Top Reads: November 2022

This month's issue features insights on human population growth, generative tech, and coral reef restoration.

Top Reads: November 2022
Photo by meriç tuna / 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!]

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1. 8 billion and counting

ABC | 7 minutes

"Just eight countries are projected to be responsible for more than half the world’s population increase by 2050. One of them is India, which is set to overtake China as the most populous country in the world next year. Pakistan and the Philippines are also on the list, and the remaining five are all in Africa: Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Egypt."

The human population will be increasingly concentrated in the Global South. Before our growth plateaus, it will strain food systems, supply chains and societies everywhere.

2. US and China: No longer room to maneuver?

Christopher M. Schroeder | 16 minutes 

Sourced by Christopher M. Schroeder
"While the two nations’ come from “two radically different cultures [the] peoples nonetheless aspire to remarkably similar futures: prosperity for their families, the best education for their children, the opportunity to build their businesses with a minimum of government interference, respect from others for their extraordinary individual and national achievements, and a desire to live in reasonable peace with their neighbors." He notes neither of us have a long-standing tradition of having vast overseas empires, and neither chose to colonize the world beyond their shores. All this is at least a place to start." 

This article explores a few global perspectives on US-China relations, a major front in our diplomatic future. The pursuit of a healthy "coopetition" between the countries could create momentum for labor rights, green technology and international development. The ongoing protests in China are worth watching closely.

3. Social vs. Science Experiments

Not Boring | 14 minutes

Not Boring
“One of the coolest things happening in the world right now is that a lot of science experiment categories are blooming simultaneously, often in concert with each other. In addition to AI, techbio, robotics, and renewable energy all seem to be jumping out of the lab and into the real world with products better than people would have expected and cost structures better than experts would have predicted. AI is genuinely useful and fun instead of frustrating. Moderna got a mRNA-based COVID vaccine to market in record time and saved millions of lives. Now, AI and biotech are combining in amazing ways, as exemplified by DeepMind’s AlphaFold and Atomic AI. Solar costs are plummeting and opening up new use cases and demand sources.”

An exploration on hard science and social experiments. Both can produce insights, but with different learning curves. I'm particularly interested in how social experiments can help scientific breakthroughs reach mass adoption.

4. Generative Tech Begins

NfX | 14 minutes

"The ideas once thought to come unpredictably only through people’s minds and souls, emerging from talent, or training, often associated with special people – will now be generated by something which is not a human, not a co-worker or collaborator… and something that is not you. This will be disturbing to many people. However, as with most new human-machine interfaces, we’ll get through the discomfort and get used to it. In the next 10 years, we will expect software to collaborate with us. It will be the new normal."

The era of human-machine collaboration has just begun. There will be change across many industries, but let's hope society can adapt. This article has my founder senses tingling...

5. Cumulative vs. Cyclical Knowledge

Collaborative Fund | 4 minutes

simply books.
Photo by Lysander Yuen / Unsplash
“Cyclical knowledge, and the inability to fully learn from others’ past experiences, means you have to accept a level of volatility and fragility not found in other fields.”

Insightful read comparing cumulative knowledge in the sciences vs cyclical knowledge in finance, philosophy or wellness. For better or worse, we humans have a short memory – look no further than the years between the Spanish Flu and COVID-19.

6. Vehicles of Extraction

Science for the People | 9 minutes

Alexandra Lobo
"The auto industry will profit from selling millions of new vehicles, and there’s an expectation that will create new manufacturing employment as companies scale up production. Those industrial jobs are likely to be unionized, a bonus for politicians when they hit the campaign trail. Then there’s the manufacture of the batteries and the extraction of all the minerals that will go into creating them—which will be a boon for the mining industry."

The hype around EVs is real, but their adoption will shift emissions from the tailpipe to mineral extraction. A just transition requires investment in mineral reclamation, livable cities and mobility that extends beyond the personal vehicle – electric or otherwise.

7. The government wants to build an entirely new energy system– and the world is watching

The Continent | 12 minutes

Photo: Acciona/Sener
“It is no coincidence that South Africa is being used as a test case. It plays an outsized role in climate politics. It has historic ties to the West thanks to colonialism; with Africa due to its location; and with Russia, India and China due to the Brics alliance. It also has most of the skills and the natural resources, including abundant sunlight, to make its new energy plan work."

The Continent has short, informative articles about Africa. This issue covers a lot, but explores ‘loss and damage’ – a key framework for environmental justice. This article begins on page 16, and explores how South Africa takes center stage in climate diplomacy as big polluters create a global fund to support renewables. If successful, it could provide a template for much of Africa and beyond.

8. Peering Into The Invisible Present

Long Now | 8 minutes

Illustrations by Casey Cripe
"Collectively, these efforts are widening the aperture of our ecological attention, enabling scientists to find and stitch together scattered fragments of temporal data into panoramas that tell a more illuminating story about the interactions that drive change."

We can accelerate our understanding of the natural world with data. Between committed scientists and nature-loving hobbyists, we're creating a trove of information that may help us learn more about how ecosystems work – and how to save them.

9. How To Speak Honeybee

Noema | 17 minutes

Marine Buffard for Noema Magazine
"A bee swarm, in other words, is a remarkably effective democratic decision-making body in motion, which bears resemblance to some processes in the human brain and human society. Seeley went so far as to claim that the collective interactions of individual bees were strikingly similar to the interactions between our individual neurons when collectively arriving at a decision. Seeley’s findings bolstered the arguments of those who argued in favor of referring to honeybee communication as language. And by demonstrating that the “hive mind” was more than mere metaphor, Seeley also stimulated advances in swarm intelligence in robotics and engineering."

Bees have complex forms of communication that we're only beginning to understand. This knowledge could improve many technologies and lives – or put us on track towards that haunting Black Mirror episode.

10. Will we ever… live in city-sized buildings?

BBC | 7 minutes

3000AD/Getty Images
“Although building an arcology is theoretically possible, at least from a structural perspective, it would require inventive engineering to ensure the necessary energy generation, food production and waste reclamation systems are sustainable. Critics say it is difficult to see how arcologies could be made economically viable in the near future. There is also the argument that permanently living within an enclosed area would not be pleasant, although it is comforting to know it is possible, should an apocalyptic event make the outside world unhabitable.”

A city-sized building, or acrology, is an interesting thought experiment. Several nations are considering these huge projects, but maybe they’re best imagined in science fiction. A few relevant books I enjoyed: The Diamond Age, Children of Time, and Aurora.

11. The largest dam demolition in history is approved for a Western river

NPR | 4 minutes

Gillian Flaccus/AP
"Native tribes that rely on the Klamath River and its salmon for their way of life have been a driving force behind bringing the dams down in a wild and remote area that spans the California and Oregon border. Barring any unforeseen complications, Oregon, California and the entity formed to oversee the project will accept the license transfer and could begin dam removal as early as this summer, proponents said."

The Klamath dam removal is an historic win for conservation and Indigenous rights. This storymap illustrates the decades of activism that went into this fight.

12. The Purpose of Technology

Balaji Srinivasan | 4 minutes

Sourced by Balaji Srinivasan
“Well, mortality is the main source of scarcity. If we had infinite time, we would be less concerned with whether something was faster. The reason speed has value is because time has value; the reason time has value is because human life has value, and lifespans are finite. If you made lifespans much longer, you'd reduce the effective cost of everything.”

A famous investor considers how humanity might be in a quest to "cure" mortality. The future could involve more life-extending technology, but it certainly won’t be equally distributed.

13. Ways to think about a metaverse

Benedict Evans | 8 minutes

Scott Adams
"And every time I see a VR or AR concept showing huge virtual screens floating in space, I think that the future of software is not about seeing more rows in my spreadsheet at once - the future is not seeing it at all, and having an ML engine that builds it for me. This is like printing out our emails."

Interesting perspective on the metaverse. In short: it could be too early to assume what it will look like.

14. FTX Founder Deepfake Offers Refund to Victims in Verified Twitter Account Scam

Vice | 4 minutes

"The deepfake video directed people to a website where people could enter a giveaway to win crypto. Crypto giveaways are a common scam, often using fake celebrity accounts, where the victim sends tokens to the scammer but receives nothing in return."

The FTX collapse and upheaval at Twitter have led to serious scams. Tread carefully out there. 

15. MyShake app can alert users before they feel the next earthquake

SF Gate | 3 minutes

CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images
“On Tuesday, 95,000 devices got the alert, said Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley’s Seismology Lab, and new downloads of the app have been skyrocketing since the quake. Allen didn’t have exact numbers he could provide, but he said Tuesday the app surpassed 2 million downloads and according to the app store, there are more than 2.3 million downloads as of publishing.”

This amazing app will save lives in at risk parts of the world. What would you do with 20 seconds before an earthquake?

16. The fight to build more public bathrooms in America

The Hustle | 8 minutes

The Hustle
“Take a look at any city, and you’ll see the decline at play. In 1940, the New York City subway system, for instance, had 1,676 public bathrooms. Today, it has 78. Only two public bathrooms in the entire city of 8.3m, meanwhile, are open 24 hours. In cities across the country, the number of public bathrooms per capita has sunken to new lows."

Interesting story on the accessibility of public restrooms in the past and present. A dignified, clean way to eliminate waste should be a human right.

17. The Life Scientific - The sounds of coral reefs - BBC Sounds

BBC | 30 minutes

Photo by Oleksandr Sushko / Unsplash
"We started to understand that fish were using the sounds of the coral reef to find their way home, to locate a coral reef and to decide [where to live]... The soundscape of these ecosystems is, in a sense, determining their ability to attract the next generation of fish."

The sounds of coral reefs are essential to ocean life. This fascinating interview with a marine scientist explores the next frontier of reef restoration: ocean soundscapes.

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