🔮 Knowledge, growth & the market economy; climate crisis; the value of trust; AI, data and health; cubesats, truck drivers and moonmoons++ 187

Trust and technology

Dept of podcasts

The chances that the cycle of cyber attacks becomes more vicious are quite high. Cyberspace is an offense-led environment. So, attacking is always a better choice than defending. 

I discuss the cyber warfare and the rules (and lack thereof) in the febrile digital battlespace with Oxford philosopher, Dr Mariarosaria Taddeo. Listen to this fascinating edition fo the Exponential View podcast here:

iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | Overcast | Breaker

Dept of the near future

💥 John Cassidy on how the Nobel Committee has honoured two researchers, Paul Romer & William Nordhaus, who studied market failure:

Both Romer and Nordhaus emphasize that the market economy, while a powerful engine of human development, has important imperfections and their contributions have thus offered insights into how government policy could potentially enhance our long-run welfare.

(It is a brilliant essay, see more on Romer in Dept of tech and trust, below. Also, why he remains "conditionally optimistic" about beating climate change.)

🤝 Martin Sandbu: The economic value of trust "Income per capita would have increased by 69 percent in Russia, 59 percent in Mexico, 30 percent in Yugoslavia... and 6 percent in the UK had these countries inherited the same level of trust as Sweden." (FT, might be paywalled.) (See also Dept of tech & trust, below.)

🗽 Returns to scale: in the US larger cities have been outperforming smaller ones in terms of economic growth. (For a wonderful explanation about why we often see this pattern, I recommend Geoffrey West’s book, Scale)

🔥 We're on fire. Unpicking the UN Climate change report. Only seven countries are meeting the Paris goals, none of them from the rich nations, which can best afford it. (Some commentators argue that the climate change report may well have pulled its punches and left out the scariest stuff.)

🕹️ Ben Thompson: Assessing the tech companies strategies for building devices for the home. (His take: Google has the best case, despite Amazon's early lead. Apple will be giving away free content with its new digital devices.)

♀️  Maybe girls will save us. Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls who Code, argues that girls may "display a sense of moral clarity, an instinct for inclusiveness, and a commitment to making the world a better place for people of all ages and gender."

Dept of technology and trust

As Martin Sandbu argues above, trust leads to society-wide economic benefits. Paul Romer's work identified that returns to the investment in education & knowledge a society makes, particularly where there are positive spillovers which can be shared broadly, are drivers of growth and welfare.

Paul Romer on Jupyter notebooks as mechanisms for increasing trust in research:

Jupyter rewards transparency[,] encourages individual integrity[,] exemplifies the social systems that emerged from the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, systems that make it possible for people to cooperate by committing to objective truth...The more I learn about the open source community, the more I trust its members.

(Jupyter notebooks are an open-source collaborative programming environment that allows researchers, in particular data scientists, to share their data, research, and explorations. Also, it's exciting that The Economist is going to release the datasets behind much of their breakthrough analysis on Github for all to tinker.)

Today's low trust environment, especially towards enabling technologies like the Internet (only 12% of Brits think the Internet has been positive to society as a whole) could be a fundamental risk that encourages an anti-scientific, anti-pluralist turn. The organisation DotEveryone, which is led by EV reader, Martha Lane Fox, has released some recommendations on Regulating Responsible Technology which includes specific recommendations to promote trust in and responsible use of technology, including:

  • regulators who can "hold technology to account". (Azeem's note: am curious about what this means. Technology, per se, doesn't have agency which can be held to 'account'. Perhaps the words is used as shorthand for something else.)

  • build regulation based on "authoritative body of evidence".

💯 Joanna Purosto: on building trust in AI apps

On that note: Great read on how Amazon discovered their AI recruiting tool was biased against female candidates; primarily because the models were trained on CVs "submitted to the company over a 10-year period. Most came from men, a reflection of male dominance across the tech industry." It's great that Amazon has now pulled this tool. But it's jaw-clenchingly frustrating that in 2017, when Amazon abandoned this project, it should trip over such a gob-smackingly obvious source of bias.

Trust will also be crucial if we are to supercharge disease diagnosis with AI:

🙊 Amazon has recently been issued with a patent that can tell from your voice if you are physically or mentally ill, and potentially recommend medication. Such a complex area: advanced diagnostics are fantastic but I feel uneasy that they be owned by this shop.

Tencent is teaming up with a UK startup to detect Parkinson's in minutes using AI-powered video analysis tools.

(See also, the UK's Biobank has the largest cohort of full genomic data in the world - about 500,000 individuals. Two of the first studies have been released. They successfully demonstrate that collection and sharing of linked genetic, physical and clinical information on a population scale, is crucial for precision medicine. The second research study on genome-wide associations from brain-imaging is accessible.)

Elsewhere:

Microsoft open-sources its 60,000-patent portfolio to the Open Invention Network. I am impressed with Microsoft at the moment. That it has tripled its share price in the last four years is, in some ways, least interesting. The firm pivoted their business model to subscription & services, taking a lead in tackling the questions of governance and ethics that a large platform faces, and now this move with its patents... It wasn't always like this: read my 2004 perspective on open-source, Microsoft and 21st-century capitalism here.)

Decent profile of Andrew Ng, a leading AI researcher & entrepreneur.

SQuAD is a benchmark test for natural language programming approaches to solving question-and-answer problems. This domain had been lagging compared to machine translation or computer vision. Now some new results where a Google AI team has outperformed the human benchmark on this lab Q&A test.

😒 Pepper, an animatronic toy, has been asked to testify in front of the British parliament. This is an absurd idea. I have a tape measure on my desk which we could also ask to present.

More impressive: video of Boston Dynamic's robot dog inspect a construction site.

Huawei released two new AI chips, claims they can process more data in a shorter time.


Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties

💰 Chinese firm ByteDance is on the way to $75 billion valuation, surpassing Uber as the world's most valuable startup. (See also, why the 'rise of the rest' in Asia and Europe could be troubling for American entrepreneurship. The US is now home to 50% of venture capital investments, down from 95% about 20 years ago.)

🛰️ To build the space economy, we need better satellites. (More than 800 palm-sized CubeSats are now in orbit.)

The next big restaurant chain will have no kitchens. (Also, food delivery in India is exploding.)

Netflix represents 15% of all internet traffic. (Intel reckons that when 5G networks arrive, they will be saturated by traffic for augmented reality video games, not industrial uses.)

A growing pool of DNA data makes it possible to identify six of every ten people in the U.S. who are of European descent, even without their own samples.

😬 Nearly all US military systems of the past five years are highly-vulnerable to hackers, says the American Government Accountability Office.

🚚 The US is short of 50,000 truck drivers. Meanwhile, Waymo's self-driving cars passed 10m miles on real roads. (They drive 10m miles per day in simulations.)

Remember the weird interstellar object that passed through our solar system earlier this year? After confirming it's not a comet, scientists remain puzzled about its nature.

🌑 Moons have their own moons, and they're scientifically known as moonmoons.


End note

The word I was looking for last week. Amazing. More than 30 of you wrote back to me to help me find the "word" that fits one mood of the times: that things—the institutions, the business models, the media mix—are just right as they are, better than they were before and better than they will be in the future.

I'll turn it into a more considered thought process, but some initial ideas are:

  • "Nowstalgia" from Andrew Edgecliffe Johnson

  • Paulina Mitelsztedt suggests "Dasein" as the philosopher Heidegger meant it, to ask "how should we be in this modern world of machines and new technologies."

  • Raul Rivas proposed "Prosophobia", the fear of progress.

  • "Unbekannt" from Stefan Jenzowsky, refers to unacquainted things; or "das Unbekannte" referring to the outer space, the end of our wisdom

More work to be done on this question.

In the meantime, let's not undervalue the moment. As Master Oogwe, the turtle, from Kung-Fu Panda reminds us: 'The past is history, the future is a mystery, but the present is a gift."

Have a lovely week,
Azeem

P.S. We zipped past 32,000 subscribers last week. It's all driven by you and the time you take to share on Twitter, LinkedIn and, of course, forwarding this email to your peers. Don't stop!


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