🔮 Processors; hypersonics; creators; wage stagnation; nanotargeting & small nuclear reactors ++ #345

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 new book Exponential offers a clear-eyed perspective on the shift we're going through right now.

The car defined the 20th century, but our idea of it is going to change radically over the next decades. On the latest episode of my podcast, I invited Ford's Hau Thai-Tang to share how this incumbent is adjusting to the paradigm shift we observe in mobility.

On the podcast

The car defined the 20th century, but our idea of it is going to change radically over the next decades. On the latest episode of my podcast, I invited Ford's Hau Thai-Tang to share how this incumbent is adjusting to the paradigm shift in mobility.

Hau and I discuss:

  • 🎭 Steering cultural change at a 100-year-old company [13.48]
  • 🛴 How ‘multimodal mobility’ could be the future of getting from A to B [37.04]
  • 🕺 Grease, Mustangs, and the future of petrolheads [47.54]

Listen here or via Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Spotify

This edition is supported by our knowledge partner, McKinsey & Company.

AI at scale. It would be folly if companies built each part of their products from scratch with every order. But this is how many organizations approach the way they develop and manage AI today. Want to do better and scale AI like a tech native? Try shifting from bespoke builds to an industrialized AI factory. MLOps can help, but the CEO must facilitate it. Here's what works.

Dept of near future

The future of chips

Apple’s new product launches this week demonstrated its incredible capabilities as a semiconductor player. One new laptop featured a remarkable 57,000,000 transistors (the transistor is the elementary component of digital computers.) By comparison, the ZX-81, a popular personal computer from 1981, sported 8,000 transistors.

Transistor count is just the biggest number of a remarkable new piece of hardware. As Steven Levy argues: “the only restraint Apple’s chipmakers concede to is the physical boundary of what’s possible.”

Apple’s deep integration made a difference. “With these MacBook Pros, we started all the way at the beginning—the chip was being designed right when the system was being thought through.” This integration is an advantage competitors will struggle to meet. [More technical details of the chip here.]

Elsewhere: New optical switches based on Bose-Einstein condensates may be 1,000 times faster than today’s transistors, heralding quicker classical computers.

The creator economy keeps growing

🕺 Last week, I explored recent data from Twitch demonstrating the deep inequalities of the creator economy. Stripe released detailed data on the remarkable size and growth of the creator economy that bolsters the argument. Creators will soon pass more than $10bn in aggregate earnings, Stripe found. What’s even more impressive are the number of creators still joining platforms. The number of creators is up 48% year over year: nearly 668,000 creators worldwide.

This remarkable data underscores the point I made last week. The creator economy is booming but unable to steady itself in a way that enables a genuine middle class of creators to emerge. With the vast majority of creators earning little to nothing, the sector won’t be able to continue this remarkable growth forever. Something has to give. [See also: mapping the opportunities for startups in the creator economy.]


🚀 China took the world by surprise with the launch of a hypersonic missile with a nuclear-capable glide vehicle. The test flight, which failed to hit its target, seemingly ushered in a new era of hypersonics. From a military perspective, China’s new missiles have the potential to evade traditional missile defence systems. Since these missiles travel in low space orbit, their exact trajectories are difficult to trace. That’s one reason American officials were so alarmed by the test missiles.

However, these missiles might not be the breakthrough many are fearing. In Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis argues that these weapons are just part of the ongoing nuclear arms race. While the word hypersonic grabbed all the headlines, Lewis focused on the weapon the Chinese tested. It’s called a FOBS, which stands for fractional orbital bombardment system, and it’s not particularly new. The Soviet Union deployed the SS-9 Scarp, a FOBS-capable ICBM, from 1972 until the missiles were decommissioned in 1983 under SALT II. Lewis notes that “China’s test of such a system is unwelcome news, not because it’s some fantastic futuristic technology but because it is yet another step in a pointless, costly, and a dangerous arms race.”  [See also: Liz Stein on why there is so much progress in the field of hypersonics right now.]

Can automation stop slow wage growth?

👷‍♀️ The combination of increased automation and innovative fiscal policy initiatives such as universal basic income could break the current cycle of low wage growth in many advanced economies. This is the bold idea put forward by Seth Benzell and Victor Yifan Ye in an exciting new paper looking at ways to stimulate the future of global automation. Concerns that automation would harm labour markets and create negative pressure on wage growth have seemingly gone by the wayside since the Covid-19 pandemic. With people working from home, and the efficiency of the global supply chain under scrutiny, our feelings about the role of technology in the economy is changing.

The result has been less apprehension about how technology can transform the future of work. This isn’t to say that automation is the cure for depressed labour markets. Instead, the authors make a solid claim for revisiting how automation can improve the plight of millions of workers in conjugation with smart policy initiatives. I think they are right. In my book I argue that firms that invest in automation tend to outperform those which do not. However, such investments alone do not guarantee quality of work: that is where policy matters.

🔋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.

🌞 Kingsmill Bond, an energy strategist at Carbon Tracker, offers an expansive and upbeat prognosis about how quickly a 100 per cent clean-energy system could take shape. One of my favourite quotes is where he tackles why the past 20 years of renewables forecasts have proven so ineffably pessimistic:

One reason why incumbent models have been so reluctant to incorporate these learning curves is that so many of them are, in fact, made by fossil fuel incumbents. There’s no incentive if you’re working for Exxon or Shell for you to say that battery costs might fall a little bit faster than we think, and EV growth might be a lot faster than we think, and therefore maybe I might not have a job.

☢️ This is powerful. Energy company Radiant is working on a small nuclear reactor that could replace diesel generators.

A crater 70 meters wide created in a drilling accident has been burning gas for more than 40 years in Turkmenistan.

🇨🇳 Turkmenistan is turning into the bad boy of methane gas leakage. (Excellent reportage with quirky photos of this renegade dictatorship.)

🔋 Recycled lithium batteries are as good as new ones, a recent study found.

Short morsels to appear smart while setting up a small nuclear reactor

🐅 The new cub on the block: A deep dive into Tiger Global, one of the most active funds globally in 2021.

💻 TSMC is building a new factory in Japan to focus on older chips facing deeper supply challenges. The manufacturer is still warning of “tight supply” through 2022.

🇯🇵 Japan is ramping up efforts to protect its economic security with a new advanced-tech fund.

🚛 Can anyone find 80,000 truck drivers to fix the global supply chain? ⛴ The $22bn worth of cargo stuck on container ships off of California could certainly use some help.

🧬 Impressive! Scientists have used exome sequencing to explore protein-altering variants and their consequences in nearly 500,000 study participants in the UK.

🎶 Recently, we pointed to a story about the death of pop music. So, what is the future of music? Some handy predictions.

🙉 They are always listening: A user discovers Amazon has 3,534 recordings of her.

👀 Get ready for “nanotargeting” on Facebook.

🇧🇷 Like many in emerging markets, Brazilians are buying a lot of crypto to hedge against internal currency challenges. According to the Brazilian central bank, people have acquired nearly $4bn in cryptocurrency in 2021 alone.

🤖  MIT scientists are showing how fast algorithms are improving. 14% of algorithms sped up “orders of magnitude faster than Moore’s Law”, a further 43% comparable with that relationship.

🦠 Metal-eating bacteria devours a nail in just three days.

🍁 Europeans were in the Americas far earlier than we thought. New evidence suggests they were there in 1021.

End note

Just as we put this to bed, EV podcast executive producer, Fred Casella, shared this fascinating story from the Financial Times with me:

US intelligence officials have launched a campaign to warn American companies about the risks of interacting with China in critical industries, in a push to make it harder for Beijing to obtain technology and data.

I ended up hopping on BBC Newsnight to discuss this very issue a couple of hours later. Happy to open this up as a discussion stream in future weeks!

Have a great week,

What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Rumman Chowdhury’s team published some cracking research on  algorithmic bias on Twitter. The firm’s newsfeed algorithms largely favours right-wing sources. (My former colleague, Ferenc Huszar, was involved in the research.)

Sherif Elsayed-Ali’s Carbon Re announced the completion of their first funding round with a prestigious group of investors. Congrats!

Robbie Stamp speaks about curiosity, meaningful work, and his dear friend and collaborator Douglas Adams on Take My Advice (I'm Not Using It) podcast.

Martin Reeves published “Ecosystems for Ecosystems: How Business Ecosystems Can Enable Collective Action Against Climate Change”

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