Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
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Dept of the near future
🏁 It’s a lot easier to win the game if you’re the one who sets the rules, argues my old Uni buddy, Alan Beattie. The US, EU and China are competing to set technical standards for crucial new technologies such as AI and the Internet of Things, waging ‘bureaucratic offensive[s]’ across international organisations like the ITU and International Organisation for Standardisation.
🤔 Machine learning is increasing our intellectual debt—the things we know work without really understanding why they work. Jonathan Zittrain, of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, thinks that’s something we should be concerned about: ‘Financial debt shifts control—from borrower to lender, and from future to past. Mounting intellectual debt may shift control, too. A world of knowledge without understanding becomes a world without discernible cause and effect, in which we grow dependent on our digital concierges to tell us what to do and when.’
👎 Beyond a certain point, Facebook will start eating its own tail. An internal analysis in 2018 suggested that Facebook could rapidly be approaching a tipping point, at which Facebook,s other platforms, WhatsApp and Instagram, begin to gnaw into the core platform’s userbase.
🇪🇺 The President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced she would propose legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence within her first hundred days in office. As an early mover in this space, such legislation could potentially serve as a benchmark for nations and regional bodies around the world.
🚗 The competition for self-driving AI is heating up. Lyft has published the largest publicly-released dataset of level-5 autonomous driving training data. This dataset includes over 55,000 human-labeled 3D annotated frames, a drivable surface map, and an underlying HD spatial semantic map to contextualize the data. Meanwhile, Waymo has enlisted DeepMind researchers to trial population-based training, a technique originally developed by DeepMind for video games, to hone their own self-driving algorithms.
🌪️ Climate breakdown: 410.80ppm | 3,951 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 July 25): 410.80 ppm; 12 months ago: 408ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
- What percentage of all global fossil fuel CO₂ emissions since 1751 have occurred in your lifetime?
- Scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of global warming has passed 99%.
- Do we really have 12 years to save the planet?
- More than twenty-five of our British readers of this wondermissive switched to the renewable energy provider, Bulb. I’ve been using Bulb for a year and am so happy with them, I asked them to offer EV readers a unique £75 joining handshake. Please do it—and take this step to reduce your own household carbon footprint (and cut your electricity bill!)
Dept of change signals
The earliest signals of a change are the most important. Why? Paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway, change happens ‘gradually, then suddenly’.
For people observing technological change, the common failure mode is to ignore those early signals and then be surprised by the violence of the change when it comes. Incumbents and policy-makers are often left wrong-footed.
This week, Link, which runs the UK’s ATM network, released research showing that UK’s ATM usage was down 9-10% this year, but that 97% of people still carry cash. One way to interpret this is that only 3% of Britons have gone cash-free. That is the wrong interpretation.
A key graph inside Link’s report shows a crucial early signal of fundamental change. The forecasts by UK Finance, the industry trade association, have consistently under-estimated the rate with which consumers’ preference for cash has declined. Their 2014 estimates for 2023 were blown away by 2017. What UK Finance reckoned would take nearly a decade took about three years. The graph also shows how they have consistently underestimated the rate of that change. Their 2014 view of the decline in cash usage over the subsequent five years was wrong by about a factor of three.
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Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
Apple’s native apps dominate its App store, potentially skirting Apple’s own rules.
Top-shelf Russian malware has been caught in the wild. Someone in St Petersburg had a very bad day after this was exposed. See also, the Russians targeted electoral systems in all 50 US states.
India's Reliance Jio is expected to commercially launch its GigaFiber service in August. The company is aiming to disrupt the Indian broadband market with its new fibre-to-the-home service.
✨ One very long morsel: Long read about the short half-lives of scientific truths.
We are winding into the summer break for Exponential View. I’ve personally been sweltering in close to 40°C in my very hot office! Despite the heat, we are still innovating and held an “Ask Me Anything” thread this week—which had nearly 20,000 views.
EV will appear in your inboxes as usual on Sunday over the summer. We have a great guest editor looking after things while I am away.
Look out for some bonus summer podcasts coming your way on August 7. And if you haven’t had a chance to attend the members-only briefing with Karen Stenner, one of the leading voices on authoritarianism, see our notes and the recording of the conversation here.
Finally, it helps us a great deal if you tell your friends about the wondermissive. So as a favour, please do share this with a few people who you like!
P.S. Scroll all the way to the bottom for some exciting news and projects by EV readers.
This edition of Exponential View has been supported by Open Climate Fix:
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Congratulations to Chris Wigley for taking over as the CEO of Genomics England!
EV’s Elise Todd has produced an extensive report on the minimal preparations made by the Myanmar government for Rohingya refugees. Clever use of extensive satellite imagery. (New York Times report here.)
Kyle Samani’s excellent essay about unbundling legacy structures for Web 3.0. (Recommended!)
Martin Tisné: ‘Data Isn’t the New Oil, It’s the New CO2’.
Valdis Krebs talks about communities, networks, trust and connections in this podcast conversation.
Benji Rogers is trying to save the news and he needs your help.
Patrick J. McKenna is sharing his new e-book Strategy Innovation: Getting to the Future First.
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