🔮 Stripe’s carbon credit; microbes and the post-oil future; the Digital Silk Road; plastics, drones & archaeology ++ #298

🔮 Stripe’s carbon credit; microbes and the post-oil future; the Digital Silk Road; plastics, drones & archaeology ++ #298

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.

Earlier this week, I tackled…

  • What if every day was a pandemic day? We have created and tested three effective vaccines against Covid-19, ten times faster than usual. What would happen if we applied the same urgency to other major challenges of our time? [Members only]
  • Chart of the Week looks at Covid resiliency by country, Apple App Store troubles ahead, emotional impoverishment of graduate students, and more. [Members only]
  • Robopocalypse postponed: I look at the complexities of the transforming labour market and the protections that are necessary to empower workers in a volatile world. [Members only]
  • The transcript of my conversation with Mike Zelkind, CEO of a network of indoor vertical farms 80 Acres Farms, is on the website. We discuss the future of food production and how exponential technologies have the potential to bring more nutritious fresh produce to more people.
  • I discuss with members what the biggest technologies of the 2020s will be and why. The conversation is still open, jump in.

Dept of the near future

💳 Stripe, the leading payment processor, has quietly become one of the world’s largest purchasers of carbon-removal credits. After spending more than $1 million on carbon credits this year, it now allows customers (mostly businesses using its software) to directly support carbon removal too. Wright’s Law tells us that increasing volume leads to learning effects and rapidly decreasing prices. Stripe is triggering this effect by being a buyer of first resort, thus carbon capture prices can decline. Governments should be doing the same.

👂An ear-opening discussion with Josh Hoffman on our podcast this week. Hoffman’s company, Zymergen, combines microbes, machine learning, and genetic engineering to build materials for a post-oil economy. I strongly recommend this discussion: it will help you reimagine a post-oil future.

🔗 Laurence Lessig’s prescient observation that “code is law” has made the move from metaphor to real life. The question is how we can build a more equitable (and healthy) tech ecosystem in this environment. Marietje Schaake and Tyson Barker move the ball forward with a thoughtful argument for a new EU-US tech alliance. International efforts to “hardwire democratic governance into everything digital” would be well served by a new US-EU alliance. This is all the more critical in light of EV reader Ludwig Siegele’s argument that we need to be thinking about creating a D10 (a tech alliance of ten leading democratic countries), as opposed to a G7 or G8, to counter China’s autocratic approach to the technosphere. (Be sure to check out my conversation with Marietje Schaake, on the podcast).

🇨🇳 Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a “digital silk road” across Southeast Asia at the China-Asean Expo. This is bound to lead to further fragmentation across the Asean trade corridor. Whether or not the Biden Administration will try to reinsert the United States in the region, China has no plans to temper its influence.

🔋 Dept of decarbonisation: 413.28ppm | 3,470 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 November 24): 413.28 ppm; November 2019: 410.5 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.

💫 Repsol, one of Spain’s largest hydrocarbon companies, will make the shift to renewables. The oil giant plans to put its existing projects into “harvest mode”, grow its renewable electricity capacity from 3GW to 15GW, and set new green hydrogen targets. This is a profound rearticulation of investment priorities by an industry leader.

🌏 An ageing bureaucrat, Xie Zhenhua, is widely considered to be driving China’s ambitious climate policy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Xie was the head of China’s environmental protection administration until 2005 and became the country’s primary international climate negotiator in 2007. Xie says this 2060 goal will help China “become a great modern socialist power”.

Short morsels to appear smart on Cyber Monday

💥 Has physics reached the limit of what we can discover? Some physicists believe we may have reached a desert scenario, where there are no new particles left to discover.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 The nuclear family is outdated, and its rigid paradigm stifles debate about deeper challenges facing society, writes David Brooks.

👩‍🚀 How long does it take to go from science to technology? Twenty years, according to Matt Clancy who examined citations made by patents to scientific articles and other metrics to arrive at that conclusion.

🤦‍♀️ Achievement unlocked! We’ve managed to find microplastic pollution near the summit of Mount Everest.

👀 OSINT outfit Bellingcat is investigating whether armed drones are supporting Ethiopia in the northern region of Tigray. If so, this seems to be an indication of conflicts yet to come, as drones make it easier to engage in warfare remotely.

📱Charlie Warzel logged into two boomers’ Facebook feeds for a week and found what he describes as a nightmare, with toxic levels of misinformation and politically polarising content on the site.

💻 Mythic – the AI chip startup – has just released its first product, a “high-end edge” accelerator.

👀 Microsoft 365 is an office suite, but it’s also a workplace monitoring program. Proof that workplace surveillance doesn’t have to arrive under a shiny new moniker.

🦠 This account of the discovery of Moderna’s vaccine indicates that the company plugged the data into its computers and came up with the design for the mRNA vaccine within two days, but it took nine months for all the regulation (including the trials) to happen.

🕵️ A new AI tool can ‘replace’ your face online with a host of uncanny lookalikes.

👓 Archaeology and deep learning – an unusual match with some surprising results.


I do hope our American friends had a safe Thanksgiving.

Have a great week,


What you’re up to—notes from EV readers

Congrats Robert Hercock for winning the Excellence in Cyber Security Award from the E&T Innovation annual awards!

Congrats to Adrian Weller for being awarded a Turing AI Acceleration fellowship!

EV producer Ilan Goodman has just dropped the latest episode of his neuroscience & philosophy podcast NOUS, on the frustrating lack of explanatory power in neuroscience, with Professor Matthew Cobb.

Jason Parry has a new article out in Real Life Mag, about the tricky line to walk when automating environmental conservation.

Lauren Crichton has recently launched a newsletter about tech and non-profits.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali launches a new startup geared towards changing energy-intensive manufacturing.

Sangeet Choudary has a new piece of research out with the Brookings Institution on China’s platform strategy.

David Hume has made a visualisation of all the companies working on marine cleantech innovation.

Rodolfo Rosini has written about the rise of the Hegelian cyberspace.

Marwan Kawadri is looking for a talented analyst to join Founders Intelligence in the UK – more can be found here.

Email marija@exponentialview.co to share your news and projects with other members.


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