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.
💖 I wrote a book breaking down why technological acceleration we’re experiencing today is a different beast compared to humanity’s previous technology revolutions. You can pre-order my book Exponential (or The Exponential Age in the US and Canada). All new annual Exponential View members will receive a copy of my book as a gift once it’s out.
Dept of the near future
The year of discovery
💉 With the overwhelming sense of tragedy caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s easy to overlook how the outbreak pushed the boundaries of medical research. I previously wrote about the power of necessity in driving innovation. We witnessed the development of the Covid-19 vaccine(s). Not only was it a once-in-a-hundred-year medical achievement but its success rate has driven new interest in gene therapy, which could have profoundly positive effects for the fight against other viruses. Malaria vaccines, for example, have improved dramatically over the last year thanks to the developments in mRNA research. For drug research and development, viruses can be a force for good but the pandemic has demonstrated major problems in the global fight against viruses. The other sliver of good news, we’ve understood better where the weak points are from the poor deployment of vaccines in some countries to massive disinformation campaigns.
The cloud and the internet
☁ Sarah Want and Martin Casado took a deep look at the changes in the cost of public cloud infrastructure. They note that “as the cost of cloud starts to contribute significantly to the total cost of revenue (COR) or cost of goods sold (COGS), some companies have taken the dramatic step of “repatriating” the majority of workloads (as in the example of Dropbox) or in other cases adopting a hybrid approach (as with CrowdStrike and Zscaler). Those who have done this have reported significant cost savings: In 2017, Dropbox detailed in its S-1 a whopping $75M in cumulative savings over the two years prior to IPO due to their infrastructure optimization overhaul, the majority of which entailed repatriating workloads from the public cloud.” As Want and Casado conclude “either the public clouds will start to give up margin, or, they’ll start to give up workloads.”
This seems to be a traditional game of margin hoarding because of lock-in. The top three cloud providers have a 61% market share, and the costs of switching between providers (containerisation and other forms of abstraction notwithstanding) are too high.
The car as a smartphone
🚙 “Software is eating the world, and cars are next on the menu.” That’s Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures discussing tech companies’ appetite for the transportation market. Cars have quietly but significantly transformed with improvements in computation. This shift affords Apple — a computer company — an opportunity to “flex its enormous software and chip-making expertise to create a next-generation platform for the highest bidder.” Because there’s a paradigm shift at work, we don’t see the full extent of Apple’s capabilities, yet. In fact, Apple analyst, Horace Dediu, proposed earlier this year that the company started forming an iOS bubble around cars six years ago with the release of CarPlay. Apple’s walled gardens are expanding, and our iPhones are great reminders of the power of their control. (See also: Elon Musk said that Tesla could develop a fully self-driving car without Lidar or laser-sensor technology. Seems like that idea is out the window.)
Ethereum’s future prospects
💸 Wild price volatility continues to hammer crypto markets. It’s unclear if the current bull run is over, stalled, or even approaching a golden cross moment (at least for Bitcoin). Such volatility makes it hard to find a clear-eyed analysis of the long-term prospects of any leading cryptocurrency or blockchain. Yet, a friend of EV’s, Packy McCormick, made a convincing case for Ethereum.
Ethereum is many things. The Ethereum blockchain is a company (as per EV member James Wang), it is “a world computer, the backbone of a decentralized internet (web3), and the settlement layer for web3.” Ether, its cryptocurrency, is also yield-generating, a store of value, and ownership of the Ethereum network.
Because of the layers and applications that can be built using Ethereum, Packy makes the claim that owning Ether is like owning shares in the internet:
demand for ETH will go up with increased web3 adoption, while upcoming changes will decrease the supply of ETH and let more value accrue to holders. It’s like a tech stock, a bond, a ticket to web3, and money, rolled into one.
(See also: Ark’s Cathie Wood says the recent crypto downturn hinged on the “ESG movement”. Listen back to my wide-ranging conversation with Cathie from a couple of years ago.
🔋Dept of decarbonisation
CO2 level 418.02 ppm | 3,293 days until we reach the 450ppm threshold
The latest measurement of atmospheric CO2 (as of May 24, 2021): 418.02 ppm; April 2020: 418.32 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.
🏭 Stripe continues to be one of the most ambitious and innovative companies in their efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The company announced this week it has committed an additional $8m to six new carbon removal companies. Throughout 2020, Stripe invested heavily in carbon removal projects including allowing users of its payment processing projects to direct parts of their revenue towards carbon removal. As we noted in the past, Wright’s Law tells us that increasing volumes lead to learning effects and rapidly decreasing prices. As it keeps purchasing more carbon credits and investing in carbon removal, Stripe is pushing carbon capture prices lower. Just look at Shopify’s recent steps on carbon removal. The popular online merchant software company just announced that it would give merchants and buyers the option to offset carbon emissions on their order deliveries. As more companies take similar steps, the ability to capture carbon will get easier. (See also: I recently spoke with the CEO and co-founder of Watershed, Christian Anderson. Christian led Stripe’s climate mitigation efforts, after which he founded one of the hottest companies in climate tech space focused on helping corporations reduce their emissions.)
Short morsels to appear smart during the next inflation crisis
🤖 Warehouses in the US are looking to robots to plug up some labour gaps and get deliveries back on track. A fascinating example is the footwear company Crocs: during the last holiday season, they set up 83 mobile robots to assist 55 workers. Post-peak, the company has 51 robots supporting 30 people.
🚑 Impressive! A robot is being used for the first time as a paramedic that carries out chest compressions on patients in ambulances.
🦠 A new app can reportedly detect Covid-19 by the sound of a person’s cough. This could be a gamechanger.
☢️ UK scientists are one step closer to solving one of nuclear fusion’s biggest problems.
🗣 The myth of individuality, which is a cornerstone of capitalism, is actually at odds with our social evolution, writes Douglas Rushkoff.
🧠 Amazon created a mental health kiosk but the reception didn’t go so well online.
🚀 Is deep-space travel even possible for humans?
🤖 Humans don’t necessarily make better decisions when they have more data. Why do we think AI will respond differently? (See also: my recent discussion about this with Kenn Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger)
🏠 With some sand and a 3D printer, you could create a sustainable house from raw earth.
🤭 To better understand the universe, some astrophysicists are questioning the theory of spacetime.
🕵️ The truth about lying. Psychologists are zeroing in on methods that might actually spot a liar.
This week might have been the most important week in the world. Shell lost a key court case in the Netherlands obliging the firm to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Exxon’s shareholders supported two board members with decent climate credentials. Chevron lost a shareholder resolution proposed by climate activists.
Why does this matter?
It matters because it shows the tide has started to turn. The process of societal norming is well underway. Carbon needs to be accounted for, there is no escaping it. The science may tell us. Our experience of wildfires, freak summers, extended winters may tell us. But not the mood music tells us - from Dutch courts to shareholder votes.
Remember this week. We’ll look back on it as one important mile marker.
P.S. We’re accepting sponsorship offers for August. Fill out this brief form if you want to share your work with the amazing EV readers.
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Design Chinniah is joining the Tor Project’s Board of Directors. Congrats!
Two members in one update 😍 Pascal Finette is in discussion with Christina Nesheva about disruption, with special insights from the healthcare innovation space.
Tony Fish published “What occurs when physical beings transition to information beings?” at Open Governance.
Sarah Meyohas created Bitchcoin in 2015, pre-ethereum, the proto-NFT. It is now being auctioned by Phillips and covered by the Wall Street Journal.
Arif Khan is launching the world’s first intelligent (GPT-3) powered NFT on Sotheby’s.
David Gallagher and John O’Brien published Truth Be Told: How Authentic Marketing and Communications Wins In The Purposeful Age – with a foreword by World Economic Forum founder and chair Klaus Schwab.
To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritize updates from paying members and startups I have invested in. (You can become the former by subscribing, if you have not already, and the latter by getting an intro to me via a trusted contact.