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Collaborative planning in an uncertain world

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Collaborative planning in an uncertain world


This report explores how companies worldwide conduct strategic enterprise planning—particularly in uncertain times. MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with Oracle, surveyed 860 executives in various departments including finance, supply chain and logistics, human resources (HR), and information technology.

We also spoke in depth with leaders at several companies to learn how they plan and collaborate, from general business processes to their investment in artificial intelligence and cloud-based applications, and how finance, HR, and operations are evolving to support those efforts. The executives share their own processes and help readers identify techniques to adopt. Here are the key findings from our research:

Months after the outbreak, most organizations are still coping with the initial challenges. Half of surveyed organizations are still in the process of dealing with the current emergency, responding to short-term issues and addressing financial resilience, such as staff availability and income disruption. At the same time, some businesses, such as cleaning supplies manufacturers, have seen sales spike precipitously and are struggling to meet demand. Organizations experiencing both sides of the challenge may have ideas about how to move forward, but they have yet to materialize.

Organizations are working on formulating plans to move forward. Nearly a quarter are making the necessary adjustments with a future plan in mind, and another quarter are actively working toward a new plan: 16% have reached a “reimagine the future” stage, and 6% are looking at how their new direction might affect practical matters such as standards and compliance.

Technology is seen as a useful aid in planning endeavors. As a result of the pandemic, more than half of organizations accelerated cloud adoption. This segment is 50% more likely to have addressed pandemic challenges to business, the workforce, and customers. The survey also shows that AI and machine learning have gained the trust of large companies worldwide. And three quarters of respondents expect connected enterprise planning—which combines financial, operational, and workforce planning with cloud-based internet of things, AI, and prescriptive analytics—to improve collaboration and decision-making.

Planning is an all-hands-on-deck effort. All business departments have a part to play in planning for future success, including HR and supply chain—and finance is the glue that bonds them. But for collaboration to work, data can’t exist in silos spread across the business—consistent, accessible, and accurate data drives business planning and execution.

Some organizations are more welcoming to technology than others. A minority, 10%, are reducing their use of cloud technologies as a result of the pandemic. They’re technology laggards in several ways, from keeping HR and finance data in separate silos to eschewing connected enterprise systems in favor of spreadsheets. Such old-school ways may have made the companies weaker; for example, if they have not digitized their businesses, they may lack the insights that would give them more justification to invest at this critical time.

The road to recovery

It’s a huge understatement to say the pandemic upended everything. The worldwide economy has been affected, every industry was blindsided, and most organizations needed to make painful decisions. Others benefited, such as detergent manufacturers, workout equipment companies, and recreational vehicle sellers, but even those faced supply chain challenges.

Yet, organizations must move on. “In this unprecedented new reality, we will witness a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated,” write McKinsey & Company’s Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal in “Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal.

After the initial survival-response questions, businesses and individuals are puzzling over a long list of additional concerns: How can we continue to thrive? How will we handle new employee onboarding as we scale? What’s the next market we want to enter? What changes do  we need to make to cope with the long-lasting social effects of the virus?

A survey of 860 business professionals conducted  by MIT Technology Review Insights, in association  with Oracle, shows that after the initial shock, most organizations are hard at work planning, looking for—and sometimes finding—a road to recovery and a return to growth. It also suggests the ones that are the most enthusiastic about cloud and advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning are not only more likely  to get past the roadblocks the pandemic threw up but  to course-correct toward success.

Author Maya Angelou might have been speaking of individuals when she said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”—but the sentiment applies equally well to communities and organizations during this unprecedented time.

Download the full report.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing

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A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing


The researchers claim that their approach could be used to train AI to carry out other tasks. To begin with, it could be used to for bots that use a keyboard and mouse to navigate websites, book flights or buy groceries online. But in theory it could be used to train robots to carry out physical, real-world tasks by copying first-person video of people doing those things. “It’s plausible,” says Stone.

Matthew Gudzial at the University of Alberta, Canada, who has used videos to teach AI the rules of games like Super Mario Bros, does not think it will happen any time soon, however. Actions in games like Minecraft and Super Mario Bros. are performed by pressing buttons. Actions in the physical world are far more complicated and harder for a machine to learn. “It unlocks a whole mess of new research problems,” says Gudzial.

“This work is another testament to the power of scaling up models and training on massive datasets to get good performance,” says Natasha Jaques, who works on multi-agent reinforcement learning at Google and the University of California, Berkeley. 

Large internet-sized data sets will certainly unlock new capabilities for AI, says Jaques. “We’ve seen that over and over again, and it’s a great approach.” But OpenAI places a lot of faith in the power of large data sets alone, she says: “Personally, I’m a little more skeptical that data can solve any problem.”

Still, Baker and his colleagues think that collecting more than a million hours of Minecraft videos will make their AI even better. It’s probably the best Minecraft-playing bot yet, says Baker: “But with more data and bigger models I would expect it to feel like you’re watching a human playing the game, as opposed to a baby AI trying to mimic a human.”

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The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death

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The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death


+ Scientists have found a way to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab. It could offer them new ways to start a family—without the need for distressing IVF procedures. Read the full story.  + How reproductive technology is changing what it means to be a parent. Advances could lead to babies with four or more biological parents—forcing us to reconsider parenthood. Read the full story.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk wants to reinstate banned Twitter accounts
It’s an incredibly dangerous decision with widespread repercussions. (WP $) 
+ Recent departures have hit Twitter’s policy and safety divisions hard. (WSJ $)
+ It looks like Musk’s promise of no further layoffs was premature. (Insider $)
+ Meanwhile, Twitter Blue is still reportedly launching next week. (Reuters)
+ Imagine simply transferring your followers to another platform. (FT $)
+ Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Russia’s energy withdrawal could kill tens of thousands in Europe 
High fuel costs could result in more deaths this winter than the war in Ukraine. (Economist $)
+ Higher gas prices will also hit Americans as the weather worsens. (Vox)
+ Ukraine’s invasion underscores Europe’s deep reliance on Russian fossil fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

3 FTX is unable to honor the grants it promised various organizations 
Many of them are having to seek emergency funding to plug the gaps. (WSJ $)
+ Bahamians aren’t thrilled about what its collapse could mean for them. (WP $)

4 It’s a quieter Black Friday than usual
Shopping isn’t much of a priority right now. (Bloomberg $)
+ If you do decide to shop, make sure you don’t get scammed. (Wired $)

5 The UK is curbing its use of Chinese surveillance systems 
But only on “sensitive” government sites. (FT $)
+ The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Long covid is still incredibly hard to treat 
Its symptoms vary wildy, which can make it hard to track, too. (Undark)
+ A universal flu vaccine is looking promising. (New Scientist $)

7 San Francisco’s police is considering letting robots use deadly force
The force has 12 remotely piloted robots that could, in theory, kill someone. (The Verge)

8 Human hibernation could be the key to getting us to Mars 
It could be the closest we can get to time travel. (Wired $)

9 Why TikTok is suddenly so obsessed with dabloons 
It’s a form of choose-your-own-adventure fun. (The Guardian)

10 We can’t stop trying to reinvent mousetraps 🧀
There are thousands of versions out there, yet we keep coming up with new designs. (New Yorker $)

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We can now use cells from dead people to create new life. But who gets to decide?

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We can now use cells from dead people to create new life. But who gets to decide?


His parents told a court that they wanted to keep the possibility of using the sperm to eventually have children that would be genetically related to Peter. The court approved their wishes, and Peter’s sperm was retrieved from his body and stored in a local sperm bank. 

We have the technology to use sperm, and potentially eggs, from dead people to make embryos, and eventually babies. And there are millions of eggs and embryos—and even more sperm—in storage and ready to be used. When the person who provided those cells dies, like Peter, who gets to decide what to do with them?

That was the question raised at an online event held by the Progress Educational Trust, a UK charity for people with infertility and genetic conditions, that I attended on Wednesday. The panel included a clinician and two lawyers, who addressed plenty of tricky questions, but provided few concrete answers. 

In theory, the decision should be made by the person who provided the eggs, sperm or embryos. In some cases, the person’s wishes might be quite clear. Someone who might be trying for a baby with their partner may store their sex cells or embryos and sign a form stating that they are happy for their partner to use these cells if they die, for example. 

But in other cases, it’s less clear. Partners and family members who want to use the cells might have to collect evidence to convince a court the deceased person really did want to have children. And not only that, but that they wanted to continue their family line without necessarily becoming a parent themselves.

Sex cells and embryos aren’t property—they don’t fall under property law and can’t be inherited by family members. But there is some degree of legal ownership for the people who provided the cells. It is complicated to define that ownership, however, Robert Gilmour, a family law specialist based in Scotland, said at the event. “The law in this area makes my head hurt,” he said.

The law varies depending on where you are, too. Posthumous reproduction is not allowed in some countries, and is unregulated in many others. In the US, laws vary by state. Some states won’t legally recognize a child conceived after a person’s death as that person’s offspring, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “We do not have any national rules or policies,” Gwendolyn Quinn, a bioethicist at New York University, tells me.

Societies like ASRM have put together guidance for clinics in the meantime. But this can also vary slightly between regions. Guidance by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, for example, recommends that parents and other relatives should not be able to request the sex cells or embryos of the person who died. That would apply to Peter Zhu’s parents. The concern is that these relatives might be hoping for a “commemorative child” or as “a symbolic replacement of the deceased.”

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