🔮 Climate tech; consciousness in the metaverse; greenwashing; fast fashion & astrology ++ #353

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.

🎙This week on the podcast
This week, I discuss the power of quantum computing with Chad Rigetti, the founder and CEO of California-based Rigetti Computing. Rigetti’s team designs and builds quantum computers and processors, and they’re known as pioneers in full-stack quantum computing.

In our conversation, Chad and I cover:

  • 💻 Why Rigetti builds its own chips (and the advantages of that approach) [20.29]
  • 🧬 How quantum machines could crack physics’ deepest mysteries [31.29]
  • 🇺🇳 The geopolitical race for quantum supremacy [34.20]

🎧 You can listen to our conversation here or 📝 read a full transcript. Members of Exponential View can read a summary of our discussion.

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

AI adoption wasn’t hamstrung by the pandemic. New research shows continuing uptake: our latest survey revealed a majority of respondents (56 percent) report AI adoption in at least one function. Explore “The state of AI in 2021,” which dives deep on the technology’s spread and impact, plus the differentiators of AI outperformance, and ways to manage AI risks.

Dept of near future

Climate tech’s future is now

🌱 Big news in the world of climate technology. The proportion of venture capital dollars going into climate tech has risen from around 6% to ~14% over the past year. I explored this remarkable growth in a new report for PwC released this week. Year-on-year growth in climate tech investment is 210%, with more than $60bn invested in startups in H1 2021 alone.

In my 2020 predictions two years ago, I forecast the massive growth of entrepreneurs going into climate tech. Back then, I wrote

“founders I meet are bringing the same entrepreneurial skillset that brought us Facebook, Google, and Amazon to the climate change problem, including those hard-to-decarbonize sectors (like steel or chemicals).”

The PwC data reveals just how fast this has taken shape but there is still work to be done. The number of early VC, seed and Series A deals is mostly stagnant. This will need to change to enable the next wave of startups to become climate tech unicorns and “gigacorns”. The scale of the climate challenge means we need more funding across the board, but some areas are more underfunded than others. Of the solutions PwC analysed, the five most impactful (80% of analysed future mitigation potential) got just 25% of the investment.

The coincidence of great technical talent, entrepreneurial minds and increasing amounts of smart capital is good news. But as I write in my book, the technologies are helpful, likely necessary, but not sufficient:

“Exponential technologies can help us tackle human crises like climate change. But the technology alone is not enough. Without the right governance, they may still lead us down the road of overconsumption and environmental catastrophe.”

The metaverse and human possibility

🧠 David Chalmers is the right person to explore this unusual moment in virtual reality. The professor of philosophy at New York University and leading thinker on consciousness is out with a new book about virtual reality that should put some of our fears about the metaverse at ease. Chalmers argues that “[w]e can get into deep social and political discussions and decisions about the shape of society in a virtual world.

What strikes me about Chalmers’ overall argument is the sense of the certainty of virtual reality and a metaverse. Sure, the current technology is primitive, but where might we go in 50 years?  The capital and financial incentives for these developments are certainly there. Jack Soslow pointed out on Twitter that Oculus sold more headsets in 2021 than Microsoft sold Xbox. Just look at the growth in the chart above. The metaverse may become a reality whether we like it or not. [See also: How does Coinbase think about the metaverse? Boeing is already planning on building its next aeroplane in the metaverse. Intel evaluates how much processing power is needed – a 1000-fold increase in computing efficiency – for truly immersive experiences.]

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