🔮 Rewarding breakthroughs; pandemic supply chains; TikTok, Jio, QAnon++ #290

🔮 Rewarding breakthroughs; pandemic supply chains; TikTok, Jio, QAnon++ #290

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.

This week, I asked members how they judged Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s public memo that political activism is a distraction for mission-driven companies. A fruitful discussion ensued.

The near future

😉 Two academics looked at what compensation schemes best spurred breakthrough innovations. Their conclusion: outsize rewards for the best results mattered most.

Providing sizable rewards for only the very top performers appears to inspire the sort of risk-taking required to encourage the requisite creativity that delivers scientific and technological novelty. Moreover, since the additional risk under the winner-takes-all compensation scheme did not appear to reduce output levels, it appears that this more radical innovation can be obtained at relatively low cost.

Interesting implications for both corporate R&D and public policy.

🔥 Companies now expect supply chain disruptions lasting a month (or longer) every 3.7 years – that’s not just because of the pandemic, but because of extreme weather events amidst the changing climate. A survey from McKinsey found that companies are retooling their understanding of risk beyond usual business challenges.

🚥 Microsoft will be the only company outside of OpenAI to have the ability to directly access the code and model for GPT-3. Mark Riedl at The Gradient suggests that this might not be a good precedent for the democratisation of artificial intelligence. Teaser: I spoke to OpenAI’s Sam Altman on all things GPT-3, and our conversation will be live on the Exponential View podcast on Wednesday, 7 Oct.

💦 A key variable that really matters in the pandemic has been overlooked. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci expertly breaks it down in this essay.

🚫 The European Commission is considering a wide range of regulations for tech giants according to a leaked document, which features a range of ‘blacklisted’ or ‘greylisted’ actions. Some of the practices that commissioners may consider banning include mixing third party data with surveillance data, or “gatekeepers” ranking their own products above their competitors. A good summary by Cory Doctorow can be found here .

Dept of AI

Nathan Benaich and Ian Hoghart published their 2020 State of AI Report. I shared my commentary on it here. (Members only.)

🍃 Dept of decarbonisation: 411.11ppm | 3,525 days

Each week, I’m 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 September 29): 411.11ppm; September 2019: 408.5 ppm; 25 years ago: 360 ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250 ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.

Mimicking the way the sun produces energy and using it to fight climate change might be achievable, new research finds. Shout out to EV reader Dan Brunner, co-founder of Commonwealth Fusion Systems, who is mentioned in this report. See more in the What you’re up to section at the bottom.

Charts of the week

In a few months, more than 100 million people will be wearing an Apple Watch; 75% of Apple Watch sales are going to first-time customers.


More than 60% of all cars sold in Norway were electric vehicles. A further 25% or so were hybrids. The switch from ICE has come very rapidly. Five years ago, only 1 in 10 cars sold was electric.

Short morsels to appear smart

😮 Tiktok has built a British following that’s almost 50% of Facebook’s in just three years.

🏹 India’s Jio Platforms has all the hallmarks of the world’s next tech giant.

By 2050, extreme heat may ground up to 185,000 airline passengers per year. This is 23 times greater than today’s rate.

Alt-health meets alt-right: conspiracy theorists and QAnon fanatics are finding a surprising common ground with vegans and holistic psychiatrists.

💯 An interesting deep dive on Palantir.

🔤 Have CAPTCHAs evolved too much? (Azeem’s comment: YES!)

The operating system that keeps our space technologies running.

End note

Thanks for all the awesome birthday wishes. Had a fab time.

And to all of you: have a great week, and don’t forget to mask up and keep your distance!



What you’re up to—notes from EV readers

Congratulations to Paola Bonomo for receiving the South Europe Startup Award as the 2019 Investor of the Year!

Dan Brunner shares the physics basis for his SPARC fusion reactor.

Vass Bednar wrote about Apple and Google becoming de facto regulators.

Todd Wills has co-authored a piece of research on biopharma innovation.

Sven Meier of Future Cleantech Architects is doing a survey on future trends in the energy sector - contribute!

Calum Chase writes on the impact of AI on healthcare.

Vivek Wadhwa suggests that India should take a page out of the playbooks of China and the USA and insist that foreign tech companies in the country are owned locally.

Charles Yang explores the vulnerabilities of AI as a cybersecurity threat.

Jenny Watkins co-authored a report on making AI actionable for leaders.


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