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Weekend Briefing No. 503
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend.
I recently finished Lizzy Gordon’s book “Meet Me In The Bathroom” (scroll down for more info) about the rock scene in New York City from 2001-2011. (Scroll to the last story to learn more.) It inspired me to create a playlist based on the book. It's a monster of four hours and 45 minutes, and features the most impactful songs of The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem and TV on the Radio in chronological order from 2001-2011. Check out the Meet Me In The Bathroom playlist, and let me know what you think.
Did your brilliant friend share this?
8,000,000,000 — This interactive dataset shows where you stand relative to the world's 8 billion people. (Apparently, I’m older than 68% of the world’s population.)
637 — Last weekend, Barry Manilow played his 637th show in Las Vegas, surpassing Elvis Presley’s 636 shows performed in a residency at the International Hotel.
6.5 — Earthworm study finds organisms play key roles in the supply of more than 150 million tons of food annually, including 6.5% of global grain yields.
Centaurs and Cyborgs
For the last several months, a team of social scientists has been embedded at Boston Consulting Group and running the largest experiment on the future of professional work in our artificial intelligence (AI) haunted age. The results are quite interesting. For 18 different tasks selected to be realistic samples of the kinds of work done at an elite consulting company, consultants using ChatGPT-4 outperformed those who did not — by a lot, in every dimension and every way we measured performance. Consultants using AI finished 12.2% more tasks on average, completed tasks 25.1% more quickly and produced 40% higher quality results than those without. AI is a skill leveler. The consultants who scored the worst when we assessed them at the start of the experiment had the biggest jump in their performance (43%) when they got to use AI. The top consultants still got a boost but less of one. The study postulates that there are two types of AI users: the Centaur and the Cyborg. Centaurs have a strategic division of labor, switching between AI and human tasks, allocating responsibilities based on the strengths and capabilities of each entity. Cyborgs blend machine and person, integrating the two deeply. Cyborgs don't just delegate tasks; they intertwine their efforts with AI, moving back and forth. Regardless of the philosophic and technical debates over the nature and future of AI, it is already a powerful disrupter to how we actually work, not five years in the future but now. One Useful Thing (18 minutes)
Does this research surprise you? What do you find most interesting about the research?
For a brief moment in 2020, much of corporate America united around a common goal: to address the stark racial imbalances in their workplaces. Mass protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd led to a flurry of company promises, both specific and vague, to hire and promote more Black people and others from underrepresented groups. An analysis by Bloomberg News shows how many of the biggest public companies did. In total, they increased their U.S. workforces by 323,094 people in 2021, the first year after the Black Lives Matter protests — and the most recent year for which this data exists. The overall job growth included 20,524 White workers. The other 302,570 jobs — or 94% of the headcount increase — went to people of color. White people still hold a disproportionate share of the top, highly paid jobs in the U.S. at S&P 100 companies. But the share of executive, managerial and professional roles held by people of color increased by about two percentage points compared with 2020 — more than double the average annual gains at big and mid-sized U.S. companies in previous years. Bloomberg (10 minutes)
Painting Sells for $8 Million, Everyday Investors Profit
When the painting by master Claude Monet was bought for $6.8 million and sold for a cool $8 million just 631 days later, investors in shares of the offering received their share of the net proceeds. It’s all thanks to Masterworks, the award-winning platform for investing in blue-chip art. To date, every one of Masterworks’ 16 sales out of its portfolio has returned a profit to investors. With three recent sales, Masterworks investors realized net annualized returns of 17.6%, 21.5% and 35%. How does it work? Simple, Masterworks files each offering with the SEC so that nearly anyone can invest in highly coveted artworks for just a fraction of the price of the entire piece. Shares of every offering are limited, but Weekend Briefing readers can skip the waitlist with this exclusive link. Masterworks (Sponsored)
AI girlfriends are on the rise. It seems plausible that they may be as ubiquitous as porn in the coming years. If the (heterosexual) boys are creating AI girlfriends, what will that mean for the girls? Of course, there’s the unrealistic beauty standards they’ll have to compete with. What’s even more sinister is the unrealistic emotional standards set by these apps. The users can completely customize personality as well as appearance. Women in relationships already complain about porn-addicted partners who aren’t satisfied with actual intimacy. Now we’re facing a future where guys could get addicted to emotional validation and unfailing devotion of their AI girlfriend. If boys’ first girlfriend is AI, then how will they ever learn to deal with the real-life challenges of a real-life relationship? It’s concerning. But a faint glimmer of optimism is: At some point, life might become so stripped of reality and humanity that the pendulum will swing. Maybe the more often that automated, predictable interactions are pushed on us, the more actual conversations with awkward silences and bad eye contact will seem sexy. Maybe the more often we are saturated with the same perfect, pornified avatars, the more desirable natural faces and bodies will be. Freya India (10 minutes)
Stoic Mind Shifts
the essence of Stoicism, by the way. The idea that we don’t control what happens, but we do control ourselves. When we respond to what happens, the main thing we control is our mind and the story we tell ourselves. Here are some mindset shifts that can change your life: 1) It’s the surprise that kills you. Stuff is going to happen, but what makes it harder is when it catches us off guard. The unexpected blow lands heaviest, Seneca said. 2) Poverty isn’t only having too little. Both Marcus Aurelius and Seneca talk about rich people who are plagued by envy and comparison, are not content with what they have and are thus quite poor. But feeling like you have “enough” is rich no matter what your income is. 3) The world is dyed by the color of your thoughts. Marcus said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” If you see the world as a negative, horrible place, you’re right. If you believe that you were screwed, you’re right. But if you look for beauty in the mundane, you’ll see it. If you look for evidence of goodness in people, you’ll find it. If you decide to see the agency and power you do have over your life, well, you’ll find you have quite a bit. Ryan Holiday (7 minutes)
Bob, The Super
This is one of the most engaging stories I’ve heard in a while. The ‘80s story centers around a super in a building on the Upper East Side of New York named Bob. He was quite a character. He was prone to telling crazy implausible stories that were insanely far-fetched. It was really painful to go down and pay the rent every month. You had to give it to him, which meant you had to stand there and listen to 10, 15, 20 minutes of completely insane stories. A big running theme was Bob's importance in the world — Brazil in particular. In his own way, Bob united the building. All of the tenants, the elderly black businessman, the Puerto Rican grandmother, the handsome Bombay immigrant, me, the Southerner in exile, had their favorite Bob stories. We all did our own impersonations of Bob. It was impossible not to try to out-Bob whoever was talking with an even more outlandish Bob story of your own. It was all good fun. Until years later, something happened that shifted everyone’s perspective in the most implausible ways. I won’t spoil it for you. Give it a listen. This American Life (23 minutes)
Meet Me In The Bathroom
As mentioned in the intro, I read Lizzy Gordon’s book “Meet Me In the Bathroom” last month. Then coincidentally, I saw that the documentary is dropping today. It’s an immersive archival journey through the explosive New York music scene of the early 2000s. Set against the backdrop of 9/11 and a world unaware of the seismic political, technological and cultural shifts are about to occur. Meet Me in the Bathroom tells the story of the last great romantic age of rock ‘n’ roll through the prism of a handful of era defining bands — The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol. A new generation kick-started a musical rebirth for New York City that reverberated around the world. The documentary immerses you in the pre-social media, pre-gentrification world of New York, as it examines the lives of key figures from each band, the transformation of the city and the cultural forces that shaped it. YouTube (3 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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The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature. -Marcus Aurelius