Are We Headed For ‘Automated Luxury Communism’?

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Source: Forbes Technology

As someone who watches technology trends closely as part of my business, I have been thinking about the future impact of all the technology innovations and automation we are currently experiencing and on the cusp of achieving.  Many of the headlines I read about these trends — and even some I write — predict some pretty negative consequences right along with the monumental achievements and improvements.

While improvements in machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, and robot automation could mean huge advances in medicine, science, commerce and human understanding, it’s also undeniable that there will be consequences as well. These technological advances represent a significant challenge to capitalism. Together, they are poised to potentially create jobless growth and the paradox of an exponentially growing number of products, manufactured more and more efficiently, but with rising unemployment and underemployment, falling real wages and stagnant living standards.

In fact, it’s already begun.

The rate of technological progress and worker productivity is on the rise, but wages are stagnating, factories are eliminating jobs, and researchers estimate that anywhere between 35 and 50 percent of jobs that exist now are in danger of being lost to automation.

But what if the prognosis weren’t all doom and gloom?  What if all this automation were instead to provide so much luxury that we enter a post-work era, when humans are required to do very little labor and machines provide everything we need?

This is the theory of ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’, an idea and ideology that in the (near) future, machines could provide for all our basic needs, and humans would be required to do very minimal work — perhaps as little as 10–12 hours a week — on quality control and similar oversight, to ensure luxury for everyone.

Robots, AI, machine learning, big data, etc. could basically make human labor redundant and instead of creating even further inequalities it could lead to a society where everyone lives in luxury and where machines produce everything.

CEO of Rolls Royce next to the Vision Next 100 concept Rolls Royce (Photo by Stephen Hardman/Getty Images for BMW)

Retailers May Have Found A Smart Home Category That Works: Smart Kitchen

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Source: Forbes Technology

Over the past few years, the smart home has been one of the most simultaneously tantalizing and frustrating categories in retail. Holding as much promise to reinvent our daily lives as any emerging technology, the most visible category of the “Internet of Things” has, by and large, proven itself a difficult concept to sell to real consumers.

And while it’s not been all bad news – some “hero” products like the Amazon Echo or Ring doorbell have flown off shelves – most products have moved much more slowly despite big investments in terms of inventory, shelf space and display investment on the part of brick and mortar retailers.

The challenges of the category, while easy to identify, are difficult to solve. The biggest hurdle for retailers is showing what smart home can do for the average Joe. Most consumers don’t immediately understand the benefits of these new devices, putting a big burden on retailers to explain it to them. And if retailers do manage to convince a customer to buy smart home products, many first-time smart home consumers find they are often out of their technological depth when they get home (what exactly is a C wire again?).

The end result is a fairly high rate of return, which is anathema to both retailer and product manufacturer alike. When consumers do keep products, often times usage rates for smart home products are fairly low.

But now, there seems to be one product category – or one room in the house- in particular, that seems to be selling well and bucking the trends of high return rates: the connected kitchen.

Smart Home Is Where The Kitchen Is

Across the retail landscape, retailers are starting to double down on kitchen products that use technology in new and different ways. Whether it’s something as simple as Williams-Sonoma’s new Bluetooth thermometer or a crowdfunded device that makes canned or bottled beer taste like draft beer making its way to Best Buy, retailers are trying lots of different products that change the way we cook, drink and eat.

Why makes kitchen different? According to retailers, much of the answer lies in straightforward convenience and utility.

Michelle Baden Foss, who oversees the food prep category for high-end retailer Williams-Sonoma, says the category, if done right, brings value to consumers lives in the form of convenience.

Williams-Sonoma’s new Bluetooth thermometer

“Our customers respond best when an item is truly smart,” said Baden Foss. “When it offers them something that enhances a product and their lives. If you can customize your morning latte and then press go from under the covers, people want to have that convenience.”

The category also is attractive to retailers relative to other categories because they’re less likely to make their way back to the store. Smart kitchen “has extremely low return rates,” said Vibhu Norby, CEO of b8ta, an Internet of Things and advanced technology retailer based in Silicon Valley. “I think people are more likely to stash connected kitchen products they don’t use vs. return which is quite different from the rest of connected home.”

Another reason for the category’s rising popularity is it’s one the consumer seems to understand. “Kitchen is an area that, 5 years ago, you wouldn’t consider at the technology forefront,” said Ryan Stanzel, spokesperson for Best Buy, where the appliance category has grown for 22 months straight. “Now things are just getting more and more connected. Part of the convenience of that is it saves us time and peace and mind”.

But it’s not just about convenience, but also trying new things. Sous vide is a good example, a cooking style that’s been popular for years in the professional kitchen but, until recently, wasn’t really approachable for most consumers due to lack of consumer-oriented products. In recent years, however, companies like Anova and Sansaire have brought out consumer sous vide machines and foodie sites like Serious Eats and ChefSteps began to push sous vide in a big way. Retailers are now coming along, with Target rolling out Anova’s Wi-Fi enabled precision cooker to all of its 1800 stores by the end of the year and other retailers like Best Buy are also expanding into sous vide as well.

Still, for all of the excitement, the category still has a way to go until it’s mainstream and, like many new connected categories, there’s always the danger of adding technology and making products more difficult to use.

“If a product adds steps or doesn’t offer more functionality or ease of use, no one wants it,” said Williams-Sonoma’s Baden Foss

And while consumers seem to understand connected devices in the kitchen more readily than wholly new categories like smart home hubs, there’s still a need for market education. That’s why retailers like Pirch are developing experiential retail experiences to show how the process of connected cooking works.

So while there’s always a chance new products may confuse consumers or see higher return rates, the current feeling among retailers seems to be that the smart kitchen is a market that’s just about ready to cook.

Michael Wolf writes about the future of kitchen and cooking tech here and hosts the Smart Kitchen Show podcast. He is the creator of the Smart Kitchen Summit.

Source: Forbes Technology

Panama Claims This Tech Entrepreneur Bribed His Way Out Of Colombia Prison — He Says It’s Lying

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Source: Forbes Technology

Mayer Mizrachi, who launched a WhatsApp rival from La Picota prison in Colombia, is freed. But he’s only been given free passage as Panama tries to have him deported for questions around an IT contract

The story of Mayer Mizrachi was already replete with plot twists and conspiracy theories. And yet they keep on coming.

Arrested on an Interpol Red Notice as he arrived in Cartagena for a holiday from New York in December 2015, and detained in Bogotá’s maximum-security La Picota prison for six months over claims he failed to deliver his WhatsApp rival Criptext to the nation’s innovation department, Mizrachi was released last week.

But now the 28-year-old entrepreneur behind WhatsApp crypto comms rival Criptext has been accused of bribing his way out of a Colombian prison where he was held as Panama sought his extradition. And, says the Panama government, he’s on the lamb. The government claimed the Colombian prison authorities had already sacked a member of La Picota’s staff who was suspected of accepting a bribe. “At present, the Panamanian Mayer Mizrachi is a fugitive from justice and Colombian authorities remain in their quest to comply with deportation orders corresponding in this case,” a post on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website read, one that Mizrachi said had mysteriously disappeared before he took to Twitter to warn his followers of strange government behaviour.

According to Mizrachi, though, the government is lying. Speaking from a hotel in Bogotá, Mizrachi told FORBES that at 11am on June 22 prison guards at the La Picota penitentiary said he was being released, showing him an order granting his freedom. Upon leaving the gates he was asked to step into a car with three members of Colombia’s immigration authorities, but just as he was about to get in, guards drew him back, claiming there was no order allowing them to take the prisoner, according to Mizrachi’s account.

It turned out the immigration officers planned to deport him to Panama without any authority, he said. Once back inside the prison, he spoke with his lawyer Alex Vernot, who advised him to seek asylum, which he duly did. He then travelled, in a vehicle owned by the Colombian prison authority INPEC, out of the compound before getting in a taxi to a hotel where he embraced his mother and sister.

And yesterday, in a statement on Facebook, Colombia’s immigration department said that on June 23, Mizrachi had applied for asylum and the request was now being processed by an official commission. Mizrachi has now been granted safe passage for five working days, while the commission determines whether he should be allowed asylum. There was no mention of any bribery charge.

Political persecution?

This was all unnecessary, Mizrachi says, as his lawyers had already agreed to go to Panama and speak with prosecutors to dispute claims he did not deliver Criptext’s encrypted comms app to employees of the nation’s Autoridad Nacional Para La Innovación Gubernamental (AIG). They also want to clear up suggestions of corruption over the original deal. A report from Panama had suggested there were some suspicious links between the old ministers in the AIG, who handed Mizrachi’s company the contract, and the young entrepreneur’s family. The Criptext chief vehemently denied any dodgy deals were done.

Mizrachi suspects a plot is afoot too. He claimed he was illegally detained for an additional two weeks in La Picota. On June 6, he says the Supreme Court of Appeals in Panama granted him his liberty, the same day the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached his mother and lawyer to make a deal, saying they’d end the extradition process in favour of deportation. They turned the deal down, claiming they had enough proof of Mizrachi’s innocence over the $210,000 contract with the AIG. He believes he spent an additional 16 days in prison because Panama was quietly attempting to organize that deportation with Colombia and was therefore not told of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Mayer Mizrachi is out of prison in Bogota, Colombia. But he’s been accused of bribing officials.

Why would Panama pursue Mizrachi so doggedly? He thinks he’s been caught up in political machinations. Mizrachi’s father is in a relationship with the sister of ex-Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. The new regime, led by President Juan Carlos Varela, has been attacking the old administration, launching numerous corruption investigations. Mizrachi said he’s just become another target of Varela’s campaign. “I saw this attempt at deportation as an extension of the political persecution that I’ve been suffering. I just came from suffering six months of illegal detention and they go immediately and do something, they continue with the same behaviour,” Mizrachi said.

Though the Panama government appears to be aggressively pursuing Mizrachi’s detainment, when FORBES contacted country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs it said it has left the case entirely in the hands of Colombian officials. Mónica De León, the department’s head of communications, said it had “fulfilled the role played in the case of Mayer Mizrachi, which consisted solely of being a conduit between the Supreme Court and the recipient of the request, in this case, Columbia.”

“Right now the next step is in the hands of Colombian authorities and/or young Mayer Mizrachi,” León wrote (email translated from Spanish). She did not respond to enquiries around her department’s claims of bribery, only recommending FORBES contact Colombian authorities.

At the time of publication, FORBES had not received a response from La Picota prison, which last month confirmed to this publication his presence in the maximum security facility.

What now for Mizrachi? He’s petitioning Interpol to revoke the Red Notice that was placed on him last year so he can travel safely back to the U.S. Meanwhile, his lawyers are speaking with Panamanian authorities, continuing to convince them to drop the case, a hearing for which is scheduled for August 24.

For now, he remains in limbo somewhere in Bogotá.

Tips and comments are welcome at TFox-Brewster@forbes.com or tbthomasbrewster@gmail.com for PGP mail. Get me on Twitter @iblametom and tfoxbrewster@jabber.hot-chilli.net for Jabber encrypted chat.

Source: Forbes Technology

Should You Buy An Xbox One S?

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Source: Forbes Technology

image: Microsoft

We’ve got a few new consoles coming our way soon, but we really only have complete information on one of them: the Xbox One S, which Microsoft announced at E3 earlier in the month. It’s the sort of slim redesign we’ve become accustomed to at this point in a console generation: basically, it’s an Xbox One, but with an internal power supply, HDR compatibility, the option for a 2TB hard drive and, of course, a smaller form factor. Also it’s white. Preorders are open, and you may have found yourself with your mouse hovering over a button somewhere out there on the internet. So should you get one?

Obviously, it depends on your situation. So first we consider the ideal customer for this thing: someone Xbox-inclined but with no current generation console, maybe with an Xbox 360 or a PC. In that case, the Xbox One S represents a great way to take the plunge into a new generation of consoles: it’s priced right, it’s got a deep library of awesome games, and it’s considerably easier to deal with than its somewhat bulky predecessor. If you’ve got a capable PC you’ll already have access to all of Microsoft’s exclusive games, but there are a plenty of console exclusives you might not be able to get, and the Xbox can stream to your PC as well. There is, of course, the argument made to buy a PS4 instead, but you can’t really go wrong with either console.

After that we consider the PS4 owner. You might be saving your money for a PS4 Neo in the fall, and if graphics are terribly important to you, the Xbox One S might not be quite the thing: buying one of these basically just adds in a few minor new features and Microsoft’s suite of exclusive games. If you’re not all that concerned with the graphical upgrades that are going to come with the Neo, however, the Xbox One S could be a perfectly solid way to invest some extra gaming money. Still, it’s not perfect. You could also get all those exclusive games (and way more) on PC, and if you’re looking to expand your gaming library, the upcoming NX could end up being the right choice here.  So I’d advise a wait and see on this one until we learn more about the Neo and the NX. You’ve got plenty of games in the meantime, and the best deals won’t come until later in the fall anyway.

And finally, the least ideal customer: somebody who already has an Xbox One. Such a customer will only be buying an Xbox One S if they’ve got an unhealthy addiction to form factors and, ideally, some cash to burn. If that’s you, go nuts, but know that you won’t be getting any significant new functionality for your money. Upgrading to 2TB might be nice, but you’d be better off just upgrading the hard drive manually. Buy a PS4, or wait until we know more about the NX.

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Source: Forbes Technology

‘Trump’ By Ted Rall: A Very Difficult Child

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Source: Forbes Technology

Ted Rall is an internationally syndicated editorial cartoonist, columnist, editor and graphic novelist.

copyright 2016 Ted Rall, all rights reserved

This page is an exclusive preview from cartoonist Ted Rall’s upcoming graphic biography of Donald Trump, Trump: A Graphic Biography. The book will be published on July 19, 2016. 

Yesterday: The Tree From Which The Apple Fell

Tomorrow: “DT” Gets Expelled

10 Cartoons About Donald Trump

Source: Forbes Technology

Chatbots Are Here To Stay, And They’re Getting Even Smarter

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Source: Forbes Technology

(Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

What problems will chatbots solve in the next few years? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Igor Markov, EECS Prof at Michigan, currently at Google, on Quora:

I have seen several types of chatbots, with the simpler/more popular type being nothing new (at least for a CS researcher). Let me first explain what simple bots do and how they can be useful, then outline more advanced categories.

Simple bots respond to a small set of boilerplate commands. They can easily be represented by a UI with a drop-down menu for commands and a couple of text fields for the arguments. Here’s an example—a chatbot that tells time and can set alarms. Users can issue commands like “time in Madrid”, “time in San Francisco”, or just “time Madrid” or even “t Madrid”. Users can also say things like “set alarm for 9:34am” or “alarm +2hrs” or “alarm +70m”. This illustrates how chatbots can perform lookups in real time (using specialized hardware or a databases) and also initiate simple actions. Other examples include traffic-related queries—is your bus on time?—mail delivery status, election/game results, etc.

At a conceptual level, this has been done long time ago. For example, Dungeons & Dragons games in the 1970s and 1980s had similar interfaces, but with more sophisticated commands. They also had real-time notifications; for example, when you played a game, an elf could appear and deliver your (real) email messages. Many industrial control systems operate in similar ways—engineers issue commands to check system status and to initiate changes. Such interfaces replace huge control panels with hundreds of switches and blinking lights by a couple of monitors that can show different things on demand (expressed by commands).

So, why is this beaten-up functionality suddenly so popular?

In short, chatbots replace people where people are asked simple questions and produce simple answers. Aside from the obvious customer-service example, the dating service Ashley Madison was apparently populated by chatbots that sent boilerplate messages to men and women, and replied in predetermined ways, pretending to be real people in search of adventures (AM was marketed in such a way that users would not openly discuss their conversations—that’s a clever, although deceptive business practice).

Chatbots can operate solo, for example, when automatically commenting on recent events (such as sports, where a lot of data are produced and can be processed/summarized by machines).

For interactive chatbots, understanding multiple alternative sentence structures is a big deal because users don’t need to remember the list of allowed commands and what parameters they take. More advanced bots can maintain a conversation by using information provided to them and building sentences with it. There is a broad range of how well bots understand what they are told—for practical purposes, understanding means transforming information in useful ways and using it to look up more information. Even more advanced bots can perform optimization, can sense user’s emotions,  can access multiple databases, understand and combine terms from multiple domains (say, law and politics, or sports and medicine).

More profound (than current uses) is the use of bots as “flexible” interfaces, where any reasonably-worded query can be answered. I have not yet seen multiple bots talk to each other, but this is definitely on the horizon. This allows using human language as a loose specification.

This question originally appeared on Quora. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Source: Forbes Technology

Lose Weight Eating Pizza: Food in 2026

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Source: Forbes Technology

Humanity has a messy and complicated relationship with food. In abundance it brings people together, in starker times it tears societies apart. But even the revolutions inspired by bread shortages don’t compare to how rapidly our relationship with food has changed in the last 50 years. A thirst for convenience has meant that we’ve never been more divorced from what we put into our mouths. Check out my video on what your dinner will look like in 10 years.

Image credit: Jay McGregor

Jay McGregor is a journalist who writes for The Guardian, Forbes, TechRadar and is a correspondent for BBC’s James Hazel show. Follow his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JayMcGregorWrites/

Source: Forbes Technology

Canned Foods Are A Source Of BPA

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Source: Forbes Technology

Eating soups, vegetables and other foods from cans can expose you to a potentially harmful chemical and low income children may be most at risk.

(Shutterstock)

A new study in Environmental Research found higher amounts of bisphenol A (BPA) in the urine of people who’d eaten canned food in the last 24 hours. Used in plastics, BPA is similar in shape to some hormone molecules in our bodies, and studies in animals show that large doses can cause serious problems with sex organs, the nervous system and other parts of the body.

Regulators around the world differ on what a safe amount of BPA is for humans, but many manufacturers have voluntarily taken it out of their products and the US has banned it from baby bottles and sippy cups. The US Food and Drug Administration concluded in 2012 that small amounts in our diets are not unsafe.

Jennifer Hartle, an exposure scientist doing postdoctoral research at Stanford University, analyzed dietary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Agriculture. They included measurements of BPA levels in people’s urine and their responses to a survey about recent meals.

Hartle was able to confirm previous work done in laboratories that showed BPA can leach out of the plastic lining of cans into food and from there into our bodies. The BPA is there to protect food—and us—from the metal cans and to provide another layer of defense against the outside world.

There are three ways BPA gets into food, says Rigoberto Advincula, a chemist who studies plastics and packaging. BPA is one of the building blocks of those can-lining polymers, so if that chemical process is incomplete there may be some free BPA that gets into the food. Also, if the can gets too much heat BPA molecules can detach themselves, or if the food is particularly oily it can dissolve small amounts of the coating.

Hartle found that 10% of the study’s participants—who were a representative sampling of Americans—had canned food within the previous 24 hours. Those who’d eaten more canned food had more BPA in their urine.

“The general public still doesn’t recognize that [BPA] is in canned food,” says Hartle.

The strongest relationships between BPA in people’s urine and what they had eaten came from canned fruits and vegetables, canned pasta (think ravioli in sauce) and canned soups. Hartle notes that these are also among the most common kinds of canned foods to eat. She thinks heat is probably the main cause of BPA leaching in soups and pastas. Foods are heated during the canning process to kill bacteria and other microbes, and heterogenous foods like these generally need more heat to ensure all the different ingredients get enough heat. The amount of BPA in urine was also higher in people who had eaten canned soups and pastas.

Drinking canned sodas and other beverages did not lead to BPA uptake.

Eating canned meats and fish was also not linked to higher urinary BPA levels. That surprised Hartle, because she expected the oiliness of something like tuna to dissolve BPA from the can lining. She says it may be at least partly an artifact of how the data were collected. People in the study kept diaries of what they were eating, and data about meat and fish were sometimes blended together before Hartle got them.

This Female CEO Moved An Office And Its Employees Out Of Crimea At The Height Of Crisis

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Source: Forbes Technology

In the summer of 2014, as the crisis in Ukraine after Russia annexed its Crimean peninsula, Jessica Rovello and her husband Kenny Rosenblatt faced a daunting situation: their tech company Arkadium had an office with 100 employees in Crimea. Everyone there suddenly had to become Russian and work under Russian law. Then in December 2014, just when the Arkadium office finally assumed a full-fledged Russian identity, the United States imposed harsh economic sanctions on American companies operating in Crimea. Suddenly, Rovello and Rosenblatt could no longer pay their employees or do business at all there. So the company made a radical decision: it moved 55 of its employees and their families to mainland Russia and established a brand new office in Krasnodar, where Arkadium’s overseas branch has operated ever since.  

Arkadium CEO Jessica Rovello. Photo courtesy of Arkadium.

Sitting in her brightly decorated New York office, Rovello was pensive while recounting that series of challenges. “We were getting punched in the face left and right, but we were getting back up and going through all of these changes,” she said. “And then there was the final knockdown punch from the U.S. sanctions. At that point, we surveyed the employees [in Crimea], and that’s when the majority said they were willing to move to Krasnodar. So we did.”

She and Rosenblatt co-founded Arkadium in 2001. The company provides interactive content such as polls, quizzes, videos, and games to large publishers and brands, including the Solitaire collection that comes as part of Microsoft’s Windows programs. During its fifteen years, Arkadium under Rovello and Rosenblatt (who serves as the company’s president) has grown from a small start-up to an established tech company that is on track to take in $11 million in revenue this year. It currently has 92 employees between its New York and Krasnodar offices. Just last month, Inc. Magazine recognized the company as one of the best places to work in the U.S. Rovello and Rosenblatt mainly operate out of New York, where they also live with their three young children.

Below is a condensed version of my conversation with Rovello, during which we discussed the adversity in Ukraine, her own leadership style as the female CEO of a tech company, and many more topics:

Monica Wang: You and Kenny Rosenblatt describe the Arkadium culture as embodying the basic values of “fierce drive, positive energy, and living a full life.” Can you explain?

Jessica Rovello: In many ways those are a reflection of our personal values. They have attracted people to the company who have been very successful here. It is also how we feel about the business. We want to surround ourselves with people who are seriously competitive and driven and who want to kick ass in everything they do, but not at the sacrifice of their sanity and their life. This goes back to my desire to start the company in the first place — I wanted to find a better way to do things. So many of the tech companies out there today have this mantra of growth, growth, growth, revenue, revenue, revenue, and users, users, users. But there’s very little balance in that mantra. Ours is more about the journey. It’s okay for us not to be a billion-dollar company overnight, because I value going home at six o’clock every day and having a wonderful relationship with my children. I think a lot of businesses overlook that, and they think about revenue over and above the lives of the people who are part of the journey of building a business. It’s not that we don’t want results. I’m fiercely competitive, and that’s why drive is one of our central values. I’m just not going to do it at the expense of other aspects of my life. “Positive energy” is our nod to the fact that we want to be a leader in our market, but we’re not going to do that by sacrificing our lives, our relationships, and our families.

Wang: During the 2014 conflict in Ukraine, you moved 55 employees and their families from Crimea east to Krasnodar, Russia, and opened a new office there. What led you to make that decision?

Rovello: The short answer is the employees did. We had been preparing contingency plans all year for what-if scenarios, because once the riots started in Kiev and once the government in Kiev was deposed, we knew that anything was possible. But it was still one surprise after another. Throughout the year we had been doing surveys to find out where people’s minds were. Did they want to stay? Did they feel safe? Did they want to leave? We always had our fingers on the pulse of what the staff wanted.

For a lot of people, moving was very painful and almost impossible to do, because they had lived in the same place for generations. For others, the idea of picking up and leaving wasn’t going to happen because they didn’t want to be Russians. There were wildly different circumstances for almost everybody there. In the end, we moved 55 out of the original 100 employees to build up an entirely new infrastructure and office in mainland Russia.