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Exponential View

Azeem Azhar's Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
  This issue has been supported by Kindred Capital
Backing founders with spirit

Dept of podcasts

Today AI is a technology, but in the future it will be its own species.

I discuss the future of artificial general intelligence, its merging with blockchain-based projects, as well as the state of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship with serial entrepreneur and investor Elad Gil. Listen to our conversation:

                   iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | Overcast | Breaker | Soundcloud


Dept of the near future

🚧 Deglobalisation could be an ongoing theme, and Britain's Brexit shenanigans could hint at early patterns. After leaving the EU, British firms will have a smaller labour pool to draw from across many different skill sets (from casual farm hands to advanced medical and computing workers). One outcome we can see so far is an increase in automation investments. Imports of industrial robots increased 72% year-on-year to July 2018. The UK has long-lagged its G7 peers on robotisation, partly due to a relatively smaller manufacturing sector. (Graph here & also good analysis from the Bank of England on firms shifting their investments from capital to labour). The average robotics engineer currently makes £40k per annum in the UK. The British government's current proposals for migrants in a post-Brexit world specify a £50k salary floor—the country will be growing its own robotics engineers.

📍 So populism and distaste for the other aren't the only factors driving deglobalisation, technology is making it possible. In the clothing industry, nearly half of sourcing executives expect clothes to be manufactured "near shore", that is in the destination market or close to it, rather than coming from the current engines of production in Asia. "Automation can drive down the cost in Western countries ... sewing a pair of jeans takes an average of 19 minutes, more than half of the total production time. McKinsey... figure[s] robotics can cut that time by 40 percent to 90 percent." A key driver is the need to be responsive to Instagram-twitchy, environmentally-aware consumers who want fashions to move faster than long-distance shipping allows: "speed beats marginal cost advantage and basic compliance is upgraded to an integrated sustainability strategy."


🔎 The prophets of cryptocurrency: Long read from the New Yorker on the leading personalities in cryptocurrency. Also, the term "blockchain" is a semantic wasteland and a very unhelpful & distracting one, argues investor Nic Carter. (See also, profile of SingularityNET & Ocean, blockchain startups tackling tech giant hegemony.)

🔉 Judith Shulevitz: The long and complex journey to make voice assistants more trustworthy. (Stunning long read)

They will be the products of an emotion-labeling process that can’t capture the protean complexity of human sentiment. Their “appropriate” responses will be canned, to one extent or another. We’ll be in constant dialogue with voices that traffic in simulacra of feelings, rather than real ones


🏭 The macroeconomic effects of the transition from a carbon-intensive to a low-carbon economy. It's complicated.

📶 BCG report: digital services could unlock $4 trillion in retail opportunities in emerging economies. (More than a decade ago I worked for the late, great C. K. Prahalad, who had a vision for unlocking poverty amongst the poorest markets through novel entrepreneurial services. Seems like the smartphone might help us get there.)

🐄 Agriculture is the mainframe IT industry of the 1970s: waiting to be disrupted. "Massive changes will occur through the [...] combinations of genetics and sensors and AI to monitor the nutritional status of plants, animals and humans".


🎮 Tax policies for the leisure state:

One view of the status quo is that media companies are aggregating human attention and selling it at a discount–far below minimum wage–to advertisers in a massive arbitrage on human capital. So, the state could set the price of an hour of human attention at the minimum wage rate, and charge media companies.

(Also in this fascinating article, I learnt that the Gini coefficient on Tinder is 0.58, worse than almost any industrial society. Men, 20% of men compete for 78% of the women.)

Dept of cities and transport

Zip code inequality in America is growing. Thirty percent of rural areas experience downward mobility.

Are New York's empty storefronts, unaffordable housing, and full warehouses telling of the city of the future? 

🔌 The end of the gas station: electric vehicles will bring charging to the places where we spend the most time.


🛴 Redesigning cities for the scooter era will involve more roundabouts, over-night postal deliveries and returning to renaissance urban design principles.

Lyft's new subscription plan of $299/month, one-third of the full price for 30 rides a month, could be the future of ride-hailing.

The Chinese city of Chengdu wants to launch an artificial moon to provide light at night.


Dept of AI and work automation

Uber's new venture into on-demand part-time staffing

Tokyo's retail chain Uniqlo cuts 90% of labour force at a newly-automated warehouse.

AI-related job offers have doubled in the past two years. At the same searches for those positions increased only 15%. This talent gap is slowing down the economic gains from AI implementation. 


 Linkedin's new AI tool aims to ensure job candidate pool diversity.

🤝 Baidu is the first Chinese company to join the Partnership for AI.

Elsewhere:


Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties

🧠 Jeff Hawkins, who invented the Palm Pilot, reckons he has made a breakthrough in understanding how the brain works.

A gripping tale of mercurial self-driving car engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who left Google for Uber (and kicked off a flurry of legal action).

💯 Ellen Pao: Zuck and Twitter's Jack Dorsey can fix the harm their platforms do but "they've been trained not to care."

🌩️ How Stormy Daniels combats trolls and abuse online.

Can these firms break WeChat's grip on the Chinese market?

The future of Softbank's second Vision Fund seems to be hanging in the balance with heightened pressures on Saudi Arabia. Silicon Valley's got a problem as so much of the recent cash flowing into its top startups stemmed from the Kingdom.

How the Finnish survive without small talk.

🥁 Membership as a future of media. (P.S. Would you pay for a members-only Exponential View? Y/N)

Dandelion seeds fly using a novel aerodynamic mechanism.

China's People's Liberation Army released a new recruitment video. It wasn't what I expected.

Someone has spent nearly £250k on Facebook adverts attacking the British government's "Chequers" strategy on Brexit. We don't know who.

🗻 About $1.4trn of Japanese assets (equivalent to 6% or so) is trapped, held by people suffering from Alzheimer's.

End note

And briefly on Facebook's appointment of the former British politician, Nick Clegg, as head of policy. Facebook isn't going away any time soon. And many, but not all, of its bad impacts have been of political discourse, the working of democracy and civic society. It's most staunch regulatory opponent will be the well-organised European Union. Clegg has experience in politics and really understand how the EU works. He also has an anthropology degree.

So this seems like a sensible appointment by Zuckerberg. If he will just be a Malcolm-Tucker-style enforcer, then this is a dead end. If, however, he is able to input, influence and impact Facebook's strategy, then this move could be welcomed. Clegg might bring a European sensibility and an understanding of the value of policy, politics and the state to the senior echelons. And Facebook is phenomenal at execution, so perhaps he can point it in roughly the right direction.

That said, this is only a PR & policy job. The firm is run by Zuckerberg and the culture of Facebook and its engineer-led, data-gorging, attention-based ad model runs very deep. So I'm more optimistic that Facebook's negative influences will be attenuated by a thousand little regulatory cuts & employee defections, and consumers finding better things to do. (We can look to the Microsoft story for a precedent. In the '90s, Microsoft was not brought to heel by regulators, rather by the Internet giving users something better.)

A final request, I'm always up to meet amazing founders. Ideally, you'll meet the following criteria: (1) you're based in the UK (2) you are raising a seed round (3) you've got a warm referral to me. (4) you are amazing. Please do be in touch.

Cheers,

Azeem

P.S. Sharing remains the gold standard for caring! Twitter, email or Linkedin.

This week's issue of Exponential View has been supported by our partner, Kindred Capital:
Backing founders with spirit.
Read why founders shouldn’t talk to us.
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