Top Reads: October 2022
This month's top reads include predictions for the climate economy, lab-grown mini-brains, and police in the metaverse.
[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!]
1. The Enchanted Notebook
Not Boring | 6 minutes
“I wonder how far off we are from the Enchanted Notebook: the point at which technology eliminates, or dramatically shrinks, the gap between imagination and reverse engineering.”
The idea of text-to-software isn’t that far off… and maybe hardware won’t be far behind. What a time to be alive.
2. The Climate Economy Is About to Explode
The Atlantic | 4 minutes
“Perhaps most strange, even if the United States slips into recession in the next year, the IRA will only become more important. Historically, economists and businesses have treated helping the environment as a product of prosperity—if the economy is good, then companies can afford to do the right thing. But the IRA’s programs and incentives will keep flowing no matter the macro environment, which makes betting on clean energy one of the most certain economic trends of the next few years.”
The opportunities in climate technology are enormous. As with consumer tech and mobile in the 2010s, innovative climate tech companies will become commonplace and widely known – with staying power.
3. The economics of Costco rotisserie chicken
The Hustle | 6 minutes
"Despite record-high inflation, supply chain woes, and the rising production costs of poultry, the retailer has refused to raise the price of these prepped birds."
A fascinating, visual story on the flat price for a Costco rotisserie chicken. If you'd prefer an audio version, listen to a related podcast on Spotify here.
4. The Dark Side of Frictionless Technology
The Atlantic | 8 minutes
"My chief concern about a tech culture that privileges and lavishly rewards building over maintaining is that this particular mindset is being instilled in us through their tools. That, by relying on their products, we’re subtly adopting their virtues, which include an expectation of obsolescence because builders don’t repair—they build. And that, in turn, the tools that promise us frictionless experiences, boundless productivity, and renewed creativity will actually undermine our competence by leaving us more dependent, and less resilient and attentive."
Interesting read on what we lose when tech becomes magic – a mastery that only comes through deep understanding and hours practicing a physical skill.
5. Meet Fizz, the social app downloaded by ‘95% of Stanford undergrads’
TechCrunch | 5 minutes
“Fizz is only available to college students, and users can only access the Fizz community for their own college (Fizz showed me a demo of the app, but I wasn’t allowed to make my own account to test it, because I’m not a student). On the app, students can publish anonymous text posts, polls and photos, which classmates can upvote or downvote. Users can DM each other, choosing to reveal their identity if they so desire.”
Hints of the next Facebook? A few interesting trends: social networks are beginning to default (back) to anonymity, loneliness impacts many of us, and people overestimate how well technology can address it.
6. Abbott Elementary and the promise of schools without cops
Scalawag | 6 minutes
“The teachers on the show go above and beyond for their students. It's the central grounding tenant that the eternally optimistic Janine always comes back to, especially as we watch and laugh along to her hilarious antics and nontraditional ways she and her peers offer care to their students.”
This fun, lighthearted and thoughtful comedy series truly shines as it explores a better world through the day to day with public school teachers and students. Season 2 has been great!
7. Lizzo Played a 200-Year-Old Glass Flute Given to James Madison
Smithsonian Magazine | 4 minutes
The story begins with a well-timed tweet: Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden noticed that Lizzo would be playing a show in D.C. Knowing Lizzo is a classically trained flutist, she reached out publicly with an invitation to stop by the Library of Congress to tour its impressive flute collection. “Like your song they are ‘Good as hell,’ she wrote of the instruments."
For history nerds and music fans alike: Lizzo played James Madison's crystal flute at a recent concert. This is an inspiring example of how we should embrace our history in the present.
8. Lab-grown brain cells play video game Pong
BBC | 4 minutes
“The mini-brains are likely to become more complex as the research progresses - but Dr. Kagan's team are working with bioethicists to ensure they do not accidentally create a conscious brain, with all the ethical questions that would raise.”
The term "mini-brain" is new to me. There are staggering possibilities and challenges that will come with the evolution of this research.
9. Consider the Chickens
The Baffler | 6 minutes
“The unthinking, extractive, and dominant human treats animals as a lower form of existence, rather than a different form; we assess the environment based on what can be extracted from it. Like our means of communication, our means of travel, of treating disease, and so much else, our ethics need an urgent and pressing update that takes into consideration the understanding of animals. Factory farms, the constant consumption of animal products, and the greedy use of fossil fuels are the seeds of destruction.”
A review of a recent book on animal rights: If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity. Our world could do more to protect animal life, and help guide the evolution of other species towards higher intelligence.
10. Team Interpol: Metaverse Police
The Register | 3 minutes
“…The cops are taking an interest in patrolling or probing the 'verse. Indeed, the whole launch of the service is geared around concerns that crimes are being organized and committed within virtual reality, and the police want to be able to intervene and investigate just as they would in the real world.”
Law enforcement begins to explore the metaverse. Evil will find its way there – and so will questionable policing tactics.
That's all, folx! I'll leave you with this astounding image of the "Pillars of Creation" nebula as seen by the Hubble telescope (left) vs. the newer James Webb telescope (right). Amaze!
What else do you want to see? Don't be shy, hit reply! And if you're into it, feel free to buy me a slice of pizza.
Til next month!