In cryptography we trust. Machine learning & the workforce shift. 188 examples of AI in the wild. The ethics economy. My favourite books of the year.
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DEPT OF THE NEAR FUTURE
💯 Volatility aside, is Bitcoin presaging a shift of trust from government institutions to emergent collectives whose trust is backed by code and the maths of cryptography? Great essay by Tim Wu. (See also Gillian Tett on the wonderful Hernando de Soto's experiments with blockchain as a means of securing property rights for the poor.)
🎲 Future of work: Learning to code will be as useful as learning Ancient Greek. (See also: What machine learning can do in the workforce? Excellent review from Erik Brynjolfsson in Science. Michigan anecdotes: Automation may be creating jobs which require reskilling the workforce. The average Mechanical Turk worker makes $2 per hour.)
📊 Machine learning: 188 examples of AI in the wild. Also, Jeff Dean’s presentation of systems for machine learning, while technical, expands on the unprecedented shift to coming to how we make and run software.
🅿️ As retail firms retreat in the US, they are freeing up precious urban space for new, more creative and communal activities ‘that better reflect the way we live.” (Good details of the recent retail apocalypse are here.)
🇨🇳 China’s surveillance state. The minority Uighur population is on the sharp end of highly intrusive surveillance.
🔮 Are we moving towards an ethics economy? This has been an interesting theme for 2017. One case study: Tesla’s big battery in South Australia, which seems to be doing wonders. A counter-example: age-targeting for job ads on Facebook.
DEPT OF PAY-IT-FORWARD
Exponential View grows solely by your recommendations. This year we achieved just short of 100% reader growth. A huge thank you for helping achieve that.
For my Christmas present, I’d love you all (well, at least 2,000 of you - so don’t be shy) to recommend EV to some people you know. This could be anyone: a friend, your MP, Senator or other representatives, an employee, a board member, a teacher, your investor, a parent, a mentor, you gym buddy or your friendly accountant.
And if you aren’t on Twitter, then forwarding this mail to a dozen friends with a festive recommendation would be as good as giving me a massive box of Lego on Christmas day.
**AZEEM'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR 📚 **
Here are my top five books of 2017. For context, I only finished about twenty books and started, skimmed or selected from around forty others this year, so this list will have gaps!
- “The Mandibles” by Lionel Shriver, a novel set in the not so far future when America is going to hell in a handcart. Lionel Shriver plays on topical themes: fake news, identity politics, cultural polarisation, the radical elimination of jobs, the demographic transition, challenges of social care and a racially-divisive President. This book explores some of the challenges that we will face in the coming decades in an engaging, and often frightening, way. (Amazon UK | Amazon US)
- Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem” is a masterful work of Chinese science fiction. The series asks questions about humanity, and explores what our place in the Universe might be. It questions our notions of anthropocentricity and tackles the very real issue, not merely of whether we’re alone, but what if we’re merely a mote compared to other civilizations. Liu’s imagination knows few bounds: not even the limits of mathematics are out of question. This series was published a couple of years ago. (Amazon UK | Amazon US).
- Vaclav Smil is an interdisciplinary researcher with a focus on energy & innovation. In “Energy and Civilization” he describes our long-term relationship between those two concepts, and how energy acquisition has shaped our culture, society and power relations. Smil’s framework has added a fresh arrow to my quiver. The book itself is encyclopaedic with plenty of detailed evidence to support many a speech ;) (Amazon UK | Amazon US)
- The “Four Futures” in Peter Frase’s short text outline potential scenarios for the coming decades, along two dimensions. One dimension is about the nature of the economy and the social contract. Do we have a moment of abundance where wealth and output are widely shared or do we maintain this sort of starker, greater mechanisms of inequality? The second dimension is climate change, and how do we handle climate change? Are we able to maintain the degradation of our biospheric enclave? In each of those areas, he sees four futures, ranging from a kind of Mad Max striated world of deep inequality and a zoological race to survival to a Star Trek abundant future. He explores how we might get to each of those, and what the outcomes may be. It’s a book which deserves the EV thought-provoking moniker. (Amazon UK | Amazon US)
- Yuval Harari’s “Homo Deus” was where I started the year. I like Harari's historical, belief-centric approach to finding explanations (not everyone does). You can find emerging evidence for his notion of dataism in many of the advances in digital business models, governance, AI and blockchain that I have written about over the past three years. He and I explored Homo Deus in a podcast earlier this year. (Amazon UK | Amazon US)
Here are two others that are worth mentioning in passing:
- Max Tegmark’s “Life 3.0” is a good take on AI from one of the greater brains thinking about it.
- Geoffrey West’s “Scale” helps us think about some of the emerging properties of complex systems that we live in.
This is the penultimate EV of 2017. It is shorter than normal, as I’ve started my holiday break, too.
Next week’s EV is our surprise final edition of the year. 😉
If you have time off, enjoy it with your family and friends!
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