Weekly Links: Tensor Processing, Amazon, and Preventing Traffic Jams

April 13, 2017 • #

Google’s “Tensor Processing Unit” 💻

Google has built their own custom silicon dedicated to AI processing. The power efficiency gains with these dedicated chips is estimated to have saved them from building a dozen new datacenters.

But about six years ago, as the company embraced a new form of voice recognition on Android phones, its engineers worried that this network wasn’t nearly big enough. If each of the world’s Android phones used the new Google voice search for just three minutes a day, these engineers realized, the company would need twice as many data centers.

Jeff Bezos’ Annual Letter to Shareholders 📃

An excellent read. Their philosophy of experimentation comes through. I liked this bit, on the “velocity” of decision making:

Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations. The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision making environment is more fun too. We don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.

First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong? I wrote about this in more detail in last year’s letter.

Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl 🚘

The Economist analyzes the state of parking economics. The gist: free or low-cost parking equals congestion and more drivers roaming for longer. Some great statistics in this piece:

As San Francisco’s infuriated drivers cruise around, they crowd the roads and pollute the air. This is a widespread hidden cost of under-priced street parking. Mr. Shoup has estimated that cruising for spaces in Westwood village, in Los Angeles, amounts to 950,000 excess vehicle miles travelled per year. Westwood is tiny, with only 470 metered spaces.