We’re on a summer schedule right now. This week’s EV provides a half-year check-in to the decadal predictions I made in January.
Dept of Near Future
Robot use is soaring during the pandemic. (Brain Corp saw a 41% jump in robot usage in the US in the first half of the year.) Meanwhile, Sinead Bovell argues, “I am a model and I know that AI will eventually take my job.” In 2013, Frey & Osborne’s groundbreaking research suggested that the modelling profession had a 98% chance of being automated by machine learning. #automation #robopocalypse
Everyone’s talking about the move to remote work for most industries. But is this actually a good trend for workers? Sean Blanda points out that this means a downward pressure on wages (he’s talking specifically about the American context, but this is true around the world), which makes it easier to think of individuals as numbers rather than people, and can actually discourage growth. We’re seeing the shift out of the office everywhere. This is even true in Japan, where the working culture is tied up with the office. For example, Fujitsu’s 80,000 employees will now be able to work from home as the standard. #remotework
What is the impact of the ECJ decision, Schrems II, on European to US data transfers? It is more extensive than initially thought. It will severely constrict such transfers of personal data. The reason? US surveillance law is broken and doesn’t have “effective legal remedies for data subjects.” #worldisspiky #personaldata #surveillance
I had a very fun conversation with Andrew Zuckerman and Spencer Bailey for the At A Distance podcast.
Reviewing my decade predictions
In January this year, I published 10 predictions for the 2030s. These tackled what I reckoned would be some of the dominant forces of the next ten years. We are six months into to the first year, or five per cent in to that journey. This week I’ll review the first five predictions.
Prediction 1: Climate change will be the dominant narrative.
verdict: On point. This narrative is accelerating rapidly, but long-term commitments by companies have accelerated. Entrepreneurs are turning their attention to climate change.
We’re putting together a spreadsheet of net zero pledges made by corporations and businesses around the world. You can contribute to it here.
- Vinod Khosla argues that “a dozen or so key technologies/entrepreneurs will make a substantial difference, far more than the next hundred efforts.” He refers to these entrepreneurs as “instigators”.
- Microsoft pledges to be carbon neutral by 2030: “At Microsoft, we expect to emit 16 million metric tons of carbon this year.”
- BP wants to become a net zero carbon company by 2050.
- Apple wants to be carbon neutral by 2030: “Apple has supported the development of more than 1 gigawatt of clean energy to support its own corporate campus footprint.”
- Amazon wants to be net zero carbon by 2040: “Amazon announced it’s on a path to run on 100% renewable energy by 2025, five years ahead of schedule.” The firm also announced a $2bn climate investment fund.
- Joe Biden has an aggressive climate action plan: “Biden had previously committed to reaching a 100% clean energy economy by 2050.”
- Christine LaGarde at the ECB “has opened the door to using its €2.8tn asset purchase scheme to pursue green objectives.”
Prediction 2: Our geopolitics will continue to fragment and this will result in more conflict.
verdict Well underway, pugnacity on all sides is accelerating this trend.
My essay on TikTok, India, and China. "Global decoupling is not just a gruelling sparring session between China and America. Rather it reflects a series of different pressures, some security-driven, some economic, but all about sovereignty in the face of technology change that we are seeing expressed by the UK, EU and, of course, India." #worldispiky
- China attacks the 'ban' of 5G kit from Huawei around the UK, saying the decision was “not only disappointing, it's disheartening".
- The Magnitsky Act passed in the UK: “The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, hailed the new Magnitsky law as an illustration of how ‘global Britain’ might be a force for good in the world.”
- Researchers in China and the US say that US policies, such as increasingly onerous visa restrictions on Chinese scientists and students and tightened export controls, are also having a chilling effect on bilateral research partnerships.
- The Economist: “The United States and China are contesting every domain, from semiconductors to submarines and from blockbuster films to lunar exploration. The two superpowers used to seek a win-win world. Today winning seems to involve the other lot’s defeat”
Prediction 3: In what we have generally thought of as the West, we’ll rethink the shape and purpose of our economies.
verdict Big promises—and shifts in the dialogue—but we don’t yet have evidence of widespread political leadership that will shift the dominant ideology.
- Mayors around the US are signing onto a universal guaranteed income scheme – Michael Tubbs, of Stockton, California, ran a version of UBI earlier this year, and says, “If we can’t muster the political will to act now, then we have a deeper problem of values and ability to act in our society.”
- The pandemic speeds largest test yet of universal basic income in Spain, and conversations happening in Scotland, Canada and elsewhere: “I think people are beginning to recognize that all of our old policies are built for a different kind of a recession and are just not adequate to address this.”
- Coronavirus is our chance to completely rethink what the economy is for: “Contingency planning requires unused capacity, whereas exploiting every opportunity to the full means losing the flexibility needed to respond to sudden changes of fortune.”
- McKinsey’s view on “Reimagining 2020 and beyond”: “This is, frankly, not a time for admiring the problem and incrementalism. This is actually a time for being massively transformational and not tweaking on the margins.”
- Scott La Pierre argues we have one last chance to fix capitalism: “The good news: Throughout history, inequality and economic dysfunction have swelled to crisis points, and we’ve usually managed to reform. The bad news: That has generally happened after a violent rupture.”
Prediction 4: We’ll see the rise of new digital commons, economic institutions that are neither public—nor private—sector.
verdict There’s increased open data sharing in the fight against Covid.
Researchers are widely sharing genomics and other data in the fight against Covid. (See for example, the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health.) Preprint services like Biorxiv and Medrxiv could loosely be considered such commons pools. They have also played an important role in broadening access to Covid research in a commons-like way.
- Data sharing and open source software help tackle Covid-19.
- A number of organisations such as Genomics England have team up to share Covid-19 data with researchers in different ways.
Prediction 5: World trade will face a troika of headwinds.
verdict It got its troika and a sharp kick in the face from SARS-CoV-2
- My essay on the three cleavages coming out of Covid-19, which we will see emerge as greater trends in the coming years: “SARS-CoV-2 is not capable of caring about the details of its defeat.”
- ECJ decision on digital safe harbour. (See the discussion of Schrems II above.)
- Responses to Covid-19 strongly stress the importance of regionalization: “If the worldwide developments now being seen are any indication, we can expect, among other things, an accelerated retreat from globalization (and its concomitant, American global leadership), along with the hastened emergence of semi-autonomous regional blocs—one consisting of China and its client states, another centred on Europe, and a third linking North and South America.”
- Around the world, conversations around the just-in-time supply chains that uphold the global economy are underway: “When China implemented the first lockdown anywhere in the world, the supply shock immediately hit European and American companies.”
- Is the world economy as we know it over? “Even before the coronavirus hit, the limits of globalization were becoming clearer. Trade as a share of global GDP peaked in 2008 and has trended lower ever since.”
Next week, I’ll review my other predictions and provide a brief assessment of the overall picture.
🥵 Climate breakdown: 413.90ppm | 3,595 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until we reach the 450ppm threshold.
The latest measurement (as of July 23): 413.90ppm; July 20, 2019: 411.4 ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
Moixa has built a giant grid-scale virtual battery with a capacity of 200MwH from 20,000 home batteries in Japan.
The 760km Viking Link Interconnector project – the world’s longest sub-sea electricity interconnector cable between the UK and Denmark’s grids – has begun construction. High voltage direct current (HVDC) interconnects will be an important part of the decarbonisation puzzle.
Nuns team up with Morgan Stanley to launch climate impact fund. (Not The Onion.)
Chart of the week
For the first time since the 1880s, the Chinese economy is approaching the size of the US.
A chart shows how Amazon has turned many of the cost lines into revenue-generating businesses. (Don’t forget to check out our amazing members-discussion on Amazon’s R&D spend.)
Amongst talk of a sovereign East Asian cryptocurrency, the PBOC is testing a new cryptocurrency in Shenzhen and four other cities.
Uber drivers are suing Uber to gain access to the data the firm has on their behaviour.
Twitter is considering a subscription model. (Ad-funded businesses can successfully move to subscriptions. The Economist, Exponential View and Financial Times show how this can be done. I would be curious to see the maths, but I could imagine any model would need to keep a free tier in order to maintain Twitter’s relevance.)
Intel, already under pressure from the architectural shift to cloud, mobile, AI, edge and quantum, has fumbled its move to the 7nm node.
What is life? Biologists are turning to information theory to figure out what makes an individual – in order to understand what relationships one animal or an organism may have with its environment.
The exam grading algorithm for the International Baccalaureat’s program is under fire after accusations of bias.
Google’s ad portal equates Black girls with porn. This investigation found that “Google’s systems contained a racial bias that equated people of color with objectified sexualization while exempting White people from any associations whatsoever.”
A Russian design studio created a fake employee made up of a bunch of machine learning techniques. Clients loved the work.
“Intelligence contributes 48–90 times more than grit to educational success and 13 times more to job-market success. Conscientiousness also contributes to success more than grit but only twice as much.”
Marija is away for a few weeks, so I didn’t get round to putting the community section together this week.
We’re also experimenting with tagging stories to the longer-theme they represent. I don’t quite know where such tags will go. Perhaps we’ll end up being able to create a map of inter-related ideas that help you evaluate the development of particular trends. This could be a cool feature for premium members. (Or perhaps we won’t do anything with it. It’s an experiment right now.)