This week’s selection involves research into demographics, cities, social services, and “raising” better bots
I dedicated this week’s issue of my newsletter, Exponential View, to the ongoing and necessary conversations about inequality and bias in automation processes. Here are five pieces I recommend you read on the topic this week:
1. Research on demographics, automation & inequality
Bain, a consultancy, published results of their research into demographics, automation and inequality, warning of increasing volatility. Interesting and challenging times ahead: “faced with market imbalances and growth-stifling levels of inequality, many societies may reset the government’s role in the marketplace.” EXCELLENT
In the world of the future, automated perfection is going to be common. Machines will bake perfect cakes, perfectly schedule appointments and keep an eye on your house. What is going to be scarce is human imperfection.
We are still early in the early days of these developments, but we’re already seeing an uptake in artisanship. As Economist’s Ryan Avent writes, the trend offers clues about the future economy:
Craft is, in general, far less well-paid than professional work. Yet the benefits it offers — the satisfaction of controlling one’s own destiny, acquiring a range of skills, creating beautiful and delicious things, forming friendships with suppliers and customers — make up for the reduced incomes and ensure that there is a small, steady migration of professionals into the craft economy.
More people are getting vocal against the dominance of big tech—this is my selection of some of the most thoughtful pieces from the past week.
I’ve raised the questions on societal risks of the dominance of a handful of internet giants from the early days of starting my newsletter. It’s good that it is getting mainstream attention. My friends at The Economist have put together a must-read memo to the bosses of Amazon, Facebook and Google:
You are an industry that embraces acronyms, so let me explain the situation with a new one: “BAADD”. You are thought to be too big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy.
Our faith in the process of science is damaged, and it could be replaced by something worse
In a desperate attempt to curb the negative wave of attention it garnered in 2017, Facebook stepped into 2018 announcing its own resolutions. The big one is backing away from news publishers, and favouring content that user’s friends and family put out. Here are a few other alarming headlines from this past week:
Francois Chollet argues in his recent essay that an intelligence explosion is very unlikely. So the fast progress we see today is a chimaera, more linear than we think and more likely to slow down, because:
Doing science in a given field gets exponentially harder over time — the founders of the field reap most the low-hanging fruit, and achieving comparable impact later requires exponentially more effort.
And that even the open-source networked approach to research that has driven so much recent progress has limits because:
We must not eliminate the most important variable in today’s systems — the humans who design, maintain and manage them.
Straight out of defense labs, autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons are already in use, but there’s no overarching agreement among key stakeholders on how to control their implementation and diffusion. Unlike nuclear or biological weapons whose proliferation have been largely controlled, autonomous weapons pose some tricky problems.
The first is the absence of an international treaty. The second is the comparative ease by which autonomous weapons can be developed. Nuclear weapons are hard. The nine countries with nuclear weapons have achieved this with multi-decade projects backed substantially by state resources and administrative capacity.
David and I first worked together at Reuters over a decade ago, at which point he had spent more than 20 years working in the region. David went on to become editor-in-chief of Reuters, the world’s top newswire, before taking up a post as Chairman of Reuters in China. Now based in London, he runs Tripod Advisors, which helps companies understand the region. He also has an Emmy Award, which I think is quite cool.
As Uber appoints its new CEO, Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi, it’s the right time to reminisce about the early days of the company, as a mental exercise for imagining where it could go next.
What don’t you know when you found a start-up? A lot. When people look at leviathans like Google, Facebook or Uber today, they often see the negative impact of their dominant market positions. They forget that these firms started small, and, in Uber’s case, with bad PowerPoint. Garrett Camp, the other founder of Uber, released the firm’s seed round pitch deck from 2009.
In late post-revolutionary France one man was tasked to map out the country. Gaspard de Prony, a mathematician and engineer, decided to approach the task by creating logarithmic and trigonometric tables. These tables, which would come to be known as Tables of de Prony, were destined to speed up the trigonometric calculations needed to complete these cartographic task.