Best columns: Business
Best Buy bounces back
The New York Times
“Many people, myself included, assumed the entire big-box retail sector would eventually fall under Amazon’s steamroller,” said Kevin Roose. Yet on several recent visits to Best Buy locations, I was “shocked” to find bustling aisles packed with happy customers. “There was a line—a line!—at the checkout counter.” It was a far cry from 2012, when the electronics retailer’s sales were hurting and the CEO was shown the door. How Best Buy has gone from turmoil to turnaround—the stock price has gone up more than 50 percent in the past year—“is a fascinating playbook for companies hoping to survive in the Amazon age.” How’d they do it? By “reshaping nearly every piece of the business.” Best Buy now price-matches all of its competitors, including Amazon, giving customers who come in to try out gadgets a reason to stay in the store. It has overhauled its customer service, retraining workers so that they can answer questions about cutting-edge tech, such as virtual-reality headsets, and expanded its popular Geek Squad service to offer in-home consultations before customers buy big-ticket items. It’s also turned its 1,000-plus stores into pickup and shipping stations, getting packages to customers much faster. The company “isn’t out of the woods yet,” but it’s got momentum. And that’s pretty good when you are going up against Goliath.
The dangers of going driverless
The Washington Post
Driverless cars “may not be all they are cracked up to be,” said Robert Samuelson. Both Detroit and Silicon Valley are rushing headlong into developing autonomous car technology, spurred by the hope that it will dramatically reduce fatal traffic accidents and allow commuters to reclaim the billions of hours they collectively spend sitting in traffic each year. That certainly sounds like a “seductive future.” But we are underestimating the grave threat of hacking. Cybercriminals might discover how to hijack the digital controls of these new vehicles, disabling the engine or brakes. Hackers could lock a car remotely and refuse to open the doors until a ransom was paid, in an echo of the recent global ransomware computer attacks. A cyberassault by a hostile nation or terrorist group would be even more serious. “Imagine the chaos if some adversary immobilized 10 percent of the light-vehicle fleet, leaving about 25 million cars and trucks sprawled randomly along roads from Maine to California.” We have consistently downplayed “the dangers posed by the misuse of cybertechnologies,” including with the Russian 2016 election interference and the recent Equifax hack. The more dependent on digital technology we become, the more vulnerable we are to “potentially catastrophic disruptions.” Developing driverless technologies requires extreme caution. “We are weaponizing our cars and trucks for use against us. It’s madness.”