Left to its own devices, thermodynamics will revert us and everything we built back to the state of nature. Left to our own, we humans seem increasingly oblivious and willing to conform to a state of unrighteous and insurgent disorder - the war of each against all where only the very few evolve and thrive, hostile and divorced from the common wealth. One year is enough, we now understand, to upset and rewrite and even destroy the fragile covenants that hold our cities and our networks together.
The definition of sovereignty holds both the promise of supreme power and the horizon of virtuous autonomy, each one in turn defined by its relation to some form of collective body. We are able to rule over or to be autonomous from: our communities, our neighbors, our ideas, our actions. For both meanings of the word, one year was enough to demonstrate the extent to which a greater, benevolent force might be required for the sustainable and peaceful management of our global and cybernetic affairs - as well as the extent to which such force might already be influent in our world.
That elusive and prophetic creature remains unannounced.
In Analogia, technology historian George Dyson presents a startling look back at the analog age and life before the digital revolution―and an unsettling vision of what comes next.
In 1716, the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent eight days taking the cure with Peter the Great at Bad Pyrmont in Saxony, seeking to initiate a digitally-computed takeover of the world. In his classic books, Darwin Among the Machines and Turing’s Cathedral, Dyson chronicled the realization of Leibniz’s dream at the hands of a series of iconoclasts who brought his ideas to life. Now, in his pathbreaking new book, Analogia, he offers a chronicle of people who fought for the other side―the Native American leader Geronimo and physicist Leo Szilard, among them―a series of stories that will change our view not only of the past but also of the future.
The convergence of a startling historical archaeology with Dyson’s unusual personal story―set alternately in the rarified world of cutting-edge physics and computer science, in Princeton, and in the rainforest of the Northwest Coast―leads to a prophetic vision of an analog revolution already under way. We are, Dyson reveals, on the cusp of a new moment in human history, driven by a generation of machines whose powers are beyond programmable control.
For all the devastation the Covid-19 pandemic has caused, there is finally a bright spot: For the first time ever, drug companies created a vaccine against a novel pathogen within a year of its discovery—about a tenth of the time it usually takes.
These nucleic acid vaccines, which use cells’ existing infrastructure to manufacture their own medicine, appear poised to kickstart new era of rapid-response vaccine development. But their success wouldn’t have been possible without a supportive technology that allows the shots to reach the right destination in the body: tiny bits of fat called lipid nanoparticles.
Across Fjord Trends 2021, the over-arching theme is mapping out the new territory. With the events of 2020 upending so much of what we took for granted, we now need to look ahead with focus and a desire to help people solve their challenges on their own terms. 2021 will redefine the 21st century.
Anyone who wants to know that Pornhub has engaged in abusive and exploitative behavior toward women need only listen to the women whose videos were posted to the free porn site without their consent.
“This is a war with big porn,” Mickelwait states unequivocally in a November post on her influencer-chic Instagram account. Mickelwait’s current job title is director of abolition at Exodus Cry, “a faith-based organization modeled on the character of Jesus, as the group describes itself, which “fights sexual exploitation and the sex industry” and is the home of the Traffickinghub campaign. Exodus Cry uses “abolition” in the sense used by anti–sex work groups, meaning the abolition of the sex trade, including prostitution and porn, by means of the criminal law. If Mickelwait and her group were not working toward the wholesale eradication of a workforce, that workforce might be allies in the “war” to end the publication of sexual abuse material.
On December 15, Facebook announced that it had taken down three separate networks that it had discovered for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that targeted communities across Africa. One, centered on the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, was linked to individuals associated with the French military. The other two, centered respectively on CAR and Libya, were connected to the business and influence operations of Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary organization Wagner Group and the Internet Research Agency “troll farm.” The French and Russian operations in the CAR tried to expose each other, and repeatedly clashed in groups, comments, and cartoon wars.
We have documented the first of the Russian operations in a joint report with Stanford University entitled “Stoking Conflict by Keystroke”; this report focuses on the French and Russian operations that targeted CAR. For the sake of brevity, the operation linked to individuals with ties to the French military will be referred to as the “French operation” in this report, while the Russian operation attributed to individuals associated with past activity by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and previous operations attributed to entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin is referred to as the “Russian operation” in this report. It is worth highlighting that Facebook did not attribute the operation directly to the French Government or the French military, and that this report similarly does not offer evidence of institutional involvement from French governmental and military entities.
An algae bloom occurs in nature when there is too much nutrient in the water. At first, the bloom is welcomed by fish and other animals as food. But over time, it starves the water of oxygen and kills the inhabitants, leaving behind a dead sea. Algae blooms underscore the dangers of an unbalanced system—when the overconcentration of one species undermines the health of the ecosystem.
Like natural ecosystems, creator ecosystems also require balance among its inhabitants. From YouTube to Etsy to Twitch, creator ecosystems are made up of countless creators that collaborate and compete with one another for audiences. Healthy creator ecosystems empower multitude of creators to grow. Danger forms when one creator becomes too big at the expense of others.
This is the Virtual Economy. An agglomeration of sophisticated platforms, fledgling and often dubious marketplaces, skilled nixers, volatile assets, and ambitious pioneers that exist or operate uniquely in virtual environments. It sits just out of reach, behind a digital curtain, invisible to most of us. Within it, there is a galaxy of activity and opportunity. A new economic frontier that may just be the answer to the generational wealth gap.
It is a place frequented, with varying degrees of immersion, by some 2.5 billion people through phones, consoles, laptops, desktops, and headsets. It is an environment native to the tech savvy, a dual citizenship of sorts for the technically fluent. It is a place where people go to socialise, to play, to create, to work, to fantasise, to deceive, and to prosper. An emerging habitat exhibiting the capacity of emerging technologies like distributed ledgers, virtual reality (VR), computer vision, real-time ray tracing, cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs
The sustainability of nations and the defensibility of platforms is better when wealth isn’t concentrated in the top 1%. In the real world, a healthy middle class is critical for promoting societal trust, providing a stable source of demand for products and services, and driving innovation. On platforms, less wealth concentration means lessening the risk that a would-be competitor could poach top creators and threaten the entire business.
So, is inequality inevitable among creators? Perhaps to an extent. Not everyone can become a celebrity, but there are examples of middle-class creators: those that aren’t household names but have a solid base of customers who provide the foundation for a decent income.
From plastics to clothing, we depend on materials derived from petroleum. But how do we create the next generation of materials that perform even better than current options without destroying the environment?
Zymergen CEO Joshua Hoffman joins Azeem Azhar to explore how the precision biochemistry of genetically engineered microbes is opening up new pathways for creating a new generation of high-performance, environmentally sustainable materials for the 21st Century.