Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
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Dept of the near future
🤔 In a fascinating long-read, Venmo co-founder Andrew Kortina argues that we need to consider capitalism and the attention economy as a form of AI which optimises for short-term gratification over long-term interests and that solutions may come from fields like Game Theory and Distributed Systems Engineering.
🛡️ There's no question that Facebook remains one of the world's most powerful corporations. Siva Vaidhyanathan sees regulating Facebook as one of the greatest challenges facing the world not just today, but in all of human history. (See also, the self-described ‘original Facebook bull’ has become a bear. Lou Kerner argues that declining user engagement will soon see Facebook circling the drain, and even the success of Instagram and WhatsApp won’t be enough to save it. The key metric in retrograde is the ratio of monthly Facebook users who also use the site daily.)
🔗 Whenever you create new capabilities, you also create new vulnerabilities. The ‘totally connected world’, which many think will result from 5G technology, will bring huge benefits, but the flipside includes risks to personal security, national security, and perhaps even to democracy itself:
What is existential to democracy is allowing totalitarian regimes—or any government—full knowledge of everything you do at all times. Because the tendency is always going to be to want to regulate how you think, how you act, what you do. The problem is that most people don’t think very hard about what that world would look like.
⚔️ Increasingly available, affordable dual-use technologies will re-shape the tactics and strategies of insurgencies in the coming decades. Peter W. Singer writes that we need to prepare for a future of asymmetric warfare and multi-domain insurgencies, and that nations will need to develop new tactics of their own to counter them.
💯 I like Ben Thompson’s analysis of the software-as-a-service opportunity and the challenge for Microsoft, which this week hit a trillion-dollar market cap, in the face of fast-growing enterprise firms, Slack and Zoom.
💊 One to listen to: Dr. Eric Topol, one of the most respected clinicians in the US and author on the leading book on AI in medicine, joins me to discuss how technology is augmenting healthcare. Strongly recommended.
⚠️🌏 Climate catastrophe
Each week, we’re going to remind us of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. We must avoid a level of 450 parts per million for a chance to keep global warming below 2°C. If we don’t change how we do things, we’re likely to exceed the target in 10-15 years.
- The latest measurement (as of May 2): 414.84 ppm; 12 months ago: 409ppm; 50 years ago: 326.66ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm.
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Auke Hoekstra, our go-to-analyst on this topic, makes a very clear argument showing how over their lifetime, electric vehicles emit about two-thirds less carbon than a diesel equivalent. (Since the claims that lifetime carbon impact of EVs exceed those of diesels are tediously frequent utterances from climate recidivists, I recommend you read it and keep a print out with you.)
The UK parliament declared a climate emergency and proposed aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050—still too slow in my book, faster is necessary and possible. Nice analysis from Adam Vaughan on what net zero would mean for the UK.
Dept of people and work
Automation could wipe out or radically alter half of all jobs in the next 20 years argues the OECD. One in seven could disappear, and one in three would change radically. Both numbers seem entirely plausible and unsurprising… Sorry to interrupt, but the remainder of this section is open for Premium members only. In it we also explore:
- how power dynamics are a greater threat to our jobs than robots,
- how one startup wants to train nurses online,
- why care work is the future of work.
To read, subscribe to our Premium tier.
Dept of AI and automation
It turns out that people trust the judgement of algorithms more than the judgement of other people. A study of six experiments, by Jennifer Logg and collaborators, found that people were more likely to stick to advice when they thought it came from an algorithm than when they thought it came from another human being. This study runs counter to a much-received wisdom. The investigators caution: “Without understanding how people incorporate information from algorithms into their decisions, organizations run the risk of misusing the opportunities presented by technological advances.” (Unpaywalled version here.)
⏩ James Wang argues that Tesla’s new self-driving chip is four-years ahead of the competition.
WeRide, a Chinese startup backed by Nissan-Renault and SenseTime, plans to launch an autonomous taxi service in Guangzhou in July.
🤖 Anki, a well-funded consumer robotics firm, failed. Guy Hoffman analyses why so many social robotics firms are failing: the technology isn’t ready and the devices are built by engineers rather than artists.
While laundry-folding robotic firms fold and consumer bots firms fail, robotic process automation (RPA) is insanely on fire. RPA company, UiPath, which is backed by a number of EV readers, raised $568m at a $7bn valuation. RPA lets companies automate internal processes—the robots are in the software.
Amazon claims fully-automated warehouses are a decade away. Funnily, Ocado, a British online retailer-cum-technology company already has very well automated warehouses which are three-times faster than Amazon’s. Impressive video here.
Even automation tools are getting automated. Microsoft launches a drag-and-drop machine learning tool.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
More details on Facebook’s plans to launch a cryptocurrency payment platform. (Broad American consumer sentiment towards cryptocurrency seems to be the reason, according to this detailed poll. Funded by some crypto outfit, so tread carefully.)
🐳 Norwegian fisherman caught Putin’s spy, a beluga whale, and it doesn’t want to leave.
🌱 Beyond Meat, the plant-based faux-meat firm, had a wild IPO this week popping 163% in its first day.
61% of all US food delivery is pizza.
🍫💢 Mondelez International (maker of Oreo cookies and Cadbury chocolate) is suing its insurer for refusing to pay a $100 million claim filed after the NotPetya attack. The insurers claim the attack was an act of war.
A 19-year-old created an algorithmically-run baby naming business for Chinese parents.
The terrible truth about Alexa: it is made to spy on us.
😅 Samsung’s vertical TV might be a genius idea or a total failure.
💸 When is the best time to buy airline tickets? Results from analysing 917m airfares here.
The world’s fittest countries. 🇫🇮🇺🇬
Imperial College in London launched the world's first official centre for psychedelics research.
👋 What polygenic risk score can tell you about your future. Next week on my podcast, I’ll be discussing polygenic risk scoring in more depth with Professor Stephen Hsu.
Between June 10 & 12 this year, I’ll be co-hosting the CogX Festival of Artificial Intelligence in London. We’ve been working hard on putting together an EV-worthy schedule on CogX’s Cutting Edge stage.
We’ve got an incredible line-up of speakers and panels, including discussions on the future of computation, creativity in the age of AI, reinventing the factory, synthetic biology, complexity theory and brain-computer interfaces. By line-up, I mean we’ve cajoled the world’s best experts and speakers on these topics for your delectation. CogX is fun, stimulating and intense… but a good kind of intense.
As readers of Exponential View, you are, of course, entitled to an exceptional deal. For 25% off the tickets, register here.
I hope to see you there,
P.S. Scroll down for some awesome news from your fellow readers.
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Congratulations to several readers at USV for raising two new VC funds of $450m.
Congratulations to Farhan Lalji for starting as a Guest Professor at the London Business School.
Owen Gaffney shares the Climate Action Roadmap which outlines essential steps to 2030 to incite action at the speed and scale required to combat climate change. Owen would like to connect to anyone who wants to learn more or contribute.
Albert Bravo-Biosca and his colleagues at Nesta’s Innovation Growth Lab are inviting you to their conference dedicated to innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship from May 21-23 in Berlin.
Lydia Kostopoulos is addressing AI bias at the Next Web Conference on May 10. If you’re there, say hi!
Jason Richardson shares a track he created using the recordings of a grizzly bear, as part of the Cities and Memory project.
Tom Greenwood on how to use LinkedIn to get the most out of it.