Hi, 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.
🎧 In the last podcast conversation of 2020, I got together with sci-fi author and activist Cory Doctorow. In this first segment of our two-part discussion, we explore optimism in light of everything that happened this year. The guiding question we discuss is: can we deploy the pandemic mindset to solve climate change?
Dept of the near future
🚙 Apple has been sitting on plans and grand designs for its own vehicle for at least a decade. We could see an Apple car on the market by 2024. Apple’s track record on supply chain reliability and the ultimate delivery of products to market will be a major challenge for Tesla to match. There’s a lot happening with this story: conflicting reports that Apple is planning to release the car more than two years ahead of schedule, and even questions about whether it will be a human or self-driven vehicle. Let the rumour mill churn. The big takeaway is the rapid advancements (and dropping costs) in battery technology. We’ve passed the tipping point and there’s no going back to petrol cars.
🕵️ Amazon is expecting a bumper holiday shopping season this year. No surprise considering our year spent online shopping. There is another plotline to this story and that’s the influence of Amazon’s own products on its bottom line. The degree to which Amazon’s sales are lifted by the company’s practice of copying products and selling them for half the price is coming to light. From shoes to tripods, Amazon seeks out the most popular items, copies their designs (almost completely) and sells their own version for half the cost (the popular wool shoe company Allbirds is a prime example of an innovative product copied and sold by Amazon’s own brand).
🇨🇳 The pushback on tech companies isn’t confined to the United States, it’s happening in China too. Alibaba is now the subject of an anti-monopoly investigation spearheaded by China’s market regulator. Given the cosy relationships major tech giants have with the central government, the parameters in China are different. But we can certainly expect more investigations into the rest of the country’s platform economy.
♟ Artificial intelligence without rules. MuZero, an algorithm designed by DeepMind, is now able to play games such as Go, chess, and some old Atari hits without needing to be told the rules. This is a brilliant milestone that will make us even more capable in real-world applications where rules are less defined. Julian Schrittwieser has an excellent in-depth analysis of MuZero’s intuition.
🔋 Dept of decarbonisation: 414.31ppm | 3,447 days
Each week, I’m 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 December 22, 2020): 414.31 ppm; December 2019: 411.13 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
Short morsels to appear smart during the holiday season
🦠 Covid-19 changed vaccine science forever but the research didn’t begin this year. Years of research into other coronaviruses coupled with a historic funding injection brought us to this point. The question is how can we use this momentum in the fight against other deadly diseases such as malaria?
💫 Bill Gates is optimistic that we will rise to that challenge and 2021 will be remembered as a year of breakthroughs.
👩⚕️ But first, we need to get the pandemic under control. That might require a fundamentally new strategy towards the virus: elimination (as opposed to suppression or mitigation)
📱 Super apps such as WeChat dominate the Chinese internet. Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys, one of the world’s largest IT firms, thinks WhatsApp and Google will be India’s super apps.
⚡️ A fascinating look at China’s ultra-high voltage lines. The scale of China’s UHV DClines is unprecedented. This extensive network allows the country to move renewable energy from areas with the best resources to more isolated regions.
🌎 The slow decline of liberalism. America’s international prestige appears only to be going up amongst rightwing foreigners.
🖋 Do you know how old the asterisk is? (hint: incredibly old).
It’s been a rough year for our collective capacity to concentrate. Learning how to hold complexity in mind, as this piece in Aeon explores, makes Chess an excellent tool for concentration.
🙌 Looking for some affirmations? Alex Trekeb can help.
🎧 Using snarky AI to determine how bad your musical taste is on Spotify.
I hope you enjoyed this holiday season EV and have had some time off.
I got some great Christmas gifts including a book of cheese jokes (jokes about cheese, as you know I am a fan of both), the Obama biography, a history of the urban fox and some Zoom wear. I hope you had a great time with your friends & family—happy to hear about your favourite gifts too!
Happy Festive Season!
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Ken Pucker published The Dangerous Allure of Win-Win Strategies in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
James Bidwell published This Is Reset’s latest report on 2021 forces of disruption.
Michael Froomkin is looking for papers, posters, and participation in We.Robot, a conference on law and policy related to robotics and AI in Miami on September 23, 2021.