🎃🔮 Meta; Remote work; Amazon’s reach; Climate tech; The brain & words that don’t exist ++ #346

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, explores this transition at length.

🎙On the podcast this week:
Net-zero emissions are essential in fighting the climate crisis, but too little attention is paid to the finer details of how we get there. On the latest episode of my podcast, I spoke to Michele Della Vigna, who runs the Carbonomics research program at Goldman Sachs, to discuss how capital markets, new technology, and government coordination could combine to accelerate the transition to a greener economy.

Michele and I discuss:

⚫ How carbon markets are broken, and why fixing them is crucial [11.05]
🔋 The role of big oil companies in decarbonising the economy [18.06]
🤝 What Michele expects to see at COP26 [42.37]

> Listen on your platform of choice.
> Read the transcript here.
> Read a summary here.

Today's edition of Exponential View is supported by our knowledge partner, McKinsey & Company.

Sustainable success. It’s one thing to have a sustainability program—and another to ensure that it'll deliver on your organization’s strategic aims. Here's why leaders need to think differently about sustainability, plus four ways to guide your organization to better outcomes, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) kicks off.

Dept of near future

The interoperability of the metaverse

🕹️ One thing that jumped out during Facebook’s rebranding as Meta was the issue of interoperability. This is what Mark Zuckerberg had to say about the concept in his Founder’s Letter this week:

The metaverse will not be created by one company. It will be built by creators and developers making new experiences and digital items that are interoperable and unlock a massively larger creative economy than the one constrained by today’s platforms and their policies.

This is a radical departure from Facebook’s core operating model. While it started reasonably open, so much so that individual developers could crawl all Facebook profiles, the firm has increasingly built itself up as a walled garden. How will the company rebrand itself and launch these new projects with such a radically different approach? These details are yet to evolve, perhaps because there is an incompatibility of logic in explaining why Facebook is closed and Meta will be open.

The reality is that it is mere grift. As Sinan Aral told me in a tweet: in early markets everyone wants the space to grow, in mature markets the dominant player wants to cement their dominance by closing it off. And that is what we should expect. Interoperability in Facebook’s metaverse may even be a half measure if the social features are powered by Meta’s proprietary Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook graphs.

With Facebook and its business practices facing intense scrutiny, it would be impossible for Zuckerberg to announce anything other than an open, interoperable future. Whether or not that’s what the company can deliver in the long-term is an entirely different story. Without details on this significant shift, how will the company gain back the trust that it has lost in the last couple of years? An open, interoperable Facebook would be a major improvement, but can we trust that the company will deliver it?

[See also: Facebook’s metaverse does enable a new additional business model for Facebook: devices sales and operating system-like controls, suggests Maya Zehavi The alternative is a decentralised approach built using so-called Web3 technologies, a stack built on crypto, and including DAOs and NFTs,  argues my friend Christel Quek.

Sinan Aral and I discussed interoperability back in February last year. I explain why interoperability is such an important quality we should demand of Exponential Age firms in chapters 4 and 8 of my book.]

The great remote work experiment

🏡 Job postings on Hacker News, the discussion forum for the community built around Y Combinator, the world’s top startup programme, are a bellwether for the employment conditions of the most elite developers in the world. Remote work is up, up, up. And the numbers keep rising. Where this group leads, other knowledge jobs often follow.

Remote work is transforming suburbs too. This is evident in the United States, but the fact that urbanites can move to the ’burbs is transforming social dynamics from South Africa to France. My neighbourhood of West Hampstead was crickets and tumbleweed in the weekdays pre-pandemic, now it is positively thriving mid-week. Richard Florida pulls on another thread in the debate and looks at the question of whether tech workers will follow prominent CEOs such as Elon Musk as they relocate to states such as Texas and Florida.

While tech workers are undoubtedly interested in relocating to less expensive and perhaps less urban environments, Florida argues that there won’t be a massive exodus to Texas anytime soon. The reason for Musk’s relocation has more to do with taxes and looser Covid restrictions than anything else. See also: For the ambitious among us, old towns in Italy are selling homes for as little as $1 to lure new residents. In Austin, demand for houses is so high that 3D printed houses are sprouting up around the city.

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