Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
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Dept of the near future
🌀 Quantum computing is expected to add productivity gains of over $450 billion annually in the coming decades, says BCG, with early applications in portfolio management, drug discovery and fluid dynamics. These estimates seem way too low, clocking in at only 0.5% of global GDP. If full-scale quantum computing arrives in twenty years, it seems clear that all major sectors, including energy, pharma, food production (by radically improving our artificial nitrogen fixation processes), transport and beyond will be enhanced by quantum computing. And in particular, there will be arrays of currently intractable (and also unimaginable) knots will be able to untie with the capability. (Hybrid algorithms might help quantum computers become useful more quickly.)
🥗 Soon, we might fight cancer with better food: Researchers are presenting a machine learning model for identifying ‘cancer-beating’ bioactive molecules in foods. The model predicted anti-cancer therapeutics with classification accuracy of 84–90%. Researchers used their findings to construct a ‘food map’ with anti-cancer potential of each ingredient defined by the number of cancer-beating molecules they contain. If better food can be used to fight disease, should it be considered a form of medication—and should insurers pay for it?
🌏 Vijay Vaitheeswaran puts together an excellent (long) survey on globalisation: “the great convergence that produced a golden age for [large firms] is now unravelling.” Supply changes are fragmenting, and facing greater threats from trade wars and cyber-threats. (What he misses out is the impact on shifting, integrated, supply changes on inter- and intra-national politics. It also misses out the potential impact of 3-d printing and other future technologies on global fragmentation. My favourite take on those geopolitical issues is this promulgation from 2015 by TX Hammes.)
📑 Conventional metrics for venture investing shouldn’t be applied to Web 3.0 business models, argues EV reader Max Mersch. Instead, Mersch proposes a range of more relevant ‘native’ metrics for Bitcoin, Ethereum, MakerDAO and others. ‘All these metrics come with different caveats and restrictions — they do not tell a clear story by themselves, but they do give a good indication of the direction a certain network is growing into,’ he writes. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to Fabric Ventures, Mersch’s venture fund.)
💣 Climate breakdown: 3,965 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until reaching the 450ppm threshold.
The latest measurement (as of July 1): 413.76 ppm; 12 months ago: 409ppm; 50 years ago: 326.66ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
Global cleantech spending has stalled, declining by 14% in the first half of 2019 compared to a year previously. Insightful point by Ramez Naam: ‘Renewables are emerging out of their first economic phase, where they were subsidy dependent.’
🏠 Earlier this year, I said I would run my household at net zero carbon. One useful step has been to switch my energy provider to a firm which sourced its electricity from renewables and gas from low-carbon or offset sources. I chose Bulb Energy and I’ve been really happy with it. All its electricity is renewably sourced, 10% of its gas from net-zero biogas and the remainder is offset by buying carbon offsets. The experience with Bulb has been so fantastic that we’ve teamed up with them to give EV readers in the UK a £75 joining handshake (instead of the usual £50). I would encourage you to give it a shot.
In a few weeks, I’ll also report on what I have learnt about my somewhat mixed attempts to get to offset my emissions.
Dept of autonomous vehicles
The autonomous vehicle is further away than car makers have promised. My 2018 forecast hinted as much when I wrote:
KITT, the car from Knight Rider, will remain the gold standard for autonomous vehicles.
Autonomous vehicle pilots will become increasingly ambitious, but the real-world hurdles will still take time to navigate, even with friendly city regulators. None will ship to the public in 2018.
In a recent Members-only briefing Reilly Brennan, partner at a transport-focused venture capital firm, argued that
the reality is that it’s going to take about 20 years and about $40 billion to get to fully autonomous vehicles. And I don’t mean 40 billion across the entire industry, I mean, 40 billion if a company wanted to get this right [AVs]. It’s the domain of very few companies at this point to do level-five service.
The rest of this section is open for members of our Premium community. We discuss:
- the two strains of autonomous driving development,
- how incumbent car makes are faring in the race,
- Tesla’s troubles.
Dept of AI and workforce
Amazon has announced plans to spend $700 million retraining 100,000 American employees to do more high-tech tasks by 2025. The scheme’s aims are modest—rather than ‘trying to turn warehouse pickers into software engineers’, Amazon is trying to move employees just a couple of rungs up the skills ladder.
➕ Manufacturing companies which adopted robots between 1990 and 1998 actually increased the number of (human) jobs by more than 50% in the subsequent two decades, whilst companies which did not adopt robots reduced their jobs by more than 20% over the same time period, according to a new study.
🏦 The automation of white collar jobs on Wall Street has almost obliterated Goldman Sachs’ Equity Trading desk, which was once run by 500 people and is now run by three. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs now employs 9,000 engineers and is investing heavily in machine learning.
A new report from the Economist’s Intelligence Unit makes it clear where inside companies the push for more automation is overwhelmingly emanating from: the C-Suite. Senior executives are almost universally enthusiastic about automation and AI, whilst their concerns about worker displacement are limited, despite 29% citing ‘employee resistance’ as one of the major barriers to automation. Data privacy and security were also singled out as significant issues holding back automation efforts.
🚑 Hospitals in Texas have introduced a robot assistant for nurses, which is turning out to be hugely popular. Developers worked closely with nurses and medical staff during the creation process, spending more than 150 hours shadowing nurses and doctors before they even began building the robot. The robot’s job is to perform as many of the routine, menial tasks as possible, such as transporting specimens to the lab or replenishing supplies, which leaves chronically over-worked nurses with more time to focus on caring for patients directly.
Rose Collington: We need a new model for managing public data as a public asset. Opening up public data, such as that collected by the UK’s National Health Service to the private sector to use for their own ends may not return value to the public, and could even entrench the power and capital of private companies at the expense of public wellbeing: ‘Perhaps the most significant danger of not only providing private actors like Google with access to these valuable datasets, but also investing in them to develop new technologies instead of our existing public sector research institutions, is that we are creating today new institutional dependencies on these companies to deliver services in the future’. (This analysis can be applied to the NHS’s announcement this week to partner with Amazon Alexa, to offer first-line medical advice via the smart speaker.)
👂 Google contractors can listen in to your Google Home conversations. Naturally. Is it a smart speaker or a smart microphone?
If AI is the next electricity, we’re in 1882, not 1925. AJ Christensen of C3.ai identifies the human, data and market frictions which will inhibit the rapid adoption of AI, and proposes a framework to plot the relative strength of these frictions and how they are likely to impact the time horizons for AI adoption across different industries.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
😟 Zoom, the amazing video conferencing service, seems to have a major security hole which allows anyone to take over your webcam.
San Francisco’s homeless population has grown by 30% in two years.
🍸 40% of American couples met online and more than a quarter met in a bar. (Jump to page 15 of this PDF.)
📦 Tradelens, the blockchain-based global shipping platform is growing strongly. Now five of the six largest global shippers are on the platform. (h/t @kwerb)
Researchers have taught a piece of glass to recognise numbers.
🔀 Picking genuinely random numbers is way harder than most people think.
🆘 Surveillance cameras debunk the bystander effect. Most of us will help a stranger in trouble.
Veillonella, a bacterium found in some microbiomes, may improve our capacity to exercise.
Over the summer, Exponential View will continue to arrive in your inboxes. As I will take a couple of short breaks, I’ve asked some friends to step in from time-to-time.
I hope you have a good break too,
P.S. Scroll below to learn what readers are up to. And tell us what you are doing!
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Yuval Orr released a six-part interactive web series, Earn a Living, about UBI and our changing relationship to money and work.
Jess Holbrook’s team released a People + AI guidebook to help product teams build human-centered AI products.
Nial Alcock’s newsletter We Are in Beta covers positive stories of people solving big challenges in education.
Eytan Lenko shares a report put out by the organisation he’s chairing, Beyond Zero Emissions, outlining a plan for the Northern Territory of Australia to become a renewable energy export superpower.
Ali Jiwani is inviting all students between 14-19 years old to join for Silicon.Camp’s innovation day. If interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org