🔮 AI economies; tech nationalism; super freelancers; responsible platforms; mosquitoes & tennis players++ #182

Dept of the near future

🌐 McKinsey reckons that AI could deliver an additional $13 trillion GDP to the global economy by 2030. This reflects a 16% uplift and is in line with forecasts made last year by Accenture & PwC. These forecasts are very helpful because they do remind us that there is likely to be a dividend from this technology. McKinsey also points out something we’ve argued before that the “adoption of AI could widen gaps among countries, companies, and workers.” One weird prediction, though, is that 30% of firms do not intend to implement AI by 2030, to which I reply: “Do they intend to stop using the internet?” AI will be ubiquitous and unavoidable by then.

🖇 Fascinating presentation by Michael Osborne on the future of work. Osborne was one of the authors of 2013 study that forecast widespread technological job displacement. One key observation: "It took sixty years for the English industrial revolution to improve the wages of workers."

🇮🇳 Tech nationalism: India pushes back against the large tech platforms. “For some Indian political leaders, it is as if their nation […] is being conquered by colonial powers all over again.” (See also this detailed profile of how Mukesh Ambani has unleashed 4G across India, and the difference it is starting to make across the economy. Data prices have fallen 10-fold in two years.)

🇨🇳 Tech nationalism 2:  John Mauldin on China's command innovation. "The plan isn’t complicated. To summarize, “Throw money at it.” Beijing is forcing money into venture capital at an astonishing pace." (The US Defense Department has just earmarked $2bn towards AI research via DARPA. This seems like a small number relative to the current cost of hiring AI researchers--and the focus of the Chinese state on the technology.)

💪 The platform economy may be giving freelances superpowers, argues Marco Torregrossa: “ future of work is … about creating the right infrastructure for people to find multiple and better alternatives than a traditional employment and a policy environment that promotes a wide variety of work arrangements as a way to increase labour market participation and inclusion.” (See also, Chinese gig workers, who comprise 15% of the labour force, revolt in struggle against the power of platforms & policy.)

Dept of platforms, companies & values

Two trends collided this week: the increasing shift of the technology platforms from arguing of their strict neutrality towards an acceptance that they are more than common carriers. The second was the trend of companies more explicitly stepping into debates about values that were usually the realm of public discussion or politics.

This week Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook took a stand in the Senate to discuss the role of foreign interference in the US political process. EV reader, John Battelle, spots an interesting distinction between Dorsey and Sandberg’s positions:

It’s clear that the consequences of Facebook’s platforms never occurred to Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Dorsey, or other leaders in the tech industry. But now that the damage is clear, they must be brave enough to consider new approaches.

To my mind, that will require objective study of tech’s business models, and an open mind toward changing them. It seems Jack Dorsey has realized that. Sheryl Sandberg and her colleagues at Facebook? Not so much.

The BBC_’_s summary of Dorsey’s testimony is worth scanning, as it shows the scale of the challenge. Two other interesting nuggets:

I’ve long argued that the technological systems, and the large platforms, in particular, are adopting some of the characteristics of public utilities. Fundamentally, they mediate our access to resources. While we could theoretically get our news from a printed newspaper or write down phone numbers of interesting suppliers, in practice we do this via technology platforms designed predominantly by the ageing wunderkind of Silicon Valley. And that these firms make very explicit design choices that reflect (a) their conscious or unconscious values & (b) their specific business models. The notion that technology stands alone as neutral and objective like a law of physics is increasingly being exposed for what it is: a myth. Technology arises in a social context and is often designed to reflect its designer-implementers cri du coeur. (Is Facebook’s “It’s complicated” relationship status a reflection of technological neutrality? Or was it a reflection of the state of mind of a typical 20-something in a sexually liberated society who can’t get a date?)

Facebook is an easy case study of this. In 2016, Facebook censored the most famous war photograph in history, that of Phan Ti Kim Phuc being burnt by napalm. In EV#78 (Sept 2016) I wrote:

_First, Facebook is trying to navigate two fundamentally incompatible positions.

On the one hand, it claims it is only a tech company and not a media company. In other words, it provides the tools and pipes for dialogue to occur but does not control that dialogue…

On the other hand, to make Facebook a ‘safe space’ (avoiding it becoming a cesspool of the worst of humanity), the site implements ‘community standards.’ Of course, keeping advertisers happy is the primary driver of community standards, not the community quality per se. And so Facebook has a more-or-less opaque process of moderation which bans photos of mothers’ breastfeeding but allows nasty political invective.

Facebook’s statements on ‘community standards’ vs ‘being a neutral platform’ don’t make sense, they are logically incompatible. You cannot have cake and eat it. And, as virtually anyone in the humanities and social sciences knows, any notion of neutrality in social systems is false.

Indeed, Facebook has already made many choices that are not value neutral. Key among those is its newsfeed ranking system which determines which content a user sees or does not see, and when. While Facebook does not decide what to show on an item-by-item basis, the way a newspaper section editor decides, Facebook sets the overall objectives for what gets chosen. This is an explicit choice about content. Isn’t this what an editor does?_

Scott Galloway assesses Google's refusal to send anyone senior to testify at the Senate & Nike's decision to use Colin Kaepernick as their spokesperson. He judges the former as "plain stupid" and the latter as "genius". GREAT READ.

Elsewhere:

**Short morsels to Appear Smart at Dinner Parties **

⚡️ Mercedes finally gets round to revealing an SUV, as part of a $12bn investment in electric vehicles. It looks pretty nice. (Elsewhere, Morgan Stanley reckons Tesla's burgeoning robo-taxi business is worth one tenth of Waymo's.)

🚘 More evidence that ride-sharing is adding to urban congestion as it substitutes for cycling or walking.

📉 Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum sort-of calls the top fo the market. (Ethereum is about 75% off its all time peak.)

📉 High-profile technology investor Chamath Palihapitya's firm Social Capital seems to be adrift. Interesting profile.

🧥 British fashion marketplace FarFetch recently filed to go public at a $5bn valuation. Yoram Wingaarde gives a fascinating tear-down of its valuation which demonstrates the power of the increasingly commonplace marketplace platform business model.

🤭 Mapping subjective human feelings. They group into five super-clusters: positive emotions, negative emotions, cognitive operations, homeostatic functions, and sensations of illness, and have distinct ‘bodily imprints’. (Lovely visualisations)

🏗 Civil engineers learnt from very public disasters. Software engineers mistakes may not be so visible. And that could be a problem. (2017 essay.)

💉 A mosquito gene drive will soon be unleashed in Burkina Faso to tackle malaria.

🌮 What you learn from spending a day inside a metabolic chamber.

🎾 The median age of the world’s top tennis players is rising.

End note

The EV community is the best thing about Exponential View. I realise that as readership has grown from a few dozen chums to tens of thousands, it’s not as easy to share what members are up to and need. (We used to run a section called “What you are up to”.)

For example, this week Stephane Kasriel, CEO of freelancer platform, UpWork, filed the S-1 to take Upwork public. This represents the second IPO this year for our readership. Many of you are publishing reports into AI, cybersecurity, digital ethics, the future of education, the carbon transition & more. Still, many more of you are taking on new roles shaping the digital economy. And founders, who read EV, are raising money regularly.

So we’re going to try an experiment for the next few weeks where we can share the meaningful milestones met by our readers. We’ll just list some of them at the foot of the newsletter so you can catch-up with what each of you is getting up to.

To do this, please email Marija with the subject line: “Reader Update: {and some details}.” In the body of the message, explain what the news is and point to a URL.

Good topics might include new publications; new roles; new projects looking for collaborators; your new exhibition; funding and acquisition announcements; and so on.

We’ll try to include these updates in subsequent weeks… this is an experiment, so let's see what happens. If we’re lucky we’ll get a bountiful smörgåsbord of jumping off points.

Till next time,
Azeem

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