🔮 Europe rises; the self-employed; natural rights; patriarchy & a planet that shouldn’t exist ++ #352

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.

Blockchain is one of these technologies, of course. I will be dissecting the rise of Web3 in a series of essays for members of Exponential View in the coming weeks. In the first edition in the series, I tackle Web3 as an evolution of technology platforms – one that not only challenges us technically, but brings into question what the future could look like (and how it could be better).

Today's edition has been supported by our knowledge partner, McKinsey & Company.

Supply-chain issues, patchy demand, pressure on the bottom line: these may not be the first “fashion trends” that spring to mind for you, but they’ve certainly made an impression on the industry. While fashion is beginning to find its feet again, the sector has faced an undeniably challenging stretch of disruption. Want more on what’s ahead for the industry? Don’t miss The State of Fashion 2022—download the free report, written in partnership with the Business of Fashion.

Dept of near future

State of Europe

🇪🇺 “The returns from European venture capital investments have exceeded those from similar investments in the US in every time period for the past two decades”, according to Atomico’s annual state of the industry. European venture capital is on track to exceed $120bn in total investment this year. The combined total for 2018, 2019 and 2020 was $106bn.

There is a lot to parse in the report. One indicator of the maturation of the ecosystem and its growing depth is the significant rise of late-stage financings of European firms. This implies that they are needing to move to the US less frequently than in previous years.

Significant growth in large financings in 2021. Source: Atomico/Dealroom

Yet, at the same time, Europe’s share of seed financings was increasing at the cost of the US, suggesting an increasingly healthy pipeline of seed deals.

Atomico’s extensive report on the state of European venture capital also showed that 2,926 institutions participated in at least one European technology deal in 2021. This is up from 2,044 two years ago. It’s a rich report, worth perusing critically over a long coffee.

Not jobs but firms

👩‍💼 The Covid-19 pandemic altered the nature of work and the fluidity of the labour force. Exactly how these changes are taking root remains unclear. That’s because many companies are struggling to hire new workers as more and more employees quit their jobs. Recent job data doesn’t deepen our understanding. Bloomberg reports that “a US survey of households suggested employment is up 0.7%, but a survey of existing establishments reported new hires are only up 0.1%.” What explains the discrepancy?

One possible explanation is the rise of self-employment and independent contractors. New business applications in the US are up over the last two years, which prompted EV reader Fred Wilson to say that we are witnessing not so much a Great Resignation in the workforce but a Great Formation. The challenge is whether our economies are structured to handle this shift. How will the rise of independent contractors affect major manufacturing sectors? New directives from the European Union classifying gig workers as employees (with rights to health care and other benefits) reveals the tension of this shifting moment in the workforce. I cover this tension off in chapter five of my book.

The picture is slightly different in the UK, as is evident in the above graph from the UK Office for National Statistics. New business applications traditionally surge in the first quarter of the year, but as you can see, they trailed off significantly during the end of 2020. The workforce is changing.

🔋Dept of decarbonisation

CO2 level 415.87 ppm | 3,147 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold

The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of December 9, 2021): 415.87 ppm; December 2020: 413.11 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm.

💥 Could fusion energy become part of our energy mix by 2030? Nick Hawker,  founder and CEO of First Light Fusion, thinks so. I had Nick on the podcast this week to discuss how FLF uses an approach it calls “projectile fusion” to generate energy. See my end note for additional commentary.

🌱 Should nature or animals have claims to personhood? The concept of non-human personhood has long been present in indigenous ontologies, and in the Western thought it was debated by the greats of philosophy such as Immanuel Kant and Thomas Hobbes. The debate has been spirited over the decades, but no consensus has been reached yet. Communities and countries around the world are pushing to grant inalienable rights and intrinsic worth to objects like rivers in an effort to protect them. With an existential environment crisis unfolding worldwide, granting nonhuman entities the rights of personhood is one way to upend traditional approaches to environmental protection.

🌳 “It’s easier to plant a tree — and to allow a generative design dashboard to tell you precisely where to plant it — than it is to change our individual and collective consumption habits or to muster the political will to eliminate fossil fuels.” A stunning essay exploring our relationship with trees, and what happens when trees become data points. (h/t via EV member Claudia Chwalisz)

Short morsels to appear smart while rethinking human history

🤦‍♂️ If you have been enjoying Graeber & Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything, Dr Alice Evans’s survey of ten thousand years of patriarchy is a weekend must-read.

Source: Dr Alice Ovens

🍎 There is more than meets the eye to Apple’s relationship with China. A deep dive into Tim Cook’s secret diplomacy inside the People’s Republic.

🦹🏼 Thieves are using AirTags to track and steal luxury cars around the world.

🤖 Inside DeepMind’s language modelling at scale. Go deeper on the power of transformers with this thread from Andrej Karpathy ⬇️

🚙 Elon Musk’s steadfast vision for self-driving cars.

📰 Over 200 local newspapers are (quietly) suing Google and Facebook. (So are the Rohingya. Fascinating.)🕺 See also, a fascinating (and frightening) look into how the TikTok algorithm reads your mind.

Russia is clamping down on the open interest. The country just shut down the Tor browser.

🖼 Did postmodernism ever end?

Scientists just discovered a planet that shouldn’t exist.

🌆 Rethinking the appeal of smart cities in favour of upgrading existing urban infrastructure.


After we posted the fantastic podcast with Nick Hawker on his efforts to build a fusion reactor, Arthur Turrell was in touch. Turrell wrote the excellent book on progress in fusion, The Star Builders. He shared with me an animation that shows the last 60 years of progress. It clearly shows why recent NIF results in inertial confinement fusion matter.

Have a great week!


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Rich Shreves launched a new layer one blockchain protocol built for Web3.

Simone Vannuccini and the AI Research Mobilisation Group of the University of Sussex Business School and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) are organising their second AI Annual Lecture.

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:

Terraformation, a fast-growing startup on a mission to restore forests globally, is looking for a Head of Sales.

Request, statup on a mission to build a completely decentralized and open network for transaction requests, is looking for a Communications and Community Manager.

Klang Games, a Berlin-based game studio whose mission is to create deep and meaningful online experiences that bring people together, is looking for an Engineering Manager.

Analytial Flavor Systems, company providing AI for predictive food and beverage product development, is hiring a Data Scientist.

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