🔮 The next pandemics; owning stuff; system fight; dolphin soldiers ++ #370

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.

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🎙This week on the podcast...

I speak with investor Amy Wu, whose $2bn crypto fund FTX Ventures invests in a wide variety of Web3 projects. We talk about crypto on-ramps, the development of Web3 infrastructure, and how crypto is becoming an ubiquitous part of our digital existence.

Listen to the full conversation here.

The near future

🦠 Enter the pandemicene
Zoonotic diseases may be our future as climate change alters animal virus networks, suggests Ed Yong. There are more than 40,000 viruses in mammals, a quarter of which could happily leap across into humans. As climate change takes hold of ecosystems, it will increasingly push species closer together, accelerating the change of zoonotic crossover. Welcome to the pandemicene.

📦 We the people own stuff
A decent, if slightly boosterish, survey of the “ownership economy” looks at the potential of a user-owned internet built from a collection of blockchain technologies. Two pieces of analysis: Firstly, ownership incentives may kick-start a project, but don’t guarantee product-market fit. The pain points of the user must still be cured to retain their long-term attention. Second, that new token incentives can increase user loyalty. (My take: These services need to achieve product-market fit without the payola of participate-to-earn. Otherwise the bigger fool principle will bite back.)

Sunday commentary: Navigating the sea of uncertainty

The Russian invasion of Ukraine sheds some important light on the debate about whether the hierarchical, command-control approach to innovation, economy and society can outperform the Western approach. That answer will avail itself to us over the coming decades. But I’ve been thinking about it a great deal since Feb 24th, and I’ve been meaning to share my thoughts.

The prompt was how Russia has responded to its own invasion of Ukraine. The command-and-control society, led by a master strategist, has not performed well. The vaunted army (whose loftiness I discussed) has fallen short using traditional systems. Further, men and material are lacking in number, substance and quality. Russia’s technological and economic sovereignty was a mirage. (See previous EVs on this.)

It is not merely a game of hierarchies vs. network. I think it is about individual freedoms and the power of spontaneous order, as Friedrich Hayek might put it. Or monocephaly vs. multicephaly as Nassim Taleb writes this week:

This war not only pits Ukraine and Russia against it, it is a confrontation between two systems, one modern, decentralized and multicephalous, the other archaic, centralized and autocephalous.

True in the West, true in the East?

Ukraine vs. Russia is many battles: of identity, sovereignty, humanity. But it is also a battle between two different systems. And in conflagration, the decentralised system (that of Ukraine) is winning. So it’s a helpful lens to consider where else that contrast emerges. Most prominently of how the  Chinese, largely centralised system, sits in relief to the Western model.

The story has been clear. China can deliver complex projects. Its fourteenth five-year plan is its fourteenth: fourteen iterations is long enough to learn what works and what doesn’t. Thus China has delivered high-speed rail, 5G networks and AI-managed cities.

While those projects seem very good at scaling, it is not clear that they are necessarily good at innovation. Or another way to put it: command-and-control might be good at exploiting (that is repeating a known winning pattern) but less good at exploring (that is figuring out what needs to be done). This framing of explore-vs-exploit is the lens that I want to use.

The economies of the Exponential Age are at a period where the balance has shifted towards exploration rather than exploitation.

This is an excerpt. I’ve sent the rest of today’s Commentary in a separate email. Check your inbox 😎

Dept of our climate future

In every Sunday edition, we track key metrics that tell us a little about our shared climate future. Our member, Marshall Kirkpatrick, takes the time to curate a view of our current climate status in this segment every week, and you can read Marshall’s curation below. “As our friends in India and Pakistan suffer greatly in a historic heatwave this week, there’s no shortage of bad news around the world regarding setbacks and delays in climate change mitigation. In addition to dealing with those challenges, it’s essential that we continue to breathe energy into what we want to affirm. Here are some of our favourite good news stories this week. May they inspire more positive momentum in our collective efforts.”

A virtuous greenspace cycle: A new study at Boston University School of Public Health finds that increasing greenspace in residential areas could help improve cognitive function, including information processing speed and attention. The study used satellite imagery of neighbourhoods, adjusted for age, race, and individual, as well as socioeconomic status.  Focused on women, the study found greenspace positively impacted rates of depression, as well as psychomotor speed and attention. On the list of things that could help minimise ecological destruction around the world, improved cognitive power for women sounds like an awesome thing for humanity and plants to bring to the table together.

UK renewables advancing: The UK, the world’s 5th largest economy by GDP, had 78% of its energy requirements filled by low carbon energy last Saturday, while only 15% was provided by fossil fuels. That’s according to the UK’s National Grid ESO, which tweets out its energy mix each day. The UK also announced plans to revise the current requirement that each offshore wind facility must have a corresponding onshore facility, a reportedly antiquated approach that will be replaced with new rules allowing interconnected wind farm clusters at sea. Journalist James Murray said the change “could have a huge impact on offshore wind development in the UK. Lower costs, greater efficiency, reduced environmental impacts should all result.”

Solar power at night: Stanford researchers have created a way to capture the heat energy that radiates off of solar panels as they cool at night. While the energy captured at night is just a tiny fraction of what the solar panels produce in daylight, it’s usable energy none the less. The researchers have said that “the coldness of outer space is also an extremely important renewable energy resource.” In addition to great ingenuity, such energy arbitrage with outer space brings to mind what futurist Mark Anderson discussed in a recent conversation with David Brin: space isn’t empty, it has properties. “There is substance everywhere and occasionally it erupts into a persistent particle.”

Short morsels to appear smart while avoiding Zoom

💾 India is making moves towards semiconductor sovereignty. (Although, this is likely to be for low-value chips rather than the juicy stuff modern apps need.)

🗺️ AirBnB announces its work-from-anywhere programme.

🔬Kind of helpful: the new bio stack.

🍎Apple’s amazing quarter.

👁️‍🗨️How OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 works.

🙅‍♀️Ogilvy won’t work with influencers who edit their looks.

😲 Zooming decreases your creative thinking. Oh-oh!

🐬Russian navy dolphins protect the harbour in the occupied Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

End note

We’ve been running a small private community called Exponential Do for EV Premium members for a while. I’m always blown away by the quality of discussion, support and events that this community gets into.

Here is a short snapshot of our events in May. These are the interactions we know about as members are often doing things amongst themselves too.

Membership of Exponential Do is currently free for premium members of Exponential View, although there is a waitlist as we give onboarding proper attention. To join, fill out this brief form. We will be inviting the next cohort in mid-May.

I’d like to invite you to join us for one of the events on this list on May 25, when EV member Ryan Welsh will present Kyndi, the NLP-powered search engine which we implemented for our search earlier this month. Ryan will demo the product, and take us under the hood to show how they use AI to power search and increase the visibility of knowledge and information. RSVP to attend here.  


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Chanuki Seresinhe has started at Zoopla as Head of Data Science. She has also launched beautifulplaces.ai to help organisations use her research and data to create more beauty in the world. Congrats!!!

Claire Curry and her team at BloombergNEF announced their 2022 Pioneers winners, an annual climate tech startup competition.

Mark Schaefer published his ninth book, “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds".

Tom Greenwood and his team at Wholegrain have launched the third version of their free website carbon calculation tool.

Allison Agre and her team at Amogy published a white paper on the potential of ammonia as a fuel to decarbonise transportation.

CEO Tony Pan and his team at Modern Electron have received funding for their project to make green hydrogen out of cow manure.

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.)

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