🔮 Contextualising fusion; robot second brains; the toughest material, Steam-powered Tesla++ #403
Fusion power will play an important role in sustainable social progress
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:
Contextualising the latest breakthrough in nuclear fusion,
Four ways in which ChatGPT may improve the quality of our thinking,
China’s misinformation war against Taiwan.
🔥 I am also encouraging readers to follow me on Mastodon, the decentralised social network. It is unclear the extent to which Twitter will remain a useful network for information sharing and discovery, so as an insurance policy I’m recommending people also build profiles on Mastodon.
Your outlook on 2023 — let us know what you expect next year to bring
As we prepare our outlook on the next year — which we’ll share with you in the coming weeks during the holidays — we want to hear from you: what are your prediction for 2023? Share them in this form by 3pm ET / 8pm GMT on Tuesday, Dec 20. We will make a selection and share it in a special edition of Exponential View.
Sunday chart: Boom!
Good news is a motivator. And the news from the NIF that they were able to, in some sense, get more energy out than they put in from laser inertial confinement fusion, is good news. But to qualify this: this really confirmed some well-understood physics (which weren’t in question) rather than taking a step toward commercial fusion power.
As one scientist points out: “The NIF only shoots once every four to eight hours or so. But it’s envisioned that a fusion power plant would have to shoot 10 times a second or more.” That is a five-order-of-magnitude improvement in that subsystem alone. But as Arthur Turrell’s chart above shows, we’ve already witnessed an eight-order-of-magnitude improvement in six decades, much of which occurred when we knew less about fusion reactors and when the component materials and technologies were simply not as advanced.
Now if it is the case that by the time commercial fusion reactors are available, we’ll have a 100% renewable energy grid, should we discount this technology?
Not at all. The private sector has had a boom in fusion startups, with more than 20 firms pursuing the goal. Last year, this cohort raised nearly $3bn in venture capital: enough to get on with and reach some more milestones (smart of them to fill their boots before the market mood soured). One of these teams might move faster than the decades the scientists have alluded to.
Even if they don’t, fusion power still plays an important role in sustainable social progress. Energy is the input in our modern lives; it is what enables increasingly complex societies. We use more energy than the Romans who in turn used more energy than foraging bands. Our appetite for it won’t stop, and fusion promises to be the most bounteous source we can currently imagine.
See also: The Economist’s commentary is thoughtful.
Azeem’s commentary: My robot second brain
I’ve been playing around with ChatGPT and other AI tools based on large language models at your favourite wondermissive. One thing I have started to notice is that ChatGPT is quite a helpful second brain. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’ve been able to use it to improve my critical thinking. Reminds me of centaur chess - perhaps we should call it centaur thinking.
In the latest commentary, I’ll share four ways in which ChatGPT improves our quality of thinking:
The divergent thinker
The challenging critic
The eagle-eyed aide
Members of Exponential View will receive the commentary on Monday.
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 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 consider about our climate future: In the same week the long-term dream of fusion energy made a significant move forward, leading science journal Nature published an overview of the global movement perhaps awkwardly known as degrowth. Is the best path toward a more sustainable world the creation of new clean energy sources and systems, or the reduction of wildly unsustainable and unjust inefficiencies? A both/and approach is needed to tackle wickedly complex problems like climate change. Paradigms like LEED Certification in building, for example, advise that energy inefficiencies be reduced before cleaner sources of energy are pursued on a site-by-site level, but on the macro level we need a diversity of tactics, working in concert, with all hands on deck. As Octavia Butler wrote “All successful life is Adaptable, Opportunistic, Tenacious, Interconnected, and Fecund.”
See also, big government moves:
the EU Parliament voted this week to streamline permitting procedures for renewable energy production and transmission, to give member states the right to designate accelerated deployment zones, and to implement a carbon border adjustment mechanism, which aims to prevent high-emissions industries from leaking from high to low regulatory locations.
The Canadian government, estimated to provide $18 billion per year to the oil and gas industry, announced this week it will no longer invest in those industries internationally and will shift investments abroad to clean energy.
The UK government has approved its first carbon capture facility, a giant if controversial plant that could extract 1.5 million tonnes of emissions from their air per year, far larger than other facilities around the world.
BeReal’s user base skews female - more than 98% in some countries.
Tiktok rewards 7.5M views, 629k likes, and over 5k comments with $3.95.
Rates of stress and anxiety at work have doubled in the UK since 2015.
OpenAI, the owner of ChatGPT, predicts that it will generate $1 billion in revenue by 2024.
In the last three months, new grid-scale energy investments reached $40bn, the same amount as all clean energy projects in 2021. via Marshall Kirkpatrick
Short morsels to appear smart while aligning lasers
🎨 Stability AI wants to allow artists to opt-out of having their artwork used as training data for Stable Diffusion 3.0.
💪 Scientists have managed to measure the toughest material on earth. You guessed it, it’s CrCoNi.
💧Scientists may have found the first “water worlds”. The explanation of the methods used to figure out which planets exist and what they’re like is well worth the read.
🦠 The motivation and rewarding nature of exercise are impacted by your microbiome. Turns out, we shouldn’t always trust our gut.
⚔️ Anne Appelbaum: China has started a misinformation war against Taiwan. Also, the US cracks down on more Chinese chip development.
🕹 Don’t play and drive: Tesla launched Steam integration into its cars.
I do like to give the occasional music recommendation. So today’s is a new Swiss rock band, Lakeside by Midnight, which has a connection to this Wondermissive. No, none of the members are readers (yet) but a longstanding reader’s son is a lyricist and guitarist in the group.
P.S. 🚀 I am hosting a private members’ briefing on trends that will shape 2023. Join me on January 26, 9-10 am GMT or 4-5 pm GMT. The event is open only to members of Exponential View with an annual subscription. Members can RSVP below:
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
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.
A number of members of Exponential View at the World Fund are celebrating the European Investment Fund’s investment of €50 million which “will ensure the creation of more sustainable jobs in Europe”.
Giedrimas Jeglinskas makes the case that increased innovation by NATO can help rally Asian allies.
Head of Foresight Research at Nesta Laurie Smith and his team launched the “Minister for the Future” thought experiment with Prospect magazine, where thought leaders propose innovative solutions for long-term challenges.