🔮 Long-lived Apple; universal basic mobility; the IoT threat; proof-of-work's efficiency; the new social contract; sperm, bananas, voodoo++ #182

Dept of the near future

🍎 Horace Dediu’s stellar analysis on Apple’s event this week: “The purpose of Apple as a firm is to create and preserve customers and to create and preserve products. This is fundamental and not fully recognized.” In fact, he argues this “hardware-as-platform and hardware-as-subscription model… no other hardware company can match. It is not only highly responsible but it’s highly defensible and therefore a great business. Planned obsolescence is a bad business and is not defensible.”

🚏 Here is an interesting idea from EV reader, Alex Roy: universal basic mobility, rather than universal basic income. He argues:

_A parent who spends four hours a day commuting means a child deprived of critical family time, a worker too tired to be effective, a human being without downtime…. A growing number of the mobility underclass are falling into “structural immobility” — the state in which lack of mobility limits their ability to obtain and keep jobs, access basic services, contribute to society or maintain a reasonable quality of life. _

(For some supporting data on micromobility, check out these wonderful data from Horace Dediu.)

🔎 Bruce Schneier: “We must slow innovation in internet-connected things… Our cars, our medical devices, our household appliances are all now computers with things attached to them...what was computer security, its own separate realm, is now everything security.” Is there a future where your no-brand smart LED bulb becomes part of a botnet that controls your smart locks to force open your front door & has your neighbours’ CCTV cameras launch a denial of service attack on your car? (See also a good profile with Baidu President Ya-Qin Zhang on the firm’s AI security approach.)

🤔 Does proof-of-work work? Compared to other systems of governance and consensus-making, bitcoin may be rather energy efficient argues Dan Held. This is a big idea. (I’d also argue that one key issue of bitcoin’s energy consumption is actually a failure of traditional consensus mechanisms--governments--to correctly price the externality of carbon generated by non-renewable forms of energy.)

💡 “[G]overnments across the world need to start thinking now about how to use the riches generated by AI to rewrite the social contract and reorient our economies to promoting human flourishing” argues Kai-Fu Lee. In a similar vein, my friends at The Economist argue for “a moment for a liberal reinvention... liberals need to side with the struggling precariat against the patricians”. This echoes a recommendation to design new social contracts made by a working group, of which I was a part, last year (page 23).

🌍 Africa and automation: The job threat from automation may be exaggerated, especially in markets like Africa where this is “ample opportunity for labour-intensive industrialisation.”

Dept of artificial intelligence

Apple's event last week saw the arrival of at A12 Bionic chip at the heart of the new iPhones. How far Apple has come in silicon since acquiring P.A. Semi for a paltry $278m in 2008. The milestones include the first 7nm chip, 6.9bn transistors (the 6502 in the Apple II had 3,510) 6 CPU cores, 4 GPU cores, 8 AI cores. This combo punches 5 trillion operations per second, about a 9-fold improvement on the A11 chip in the previous iPhone. AI is truly driving innovation in silicon, which in turn will drive innovation in AI.

This deeper dive into the A12 details more of the capabilities of the chip and, hence the phone. This is processing at the edge of the network which has access to quite a lot of data (512Gb, the max), much of which can be held privately without recourse to models in the cloud. The trivial video games that Apple demoed aside, this opens the possibilities for some really interesting edge-based intelligent applications.

In the data centre, Nvidia is pushing hard to maintain its lead providing compute for machine learning workloads. Here is a good review of their new inference optimised Turing GPUs. It also introduced me to the wonderful Buck's Law, that "every bit of data created in the world would require a gigaflops of compute over its lifetime."

An interesting example of creating machine vision systems that have more transparent and auditable reasoning.

An ensemble made up of a group of doctors and a range of AI algorithms outperformed both human and machine diagnosis of pneumonia. Super-interesting avenue of research which I think we’ll see more of. See, for example, the Human Diagnosis Project, which is doing something similar.

Machine learning is speeding up the search for novel molecules.

⭐️ "Successful and safe AI that achieves our goals within the limits of socially accepted norms requires an understanding of how human normative systems behave" argues legal scholar, Gillian Hadfield.

Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties

🥫 How American eating habits are changing. Restaurant visits are way down, online-grocery delivery & pre-made meals are up.

Not just clones. Chinese universities are exceeding US ones in scientific output, although the quality is not yet as high.

A Chinese film-star has been given a 0% social credit rating after going missing.

Preston Byrne, a long-standing critic of the cryptocurrency boom, on what $100 ether would mean.

🍌  The history of bananas as we know them.

Heat a pan, drip some water on it, and watch the droplets... roll!

The US Navy is developing an aerial tanker drone.

☠️ Is it effective for employees to use Voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses? The 28th First Annual Ig Nobel prizes were announced.

Occupations and their political ideologies. (Rather polarised...)

😮 Gel-like fish at 7,500m (24,600ft) under the ocean. Fascinating.

🧐 Why are men's sperm counts declining, Benjamin?

End note

Last week's vote in the European Parliament on the EU Copyright Directive will create enormous new rights for news publishers and sports team and turn the clock back on how the internet works. (Read ArsTechnica’s sober rundown of the detail.) Others are more colourful in their assessment. It will “wreck the Internet,” says Cory Doctorow & “make the Internet worse for everyone” says James Ball.

It is backwards-looking, seeking to mainly protect a bunch of incumbents, and shows the EU Parliament had no real understanding of the new possibilities enabled by the technology of the 29-year-old World Wide Web.

In a muddled attempt to protect the business model of existing media outlets and at the same time cock-a-snook at too powerful internet platforms, it savages the new creativity of the remix culture as well as attacks the hyper-plurality that user-generated commentary brings to the media mix. Instead, it allows publishers to decide (with financial penalties attached!) who gets to comment on their material and how that commenting can happen. The upload filters? No more angry girlfriend memes or Downfall parodies? Will we be able to watch Dmitri learn that "God is dead"?

It entrenches centuries-old copyright law, whose protections, in an era of the fast-changing, intangible economy, need to be being tightened & shortened, not expanded. Rules should be derived for the future to which we are heading, not to protect the churches and temples of the past.

Yes, it is laudable to want to promote high-quality journalism, research and criticism, and the art of the creator. This directive doesn’t do that, except perhaps, by accident. It really protects older business models, existing industry structures, incumbent firms and their management teams.

This type of institutional capture is commonplace. Those with declining power, especially in the face of new ideas which force them to think differently, seek to reinforce the status quo. They are Cnut’s courtiers urging him to turn back the waves.

In this case, the European Parliament will not only get their feet wet, but ours as well. And sadly, I don't believe we brought our wellingtons... :(

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Azeem

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