🔮 The sublime Apple Watch; tech, governments & regulation; bitcoin’s value; energy breakthroughs; tulips, octopuses & teens++ #132

🔮 The sublime Apple Watch; tech, governments & regulation; bitcoin’s value; energy breakthroughs; tulips, octopuses & teens++ #132

Good news from the energy industry. What is bitcoin worth? A new era for (smart)watches. Becoming cyborgs. Voice-based interfaces and the future of news. The world's first Tech Ambassador. Octopuses engineer cities.

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🎐  Michael Liebreich’s BNEF State of the Industry annual keynote is a must watch to understand energy markets. It is mostly very good news. His new orthodoxy for 2040: ⅓ of electricity from wind and solar and the world economy ⅓ more energy efficient. Excellent slide deck here.

🤑  Writing in the WSJ, my old college buddy, James Mackintosh asks what is bitcoin really worth? Probably zero. His analysis is worth reading. (Jackson Palmer, who founded spoof currency, DogeCoin, has similar concerns. A column in The Economist argues that bitcoin is fiat money too.)

🤖  The price of industrial robots dropped 75% in the two decades to 2014. Analysts, Ark invest, reckons they will fall a further 65% to $11k per unit by 2025, leading to a near quadrupling of demand in the same time period (about 1.4m units per year). Interestingly, a recent study of robots in Germany found that robots did destroy manufacturing jobs (at a rate of 2 jobs for each robot) but increased overall job levels, resulting to a changing in the composition of employment. Curiously, workers with significant exposure to robots were more likely to keep their employment (perhaps because they were higher skilled, on average).

⚡ Scott Galloway, an NYU prof, is incendiary: The worm has turned against big tech, and it’s overdue. The GAFAs each have their own vulnerabilities, he argues. Their "small-ball strategies of tax avoidance, obfuscation, and the idolatry of youth and the dollar, may turn big tech into smaller tech."  Could these Internet companies be regulated like utilities, asks The Economist? As a former utility regulator, I think there is a case to be made that now these firms have reached such dominant status, sensible regulation might be required. Precedents include Standard Oil, the East India Company, and AT&T. Making the AI case for breaking up the big firms, AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio, argues:

AI is a technology that naturally lends itself to a winner take all.

⌚ Luxury watch specialist, Benjamin Clymer, writes on the new Apple Watch:

we are about to begin a new chapter for smartwatches and perhaps for watches in general. Will Swiss watchmaking do as Nokia did with the iPhone and downplay the threat until it's far too late? … [we stand] on what is very likely a new era for the watch world, all ushered in by the Apple Watch Series 3.

(Apple’s iPhone 8 wins plaudits with experts from both the photographic and silicon hardware domains. And if you are wondering about the privacy and security implications of Apple’s FaceID, Troy Hunt has a balanced analysis.)

Bring on the bodyNET. When will humans expand our perceptions by merging our bodies with electronics? Interesting survey of the key research areas (including elastomers, sensors, power) and the key cultural challenges (inc. attitudes towards body modification, security, privacy, and interaction design). Solid primer on the topic in Nature.


Voice-based interfaces, like Alexa, may provide opportunities for news providers, argues BBC factotum, Trushar Barot. Youngsters love engaging with voice interfaces; we’re generally getting used to bellowing at our computers, and the ‘next billion’ humans to come online will have limited experience of old interface paradigms.

The boom in podcasts does seem to show our willingness to consume audio media, beyond Radio 4. Alexa and its ilk are not there yet.

The big four accounting firms are embracing AI to make audits more efficient. (The companies also believe these efficiencies will allow them to hire more staff. My comment: slight chortle.)

Impressive demo of pix2code which uses CNNs to convert screenshots into working Android and iOS code. This could radically change access to developing apps. Sketch your app and have a neural net turn your drawings into executable code.

Tesla is working with AMD on a new chip. Unsurprising: Apple is proving time and again the value of vertical integration in delivering magical experiences (see last week's EV). Tesla is already more integrated than a typical car company, owning its own battery manufacturing & dealerships.

Microsoft's AI research division has grown to 8,000 researchers.

🚘  Aeva has a new approach to LIDAR to help self-driving cars.

The rise of alternative data in the lending market. I’ve long questioned the value of the oligopolistic credit reference agencies. Primarily because their credit scoring is based on antediluvian data science, a lack of transparency and a punitive consumer model. It’s heartening to see alternative data credit scoring firms applying more sophisticated machine learning & novel data to increase consumer access to financial services.

It is getting hard to tell if a painting is being created by a human or an AI system.


🇩🇰  The Danish government has appointed the world’s first Tech Ambassador to work with the world’s tech giants, as governments grapple with these new dominant firms. (See Dept of Near Future above as well.)

Across the world, Facebook faces a new world order as governments seek to rein it in. This pretty comprehensive survey in The New York Times is worth a read.

A former Facebook ads product manager reckons solving Facebook's political ads problem is reasonably straightforward: better human triage.

My brief tweetstorm on Uber's regulatory tangle in London.

EV reader John Battelle, a great historian of the Internet, provides some context on how the large firms got so dominant. After all,

it wasn’t meant to be this way.

🏡  A startup is offering home buyers loans backed by a share of future AirBnB rental income.

🚴  Deliveroo, the food delivery app, announces a 611% increase in revenues to £129m. Gross margins are at 0.7%. This is quite something. Car dealers, famous for their razor-thin margins, typically weigh in at 15% or so. Is this a red flag to its investors? Deliveroo faces increased competition and, likely, upward pressure on its labour costs.


EV reader, Christopher Auer-Welsbach, is hosting the World Summit AI,  on October 11-12th in Amsterdam. I plan to attend. Yann LeCun is one of the speakers, and we have a special discount for EV readers (use code EV35 for 35% off).


🌷 Tulip mania didn’t really happen. (But Sir Isaac Newton did get burnt (wet?) in the South Sea bubble.)

Why are teens turning off driving, dating and drinking?

🐙  Long-believed loners, octopuses engineer underwater cities, Octlantis and Octopolis.

How pricey have things got in the US since 1997? Insightful graph shows the price of TVs and software plunging, while education expenses go sky-high. 🚀

⚗️ An illustrated periodic table shows the role of each element in our existence.

2000 years of economic history in one chart.

Scientists develop a new type of diode that can turn car exhaust and heat into storable battery power.

Tweaking butterflies’ genes to change the insect’s color scheme.

🐄  China signs a $300m deal with Israel to import lab-grown meat.

“Get[ting] rid of human intuition”, the goal of using machine learning in scientific experiments.

NASA’s upcoming James Webb telescope could detect the heat signature of bumblebee at the distance of the moon (all other things being equal).

💼  Love this: Tools for systems thinkers.


I travel too much and my cabin stroller failed spectacularly a few weeks ago. So I was in the market for a new bag and came across the stunning Arlo Skye case. I love it. And it has excelled in action.

Turns out that the CEO of Arlo Skye is a reader of this here newsletter. He’s agreed to offer members of the Exponential View community a chance to join the Arlo Skye community with a unique discount ($100 off on any order) with the code ExponentialView (offer ends on October 3rd, a minute before midnight).

On a different note, it is my birthday next week and so we have an expert guest curator handling Exponential View. It’ll be a special focused on China, ahead of next month’s Party Congress.


P.S. If your firm would like to sponsor Exponential View in October, let Marija Gavrilov know. Otherwise, share some love via Twitter or email. 😍

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