🔮 Better living through chemistry; openness; DAOs; the future of food & whales ++ #343
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.
✨ Network effects are at the heart of what I call the unlimited company in my book Exponential. Even though network effects have driven as much as 70% of value creation in tech since 1994, founders still find themselves in the dark when it comes to leveraging their power. To uncover how network effects shape businesses, I invited the expert, James Currier, Partner at NFX, an investment firm, to join me on the podcast. You can listen to our conversation here or wherever you get your podcasts. You can read the transcript here, or a quick summary here.
James and I cover...
💰 How the token economy embeds network effects [27m 20s]
🔄 What Facebook would look like if it was run by Reed Hastings [43m 12s]
👨⚖️ Why traditional hierarchies won’t regulate networks effectively [47m 45s]
Dept of near future
The frontiers of mental health
✨🍄 Seattle became the latest American city to decriminalise the use and cultivation of psychedelics this week. At the same time, federal funding is finally opening up for some scientific studies on how these substances can transform treatment for depression and addiction. Pscychedelics were more widely studied before the UN consensus put them on “Schedule 1”, the most serious narcotic category, in 1967. (For a good historical overview on such studies, I recommend this paper.)
The medical establishment seems to increasingly agree with the decriminilisation of psychedelics. Clinical trials involving psilocybin, MDMA and LSD are growing. (There are also trials involving ketamine that aren’t in the chart below.)
David Nutt, at London’s Imperial College, has long led research into psychedelics as therapeutics. In May this year, he argued strongly in favour of psychedelics in this must-read Q&A:
I think psychedelics are going to be a revolution in psychiatry. Our recent trial showed that psilocybin is a completely viable alternative to current antidepressant medication, for example. It works faster, it works better on most measures, and it has a very different and slightly better side-effect profile.
Unsurprisingly, VC funding for psychedelic startups is starting to take off. A number of EV readers are involved in such funds.
For all the news and hype around shrooms & their cousins, it’s hard to find a clear account of what a therapeutic experience is all about. EV Senior Editor Joseph Dana has been on a months-long personal quest exploring the therapeutic side of psychedelics. Last month, he embarked on his first psilocybin journey. When I cheerily greeted him the next day with “did you have a nice trip?”, I found a transformed man.
He has written a readable and deeply personal account of what he experienced (he also wrote an earlier piece exploring how hard it is to find a guide for one of these journeys even as they grow in popularity.)
He writes eloquently about the healing psilocybin helped him tap into, even as someone not struggling with depression or addiction. Western society is at a critical junction in how we understand mental health. With the war on psychedelics coming to a close, we need to have fresh conversations about how these substances can help us unlock a new understanding of how our minds work. I think Joseph’s experience is a sign of more to come (the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air agrees).
Transparency in the exponential age
🚀 One of the great promises of the early internet was free and easily accessible information. The early pioneers were often militant in their approach to the open exchange of information. As the internet became more commercialized, these early values were replaced by something much darker.
Last month was the tenth anniversary of Sci-Hub, the online library providing open access to millions of research papers otherwise locked behind insurmountable paywalls. The site has been an indispensable resource for millions worldwide, and now it's under threat. It’s worth spending some time with this fantastic article outlining the challenges facing Sci-Hub.
Transparency and open sharing of information is a subject I tackle in great detail in my book. The issue was also on full display during this rough week of Facebook news. The flows of our information across Facebook resemble, from some perspectives, the flows of the public sphere. Yes, they are held within the opaque walls of Facebook.
The systems that determine how content flows across digital networks – what gets censored, what gets boosted by the algorithm – must be easier to scrutinise. Today’s complex platforms are opaque: their inner workings are hidden, and their decisions are primarily cloaked in corporate pabulum. Greater transparency would allow us to observe how decisions by tech elites are made and identify what effect they have on the society.
As we accelerate deeper into the Exponential Age, transparency and openness will be much more critical than during the Industrial Era. It is not simply about understanding how the systems that govern us operate. It is also about how we are able to share the benefits of knowledge. Perhaps openness actually has fantastic economic benefits too. (See also, my older essay on the history of knowledge technologies.)
Economist Carl Frey piqued my interest with this graph.
His comment: “US productivity growth peaked at the height of compulsory patent licensing in antitrust. Coincidence?”