🔮 Facebook; The chip problem; Bitcoin as art; Indian social media; Chernobyl & shark navigation ++ #321

🔮 Facebook; The chip problem; Bitcoin as art; Indian social media; Chernobyl & shark navigation  ++ #321

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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. I am also the author of a forthcoming book which you can buy here.

⭐ I also just announced my new book Exponential (or The Exponential Age in the US) in which I tackle the impact of exponential technologies on business, society and politics.

I have a special deal for readers of my newsletter. For each annual subscription,  you will receive a copy of my new book once it’s out in September.

Membership + Book

🇫🇷 In the latest podcast conversation, I explore how the French government is powering its startup engine, with the goal to help create 25 unicorns by 2025. Kat Borlongan is leading this mission — in the week of our podcast going live, she’s celebrating France’s 13th unicorn. Listen to our conversation here.

Dept of the near future

Facebook’s path forward

⚖️ The Facebook oversight board upheld Facebook’s decision to restrict Donald Trump’s account in January. The ruling raises additional questions about how Facebook handles sensitive issues surrounding free speech, the public square, and the arbitration of truth.  Evelyn Douek makes an excellent observation as to where this discussion is heading. “The central problem with Facebook’s decision was not the substance of it,” she writes, “but that it appeared politically and strategically convenient in a moment where platforms all across the internet were taking action against Trump-related accounts. Mark Zuckerberg was the ultimate arbiter of the decision and he could have made it on the basis of little more than a coin toss given the lack of any ‘clear, published procedure’ guiding him.”

The issue of procedure is an important one because Facebook is a company with a truly global reach. Trump’s ban is not simply about divided American politics, it’s about the standards Facebook sets for itself across the world. The fact is that those standards are so uneven and unclear that even power users can’t determine what behaviour is allowed. The Wall Street Journal published an investigation into the Kafkaesque rule structure that gets some users suspended from the platform for infractions they simply don’t understand. One example: Tanya Buxton, who helps women who have had mastectomies with cosmetic procedures, such as areola tattoos.

That Facebook is increasingly turning to artificial intelligence and algorithms to take down content has obvious risks: what trade offs are being made? What is the rate of false positives and false negatives? But, in truth, AI systems will only turn into software the codified rules content moderators use. If they are baffling today, they will only be baffling in the future.

This is a genuinely hard problem. One route forward may be for regulators to insist on more than transparency. Rather, they need to have the power to ask the right questions of Facebook (and other platforms). The questions are not limited to data about takedowns (as shown in the graph above), the more interesting questions are about the process and standards the firms use to trade off harms against revenue, safety against engagement, and so on.

Elsewhere: Twitter has adopted a consultative stance. More than 49,000 respondents answered its survey exploring how the firm should deal with poor behaviour from world leaders.

Just make more?

💻 One of the biggest stories in technology this year is the global chip shortage. We have certainty spent a good deal of time tracking the latest developments. One obvious question is why don’t we just make more chips? The answer is that making chips is extremely difficult and requires ample investment in semiconductor fabrication facilities. It’s harder than rocket science. (Stunning essay.)

Then there are the issues of how the supply chain is structured. You can't simply upend the industry in the middle of a shortage and repatriate production facilities away from Asia. What’s left to be done? Well, the United States is going down the path of pressure. The US commerce secretary is reportedly pressuring TSMC to prioritize American car makers’ requests for chips. It's hard to find a clear strategy for handling the complexity of the crisis coming from those in power in the West that recognises the nuances of chip manufacturing.


Really good presentation by Patrick Rivera on blockchain, NFTs and cryptofundamentals. (via Packy McCormick.)

The vaccine

💉 The United States has finally backed a waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. This is encouraging news but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world will soon be able to make its own vaccines.

Vaccine manufacturing isn’t simply about patent protections. There is ample know-how that is extremely difficult to transfer. After all, top restaurants aren’t easy to replicate even if you have access to the same ingredients and recipes.  (This essay makes the case compellingly. h/t Kate Antrobus.)

🔋Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 419.80 ppm | 3,300 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold

The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of May 4, 2021): 419.80 ppm; April 2020: 418.32 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. (I am going to be updating these calculations in a couple of weeks.)

🏭 Jessika Trancik argues that technology innovation (mostly from the private sector) can help propel government policies to drive down emissions faster.

Trancik, as many readers will know, is a collaborator behind much of the excellent work on Wright’s Law of the past decade. The simple point being that costs come down as we learn. We learn by doing. So we need to do. Government policies can propel the initial doing in different ways, up until the point that prices come down far enough. (I explore this dynamic in my forthcoming book.)

🐄 One of America’s most influential restaurants is going fully vegan.

Short morsels to appear smart during your next vegan brunch.

🚙 An entire lot full of Teslas updating their software at the same time. A glimpse at the future.

🛰 Improvements in satellite technology are enabling better tracking of so-called dark ships.

👨‍✈️ Do we need fighter pilots in the age of AI? (For more, listen back to my discussion with the former fighter pilot and autonomy expert, Prof. Missy Cummings.)

✈️ A Chinese man already built a jetpack using in his workshop.

🇮🇳 Some Indian social media users are avoiding sharing celebratory posts so they don’t seem tone-deaf as the country endures Covid-19.

🇺🇦 It’s been more than 30 years and we still don’t know the true toll of the Chernobyl disaster. See also: Chernobyl’s nuclear reactions are smouldering again like “embers in a barbecue pit”.

⌨️ A study of the fonts on the top 1,000 websites reveals some unusual patterns on the web.

🦈 Great white sharks travel over 12,000 miles from South Africa to Australia every year in a perfect line using the Earth’s magnetic field as a compass.


Yes, yes. We finally announced my book, The Exponential Age in the US and Canada, and Exponential in the rest of the world. If you have enjoyed the newsletter (you are reading these words, you appear to), I’m pretty certain you’ll enjoy the book. It is a  pandisciplinary effort. I drew on economics, sociology, history, evolutionary psychology, disco, political theory, management science and tech amongst other disciplines to pull this together.

The broad thesis is reflected in the sales so far. The book is #1 in International Economics, #2 in Geopolitics, #8 in Education, #1 in Internet & social media & #8 in Artificial Intelligence.

🙏🏽 So if you are going to buy it (please do), today is the day. Early momentum compounds!

We’ve set up a super simple buy link here.


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Reema Patel published “How does structural racism impact on data and AI?” at the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Diana Fox Carney joined the Eurasia Group as a senior advisor. Congratulations!

Kenn Cukier’s new book Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil is out!

Claudia Chwaslisz was on the latest RSA Bridges to the Future podcast speaking to Matthew Taylor and Graham Smith about the future of democracy.

Eliot Peper was interviewed about whether speculative fiction can teach us anything in a world this crazy for TechCrunch.

Pascal Finette has a new podcast called Disrupt Disruption.

Ahead of Massimo Portincaso's new deep tech report launch, he’s sharing his previous two reports for background on the reference framework for deep tech and on the impact of nature co-design.

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.


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