🔮 The ongoing chip crisis; Fusion energy; Infrastructure love; Green China & misconceptions about creativity ++ #339

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.

📈 At some point between 2013 and 2015, we entered the Exponential Age, a new period of human affairs catalysed by accelerating technology platforms across four broad domains: computing, energy, biology and manufacturing. Combinatorial forces create previously unimaginable applications – and challenges. Here, within the Exponential Gap, is where the greatest opportunity of our time lies.

This is what my new book is all about.

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Dept of near future

The complexity of chips

🛠 The global shortage of microchips remains one of the most significant stories in the world. Despite the intense amount of coverage and debate, I continue to learn more and more about the complexity of manufacturing chips every week. The more I learn about the process, the more intriguing and layered it becomes. To that end, I was blown away by the insights of Dr Willy Shih of Harvard Business School.

When you think about a process that has 700 steps, you need to execute each step with a very high yield. Because if you had 99 per cent yield for the first step and 99 per cent for the second step, you and I would think, “Wow, that’s pretty good, right?” But if you take 99 per cent yield through 700 steps, by the time you’re done, you’ll get nothing at the end which is workable.

This extraordinarily complicated process has given rise to several smaller companies who have emerged as veritable kingmakers during the global shortage. These companies manufacture substrates that connect chips to the circuit boards that keep them in place in computers and other devices. This sector of the manufacturing process used to be a backwater, but now substrate manufacturers can almost name their price. Investigating how elaborate chip manufacturing and supply chains have become reveals just how deep a crisis we face. It’s going to be a long ride until the shortages end and in the short term, prices are going to rise. [See also: Intel is trying to reinvent itself and get back to the forefront of chipmaking.]

Source: The Economist

A love letter to infrastructure

🚡 How often do we think deeply about infrastructure? There might be some reflection about infrastructure in the American context when Congressional representatives try to add strange new laws to major infrastructure spending bills. On an individual level, however, when was the last time you considered just how incredible it is that you can turn your tap on and fresh water rushes out?

In a beautiful love letter to infrastructure, Debbie Chachra explores the collective dimension of infrastructure. Municipal water and sewage systems, she writes, function “as the smallest-scale proof of concept for the value of building out collective systems to provide for our bodily needs—not for nothing is “indoor plumbing” still a metonym for “civilisation”.

The steady and predictable landscape that collective infrastructural systems have created is the technological basis of the modern world. It is the foundation for the incredible levels of global wealth and personal agency that many enjoy, yet few think about these systems from that perspective. Chachra’s argument is a well-designed appeal for a more profound sense of the "collective" in the fight against climate change. But how can we use it to understand the infrastructure of the internet? Do we gain something similar to the power of indoor plumbing through shared access to Twitter? It’s not that clear, but many among us can’t live without Twitter or running water. That should give us some pause.

The road to fusion energy

⚡️It’s been an incredible year for fusion technology. In EV#336, I wrote about the new fusion laser that can spark an explosion from a peppercorn-size fuel capsule and produce a historic amount of energy. The Fusion startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems (where EV member Dan Brunner is the company’s CTO) just reached another milestone. They built a 10-foot-high, 20-tesla magnet.

It’s the most powerful magnet ever created. According to one researcher, the difference in terms of energy consumption is stunning. A typical copper conducting magnet consumes roughly 200 million watts of energy to produce a confining magnetic field. The new magnet uses about 30 watts, a factor of around 10 million decreases in the amount of energy needed to produce a similar field. There are still surprises left on the road to limitless fusion energy, but these developments are incredible in their own right. [See also: research teams working on net energy gain experiments have seen a 1,000-fold improvement in energy release between 2011 and today.]

🔋Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 413.40 ppm | 3,224 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold

The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of September 8, 2021): 413.40 ppm; September 2020: 411.98 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 intention to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy is well established. Wind and solar energy generation have particularly spiked over the past decade [See the below chart].

This compelling data shows that the world’s second-largest economy can make the shift to renewables (as if it was really a question). And it comes at another critical moment: the Biden Administration just announced plans to ramp up solar energy production dramatically. That plan calls for as much as 40% of the nation’s energy to come from the sun by 2035. They say the best time to plant a tree (or build solar power infrastructure) was 40 years ago, but the second-best time is right now.

🚙 Electric vehicle-to-grid technology can get overshadowed by the general excitement in the EV space. By enabling electric vehicles to put power back into national electricity grids, we can create gigantic virtual power plants that drastically reduces carbon emissions and lowers electricity bills. Ofgem, the UK's independent energy regulator, just proposed a new policy that will expand the availability of vehicle-to-grid technology and underscores the potential of this technology.

Short morsels to appear smart while machines replicate

🤖 Interesting times! We are on the verge of creating machines that can replicate themselves and evolve like living beings.

🦾 Meanwhile, a US judge ruled that only 'natural persons' can be recognised as patent inventors, not AI systems.

🪧 Pushing the conversation forward, several ex-Googlers back by Geoffrey Hinton and Fei-Fei Li just raised $40 million to build natural language AI tools. Listen to my conversation with Fei-Fei from a couple of years back.

🇨🇳 Is Chinese President Xi Jinping cracking down on tech to impose conformity across Chinese society?

🚙 Quietly, Apple has chosen to develop its car all by itself.

💥 Remember all the talk about the future of car subscription services? Volvo is pushing ahead with excellent results.

🎮 Gaming is transforming our minds to such an extent that humanity will be dealing with the changes for some time to come.

Myths about creativity and process continue to shape societal misconceptions.

🪦 Altos Labs is the latest startup to tackle the age-old desire of living forever, and it has some deep pockets.

🇸🇬 Singapore is making strides with urban farming. It promises the city-state some measure of food security.

🐋 The beautiful differences in the humpback whale song from the northern and southern hemispheres.

🕺TikTok has overtaken YouTube in viewing time per user.

📱 The strange tale of the Freedom Phone, a low-cost handset targeting conservatives in the US.


Thanks for the support for launch the book.  

It is wonderful seeing so many photos of you reading and enjoying something I’ve worked on for a couple of years (maybe more). So far, this one is my favourite. Please continue to share with the hashtag #exponential.  

For American readers, Hurricane Ida has messed with logistics. I’m confident the backlog will be cleared soon.



P.S. Also, don’t forget to participate in the fantastic prize we are running to celebrate the book launch. (Signed copy of the book, limited edition tee, 1-1 briefing.) Just retweet this to enter. 😍🤪

What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Last week, we highlighted that Pascal Tremblay launched the beginning of a support ecosystem for psychedelic experiences. However, we included the wrong link. Please visit this link for free access to the next class on September 15.

Anil Seth has a book out: Being You: A New Science of Consciousness.

Meera Clark published “Identity-Aligned Interventions” about inclusive health care for World Positive.

Claudia Chwalisz is speaking about resilience and renewal at the Athens Democracy Forum.

Rafael Kaufmann published, “The purpose economy is arriving sooner than you think”.

To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritise 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.)

Exponential Jobs - Featured roles for our community

Every week, we curate jobs for our community, by our community. Our members are hiring in climate tech, blockchain, space tech, healthcare, future of work, among other areas. Here are the highlights:

X, the moonshot factory, is hiring a Moonshot Storyteller.

Sustain.Life, sustainability software platform that gives organisations the tools and guidance to reduce carbon emissions, is hiring a Product Design Lead.

Citi Venture, one of the most admired venture building programs in financial services, is looking for a Venture Builder / enterpreneur in residence.

Tomorrow, startup on a mission to organise the world’s electricity data to drive tangible reductions in carbon emissions, is hiring a Head of Sales.

Around, hybrid workspace & collaboration startup, is hiring:

and more.

Messari Hub, community-driven marketplace for crypto research, is looking for a Research Coordinator.

Stripe Climate, dedicated to helping Stripe’s clients lead the way on carbon removal, is hiring a Full-Stack Engineer.

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