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Welcome to Web 3.0 @ Skiff.org/exponential
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.
😍 If you haven’t pre-ordered my first book, Exponential (or The Exponential Age as it is known in the US and Canada), please do so now! Various purchase links are available here.
Dept of the near future
New economic modalities
🔥 Two interesting articulations for the new socioeconomic order caught my eye this week. Writing in Wired, the technologist and novelist JM Legard proposes an interspecies currency (no, he is not talking about Dogecoin). The premise is simple: a digital currency “that could allow several hundred billion dollars to be held by other beings simply on account of being themselves and no other and being alive in the world.” The technology to create this currency exists but the legwork needed for a system to actually function is extensive. For example, a digital identity would need to be provided to individuals (or herds). Legard writes that “refusing nonhuman life the right to hold money is to deny what is possible in the regeneration of nature.” Will an interspecies currency solve that problem? (This is, of course, closely related to the idea of valuing ecosystem services, a topic I discuss on the podcast on Wednesday. For the historically-minded, you can did into this with Robert Contanza’s 2017 review of two decades of thinking about ecosystem services. Constanza is the economist best associated with the idea.)
Another idea towards creating a new normal is put forward by two Berggruen scholars. Nils Gilman and Yakov Feygin write persuasively that a new social contract based on a mutualist model of political economy can address systemic inequality in the United States. Such a model would focus on a “more radical notion of shared ownership of returns on capital via universal individual capital endowments and new public investment channels that control shares in firms and intellectual property.” It’s a good approach and it sounds similar to some of the Scandinavian models already in existence (especially with regards to Norway and how it uses its oil wealth). This is a super interesting idea, similar to a couple I explore in my forthcoming book.
Shortages are the new normal
📊 Growth and recovery aren’t going to amount to much if the global economy is struggling with shortages. It’s a remarkable situation: As wealthier countries have emerged from the pandemic, there aren’t enough goods to buy. The Economist notes that many advanced economies have been structured to focus on inadequate demand (in the wake of the global financial crisis) and now they are faced with shortages of everything from timber to cars and semiconductors.
Stacy Higginbotham thinks this might not be entirely a bad thing in terms of chip shortages. We might be on the verge of a major hardware innovation that solves the shortage issue.
There is even a shortage of freight capacity from China to the West (even before the Ever Given incident) resulting in huge price appreciation in a container. Global freight prices are up 45% since we last spoke about their rise in Charts of the Week #8)
But the larger issue doesn’t stop with goods, there are shortages of labour and people too. US companies like McDonald’s and Amazon are boosting pay to attract workers in an extremely tight labour market (that can’t seem to add jobs).
Chips and AI
🤖 The biggest story in the world of technology remains the global semiconductor shortage. I know we have been covering all aspects of the story but new developments continue to unfold and the decision made today could have a lasting impact. Taiwan’s dominance in the chip business is unrivalled but it looks like South Korea is aiming to double down. The country “unveiled ambitious plans to spend roughly $450 billion to build the world’s biggest chipmaking base over the next decade”. To put this in context, Taiwan’s TSMC alone plans to invest $100bn in the next three years putting it on course for about $400bn -$500bn investment in the next decade.
Part of the reason chips are in such high demand is the race for AI supremacy between the US and China. We have explored the geopolitical dimensions of this new arms race in previous issues.
What if we are looking at the issue from the wrong vantage point? Carl Frey compellingly argues that having a large amount of data, like China does when it comes to surveillance data, doesn’t make you a leader in AI. What’s needed for AI to become a transformative technology, Frey argues, “is radical innovation to improve data efficiency”. As a counterpoint, Thomas Davenport notes that China is winning the arms race (for the moment) because it spends more on research and development at the government level. It’s worth reading the discussion in full.
🔋Dept of decarbonisation
CO2 level 418.41 ppm | 3,293 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold
The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of May 11, 2021): 418.41 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.)
☀️ As we noted in the most recent Charts of the Week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has dramatically revised its forecast for solar and wind energy. The IEA now says that solar energy will offer “the cheapest electricity in history”, which will lead to a “new normal” with exceptional levels of ongoing deployment. This is great news. In a post for Carbon Brief, some researchers at University College London explain why solar and other renewables are on this path. The takeaway is that the cost of these technologies declines as a result of their use. The power is in our hands to transform the energy industry.
⛵️How hard could a sailboat be to construct in a sustainable and carbon-neutral manner? It’s actually quite difficult because many of the safety standards and health codes for ocean-going vessels were created during the golden age of sail. A lot has changed since those heady times. For those who want to go deeper on this topic, Low-tech magazine has all the details and more.
Short morsels to appear smart next time Elon Musk tweets about Bitcoin
🦠 When you take into account the excess death toll over the last year, the Covid-19 death toll is between 7 million and 13 million.
🇯🇵 With WeWork a distant memory, Softbank just landed the biggest profit in the history of a Japanese company, just shy of $46bn for the year.
📱 Will Apple’s new ad network just be “an obvious commercial land grab dressed up as a moral crusade, and it will ultimately subvert the open web and the freemium business model?”
🚙 Volkswagen says it can profitably sell a self-driving system for €7 an hour.
📆 Is spending two or three days a week working from home the future of work? Good survey & analysis.
🏢 Make way for the ‘One-Minute City”, a fresh approach to urbanism.
🪐 An eerie hum of interstellar space has been detected by Nasa’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.
✋ A brilliant long read for the weekend on the politics of recognition in the age of social media.
🚀 DARPA wants to utilize nuclear propulsion to improve efficiency and speed in spaceflight and has selected three contractors, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, to start working on it. (See also, my discussion on innovation with DARPA’s former Director, Regina Dugan.)
🌍 Did humans change the African landscape with fire 85,000 years ago?
🚙 Shenanigans: Tesla owner arrested after repeatedly riding in the back seat while it was on autopilot.
I’m speaking at the inaugural Responsible AI Forum brought together by Tortoise on 10 June (EV member Alexandra Mousavizadeh leads the production of its brilliant Global AI Index, the first index to benchmark nations on their level of investment, innovation and implementation of artificial intelligence) in partnership with the Rothschild Foundation.
The Forum is a one-day private meeting for 120 global business leaders and policymakers in the world of AI, including the CEO of Softbank Masayoshi Son and Deepmind’s Demis Hassabis. Together, we’ll set out an agenda for the development, deployment and communication of AI as a responsible technology for society and government. The participants are all members of Tortoise’s invitation-only AI Network community, a group of AI leaders that meets monthly to discuss emerging trends in the AI landscape. EV members are invited to join us, see more information here. Hope to see you there!
P.S. We are hiring for a part-time marketing role - UK-based only - to support us over the next few months. Please check it out here.
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Danielle Mattoon just launched the first text project of a new nonprofit research institute, Aventine, looking at artificial intelligence and the process of adoption.
For nearly a year, Kevin Werbach has been leading a collaboration between Wharton and the World Economic Forum around decentralized finance. Their first report, DeFi Beyond the Hype, was just released.
Mark Cliffe has a new piece making the case for a radical greening of the tax system using progressive consumption taxes to shift demand and innovation towards lower energy and resource usage.
Jay Lemery has a new piece about utilizing digital education to better realize the promise of Biden's Civilian Climate Corps.
Tom Raftery’s Climate 21 podcast this week welcomes renowned scientist (Prof) Sir David King. Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government.
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.