Look no hands: Self-driving cars on a road near you?

  • 4 August 2015
  • From the section Business
A driverless car from Mercedes-Benz at the first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Asia in Shanghai on 26 May, 2015.
Image caption In theory taking human beings out of the driver's seat altogether could cut accidents to close to zero

Close your eyes and I'll take you there is what they sang in the musical, West Side Story. Fifty-eight years later, that proposition is the promise of the 21st Century automobile.

The self-driving car has long been the stuff of science fiction. Now it may soon be here, on the streets of Britain and other places.

The British government is interested, and putting money into the proposition. Three consortia of consultants companies and universities are revving up trials in places such as Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes.

But they have some catching up to do. For the past six years, Google cars have been cruising the roads and streets of California and Texas with a human driver ready to take over from the autonomous machine in an emergency.

They have racked up more than one million miles of autonomous experience, 14 accidents (mainly being rear-ended by distracted drivers), and vast amounts of data about this sort of transport.

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The Quirky business that wants to transform inventing

  • 27 July 2015
  • From the section Business
Ben Kaufmann
Image caption Ben Kaufmann has a rather forceful personality

Sometimes a chap becomes a part of the story he's been sent to cover. Recently it happened to me in New York.

For years now, I've been reporting on what people call the great disruption - the way that technology (in particular the internet) keeps bumping into our established way of doing things, and rewriting established ideas.

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The small fruit with a big flavour

  • 18 July 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Two peaches in someone's hands

More than 250 crops are grown in California's Central Valley, including some of the world's tastiest peaches. But several years of drought have left the farmers facing an uncertain future.

I have never tasted such a peach in my life. Two peaches, actually, but I will come to that in a moment. This one glows yellow in the shade where the fruit is being packed into crates. The familiar furry skin, but one bite into it is enough to produce a revelation. The cool, succulent flesh, the depth of flavour, the precise balance of sweetness and acidity achieved by the devoted nurture of Mas Masumoto and his family.

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The economist who had 'deviant thoughts'

  • 18 June 2015
  • From the section Business
Richard Thaler
Image caption Prof Thaler is a leading proponent of behavioural economics

What exactly is economics? Science or art? An explanation of our society based on observable, demonstrable laws? A framework for prediction? Or is it an attempt to systematise the unknowable - the mysteries of the human mind?

As an economics numbskull, I would plump for the latter.

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Entrepreneur of the year: a Bedouin turned businessman

  • 10 June 2015
  • From the section Business
Mohed Altrad

Don't ask Mohed Altrad how old he is. He may be a billionaire, but he doesn't know his age. No records. He's round about 65, perhaps.

Mr Altrad told me his astonishing story in the unlikely surroundings of one of the poshest hotels in that nest of posh, Monte Carlo.

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A Tale of Several Cities

Medellin city

Suddenly, the mayor of Medellin got excited. He sped across his office where we had been talking and we clambered up a spiral staircase that took us right on top of the mayoral building: floor 12 or 13, where the helicopters land. He wanted to show off the city he is so proud of. The city that was, 25 years ago, the murder capital of the world.

The long hills form a steep river valley by which this booming place is constrained. Lit up by the sunset, Anibal Gaviria spoke at a rapid pace about the sense of open hilltop he wanted to preserve, even as the city expands by crawling ever higher up the hillside.

Read full article A Tale of Several Cities

A question of computers and artificial intelligence

Gary Kasparov playing chess with IBM computer Deep Blue in 1997
Image caption IBM computer Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997 by 3.5 games to 2.5 games

There are moments that live on in business history.

One of them is the cry: "Mr Watson come here, I want to see you," spoken by Alexander Graham Bell back in 1876, in the world's first telephone conversation.

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The curious case of low unemployment

  • 29 April 2015
  • From the section Business
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Image caption Why unemployment didn't rise notably in the last recession is a conundrum for investigation

One of the most puzzling things about the recent economic recession in the UK was to quote Sherlock Holmes: "The curious incident of the dog in the night time."

Normally in recession, unemployment rises notably. But last time it didn't - the dog didn't bark.

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Colombia: Home of the perfect cup of coffee?

  • 12 April 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Pouring the coffee

It is a bewitching thing, coffee. For years I used to follow the daily twists and turns of the London coffee market, reporting on the tremendous Brazilian frost in July 1975 which devastated the crop and caused world coffee prices to triple in the two subsequent years.

I remember the dark auction room in the Brazilian port of Santos where the traders met to spar over the latest market offerings before retreating to their dusty offices to taste and sniff the export crop.

Read full article Colombia: Home of the perfect cup of coffee?

What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

  • 30 March 2015
  • From the section Business
The Palace of Westminster
Image caption The Palace of Westminster is said to require significant restoration work

I had to meet an MP the other day, a minister, at the Houses of Parliament.

As an ordinary member of the public, it is no longer easy to get in if you don't have a badge.

Read full article What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?