Top Reads: December 2022

This month's issue features 3D art from AI, a breakthrough in fusion energy, and the end of blitzscaling.

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Hey, everybody! I may have caught you on a busy week – or one where you ate too much cheese. I (finally) got Covid, so it's been an odd holiday week, but I've been catching up and reflecting on the newsletter. If you have a few minutes to spare, it would mean a lot to me if you could take 2 minutes to share your honest feedback:

1. The End of Blitzscaling

Collaborative Fund | 6 minutes

Step up
Photo by Jukan Tateisi / Unsplash
“When the dust eventually settles, countless companies that took advantage of the ebullient markets of the past few years will end up being considered 'pure speculation.' The same will likely be said for the thousands of companies that received venture funding, as well as the majority of crypto tokens that have been issued. Many companies will struggle to raise capital or become profitable. Some will go bankrupt, while others will be sold at distressed prices. Frauds will be exposed and charlatans will be identified (FTX is likely just the tip of the iceberg.) Either way, it won’t be pretty for many founders and their investors. As painful as it main feel in the moment, this is natural. It is capitalism’s way of cleansing and resetting itself. It will inevitably separate the strong from the weak. The durable from the fads. The necessary from the 'nice to have.'"

Great perspective on market cycles and what the latest one means for tech in 2023.

2. The leap second’s time will be up in 2035—and tech companies are thrilled

Popular Science | 4 minutes

Photo by Stijn te Strake / Unsplash
“These are simple rules: Minutes have 60 seconds, time always goes forward, doesn’t repeat, doesn’t stop, and so on. Inserting and removing leap seconds makes it very easy for two computers that are meant to be in sync to get out of sync—and when that happens, things break.” 

Our efforts to quantify time aren’t quite perfect. A group of experts decided to let our time measurements drift for 100 years starting in 2035. Tech companies can omit leap seconds while we figure out a better solution.

3. The auction of 100 untouched Indonesian islands offers a unique chance to the super-rich

Quartz | 5 minutes

“Buying the development rights to these islands—or indeed to other tracts of nature—and leaving them undisturbed is a good way for philanthropists and effective altruists to redeem themselves somewhat. (And, it must be said, a far better way for them to spend their money than pouring it into techno-futuristic research on the distant prospects of colonizing the galaxy.) It isn’t ideal, certainly, for a rich Western individual to buy and hold such biodiversity treasures. But the alternative—selling them to be developed for profit—holds no promise of solving the world’s environmental problems, or even the specific issues faced by Indonesia.”

These island should be protected, but how? I'm not sure about leaving wilderness protection to erratic billionaires, but governments may not be organized, aligned or fast enough.

4. AI Chatbot of my Younger Self

Twitter | 5 minutes

Michelle Huang
"After scribing a ton of journal entries and feeding them into the model, I got working responses that felt eerily similar to how I think I would have responded during that time."

A researcher uploaded journal entires into an AI chatbot. This tech could help us to connect with our past, reminisce with deceased relatives, or maybe even to talk to customer support representatives on our behalf.

5. OpenAI releases Point-E, an AI that generates 3D models

TechCrunch | 5 minutes

"What are the applications, exactly? Well, the OpenAI researchers point out that Point-E’s point clouds could be used to fabricate real-world objects, for example through 3D printing. With the additional mesh-converting model, the system could — once it’s a little more polished — also find its way into game and animation development workflows." 

The next wave of AI image generation will be in 3D. This generative tech will find its way into gaming, entertainment, and social networks – all sooner than you think.

6. Why fusion ignition is being hailed as a major breakthrough in fusion – a nuclear physicist explains

The Conversation | 9 minutes

U.S. Department of Energy/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
“While the laser energy of 2 million joules was less than the fusion yield of 3 million joules, it took the facility nearly 300 million joules to produce the lasers used in this experiment. This result has shown that fusion ignition is possible, but it will take a lot of work to improve the efficiency to the point where fusion can provide a net positive energy return when taking into consideration the entire end-to-end system, not just a single interaction between the lasers and the fuel.” 

This article gets a bit technical. The takeaway? Net gain fusion energy is possible, but a ways off from commercial viability and scale.

7. Dimming the Sun to Cool the Planet Is a Desperate Idea, Yet We’re Inching Toward It

The New Yorker | 22 minutes

Lina Müller
“Geoengineering is a 'prime example of our arrogance in our capacity to shape nature to our whims with technology. It should not be the answer to a disaster which we have caused and now seek to remedy.' And yet, he added, 'Geoengineering as a possible solution to this catastrophe will definitely become the only option of last resort if we as a global community continue on the path we have been going. There will be a point when it has to be either geoengineering or total destruction.'"

This long read considers the plausible scenario where humanity casts particles into the atmospheres to cool the planet. This occurs in an opening chapter of the near-future science fiction book Ministry for the Future and raises geopolitical questions. Let’s avoid this possibility by reducing fossil fuels emissions fast.

8. Back to the Future

Grow | 19 minutes

Tiare Ribeaux
“People generally imagine the future in the language of capitalism by focusing on quarterly earnings rather than forecasting the future of sustainability; prioritizing extraction, exponential growth, and optimizing every system and relationship for profit — including our relationship with the natural world. Indigenous futurism, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to imagine our future based on Indigenous value systems: trading a linear or exponential trajectory for a circular one rooted in industrial symbiosis and sustainability. Indigenous peoples are, after all, original environmental stewards with 10,000 years of experience. An Indigenous future can imagine a world without waste.”

Fascinating deep dive on how the community could repurpose a military facility to turn industrial waste into circular opportunities in Hawaii.

9. Destroying Maya treasures to build a tourist train

Washington Post | 14 minutes

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History
“The irony is rich: to shepherd tourists into the cradle of Maya civilization, engineers are demolishing relics of that very culture. But there’s another irony. The destruction, Pérez had to admit, has brought with it a remarkable archaeological opportunity."

How should countries balance modern development with historic preservation? This massive project in the Yucatán will tear up miles of archeological sites to support a booming tourism industry.

10. Taiwan is Pandora, GPUs are unobtainium

Gradient Ascendant | 7 minutes

IC Insights via
“Well, it is this wizardry which empowers the burgeoning magic of modern AI; and by accident of history, economics, geopolitics, path dependency, and the (relative, but still profound) downfall of mighty Intel, essentially all of this wizardry takes place at gargantuan and enormously expensive facilities — part of an even more gargantuan manufacturing ecosystem, even harder to reproduce than individual fabs — on an island just off the coast of one of the world’s main superpowers.”

Fun nerdy read that compares Avatar to the current geopolitical situation in Taiwan. Let's hope for ongoing peace for the island democracy ahead.

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