The true power of a passport

Most organizations, such as the widely recognized Henley Passport Index, believe the strongest passports are the ones that allow their citizens to enter more countries without a visa. They rank Singapore as the most powerful passport in 2023 because it provides easy access to 194 countries.

But is this the best way to decide how strong a passport is? Global Citizen Solutions has developed a more detailed but slightly different approach. The Global Passport Index analyzes how desirable a country passport is, considering the following:

Bans on cashless stores

The cashless economy has become increasingly prevalent in developed countries such as the U.S. and Japan. Consumers are incentivized to use debit or credit cards through discounts and freebies, and banks and credit card companies collect information on people’s spending habits.

Some stores in the U.S. have decided to stop accepting cash from customers altogether, which has resulted in a backlash. Millions of people, most of whom live below the poverty line, do not have a bank account and only deal in cash. Advocates have argued that the cashless economy discriminates against poor people and the homeless.

American cities and states have started banning cashless stores on the grounds that they are discriminatory. San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New Jersey have recently passed legislation forcing stores to accept all types of legal tender.

Translation helps promote trade

Steep tariffs, challenging geography and government subsidies come to mind when we think about the barriers to international trade. But there are lots of different languages in the world, and translation problems can slow things down, too.

Evidence from a new translation technology powered by artificial intelligence might be able to help clear those hurdles. In 2014, eBay mediated over $14 billion of international trade in more than 200 countries. That same year, the company introduced eBay Machine Translation, or eMT, an in-house machine learning system that translates between languages when users search or view listings on its website.

The system was about 7 percent more accurate than the previous translation service the company was using, and that led to a 17 to 20 percent increase in exports through the platform to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

Taobao to hire senior citizens

Taobao, China's biggest online retailer, is hiring two people who must be aged 60 years or older to assess new products aimed at middle-aged and senior consumers.

Applicants are expected to have a harmonious relationship with their children, be an influencer in society such as in square dance groups, enjoy reading about psychology and sociology, and have at least one year of online shopping experience.

Taobao currently has more than 30 million users aged over 50. By 2020, it's expected that China will have 255 million people over the age of 60 — a huge opportunity if Taobao can figure out what these shoppers want online.

According to Alibaba's spokesperson, its two new hires will be working on an "exciting new version of Taobao" and adapting the app to suit this demographic.

Aeon aims to attract older shoppers

Retail giant Aeon Co. has renovated 13 outlets across the country to cater to seniors, offering earlier opening hours and services that encourage asatomo (morning friends) get-togethers.

Kohei Nakahara, a store manager, canvassed elderly people who frequent nearby parks to better understand their needs. “We brought what they want to do into our store, and it resulted in them staying longer. We want to make the store a place like a community hall for neighbors,” he said.

Aeon Retail positioned one store each in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka as model outlets for seniors. Aeon Kasai, the first newly-renovated store to open since 2013, has tried to attract seniors by offering various services from health checkups to a shop that sells fashionable canes.

World's richest man: Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, became the world's richest man, defeating Bill Gates, co-founder Microsoft.

The recent surge in Amazon stock has pushed Bezos' fortune to over $90 billion, vaulting him past Bill Gates. Bezos has been chasing Gates for the number one spot for a few years now and finally succeeded in superseding him. But this dream run was short-lived. On Thursday, Bill Gates was crowned again as the world's richest man as Amazon stocks went down by 1%. 

Because their wealth is largely a result of the shares they own of their company and its fluctuating price, it is possible that the wealthiest title may go back and forth between Gates and Bezos.

Amazon cuts Whole Foods prices Inc. spent its first day as the owner of a brick-and-mortar grocery chain cutting prices at Whole Foods Market as much as 43 percent.

In a sign of how the retailer is changing, the Amazon Echo, a voice-activated electronic assistant, was also for sale, for $99.99—a sharp pivot into electronics for a company known for kale and quinoa. The Echo Dot, a smaller version, was advertised for $44.99.

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.

When robots collude

Algorithms can learn to collude. 

Two law professors, Ariel Ezrachi of Oxford and Maurice E. Stucke of the University of Tennessee, have a working paper on how when computers get involved in pricing for goods and services (say, at Amazon or Uber), the potential for collusion is even greater than when humans are making the prices. 

Computers can't have a back-room conversation to fix prices, but they can predict the way that other computers are going to behave. And with that information, they can effectively cooperate with each other in advancing their own profit-maximizing interests.

Sometimes, a computer is just a tool used to help humans collude, which theoretically can be prosecuted. But sometimes, the authors find, the computer learns to collude on its own. Can a machine be prosecuted?