🔮 Big ideas for 2021; China’s civil-military fusion; Tesla’s infrastructure advantage; the climate decade; Elephant body fat & Hegelian enjoyment ++ #307

🔮 Big ideas for 2021; China’s civil-military fusion; Tesla’s infrastructure advantage; the climate decade; Elephant body fat & Hegelian enjoyment ++ #307

🐘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.

ERRATUM: 31/1/2020 15:36: An earlier version of this newsletter featured the graph of Facebook and Bytedance’s revenues where Bytedance data was incorrectly labelled as TikTok. The chart has been corrected.

Members’ updates

Dept of the near future

🧠 Everyone should take the time to check out the breakdown of Big Ideas for 2021 by our friends at ARK Invest. (Reg required, worth it.) Of particular interest this year is the opening section on the impact of deep learning. In eight short years, the development of neural networks has ushered us in a new era of Software 2.0. Code written by data is already transforming the market by creating the next generation of computer platforms, from self-driving cars to consumer apps. (I spoke with Ark’s CEO, Cathie Wood, in 2019.)

🇨🇳 I’ve long held that technological decoupling was driven not by the bellicose words of the previous American administration, but the natural strategic tension that arises with the emergence of new, distinctly better technologies. An informal working group that includes former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is calling for a new strategy that embraces the reality of China-US “bifurcation”. The full report is only 30-odd pages long. One assumption is that military-civil fusion in the Chinese technology sector. suggests that the Chinese state is able to fully control its technology sector. But that as this analysis shows that view isn’t exactly accurate. The unfolding Jack Ma drama only adds to the sense that the CCP doesn’t have a perfect grip on the tech industry on the mainland. Who’s really in control of this powerful ecosystem?

🚙 Tesla’s latest earnings call was chock-full of fascinating information. What stood out is the extent to which Tesla has created a viable infrastructure for electric vehicles. There are more than 160,000 petrol stations in the US. There are about 4,000 EV charging stations. But these aren’t all the same and they’re fragmented by technology and manufacturer. Tesla is by far the leader in infrastructure and its market dominance is growing. EV charging is such a nightmare for other manufacturers that Google is developing a specific app to help drivers find stations. See also: Volkswagen’s failed $50bn plan to challenge Tesla. Check the Dept of Decarbonisation for more on EVs.

🕺 Data showing TikTok’s rise in value and user numbers continue to amaze. ByteDance, the social media app’s parent company, just revealed that its revenue more than doubled in 2020. What’s remarkable about these figures is that ByteDance has achieved this growth much faster than Facebook.

👀 It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Facebook. The US capital riots put renewed focus on how extremists use the platform to organise and amplify their messages. Then there was an exodus of users from Facebook-owned WhatsApp after the company changed the terms and conditions of the platform. Now, Apple CEO Tim Cook has delivered extremely pointed comments about Facebook’s business model to a data privacy conference in Brussels.  Seeing that Facebook is on the back foot in the arena of public opinion, Apple is driving home the point that privacy is one of its key selling points (and possibly diverting some attention away from some of its own negative PR).

🔋 Dept of decarbonisation: 415.71 ppm | 3,419 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 January 29, 2021): 415.71 ppm; January 2020: 412.37 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.

🌎 Despite concerns about the state Covid-19 and the new variants, the global economy is showing some signs of stabilising after a rocky year. The “decarbonization of the global economy” is about to undergo an incredible transformation on par with the digitisation of the economy. That’s according to Andrew Beebe in a beautifully reported piece for World Positive.  Beebe is an interesting guy, an Internet OG, who has been investing in cleantech since just after the bubble burst in 2000. Worth paying attention to.

Changes in a couple of key sectors could trigger a cascade of tipping points which set us on a positive track to decarbonize, and further mitigate climate change. There are more positive feedback loops in the cycle of decarbonization. Increasing growth helps manufacturers learn and travel further down Wright’s Law, decreasing costs. Falling costs, make more segments of the market attractive, and on it goes.

Short morsels to appear smart during the next Gamestop trading surge

💻 Simplicity in action: a short piece of code that transforms how meetings are scheduled has catapulted Calendly into a $3bn startup.

📱 The App Store’s incredible decade in a chart. The power of building a platform rather than the hits business model.

⭐️ Slow, then fast: Starship, the Estonian robot delivery shop, has completed its one-millionth delivery.

😎 Is politics a struggle over the distribution of enjoyment? Ask a Hegel scholar.

🛸 The physics of harvesting energy from a black hole.

🐘 There’s no easy way to say this: You probably have more body fat than an elephant. In other elephant stories, the value of an elephant’s ecological services is roughly $1.75m a year.

🇺🇸 There is a battle unfolding for the hearts and minds of Trump supporters. It’s being fought with memes by far-right extremists.

💩 File under mysteries of the animal kingdom: Why do wombats have square poop?

Nathan Myhrvold has taken the highest resolution photos of snowflakes ever.



Before I forget, we kicked off the podcast after a (short) winter break.

It is quite a conversation with Regina Dugan, the CEO of a new health innovator, WellcomeLEAP. Regina was previously the director of the DARPA, the most successful research agency in history, behind such breakthroughs as the Internet and GPS. It was under Regina’s watch that, back in 2013, Darpa provided a $25m grant to a small biotech firm called Moderna. The goal? To explore how an under-researched technology called mRNA could be used to rapidly develop medicines to combat novel, emerging pathogens. You’ll want to listen to this.

Enjoy the conversation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or other platforms.



What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Gianni Giacomelli published the Augmented Collective Intelligence guidebook.

Tanya Filer launched StateUp 21, an analysis of the GovTech sector.

Jay Lemery published a piece on merging lessons from Covid-19 and climate emergency.

Rick Carabba started a newsletter called BrainBank.

Tony Pan published an article about hydrogen cleantech at the World Economic Forum.

Matyas Kovacs and Felix Rundel are launching a purpose-driven agency to help science- and innovation-driven organisations accomplish their mission. Good luck!

Email joseph@exponentialview.co to share your latest updates and projects.


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