Hosted by Molly Wood, “Marketplace Tech” demystifies the digital economy. The daily show uncovers how tech influences our lives in unexpected ways and provides context for listeners who care about the impact of tech, business and the digital world.
PG&E cut power to more than 700,000 people and businesses last week in Northern California cities as a way to prevent fires from sparking in dry, windy weather. But is a chaotic blackout the best solution? Marketplace’s Ben Bradford tells host Amy Scott that there are alternatives that could prevent this kind of disruption in the future.
With the World Series just around the corner, we’re hearing a lot about players’ stats. But another issue is when an umpire gets a call wrong. Major League Baseball is trying to make those instances less frequent. Over the summer, robot umpires helped officiate a minor league game. The goal is not only to improve accuracy of the calls, but to speed up the game and get more butts in the seats. But Boston University finance professor Mark Williams thinks there’s a way to use an app to make human umpires better at their jobs before we turn the reins over to the bots. We talk with him about the idea behind it.
Christye Sisson, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, is working with the Department of Defense to help build a sophisticated tool that can identify fake images. She and her students act like the bad guys — doing painstaking work to develop the most convincing fake images they can. They’ve learned a lot about what it takes to fool people, including that maybe they don’t need to work so hard, at least on social media.
Amazon warehouses are key to the company’s operations. Items arrive, get sorted and are packaged and shipped off. But they don’t have a reputation for being great places to work. For example, last year, there were those reports about employees urinating in bottles at a U.K. warehouse to avoid taking bathroom breaks. Now Amazon is offering more public tours of its warehouses. The company says it wants to be transparent about how it operates and to inspire kids. We tagged along with a bunch of Girl Scouts on a tour.
Law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, including U.S. Attorney General William Barr, wrote an open letter to Facebook last week asking it to hold off on plans to expand end-to-end encryption in Facebook Messenger. That kicked off a heated debate about privacy and public safety.
Researchers at Intel and University of California, Santa Barbara, are proposing a new idea to use AI to identify hate speech and then create an automated response to those messages, like pointing out that the words used could be offensive or warning people that they are violating terms of service.
There is a lot of appropriate content on YouTube for kids, and there’s a whole lot that is not appropriate for anyone. But kids are wily, and they will find ways to watch. Jed Kim spoke with Common Sense Media Editor-in-Chief Jill Murphy, who says a whole lot of families are struggling with this.
This might be the week that the tech valuation bubble finally popped. WeWork, valued at $47 billion, pulled its IPO, partly over corporate governance concerns, but also because it just isn’t making money. So why did people think these venture-backed companies were worth so much? We dig into this with Alex Wilhelm, editor in chief at Crunchbase News. (10/4/2019)
Electric vehicle maker Rivian hasn’t produced a commercial vehicle yet. Now it’s tasked with making 100,000 delivery trucks for Amazon. What could this mean for the electric vehicle market overall?
For decades, gun manufacturers have tried to figure out how to create a smart gun — one that could only be fired by the gun’s owner and could be activated by a fingerprint or a radio signal sent from the weapon to a wristband. Why haven’t they been successful in selling one? Wood spoke with Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and asked her what the barriers are.
Lots of homes are dealing with an increased risk of flooding due to climate change, and lots of homeowners are still relying on the federal government’s FEMA maps, which were intended to be used by the insurance industry, not consumers. But tech companies are working to collect and distribute climate data in an understandable way. Coastal Risk Consulting is a Florida-based startup that crunches global climate data down to the individual property level.
Residents of Charleston, South Carolina, hunkered down earlier this month as Hurricane Dorian struck the East Coast. They came out largely unscathed. But it was just the latest flooding threat in this low-lying coastal city. It’s the kind of place that could benefit from better flood maps made possible by new tools to process climate change data.
For WeWork it’s been a couple of weeks for the co-working unicorn — its valuation has dropped by tens of billions of dollars. WeWork delayed its move to go public. Its public IPO filings made people’s hair curl with stories of its CEO self-dealing and sketchy corporate governance. Earlier this week, that CEO, Adam Neumann, resigned but still leads the board.
Digi.me is an app that lets you connect all your various online accounts. It scoops all the data on you and puts it in one encrypted location that you can control. Then, with your permission, a new company called UBDI pays you to share some of that data with companies or researchers.
Twitter commissioned a two-year study to help it create metrics for what is a healthy conversation and what isn’t. Host Molly Wood spoke with Rebekah Tromble, who teaches media and politics at George Washington University and is one of the research leads on this project. The team is looking at four categories: mutual engagement, diversity of perspective, incivility and intolerance.
New smartphones come out like clockwork every year, and most people buy new phones every two years. But that upgrade cycle is terrible for Earth. Smartphones are energy intensive to manufacture and involve mining dozens of different rare earth minerals. Very few parts of the phone can be recycled because extracting those metals is also difficult and energy intensive. But last week, Apple announced it’s cracked part of that nut. It found a supplier of recycled rare earth materials, and now Apple is putting them in its newest iPhones. The company says this is a first in the industry.
For our climate tech series “How We Survive,” host Molly Wood spoke with California Gov. Gavin Newsom. She asked him if he saw the tech industry as having a role in helping communities adapt and preventing more disasters.
In Silicon Valley, the tiny town of East Palo Alto has not shared in the wealth of the tech boom. It’s sandwiched between Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, and Menlo Park, home of Sand Hill Road and venture capital millions. But it doesn’t really benefit from its wealthy neighbors, and that means the community needs to get more self-sufficient and resilient as it faces growing effects of climate change.
Host Molly Wood speaks with Astro Teller, who leads X and whose official title is captain of moonshots. Formerly Google X, it’s the division of Alphabet devoted to moonshots — big, crazy technology bets that hopefully turn into companies. Its climate-related graduates include Dandelion, which harnesses heat from geothermal energy, and Malta, which uses salt to store excess energy produced from solar and wind farms. Teller talks about the areas of X’s work focused on climate.
We’re in the heart of the tech industry this week, the Silicon Valley, which is also the home of the huge venture capital funds that back a lot of the innovation here. And those are concentrated in a quiet office park on one little street called Sand Hill Road. So what are they doing to invest in climate tech?
We’re taking our climate tech series, “How We Survive,” to the epicenter of technology: Silicon Valley. It’s not just a metaphor for the tech industry, it’s a real place. Cities, businesses and people are surrounded by a rising sea and are at risk from increasingly extreme weather. This all comes to a head on Stevens Creek Trail, a popular commuter route for tech workers that’s also seeing climate change impacts. It’s a great setting to kick off an exploration of what Big Tech is doing to adapt and maybe help the rest of us, too.
This week, attorneys general from 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico announced they’re joining forces to investigate whether Google has engaged in anti-competitive behavior. Some of those AGs are also part of another investigation into similar questions about Facebook.
The Frankfurt Motor Show opened this week in Germany, and automakers are showcasing their hot, new electric vehicles. As always, prices for many of the electric cars run well above the means of a humble public radio employee. You’ve got your Porsche, your Mercedes-Benz, your BMW. But in Europe, there are also a lot of other offerings with prices closer to the range of what the average consumer could buy.
What3words is a company that has divvied Earth into 57 trillion squares, each with its own unique string of three identifying words. Anyone with the company’s app or website can translate locations from those words.
For smaller cities outside of the epicenters of tech, developing as a hub is a long process with a lot of things that must go right. Jed Kim speaks with Jim Biggs, who worked in Silicon Valley for years before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he’s an executive director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, a business accelerator. He laid out the hurdles his city and others face.
Marketplace’s Jed Kim spoke with Daniel Willingham, who’s a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and researches how we learn. He said balancing tech’s promises and its realities has been a learning experience of its own. (9/9/2019)
The USS Fitzgerald collided with a Phillipine container ship in June 2017, killing seven sailors. Then, just two months later, the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian merchant vessel, killing 10 sailors. Megan Eckstein, deputy editor for USNI News, part of the U.S. Naval Institute, told me the National Transportation Safety Board found the USS McCain collision was caused by a helmsman who was confused by his touch-screen displays. The Navy has taken note, and, Eckstein says, is making changes. (09/06/19)
The 2013 Spike Jonze film “Her” imagined a not-too-distant future where digital voice assistants become super lifelike. And then it becomes a love story between a man and a machine, which seemed crazy, maybe a little gross. Since then, we’ve seen Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant evolve and spread to more devices. (9/5/2019)
Detroit is one of the least-connected big American cities. According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, less than half of homes there have broadband internet. That means hundreds of thousands of Detroiters stand on the losing side of a growing digital divide. Jed Kim talks to Joshua Edmonds, the city’s first director of digital inclusion. (9/4/2019)
This summer, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission delivered the results of a big investigation on the impacts of Big Tech — especially Google and Facebook. It looked at competition and privacy, and how social media has crippled local journalism, among other issues. The result? Twenty-three recommendations that the government can use to regulate — or not. (9/3/2019)
In the European Union, new models of electric vehicles must make some sort of noise to address some safety concerns. Some carmakers are already doing that, and they’re taking it as an opportunity to craft signature sounds. Marketplace’s Jed Kim spoke with BBC journalist Chris Vallance, who reported about some of the things designers need to think about when making new car sounds. This is a re-air episode, which originally was published on Jul. 15, 2019. (9/2/2019)
“Marketplace Tech’s” Jed Kim spoke with Nicole Nguyen, who is a technology reporter at BuzzFeed News. The “Amazon’s Choice” label helps boost items’ sales, which also helps Amazon, since it gets a cut. But Nguyen said there’s not much known about how the designation gets awarded. (8/30/2019)
“Marketplace Tech’s” Jed Kim spoke with Graham Warwick, executive editor of Aviation Week. They talked about the rapidly evolving electric plane sector and how electric flight could potentially reinvigorate regional air travel. (8/29/2019)
It feels like we’re constantly bombarded with news stories about how screens and technology are destroying our kids’ mental health. Turns out, though, when it comes to adolescents, those negative impacts of screen time may be overblown. (8/27/2019)
Marketplace’s Jed Kim spoke with Matthew Kahn, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, about the energy, technology and economics on display in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.” He said that for him, the movie shows how free markets falter in a post-apocalyptic world. (8/26/2019)
For a while in 2018, it seemed like Apple was going to upend the health industry. The company announced an app that could monitor your heart rate and detect irregularities. It was bringing your medical records to your iPhone. It even launched its own health care clinics for employees and families, which people saw as a trial balloon for understanding the industry.
If you don’t like Facebook, you can just leave, but maybe you can leave — and build your own social network. One programmer wrote a guide on how to create your own DIY platform for that. Molly Wood talks to Darius Kazemi about the demand for such a service, and why he’s worked on it.
Increasingly, creators are turning to platforms with a membership model as a way to earn a living. Patreon is a website with such a model. It lets fans support projects of their choosing with recurring donations in exchange for everything from shoutouts to free stuff or exclusive content. Host Molly Wood speaks with Patreon co-founder and CEO Jack Conte, who says the platform works because it’s not about expanding at all costs.
There’s no one way forward for autonomous car technology. Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car company, is still testing fully autonomous cars as taxis in the Phoenix area. Tesla is putting semi-autonomous features into its own cars for consumers to buy. And some companies, like Boston-based Optimus Ride, are thinking the immediate future may be a little more contained.
It’s easy to create a fake account on social media. Facebook admitted that billions of accounts on its platforms could be fake. Last year alone, Twitter suspended more than 70 million bots and fake accounts, but they keep appearing. The more bots there are, the more they can manipulate the online conversation.
Google, as a company, has a long history of internal disagreement and activism. But in recent years that internal culture, where employees are encouraged to argue with executives, with each other and to protest decisions and policies they don’t like has become an external culture, too. Employees have visibly protested Google over politics, hiring, how the company deals with sexual harassment and business decisions; for example, whether the company should do business in China or make deals with the Pentagon.
As the effects of climate change grow, the market for technology to monitor and adapt to those impacts grows as well. In this installment of our series “How We Survive,” reporter Daniel Ackerman explores the use of robots in service of a problem that’s going to be more important as climate change increases drought and water scarcity. Pipes that carry drinking water in the United States are not doing so great. Many are over a century old, and on average, 1 in every 6 gallons of water leaks before it reaches anyone’s tap. A robotics startup has new technology for detecting leaks to help utilities fix them.
There’s been more attention lately on who’s part of the tech boom and who’s not. At Facebook, Google and Apple about three in four technical employees are men — the coders, engineers and developers. African Americans make up a tiny share of that workforce — just 1.5% at Facebook, 2.8% at Google and 6% at Apple, according to these companies.
We’re months away from the next CES, the huge tech trade show that draws almost 200,000 people to Las Vegas every January. In 2020, for the first time, sex tech startups will be officially included at the conference and booth babes will not.
A lot of science fiction shows present a darkly dystopian view of the future, where humans battle for limited resources and are starkly divided between the haves and have-nots. But some views of the future are far more utopian and techno optimistic. In “Star Trek,” members of the federation live in a post-money society: Everyone has the basics, nobody must work, and ordering what you need is as easy as telling a replicator “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”
Tesla still swings wildly between profits and losses from quarter to quarter. But sales of its more affordable Model 3 sedan are strong. It was Western Europe’s biggest selling battery car in the first half of 2019. In the U.S., it’s outselling luxury gas-powered competition from BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus. For the past few years, journalists who cover transportation have been wondering: Is this the time that electric cars finally become a major part of the market?
Uber and Lyft report earnings this week, and the biggest long-term threat to profits for both of their businesses is drivers. Currently, of course, drivers aren’t classified as employees with benefits, overtime or workplace protections. They’re technically independent contractors with none of that.
The Department of Defense is looking for a company that can turn its patchwork quilt of cloud networks into one giant cloud. There’s a big contract on the line — $10 billion. Amazon was the front-runner until last week when President Donald Trump intervened and asked the DOD to investigate whether the process was unfair.
The online forum 8chan was mostly offline yesterday. It was booted from several big web platforms after the weekend’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. The Walmart rampage was at least the third mass shooting this year to be announced in advance on 8chan, which has become a haven for far-right extremists.
The effects of last year’s Camp Fire stretched far beyond the Northern California town it destroyed. The smoke traveled hundreds of miles, exposing millions to toxins and pollutants. As climate change extends wildfire season, keeping indoor air clean and healthy will be all the more important. That’s the focus of this installment of “How We Survive,” our series on tech and adapting to the changing climate.
This week, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, introduced a bill that would ban features that are supposed to keep us using tech for longer periods of time — like endless scrolling, autoplay videos and techniques like the Snapstreak in Snapchat. Host Molly Wood spoke with Adam Alter, who wrote the 2018 book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” He said before we ban the features, we need to know the harm.
The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank shook the tech and investment landscape over the last two years with its $100-billion Vision Fund. This week, SoftBank announced Vision Fund 2, which aims to raise $108 billion. Previously, a good-sized venture fund was less than a quarter of that amount — maybe $200 million tops. This fund could have a huge impact on the direction of future technology. It’s focused on artificial intelligence and data analysis, and of course, it’s making waves in venture capital all over again.
The digital economy depends heavily on access to the internet, and that is still not a solved problem here in the United States. Over 30% of Americans don’t have access to broadband internet — defined by the Federal Communications Commission as 25 megabits per second or higher — according to research released Tuesday by The NPD Group. The Pew Charitable Trusts wants to figure out why. Today, the organization’s Broadband Research Initiative is launching a new tool that lets anyone browse through broadband policies and funding in any state in the U.S.
There are a lot of different ways to have a career on YouTube that go beyond cat videos or comedy. Kati Morton found that out when she started uploading videos about mental health. She’s a licensed therapist and had a private practice. But over the past eight years, she’s shifted almost entirely away from it to bring her expertise to the masses via YouTube. Her channel has about 1,200 educational videos on mental health.
Law enforcement officials generally aren’t fans of what’s called end-to-end encryption — messages that can only be read by the sender and the recipient. They call it “going dark” and argue that encrypted communications make it harder to investigate or uncover crimes. Host Molly Wood spoke with Moxie Marlinspike, founder and CEO of the private chat app Signal Messenger, about what a ban on encryption — or giving law enforcement a back door to messages — might mean.
This week, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion, ordered changes to the company’s board and handed down some data security requirements that Mark Zuckerberg personally must monitor and confirm. The FTC is also investigating Facebook for potential antitrust violations, and the Department of Justice is probing tech companies for anti-competitive behavior.
A new resupply mission is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Friday. But these days, missions to the ISS are as much about business as they are about science. Seventy percent of the cargo in this week’s rocket is private-sector research projects — as in companies sending products to the space station for testing in microgravity.
The tech industry has well-known diversity issues around gender and race. Its lesser known, but age is the industry’s huge blind spot. In fact, 40 is the top age curve at a lot of tech companies. Google just settled more than 200 claims of age discrimination, and the complaint is becoming much more common.
PayPal reports quarterly earnings tomorrow. We’ll get an update on Venmo, the popular peer-to-peer payments app that PayPal owns. But as services like Venmo, Square Cash and Zelle have gotten more popular, there have been some growing pains. Fraud and scams, for sure, but also a lot of accidental payments; for example, typing in the wrong email address. When that happens, as people have sadly discovered, the money is gone.
Apple is known for beautiful, expensive products that get replaced often, either for status or because the battery is dying. When longtime designer Jony Ive left Apple last month to form his own design company, a lot of people reflected on his time at Apple: his influence on creating products that were hard to repair, prioritizing thinness and beauty over reliability, and whether, as Apple gears up to announce new iPhones this fall, that might change now that Ive is gone. (7/22/2019)
To many, the term infrastructure conjures roads, pipes and walls—pretty much the antithesis of nature. But some scientists and engineers want to reverse that impression by harnessing nature as infrastructure. The idea that plants and soil can prevent flooding and purify water is gaining traction in an era of rising seas and severe storms.
It seems like Uber and Lyft are everywhere these days. And for many people, it’s great because those services make it easier — and often cheaper — to get where you need to go. But they don’t work for everyone.
It’s Amazon’s fifth annual Prime Day. Or days? It’s 48 hours this time. Customers are expected to spend more than $5 billion, which means millions of orders processed in giant warehouses, which Amazon calls fulfillment centers. This work is increasingly automated, but there are more than 100,000 human workers in its North American centers because humans are more economical for some things, especially if they must work unceasingly. (7/16/2019)
One of the strangest things to get used to about electric vehicles is how eerily quiet they are. It makes you realize how much we associate engine noise with driving. That lack of sound can be problematic — even deadly. Think about the visually impaired, or anyone oblivious to vehicles because they’re staring at their smartphones.
The masses have flocked on Anaheim, California, for VidCon, where industry executives and fans get to interact with their favorite influencers. And, of course, take selfies with a giant rainbow slide and Barbie’s glittering Dream House. Marketplace’s Jed Kim also spoke with Taylor Lorenz, who covers internet culture for The Atlantic. She said Instagram and TikTok are gaining ground on YouTube among creators.
Marketplace’s Jed Kim continues his conversation with Margaret O’Mara, whose book “The Code” is out this week. Think of it as a biography of Silicon Valley — all the circumstances over more than half a century that made it what it is today.
We’re fascinated with tales of visionary entrepreneurs, trillion-dollar companies, the American tech success story. Foreign leaders are keen to understand and replicate the innovation juggernaut that is Silicon Valley. But little has been written about the entirety of it — the economic ecosystem of Silicon Valley and how it evolved. Margaret O’Mara’s new book, “The Code,” offers a more comprehensive look at the American tech industry dating back to the 1940s.
If you’ve got a design problem you need to fix, you could lock a bunch of engineers into a room to help brainstorm. Or you could look to the natural world, which is called biomimicry, the practice of replicating adaptations found in nature. Jed Kim talks to Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon. PBS is releasing a six-hour documentary series about it, “Chasing the Moon.” Marketplace’s Jed Kim watched the whole series and calls it thrilling, even though we all know how it ends, right? Kim spoke about this and more with the filmmaker Robert Stone.