IBM’s good luck in righting the ship

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For the publisher:
Ten years ago, IBM’s Watson computer won the Danger! TV show, as described by Eric J. Savitz in “IBM’s Reboot” (Cover Story, November 26). While I agree that the computer was indeed the winner, Watson, like the other two competitors, knew the answers. The only way to win the game was to buzz first, and Watson got that right.

As Savitz rightly states, Watson was supposed to “improve medical research and diagnostics”; unfortunately the “answers” were not available. In subsequent research, Watson fell short of expectations. Oncology tests and treatments turned out to be less effective than expected.

A final observation, concerning the quantum metaphor (“Quantum Computing Remains Mostly Promise, but Maybe Not for Long. How to Play It”, November 26): Finally, the coin must “land”, and that’s when the unknown answer needs to be revealed, and unfortunately Watson did not “mess around with the correct answer.”

Ira Gross, Boca Raton, Florida

For the publisher:
While not Microsoft as of 2013, IBM has a chance to right the ship. With the way the market has behaved and many companies pulling their profits forward because of Covid-19, I think IBM has a better than average chance of getting back to over 50% in two years on a multiple expansion and single digit growth. If the price drops, I’ll buy more.

Terrence Favero, on

Retirement problem

For the publisher:
The Q&A with Teresa Ghilarducci was fun to read (“America’s Retirement System Is Broken. How to Fix It,” Interview, November 25). Although an economist, she spoke in normal language and not in the language and terminology typical of dark science. The key takeaway from the article is that most Americans, for various reasons, do not save money throughout their lives and go into retirement heavily in debt. I agree with her that the system needs to be changed to favor employees by helping them and making them save money. We just need the will of business and politicians to get involved.

Ted Fisk, Naperville, Illinois.

For the publisher:
Ghilarducci deplores the loss of the defined benefit pension. I say good riddance – they were only a good deal for those lucky enough to stay with the same employer for 30 years. I am an electrical engineer in the volatile and dynamic semiconductor industry. During my 37 year career, I have had eight employers (four of which no longer exist as companies). I owe the security of my retirement to the portability of the pension. Another term for pension portability is 401 (k).

Shane Millburn, Colorado Spring, Colorado.

For the publisher:
Ghilarducci’s observation that pension plans, including Social Security, are in trouble is correct. However, the solution she proposes is a mathematical impossibility because her diagnosis of the cause is wrong. The problem facing pension plans is not underfunding, although this contributes to it, but rather the continuous increase in longevity. Life expectancy was 47 years in 1900, 60 years a century ago and 78 years in 2018. The increase will not stop. The main causes of death are heart disease, stroke, cancer and trauma. The trajectory for the four is upward, with no sign of slowing down. In 1950, there were 16.5 workers for every Social Security retiree. In 2020, that number was 2.8. The only possible solution to the pension problem is to lengthen the working years. As a proof of principle, I am still working at 88 years old.

Dr Claude Burdick, Livermore, California

Interest rate

For the publisher:
In Lisa Beilfuss’ November 26 Economics column, “Will Interest Rates Rise in 2022?” Don’t bet on it, ”David Rosenberg explains why there will be no rate hikes next year and beyond. Because it can devastate seniors who are trying to live on a secure fixed income, there should be no minimum payout required by the IRA as long as interest rates stay below a given value.

Ron Minarik, mystic, Connecticut.

For the publisher:
In 1986, PaineWebber enrolled me in their stockbroker training program. An older broker said that Barron would be required reading. He has been right for many years. Now in retirement, I have time to read all the writers every week. Lately Lisa Beilfuss’ articles on interest rates, inflation and consumer sentiment have started ringing a bell for me. Thanks, Lisa.

Dave Wende, Fort Worth, Texas

Lessons from Enron

For the publisher:
As a former Enron executive, I fully agree with Michael W. Peregrine’s assertion that Enron lessons still matter (“Why Enron Still Matters 20 Years Later,” Other Voices, November 24 ). However, he got it all wrong. The lesson everyone learned (and Peregrine alluded to) was that Enron was a bad company with a bad strategy led by bad people who did bad things. The truth is much more nuanced and little understood. This lack of understanding rocked management and boards of directors into believing that they were running little “Enron risk”.

In the absence of government bailouts and a decade of suppressed interest rates, which cost taxpayers and savers trillions, I guess Enron would be seen as the canary of the coal mine, as opposed to to the child star of corporate misdeeds.

Those who fail to learn the (real) lessons of the past are destined to repeat them. Stakeholders beware, this object in the mirror may be much closer than it appears.

Ted Murphy, Edgartown, Mass.

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