Hi, I’m Azeem Azhar. I’m exploring how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies and other trends. This week, I’m keeping you on your toes with some bigger ideas.
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🚀 This edition is supported by our partner, Masterworks
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Dept of the near future
💯 How have free-market economists shaped modern capitalism, and where did they go wrong? These thinkers defined the operating environment of the last fifty years, coincidentally the same time-span as the silicon revolution. Why did that matter? I discuss this in my latest podcast conversation with The New York Times author Binyamin Appelbaum.
📝 Tuur Demeester: ‘The bitcoin reformation.’ Demeester is a respected analyst within cryptocurrency circles. In this long manifesto, he makes a case for bitcoin, and its ilk, fomenting a reformation against central bankers as the intermediary functions of banking, insurance and lending appear on those networks. This is a provocative white paper, which feels like it is written for the ‘converted’. I present it here because it is readable and gives you an insight into the thinking behind those deep in that community.
🤫 When Chinese President Xi Jinping praises blockchain technology, he might not be talking about the same decentralised system which underlies cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The blockchain systems which the Chinese Communist Party envision are highly centralised mechanisms for control. This would be just the next step in the technology-enabled authoritarian surveillance practised by Chinese authorities—for example, there are reports that Xi’s ‘little red app’, which promotes CCP propaganda, effectively grants the Chinese government root access to the phones of over 100 million users who have downloaded it.
🧬 Exceptional overview of how ‘modern genetics will improve health and usher in “designer” children’ in The Economist. Features Stephen Hsu with whom I discussed these issues some months ago.
💡 Super idea: The Global South is redefining tech innovation. Ramesh Srinivasan argues that ‘top-down, unsustainable Silicon Valley needs to learn from Africa, South Asia, and South America, where tech is built for and by users.’
🌀 The world has gone mad and the system is broken, argues Ray Dalio. Central banks will buy government bonds, and pension and healthcare liability payments are almost due for a generation that doesn’t have enough money to pay for them. 'This set of circumstances is unsustainable and certainly can no longer be pushed as it has been pushed since 2008. That is why I believe that the world is approaching a big paradigm shift’.
Dept of AI
Private research group, OpenAI, analysed how state of the art AI systems have used computation since the 1960s. The analysis is fascinating: it shows that until 2012 (and the breakthroughs that pushed deep learning onto the scene), computational usage roughly followed a Moore’s Law curve, doubling every two years.
The modern era, after deep learning, shows something remarkable. The usage of compute is doubling every 3.4 months.
The rest of this section is available to members only. Here I write about:
- what OpenAI’s analysis means,
- why neuro-evolution could be key to breaking AI out of the rut,
- what went wrong with Uber’s self-driving system.
🧨 Climate breakdown: 410.03ppm | 3,848 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until reaching the 450ppm threshold.
The latest measurement (as of November 6): 410.03ppm; November, 2017: 405.14ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
There's a lot of confusing and unhelpful advice out there for individuals looking to reduce their personal carbon footprint. Frank Bilson and Carsten Gerhardt have tried to boil it down into advice which is simple, practical and actually useful.
The upcoming Arctic autumn is predicted to be the hottest in three million years. The entire basin and Greenland are expected to be 16°C to 28°C warmer than normal.
Chart of the week (beta): Billionaires
The Swiss bank, UBS, published their 2019 Billionaires report. They identified that public companies run by billionaires have delivered at 17.8% annual return compared to 9.1% for the MSCI All Country World Index.
For a critical appraisal of billionairehood, read EV reader, Matt Stoller. He pushes out a punchy challenge in ‘What is a billionaire?’
Billionaires use market power to extract revenue the way that a tollbooth operator does. If you want to drive on a road, you have to pay for the privilege. It costs the tollbooth operator nothing, he/she just has a strategic chokepoint for extraction.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
📣 Jim Simons went from an office in a strip mall to being the most successful investor in the history of modern finance. Here’s how he did it.
Crunchbase has dissected the SoftBank slide presentation on how they plan to turn the WeWork trainwreck around. This is worth it for the ‘Hypothetical Illustration of Profitability’ slide alone.
🧠 Conventional science might not be capable of explaining consciousness. Philip Goff, a consciousness researcher at Durham University, thinks he has the answer, or at least the key to finding one: panpsychism.
🐜 In an attempt to understand how contaminants spread, researchers went looking for ants who were not contaminated by plastic. It didn’t go well.
Kenya has passed a data protection law that is aligned to Europe’s GDPR. Interesting how GDPR could become an increasingly global standard. I have some questions about how aligning an emerging economy with advanced economy rules might play out. Kenya is, at least, highly digital with over 90 percent mobile and internet penetration and a sophisticated e-money market.
🔭 At least 148 small launch space vehicles are in development. For space fans, the Orbital Index newsletter is one to watch.
Apple promotes Privacy as a product feature. (I discussed this back in EV#143.)
Innovation! We’re in the midst of some experiments with this newsletter.
- A shorter subject line
- Slightly more stories in Dept of Near Future. (We’ve experimented with fewer stories for the past few weeks.)
- A ‘chart of the week’
I’m also trying to work out how to better connect the podcast series with the topics of the day. We’ve often tackled key issues in more depth in the podcast conversations. I’m open to suggestions about how to better link.
And if you like the chart of the day, let us know. Hit heart.
❤️ This edition has been supported by our partner, Masterworks
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Congratulations to Hetan Shah for his appointment as the Chief Executive at the British Academy, the UK’s leading body for the humanities and social sciences.
Tom Wheeler’s essay: History’s message about regulating AI.
Fredrik Haga’s analytics platform for querying and analyzing data from the Ethereum blockchain comes out of stealth mode.
Alyssa Kuhnert and her team launched a new product that makes it easier for machine learning engineers to monitor and maintain machine learning models.
Dan Colceriu and Ben Robinson hosted Ian Stewart, co-founder of Wired UK on their podcast.
Alexandre Raffin from GAINS Associates shares his insight in the crypto market; read it here, page 11.
Marko Balabanovic’s analysis of the adoption of AI for radiology in the UK.
Tom Greenwood outlines ways to make websites more energy efficient.
Terry Godier launches an online community for newsletter creators.
Rahul Vohra writes of his practical approach to achieving product-market fit with his email service, Superhuman. Product-market fit is a particular hurdle which product innovators should clear if they have a shot at creating a widely-accepted, compelling product.
James Oehler shares his podcast Fringe Voices, which aims to give voice to the outsiders from the Bronx, NY.
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