🔮The bioeconomy era; Chinese squeeze; the four comma climate club; Moon time ++ #407
The bioeconomy is blossoming.
Hi, I’m Azeem Azhar. I convene Exponential View to help us understand how our societies and political economy are changing under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies.
In today’s edition:
The bioeconomy is growing like a weed.
America’s allies turn the screw on China’s semiconductor industry.
Sunday chart: Blooming
The bioeconomy, applying biotechnology to key industries, is growing fast according to Rob Carlson at Planetary Technologies. In the US alone, he estimates it is approaching 2.4% of the national GDP. What’s more, it is growing at more than 20% per annum, far faster than the economy as a whole — which means these approaches are replacing traditional industrial systems. (Rob and I spent a couple of days together in Munich earlier in January, and we had a chat about the Exponential Age which you can watch here.)
Foothills again, there is much more to come, especially as we start to apply some of the breakthroughs in computation and ML to biological systems. To wit, Profluent Bio, which applies generative AI to design new proteins just closed a $9m funding round. The Defense Department is exploring making key materials, such as rubber alternatives, from novel bioeconomy processes. And EV reader Zavain Dar just announced a $350m venture fund focusing on that intersection between computation and biotech.
The chains tighten: Japan and the Netherlands have joined the United States in chip controls on China, restricting the sale of advanced machinery to the country. With the Dutch company ASML prevented from selling some “deep ultraviolet lithography machines”, China will have a lot of trouble setting up production lines. This news is not surprising, and China certainly wasn’t holding its breath: Beijing was right to plan for building national capability in semiconductors. I expect more of these trade controls to hit China in the near future; but as we showed in the latest Charts of the Week, China’s role remains dominant in many of the supply chains crucial for the exponential transition. See also, the EU could end its reliance on China’s Li-ion battery cells by 2027.
Grading time: Buzzfeed announced that they would use ChatGPT to write articles, the announcement of may have contributed to a 92% rise in their share price. At Wharton Business School, ChatGPT managed to get through an exam with a passable grade, but was notably bad at simple calculations and process analysis. Stephen Wolfram and his team observed the same problem, and are planning to use their Wolfram|Alpha system to help ChatGPT use logic and computation. We’re only just starting to see the contours of the impact of generative AI on the world: it will be widespread and foresight is complicated. But there is one thing that we were wrong about a couple of years ago… The first widely used AI is better than expected at what is often deemed one of the most human qualities: creative expression. It is bad at what we thought it would begin as: logic and inference. See also: Amazon asks employees not to leak secrets to ChatGPT. OpenAI has also contracted approximately 400 software developers to teach its various models the fundamentals of coding.
Weekly commentary: Notes from a ski resort
A small ski resort, 1,560m high, with regular snow dumps and icy roads is not the obvious place for an international conference. But Davos is Davos and that’s what you get. It was my first time attending the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting and, despite much advice from friends who are regulars, I wasn’t quite prepared for the experience.
In my commentary for members, which you’ll get on Monday, I’ll reflect on a few of the key themes I noted during this year’s Davos meeting.
Members of Exponential View will receive my commentary on Monday.
There was a record-breaking decline in smartphone shipments, with an 18.3% drop in Q4 of 2022.
We saw $1.1 trillion dollars in new climate transition investments in 2022. This marks the first time the trillion-dollar threshold has been passed.
Escaping the recession? This month, a majority of businesses in the Eurozone expanded activity for the first time since June 2022.
Another troubling Brexit stat: UK universities saw a 53% decline in first-year EU students in 2022.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
👁 Breaking eye contact during a conversation can be a sign of increased attention (or disagreement). Via EV member Gianni Giacomelli.
🚦Traffic pollution seems to affect brain function immediately, and temporarily.
🌠 A long read on the neuroscience of hope and faith… and virtual reality.
⚛️ First small modular nuclear reactor design has been approved in the US. I explored the potential of these SMRs with the CEO of Seaborg on our podcast.
🗣 Using Goffman’s theatre imagery to understand the rise of our hybrid social selves.
🌖 The quest to decide what time it is on the Moon.
➕ As long suspected, TikTok employees manually boost certain videos.
🌎 The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes made their own climate mitigation plan.
Exponential knowledge community
On February 22 and March 29, we are hosting a Members Mixer — an online event during which you’ll have a chance to meaningfully connect with fellow members of Exponential View from across the world. RSVP: mixer on February 22 and mixer on March 29.
*Members of our private Slack group have priority to join, so if you’re not there yet, apply now.
**Events are open only to members of Exponential View with the annual subscription.
What members are up to:
Sarah Hunter has been appointed to the board of directors of ARIA, the UK’s advanced research and investment body. Congratulations!
Anil Seth is co-leading a team of scientists who launched a new online citizen-science study of how we each experience a unique world. Anil’s op-ed on the topic for The Guardian is here.
Geoff Mulgan’s new book Prophets at a Tangent: How Art Shapes Social Imagination is out on January 25.
Thanks to the 250 or so members who attended my Horizon Scan briefings this week. For annual members, a recording will be available shortly.