🔮 Better living through chemistry; openness; DAOs; the future of food & whales ++ #343

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.

✨ Network effects are at the heart of what I call the unlimited company in my book Exponential. Even though network effects have driven as much as 70% of value creation in tech since 1994, founders still find themselves in the dark when it comes to leveraging their power. To uncover how network effects shape businesses, I invited the expert, James Currier, Partner at NFX, an investment firm, to join me on the podcast. You can listen to our conversation here or wherever you get your podcasts. You can read the transcript here, or a quick summary here.

James and I cover...

  • 💰 How the token economy embeds network effects [27m 20s]
  • 🔄 What Facebook would look like if it was run by Reed Hastings [43m 12s]
  • 👨‍⚖️ Why traditional hierarchies won’t regulate networks effectively [47m 45s]

Dept of near future

The frontiers of mental health

✨🍄 Seattle became the latest American city to decriminalise the use and cultivation of psychedelics this week. At the same time, federal funding is finally opening up for some scientific studies on how these substances can transform treatment for depression and addiction. Pscychedelics were more widely studied before the UN consensus put them on “Schedule 1”, the most serious narcotic category, in 1967. (For a good historical overview on such studies, I recommend this paper.)

The medical establishment seems to increasingly agree with the decriminilisation of psychedelics. Clinical trials involving psilocybin, MDMA and LSD are growing. (There are also trials involving ketamine that aren’t in the chart below.)

David Nutt, at London’s Imperial College, has long led research into psychedelics as therapeutics. In May this year, he argued strongly in favour of psychedelics in this must-read Q&A:

I think psychedelics are going to be a revolution in psychiatry. Our recent trial showed that psilocybin is a completely viable alternative to current antidepressant medication, for example. It works faster, it works better on most measures, and it has a very different and slightly better side-effect profile.

Unsurprisingly, VC funding for psychedelic startups is starting to take off. A number of EV readers are involved in such funds.

There is a flood of new capital flowing into so-called psychedelic startups. Via Dealroom

For all the news and hype around shrooms & their cousins, it’s hard to find a clear account of what a therapeutic experience is all about. EV Senior Editor Joseph Dana has been on a months-long personal quest exploring the therapeutic side of psychedelics. Last month, he embarked on his first psilocybin journey. When I cheerily greeted him the next day with “did you have a nice trip?”, I found a transformed man.

He has written a readable and deeply personal account of what he experienced (he also wrote an earlier piece exploring how hard it is to find a guide for one of these journeys even as they grow in popularity.)  

He writes eloquently about the healing psilocybin helped him tap into, even as someone not struggling with depression or addiction. Western society is at a critical junction in how we understand mental health. With the war on psychedelics coming to a close, we need to have fresh conversations about how these substances can help us unlock a new understanding of how our minds work. I think Joseph’s experience is a sign of more to come (the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air agrees).

Transparency in the exponential age

🚀 One of the great promises of the early internet was free and easily accessible information. The early pioneers were often militant in their approach to the open exchange of information. As the internet became more commercialized, these early values were replaced by something much darker.

Last month was the tenth anniversary of Sci-Hub, the online library providing open access to millions of research papers otherwise locked behind insurmountable paywalls. The site has been an indispensable resource for millions worldwide, and now it's under threat. It’s worth spending some time with this fantastic article outlining the challenges facing Sci-Hub.

Transparency and open sharing of information is a subject I tackle in great detail in my book. The issue was also on full display during this rough week of Facebook news. The flows of our information across Facebook resemble, from some perspectives, the flows of the public sphere. Yes, they are held within the opaque walls of Facebook.

The systems that determine how content flows across digital networks – what gets censored, what gets boosted by the algorithm – must be easier to scrutinise. Today’s complex platforms are opaque: their inner workings are hidden, and their decisions are primarily cloaked in corporate pabulum. Greater transparency would allow us to observe how decisions by tech elites are made and identify what effect they have on the society.

As we accelerate deeper into the Exponential Age, transparency and openness will be much more critical than during the Industrial Era. It is not simply about understanding how the systems that govern us operate. It is also about how we are able to share the benefits of knowledge. Perhaps openness actually has fantastic economic benefits too. (See also, my older essay on the history of knowledge technologies.)

Economist Carl Frey piqued my interest with this graph.

from The Battle over Patents (OUP, 2021)

His comment: “US productivity growth peaked at the height of compulsory patent licensing in antitrust. Coincidence?”

The tao of DAO

Long-ish historicisation of decentralized autonomous organisations by Kei Kreutler. (h/t Michael Keating.) Writes Keutler:

DAOs can move towards a syncretic theory of organizations, meaning a theory which incorporates a wide range of cultural patterns, practices, and influences while recognizing its inherited political biases.... Making the internet a place not only for transactions but for relationships and thought itself... relies on the depth of these narratives.

🔋Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 413.64 ppm | 3,196 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold

The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of October 6, 2021): 413.64 ppm; October 2020: 411.38 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm.

🌲Microsoft is making incredible progress on carbon removal projects. Earlier this year, the company said that it had paid for the removal of 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through projects to expand forests in Peru, Nicaragua, and the United States, along with initiatives to regenerate soil across US farms. This should give us hope that major corporations have the ability to cause meaningful change through smart carbon removal initiatives. The payments process, Stripe, has been leading this sector for years and now it’s clear their pioneering efforts are starting to have a knock-on effect.

🚙 McKinsey put together a useful report on the future of the automotive industry and why it’s going electric. They find opportunities to transform the industry to electric happening in three primary areas: regulation, consumer behaviour, and technology. The bottom line is that the mass adoption of electric cars is taking shape, resulting in large-scale decarbonizing of the transport sector. However, the changes taking place at unprecedented speed are localized in the automotive industry as opposed to the realm of regulation. More incentives and new approaches to the existing legislation are needed.

🌞 How many solar panels would it take to power the world?

Short morsels to appear smart while microdosing

🌱 Nestle is getting into plant-based meats. The company’s CEO told the FT that “over time, there will be an opportunity to essentially offer a plant-based version of every animal protein around.”

🇺🇸 The US has formally asked TSMC to disclose sensitive information about its supply chain. It’s unclear how the chip giant will respond. The firm just posted a 20% increase in sales, buoyed by iPhone and auto demand. The weight for new chips now exceeds 20 weeks. (Although EV reader Igor Carron is in a 53 week queue to get his chips from Xilinx.)

🇷🇺 With Apple and Google’s help, Russia is building its own (heavily controlled) internet.

💉 Landmark event! WHO approved the first Malaria vaccine that could save millions.

👨‍🎤 Do we care that pop music is dead?

🇮🇪 Big tax news as Ireland joins global pact on corporate tax. What will happen to all those technology companies taking advantage of the tax loopholes in the country?

🔦 A great breakdown from Cloudflare of Facebook’s outage this week.

👀 Physical athletes have better visual skills than their esports counterparts.

🇨🇳 For all of China’s efforts to stop export coal, the country is ramping up coal imports from Africa and Central Asia.

🐋 How much is a whale worth?

💰 A ‘fantasy equity’ NFT wants you to spend real money buying fake shares of actual startups.

🇹🇷 Brilliant. A missing man in Turkey accidentally joins his search party before realising he was the person they were looking for.

📚 Iconic and lasting book covers that have been immortalised in history.

End note

I have a busy conference rotation coming up mostly to discuss my book. (You have ordered it, haven’t you? 🥰) I thought I would share where I will be. Many of these events are also streamed.

Before I wish you a good week ahead, I just wanted to share a snapshot of what members of our Exponential Do community are up to. This is an invite-only community that we started building last year; members are nurturing it into a trusted, vibrant and open space for conversations across the range. This is what we’ll be tackling this month...

A snapshot from a members' email we send out to the community

If you wish to apply to join, become an annual member of Exponential View and fill out this form. We do have a long waiting list, and are onboarding in batches, so you’ll have to be patient with us.


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Ussal Sahbaz wrote a feature on my new book in his weekly column at Turkey’s leading financial paper Dunya.

Arif Khan and his team at Alethea launched an “intelligent metaverse”.

Hannah Tucker’s new paper on the systems view on sustainability is out.

Maartje Bus' crypto newsletter is now available on Telegram, as well as email.

Rodolfo Rosini and Conception X are hosting their Cohort 4 Demo Day for deep tech on 3 November at 2pm GMT. Register here.

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.)

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