Discussion topics

Amazon's design strategy

Vice president of Amazon Echo, Mike George, explained: "We have a thing called 'working backwards.' The first thing we do is we write a press release, ignoring every technical thing we can’t do for now. It’s our aspirations. We also write FAQs where we identify every question we would receive as if we issued the press release. We answer the question in aspirational ways too, ignoring, for the moment, the technical hurdles. In some cases we actually build things."

The idea is to dream about what this product could be. The next step is to hash out the idea between a team of experts that would potentially work on the new product. "There's a team in there, in a room, debating, from vice presidents to junior software developers," he says.

Everyone is not only encouraged to speak their mind, they are obligated to, he says. That's because Amazon has a motto: "Have backbone." It means that Amazon wants all the people working on a new product to be on board with the idea.

Please describe Amazon's strategy of 'working backwards' to come up with new ideas. Do Homework
How does it compare to other companies' methods of innovation? Do Homework
What is Amazon's attitude towards opposing opinions? Do Homework
What are the pros and cons of this strategy about open communication in a team? Do Homework

Characteristics of Generation Z

In the next year or two, the workplace faces an unprecedented situation where for the first time, due to the fact that we’re all living longer, five generations may be working side by side: Veterans (pre-World War II); the Baby Boomers (World War II – 1960s); Generation X (mid-60s – late 1970s); Millennials (aka Generation Y) (1979 – 1991); and last, but not least, the largely unknown factor: Generation Z, born after 1992.

It’s estimated that there are more than 2 billion of Gen Z worldwide. In South Africa, a third of the population is under the age of 21.

It may be too soon to be definitive about the characteristics of this generation, but they are said to be realistic, cause and value driven, entrepreneurial, financially prudent, and have boundless curiosity.

This is the first generation born into a fully technological environment - a world of being connected, being digital, and having mobile phones or tablets as a matter of course . They’re therefore more advanced in searching for information and figuring things out on their own.

It’s said that Generation Z will have jobs that have not even been created yet. But that’s not the only thing we aren’t sure of. Although there’s some indication of who they are and the influences shaping them, their characters are still forming and their role in the workplace is yet to take shape.

Please explain the different demographic groups from this article. Do Homework
Which demographic group do you belong to and what are the typical characteristics? Do Homework
In what ways will the youngest generations influence Japanese society and the economy? Do Homework

Softbank to invest big in A.I.

At SoftBank Group's annual shareholders meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday, founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son said: "Some say SoftBank is a mobile phone company, but that's wrong [...] We are an information revolution company. A cellphone is just a device. From now on, we will be in an age where all infrastructure will be connected by information networks."

Son has about 30 targets lined up in emerging sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things. SoftBank, he made it clear, intends to be at the forefront of all these fields.

The boss likes to think big. In 2010, Son announced a strategy for the next three decades, over which time he aims to forge some 5,000 partnerships and expand SoftBank's market capitalization to 200 trillion yen ($1.79 trillion). He did not stop there: He also described his vision for the coming 300 years, predicting a world where people live to 200 and communicate via "telepathy." During the shareholders meeting, Son talked about the SoftBank Vision Fund, a $93 billion technology investment fund launched with Saudi Arabia and other partners. Using this massive vehicle, Son said he wants to gather a group of innovative entrepreneurs, bonded by camaraderie and a common vision.

What is the reputation of Softbank and Masayoshi Son? Do Homework
Please explain Masayoshi Son's vision for Softbank and the future. Do Homework
What predictions can you make about the future of AI technology and society? Do Homework

Yamato reduces delivery times

Yamato Transport Co. has modified its parcel delivery time slots to reduce the burden on overworked drivers handling a sharp increase in parcels.

As of Monday, the door-to-door parcel delivery firm no longer allows noon to 2 p.m. as a designated delivery time so drivers can take a lunch break.

In addition, the company replaced the latest time slot in the day of 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a new slot of 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to avoid the concentration of delivery orders in the final one hour.

In line with the change, Seven & I Holdings Co., Lawson Inc. and other retailers that offer online shopping using Yamato’s delivery services have revised their delivery time slots.

What problems has Yamato been facing in the logistics industry recently? Do Homework
Please explain Yamato's solution to ease the burden on delivery drivers. Do Homework
How will these changes affect customers in Tokyo? Do Homework
How has e-commerce changed the logistics industry in recent years? Do Homework

Bike-sharing in urban Japan

The so-called sharing economy has spread to a variety of fields such as cars and homes, and Japan has seen another rising trend in recent years—bicycles.

A growing number of municipalities and private firms are providing bikes to gauge whether such services will catch on.

According to NTT Docomo Inc., which has been teaming up with municipalities to offer a bike-sharing service on an experimental basis, its bicycles were used about 1.8 million times in fiscal 2016, which ended March 31, up from 20,000 in fiscal 2012.

Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile phone carrier, is partnering with Koto, Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo, Shinjuku, Bunkyo and Ota wards in Tokyo. Around 4,200 two-wheelers were available at 281 “stations” as of March. Docomo also offers bike-sharing in the cities of Yokohama, Sendai, Hiroshima and Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

Please explain what you understand by the term "sharing economy". Do Homework
What examples of the "sharing economy" can you think of? Have you ever made use of such services? Do Homework
Do you think bike-sharing in Toyko will take off? Do Homework

Japan introduces English road signs

Japan began introducing bilingual traffic signs on Saturday as the number of foreign visitors increases ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

By the time the games open, about 35,000 of the 140,000 stop signs in the capital will have been replaced with ones in both Japanese and English near the Olympic venues and in other areas, the Metropolitan Police Department said.

Along with the new stop signs, bilingual slow-down signs will also be introduced.

There are roughly 1.7 million stop signs and 1,000 slow-down signs in Japan, according to the National Police Agency.

In 2016, the number of foreign visitors hit a record 24 million. Against this backdrop, the agency has decided to change the signs to make them easier to understand for foreign travelers.

Priority is likely to be given to tourist destinations as well as areas around airports where many visitors rent cars.

What are the advantages of having public signs in English? Do Homework
Do you know of any other changes that aim to help visitors in Japan ahead of the Olympics? Do Homework
What else could the government do to enhance visitors' experience of Japan? Do Homework

Changing work culture in Japan

Japanese workers devoting themselves to working massively long hours for their employers might be becoming a thing of the past.

Nearly half of newly employed people said they would leave the office when their work was done even if their superiors or colleagues were working overtime, according to a survey released Monday.

In the survey conducted jointly by the Japan Productivity Center and the Junior Executive Council of Japan on 1,882 workers participating in training sessions in March and April, 48.7 percent of participants responded positively to the notion of leaving the office when their work was done, up 9.9 percent from a year before.

According to the survey, 42.6 percent — a record high percentage — of the respondents also said they work in order to lead happy lives, while the ratio of people who said they work to test their abilities continued to decline, marking a record low of 10.9 percent. Those who work to contribute to society dropped to 9.2 percent.

Please summarise the findings from this text. How does this correspond with your own experience? Do Homework
What is your attitude towards working hours and leaving the office once your work is done? Do Homework
What factors affect work and corporate culture in Japan? Do Homework
In what ways do you think work culture in Japan will change in the near future? Do Homework

Amazon Japan seeks delivery drivers

Amazon Japan aims to build a team of 10,000 independent couriers in the Tokyo region by 2020 to continue offering same-day delivery service without relying on major parcel delivery companies.

In Tokyo, the epicenter of demand, private couriers will be organized by logistics company Maruwa Unyu Kikan, which handles deliveries for such clients as online grocers. The company will take on Amazon's same-day delivery by organizing a team of independent couriers and outsourcing the work. It has already begun the same-day service in some parts of Tokyo's 23 wards.

Maruwa aims to fence in private couriers by strictly regulating work hours while guaranteeing steady work and revenue. It will also offer worker dormitories, fuel discounts and training. When necessary, it will also rent out mini-trucks that are easy to drive even in metropolitan areas and will encourage new drivers to sign on.

Please explain Amazon Japan's strategy to expand its logistics department. Do Homework
What are the current difficulties in logistics in Tokyo? Do Homework
Do you think Amazon Japan's plan to recruit more delivery drivers will be successful? Why/why not? Do Homework

Why is Amazon buying Whole Foods?

Amazon swooped in to buy the high-end grocer Whole Foods on Friday, paying $13.7 billion, or $42 a share—a healthy 27% premium on the previous day's closing price.

So what's in it for Amazon?

There are a couple of strategic plays at work for the online retail giant.

For starters, acquiring Whole Foods' 440 US stores—many of them in prime locations—could bolster the network for AmazonFresh, the company's grocery delivery service.

"To efficiently ship groceries to consumers, you need physical distribution (item-picking to put parcels together, click-and-collect points) close to the consumer," analysts at Bernstein wrote in a research note. "Stores are ideally located for that. They won't look like stores in five years' time, but they will be in those locations."

The service allows customers to order groceries online, then set a time for pickup as soon as 15 minutes after. So far, there are only two locations, both in Seattle, but AmazonFresh Pickup could scale rapidly after Friday's deal.

The move could [also] improve the selection of grocery items for AmazonFresh users, as well as strengthen Amazon's bargaining position with suppliers, according to Credit Suisse.

Please explain the strategic advantages of acquiring Whole Foods for Amazon. Do Homework
What is the position of Amazon's services in Japan? Do Homework
Who are Amazon's competitors in Japan? What are their relative strengths and weaknesses? Do Homework

Benefits of paid time off (PTO)

A growing number of companies are combining vacation and sick time into one bucket called "paid time off", or PTO.  Employees will decide whether they're going to use the days for vacation, when they or a relative are ill, or for family events.

According to a report from World at Work, an association of human resources professionals, 51 per cent of private companies, including small and mid-size businesses, offered PTO last year.

One of the biggest pluses about PTO for small business owners is eliminating the administrative chore of tracking how many sick days versus vacation days their employees have used. That can be particularly helpful in the growing number of states, counties and cities where employers are required to allow staffers to accrue sick time, usually up to 40 hours a year depending on how many hours they work. With PTO, there's no need to track hours worked or accrued.

What’s the practice at your office—are you allotted sick days or personal days? Do Homework
Do you ever take a sick day? Does your company culture compel you to work even when you’re sick? Do Homework
How would you convince your boss or company to switch to this system? Do Homework

Softbank invests $502m in startup

"[UK tech startup] Improbable is building breakthrough technologies that are becoming vital and valuable platforms for the global gaming industry," Deep Nishar, managing director of investments at SoftBank, said in a statement. Beyond gaming, Nishar said, SoftBank believed Improbable’s simulation technology could be used to help explore disease, improve cities, understand economies and solve other complex problems. Nishar is joining Improbable’s board.

SoftBank founder and chief executive officer Masayoshi Son has been trying to establish the Japanese company, which has a history investing in telecommunications and game companies, at the forefront of a host of emerging technologies. In particular, Son has been staking SoftBank’s future on the growth of machine learning, where software is able to learn from data and experience, and the Internet of Things, the idea of connecting everything from home appliances to industrial equipment to the internet. His largest investment in the U.K. to date was the $32 billion purchase of chip designer ARM Holdings Plc last year.

What is Softbank's reputation in Japan? Do Homework
Please briefly explain Softbank's long term investment strategy and vision to your teacher. Do Homework
In what ways do you predict technology will change our future? Please give examples. Do Homework
What technological developments in Japan have impressed, interested or inspired you? Are there any developments you feel negatively about? Please give examples. Do Homework

Bitcoin shoots past $1,800

Bitcoin is trading at another record high on Thursday. The cryptocurrency is up 4.59% at $1853.55 a coin after Ulmart, Russia's largest online retailer, said it would begin accepting bitcoin, Cryptocoin News says. 

The announcement from Ulmart comes despite Russia's central bank saying it would wait until 2018 to consider allowing the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. At the beginning of April, Japan's regulators announced bitcoin is now a legal payment method in the country.

How is Bitcoin viewed in Japan? Do Homework
How will Bitcoin affect the future of online payment technology? Do Homework
What other payment systems are popular in Japan? Do Homework
What are the pros and cons of online payment systems? Do Homework

Robo-advisors gaining popularity

The majority of affluent and high-net-worth individuals recognize the potential of robo-advisors and automated investment services to add value to their wealth management services.

[According to a study of 600 investors in the UK and US] more than 70% of overall respondents think that such tools can positively influence their wealth manager’s advice and decision-making process and that automated advice potentially speeds up onboarding processes such as registration and account opening, making these processes more efficient and convenient. This underlines how the young and the wealthy are especially showing a great openness, awareness and knowledge about robo advice.

Have you ever used the services of a robo-advisor? Do Homework
What are the advantages of using a robo-advisor? Do Homework
Do you think robo-advisors are becoming popular with investors in Japan? Do Homework
What potential obstacles would robo-advisors have to overcome in order to be more accepted? Do Homework

Singularity will occur by 2047

Singularity—the point when machine intelligence surpasses our own and goes on to improve itself at an exponential rate—will happen by 2050, according to Masayoshi Son, the Japanese tech mogul leading SoftBank.

In 2017 he said: "I totally believe this concept. In the next 30 years, this will become a reality."

Son went on to say that our world will fundamentally change as a result of so-called superintelligences that will be able to learn and think for themselves, TechCrunch reports.

Son added that he expects one computer chip to have the equivalent of a 10,000 IQ within the next 30 years, Bloomberg reported.

Japan's second-richest man went on to highlight how SoftBank plans to invest in the next generation of technology companies that are developing A.I. with a new $100 billion tech fund called the SoftBank Vision Fund. Apple and Qualcomm have contributed to the fund, as has the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

"I truly believe it's coming. That's why I'm in a hurry—to aggregate the cash, to invest," said Son. "It will be so much more capable than us—what will be our job? What will be our life? We have to ask philosophical questions. Is it good or bad?"

Son added: "I think this superintelligence is going to be our partner. If we misuse it, it's a risk. If we use it in good spirits, it will be our partner for a better life. So the future can be better predicted, people will live healthier, and so on."

Please explain "singularity" in your own words. Do Homework
Do you agree with Masayoshi Son that the singularity will happen by 2047? Why or why not? Do Homework
In what ways will A.I. and more advanced technology affect our lives in the future, good and bad? Do Homework
A.I. technology is already expanding at a rapid pace and will likely continue to do so. What do we need to do to make sure all people benefit from it? Do Homework

When will robots replace workers?

The falling cost of industrial robots will allow manufacturers to use them to replace more factory workers over the next decade while lowering labor costs, according to new research.

Robots now perform roughly 10 percent of manufacturing tasks that can be done by machines, according to the Boston Consulting Group. The management consulting firm projected that to rise to about 25 percent of such "automatable" tasks by 2025.

In turn, labor costs stand to drop by 16 percent on average globally over that time, according to the research.

The shift will mean an increasing demand for skilled workers who can operate the machines, said Hal Sirkin, a senior partner at Boston Consulting.

Factory workers "will be higher paid but there will be fewer of them," Sirkin said.

The research found a tipping point for installing robots: Companies tend to start thinking about replacing workers when the costs of owning and operating a system come at a 15 percent discount to employing a human counterpart.

For example, in the U.S. automotive industry, which is predicted to be one of the more aggressive adopters of robots, a spot-welding machine costs $8 an hour versus $25 an hour for a worker.

Three-fourths of robot installations over the next decade are expected to be concentrated in four areas: transportation equipment, including the automotive sector; computer and electronic products; electrical equipment and machinery.

Adoption is forecast to be slower in industries in which tasks are more difficult to automate or labor costs are low, such as food products or fabricated metal.

Certain countries also are expected to be more brisk adopters. China, the United States, Japan, Germany and South Korea now account for about 80 percent of robot purchases and are expected to maintain that share over the next decade.

At what point will companies start thinking about replacing workers with robots? Do Homework
Which industries and countries have been the early adopters of robots and why? Do Homework
What examples can you think of in Japan of robots replacing workers? Do Homework
As more jobs become automated, how will this affect society? Do Homework

Software will replace doctors

According to Keith Rabois, a Khosla Ventures partner and former executive at LinkedIn, PayPal, and Square, areas that require human expert judgment, like healthcare and law, are most likely to see disruption in the coming years.

"One of the most interesting things we’ve noticed over the last decade is the ability of math and machines to replace human judgment, particularly expert judgment," Rabois said on Founder Calls, a new podcast run by Box CEO Aaron Levie.

"And it’s finally possible now to use data and machine learning techniques to replace the judgment of experts in law and in healthcare," he said.

For example, if medical software can sift through massive amounts of data to automatically diagnose a patient, without having to go through a human doctor, healthcare would become more affordable for everyone. Rabois has invested in a few healthcare startups, and one of them uses data all the way back from 2007 to automatically recommend different courses of care that may be different from what’s been prescribed under previous standards, he said.

"Vinod Khosla, my boss at Khosla Ventures, has stated that, 'If you want to be a doctor in the future, you’re better off learning math and statistics than biology and chemistry,'" he added.

Please explain how software is predicted to disrupt the healthcare and legal sectors. Do Homework
Can you think of any examples of jobs or industries that have been changed by advances in software and technology? Do Homework
In what ways will advances in technology affect your industry? Do Homework

Rapid urbanisation

In 2015, 85% of global GDP was generated in cities. Growing cities require substantial investments in infrastructure if they are to continue expanding at their present rate. It’s estimated that we will invest $78 trillion in global infrastructure over the next 10 years alone to accommodate this growth. New York, Beijing, Shanghai and London will need $8 trillion in infrastructure investments alone. 

Do these figures surprise you? Do Homework
What challenges do modern urban planners face? Do Homework
What changes would you like to see in Tokyo in the future? Do Homework

Australian convict pirates in Japan

An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago.

Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.

Why was Japan isolated in the 1800s? Do Homework
What do you know about Australia's convict history? Where did the convicts come from? Do Homework
What other stories about pirates do you know? Do Homework

Premium Fridays in Japan

Faced with slack consumption and soul-searching over Japan’s notoriously poor work-life balance, the government is asking companies to allow their workers to leave at 3pm on the last Friday of the month.

The hope is that they will use those extra hours of freedom to shop, make an early start to their Friday libations or go on a weekend break.

Does your company have Premium Fridays? Do you think that they are a good idea? Why or why not? Do Homework
What do you (or would you) do with extra time off on a Friday? Do Homework
Can you think of other ways to deal with problems of overworking in Japan? Do Homework

Instagram to gain users in Germany

Instagram will see a double-digit user gain in Germany in 2017, according to eMarketer’s first-ever estimate for that social network’s use in the country, led by adoption by younger users.

But Facebook’s gains will slow to a trickle as user penetration for the country’s leading social network plateaus.

Instagram has enjoyed strong user growth in Germany in recent years, and that expansion will continue in 2017.

What social media platforms do you use, and why? Do Homework
What is the popularity of Instagram and Facebook in Japan compared to other forms of social media? Do Homework
What are the pros and cons of social media? Do Homework
How will our use of social media develop in the near future? Do Homework