Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
This issue has been supported by our partner: Ocean Protocol.
‘Human attention and time allocation are limited. Only the networks with the best incentives will survive.’ Read Ocean’s Guide to Data Curation, Part 1 and Part 2.
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Dept of the near future
📚 The dynamic workplaces of the future may priortise adaptable generalists over deep specialists, early experience from the US military suggests. Particularly interesting: the psychological trait of ‘conscientiousness’ is normally a strong predictor of traditional job performance, but a negative predictor in fluid work environments. Fascinating analysis with many implications—what new social and cultural cues will be needed to foster adaptable rather than conscientious thinking? How do we do that without losing track of things that just ‘need to be done’?
🗺️ Economic geography matters for companies. Elad Gil explores the data around industry towns, finding that in almost every market internationally, unicorn market capital tends to cluster in one city. 57% of the US private market cap for unicorns is in San Francisco, whilst an amazing 71% of China’s unicorn market cap is clustered in Beijing. (Separately, Eze Vidra points out that corporate venture capital investment now exceeds traditional venture capital. My analysis of this trend in EV#167 last year explains why this is happening.)
🔗 Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis say that challenges to the fundamental structures of today’s political economy are driving a new mode of production: commons-based peer production. We’ll see more commons-based activity as the economy reconfigures around more knowledge-intensive and regenerative principles. James Kirkup offers a counterpoint: despite the digital commons, economic geography still matters. Where a child grows up plays a pivotal role in the education they can access and therefore employment opportunities available to them later in life. Similar dynamics are playing out in parts of the US, with tragic implications for mental and emotional health of communities in those areas.
🛑 AI research tends to be driven by technology rather than by need—researchers develop the technology, and then go looking for a problem it can solve. This may be getting it the wrong way around, according to Nesta CEO Geoff Mulgan. ‘In most fields it’s useful to work backwards from the outcomes you want to achieve rather than always forwards from the tools you happen to have at your disposal. Many of the best programmers understand this at a micro level. But its missing from the great majority of AI thinking right now. Addressing this simple truth now would do a lot to help the AI world avoid an all-too-possible future of disappointment,’ Mulgan says.
👶 Nature looks at what it would take to make CRISPR acceptable as a clinical tool for use on human embryos. The biggest hurdle is how to do the research itself. How can scientists ethically conduct tests using genome-edited human children?
💯 Shoshana Zuboff and I discuss surveillance capitalism and whether there should be a moratorium on trading of predictive data about people.
Climate calamity: 414.06ppm | 3,986 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
The latest measurement (as of June 20): 414.06 ppm; 12 months ago: 409ppm; 50 years ago: 326.66ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
I’ve introduced a rough countdown to reaching the 450ppm threshold. I started a 4,000-day countdown on June 10th, which means the counter now shows 3,986 days.
Karen Hao summarises David Rolnick’s excellent report on how machine learning could be applied to mitigate climate change.
Dept of Facebucks
Facebook intends to create a simple global digital currency. It is impossible to avoid analysing this, so I will.
- EV reader, Tim Bradshaw, has some good details for the Financial Times,
- Richard Titus, has been involved in cryptocurrencies for several years, was also involved in the formation of Libra. He is running an entrepreneurs programme with the Creative Destruction Lab around it,
- Read Seyi Taylor’s view from Africa here. (Presciently written a month before Libra was announced),
- Good overview from Wired,
- Facebook usage is actually dropping following all the privacy scandals,
- EV reader, Fred Wilson, on why his venture firm, USV, is joining Libra.
I’ve written a detailed analysis to understand why Libra is relevant and how and why it might succeed. It is available to Premium members here.
Dept of AI
Stephen Schwarzman, an investor, has endowed Oxford University with £150m for a Centre for the Humanities. This is a thoroughly brilliant outcome as these disciplines are absolutely critical for understanding how we refashion our world over the coming decades. (And have, frankly, had to play second-fiddle to the monotonous, short-termism of STEM alone.)
Helen Margetts, my colleague on the board of the Ada Lovelace Foundation, reflects on this:
Technologies provoke a whole raft of new ethical issues and dilemmas. They can reduce the transparency and accountability of business processes and decision-making, requiring frameworks to ensure trust. There are issues of privacy and rights connected with personal data. Machine-learning algorithms can introduce bias and discrimination. Resolving such issues requires an approach grounded in ethics and an understanding of what causes bias in the first place — traditionally the province of sociology.
We need to move past technochauvinism, argues Meredith Broussard. The assumption that technological ‘solutions’ are always better than the alternatives is misguided; we also need to appreciate human values and capabilities, and should combine the strengths of humans and machines into human-in-the-loop systems.
😧 China's largest insurance company is reportedly using facial recognition software to analyse its customers’ micro-expressions to make determinations on their trustworthiness. Cathy O’Neil highlights the risks which the use of this kind of technology by insurance companies poses.
Scientists from Cornell University say that they have successfully created the world’s first non-invasive multi-person brain-to-brain interface. The interface allows for collaborative problem solving in which two ‘Sender’ brains make a decision while playing a game, and their decision is transmitted to a ‘Receiver’ brain who cannot see the game screen. The Receiver uses an EEG interface to make a final decision based on the information received from the Senders. Five groups, each with three brains, performed the collaborative task with an average accuracy of 81.25%. ‘Our results point the way to future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem solving by humans using a ‘social network’ of connected brains,’ the researchers write.
Former Google X-er and current Andreesen Horowitz partner Ali Yahya writes about why, in his words, ‘data network effects are mostly bullshit.’
The Chinese government is adopting principles for the development of safe, controllable and responsible AI. The eight tenets are harmony and friendliness, fairness and justice, inclusiveness and sharing, respect for privacy, security and controllability, shared responsibility, open cooperation, and agile governance. The reality of global technology supply chains is that in order to be effective, responsible AI frameworks will probably have to be equally global, however, and in the context of heightening tensions over technology between Washington and Beijing, achieving an international consensus on AI is likely to be very difficult.
👀 Whatever the prospects for global ethical standards, Chinese technology companies are continuing to power ahead on AI development. Baidu is claiming that its Apollo Lite, a vision-based framework for self-driving cars, has achieved Level 4 autonomy (operation with limited human oversight).
Nice video explaining how neural networks may see textures better than shapes.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
Data on some of the top performing VC funds, shows that USV has returned a 60% IRR since inception across eight funds.
✈️ Answers to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of MH370 might lie, not in the plane’s black boxes at the bottom of the sea, but in a police department in Kuala Lumpur, writes William Langewiesche in a fascinating long-read for The Atlantic.
🤔 The Intelligencer digs deep into the problematic culture and perhaps equally problematic business model of WeWork.
The antidote to the failing shopping malls? Airports.
More millennials in the US are dying ‘deaths of despair’ from alcohol, drugs and suicide than any other generation.
👾 The New York Times is reporting that US Cyber Command has laid potentially crippling malware in the Russian power grid as a deterrence to future political interference. Whilst the political reaction to the NYT’s report is notable—President Trump called the newspaper a ‘traitor’, whilst President Putin appears ready to make political hay from the story—actual details about the alleged attack remain thin, however.
🙈 Desire is infectious. Can you stop yourself from catching other people's wants?
An amazing video showing how much social networks have changed over recent years.
🐕 When we domesticated dogs, we made their faces more expressive.
Introduction to Neven’s Law and what it means for quantum supremacy.
We’ve got one episode left of this season of the podcast series. It has been tremendously well-received. Thank you.
While podcasts are growing, it is clear that lots of readers haven’t tried the medium yet. I’d really encourage you to do that.
Over the past 2-3 years, I’ve got to the stage where I listen to 6-7 different podcasts a week, from a variety of sources. Among my favourites are David Runciman’s Talking Politics, Linear Digressions from Katie Malone and Ben Jaffe and the A16Z podcast from Sonal Chokshi and friends.
Obviously, I’d love you all to listen to the Exponential View podcast, which you can on the following platforms: Apple | Google | Stitcher | Overcast | Breaker | Spotify
But if you don’t want to, try one of the ones above!
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This issue has been supported by our partner: Ocean Protocol.
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
Huw van Steenis has just completed the Future of Finance report for the Governor of the Bank of England.
Auren Hoffman has published a comprehenisve ‘data-as-a-service’ bible for firms in the data economy.
Elise Thomas comments on Facebook’s failures to prevent the spreading of hate in Myanmar.
Congrats to Maya Pindeus on teaming up with our friends at Anthemis for the $5m series A funding of her firm, Humanising Autonomy.
Vishal Gulati on why healthcare needs moonshot technology.
Maeve Walsh and her colleagues at the Carnegie UK Trust, Prof Lorna Woods & William Perrin, comment on the Government’s Online Harms White Paper which was seen as a significant step towards improving online environment.
Sergi Martorell’s Glass.ai collaborated on this report mapping out the patenting landscape in the UK AI sector.
Bruce Warila tells a story of how AI could help us recycle the world’s most loved bricks, the Legos.
David Hume’s newsletter I/Ocean is a biweekly digest on marine clean technology, autonomous ships, underwater robotics, marine renewables, and more.
Get in touch with Marija@exponentialview.co if you’d like to share your news and projects here.