🔮 Living with the pandemic; US v China; fake reviews; telepathy, negative-carbon hydrogen & selfies++ #282

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.

The near future

⏳ We’re in this for the long haul. Excellent interview of Bill Gates: “for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021.”

🦠 These models show how the pandemic could evolve over the months and years to come. One thing is certain: we still know very little. See also: should we be thinking of those “recovering” from Covid-19 as chronic patients? And how should leaders adjust as attitudes to work-from-home turn from joy to fatigue?

High levels of uncertainty around Covid-19 might actually be the stimulant that companies of all sizes need to accelerate their businesses, whether that’s making bold changes or restructuring entirely. (Office attire is also being restructured.)

🤕 The antitrust hearings of last week demonstrated how many of the Big Tech companies have succeeded as a result of two key factors — “sky-high” valuations from Wall Street, and buying their way out of the problem by subsuming competitors. (See also, how Facebook loosened misinformation rules for right-wing media outlets.)

TikTok is far more popular in the US that most of us imagined, showing signs of being able to seriously dent Facebook’s hold on US consumer attention. This is why I think an acquisition by Microsoft might create some competition in the (broken) digital ad market. (Facebook has cloned Tiktok with a new feature called Instagram Reels.)

Robin Hanson: Remote work specialises. Is one conclusion that it could allow for the creation of large, specialised but distributed labour markets, and reduce the agglomeration benefits of cities? (It is a key question and one which I am mulling intently. It might be true for Seattle or San Francisco, but how true is it for Dhaka or Dar-es-Salaam? People don’t just move because of a labour market signal, as Duflo and Banerjee have argued. Four billion of us live in cities—does moving us out of them just not create… more cities in different places? What of the agglomeration benefits for things that are not work: dating, mating and relating?)

💳 Members’ discussion: Opportunity from crisis.

Dept of AI

EV readers Kanta Dihal and Stephen Cave have published a paper looking at perceptions of whiteness in artificial intelligence and how they harm the field as a whole.

In the GPT-3 corner, we have a review of Exponential View written by GPT-3 (they gave us five stars so perhaps machines can think after all). In other uncanny news, Melanie Mitchell explores Copycat letter-string analogies (per Douglas Hofstadter) and how GPT-3 does when confronted with them.

Liam Porr created a blog which was written by GPT-3 – but didn’t tell anyone - and it received over 26,000 visitors. One of the posts even made it to the top of Hacker News, a popular news aggregator for software developers. He suggests that it could be a boon for a new kind of media company, “one that’s fast and lean”. 

Charts of the week

Venture-backed firms now exit via M&A rather than IPO, according to this staggeringly good report on private equity by Morgan Stanley’s Michael Mauboussin.

IPOs are horribly mispriced these days, as the grotesque opening-day pops show. But the fondness for M&A also makes me think about industry concentration (up in most markers) and superstar firms with that capital and capabilities to excel at acquisitions. Something may be broken, I’m musing as to what— thoughts welcome in the comments. (The report is an embarrassment of riches, so tuck in.)

The number of flights is down 48% compared to August last year.

🥵 Climate breakdown: 413.14ppm | 3,581 days

Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until we reach the 450ppm threshold. 

The latest measurement (as of August 5): 413.14 ppm; August 2019: 410 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this

BP will be cutting oil production 40% by 2030 and investing in green energy. (A reminder that we have a net-zero corporate pledge spreadsheet that we’re always updating, please contribute). 

The world’s first carbon-negative hydrogen project gets the go-ahead.


Short morsels to appear smart

😷 People have always disliked masks. Look at the Anti-Mask League of 1918.

🇨🇳 The Chinese dream: How did a son of factory workers build the country’s second-largest e-commerce company, Pinduoduo, valued at $100 billion?

As fabled Silicon Valley engineer, Antony Lewandowski, goes to prison for stealing trade secrets, let’s drop the cult of the tech genius.

👽 This research paper from the RAND corporation in 1964 has some truly wonderful predictions, including “two-way communication with extraterrestrials” and “the use of telepathy and ESP in communications.”

Apple has asked the landlords of its UK stores to halve its rent.

🤳 Post-selfie: An AI tool that makes selfies look like they’re not selfies.

Many, many congratulations to Mark Zuckerberg for entering el club de las cuatro comas. (Sarcastic observation.)

End note

I’m on vacation for the next couple of weeks. EV will publish on a restricted schedule.

Have a wonderful week,
Azeem

What you’re up to—notes from EV readers

Ludwig Siegele writes in The Economist about Google outgrowing its corporate culture. 

Diane Coyle and Adrian Weller demonstrate why “explaining” machine learning might not be as straightforward as it sounds.

Trista Bridges’ book Leading Sustainably: The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything is out now.

Laure Claire & Bertrand Reillier ask how can the digital economy be made more resilient?

Christina Colclough’s initiative WeClockIt, an open-source self-tracking privacy-preserving tool for workers, has been banned on Facebook for unknown reasons.

Garri Jones releases his first ScaleUp views on the macro overview of the venture capital market in Europe.

Email marija@exponentialview.co to share your updates.