🔮 Micromobility; Good tech, bad tech; Creator economy; mRNA breakthroughs & solar panels ++ #344

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. My book, Exponential (or The Exponential Age in the US and Canada) explores the underlying thesis in detail.

Dept of near future

The micromobility era

🚙 Horace Dediu’s insights on micromobility are second to none, which is hardly surprising because he coined the term. Micromobility Industries just published a speech by Dediu on the ten micromobility commandments. Grab a pen and paper because Dediu delivers a tour de force of insights that is well worth half an hour of your time.

One of his key insights, which we’ve covered many times in the wondermissive, is that the market for miles is skewed. The overwhelming number of trips are short, but we prepare our vehicles for the rare worst-case trip. (The 300-mile one-way-trip, family and suitcases jammed into our car.)

Dediu draws a parallel between the PC era and today’s electric vehicle landscape. When mobile devices arrived at a lower price point, they dramatically increased the size of the market. (Compare the yellow dotted line to the grey dotted line of PCs below.) His argument is that micromobility, the array of smaller e-bikes, scooters and yet-to-be-invented buggies, will similarly expand the market.

But perhaps one of the most compelling insights, the gestalt of his argument, is this. Micromobility is not a single technology but a collaborative endeavour across many different groups and parties, including operators, technologists of various types & city governments. It depends on some common foundations components (like batteries and GPS) but ultimately it can develop in context, closer to how people actually choose to live. And with humanity continuing as an urbanising species, cities always win. I read this as portending a different style of innovation to the centralised PC-driven innovation of the 1980s, with different cities having different micromobility ecologies.

[See also: A strong case, with good charts, that light electric vehicles will maximise climate and safety benefits. And there is still compelling evidence that autonomous vehicles aren’t a panacea for all urban challenges in the US. In China, though, five major operators are running hundreds of autonomous taxis, mostly with safety drivers in several different cities.]  

Good tech, bad tech

⚖️ Questions about Amazon privileging its brands over others have been facing the tech giant for years. Aside from Amazon directly copying popular products like All Birds shoes, there is clear new data showing that the company is prioritising its brands in search over others. Using a machine learning technique called a Random Forest Analysis, The Markup has shown that “being an Amazon brand is far more important than having high star ratings or many reviews.” The evidence is staggering.

The question is how will Amazon respond and whether countries could take any antitrust action. Previous attempts to draw attention to how Amazon handles its brands have been generally anecdotal, which enabled the company to respond anecdotally. Now there is hard data, opening a new avenue in the debate about Amazon’s uncontested reach.

In other big tech news, LinkedIn has closed its China operators after seven years trying to operate in the People’s Republic. Many western technology companies have tried and failed to establish a foothold in the Chinese market. What makes LinkedIn different is that its model was considered the gold standard of penetrating China. As Paul Mozur tweeted, LinkedIn partnered “with a savvy VC firm, censor content as lightly as possible, and get access to China. Seven years on, the experiment has proven a failure.” With LinkedIn gone, there are no major US social media networks operating in China. The individual strength of the two internet ecosystems – a western, and a Chinese – appears more robust than ever. Even companies that try to play by the rules of both systems can’t seem to make it.

The creator economy needs a middle class

💪 It’s been an important week for data. For years, I have discussed the corrosive effects of critical sectors of the internet economy. However, finding data to back up what appears to be clear challenges has been difficult. Data made public in a recent leak from Twitch confirms what we have been thinking about the creator economy.

Twitch revenue per user distribution. Source: WSJ

While the elite streamers at the top of the platform can earn handsome seven-figure salaries, the overwhelming majority of streamers earn little to nothing (roughly $120 this year, according to Axios). The data is proof that the creator economy isn’t spreading the wealth adequately or sustainably. Late last year, Li Jin argued in the Harvard Business Review that the creator economy needs a middle class. Rather, successful creators appear to be able to build businesses around them, while economic sustainability remains out of reach for the bulk.

🔋Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 413.64 ppm | 3,189 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.

🌞 How many solar panels would it take to power the world? Last week, we raised this question, and now we have some concrete data hinting at an answer. According to a new paper in Nature Communications, we could meet global electricity demand if we had solar panels on half the world’s roofs. With the cost of rooftop solar panels dropping in price (down 79% since 2010), the feasibility of such a programme isn’t entirely outlandish.

👀 Google launched users with accurate measurements of their gross carbon footprints for its cloud computing customers. It is a sweet looking dashboard.

💪 What support models do we need to build to empower a generation of founders to create transformative climate tech ventures? Dawn Lippert and her non-profit accelerator Elemental Excelerator combine policy smarts with a deep understanding of technology and on-the-ground community knowledge to give early-stage climate tech companies a better chance of success. I spoke to Dawn about this on our latest podcast episode. We go into...

  • What it takes to get the world’s first hybrid-electric commercial flight off the ground [11.41]
  • How a maturing climate tech market could create a founder ‘mafia’ [14.57]
  • Why climate impact investing is about more than reducing greenhouse gases [18.12]

Short morsels to appear smart while debating Foucault

💉A new horizon: The breakthrough mRNA Covid vaccine has kickstarted an entirely new generation of vaccines for a range of diseases. (h/t Eric Topol)

🇫🇷 Who is the true Foucault? Once a champion of the left, the philosophy of Michel Foucault is being taken up by the right.

📈 Cryptos are spiking this week just as the US becomes the world’s largest Bitcoin miner.

🤖 Microsoft is using DeepSpeed and Megatron to train the world’s largest and most powerful generative language model. This technology isn’t cheap, as explained in this marvellous piece.

🎻 An AI has completed Beethoven’s last symphony. A new era or the death of the artist?  

💰 How do they do it? Yale’s endowment just hit $42.3bn, with the highest return since 2000.

🍄 Covid-related pressures on healthcare workers are opening the door to a new era in psychedelic medicine.

📼 Synthetic video is reaching new highs. This arXiv paper outlines a novel approach to scene synthesis that brings it closer to reality. (h/t Rodolfo Rosini)

😱 Google reports a 33% increase in state-sponsored hacking attempts since 2020. The company is now tracking 270 state-sponsored hacker groups from over fifty countries.

🔭 Wow! Hubble finds evidence of persistent water vapour in one hemisphere of Europa.

📱 How many times is Nokia going to make a version of this phone?

🕊 A staggeringly beautiful piece exploring Earth’s history and why birds can fly over Mount Everest.

🦅 Tracking a Falcon as it flies 10,000km from South Africa to Finland in 42 days.


We had a vibrant discussion for members on whether the 2020s would bring in a “roaring” decade or a period of depression and unrest. You can still contribute to it here.

Have a great week!


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

“A convincing case that something extraordinary is taking place in business and society,” says The  Economist of Azeem’s book, Exponential.

Christian Hernandez and 2150 announced the closure of its urban sustainability fund at €270m. Congratulations!

Josh Berson on moving forward together when things fall apart.

Katie Lips is convening a “Future of Health Data” online event on 2nd November exploring consumer trust in the health data space.

Gregor MacDonald took a deep dive into European oil and natural gas usage.

Neha Iyer published “What the heck is AI?” on Medium.

Sabastian Campanario had a conversation with Tyler Cowen for La Nacion newspaper in Buenos Aires.

Louis Rosenberg on swarm intelligence in Big Think.

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