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Weekend Briefing No. 486
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend.
Here’s my June playlist. I’ve been into electronic music recently, so this is a fun playlist featuring artists like Bob Moses, Rufus Du Sol, Ben Bohmer and Ry X. Enjoy!
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6,000,000,000 - An appeals court approved a deal to protect the Sackler family from litigation for their role in the opioid epidemic. In exchange, the family will pay $6B to fight the epidemic. The ruling clears the way for Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy.
3,660,000 - Just over 3.66 million babies were born in the US last year. This number is essentially unchanged from the previous year and 15% below the recent peak reached in 2007. As a result, the population of Americans aged 65 and over is projected to surpass that of children under 18 for the first time in history by 2035.
17 - Hurricane season officially started on Thursday, and NOAA forecasted between 12 and 17 named storms. Five to nine of these storms could become hurricanes, with one to four of those being category 3, 4, or 5 storms.
The carbon offsets market has surged from $520M in 2020 to $2B in 2021, and could potentially reach $40B by 2030. Companies aiming to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and investors are looking for quick ways to reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets. However, not all offsets are created equal. Credits tied to renewable energy projects or forest protection are cheaper, but experts doubt their effectiveness in reducing CO2 levels (imagine buying a forest that already exists). More effective offsets, like investments in direct carbon-capture technology (sucking carbon out of the air), can cost thousands of dollars more per credit. An investigation this year revealed that 90% of rainforest offsets approved by Verra (the world's leading carbon-credit certifier) and used by major companies like Disney and Shell were worthless. They could even increase global heating, according to experts. Verra plans to phase out its program by 2025. Delta, which has claimed to be "the world's first carbon-neutral airline," is facing a class-action lawsuit over that claim. Plaintiffs argue that the airline's carbon offsets, credits that companies can buy to counteract their emissions, are "junk" and not actually counteracting the climate crisis. This case adds to the growing backlash against the carbon-offset market, which Greenpeace has labeled a greenwashing scam. Robinhood (3 minutes)
What do you think about these carbon offsets? Helpful or harmful? How could they be improved?
Black Health in America
Black Americans experience worse health outcomes than their white counterparts throughout their lives, from birth to death. They have higher rates of infant and maternal mortality, greater incidence of childhood asthma, more difficulty accessing mental health treatment as teens, and higher rates of high blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease, and other illnesses. The Associated Press spent the past year exploring how the legacy of racism in America has laid the foundation for the health inequities that Black people face. Associated Press (56 minutes)
When AI Matters
It seems like every company and organization is talking about AI these days. Often the conversation is binary —it’s either going to save the world or end it. The reality is far more complex. Reboot Rx, a DRK Foundation portfolio organization, is fast-tracking the development of repurposed generic drugs that can be used to fight a host of cancers by using AI technology. Using its proprietary algorithms, Reboot Rx is able to identify existing FDA-approved drugs that can be used to help thousands of cancer patients fight back. By repurposing approved generic drugs, patients can have access to affordable treatments, avoiding skyrocketing costs and delays in access. DRK Foundation (Sponsored)
The AI Productivity Boost
Large language models, such as ChatGPT, are emerging as powerful tools that not only increase workers' productivity but also accelerate economic growth by promoting innovation. As a general-purpose technology, AI will affect a wide range of industries, prompting investments in new skills, transforming business processes, and changing the nature of work. However, official statistics will only partially capture the productivity boost because measuring the output of knowledge workers is difficult. While the rapid advances can bring great benefits, they may also pose significant risks. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that we steer progress in a direction that benefits all of society. Brookings Institute (13 minutes)
Gravity batteries are a potentially important solution to a critical problem with the green energy revolution: making sure electricity is available when needed, not just during times when sun and wind supply it. Imagine a gigantic brick packed full of compressed dirt. It is as big as a pickup truck, but five times heavier at 24 tons. An elevator powered by solar panels or wind turbines hoists it over 300 feet up the side of a huge building. A trolley stows it inside, but it's not alone. An automated system lifts and stores hundreds more bricks, like giant Pez candies, as the sun shines and the wind blows. Now imagine the building's control system lowering those hundreds of bricks one by one, spinning electrical power generators in the process. They drop down every evening just as demand for power peaks, but solar panel output fades away. In effect, the brick-filled building is a giant battery that stores energy with gravity instead of chemistry. CNET (6 minutes)
Just after midnight in Akron, Ohio, on the night before the 2003 NBA draft lottery, LeBron James made a decision. The 18-year-old, nicknamed “King James,” signed his rookie endorsement contract with Nike, worth a reported $87 million fully guaranteed over seven years. To this day, James’ Nike contract remains the richest rookie shoe deal ever signed by a basketball player. Adidas and Reebok also courted him, both offering deals valued at $100 million. In the end, the swoosh prevailed with the ultimate chess move. In less than three months, Nike designed, wear-tested, and delivered a collection of sample pairs of what ultimately became James’ first signature sneaker, the Air Zoom Generation. Twenty years later, this story remains one of the craziest chases in sneaker industry history. Andscape (20 minutes)
The Matthew Effect
The phenomenon of cumulative advantage, also known as the Matthew effect, refers to the idea that winners tend to keep winning. Even a small initial advantage can have a significant impact on long-term outcomes, even if subsequent events are left to chance. This effect has been observed in various domains, including publishing and music. Individuals who start with an advantage relative to others are more likely to retain that advantage over long periods of time. The article cites examples of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, who both published books under pen names and experienced vastly different levels of success until their real identities were revealed. Perhaps we should accept luck as a primary determinant in life. It can be a freeing perspective, as it allows us to focus on our efforts rather than judging ourselves based on outcomes. Of Dollars and Data (9 minutes)
Should We Work Together?
Hi! I’m Kyle. This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm that helps startups move fast without breaking things. Most founders want a trusted legal partner, but they hate surprise legal bills. At Westaway, we take care of your startup’s legal needs for a flat, monthly fee so you can control your costs and focus on scaling your business. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a one-on-one call with me.
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Commitment is an act, not a word. - Jean-Paul Sartre