🔮 AI Superpowers; productivity booms; reigning in Big Tech; the tyranny of time & ICE ++ #326
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. I wrote a book explaining our transition into the Exponential Age we're going through. Pre-order your copy today.
🎧 In the latest podcast conversation, I came together with the renowned security technologist Bruce Schneier to explore how AI is reshaping cyber defense. I've thoroughly enjoyed this chat, and I hope you get to listen to it.
🧭 We've launched a job board to help bridge the gap between exceptional talent and innovation-driven companies for the Exponential Age. To see featured roles currently active on our board, scroll to the bottom of the newsletter, or check the board here.
Featured roles include: Head of Gov't Affairs at the NFT company, Dapper Labs; Head of Technical Operations at the UK’s largest ever health research programme; Marketing Leader at Pachama, a climate tech startup.
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Department of the near future
What's next for the global economy
🌏 As the global economy gets up to speed after the pandemic, fresh insight into what really drives the market is needed to understand how the crisis will finally end. In a review of a new book about the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, Martin Wolfe notes that market capitalism contains within it “a powerful engine of change”. Innovation and the diffusion of knowledge drive this change, which Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” Wolfe concludes that the success of the market capitalist model “depends on striking a balance not only between the competitive economy and social stability but also between letting capitalism rip and protecting it from the predatory capitalists.” This point seems particularly relevant as the global economy negotiates a path out of the pandemic and handles what Erik Brynjolfsson writes will be the coming productivity boom.
🤖 The superpowers of artificial intelligence are evolving. A new paper in the journal Artificial Intelligence by scientists at DeepMind puts forward the hypothesis that “intelligence, and its associated abilities, can be understood as subserving the maximization of reward”. What’s more, is that the technology for reward maximization--reinforcement learning--already exists and could thus push a dramatic improvement in artificial general intelligence.
Even in its more prosaic contemporary implementations, AI is giving us superpowers. Consider this system that can place memory blocks in microchip designs far better and more rapidly than humans. The placement of components of chips is critical to the exponential growth of the technology. This will have real-world implications.
Or look at the research from Man Group, a quant hedge fund, which has created a machine-learning programme that can predict the price of stock movements in live trading.
Curbing your techusiasm
👩⚖️ While the US approaches reigning Big Tech using established legislative and judicial channels, China’s centralized power structure enables officials to act quicker and more forcefully. But the end result is similar. Regardless of how governments achieve their objectives, they share essentially the same perspective that major technology companies like Amazon and Alibaba have too much power and must be reigned in. As the New York Times put it in April, “governments are moving simultaneously to limit the power of tech companies with an urgency and breadth that no single industry had experienced before.” China and the US state of New York have taken the lead in recent months with concentrated action against tech conglomerates like Alibaba in China and Amazon in New York. There are a number of different approaches to curtailing the power of big tech but they all seem to be leading to the same result. (See also: India has had a confusing year on the tech regulation front. The government is now looking to loosen its position on trading cryptocurrency.) How new power emerges from these new technologies, and how to reframe the mechanisms we use to moderate that power, is a key theme of my book.
Goodbye internal combustion engine
🚙 In the last five years, something profound took place in the global automobile industry. Sales of traditional internal combustion engines plummeted, starting in 2017. At the same time, electric vehicle sales in key markets like China skyrocketed. The basic economic formula at work here led Bloomberg to claim that the peak of our relationship with the internal combustion engine might already be behind us. The rise of electric tuk-tuks and e-bikes (especially in China) is further evidence that we are moving beyond the internal combustion engine (see the graphic below from BloombergNEF). And then, of course, there are the steady innovations taking place with battery technology and electric vehicles. Tesla announced this week that it found new ways to get more from existing form factor batteries using fewer resources.
🔋Dept of decarbonisation
CO2 level 419.34 ppm | 3,279 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold
The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of June 09, 2021): 419.34 ppm; April 2020: 418.32 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.
💸 Syndicated loans have received a fair amount of attention from the vantage point of carbon risk. The problem, a new paper finds, is that “the price of risk appears to be relatively low given the material risks faced by borrowers”. As such, syndicated loans are not properly capturing the full carbon load of the underlying activities. They only capture scope one emissions, which means that the climate risk is not appropriately priced. This is a critical flaw in the system that must be addressed.
Short morsels to appear smart during your next remote event
🇨🇳 China’s livestream queen, who sold $31bn worth of goods in 2020, is making nice with Beijing.
🇪🇺 Staggering: European fintech Klarna announced this week that it has raised another $639 million at a post-money valuation of $45.6 billion. (Klarna was Sequoia’s first investment outside Sweden.)
💻 Are post-pandemic remote events here to stay? Linkedin seems to think so given the company's recent investment in Hopin. (Congrats to Johnny Bourfarhat!)
📖 For the first time since 1536, Oxford University Press won't be operating a printing press. I’m super sad about this as I printed a weekly newspaper on those presses between 1992 and 1994.
💽 Data ownership proposals are widely misunderstood, aim at the wrong goal, and would be self-defeating if implemented. Is it time to think beyond data ownership?
🧐 Another inside account of what happened when Google fired Timnit Gebru. The story is not going away, nor it should.
🚔 This is remarkable: US investigators were able to locate and secure crypto funds received in the Colonial Pipeline attack.
🚨 In light of the crypto recovery, it came to light this week that the FBI created an encrypted messaging app and fooled criminals into using it. Impressive.
🎤 Politicians aren’t going to be getting any “special treatment” from Facebook in the wake of the Trump ban. They will be treated just like everyone else, the social media company says.
This week marks one of main events in my calendar, the CogX Festival. I’ve got a few talks on, including with:
Stephanie Kelton on modern monetary theory
Jeff Hawkins on his thousand brains theory of intelligence
Kate Crawford on power, politics, and the planetary costs of artificial intelligence
And Greg Williams of Wired about my theory of the Exponential Age.
But apart from those - please tune in! - there are hundreds of other talks going on. I'd encourage you to pop along if you can. As an EV reader you can get standard access to the festival by clicking here.
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Congratulations to Priya Guha MBE and Reshma Sohoni MBE for receiving the Queen's Birthday Honours!
David Klenert published “Robots, Jobs and the Future of Work” with Enrique Fernández-Macías, and José-Ignacio Antón.
Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a huge but challenging development based on blockchain technology and digital assets. Kevin Werbach helped create the DeFi Policy-Maker Toolkit, which demystifies DeFi and provides a balanced resource for governments.
For anyone who wants to learn more about regenerative agriculture and food, especially the business and investment opportunities, Koen van Seijen launched a video course. Pay what you think it's worth, so accessible for all!
Pascal Tremblay is organizing a fundraiser online concert for protecting the Amazon rainforest and to raise funds for Indigenous communities there. All funds raised will be donated and some matched by our community at the Canadian Psychedelic Association.
Felix Velarde just published a book called Scale at Speed – How to triple the size of your business and build a superstar team. Congratulations!
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.)
Featured jobs for readers of Exponential View
Head of Technical Operations at Our Future Health, the UK’s largest ever health research programme, bringing people together to develop new ways to detect, prevent and treat diseases.
Head of Power Business at Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which is on a mission to enable worldwide clean energy for everyone, creating a sustainable environment for current and future generations.
Head of Government Affairs at Dapper Labs, the NFT company behind he Flow blockchain, CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot.
Marketing Leader at Pachama, a climate tech startup in a mission to restore nature to solve climate change.
Head of Product at Zava, a healthtech startup which provides patients with healthcare that is dependable, affordable, and a fraction of today’s cost.
Data Platform Engineer at Analytical Flavor Systems, a venture-backed startup that models human sensory perception of flavor, aroma, and texture using proprietary machine learning in order to predict consumer preference of food and beverage products.
Head of Engineering at Magic, an early stage, fast-growing challenger to transform the antiquated user identity space by eliminating the need for passwords.
Director of Legal at Panther, the all-in-one platform to employ and pay global teams.