Top Reads: January 2023

This month's issue features aging reversal, greener cities, imaginary films, and the existential threat of AI.

Top Reads: January 2023
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen / Unsplash

[Did a friend forward this your way? Every month, I curate the best articles in tech and social impact – with a few takes here and there. If you're into it, please subscribe!]

Hey, everybody. Thanks to those of you who shared your feedback! My takeaways:

  • Readers appreciate the variety, maybe more nerdy stuff
  • I'll move my blurb before the quote to create better context
  • Monthly is good (I get it, you don't want more email. Same.)
  • There's interest in deep dives or sci-fi book reviews

I'll try to experiment with these changes in 2023. Let's do this!

1. Purpose for 2023 and Beyond

Christopher Schroeder | 6 minutes

Jacob Lawrence: The Builders (1947)

A thoughtful review of Purpose: Design a Community & Change Your Life by Gina Bianchini. I explored and grew in 2022 with the help of several communities. Even at a small scale, I can attest to the tremendous power of group accountability. 

“We are called to be precise in who brings us most energy; gives us the greatest sense of what is possible; gives us meaning; encourages us to take on challenges; makes us learn and laugh and expands our world view. At the same time, we must be equally clear on who depletes our energy, is quick to cut us down, makes us question your worth. A genuine community comprises the former, and unapologetically weeds out the latter. I hope in 2023 we are the friend, mentor and co-conspirators of excellence that we seek.”

2. Six Questions for Hannah Ritchie, Our World In Data

Collab Fund | 5 minutes

plexus net
Photo by Conny Schneider / Unsplash

Our World in Data is an amazing resource. This interview explores unique insights from the team behind the data. Active optimism is the way to go!

“I’m actively optimistic, instead. The future can be better if we work to make it so. But there’s no rule that says that things need to, or will, get better. What’s definitely not smart – but sounds like it – is default pessimism. Pessimists often sound like the voice of reason but contribute very little to moving us forward. They leave us stuck with the status quo. That’s a stagnation that we can’t afford."

3. We’re All Complicit in the N.F.L.’s Violent Spectacle

NYT | 5 minutes

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

I saw the Damar Hamlin injury in real time, and witnessed a confusion and uncertainty that's rare for live TV. I’m grateful for his continued recovery, but I will not be watching football the same way again.

“Yes, we love the great plays, the comebacks, the stories. Amid all of its chaos, the art of the game played at its highest level cannot be denied. It is easy to be drawn to the potent mix of symphonic creativity and aggression. It is not so easy to step up and stand up and honestly admit that each game we watch hovers on a razor’s edge.”

4. JP Morgan Says Startup Founder Used Millions Of Fake Customers To Dupe It Into An Acquisition

Forbes | 7 minutes

Photo by Mikael Kristenson / Unsplash

This fiasco pits a founder’s word against JP Morgan. The bank accuses the founder of creating fake accounts. The founder claims JP Morgan stalled the acquisition due to student privacy laws. I don’t know how it will turn out, but someone breached a contract.

“The lawsuit, which was filed late last year in U.S. District Court in Delaware, claims that Javice pitched JP Morgan in 2021 on the “lie” that more than 4 million users had signed up to use Frank’s tools to apply for federal aid. When JP Morgan asked for proof during due diligence, Javice allegedly created an enormous roster of “fake customers – a list of names, addresses, dates of birth, and other personal information for 4.265 million ‘students’ who did not actually exist.” In reality, according to the suit, Frank had fewer than 300,000 customer accounts at that time.”

5. Cities Really Can Be Both Denser and Greener

The Atlantic | 4 minutes

Jan Richard Heinicke / laif / Redu​x

An interesting read on the balance between city growth and green infrastructure. All city residents deserve green space nearby.

"Globally, denser cities had less open space overall than if everyone had private yards, but the amount of public open space was basically unrelated to density and had more to do with history, policy, and culture."

6. Japanese government offers families 1m yen a child to leave Tokyo

The Guardian | 5 minutes

Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

People are voting with their feet as they return to cities. The rural part of Japan may struggle to draw and sustain a working age population.

“Families hoping to secure an easy payday before returning to the capital will be disappointed, however. They must live in their new homes for at least five years and one member of the household must be in work or plan to open a new business. Those who move out before five years have passed will have to return the cash. Officials hope the generous sums on offer will encourage families with children aged up to 18 to revitalise regions and ease pressure on space and public services in greater Tokyo, the world’s biggest metropolis with a population of about 35 million.”

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7. Deep seabed mining plans pit renewable energy demand against ocean life in a largely unexplored frontier

The Conversation | 8 minutes


Oceans help the planet process huge amounts of CO2. We need strict protections for oceans, including rules for seabed mining in the deep sea. As countries rush to secure electrification minerals on land, oceans will be next.

“Deep seabed mining comes with significant uncertainties, however, particularly given the technology’s relatively early state. First are the risks associated with commercializing a new technology. Until deep sea mining technology is demonstrated, discoveries cannot be listed as “reserves” in firms’ asset valuations. Without that value defined, it can be difficult to line up the significant financing needed to build mining infrastructure, which lessens the first-mover advantage and incentivizes firms to wait for someone else to take the lead.”

8. The Enduring, Invisible Power of Blond

NYT | 6 minutes

Clay Hickson

Interesting article about blonde people and their status in society. Another lens to examine your social biases.

“There is a lot of loss wrapped up in blonde’s status. Maybe that is why staying blond is so expensive. The process can also be painful. Yet, a vast majority of the world’s blondes are that way because of chemical intervention. I may need to convince you that unpacking what blonde means as a social status is worth your consideration. I am up for the task.”

9. Scientists Have Reached a Key Milestone in Learning How to Reverse Aging

Apple News | 8 minutes

Tim Flach Photography Ltd - Getty Images

Science has begun to treat the aging process as preventable. Society may have to confront this reality in the next few decades.

"Beyond that, the implications of being able to age and rejuvenate tissues, organs, or even entire animals or people are mind-bending. Sinclair has rejuvenated the eye nerves multiple times, which raises the more existential question for bioethicists and society of considering what it would mean to continually rewind the clock on aging."

10. Ants Live 10 Times Longer by Altering Their Insulin Responses

Quanta Magazine | 10 minutes

Merrill Sherman/Quanta Magazine

Ants have incredible, adaptive traits that protect their colonies. We have much to learn from insects. If these things were bigger, the food chain may have turned out quite different.

“But ant queens can have it all. In some ant species, queens live more than 30 years while laying the thousands upon thousands of eggs that become all the workers in the nest. In contrast, worker ants, which are females that don’t reproduce, live only months. Yet if circumstances demand it, the workers of some species can step up to become pseudo-queens for the good of the nest — and to reap a significant extension in their life span.”

11. This Film Does Not Exist

NYT | 11 minutes

Images generated by Midjourney, with Johnny Darrell

For the cinephiles out there, this is a fascinating read about AI images and cinema. The future might get weird.

“What will it mean when directors, concept artists and film students can see with their imaginations, when they can paint using all the digitally archived visual material of human civilization? When our culture starts to be influenced by scenes, sets and images from old films that never existed or that haven’t yet even been imagined? I have a feeling we’re all about to find out.”

80,000 Hours | 91 minutes

Image generated by DALL-E 2

With all ChatGPT hype, I took a step back to consider how AI is among the most pressing existential risks for humanity. We must create regulatory safeguards for AI-driven systems and the people around them. Look no further than this parkour robot.

"We expect that there will be substantial progress in AI in the next few decades, potentially even to the point where machines come to outperform humans in many, if not all, tasks. This could have enormous benefits, helping to solve currently intractable global problems, but could also pose severe risks. These risks could arise accidentally (for example, if we don’t find technical solutions to concerns about the safety of AI systems), or deliberately (for example, if AI systems worsen geopolitical conflict). We think more work needs to be done to reduce these risks."

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Rocky with his dog-sitting mentor, Reese.