🔮 Bitcoin; semiconductor competition; Clubhouse; the end of cities; neutrinos & smart pigs ++ #309

Hi, 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.

🎧 In my latest podcast, I speak with the man leading innovation at one of the most fascinating companies you probably never heard about. Jonathan Larsen is the CIO of China’s insurance giant Ping An. No staid finance business, Ping An has mastered the platform-business model, creating a thriving ecosystem business and incubating half-a-dozen independent fintech unicorns. I think the PingAn story deserves more attention so I was delighted to speak to Jonathan.

Dept of the near future

🤑 Balaji Srinivasan: Why India should buy bitcoin One of the smartest thinkers in tech on why an economy like India would benefit from going long on cryptocurrencies.

💻 The new oil. Demand for semiconductors is shifting the focus of global politics away from oil-producing countries to the South China Sea. (I covered this in charts of the week of Wednesday, but Rory Green, the author, was kind enough to publish a longer blog post covering the topic that I think is worth reading.) Consider some of the events that have taken place just this week. The EU is weighing a deal with TSMC and Samsung to build a semiconductor factory in Europe in an attempt to establish some geographical independence in chip manufacturing. Apple is also moving forward with its efforts to build new components for augmented reality devices through a secretive TSMC lab in Taiwan. Not to be outdone, the Chinese search giant Baidu is raising money to build its own AI chip company.  (Separately, Bharath Ramsundar has written an accessible tear-down of what it takes to build a modern semi-conductor fab. Worth reading.)

🖥 Demand for chips and the push by companies and countries to secure their own manufacturing capacity means that there are bound to be new manufacturers seeking entry into the market. We have seen the effects of global chip shortages in the past and if history is any guide, high-end chipmakers fare far better during crises than smaller companies. The question is whether new players in the market that come online through projects – like the EU’s plan to create a new manufacturing centre – will manage to keep their heads above water. 

🎤 Try as you might, you can’t avoid Clubhouse these days. The invite-only social media platform is raw, exciting, and perhaps understandably ruffling some feathers. It’s like the early days of Twitter. From that perspective, we can better appreciate powerful stories including how the platform briefly became a hotspot of free thought and discussion in China before censors shut it down. One loss, was the rare dialogue that emerged between those in Taiwan and those on the mainland. (See also: Clubhouse’s emerging misinformation problem brings into relief some of the open questions about the nature of these digital social spaces.)

👷 More and more companies are ending their commitment to the “traditional” work day. Salesforce is the latest company to say that the 9-to-5 workday is a thing of the past. While there is a clear upside with this mentality shift, the reality is that there are now a host of new “productivity” pressures on work. CBRE, the real estate investors, found that two-thirds of employees favoured some form of work-from-home (or work-away-from-office) and nearly three-quarters of employers expected some “balanced workstyles” in the future. The research merits a scan.

☄️ Godzilla vs Kong. The rhetoric between Facebook and Apple is heating up. As Zuck suggests: “Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work.”

🔋 Dept of decarbonisation: 417.21 ppm | 3,405 days

Each week, I’m 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 February 11, 2021): 417.21 ppm; February 2020: 414.73 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.

🚙 The CEO of Volkswagen weighs in. One million charging points for electric vehicles by 2024

🚨Steel companies make nearly 2 billion tons of high-strength material every year using vast amounts of coal. Can the industry kick its coal habit?

🌲 Elon Musk went on Joe Rogan’s podcast this week for a far-reaching conversation about space travel, electric vehicles, and artificial intelligence. The extended discussion about the need for a carbon tax in the US (it starts around minute 158) was particularly insightful given the sheer reach of Rogan’s podcast. 

Short morsels to drop into your next Clubhouse session

🏭 Estimates of the number of people who’ve died from fossil fuel pollution have missed the mark. More than 8 million people died in 2018, much higher than previous research suggested. 

Now you don’t. Microsoft bet on the existence of a Majorana fermion to build its quantum computer. That may have been mistake.

⌚Encouraging new evidence that wearables such as the Apple Watch can identify SAR-CoV-2 infection and symptoms

🦠 Are we on the verge of a super vaccine that could protect against all coronaviruses? Scientists are working on it

📸 Pity the humble digital camera. All people want is a smartphone despite camera companies launching new and exciting features. Consider the graph below (it doesn’t even include Android phones!). 

✍ Citations in scientific papers have an inequality problem that’s on the rise. 

🇹🇼 Noah Smith has written a great introduction to all the facets of Taiwan that make it unique. See also my conversation with Audrey Tang, the country’s first digital minister.  

🌞 This incredible image below of the sun was taken at night with neutrinos. “It can take more than 100,000 years for a photon to escape from the Sun's interior, but neutrinos punch their way out of the core in three seconds.” Naturally the picture was captured at the Super-Kamiokande

🌍 Moving the internet “in a box” by donkey in Kyrgyzstan

🦠 Covid-19 might be terrible for people but it’s good for the planet, according to the artist Anicka Yi. 

🐖 Would people really eat video gamers? (This isn’t what you think).

📻 One clever LA cop is playing Sublime songs to avoid being live-streamed. Those pesky copyright filters

End note

Too much good stuff this week. So keeping the End Note short.

Have a great week and mask up!

😜 Azeem


What you’re up to – notes from premium EV readers
EV’s Joseph Dana and Marija Gavrilov are hosting a conversation about how renewables are shaping cities—and their relationship with nation-states.

Carl Pei’s company Nothing received financing from Alphabet’s venture capital unit

Marc Maurice and Felix Vetter von Luxembourg recently started a partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology to build hybrid construction equipment. The first vehicle comes out in summer and reduces local emissions and noise by up to 30%.

Toby Mather launched a newsletter called 'The Deliberate CEO' about learning to be – and improving their practice as – CEO of a growth-stage startup.

Colin Markham collaborated with The Triple Bottom to predict the eight most important sustainable business trends of 2021.

Simply brilliant: Bill Janeway’s new lecture series on the relationship between venture capital and innovation.

Matyas Kovacs is the new ambassador to XPRIZE for Europe — congrats!

Scott Smith is running a masterclass on strategic story forms in mid-April. Fellow readers can use code EXPONENTIAL10 to access the sessions with a discount.

To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritize updates from paying members and startups I have invested in. (You can become the former by subscribing, if you have not already, and the latter by getting an intro to me via a trusted contact.)