Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
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Dept of podcasts 🎧
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In my final conversation in this season of the Exponential View Podcast, I discuss the rise of Asia, technology diffusion and the next big markets, with international relations expert Parag Khanna.
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Dept of the near future
👾 Fortnite might presage the next version of the Internet, the metaverse, suggests Matthew Ball. Could it become Netflix's (and Facebook's) biggest competitor?
Fortnite’s most significant achievement may be the role it has come to play in the lives of millions. For these players, Fortnite has become a daily social square – a digital mall or virtual after school meetup that spans neighborhoods, cities, countries and continents. This role is powered by Fortnite’s free availability, robust voice chat, cross-platform functionality, and collaborative gameplay.
Some numbers: more than 200 million registered users, and approaching a $96 average revenue per active user, which blows Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat at a combined $57, out of the water.
📭 Longish read on how crypto networks will create, what Denis Nazarov calls, "open services", the successor to opensource.
As crypto networks evolve, they are likely to provide strong incentives to [...] create open services in many areas dominated by closed ones today. Open services powered by crypto networks will present unprecedented opportunity for a new generation of developers and entrepreneurs
As a partial counterpoint, Bruce Schneier asks does the blockchain change the system of trust in any meaningful way, or just shift it around?
Blockchain doesn’t eliminate the need to trust human institutions [...] there’s always a need to override the rules, and there’s always a need for the ability to make permanent rules changes [...] people will need to be in charge.
🇻🇪 That said, bitcoin is finding a resurgence in Venezuela.
🧭 For years, I used the McKinsey Three Horizon framework as an innovation taxonomy to help executives think about their corporate investments. Steve Blank argues that the rapid pace of change is making this model less useful: “disruptive Horizon 3 ideas can be delivered as fast as ideas for Horizon 1 in the existing product line.” What is more “[t]hese rapid Horizon 3 deliverables emphasize disruption, asymmetry and most importantly speed, over any other characteristic. Serviceability, maintainability, completeness, scale, etc. are all secondary to speed of deployment and asymmetry.”
💯 The era of general purpose computers is ending and is being replaced by specialised and customised compute. Specialisation, by its nature, is a double-edged sword. It will allow for the tasks it is optimised for to be performed better and faster, but may limit other applications, under-serve certain communities of users and reduce the space for developing new innovations. (I've long made this argument myself.)
👌 “One reason for its extractive behavior is that it is being told that it is imperative to keep growing. But the greenfield opportunity has gone, and the easiest source of continued growth is cannibalization of the ecosystem of content suppliers that Google was originally created to give users better access to.” writes Tim O'Reilly in this thoughtful essay on the faults of blitzscaling, a preferred operating procedure of Internet startups.
☠️🔥 Climate crisis
Each week, I’m going to remind us of our level of the CO2 in the atmosphere. We must avoid a level of 450 parts per million.
This week's level: 411.54ppm (12 months ago: 407ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm)
A long-read excerpt of David Wallace Wells new book, The Uninhabitable Earth. He makes the case that we’ll need large-scale carbon sequestration systems in order to minimise human suffering as the planet warms.
The Economist: “ExxonMobil plans to pump 25% more oil and gas in 2025 than in 2017 […] The next 15 years will be critical for climate change. If innovators, investors, the courts and corporate self-interest cannot curb fossil fuels, then the burden must fall on the political system.”
Dept of business
👂 How Airpods became one of Apple's most important products.
😮 Peloton, the fitness startup, has a higher net promoter score than Apple. The company is tracking for $700m for the 12 months to end of February, up from $370m the previous year. Not too shabby for a seven-year-old company.
The New York Times is on track to meet its goal of $800m in digital ad revenue by 2020, with paid subscriptions reaching a high of 4.3m.
🎓 Lambda School is a fascinating story. An online coding school, it allows students to pay for their tuition (of $20k) or use an income sharing arrangement where they pay up to 17% of their income, provided it exceeds $50k per annum up to $30k. Apparently, 83% of their graduates get hired within six months. Here is a tear down of their business model.
Dept of surveillance
The German Federal Cartel Office whacked Facebook's business model:
Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts.
I've not had much of a chance to digest this report but a one key point about Facebook (and other firm's) data collection is that the infringement isn't just a nebulous invasion of privacy. It is that the data collection allows them to influence your future behaviour "and compromise your personal autonomy." (Rather good analysis.)
Oracle, a database company, had spent $3bn slowly building up a substantial data harvesting and tracking business. Like Facebook, it too faces a backlash, and this business is in retreat.
🚓 Predictive policing is spreading more widely in the US, with several dozen cities using the services of PredPol. The systems purport to identify the best places to deploy resources, given historical crime data. Naturally, the problem here is your predictions are “driven by what seems to be objective historical data that itself reflects longstanding and pervasive bias.” The whole thing is rather problematic, in my view, but take a read, and come to your own conclusion.
🤔 Also, decent feature on the issues on building a re-offending model in this UK trial. Early-testing found the algorithm agreed with humans only 56% of the time.
Affectiva's AI can detect anger in just 1.2 seconds of speech.
😂 Google's Verily is reputedly developing a pair of shoes that will warn if you are getting fat.
An overview of China's new data protection regulations which include personal data and important data:
personal data refers to having “autonomy and control over one’s data,” aligning with the general understanding privacy in Western legal traditions. Distinct from individual concerns, he wrote, are interests “at the national level” that concern “important data affecting national security, the national economy, and people’s livelihood.”
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
Ten depressing things about human nature. Recognise yourself?
🧠 Neuroscience-based startups are kicking off.
🇫🇮💸 Finland's universal basic income experiment draws to a close. Recipients had higher reported levels of well-being, but were no more likely to find work than non recipients. (Full report.)
The world has had an ominous decline in democracy.
🇮🇳 The CEOs of Microsoft, Mastercard and Adobe all went to the same high school in India.
The replicator: a cool new 3-d printer. 🖖
Tool-makers among crows, the New Caledonian crow, is capable of planning several steps ahead.
I spent a fascinating couple of days exploring the intersection of genetic engineering and machine learning this week. I'll be digging into this area a bit further in the future. If you've found interesting companies in this space, particularly at the seed-stage in the UK, I would love to know.
One consequence of this exploration was a more abbreviated Exponential View this week.
P.S. Scroll to the bottom to read what your fellow readers have been up to. Fascinating stuff, as always!
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Alyssa Kuhnert shares the success of her team at Dessa: cutting the time it takes astronomers to identify supernovas almost in half.
Congrats to Aneesh Varma and Aire for raising $11m in series B, in an effort to take the credit scoring system for the 21st century.
Hampus Jakobsson shares his podcast conversation with the sci-fi author Hannu Ranajiemi, discussing synbio, Mars collonization, and quantum computing.
John Havens shares some exciting news from his organization: the IEEE Standards Association is uniting forces with the MIT to launch a global Council on Extended Intelligence.
Jacob Ohrvik-Stott writes about the complexities of automating care.
Samuel Arbesman's short story about technology, truth and reality.
Davide Cassaleggio put together an animation about the end of work, and hyper-productivity.
Levin Bunz asks Where are the Unicorns in Consumer AI?
Tabitha Goldstaub interviews the bestselling author Anand Giridharadas, discusses his latest book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.
Congrats to Michael Keating for only having one Scoot scooter stolen last weekend!
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