Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
This issue has been supported by Hanover Communications
Hanover prepares brands for the age of AI
Read their report on the reputational challenges that come with the AI revolution
🎧 Dept of podcasts
At the current rate that we are emitting we'll use up our carbon budget by 2030. We've got twelve years. It’s just two business cycles away. If you think about 2030, where you have to have either reduced emissions by a quarter to a half or you're in a situation where there's no carbon budget: your social license to emit at that point will be gone. And that is going to be the environment that you finish your career in.
The founder of New Energy Finance (now Bloomberg New Energy Finance) and the leading expert on clean energy, transportation, and climate finance, Michael Liebreich, joins me in this latest episode of the Exponential View podcast. We discuss our climate reality, the pathways to the necessary energy transition, and technologies to get us there.
Subscribe to the Exponential View podcast and listen here:
Dept of the near future
💥 The Bill of Data Rights: Must read by Martin Tisné, a long-time friend of this newsletter. We need a new “paradigm [which captures] the ways in which an ambient blanket of data changes our relationships with one another—as family, as friends, as co-workers, as consumers, and as citizens. To do so, this paradigm must be grounded in a foundational understanding that people have data rights and that governments must safeguard those rights.” See also this eye-popping New York Times investigation: Your apps know where you were last night, and they are not keeping it a secret: “Dozens of companies use smartphone locations to help advertisers and even hedge funds. They say it’s anonymous, but the data shows how personal it is.”
🌍 “Letters and numbers are an almost weightless media, but they provide a means to organize states, move legions and run economies [...] The impact of information technologies on societies and physical environments is thus not limited to modern times [...] As meatspace and cyberspace converge today, what we cannot lose sight of is Earthspace. We are obliged to treat the ‘critical zone’, the thin but highly complex layer of life extending from the lower atmosphere to the upper lithosphere, with duty and care.” Impressive essay from the Max Planck Institute on the need for a new interdiscipline, Geo-anthropology, to take an integrative perspective of the interplay between digital and natural domains. (Weirdly this was a sponsored article in Nature, and the first time I think I've ever recommended a post like this in 196 issues. It is worth a read, nonetheless.)
💯 The 2018 edition of the AI Index highlights further acceleration in the performance of AI systems, research in AI, a boom in demand for relevant skills and continued investment. The whole document is highly accessible and worth reading. It shows a dramatic increase in activity across the board. I'll highlight one technical performance milestone: the training of ImageNet, a popular image recognition network, has dropped from 60 minutes to just 4 minutes in about 18 months. (Nick Statt's overview of the report is decent.)
🇨🇳 The internet is being pulled in four different directions by Washington, Beijing, Brussels and Silicon Valley, argues Wendy Hall. Thought-provoking insight into what can be thought of as a reflection of our newly multipolar world. (See also, how Chinese fintechs are looking to capture the mobile payments markets in India, Asia and Africa, as those populations come online. This could shift the global balance of power in the finance industry as those huge populations become connected and wealthier. And this detailed overview of the Chinese intention to develop their own semiconductor industry, specifically chips for ML workloads, and break dependence on US firms.)
🤤 Fascinating: food company Mondelez suffered $100m in damages as a result of a NotPetya cyberattack. Their insurers, Zurich, are refusing to paying citing an exclusion on the basis that NotPetya was a ‘hostile or warlike’ action by a government. (See also, The EU Security Commissioner claimed that the Kremlin ran a year-long disinformation campaign prior to seizing Ukrainian ships last week. And a US cybersecurity firm also suggested that two Russian hacker entities were also involved in attacks around the time of the Kerch Strait incident, which may highlight the hybrid nature of modern power projection. And this on how Chinese hackers seem to be running amok confidential US Navy systems.)
🎩 It is time to rethink the purpose of the corporation, argues Martin Wolf. Long-time bugbear of mine is the naive Milton Friedman view that corporations should solely focus on profits for shareholders, and the equally naive view that corporations should just provide what the “customer wants”. (See also, Salesforce hires a Chief Ethical and Humane Use Offer. The question is whether that person is put in an appendix like so many CSR folk, or actually sits across an organisation changing the actual output of the firm and goals pursued.)
🔥 The UN report on climate change may have understated the pace. The unfortunate syzygy of carbon emissions, air pollution & climate cycles, will be driving faster change resulting in the 1.5 °C warming level arriving a decade earlier. (See also, London is implementing a climate change and disaster risk reduction plan.)
Dept of experts
I am building a small directory of experts who are also EV readers. It is just a way for me to understand better who I can turn to if I need to understand a particular area better. We'll keep this directory private, but if you'd like to be included, please add your name to the form here. Two hundred and fifty-one of you already have.
It'll help when I'm looking for expert commentary, interviews, podcasts, etc. Please fill this out even if you know me really well. I don't want to overlook your expertise because of our familiarity!
To add yourself to the (private) directory, click here.
Particularly interested in any of the key EV domains, including genetics, AI (research, implementation, policy), renewables, drones, crypto assets & blockchain, cultural trends, business models, geopolitics, cybersecurity. Front-line expertise, as well as macro expertise, is welcome. Written a book on the subject? Or backed an entrepreneur in a relevant field? All welcome.
Dept of technology smorgasbord
🤖 The robots descend on Trump country: “The growing use of work robots and the deployment of artificial intelligence have been most disruptive in just those areas of the country that provided President Trump with crucial margins of support in 2016” argues Thomas Edsall.
🌐 Excellent critique by a developer, Julien Genestoux: “The end of the ad-supported Web. What if we got the business model of the web wrong?”
Vice documentary on Chinese social credit in action.
Training neural nets while maintaining the privacy of data.
📈 Forrester Research: The rise of edge computing.
Generative adversarial networks are now so good at creating realistic images that these faces are indistinguishable from real people.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
🔭 Beautifully written discussion of the cultural history of stars, telescopes, light pollution and appreciating darkness.
Profile of Travis VanderZanden, CEO of Scooter firm Bird.
The truth about kids & screen time: we might be jumping the gun.
🤭 “23andMe informed me my husband and I are related.”
🌾 The first asexually-reproducing rice — a process which protects resistant properties between generations — was announced. (CRISPR Cas9 at work.)
The genetics of red hair may be more complicated than we thought.
💥🚗 The number of self-driving vehicles has more than doubled in California in the past year — so have the collisions involving AVs.
Ant colonies have memories that outlast those of individual ants. See also, the ecosystem below the Earth is twice the size of world’s oceans.
😳 Rebellious young seals keep getting eels stuck in their nostrils.
Voyager 2 in interstellar space.
I’ve had a slightly mad week. It is my last full week working before the Xmas break. Also moving house. And I managed to ingest a nut (allergic to them), which knocked out a day. Please forgive the shorter Exponential View.
And if you emailed me last week, or approached us about the research gigs, apologies that I didn’t reply. I will aim to clear the email backlog by New Year.
We also migrated to our new email platform, Substack. This better suits our needs, and hopefully yours too, over the coming years. Please, please, take a moment to move this email from your spam/newsletters/etc folder into your inbox. This will train the bots for your pleasure next week!
If you are short on things to read and ponder this week as a result of our tumultuous few days, then I can recommend my conversation with Michael Liebreich. It is truly ponderful.
You might also want to catch-up with the incredibly productive EV readers (see below).
This issue has been supported by Hanover Communications
Hanover prepares brands for the age of AI with their report on the reputational challenges
that come with the AI revolution.
What you are up to?
Ali Jiwani summarised another EV reader Joshua Gans' book Prediction Machines.
Hart Lambur on building a decentralised financial contracts platform.
Knut Wimberger on the Chinese manufacturing industry behind crypto.
Jacob Turner answers: Can robots be people, too?
Yoram Wijngaarde's summary of the research report on the future of online marketplaces.
Our Shared Digital Future: World Economic Forum report on how to build an inclusive, sustainable & trustworthy digital society to which I and other EV readers contributed.
Juan Mateos-Garcia on economics of AI: "New Sciences (and Policies) of the Artificial are needed to understand and manage the new economic complexities that AI brings", so the market inertias don't lock society into inferior trajectories.
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