Hi, I’m Azeem Azhar. I explore how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies and other trends.
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The near future
💯 Physicist Cesar Hidalgo joined me on the latest episode of the podcast. We discussed the difficulties of measuring knowledge, the economics of megacities, machines and morality, and why we need to apply a complexity approach to judging decision-making in machines. Have a listen.
🍼 Meehan Crist: is it right to bring a child into a world of the climate crisis? “[T]he fantasy of choice quickly begins to dissipate when we acknowledge that the conditions for human flourishing are distributed so unevenly, and that, in an age of ecological catastrophe, we face a range of possible futures in which these conditions no longer reliably exist.” Beautifully written.
📼PayTV will probably end with a bang, not a whimper. While prevailing wisdom has long been that PayTV would continue to coast down a gradual decline to a stable low point, the move towards original shows and shows airing first on streaming services means that “Pay-TV decline estimates are wrong. It’s not about escalation or curve modelling. The floor will suddenly fall out.”
🚨 How much is a search warrant worth, in dollar terms? Law enforcement agencies in the US (and no doubt elsewhere around the world) are effectively buying their way around having to get warrants, by purchasing personal and location data from commercial providers. The latest revelations include multi-million dollar contracts for access to a secret commercial data trove called Locate X, provided by Virginia-based company Babel Street. Law enforcement effectively circumventing their own legal obligations to get a warrant is concerning enough, but this might be worse: in Utah, rather than buying access to commercial data, police have opened up their own systems to a commercial company. Banjo is now so deeply integrated into Utah’s state systems that it has its own servers in the headquarters of the Utah Department of Transportation, has access to 9/11 systems across the state and is monitoring thousands of state-run cameras in real-time. It also scrapes data from open sources such as Facebook and Twitter. And yet, for everything that Banjo now knows about the people of Utah, the people of Utah know very little about Banjo.
🇨🇳 Xi Jinping’s much-vaunted Belt and Road Project is struggling. From Kenya to Malaysia, grand rhetoric is hitting the realities of delays, cost blowouts, and ambivalent local elites. A flagship project in Gwadar, Pakistan, is proving to be a particular problem.
🧨 Climate emergency: 413.77ppm | 3,735 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until reaching the 450ppm threshold.
The latest measurement (as of March 5): 413.77ppm; March, 2019: 410.91ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
Car sales in the UK are down 2.9% year on year. Diesel sales are down 27.1%. Hybrids and electric vehicles make up nearly a quarter of all sales (up from 7.3% a year ago.)
🔋 The success of Tesla’s “big battery” in South Australia is keeping fossil fuel companies up at night. That’s a good thing.
📅 As the demand for lithium-ion batteries grows, so does the challenge of their proper recycling. Ajay Kochhar, the CEO of North America’s largest li-ion battery recycling plant, is the guest of our upcoming private member’s briefing. Ajay will discuss how batteries can be recycled safely, while extracting 80-100% of reusable li-ion, nickel and cobalt. All members get the recording of this conversation and notes.
Dept of coronavirus
Panic buying in a crisis is nothing new, but the particular obsession with toilet paper in multiple countries around the world is a bit of a puzzle. Four experts have theories, from the symbolism of toilet paper (“toilet paper symbolises control”) to the practical (“if there’s not a roll of toilet paper, then that’s pretty frustrating for everyone. Sure, tissues or paper towels, but it’s not quite the same, is it?”).
🔮 We’ll get through the crisis. But how do we go forward in the aftermath? My members-only essay on this is coming in a few hours.
Chart of the week
iOS phones hold their value far better than Android devices.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
WhatsApp is such a runaway success in Africa that even a WhatsApp knock-off outstrips use of Facebook and Instagram’s apps.
🧐 The OnlyFans platform is reshaping the economics of the sex-work industry.
🚶♀️ MasterCard is exploring potential applications for biometrics. Could commuters pay for public transport just by the way they walk?
The gender pay gap persists even in anonymous online markets. Female Mechanical Turk workers earn an average of 10.5% less per hour than their male counterparts.
Is this what Mona Lisa looked like as a child?
💰 Three founders seems to be the optimal number for attracting investment. From there, every additional founder actually leads to less investment. Lots more interesting data here.
💡 You’ve probably never heard of ASML, but you’ve likely been using their products for years. Here’s how ASML became the world’s biggest chip-making monopoly.
Greggs’ vegan products are still making a (metaphorical) killing.
Facebook is changing tack on Libra, but it isn’t giving up. The new plan is a digital wallet which will offer fiat currencies alongside Libra tokens.
🔎 Honeywell claims to have built the world’s best quantum computer. Instead of using superconducting qubits like competitors IBM and Google, Honeywell’s quantum computer uses ion traps, which are slower but more accurate and hold their quantum state for longer.
🤒 Democracy around the world has been in decline for fourteen consecutive years.
What did you have for breakfast? If you just glanced up and to the side to think about it, there’s a reason: eye movements help retrieve memory.
🐛 Agriculture has given us many things to be grateful for. Salmonella is not one of them.
EV reader, Marko Ahtisaari, and I collaborated on a short composition. It is a sonic interpretation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We build off its genetic code, the 29,000-and-change bases that describe it. The piece is a six-minute presentation. The link will open in YouTube.
Have a great week, and keep your distance!
P.S. If you want to support this wondermissive, please join as a member.
What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Jim Flint’s Hospify to replace the use of WhatsApp among the NHS staff.
Congrats to Stan Boland and FiveAI for raising $41 million to commercialize its self-driving technology!
Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald shares the write up of his recent talk about voice tech and older adults.
Juan Mateos Garcia writes about why we need better measurement to help steer AI development in the right direction.