🔮 Social media awakens; the 2021 chip crisis; Chinese renewables; European carbon; the nature of reality; NFT dads & the failed F35 ++ #311

🔮 Social media awakens; the 2021 chip crisis; Chinese renewables; European carbon; the nature of reality; NFT dads & the failed F35 ++ #311

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 week’s Friday discussion with members, we considered innovation in the media ecosystem: new business models, technologies, and user outcomes. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

🎧 In the latest podcast, MIT’s Sinan Aral joined me to explore the possible future of social media in a world where we achieve greater transparency, increased rights, and choices for users. I ❤️ loved this discussion. Listen to us here or wherever you get podcasts. Follow-up with the assortment on social network competitiveness below.

Finally, Ina Fried from Axios and I talk about our attitudes to technology and the coming Exponential Age. Thanks to Steffi Czerny at DLD for inviting us.

Dept of the near future

🌟 Someone has switched a light on in the world of consumer internet, argues The Economist, suggesting that there might even be a challenge to the monopolistic market shares we have been used to. (My take: possibly less market concentration, but the stakes are much higher in 2021 than they were in 2011.)

LinkedIn is building a freelancer marketplace to compete with the likes of Upwork. Twitter has taken a major step closer to a subscription model. Facebook is even addressing the situation in Myanmar (four years late, mind you). Put simply, social networks are innovative again. Fresh competition might be a sign of restlessness over possible regulation. Or it could signal the start of deeper consolidation that will see the leading American networks transform into something close to the “super apps” of the Chinese market. From the standpoint of an operator, the changes are welcome and overdue.

Elsewhere, Janet Yellen has dropped one of the key US objections that had prevented a consistent tax on global firms, including digital ones. While this is helpful in helping to reform tax laws for the exponential age, any formal agreement hammered out in the OECD will still need to pass Congress.

🖥 Dispatch from the 2021 global semiconductor crisis. The cold war continues to heat up. The Biden Administration signed an executive order designed to insulate the US chip manufacturing sector by reviewing domestic supply chains. China is stockpiling chip-making equipment (🔐) to hedge against any US trade sanctions on the horizon. At least one major semi-conductor project, the $18.5bn Wuhan plant has run aground.  (🔐). And Europe is caught in the middle with its slightly quixotic goal of developing its own chip manufacturing sector. The risks are high for each side and, quite frankly, anyone could slip up in the race for chip dominance. (Just for fun, I asked people to compare the 21 Semicon crisis with the 73 Oil crisis. If you like silicon chip jokes, this is the tweet for you.)

💻 Given the specialization of computer processors, computers are no longer a general-purpose technology (GPT), suggest Svenja Spanuth and Neil Thompson. I argued four years ago that specialization would take hold in computer architectures, but I disagree that this marks the end of computing as a GPT: (1) the growing demand for chips of all types will continue to provide volume advantages, even as specialization grows (2) many specialist chips achieve high performance on old, cheaper manufacturing modalities (3) abstraction, the use of software to insulate developers from architectural differences while delivering performance gains, allows for some of the benefits of generalisation.

Elsewhere, this is a fascinating view of what it takes to build an application on OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model.  Quite accessible.

🔋 Dept of decarbonisation: 416.03 ppm | 3,391 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 26, 2021): 416.03 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.

🇨🇳 China’s production and use of coal often overshadows the country’s efforts to move to renewables. Consider this: China’s coal power plants contributed less than 50% of its total power generation mix for the first time last year. Coupled with Beijing’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, the headlines for Chinese future coal use need some perspective. Practical motives dominate: renewables are cheaper & urban pollution is an increasing political problem. (Helpful survey on the political economy of urban pollution in China here.)

🌲 I wrote about the spike in European carbon prices on the emissions trading system market a few weeks ago. The Economist digs into the system where prices have increased an eye-popping 60% since November.  Worth noting that the price is still far below the cost of carbon that most serious analysts reckon on, which might even double where it stands on the nascent European market and far above the Biden adminstration’s recently instituted $50 cost.

📦 The global shipping market’s impact on carbon emissions is roughly 2% of global emissions, which is more than the emissions of Germany. The CEO of Maersk put forward a radically simple idea to transform the sector: Ask consumers to pay a bit more. Why not?

🌊 The Gulf Stream current that controls much of the Atlantic Ocean is slowing down because of global warming. More extreme weather to follow.

Short morsels to appear smart during the next innovation war

💸 Coinbase filed for an IPO this week. The company is a rare profitable unicorn, writes EV member, Maartje Bus. (Nearly an eighth of crypto value is held on Coinbase, the company has become fully decentralized and does not list an HQ on its IPO filing.)

🧠 Musings on the nature of reality by Om Malik: “The un-reality of our present is really a consequence of the exponential multiplication of realities.”

🎨 How a dad from Wisconsin became the face of the NFT art market. See also in the art department: a question for the social media age: are nude selfies art?

🏡 Goldman’s boss thinks work from home is an aberration. We’ll see.

🇬🇧 Joining counterparts in the US, China, and Israel, Britain’s cyber spies have “fully embraced” AI to uncover patterns in data.

💾 Why was SolarWinds so vulnerable to a hack? Extreme cost-cutting to increase profits.

🌍 China’s geopolitical and geoeconomic African footprint is massive partially due to the Belt and Road Initiative. Has it paid off? Not really.

💉 More cheers for scientists. Moderna is already shipping variant-specific Covid-19 vaccines for clinical study.

Apple is changing the “syringe” emoji, eliminating the blood so it can better serve as a vaccination prompt. This is another example of the privatisation of the public space by private corporations: changing the semiotics by private fiat. (It may be a good decision for social welfare, but just noting the power dynamic here.)


🛫 Oh, the F35! Back in EV#48, I wrote that the next-generation fighter jet was “a case study in making software projects too complex and having too many stakeholders”. This week, the US Air Force admitted the F35 has failed.

🚙 Here come the flying cars. (See also, WYAUT below.)

♟ How Chess.com took over game streaming.

📚 The serendipity of a bookstore or library is hard to replicate but people are trying. The ocean of books is a great space to find new works.


I’m experimenting with putting a (🔐) symbol by articles that are behind a paywall that requires payment. Some paywalls, like those of the FT or New York Times, give you a certain amount of free reads. Those URLs will not be flagged with the 🔐 symbol. This won’t be a perfect approach, as publications change policies frequently.

Sometimes if you click on a premium-paywalled article, you might be able to search its headline in Google and find a syndicated version of the story on another site. Other times, highlighters like Outline can help you access them.

I know this isn’t an ideal situation. There is a balance to be struck. But sometimes the insights are important enough that I’ll bring them forward, even if behind a paywalled site. This is particularly the case for some Asian sources, like Nikkei Asian Review, Caixin and SCMP, which I believe help illuminate the EV thesis well from time to time. We’ll continue to experiment.



PS. If your company wants to sponsor Exponential View, let us know here. We’re backed up for a couple of months, so best leave your details today.

What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Reinvent Technology Partners, a SPAC led by Reid Hoffman, is merging with Joby Aviation and pushing flying taxis one step closer to going public.

The 2150 VC fund, of which Christian Hernandez is a founding partner, is launching with a $240m fund to back technologies aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of cities.

Rumman Chowdhury joined Twitter as Director of ML Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability.

Jack Pilkington's team at the Royal Society launched a report on animate materials – human-made materials that mimic the properties of living systems.

To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritize updates from paying members and startups I have invested in. (You can become the former by subscribing, if you have not already, and the latter by getting an intro to me via a trusted contact.)


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