🔮 Cryptocurrency in Africa; coronavirus & climate change; cities; Cistercian monks & engineering the fabric of reality ++ #308

🔮 Cryptocurrency in Africa; coronavirus & climate change; cities; Cistercian monks & engineering the fabric of reality ++ #308

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 my latest podcast discussion, I tackle how we can build a functional quantum computer using light. Jeremy O’Brien, CEO PsiQuantum, joined me to discuss the state of quantum computing, the real-world impact QC will have in our lifetime and barriers to scaling quantum solutions.

Apple car, anyone? In this week’s Friday discussion, members joined me to ruminate on Apple’s potential leap into the auto industry.

Dept of the near future

🌍 Cryptocurrency could help solve the challenges facing African countries crippled by strained regulatory environments, unstable currencies, and the threat of a sharp economic crisis. There’s a quiet race unfolding to take control over Africa’s digital currency market – and China is winning. Chinese digital currencies such as the DCEP, the digital version of the Yuan, have leveraged the country’s dominant geopolitical and technological position on the African continent to its advantage. Close to 50% of the mobile handset market and 70% of the mobile network layers are controlled by Chinese companies. Africa is an important space to watch for clues as to how digital innovations will shake up emerging markets with large unbanked segments. It was Kenya’s M-Pesa that popularised low-cost mobile money, and the value of M-Pesa payments exceeds half of Kenya’s GDP. Extremely high remittance fees, an average of 8.9% of funds transferred in Africa, could be the first victim of this transformation, and that’s good news for millions of people. (As we put this issue to bed, the Central Bank of Nigeria moved aggressively against cryptocurrencies preventing local financial institutions servicing crypto-exchanges.)

🇨🇳 In the department of decoupling. China is moving swiftly to bolster its local chip manufacturing capabilities. Concerned by US sanctions and other geopolitical tensions, Chinese businesses bought almost $32bn of equipment to produce their own chips. That’s a 20% jump from 2019. This is yet another sign of the decoupling taking place between the US and Chinese tech spheres and reflects China’s desire to leapfrog the US as “a technological power and thereby displace it as the world’s dominant economic power”. See also: The Longer Telegram. In 1946, Mr. X (pseudonym for the US diplomat, George Kennan) published an article in Foreign Affairs outlining the Soviet grand strategy. The Longer Telegram, a brilliant (but long) analysis, aims to provide similarly lasting and actionable insights on the Chinese-American relations. (Bill Bishop, the analyst behind Sinocism, and I are hosting a discussion on decoupling on Monday at 5pm UK time, noon Eastern. Please join us. It is on Clubhouse, which means you’ll need to have access to that service.)

📱Meanwhile, China’s internet user population just reached 1bn, which is one-fifth of the global total. The growth of this market is driven by apps like Pinduoduo, whose shares have risen by 261% since January. Kuaishou, a short video application similar to TikTok, is also emblematic of the meteoric rise of the Chinese app ecosystem. On Friday, Kuaishou Technology debuted on the Hong Kong stock exchange with its shares almost tripling on the first trading day.

🌉 Given the turbulence of the last year, major cities have weathered the storm as well as can be expected. Remote work, which represents a clear and present danger to the economic viability of cities as we know them, might be here for a while. Derek Thompson, in a considered piece for The Atlantic, thinks that our cities are in for a bumpy ride going forward. His piece is well argued but I couldn’t help but think we’d heard this story before. After the dot com crash, there were plenty of stories about the shortage of U-hauls in San Francisco. This is part of the life cycle of cities. But we shouldn’t call time on them so hastily.

🇪🇺 Europe is in the midst of a big contest with US tech giants. There are a number of issues at work in this saga but an overlooked one is Europe falling behind in the race to “build a 21-century digital economy”. With China and the US off to the races, Europe needs to focus on steps that will produce a thriving digital economy.

🔋 Dept of decarbonisation: 415.70 ppm | 3,412 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 February 5, 2021): 415.70 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.

🌲 We need to get creative with ways we can curb CO2 emissions. Direct air capture (DAC) technology once had several trade-offs in terms of indirect emissions and other impacts. Climeworks, which raised $76m last year, released a life-cycle assessment of DAC. Their first plants achieve negative carbon emissions when materials and energy impacts are considered, and high efficiencies above 85%. One key factor that needs scaling by an order of magnitude is the production of amines to adsorp, or cling on to, the CO2.

The European carbon price hit a new high on Friday, breaching €37.

🦇 New paper: how climate change is creating more conditions for dangerous coronaviruses. “Accounting for an estimated increase in the order of 100 bat-borne CoVs across the region, climate change may have played a key role in the evolution or transmission of the two SARS CoVs.”

Short morsels to appear smart during your next Clubhouse session

🏠 More details have leaked on Apple’s S̶k̶i̶ ̶G̶o̶g̶g̶l̶e̶s̶ VR headset.  The N301, as it is currently known, will sport 8k resolution for each eye, spatial audio, interchangeable headbands and cost around $3k.

🚙 The rumour mill is spinning out of control about the Apple Car. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo just dropped a load of spec information. See the Friday discussion about this.

👮‍♀️ German police may soon be posting fake, computer-generated pornographic images of children in a bid to crack down on criminals online. This development raises several profound ethical quandaries.

👀 Outlasted Trump, lost to Modi. For all the discussion about TikTok being banned in America, the social media app’s retreat from India has an arguably more lasting impact.

🌎 The things people do with Google Maps. If you tilt the satellite images ever so slightly you can see Earth at a cute angle.

✏️ Stunning in its simplicity and power. Cistercian monks invented a numbering system in the 13th century so that any number from 1 to 9999 could be written using a single symbol (see below).

💥 Decolonisation is a loaded term and some say exists in the conceptual. For design anthropologist Dori Tunstall, decolonization is not at all conceptual but about indigenous experience.

🍄 Thanks to a host of legalisation and decriminalisation propositions across the US, psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are upending psychiatry.

📚 The 10 books that defined the 1990s.

🛸 Fascinating. New details about the US Navy’s so-called UFO patents reveal technology that can ‘engineer the fabric of reality”.

End note

I do occasionally ask readers to share the newsletter with friends who don’t receive it. If you do know people who might enjoy it, I would really appreciate it if you would forward it on. Normally about 1 in 400 of you do this. It would be super-fab if you’d take a moment to share it. Really means a lot to us. 🙏🏽

Cheers,

Azeem


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers


The New European bought by a consortium including EV reader Saul Klein.

Meera Clark published “Facing fear as an emerging investor”.

Climate scientist Kimberly Nicholas has a new monthly newsletter, We Can Fix It, on facing the climate crisis with facts, feelings, and action.

Chris Wigley just launched a national conversation about genomics in the UK. Check out their new podcast.

Abhishek Gupta published The State of AI Ethics report.

Jeremias Adams-Prassl shared two post-doctoral research fellowships at Oxford University focused on employment law and algorithmic management.

Neil Kakkar published a new piece about narratives and stories.

Danial Naqvi started a newsletter called City Riffs.

Daniel Kyne has launched a newsletter called The Full-Stack Researcher to explore the future of the user research industry.

Paul Smith started a new project called 100 Innovations per Hour, which comes as a WhatsApp voice note.

Auke Hoekstra was recently on Tom Raftery’s podcast Climate 21 discussing the rise of renewable energy.

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