🔮 AI & energy; global slowdown; Tornado Cash and crab evolution++ #386
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.
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The near future
🧨 Apophis intelligence
At current growth rates, machine learning workloads might consume the entirety of global energy production, argues AMD’s CTO. The growth in demand is not merely in the cloud but in increasing uses by edge devices like cars, phones, and sensors. So I don’t think this will actually happen, but it’s a useful challenge to prompt action. Current approaches to increase the power of ML models involve more complexity. But such complexity comes at a disproportionate energy cost: a four-fold increase in parameters drove an 18,000-fold increase in energy usage. AI’s carbon footprint varies dramatically region-to-region and between different types of model architectures.
While valuable triggers for analysis, to some extent both of these challenges (growing energy use and the carbon footprint) only capture part of the picture. If ML workloads improve outcomes, then perhaps the energy investment is worthwhile. Take one simple use case: sensors from field to cold-chain to store might optimise the flow of produce, reducing waste and the energy costs of refrigeration and transport. Those sensors show up as increased energy consumption, but improve the efficiency of the system overall.
Nevertheless, these pressures may create an impetus for software optimisations, and investments in new low-power computing architectures.
(See also: These increasingly powerful networks are opening new vistas. It turns out the protein structures are sufficiently speech-like, that transformer models can be used to map out potential new proteins.)
🧭 Interesting times
One of the themes of my book Exponential Age is the “new world disorder”. Jeremy Cliffe articulates his wide-ranging view of how this order has emerged and what shape it might take. The IMF forecasts the worst slowdown in global growth in 80 years, from 6.3% in 2021 to 3.8% in 2022. This only adds to tensions. See also this thought-proving essay, although I disagree with lots of it, by George Wil that China faces a looming decline. Excellent deep dive into the growing strategic manoeuvring and its historical context between the US and China to secure critical minerals for the Exponential Age.
📡 The changing face of video
Fot the first time, Americans spent more time watching streaming than cable TV. Nearly 35% of all TV viewing time went to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. I ask what is “TV viewing” anyway? People interchangeably swap from watching a show on Netflix, to clips on YouTube, to Instagram Reels and, increasingly, are flipping through oodles of videos of TikTok. We might be dealing with a category error. Just to run some numbers: Americans on average spend about 170-180 minutes a day watching “TV”, of which about a third is now streaming — call it an hour. But TikTok use on average globally (I don’t have US data) is 95 minutes per day and about 130 million Americans use TiKTok. This means that TiKTok’s average use is roughly 38 minutes per day — right up there. The UK regulator, Ofcom, has found that 15-24-year-olds spend 57 minutes a day on TikTok (more than Facebook and Instagram combined at 45 minutes). That same cohort is down to 51 minutes of broadcast TV a day, a drop of 66% in a decade.
See also: The TikTok in-built browser logs all your keystrokes. And, with two billion iPhones in circulation, Apple’s shift to service revenue is ineluctable (see EV#357.) The Economist pithily summarises the challenges for the firm now that it has sold 2 billion iPhones. It is a shift from driving unit growth to increasing per-device monetisation. It has been successful so far, but regulatory and consumer acceptance risk lurk below the surface.
Short morsels to appear smart while absconding from the authorities
🦔 The new smartest guys in the room: profile of crypto investors, Zhu and Davies, founders of 3 Arrows Capital which imploded with trillion-dollar collateral damage. (Also, Dutch authorities have arrested the suspected developer of the crypto-launders favourite tool, Tornado Cash. (Crypto-libertarianism allows me to introduce you to the state monopoly on violence.)
😔 A Hitler-level of aggression. The level of Russian artillery fire in Ukraine is possible approaching that of the Nazi attacks in the region in 1941/1942.
⏏️ Research shows buttons beat touchscreens in cars.
💥 MobilEye vs. Tesla Autopilot: Which will kill more crash dummies? (Video.)
🦀 Evolution keeps on producing crabs, and no one is quite sure why.
🌿 Scientists have designed synthetic genetic circuits to reprogram plant roots. This can help optimise water and nutrient acquisition.
⏳ Computational epigenetic “clocks” can help determine animals’ actual biological age.
🤝 The power of social capital: research shows that who you’re friends with when young can impact how well you do later in life. h/t EV member Colin Fairweather
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I am away for a couple of weeks, and Marija and her team are holding the fort.
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Tony Pan and his team at Modern Electron are partnering with NW Natural to create clean hydrogen directly from natural gas and blend it into existing distribution networks.
Jonno Evans and his team at Vellir put together 100 slides to explain Web3.
Pascal Finette has announced the coming release of his book Disrupt Disruption, and opened an Author’s circle.
Dirk Paessler gave a talk about the current state of the science for enhanced weathering on croplands.
Toomas Henrik Ilves has an op-ed in the WSJ: NATO front-line states are treated like second-class citizens.
Eliot Peper wrote about the surprising power of playing long games in the Boston Globe.
Gianni Giacomelli published his first monthly curation dedicated to collective intelligence.
Daniel Strode published his book, “The Culture Advantage: Empowering your People to Drive Innovation”.
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