This week: chicken wars – don’t be chicken, eat the balls; and ring my bell. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
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Intro This is The Future, This Week on Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter, and I'm Kai Riemer. And every week we get together and look at the news of the week. We discuss technology, the future of business, the weird and the wonderful, and things that change the world. Okay, let's start. Let's start!
Sandra Today on The Future, This Week: chicken wars - don't be chicken, eat the balls; and ring my bell. I'm Sandra Peter, I'm the Director of Sydney Business Insights.
Kai I’m Kai Riemer, professor at the Business School and leader of the Digital Disruption Research Group.
Kai So what are we doing?
Sandra We should definitely do the one with KFC launching the fake chicken nuggets.
Kai Do I get to make food jokes?
Sandra Ah, probably not.
Kai Okay, yeah, let's do that one. I think they're missing a cool angle on how the industry is evolving.
Sandra And I think we should do the one with Ring.
Kai Yeah, that has so many angles. I don't think we should rehash the whole police and surveillance part, that has been all over the news. But I think there's an angle with data.
Sandra More data paradoxically leads to worse outcomes.
Kai Yeah. And also individual data and collective outcomes, I think that's what we talk about.
Sandra Then let's do it!
Kai Okay. So Sandra what happened in the future this week?
Sandra KFC has started testing its meatless chicken nuggets. That is plant-based fried chicken nuggets were available at KFC, much like Subway had its meatless meatballs.
Kai Meatless meatballs, that's just balls isn't it?
Sandra Technically true, but that's a different podcast.
Kai So the article we're discussing appeared in MIT Technology Review, and it is titled "KFC is testing plant-based chicken nuggets today (but just in one restaurant for now)", and that restaurant is in Atlanta. And what KFC has done, is for us on the podcast a natural progression, because you know just the other day in our Digital Human special we discussed that KFC had created a fake Colonel Sanders. So it is only natural that they would progress to actually create fake chicken, which is what they are launching, and this fake chicken comes from the company Beyond Meat.
Sandra So the meatless chicken nuggets are actually made out of pea protein with canola oil and seasonings, which makes it technically not chicken. And these sort of products have often been called 'fake meat'. So we thought before we got stuck into the story let's clarify a little bit what fake meat is, because on the one hand we've got meat that comes from a cow or a chicken that is farmed, that we normally call meat. But then we also have what we've discussed previously on the podcast, in vitro meat or lab-grown meat where from a few stem cells you actually grow meat in vats but it's still animal protein and it is genetically real meat.
Kai But it doesn't come from an animal which makes it not meat.
Sandra Also called 'lab meat' or 'cultured meat' has also been labelled 'fake meat'.
Kai Or 'clean meat', because it doesn't use animals and there's no slaughter involved, and all the rest of it. So if you're a vegetarian for animal cruelty reasons, that might actually appeal to you. The environmental jury is still out on whether this is actually less resource-intensive, but at least it's not coming from animals. But that's not what we're talking about here.
Sandra No, today we're talking about plant meat that is farmed from other types of protein, things like peas or soybeans, combined with different types of oils and different types of seasoning, which lead to meatless meat.
Kai Or not meat.
Sandra Also called sometimes fake meat. And this of course is not the only possibility you could also make it out of any types of proteins. There's farmed insect meat.
Sandra Also meatless meat. But all these meat alternatives have actually received a lot of attention over the past year on this podcast, indeed with talk about a variety of meatless meats and of other food products such as milk and yoghurt, to which there are now lab-grown alternatives.
Kai Yeah, and of course the plant-based ones like soy and almond and what have you. So this is mirrored here in the discussion around meat. What is significant now is that companies that are traditionally very much associated with the meat industry.
Sandra And that might be of course because companies like Beyond Meat have been perceived as being really, really a good bet. And since going public in early May, Beyond Meat's stock has gone up 840 percent. 840 percent!
Kai Which, and we put an article in the shownotes, has raised more than one eyebrow on the Internet, and there is of course people who say that this is absolutely crazy, because if you think about it, this is the kind of valuations that you normally see for tech companies. And indeed if we look at lab-grown meat, we're talking high tech businesses. But what we're talking about here is plant-based protein seasoned and mushed together. There is no particular technology, or indeed secret sauce or recipe behind this. What we're talking about is a well marketed commodity product, essentially.
Sandra And that makes Beyond Meats product more easily replicable. Which could be one of the reasons why companies like Tyson, the largest US meat producer, who was an initial investor in Beyond Meat, actually pulled out of the company. They are reported to be working on their own alternative to this. And a few years back Tyson Foods actually launched a venture capital fund to support alternative meat producers the world's second largest meat producer Cargill also invested in the cultured meat Start-Up Memphis meats which we've talked about on the podcast before and many other big producers are doing the same. Companies like Unilever bought the vegetarian butcher which makes non-meat meat products including many plant-based meat substitutes like the ones we're discussing today. So this all points to a reorganisation of the meat industry around alternatives to meat.
Kai So if we look at what happens in the industry, what this reminds me of is our Chicken of Tomorrow episode, which was actually one of our Christmas specials I believe. And just to remind you, the story centred around the chicken industry in the US and the history of how this industry came to be pretty much monopolised with only two large manufacturers in the market, and that we were seeing the same kind of tendencies in lab-grown meat in an industry that is just emerging but that is highly technologically intensive. What is interesting is that the situation in the plant-based meat products is very different.
Sandra So whilst Tyson Food's investment in companies like Memphis Meat who do cultured meat, lab-grown meat does indeed turn meat into a question of intellectual property, and patent protection and intellectual property rights. What is happening with companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible meat is actually quite different. Because these things act more as commodities which are replicable, companies like the large food companies actually choose to recreate their own alternatives, because the question here will be who can produce this at the lowest price, and not so much a question of first-mover advantage.
Kai So at the moment, we're in a situation where these brand names, Impossible and Beyond Meat, have a certain appeal and they're associated with something new and a new movement. They're very popular in vegan restaurants, and Sandra and I actually got to taste the Beyond Burger and also the Beyond Sausage the other day, so they're brand names that you find on menus.
Sandra You liked the sausage more.
Kai I did, right, as a German I was quite impressed that the sausage was actually tasting like a real sausage, while the burger was a little bit bland really. What was missing was this sort of juicy Angus taste that you'd get in a good Aussie burger.
Sandra I have to say it was surprisingly good. So a shout-out here to Alibi in Woolloomooloo who served us these wonderful non-meat meat creations, and who got a German to eat sausage, made not out of meat.
Kai It's a hotdog actually, quite nice.
Sandra A not-hotdog.
Kai A not-hot-dog. Which raises the question here for you Sandra, why did the fake meat cross the road?
Sandra You've been waiting so long to get that in to the...
Kai I know, I know, a food-based joke, one of our best drawers, but hey! Why did the fake meat cross the road?
Sandra I don't know.
Kai To prove it wasn't chicken.
Kai Exactly, yeah. Okay, moving right along. The point that we're making...
Sandra Plenty more where that came from, right?
Kai Moo-ving right along! The point that we're actually making is that while we're in a situation where it seems like we have these brands like Beyond and Impossible with the aura of tech innovation, it is pretty clear that, before long, anyone in the food industry will be able to replicate this type of non-meat meat, because you do not have the same technology behind it like in lab meat, you don't have the same intellectual property protection. And so it is only a matter of time that if indeed this catches on as a food trend, Coles and Woollies and Aldi and all the other supermarkets might come up with their own home brands that will replicate the texture, the taste, and the appeal of these products. And that will then raise questions about where brands like Beyond and Impossible are actually going.
Sandra And indeed there are not many studies actually out there trying to understand whether or not, or how people would take up the non-meat meat. The research backing up whether people would be willing to switch to these alternatives, or indeed replace their meat-based diet is actually not well developed. One such study that looked at attitudes towards lab-grown meat said that people would try it but they were not very likely to use it as a replacement for farmed meat, and men were more receptive to it than women, as were politically liberal respondents compared to conservative ones, and vegetarians and vegans were less likely to try.
Kai Yeah, and that's actually a point that the MIT Tech Review article makes which says that these types of products are not necessarily, even though we had them in a vegan restaurant, they're not necessarily targeted at vegans or vegetarians, but tie in with a trend that is called flexitarianism, a diet which is primarily, but not exclusively, vegetarian. Which raises the question, hey Sandra what's a flexitarian?
Sandra Do tell me.
Kai A vegetarian with no principles.
Sandra 'Fish and chipocrite'?
Kai A 'fish and chipocrite' indeed. So, you know, having now managed to offend a fair share of our listenership.
Sandra That offended about 3 percent of our listeners, and about 100 percent of our sound editor Megan. We're sorry Megan.
Kai Sorry Megan.
Sandra We'll take you out for non-meat burgers. But that might be indeed one of the reasons why companies like JBS, who's the world's largest meat producer, are launching plant-based meat products in countries like Brazil, which are known to have one of the highest percentages of meat in their diets.
Kai Australians are not bad. But interestingly this is not the only industry in which animal products are being replaced by alternatives. And there were two articles this week which tie in with this, which concern leather, actually.
Sandra Yeah, one of them was from Bloomberg and it concerned the move to vegan clothing and the rise of clothing that replaces what we used to use leather for, so leather jackets, leather handbags, leather shoes, and the move towards vegan alternatives and replacements for leather.
Kai So those vegans have a stake in everything, right?
Sandra That's the last one you get. The second story surprisingly came from Tesla which announced that its Model 3 interiors, even its steering wheel, will now be leather-free.
Kai So the Bloomberg article makes the point that leather as a clothing material has been under the pump so to speak, first of all because a while back there was a pretty harsh drought in which leather was actually quite scarce, where a lot of clothing manufacturers have moved to alternative materials and consumers have actually learned to appreciate those materials. But now the movement away from animal products is driving the slow death of the leather industry which is quite wasteful actually because Americans also Australians are eating more meat than ever before. So there's actually more leather on the market than ever before. It's just not being used which means the prices are pretty much destroyed. The market for it is destroyed and we're at a point where leather is being destroyed rather than used because the industry is in favour of more synthetic materials which also interestingly and quite paradoxically is not always environmentally better because some of these synthetic materials are actually made from oil-based products.
Sandra I think one other part to that story is that the leather-free alternatives have also become more fashionable. That changing of taste came not only on the back of cheap alternatives, because those were always considered the 'cheaper' version, if you couldn't afford leather you would buy a synthetic leather-imitation jacket. But over the last few years, a few very prominent designers have been very outspoken animal activists, and have made it their mission to use animal-free products, and responsible materials, so no fur, no leather. People like Stella McCartney have made that move, whether it's their jackets, or their shoes or their bags. But other designers like Vivienne Westwood or Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein have also made moves away from fur and from leather, making these very attractive alternatives, and then putting a higher premium on materials that were not actually leather.
Kai And so interestingly a lot of the high-performance fabrics and microfibre fabrics that we used to traditionally only see an outdoor clothing, now find their way into fashionable clothing in suit pants.
Kai Yeah that you can wear to the office basically. And then there's Tesla of course, which off the back of Elon Musk's promise that he made at this year's annual shareholder meeting, in response to a request by some activists, have now announced that at least for its latest Model 3, the entire interior are now completely free of leather with the steering wheel having been the last holdout where it was not easy to achieve a synthetic solution to make it feel nice and durable at the same time.
Sandra And you have to remember that you also have to heat the steering wheel, and also Tesla actually measures engagement with the steering wheel, it's part of the data that they capture. So it was a much harder part to replace but now the Tesla Model 3 interiors come in a completely leather-free option. Also the goal for the Model S and the Model X down the line. And it is interesting to note though, before we end this story, that activist shareholders have made the proposal back in 2015 that Tesla no longer use animal-derived leather interiors of its electric vehicles, and whilst the stockholders had rejected that proposal Tesla did start looking for vegan replacements for the interior product made out of leather.
Kai So. From vegan chickens, vegan meatballs, and vegan Teslas, we make our way to the next story #RingMyBell.
Sandra Our second story for today comes from the Washington Post and it's titled "Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns". So we spoke about the doorbell camera company ring before, when it was bought out by Amazon, but now it's back under scrutiny. It has now forged video sharing partnership with more than 400 police forces across the United States. Okay, so here's how this works.
Kai So Ring sells a camera enabled doorbell which comes on when you ring the bell or indeed with a motion sensor so someone walks up to the house and the camera starts recording.
Sandra So technically I could be here at the office and someone would ring to leave a package at my house, or would just walk through my front yard and I would see a notification, and I could see on my phone. who it is.
Kai Yeah. And you could see the live footage of the camera basically.
Sandra So now what police officers can do is they can call me and actually request access to that footage.
Kai Because the company also provides an online platform called 'Neighbor', which comes with an app. And so this platform allows home owners to basically upload their footage and share it with the company, but also share footage with people in their neighbourhood. So the idea of this app is to make neighbourhoods safer, so that people can alert other people in the neighbourhood of suspicious behaviour, upload camera footage, but once you have enabled it any footage created by the camera will automatically be uploaded to this portal.
Sandra So on the one hand you could be uploading footage of people stealing your packages or burglars or people vandalising your property, but you could also be uploading footage of.
Kai The neighbour's dog.
Sandra Yep, salespeople, people wanting you to sign the petition. People who actually need help, who are ringing your doorbell or girl scouts with cookies.
Kai Anything happens, yeah. And depending on where the camera is pointed it might even be activated by activity that happens in the neighbour's front yard. Depending on how close these are together.
Sandra And let's remember the video footage that gets uploaded does not obscure the identities of the people in the footage at all.
Kai No. And so what this article is about is an initiative by Ring that involves local police departments. So Ring partners with these police departments, opens up their apps so that police departments can see where these doorbells are installed, and there are some maps in this article which shows that in some cities in the US. They have quite a bit of penetration so there's a lot of these cameras in neighbourhoods. And so the police can see where they are, and if they are investigating a crime or suspicious behaviour, they can contact a home owner to request access to the footage that was generated. And what the article highlights is the way in which Ring actually helps the police with text blocks and email templates to convince people to actually hand over this footage. So they're really working together to entice, so to speak, people to grant access to their camera data to the police force.
Sandra So on the one hand you could say 'well this is making all of these neighbourhoods so much safer now that we can keep an eye on everything that is going on. And we have good reliable data coming in'.
Kai But on the other hand there have been a number of articles which have questioned that narrative because people can now go on to this neighbourhood app and see all kinds of incidents of reported suspicious behaviour, even though you know it might be completely innocuous. People post these little scares of, you know, I've seen someone in my backyard and this has been spotted and that has been spotted. And the outcome of which might be that people are actually getting more wary of how unsafe things are, what threats might be out there.
Sandra But paradoxically both those things will lead to increases in sales for Ring.
Kai And that's why Ring does it of course, because now the police is also involved and the police tells people how good this is to have this surveillance, which then neighbours will tell each other about this, and that will drive sales. But also the heightened sense of potential threats will lead people to upgrade, and there was another article this week in Fast Company which made exactly that point, that people who have the camera-based doorbell, and also the access to the portal, tend to then also buy the security system that Ring conveniently also sells, because of the heightened awareness of potential threats that might lurk in the neighbourhood.
Sandra All this at the time when if you look at the actual crime statistics in the US, is one of the least violent periods in history. So the Pew Research Center has released numbers looking at violent crime in the US, it has fallen very sharply over the past quarter century and we'll include the link in the shownotes, they have fallen sharply since the 1990s, they're at the lowest point now. Property crime has also decreased very significantly over the long term, that is about 50 percent over the last 20 years. But on the other hand they report that public perceptions about crime in the US often do not align with the data. Americans by and large believe that crime is up nationally even though the data, as we've said before, shows that it is down. At least six in 10 Americans have said that there is more crime in the US compared to the years before. Despite a generally downtrend in violent crime and property crime for the last 20 years.
Kai And so while a lot of commentators in recent weeks have concentrated on the fact that the police is building a surveillance network that sits outside of the legal system where access to cameras by police is strictly regulated, what we want to highlight here is a different angle and that is what we call the paradox of data. So it turns out that people who buy these doorbells and then engage with this portal and receive more information about potential threats in their neighbourhood, are actually getting more worried and more anxious and have a heightened sense of threats when in fact buying a doorbell like this or indeed a security system is actually done to achieve the opposite.
Sandra So that is indeed the paradox of data that we wanted to highlight, the fact that good data will lead to good outcomes, but more data, an increasing amount of data, will not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Indeed it can lead to worse outcomes.
Kai Yeah, and not only do people in this instance feel more anxious when in fact they wanted to achieve peace of mind with technology like that, the irony is also that these technologies are bought to protect people's private space, but the collective outcome of the creation of these technologies is that all of us have less privacy, because we're basically creating a bottom-up surveillance network, where we end up spying on each other and creating data that makes the whole neighbourhood less private.
Sandra This paradox of data phenomenon that you're pointing out here however, is present in other industries or in other spaces as well, where more data actually leads to worst decision-making, or worse outcome than less data. And one example of that, coming out of Dan Ariely's work. Dan Ariely is a professor at Duke University, we had him as a guest on the podcast before. The work that he's done with Philips on their electronic scales, that actually just show you an average of your weight over the past couple of weeks, and they show you the trend rather than the actual numbers. Our weight changes quite a lot during the day, depending on the amount of water that we've been drinking, the temperature outside, what types of foods we've been eating, but it's not a good indicator of our overall weight loss or weight gain, our weight can change, I believe it was one or two kilograms, still within the margin of normal fluctuations. Yet that induces anxiety, induces stress in people who check their weight quite often. So what Phillips has done is develop a scale that will show you the trend, rather than the actual numbers, leading to better health outcomes and probably better mental health outcomes as well. So the same thing we've discussed on the podcast previously with sleep trackers, again where more data was leading to worse outcomes.
Kai And there have been some articles recently, one in the New York Times in June which reports about a number of cases where sleep trackers actually make insomnia worse, because the more people actually thematise and think about their sleep patterns, and have data about it, the more they get obsessed. And that apparently is not quite conducive to good sleep. Similar things happen with fitness trackers such as Fitbits, and there was an article in Time magazine just in May which reported about obsessions with health data that drives people to seek out the medical system more than actually preventing it. So in each of those instances the outcomes what is actually achieved by having more data about yourself is the opposite of what was actually intended.
Sandra And indeed if you think about it, that's also the trend that we're seeing now in social media, with Instagram and Facebook considering removing the Like button, and buttons that give you information around the engagement of your posts. Which actually leads to worse outcomes on these platforms than not having that information to begin with.
Kai Yeah, and so one reason for why this is a problem is because the data is not at the right level of granularity, which is the case in the scales example and also people are not necessarily trained to read that data in the right way. So rather than having granular data, what people need is more aggregated, more directional data, data that actually helps solve the original problem. And so most of these companies that develop these tools, they pride themselves on being accurate and having all these data points, and having quite elaborate charts. But in the process, might actually lose sight of what they tried to solve in the first place.
Sandra So the paradox of data was one of the things we want to bring up around this story. The second thing we wanted to point out was this idea of collective outcomes from individual decisions. So in the case of ring decisions that I might make about the privacy of my backyard or my front door for that instance might infringe on the privacy of my neighbour on the privacy of other people that I come into contact with who have not given permission for their data or their face or their location to be shared. Yet I am sharing that.
Kai Yeah, and companies like Ring then aggregate that data, create a surveillance network and then the police, or indeed anyone who has access to this can combine this with facial recognition, or licence plate tracking, in the process creating quite an elaborate surveillance network that is the outcome of individuals trying to protect their own private spaces.
Sandra And we've discussed this phenomenon before in the case of Strava, where individual decisions about the data that we choose to share, has unintended collective consequences. In the case of Strava, this is an app that lets you track your workouts, lets you track where you jog, or the time and the routes where you jog, or where you cycle, and share that with other users. So that you can, you know, benchmark yourself around other people, find people to run with. Strava incidentally, the company that created this app, wanted to help out city councils, for instance, to improve conditions for joggers or cyclists, to improve road conditions or lighting in those spaces. So chose to anonymise their entire data set, and then make that openly available.
Kai And visualisations of that data on maps then revealed unintentionally quite interesting patterns. And so one of those patterns was the location of military bases where lots of soldiers in their free time would use the app for jogging, running around the base therefore circling quite neatly where those military bases in the US, and indeed in other countries were located.
Sandra So secret military bases in the Middle East and in Africa lit up, including their runways, as people were running the perimeter of that base, or were running on the sides of the runway. Again through individual decision making leading to unintended collective outcomes. Similar incidences where we've seen an individual decision lead to an unintended outcome for someone else were in another case that we'd discussed around a commercial genealogy website, where DNA found at the crime scene back in the 1970s was compared to the public DNA repository, similar to 23andMe where, you know, you spit in a vial and they tell you you're related to Vikings. But in this case police used the DNA database to match the suspect's DNA to a relative, and then solve a murder from back in the 1970s.
Kai And the point that we're making here is first of all that if I upload my DNA, I also upload the DNA of my relatives which is very similar to my own. So me giving up my privacy, I also pretty much implicate the privacy of my genetic network so to speak.
Sandra So you might reveal medical conditions that might influence how, for instance, a company will price your insurance.
Kai Or indeed the insurance of my children or my closer relatives who might share that same genetic makeup.
Kai And that's one more example that we want to highlight, which was reported in tech crunch just this week where US Border force, and it has been known for a while, can request people's social media accounts and indeed go through their phones upon entry to the United States. And there have been cases now where people have been refused entry to the United States because people in their social network engaged in behaviours that the immigration force essentially didn't approve of.
Sandra So this might be friends or family, or even strangers who send you messages on Facebook, or on Twitter or on WhatsApp, that Border Security might come across through your social media accounts, and then refuse you entry to the United States.
Kai So again, an example of the fact that privacy is no longer just an individual matter, and the way in which individual actions in a data-rich environment can have unintended collective or social consequences.
Sandra A very interesting phenomena, I think actually worthy of more research.
Kai Oh shit yes, we forgot to mention our innovative paper titles. Oh well here's two one for this story which we might title The data paradox: how too much data turns good individual intentions into bad collective outcomes', there's a story someone could do. And here is the one on the earlier story: "Don't be chicken, have the balls. How tech is shaping the future of food'.
Sandra That is definitely all we have time for this week.
Kai You just don't want me to make any more jokes.
Sandra About chickens, no.
Kai No. See you soon.
Sandra On The Future....
Kai Next week.
Sandra This week?
Kai Yes, but next week.
Sandra On the Future, This Week. Next week. Thanks for listening.
Kai Thanks for listening.
Outro This was The Future, This Week made possible by the Sydney Business Insights Team and members of the Digital Disruption Research Group. And every week right here with us our sound editor Megan Wedge who makes us sound good and keeps us honest policy music was composed and played live on a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud or wherever you got your podcasts. You can follow us online on Flipboard, Twitter or sbi.sydney.edu.au. If you have any news that you want us to discuss, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandra and Kai Ring my bell, ring my bell. No? No? No. No. Megan disapproves.