🔮 The future of collaboration; heatwave; infosec; dogs, fake faces++ #371

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

I spoke with Packy McCormick, analyst and creator of the Not Boring newsletter, about the potentials of Web3. We talk about blockchain primitives, the evolution of governance mechanisms, and business models of new Internet platforms.

Listen to the full conversation here, and read highlights here.

Today’s free edition is supported by our partner, Masterworks

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The near future

🧶 Better together?
Carl Frey continues to produce fascinating work about the impact of new technologies on the labour market. His latest effort argues that remote collaboration has resulted in an emphasis on more incremental, rather than foundational ideas.

This is consistent with Erik Brynjolffson’s idea of the productivity J-curve: that it takes time for new technologies to be absorbed by managerial culture, (something also discussed in reference to the typewriter by James Bessen in his excellent Learning by Doing) and could be a useful lens. It may be that we are learning how to collaborate remotely, notwithstanding our discussion last week about Zoom reducing creativity. Some of the greatest technical projects in the world have happened remotely – consider the Ligo, which helped proved the existence of gravitational waves, or Linux: both long-running complex projects built with widely distributed teams. I’m inclined to agree. It is probably the case that tooling will improve, professional practices will develop, and both productivity and ingenuity should recover. This would suggest that the coming decades would see a rich era for invention, as discovery and productivity await us.

🔥 Burning up
The latest data from NASA shows that the planet is heating up at record speeds. Most recently, we’re seeing that it shows a trebling of the energy imbalance just since 2000 alone. Take the subcontinent being battered by dramatic temperatures. The forecast for Dadu in Pakistan over the next ten days is 48-49°C.

A heatwave like this can absolutely challenge a person’s ability to survive without the support of air conditioning. India is suffering too. Three years ago, 264 Magellanic Penguins living in the southern tip of Argentina died when the temperature hit 44ºC in the shade.

It is an ominous portent of things to come. Neither is it so far from fiction, something I discuss in my conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson.

🇨🇳 Unhitched
The Chinese government and its state owned enterprises are going to replace at least 50 million PCs with domestic computers running only local operating systems. The infosec risks for using American systems have been judged to be too high. It is another fascinating move - the unwinding of a flat technology world that was closely standardised by the success of American firms. This should in turn boost domestic Chinese companies.

It will also force American firms to navigate ever more complicated waters. Take Tesla, for instance, where China accounts for 24.8% of the firm’s revenue. These smartphones on wheels operate with Internet connections and have, historically, even been the source of cyber intrusions.

As this era of efficiency, growth and scale (the hallmarks of 1990s globalisation) draws to a close, trade experts reckon that the period of cheap and plenty might possibly be over. If we peer down a longer-term horizon, though, I suspect such a period of inflation might be a blip. There are three key cost drivers: one is the price of raw materials; the second is the energy required for economic processes, and the third is the cognitive oomph needed to put the raw materials and energy together for creating something useful. The price of energy has historically come down – that is why in 2022 we light the underside of our cupboards whilst only 120 years ago, only a handful of homes in Manhattan had any electric lighting at all. We’re moving cognitive tasks into machines where they can benefit from software economics. An increase in the cost of a given commodity makes uneconomic reserves cost-effective enough to spur innovation in alternative methods which don’t need the expensive commodities. That doesn’t mean it won’t be hairy in the meantime.

Elsewhere: fascinating read on China’s demographic conundrum. The nation’s median age is higher than that of the US, and it is greying so fast that more than half the population could be over 50 within 3 decades. Fertility rates are plunging, and the institutions of the CCP and courts are pickpocketing women’s rights to stabilise nuclear families and child rearing. (Demographics will also play a key role in helping to determine the outcome of the post-Washington Consensus shape of trade.)

Paying annual members of Exponential View are invited to apply to join our Exponential Do community, where we offer a thoughtful space for the exchange of ideas, peer-to-peer learning and networking to support each and every member in their exponential journey. Read more about the membership here.

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: “In a week when we learned that powerful reactionary forces seek to return women’s rights not just to the 1970’s, but apparently to the 1760’s, and when the global pirate class that funds them reports record profits (Shell profits up 3x year over year), we could really use some good climate news. Let’s see more like the following.”

100% Renewable Electricity: The state of California, which would be the 5th largest economy in the world if it was its own nation state, fulfilled 99.87% of its electricity demand with renewables for a period last weekend - two thirds from solar. Four years ago, the state passed a law requiring that 100% of retail sales of electricity be sourced from renewables by 2045. Project Drawdown’s Dr. Jonathan Foley offered a tempered perspective on the news, including a reminder that electricity is responsible for only about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Good news from California nonetheless.

Rights of Nature: A third state high court in India has issued a ruling which validates the rights and legal status of the natural world. The Global Rights of Nature movement can be understood as a policy effort to close the gap between the extractivist industry and the world it impacts. This comes at a time when new exponential technologies and worldviews present opportunities for a sustainable relationship between humanity and the rest of the Earth. The court in Tamil Nadu ruled that a state official had committed a crime for leasing part of a protected forest to a private individual, an “act done against nature,” that fell under the court’s “parens patriae jurisdiction,” or the power of the government to act as a guardian for those who cannot care for themselves.

Floating Power: 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, and while it would be a grave mistake to treat that like an empty frontier, floating renewable energy production presents unique opportunities for placement and scale. This week, NJR Clean Energy Ventures started construction on an 8.9-MW floating solar installation in Millburn, New Jersey. It will be the largest floating array in the United States. While floating solar is usually built on reservoirs, what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm was also begun this week, 125 KMs off the east coast of Yorkshire, England in the North Sea. The Dogger Bank Wind Farm will have an installed capacity of 3.6 GW. The huge advantage of solar over wind in terms of lightweight infrastructure requirements was illustrated in the most recent Charts of the Week.

Organic battery breakthrough: Australian and Chinese researchers have published about the development of an organic polymer-based rechargeable battery with double the energy capacity of previous models. This is pointing to a possible future with far less dependence on lithium and cobalt mining.

Short morsels to appear smart while mistaking a bot for a human

🤖 A study found that synthetically generated AI faces were found to be more trustworthy than real humans.

🍽️ I’m a big believer in intermittent fasting. This essay is one of the clearest expositions of the physiological changes that we undergo during extended fasts.

🐕 Science proves all dogs are good. Woof.

👶 Speaking of dogs, there’s an evolutionary reason we react to cuteness.

🧪 Science in Africa: a conversation with virologist Oyewale Tomori.

🖥️ A working quantum computer will need a balance of order and disorder.

End note


We are mapping out the expertise in our network in order to surface relevant insights from our community of readers. If you have expertise in Web3/blockchain, fintech, deep tech, climate tech, or AI, fill out this form.


Meet me in Europe:

  • 🚲 Amsterdam, 1-2 June: I will be at the Micromobility Conference organised by Horace Dediu and his team. Readers of Exponential View receive 15% off tickets – get yours here.
  • 🎺 Oxford, 10-12 June: I will speak at the KITE Festival of music and new ideas put together by our friends at Tortoise Media. Readers of Exponential View get 15% off.

What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Adam Oskwarek and his team at Zopeful are working on a new free email course about carbon removal.

Simone Vannuccini co-authored “Tools and concepts for understanding disruptive technological change after Schumpeter” in the Handbook of Smart Technologies and “Robot Adoption and Innovation Activities”.

Emil Protalinski is evolving his newsletter to a weekly edition, tracking how humanity is taking the fiction out of science fiction.

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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***Since inception in 2017, Masterworks has successfully offered and sold 3 paintings, [each realizing a net annualized gain in excess of 30%], this is not an indication of Masterworks’ overall performance, which as of 12/21 is annualized net return of 14.3%. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The sale of the paintings from the Masterworks collection is at the sole discretion of Masterworks and paintings may be held for up to 10 years.


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