🔮 ChatGPT's 1m users; the pony of crypto; DNA & climate; ant milk++ #402
ChatGPT got to one million users in just five days.
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 today’s edition:
ChatGPT is impressive, but we need a serious discussion about the huge risks. Is OpenAI team ready to have that conversation?
Doubling down on renewables, as the EU introduces emissions fee on the maritime shipping industry,
Chinese protesters are going analog to escape the surveillance state.
ChatGPT got to one million users in just five days. And it is seemingly everywhere. I’ve played around with it quite a bit to the extent that I am using it “in production” for my work. Simple case: I needed to illustrate a presentation but I had a mind blank, so I had a conversation with ChatGPT for a couple of minutes. I asked it to put together a simple but clear description. I then took that description to Midjourney to generate some clip art.
I also experimented with having ChatGPT come up with a lemon squeezer that didn’t need me to cut the lemon in half. We generated the product description through a simple dialogue. I took the description to Midjourney to produce a mockup. You can see the rendering here.
But the explosive risks of this particular service are starting to become more apparent. Paul Kedrosky, an investor who I have known for more than 15 years, is anxious.
Society is not ready for a step function inflection in our ability to costlessly produce anything connected to text. Human morality does not move that quickly, and it’s not obvious how we now catch up.
We have just had trust hacked as a society by a bad actor. I am hearing from colleges unsure what to do about grading ALL ESSAYS this term. Hundreds and hundreds of essays. The examples are legion across many, many domains. A societal trust collapse, at scale. I obviously feel ChatGPT (and its ilk) should be withdrawn immediately.
I have some sympathy for this argument: the gap between humans and technology is the thesis of my book. And it’s clear that without some constraints, driving the cost of producing realistic-sounding (but untrue or harmful) text to zero will overwhelm our judgement filters. I’ll only use ChatGPT as just one input to my decision-making, in the same way I use Google search or Wikipedia entry. None of them are the last word. But we can’t expect that to be the case for every user. We do need a serious discussion about the huge risks: that we might suck trust out of many of the processes of everyday life. I do think the OpenAI team is being a little too blithe in not having that conversation.
Excellent read on the importance of humanities thinking in helping to understand complex social problems — and how LLMs will devalue that very thinking.
Deepmind’s AlphaCode can produce code about as well as an average human.
Azeem’s commentary: The lost pony
Crypto didn’t get to the moon in 2022. And getting to the moon is, perhaps, the wrong analogy. A better one came from a conversation I had with Kevin Werbach, a long-time friend and Wharton professor who has written the book on blockchain.
Kevin said “the absence of scaled use cases beyond financial speculation is a huge issue. The Web3 argument is that all that capital is borrowing against future cashflows, to overcome the network effects of incumbency. However, that still presupposes that there is a pony in there, under a reasonable time horizon. That claim becomes less convincing over time without successful examples.” [My emphasis.]
In the latest commentary, I’ll share why I believe that a pony is still there, but we’re further away from finding it than I believed a year ago.
Members of Exponential View will receive the full commentary tomorrow.
Dept of our climate future
In every Sunday edition, we track key metrics that tell us a little about our shared climate future. We follow the Mauna Loa readings to update the metrics for you; the readings have been disrupted by the volcanic activity, and we’re adjusting the sources we track. We’ll resume the updates in due course.
Our member, Marshall Kirkpatrick, takes the time to curate a view of climate developments in this segment every week, and you can read Marshall’s curation below.
One thing to know about the climate future this year: The tide is clearly turning away from fossil fuels, and the rate of change is accelerating, but still more acceleration is needed. A new report this week from the International Energy Association (IEA) found that the growth rate (not total sum) of renewable energy is expected to double over the next 5 years, a 30% increase over previous estimates. The agency said “the world is set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the previous 20 years.” Renewables are expected to overtake coal to become the largest source of global electricity by early 2025; solar capacity is forecast to almost triple, while wind is expected to almost double. Don’t think it’s taken care of: it’s still not enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Relatedly, BloombergNEF outlined two alternative pathways to transformation this week, saying “we need to see a massive acceleration.” And Australia’s grid operator last week published a pathway to 100% renewable energy nationwide, for hours and then days at a time, in just 3 years. In the UK, four Universities have now barred fossil fuel companies from recruiting new hires through their schools. Campus recruiting bans were an important part of the movements against the Vietnam War and South African apartheid.
Emissions taxes for ships: The world’s first emissions fee for the massive maritime shipping industry will be applied in the EU. Despite conservative objections, the World Shipping Council trade group said “we are ready” to transition to alternative fuels.
Green beats grey resilience: A new preprint study from Northeastern University in China finds that with all other things equal, investments in green and social infrastructure, from parks to community centres to places of worship, had a greater impact on preventing mortalities among the elderly in Japan’s 2011 triple disaster (9.0 earthquake, tsunami, nuclear melt-down) than did investments in big grey infrastructure like sea walls. Unfortunately it’s construction companies that build big infrastructure projects that make the largest political donations.
Oldest DNA ever discovered: Traits adaptive to warmer climates could be found in new DNA discovered in Greenland estimated to be 2 million years old. Mastodons and other creatures in the Kap København ecosystem thrived in hotter temperatures than today’s.
European startups raised $85bn in venture capital this year, a decline of 18% compared to 2021; one a more positive note, this exceeds the total investments of 2019 and 2020 put together,
Half of global growth in the first two decades of the millennium came from superstar cities representing just 1% of the landmass,
US manufacturing orders from China are down 40% YoY.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
🚧Chinese protesters escaping surveillance go back to basics: graffiti, flyers, word of mouth.
🧑🔬A job is born: prompt engineer. Not everyone agrees this is an actual job - or a job that will last.
🧫 How biological sex differences matter in immunology.
💨Determinants of whether local communities accept onshore wind farms. via EV member Jen van der Meer
🐜 Ants can produce “milk” for their young — and use it to create cohesion in a colony.
🎅🏽 We’re approaching the Christmas holiday season, so I thought I’d share a really fantastic seasonal song. My high school buddy, Keith Roberts, arranged this truly fantastic version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Please enjoy!
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Max Falkenberg and his co-authors published a paper in Nature Climate Change about the polarisation around climate change on Twitter.
Herman Bril, Georg Kell, and Andreas Rasche published “Sustainability, Technology, and Finance - Rethinking How Markets Integrate ESG”.
Vess Ignatova published an article on the role of Biz Ops in exploring, designing, and launching partner relationships.
To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritise 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.)
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