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Notes from the field

Big companies might benefit from machine learning hurdles.


As machine learning has become more powerful, it’s also become ubiquitous. But improvements are becoming more expensive, according to a report released earlier this year that estimated that notching even small gains in error rates could cost billions of dollars. This could produce a defensive moat for large companies with the cash reserves to undertake cutting-edge projects.


Female artist with mosaics using contactless credit card swiper

Tap-to-pay is helping keep hands clean.


Companies that process digital payments are seeing strong growth in tap-to-pay transactions. These systems use debit and credit cards that can be tapped on or swiped across a reader, allowing the customer to pay with minimal touch. COVID-19 seems to be driving the increase, but the benefits could extend beyond cardholder health. Visa reports that, as of June 30, the technology has historically helped increase transactions by an average of 20% in mature markets.


Aerial view of Al Maktoum solar panel park in Saih Al Salam desert in Dubai, U.A.E.

A solar consortium’s project underlines lower renewable energy costs.


Falling renewable energy production costs could help a proposed 2 gigawatt solar panel farm provide the United Arab Emirates with energy at a record-low price. The farm is the product of a consortium of energy companies that has already contracted with a regional power company to provide energy at 60% to 80% of European wholesale energy prices.


Smiling customer giving packet to female cashier at checkout counter in supermarket

A camera-equipped shopping cart could let you forgo the cashier. 


Amazon has developed a new shopping cart that lets users skip the checkout process. It employs cameras and weights to determine what shoppers are buying as they browse. The system avoids some of the structural problems in other systems without registers, and it might be one way to bring a line-free shopping experience to larger outlets.



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