I’m Azeem Azhar. I convene Exponential View to help us understand how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies.
The Sunday newsletter is delivered every week to our members. I decided to make this week’s edition open to all. Enjoy, and subscribe if you’d like to support our work, and become part of the Exponential community.
If you’ve missed some of my latest commentary, see below:
💬Friday discussion: Amazon everywhere — for members only
💡Scaling hydrogen energy storage — for members only
The near future
😬 Andrew Yang is using the platform he built in the run-up to the 2020 elections to launch a Data Dividend Project, which is supposed to establish data-as-property rights under privacy laws across the US. With all due respect, I don’t think this is a good idea. As I wrote more than a year ago, initiatives such as this are based on the belief that we, the customers, need to “turn the tables on firms like Facebook or Google to take control over our data and determine how it is used, for our own benefit.” But the problem is more complex:
Rather than property rights as the core foundation of the personal data, we need to understand the kaleidoscopic nature of data, that is manifests itself in many different ways, of which property rights might be one limited case.
High-level patterns that emerge out of aggregate data can provide incredible social utility. Perhaps with health data, we could imagine regimes of “presumed consent” where the data is presumed to be shared because of the collective value of the aggregate data. For some types of data, opting in would be the default, opting out would happen by special exception. (This already happens, to great social benefit, with organ donation in several countries).
At the same time, stronger rights, of non-exploitation and legitimate use, would need to be developed. We need rights to access the data about us held by others. No doubt, we are starting to see this as, predominantly, European-based regulators tackle issues of privacy and consent as they arise for data.
I would like to see the shibboleth of data as property retired, replaced by nuanced notions of respect, stewardship, rights and collective benefit which can then drive our regulations, policy & strategies.
👀 Apple’s move to make their own chips is only a small loss for Intel’s business – but combined with Microsoft’s move away, it could have a more significant impact on Intel’s CPU sector. Intel missed out on both the mobile and deep learning boom, but it still remains the largest processor maker in the world, with a deep balance sheet. Acquisitions like Nervana and Mobileye show that it can use them. There is a healthy pipeline of data-centre scale silicon startups, like Graphcore and Cerebras, as well as startups tackling more constrained environments, like Mythic. So while Apple’s moves might put pressure on the Intel’s X86 architecture, I won’t count the firm out.
🎯 Decent BCG analysis of what makes a Deep Tech ecosystem.
🧬Scientists are looking into our genetic code to understand why some lose their lives to Covid-19, and others have no symptoms whatsoever. Sixty-eight genes have been identified, twelve of them could be related to the cardiovascular system.
💰 Why does venture capital not build the things we really need?
👐 In my last conversation on the podcast before a summer hiatus, I got together with Rebecca Henderson, the Harvard Business School Professor and one of the FT- ODX’s Outstanding Directors of 2019. We discuss the ways businesses can act to reform capitalism from the inside. As Rebecca put it, “business is about more than just making money. It’s about building a thriving and prosperous society in whatever way we can do that.”
Dept of AI ethics
I wrote about facial recognition and its use in law enforcement a couple of weeks ago but here are some interesting updates since then.
I spotted the problems of PULSE, an algorithm for upscaling images, from a series of tweets (with examples of terrible upscaling) by ML researcher Robert Osazuwa Ness, which are worth reading. PULSE demonstrated the classic problems of biased AI systems, performing worst on Black subjects than other races. James Vincent has a good write-up here.
The rest of my commentary is open to members only. Here, I discuss:
- Why these systems are what I call “ought” systems, and it means in terms of their development,
- What is even greater challenge than developers not knowing better,
- What the discussion within the AI community tells us about where we are in his important discussion.
🌡️ Climate breakdown: 415.66ppm | 3,623 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until we reach the 450ppm threshold.
The latest measurement (as of June 25): 415.66 ppm; June 23, 2019: 414.25 ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
Capital is starting to move to tackling the net-zero transition.
- Amazon is launching a $2 billion venture capital fund (internally) which will invest in technological solutions to reduce the impact of climate change, called the Climate Pledge Fund.
- Chris Sacca is now running a new investment firm called Lowercarbon Capital, focused on startups which are developing ‘technologies to reduce CO2 emissions, remove carbon from the atmosphere and actively cool the planet’
- A number of EV readers have announced their new climate-focused fund, Pale Blue Dot.
California dreamin’: Sunrun is building a giant virtual power plant by accessing the batteries in domestic homes.
Verse 2: The state has also mandated that 65% of new trucks be electric by 2035.
Chart of the week
Richer countries are using less electricity even as they get richer. Poorer countries’ electricity use per capita doubled between 2000 and 2017. Overall, electricity use is growing faster than the world’s population.
Short morsels to appear smart on a walk (while wearing a face mask)
The battle for the control of DeepMind.
💯 Remarkable essay on what slavery reparations might look like. (See also EV#274 on lessons from German reparations.)
🔠 Kahoot, a popular edu-gaming quiz platform, has 1 billion active users. It is now valued at $1.4bn.
The global non-dairy milk market is supposed to reach $38 billion by 2024. To accompany this, here’s an interesting visualisation of theflavor profile of the Oatly! oat milk.
The inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, now wants to produce lab grown human organs for patients—currently pending approval by the FDA.
🏘️ A good primer on the history of the modern land system and how it set up our society for inevitable crisis.
Half-a-million Theranoses. The US shale industry has blown $300bn in 15 years. It won’t make it back. (And gave us a toxic environment to boot!)
😁 The kids might be fine. How the teens of TikTok and K-pop fans trolled the Trump campaign. Amusing.
An interesting insight into how the Turkish army uses drone swarms.
In the US, Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of cities and their mayors. As international co-ordination falters, as it has over climate change, cities become relatively more important. Also, listen to my discussion with Sameh Wahba on the subject.
So, Mark Zuckerberg has a price. I am sure you’ve all read about the Unilever and Coca Cola ad boycotts. And read about Zuckerberg’s rapid u-turn around some harmful content.
But I am struck that on certain key issues—facial recognition, climate change, systemic racism, polarisation and harmful content and social media—leadership has come from execs of large firms (although not Facebook!). Corporate execs are filling in, not perfectly, the moral vacuum where we would normally expect to find our political leaders.
What you’re up to—notes from EV readers
Charlotte Casella’s team took their annual history festival fully online this year, so you can watch lectures on medieval warfare, Churchill, the history of Antarctic explorations and more.
Zavain Dar on how this pandemic has exposed the fragility of our world, and whether there is a chance to create a world that’s worth it.
Zheela Qaiser invites all UK-headquartered companies creating towards a net-zero future to apply for this free six-month growth program.
Christina Colclough wrote about ‘Rewarding Work’ as the way forward.
Brett Bivens explores how to understand emerging markets and make predictions that are actually useful.
Davide Casaleggio created a brief video explaining how Covid-19 is changing our relationship with time.
Juan Carlos Castilla Rubio in conversation with Azeem on making sense of the Amazonian book of life.
To share what you’ve been up to with other readers, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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