The future of technology. Time to bring ethics into technology discourse. Society-in-the-loop and new social contract. Self-driving cars are racing towards us, why does that matter? How can new entrants leapfrog early self-driving leaders? What the hottest year of record means. Some renewable milestones. Downloading movies in Cuba. Vertical farms. Microbes and our brain.
Sunday fodder for Sunday chats. Enjoy!
Dept of the near future
😀 Chris Dixon: “11 reasons to be excited about the future of technology” **POSITIVE **
💰 “The stuff we really need is getting more expensive” Education, healthcare and food raging ahead of inflation, TVs and toys getting radically cheaper. EXPLOSIVE chart by @Mark_J_Perry. (Read in the context of this piece on robotisation of work. “[T]he labour-saving effects of digital technologies hit employment quickly but new job opportunities emerge slowly…new jobs enabled by digital technologies require different skills. Some of these skills are technical … others have little to do with technology.” Education, our skill acquisition process, needs to be getting cheaper not more expensive. See also “Education for [the] fifth job, not just first”.)
🤔 The end of brawn. Future work needs empathy and intellect. GOOD READ
🔮 Society-in-the-loop and the algorithmic social contract by @iyadrahwan. **THOUGHT PROVOKING. “**We need to build new tools to enable society to program, debug, and monitor the algorithmic social contract between humans and governance algorithms.”
😎 Stephen Pinker on why the world isn’t falling apart. “Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. News is a misleading way to understand the world. It’s always about events that happened and not about things that didn’t happen…. by every measure our world is much more peaceful.” INSIGHTFUL
Dept of future transport
🚗 Uber launches self-driving cars in a trial in Pittsburgh this week. Read Max Chafkin’s excellent exclusive on this and their acquisition of Otto, the self-driving truck company. I was in an Uber returning from the airport when this was reported on the BBC by EV subscriber, Rory Cellan Jones. My Uber driver heard the headline and leant forward to increase the volume, ears pricking up. This is the sharp end of automation.
Even if you hold the reasonable belief that work isn’t going to go anywhere soon, and that we’ll continuously reinvent things for humans to do, the question is not about the statistics in aggregate. It’s about the (quite significant) numbers of individuals who will be affected by the transition.
What do soon-to-be-former Uber drivers do? And how far will their wages be suppressed as self-driving cars roll out? (See the robotisisation of work piece at the top of this week’s EV.)
Another lens for Uber’s announcement is how they have o'erleapt Google in getting a product to this stage of testing. Google was early with on-street self-driving cars but their project seems to have hit snarls with execs leaving.
For Uber, mastering self-driving cars is an existential need. Whereas for Google, it is a nice-to-have.
Google, Uber and Tesla face competition from London-based Five.AI which promises self-driving cars by 2019.
Part of the challenge for Google is also about the pace of innovation in both hardware and software (particularly the GPU/algorithm stack powering new vision applications). Much of Google’s own self-driving choices would have predated innovation in that area, facilitating new entrants who can leapfrog.
💥 For a great illustration of this, see Nvidia’s deconstruction of end-to-end deep learning for self-driving cars, where they demonstrate “that CNNs are able to learn the entire task of lane and road following without manual decomposition into road or lane marking detection, semantic abstraction, path planning, and control. A small amount of training data from less than a hundred hours of driving was sufficient to train the car to operate in diverse conditions, on highways, local and residential roads in sunny, cloudy, and rainy conditions. The CNN is able to learn meaningful road features from a very sparse training signal (steering alone).” EXCELLENT, MODERATELY TECHNICAL
Increasing numbers of self-driving EVs should put pressure on existing automotive business models. In particular, the sales and aftermarket and second-hand car business. For one thing, even first generation EVs are much for reliable than ICE vehicles. 🔮 Check out this report of the maintenance required on a Tesla Model S which had driven more than 100,000 miles. (Diddly-squat is a fair approximation.) And, of course, shared ownership, transportation-as-a-service applies pressure to the whole ecosystem of local mechanics, second-hand car sales and parking.
🔋 All these self-driving, EVs are going to need a tonne of lithium for storage. Did I say a tonne? I meant 1.723 Mt by 2030, according to Aurora research. (Cumulative global Lithium reserves are estimated at 10Mt.) SolidEnergy, a battery spinout of MIT, announces a new technology which almost doubles storage efficiency by weight of lithium-based batteries.
Dept of climate change and renewables
🔥🔥 It’s getting hotter. So infernally hot. Hottest recorded month ever and what it means.
On the Arctic death spiral. (Includes appealing visualisation of an unappealing reality.)
Lower price for solar set in Chile. 2.91c/kWh. These low prices are (fortunately) becoming a pattern, beating the Masdar price from a few months ago, and well ahead of some of the smartest projections.
The capacity factor wind turbines is increasing steadily. It has doubled over the past ten years or so, approaching 60%. The result: more reliable, less intermittent power generation.
Dept of hiring
😃 I’m hiring an Associate to join my new Venture & Foresight team at Schibsted Media Group. This is a great opportunity for someone who wants to help a dynamic, global company handle “what’s next”. Full details of the role, which is based in London are here. Please just apply directly through the ad.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
How Xiaomi went wrong. Is the "Apple of the east” rotten?
What is Apple planning for augmented reality?
🍆 The world’s largest vertical farm needs neither sunlight, water or soil. High-intensity urban vertical farming could change our relationships with global supply chains.
China’s higher education glut. 16% of graduates are out of work.
🇸🇸 Picture essay: life in South Sudan’s protection camps. We’ll be seeing more places like this crop up.
Interactive dynamic video simulations. Sort of like magic.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s referrer-thon. Really appreciate it.
If you didn’t get a chance to do this last week, please visit this tweet and hit the retweet button.