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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.
📖 Technology today diffuses faster than ever before, and it’s only getting faster. I aim to make sense of our life and business in the age of Moore’s Law is my forthcoming book Exponential (or Exponential Age in the US and Canada). All new annual members of Exponential View will receive a copy of my book once it’s out.
🎧 In the latest podcast conversation, I explore how we can build a trustworthy carbon offset market with the founder and CEO of Pachama, Diego Saez Gil. In the first part of the discussion, we cover how the combinatorial forces of the Exponential Age are enabling more effective monitoring and conservation of ecosystems which is essential for carbon credits to work. In the second part of my chat with Diego, we go over what a verifiable and transparent market for carbon credits looks like, and how Pachama uses technology to restore and preserve vital forest ecosystems.
Dept of the near future
🏭 We tend to think about progress in terms of efficiency. Technological innovation decreases costs and makes things generally more efficient. This isn’t a new story, as Jason Crawford outlines in a compelling piece about the Industrial Revolution. Crawford’s primary argument is that technological innovation, which he cites as mechanization in the industrial revolution context, not only decreases costs and improves efficiency but also improves quality. This is a compelling point for the computing revolution we are in now. Technology is improving quality as much as it is decreasing costs. (See also: Did everything go south in 1971?)
💥 The impact of government grants on innovation is considerable as measured in patents, venture capital received, revenues and growth rate. This doesn’t necessarily translate across economies.
Ethereum as a company
📊 What if Ethereum was a company and published a quarterly performance report? EV member James Wang took this premise and ran with it. The numbers are quite impressive. Total transaction fees, also known as network revenue, increased 200x to $1.7 billion in Q1 2021, compared with $8 million in Q1 2020. Total transaction volume on Ethereum increased 20x to $713 billion in Q1 2021, compared with $33 billion in Q1 2020. Daily active addresses, a proxy for daily active users, increased 71% to 607k in Q1 2021, compared with 364k in Q1 2020. These are considerable numbers and they lend some credence to the rising sentiment among younger investors that altcoins hold more promise for the future than Bitcoin. Some investors are even calling Bitcoin “boomercoin”. 🎧 On the future of Bitcoin, listen to my discussion with Meltem Demirors of CoinShares.
Supply chain attacks
🕵️ Back in 2011, RSA Security, one of the world’s top computer-security companies, was hacked. But the exact details of what happened have been shrouded in secrecy until this week. Wired published the full story of how the RSA hack began a new chapter in cyber warfare and so-called supply chain attacks. “After 10 years of rampant state-sponsored hacking and supply chain hijacks, the RSA breach can now be seen as the herald of our current era of digital insecurity—and a lesson about how a determined adversary can undermine the things we trust most.” (See also: if you have a Russian keyboard installed on your computer, your chances of getting hacked go way down. Here’s why.)
Privatisation of the publics
🏢 In Exponential, I take a close look at how technology companies have come to write their rules concerning everything from labour codes to tax regulations. I trace the roots of what is now a dire situation back to Milton Friedman, the Chicago School, and the deregulation of Regan and Thatcher. Binyamin Appelbaum writes that powerful companies are not able to ward off the government. “The show is a sham, a mockery of democracy. Corporations may be people, but they’re not polities. Their executives are not our representatives. The rules they choose to follow are not laws. And legitimacy cannot be borrowed to justify decisions contrary to the public interest.” 🎧 I spoke to Binyamin about this a couple of years ago, the conversation is still highly relevant.
Do we understand China?
🇨🇳 The West has a lot to learn about China. This was on clear display in Donald Trump’s attempts to damage the Chinese economy, which in turn ended up inflicting harm on the US as well. It’s not just that China and the US are deeply entwined but how vast and open for business the Chinese economy really is. At least this is the view of Weijain Shan, the CEO of a private equity firm based in Hong Kong and doing extensive business in China. In a conversation with EV’s friend Adi Ignatius, Shan outlines how easy it is to invest in China and details some of the risks involved with further decoupling in the US-China relationship. There are so many different sides to the China story and that’s part of the problem. Shan says nothing of the mysterious disappearance (and subsequent reappearance) of major Chinese tech figures like Jack Ma or Ant CEO Simon Hu. Our understanding, while advancing, is still woefully subpar when it comes to the intricate workings of the Chinese economy and leading companies. (See also: Beijing’s secret chipmaking champions and the compromises Apple makes to do business in China).
🔋 Dept of decarbonisation
CO2 level 418.93 ppm | 3,290 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold
The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of May 18, 2021): 418.93 ppm; May 2020: 417.06 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 carbon emissions grew at the fastest rate for more than a decade in the first quarter of 2021. Meanwhile in Europe, Germany and Norway are about to open the first direct link between electricity systems that will combine the power of German wind energy and Norwegian hydropower to balance production.
✈️ There are some pretty impressive innovations taking place in the commercial flight space. A Canadian seaplane airline called Harbour Air is set to offer zero-emission, all-electric passenger flights by next year. The company has already run several successful test flights using a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver plane dubbed the eBeaver. It’s a small plane but the direction of travel is encouraging. (See also: Air France-KLM launches first long-haul flight using ecofuels made up of mostly cooking oils.)
Short morsels to appear smart during the next crypto rout
👀 A stunning essay on how the self is not singular but a fluid network of identities.
💻 The end of an era: Internet Explorer will no longer be supported from June of next year.
🤖 Google’s impressive new Quantum AI campus.
🚚 Self-driving trucks saved 10 hours on a route that normally takes 24 hours. Did they do it safely though?
📱 The hottest AI chipmakers on the move this year.
😰 Google’s new dermatology app wasn’t designed for people with darker skin.
⚡️ Splits, supports, and attributions are the pillars of a new Web-based on NFT economics.
💰 Branko Milanovic is one of the singular voices on the health of capitalism today. His new book takes a deep dive into whether capitalism can be fixed.
🛸 If the truth about UFOs is out there, it might soon be revealed.
I’m out camping with my daughter this weekend 🏕️
If you’re doing important work on AI, consider joining Masayoshi Son, Demis Hassabis and myself at the Responsible AI Forum by Tortoise and the Rothschild Foundation on 10 June. This is a one-day private meeting for 120 global business leaders and policymakers in the world of AI. EV members are invited to join, see more information here.
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Massimo Portincaso’s published an in-depth report on investment dynamics of deep tech.
Gianni Giacomelli offers a blueprint for hybrid-remote work.
Charles Yang wrote a policy data brief on how AI can be used to drive scientific progress, with suggestions for how the US federal government can encourage investment in this intersection.
On the Climate 21 podcast, Tom Raftery chatted with Marc Van Caeneghem, Deloitte’s Global Climate and Sustainability Lead to discover how Deloitte is reducing its own emissions, as well as those of its significant client base.
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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