🔮 Cyberwar; the infrastructure phase; Amazon & AI; Tim's new web; amazing founders; secularization, microbiota & drone killers++ #186

How Amazon will put AI everywhere; understanding novel cyber attacks.
🔮 Cyberwar; the infrastructure phase; Amazon & AI; Tim's new web; amazing founders; secularization, microbiota & drone killers++ #186

You might notice a change in this week’s newsletter.

We are considering transition to a new email platform, and you are part of our test cohort. We will be testing for a few weeks—you are the first to experience our new home!

Your feedback is invaluable at this stage, so please let us know what you think by emailing Marija.

Dept of podcasts

The digital revolution no longer needs any support, any subsidy from the government. On the contrary, [...] it is attacking the authority of the state.

I discuss the innovation economy & the relationship between entrepreneurs, investors and the state in this deep conversation with economist and veteran investor, Bill Janeway. Listen to the new episode of the Exponential View podcast here:

iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | Overcast | Breaker

Dept of the near future

🚀 How AI shapes every part of Amazon’s business and how it plans to put those powers "in the hands of every developer and data scientist".

✊ Tim Berners-Lee announced Solid, a decentralised service to take on the power of Facebook & Google, focusing on personal data ownership. Read also Irina Bolychevsky's critique: "Governments could and should invest in open infrastructure so that the basics of communicating online or connecting with people... we need to be thinking bigger." My take: While we, as individuals, need a better handle on our data, I think we need to establish a spectrum of data rights, rather than a simple augmentation of a "what's mine is mine" model.

⚕️ The brilliant Steve Blank on why the new Apple Watch could be the tipping point for digital healthcare. The watch, some of Apple's recent patents and new policies from the FDA, America's health regulator, could open the watch top monitoring "apnea risk, oxygen levels, respiration, blood pressure, cutaneous UV damage, Parkinson's & glucose/pre-diabetes."

💰 My friend Umair Haque: "If the point of capitalism is to escape capitalism, what is the point of capitalism?" Umair is often thought-provoking.

🏗️  The myth of the infrastructure phase. Apps beget great infrastructure and tools, not the other way round. The common narrative is that platforms evolve from a cycle: starting with infrastructure which leads to apps on the infrastructure, which is followed by new infrastructure on which new applications appear is muddleheaded. Rather, the cycle is more fluid, each begets the other. Azeem's note: I found this framework to be helpful, and it might explain why investors are backing blockchain apps as well as blockchain infrastructure.

😬 Chinese intelligence may have found a way to inject hacked chips onto the motherboards at the heart of computers used by dozens of large firms, including Amazon and Apple. The two firms have pushed back hard with their denials, but this rather wonderful technical analysis explains how it might have happened. This type of spycraft is horribly complicated, should security services divulge a weakness as soon as they learn of it? Or should they focus on neutralising the perpetrators?  (And as this journalist explains well, reporting on these kinds of intelligence stories is incredibly murky.) This could be an incredibly powerful and risky attack on global supply chains — and prompt a stronger pursuit of domestic production and national champions. We've seen both of the latter trends play out increasingly. First, increased productivity in Western markets is meeting rising wages in China, and narrowing the Chinese cost advantage. And, of course, there is a rising focus on home-grown technologies in critical areas like AI, quantum, cyber-defence & telecoms. (Bear in mind that we're already seeing an escalation. The Pentagon's latest cyber strategy, eked out two weeks ago, promotes a 'defend forward' doctrine and the coming week it is expected to agree to lend cyber offensive capabilities to NATO allies.) Azeem's note: I'll be discussing these key issues of cyber warfare with Oxford philosopher, Dr Mariarosaria Taddeo, in the podcast in a few days.

Dept of automation, labour and productivity

When programmers automate themselves out of a job, who should reap the benefits?

Self-automators show that coders are in a unique position to negotiate with employers over which automation-derived gains—like shorter workweeks and greater flexibility to pursue work that interests them—should be kept by workers.

Joseph Harker of the Philadelphia Fed on employment risks to automation in the US: "there's time to prepare, but start preparing" and the "most vulnerable have the least means to adjust."

Levels of automation in the United States remain very low, with only 1 in 6 firms having deployed robots of any type. That said, it's important to note that robots are not the only way to automate and improve productivity. As Robin Dechant argues here, the 1.7m industrial robots due to be installed in the next two years pales into comparison with the 340m humans employed in manufacturing. But that hasn't stopped most industrial workers becoming more productive. (That said, Rethink Robotics, a leading manufacturer of cobots shut down last week, blaming poor sales.)

For a Marxist critique of 'fauxtomation': The automation charade.

While the gig economy poses a challenge for tax and benefit systems, most of its fears are overblown, says The Economist.

Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour for all 350,000 workers.

Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties

The world's youngest self-made billionaires, the Collison's, prove that elegant design can upend an industry. Lovely profile of the founders of Stripe, who have successfully taken on Paypal, Amazon and Apple.

Valued at $70bn, Bytedance is the world's most valuable startup, and the first to emerge on the Chinese internet scene independent of Tencent and Alibaba.

🎓 Yale University's endowment, under the guidance of David Swenson, has invested in two crypto funds.

An analysis of iPhone XS reliance on computational photography, and why its camera is not just an upgrade from iPhone X.

✂️ Love this Banksy prank: the self-destructing million-dollar painting (and shocked faces of the bidders).

💯 Secularization preceded economic development in the 20th century. The most fascinating part of this recent research: tolerance of individual rights (of women, especially) was the ultimate driver of economic well-being.

Wikipedia rejected a draft article on Nobel laureate Donna Strickland in May because she wasn't famous enough.

🌡️  September was warmer than the 1981-2010 average in Europe, over the Arctic Ocean, and the northern seas of Russia and Alaska. (But, hey, Denmark will stop selling petrol cars in 2030 and the Tesla is now the top luxury car marque in the US.)

A fascinating paper on the influence of industrialization on our gut microbes. Tl;dr: the loss of microbial diversity since WW2 has led to an increase in a wide spectrum of diseases, including obesity, diabetes and autism. Also, your gut does not like artificial sweeteners.

Anti-drone tech.

✈️ Why are the world's flight paths such a mess?

End note

I need a word, a word that's what I need.

If you share your word with me,

I'll share my story with you.

Apologies to Aloe Blacc, but I am looking for a word, quite a particular word.

I want the word the describes the belief that things are normal, acceptable, as they are now. Not as they were in the past, nor as they might be in the future.

It is a word that can be used by those who want to break with the past (because of social injustices, quality of life, or a lack of progress) but equally are sceptical of the future (because they doubt the narrative of innovation or the motivations of those who seek to innovate, especially with technology). They are not quite conservative (because they can be socially progressive, in some sense) nor are they necessarily backwards-looking or Luddite in their tendency.

There is a present-centricity in their perspective. A recognition that things are, in some ways, better now (or were a few years ago), than they were many, many years ago. But an uncertainty that things will be much better in the years to come.

I see a lot of people express this particular response when I discuss questions of the future: they are discomfited with the notion that the structures of tomorrow might not resemble those of today. (Much as those of today don't resemble those of yesterday, but an exception is made of today's today, but not yesterday's today or tomorrow's today: a now-centricity.)

Douglas Adams captured the sense of this mindset when he wrote:

I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

I'm sure there is a word that captures this, perhaps of classical or German origin. I would love to know what it is.

If you have a suggestion, ideally with some kind of reference to the context in which it can be used, please let me know. Replying to this email does the trick!

And, as Tigger said, ta ta for now!


P.S. As ever, sharing is the gold standard for showing your appreciation for Exponential View. Take a moment to put a recommendation on LinkedIn or on Twitter. (Or forward via email to ten peers at work.) 🙏

P.S.S. Do scroll down for community updates. You'll find a mix of events, reports and exciting news. If you'd like to share something with the fellow readers, email Marija.

What you are up to


Sign in or become a Exponential View member to join the conversation.