Weekend Briefing No. 169
1:59:59 – Last night at 11:45 p.m. Eastern three of the world’s best distance runners attempted to run a sub-2 hour marathon at a race car track in Italy. The current world record is 2:02:57. Breaking 2:00 will require bettering that mark by 2.5%, a huge performance jump at the world-class level.
6% – The growth of streaming services like Spotify means that global recorded music revenues grew 6% in 2016. The Swedes save music again.
$5.50 – For every $1 spent on sanitation, there is a $5.50 return. This is because a lack of sanitation often results in cycles of contamination and infection that impose a heavy cost on human, economic, and environmental health.
The Myth of Superhuman AI
If you were freaked out by last week’s article on Neuralink, I wanted to give you the counter-argument this week. There are 5 reasons why AI is unlikely to take over. 1) Intelligence is not a single dimension, so “smarter than humans” is a meaningless concept. 2) Humans do not have general purpose minds, and neither will AIs. 3) Emulation of human thinking in other media will be constrained by cost. 4) Dimensions of intelligence are not infinite. 5) Intelligences are only one factor in progress. So, when we think about an explosion of AI, think of a Cambrian explosion rather than a nuclear explosion. The results of accelerating technology will most likely not be super-human, but extra-human. Outside of our experience, but not necessarily “above” it. Learn more at Back Channel (21 minutes).
Why Poverty Is Like a Disease
Over the past decades, we’ve learned that the stresses associated with poverty have the potential to change our biology in ways we hadn’t imagined. It can reduce the surface area of your brain, shorten your telomeres and lifespan, increase your chances of obesity, and make you more likely to take outsized risks. Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease. Learn more at Nautilus (10 minutes).
Opioids vs. VR
US doctors have tackled constant pain problems by prescribing ever-higher levels of opioid painkillers—drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, which belong to the same chemical family as morphine and heroin. These medications have turned out to be less effective for treating chronic pain than thought – and far more addictive. The surge in prescriptions has fed spiraling levels of opioid abuse and tens of thousands of overdose deaths. In Knox County, Tennessee (my home county) there were 133 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2014, a higher death rate than any other county in the state. Efforts to curb opioid prescriptions and abuse are starting to work. But with the spectacular failure of a drug-centric approach to treating chronic pain, doctors desperately need alternative ways to fight chronic pain. One, seemingly unlikely technological solution: virtual reality. Learn more at Quartz (12 minutes).
Last year, GlaxoSmithKline unveiled a commercial gene therapy called Strimvelis. It's a treatment that uses a virus to add a missing gene to the bone marrow of children who suffer from a severe immune deficiency disease, which leaves them with almost no defense against viruses, bacteria, or fungi. With a dizzying $665,000 price tag, the treatment seems so effective it even has a money-back guarantee in case it doesn’t work. Learn more at MIT Technology Review (6 minutes).
The Tech Pledge
This week an influential group in Silicon Valley launched the Tech Pledge. In the spirit of helping preserve the rights of users and employees, they are asking companies to commit to the following pledge: 1) Keeping User Data Private. We will only provide individual user data to governments under correct legal process. When legally possible, we will disclose requested statistics and notify users. We will commit legal resources as necessary to fight unconstitutional or illegal orders. We will not implement data privacy back doors on encryption. 2) Supporting Legal Immigration. We will provide legal assistance and pay the costs incurred for our immigrant employees who face challenges with border searches, or the immigration system generally. We will provide support to efforts to keep the United States DACA policy in place. Learn more at The Tech Pledge (2 minutes).
Shakeup at Etsy
Long-standing Etsy CEO, Chad Dickerson, is being replaced by former Skype CEO, Josh Silverman, due to lagging profits. The move is largely being pushed by Black and White Capital, an activist investor that owns 2% of Etsy. "The company's historical pattern of ill-advised spending has completely obfuscated the extremely attractive underlying marketplace business model," Black and White wrote in a letter. "We are fully prepared to take any actions we believe are necessary to protect the best interests of all Etsy shareholders." I think what we’re witnessing here is an internal struggle of the first publicly traded B Corp about the tension between profit and purpose. Learn more at Fast Company (3 minutes).
Hanlon’s Razor is a useful mental model which can be best summarized as such: ‘Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.’ Like Occam’s razor, this heuristic is a useful tool for rapid decision-making and intelligent cognition. Applying Hanlon’s razor in our day-to-day lives, allows us to better develop relationships, become less judgmental, and improves rationality. Hanlon’s razor allows us to give people the benefit of the doubt and have more empathy. In this way, the value of Hanlon’s razor is pronounced in relationships and business matters. Learn more at Farnam Street (8 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.