April 14, 2015
Xi is the sixth man to rule the People’s Republic of China, and the first who was born after the revolution, in 1949. He sits atop a pyramid of eighty-seven million members of the Communist Party, an organization larger than the population of Germany. The Party no longer reaches into every corner of Chinese life, as it did in the nineteen-seventies, but Xi nevertheless presides over an economy that, by one measure, recently surpassed the American economy in size; he holds ultimate authority over every general, judge, editor, and state-company C.E.O. ... “He’s not afraid of Heaven or Earth. And he is, as we say, round on the outside and square on the inside; he looks flexible, but inside he is very hard.” ... a quarter of the way through his ten-year term, he has emerged as the most authoritarian leader since Chairman Mao. In the name of protection and purity, he has investigated tens of thousands of his countrymen, on charges ranging from corruption to leaking state secrets and inciting the overthrow of the state. He has acquired or created ten titles for himself, including not only head of state and head of the military but also leader of the Party’s most powerful committees—on foreign policy, Taiwan, and the economy. He has installed himself as the head of new bodies overseeing the Internet, government restructuring, national security, and military reform, and he has effectively taken over the courts, the police, and the secret police. ... Xi describes his essential project as a rescue: he must save the People’s Republic and the Communist Party before they are swamped by corruption; environmental pollution; unrest in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and other regions; and the pressures imposed by an economy that is growing more slowly than at any time since 1990 (though still at about seven per cent, the fastest pace of any major country). “The tasks our Party faces in reform, development, and stability are more onerous than ever, and the conflicts, dangers, and challenges are more numerous than ever,” Xi told the Politburo, in October.
Machine learning, artificial intelligence and other technological advances are transforming how pensions, endowments, sovereign funds and other institutions manage their assets. ... Will the financial services industry soon be challenged by technology entrepreneurs with little initial - or no exclusive - interest in the investment business? ... The hot technologies being developed today will offer unparalleled insight into the complex world around us, and the applications to the entire domain of finance and investing are countless. ... One example: The ascendance of nonbiological intelligence means computing systems will learn and process many types of inputs far faster than even the most-expert individuals. Once experts partner with the systems, these man-machine teams will become extremely competent at rules-based goal seeking. The days of using scarce computing resources to model complex systems - backcasting, calibrating, validating and eventually forecasting - are nearly over. ... a growing number of computing systems and technologies will empower people, organizations, networks and information in transformative ways. Service industries will be particularly affected, as they often require human, labor-intensive analytics and networking scale. But if technologies can help people network and analyze faster and better, some of the companies in the industries that provide these services will face an existential challenge. As with the rise of computing and the Internet, we expect new technologies in the coming decade to challenge service industries, such as finance, in ways that few people today appreciate.
The biggest exporter has let prices plummet—delaying the day when climate concerns, efficiency, and fuel switching break the world’s dependence on crude. ... Naimi and other Saudi leaders have worried for years that climate change and high crude prices will boost energy efficiency, encourage renewables, and accelerate a switch to alternative fuels such as natural gas, especially in the emerging markets that they count on for growth. They see how demand for the commodity that’s created the kingdom’s enormous wealth—and is still abundant beneath the desert sands—may be nearing its peak. This isn’t something the petroleum minister discusses in depth in public, given global concern about carbon emissions and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But Naimi acknowledges the trend. “Demand will peak way ahead of supply,” he told reporters in Qatar three years ago. If growth in oil consumption flattens out too soon, the transition could be wrenching for Saudi Arabia, which gets almost half its gross domestic product from oil exports. ... Last week, in a speech in Riyadh, Naimi said Saudi Arabia would stand “firmly and resolutely” with others who oppose any attempt to marginalize oil consumption. “There are those who are trying to reach international agreements to limit the use of fossil fuel, and that will damage the interests of oil producers in the long-term,” he said. ... The peak that has the Saudis more worried is peak demand.
Where there’s smoke, there’s smuggling. Before the Ukrainian border became a dangerous war zone, it was a profitable bootlegging arena. ... In 2008 Ukraine, the international cigarette companies that control 99 percent of the cigarette market there manufactured and imported 130 billion cigarettes. And for a country that adores smoking like few others—according to the Tobacco Atlas, the average Ukrainian in 2008 smoked 2,526 cigarettes—you’d have to assume that all 130 billion would be gobbled up by the populace. You wouldn’t expect, however, that nearly 25 percent of them were not. ... Officially, according to the four leading international cigarette companies in Ukraine—Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco, and British Americano Tobacco—30 billion cigarettes were “lost.” The reality was that these cigarettes were sold wholesale to international cigarette traffickers. According to Tobacco Underground, a group of journalists determined to uncover the rampant cigarette smuggling throughout the world, cigarettes are the most smuggled legal substance on earth.
Over a specially prepared breakfast, the inventor and futurist details his plans to live for ever ... Kurzweil, who invented the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the flatbed scanner and a music synthesiser capable of reproducing the sound of a grand piano, has been thinking about artificial intelligence (AI) for 50 years. In The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), he predicted the internet’s ubiquity and the rise of mobile devices. The Singularity is Near, his 2005 bestseller, focused on AI and the future of mankind. In 2012 he joined Google as a director of engineering to develop machine intelligence. ... Kurzweil’s supporters hail him as “the ultimate thinking machine” and “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison”. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has called him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence”. To his critics, he is “one of the greatest hucksters of the age”, and a “narcissistic crackpot obsessed with longevity”. ... His interest in health goes back to when he was 15 and his father, Fredric, had a heart attack. “He died when I was 22. He was 58.” Kurzweil realised he could inherit his father’s dispositions. In his thirties, he was diagnosed with type-two diabetes. Frustrated by conventional treatments, he “approached this as an inventor”. It has not returned. “You can overcome your genetic disposition. The common wisdom is it’s 80 per cent genes, 20 per cent lifestyle. If you’re diligent, it’s 90 per cent intervention and 10 per cent genes,” he claims.
In the year 1723, a French merchant ship sat becalmed halfway across the atlantic ocean. For over a month, she drifted with the currents, sails loose and flapping, waiting for a steady breeze. More than two hundred years had passed since Columbus made the same journey, and transatlantic travel was now a matter of course. But sometimes the fate and consequence of a voyage still hinged on seeds. By some accounts, the drifting ship had already faced a troubled passage—outrunning a deadly storm off Gibraltar, and narrowly avoiding capture by tunisian pirates. Now, stuck in that windless equatorial zone known as the doldrums, the ship had run so low on fresh water that the captain ordered strict rationing for crew and passengers alike. Among those travelers, one gentleman felt particularly parched, because he was sharing his small allotment with a thirsty tropical shrub. ... “It serves no purpose to go into the details of the infinite care I had to provide that delicate plant,” he wrote, long after the wind picked up and the ship docked safely at the Caribbean island of Martinique. And long after the descendants of his spindly sapling were well on their way to changing economies throughout Central and South America. The plant, of course, was coffee, but just how a young naval officer named Gabriel-Mathieu De Clieu got his hands on it remains a matter of debate.
In this special HODINKEE feature of Inside The Manufacture, I will recount a four day experience that completely changed my perspective on the world's most important watch maker – the time that I got to spend inside all four of Rolex's actual production facilities in Switzerland. I had many ideas of what I would see, and while some were accurate, others could not have been further from the truth. Below, you'll hear and see what it is like to go inside Rolex in a way that few have, or will ever get to experience. This is inside Rolex, like you've never seen it before. ... Rolex is one of the few watch manufactures that has two completely separate but totally equal strengths – an amazing history of innovation (truly – like, not one bought with naming rights), and world-class manufacturing capabilities today.