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Weekend Briefing No. 160
Welcome to the weekend. I’m back from an epic time in Namibia, and happily back in civilization working from one of my favorite cities - Cape Town.
2019 – The year of the Navajo Generation Station – one of the largest coal plants in the US, 12 miles from the Grand Canyon – will close… this is 25 years ahead of schedule. It’s not regulation, but market competition is hastening this decision. Basically, coal is struggling to compete with cheap natural gas and renewables.
63.5 degrees – Antarctica reached a record high temperature of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit Thursday.
2 hours – Wild elephants sleep just two hours a night. The pachyderms spend most of their time feeding a massive hunger.
Historian Yuval Noah Harari makes a bracing prediction: just as mass industrialization created the working class, the AI revolution will create a new unworking class. The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking because: 1. Organisms are algorithms. Every animal — including Homo sapiens — is an assemblage of organic algorithms shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution. 2. Algorithmic calculations are not affected by the materials from which the calculator is built. Whether an abacus is made of wood, iron or plastic, two beads plus two beads equals four beads. 3. Hence, there is no reason to think that organic algorithms can do things that non-organic algorithms will never be able to replicate or surpass. As long as the calculations remain valid, what does it matter whether the algorithms are manifested in carbon or silicon? Learn more at TED (10 minutes).
Gone in 30 Seconds
Speaking of job loss to bots, my fellow members of the bar may be at the front of the line. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., a learning machine is parsing financial deals that once kept legal teams busy for thousands of hours in 30 seconds. The program, called COIN, for Contract Intelligence, does the mind-numbing job of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June, consumed 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation. Learn more at Bloomberg (6 minutes).
Bill Gates’ Robot Tax
Robots are taking human jobs. But Bill Gates believes that governments should tax companies’ use of them as a way to avoid a collapse of the government’s tax base, fund the retraining of humans to new jobs, at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and fund other types of employment. The idea is, if a human was doing a job and earning $50,000, they are paying taxes on that, so if the robot is replacing the worker, that tax should still be paid. A similar law was introduced (and failed to pass) in the EU recently. Watch Gates’ video at Quartz (2 minutes).
10 Breakthrough Technologies
MIT Technology Review just released its 2017 list of breakthrough tech. Some of the most interesting are: 1. Reversing paralysis - Scientists are making remarkable progress at using brain implants to restore the freedom of movement spinal cord injuries take away. 2. Hot solar cells - By converting heat to focused beams of light, a new solar device could create cheap and continuous power. See the whole list at MIT Technology Review (16 minutes).
Dubai is planning to offer self-flying taxis by July, the city’s Road and Transportation Agency announced this week at the World Government Summit conference.These four-legged, eight-propeller drones can carry a single passenger that weighs up to 100 kg (220 lb) and operates within an area of up to 50 km (31 miles) on a single battery charge, according to a video the RTA released on Monday. It can reach speeds of 160 km an hour. Learn more and watch the video at Quartz (3 minutes).
Machiavelli on Innovation
When it comes to innovating at your job it might be better to lower your expectations — and then some. Your idea is far more likely to die on your boss’s desk than it is to reach the CEO. In order to get your boss excited about your innovative idea ask: What does this innovation mean for your boss personally? “The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new,” says Niccolo Machiavelli, advisor to the rich and powerful in 15th and 16th Century Italy. Learn more at BBC (5 minutes).
Noma, arguably the best restaurant in the world, just announced a new business partner… their dishwasher Ali Sonoko. Sonko, a 62-year-old father of 12 who moved to Denmark from Gambia 34 years ago, has been with Noma since it opened. Noma is moving to a new location, and during a party last month to celebrate the occasion, chef René Redzepi announced Sonko's new role, given in recognition of his hard work and dedication. “Ali is the heart and soul of Noma.” Redzepi noted that his own father was also named Ali, and he too worked as a dishwasher when he came to Denmark. (In a related note, if you work at Noma and want to get me a rez you know where to find me!). Learn more at Quartz (2 minutes).
About the Weekend Briefing
Thanks for making the Weekend Briefing a part of your Saturday morning routine. I love putting it together every week and love hearing your thoughtful insights. Feel free to shoot me an email with any feedback or suggestions. If you like what you’re reading, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. Have a restful and thoughtful weekend.