock in Facebook than in their own companies.)


Bottom of the News

According to several reports, a flight attendant quit by pulling the plane’s emergency slide and walking away. (In her defense, it was United.)

+ So we woke up on our second morning in Tokyo, looked across from our hotel window, and saw some synchronized corporate calisthenics taking place. My wife captured a pretty amazing video of the scene. (Tomorrow, me and the kids are gonna put on a show for them!)

+ Not worried about all the drones in the sky these days? Well, how about the drones with chainsaws?

+ Reminder: I am traveling in Japan through April 15. During this period, I will try to get off a few editions, but the publishing schedule will be sporadic, and will depend, in large part, on the quality of the WiFi at the local cat cafe.

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