Welcome to the weekend. Every week I get kind, insightful and encouraging notes in response to the Weekend Briefing from y’all. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to hear that this email is valuable to you in some way. On this Thanksgiving weekend, I just wanted to say thanks.
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244,000,000 – Some 244 million turkeys were raised and slaughtered by the US poultry industry in 2016.
32,300 – Cooperative Solar Farm One in Lexington KY, was dedicated this week. The farm features 32,300 solar panels on 60 acres.
4.2 – In 2016 the entire world consumed 4.2 Trillion kg of cement.
Open Letter to AI
A California Supreme Court Justice recently wrote an open letter to AI. Before long, simulated artificial general intelligence may be programmed to not only recognize patterns in our behavior and to solve problems for us in natural language, but to fulfill our human needs—and therefore to act as though it needs and wants things. People will care about their AI like a family member… they also may start to view their AI as a god – an omniscient being that will guide us through the complexity of life. If AI does take over, it will likely be because we’ve given it the keys to the kingdom, not the result of some war. We must understand how AI was designed so we reconcile our values with it. Otherwise you’ll be bending to its will and the will of unseen people and machines who designed it, in all likelihood, to make you want to use it more, and thereby control you. Above all, we must observe how AI is changing us — so you can change as you’d like instead of becoming what you fear. Quartz (8 minutes)
Champagne & Bourbon for AT&T
This week AT&T is popping a bottle of champagne and a bottle of bourbon. The champagne in celebration of the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality rules. The bourbon to drown their sorrows at the DOJ’s attempt to block their merger with Time Warner. In back-to-back developments, two federal agencies arrived at starkly different conclusions, and one company, AT&T, found itself on opposite sides of the debate. One agency – the Department of Justice – is saying that marrying content and distribution results in too much market power, and another agency – the Federal Communication Commission – is saying there’s no problem with a distributor favoring their content over someone else’s. AT&T stands to gain from the rollback of net neutrality rules. It could charge companies and consumers more for high-speed internet access, and use its market influence to hinder content providers it competes against. Yet, they stand to lose if the DOJ is successful in their attempt to block AT&T’s proposed $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner, a deal that would unite one of the country’s biggest internet providers with the company that owns CNN, HBO and the Warner Bros. film studio. New York Times (8 minutes)
Where is the F Train?
On my recent trip to Hong Kong, I marveled at their subway system. It was efficient, timely and clean. A sharp contrast to our New York City century-old dirty, slow and crumbling system. Daily ridership has nearly doubled in the past two decades to 5.7 million, but the MTA’s budget for subway maintenance has barely changed, from what it was 25 years ago. New York’s subway now has the worst on-time performance of any major rapid transit system in the world. New York is the only major city in the world with fewer miles of track than it had during World War II. Efforts to add new lines have been hampered by generous agreements with labor unions and private contractors that have inflated construction costs to five times the international average. None of this happened on its own. It was the result of a series of decisions by both Republican and Democratic politicians who stripped a combined $1.5 billion from the MTA, by repeatedly diverting tax revenues earmarked for the subways. They pressured the MTA. to spend billions of dollars on opulent station makeovers and other projects that did nothing to boost service or reliability. They saddled the MTA. with debt and engineered a deal with creditors that brought in quick cash but locked the authority into paying $5 billion in interest that it otherwise never would have had to pay. New York Times (21 minutes)
Tesla announced its first move into trucks, the ‘Tesla Semi’, and a new $200k ‘Roadster’ that does 0-60 in under 2 seconds. The Roadster doesn’t ship until 2020 but if you want one you have to pay a $50k deposit now – and for the first 1,000 units, you have to pay $250k in cash right now – a 2+ year (assuming it ships on time), interest-free loan from Tesla’s best customers. The truck, meanwhile, is a big deal! It’s touted as faster and cheaper than conventional rigs. But there are lots of unanswered questions around how it will perform on shorter vs. long haul port to port trips. The secret play here for Tesla may be that by producing more batteries for more products, the quality of batteries will increase and the price for battery production will drop. Ben Evans (2 minutes)
Who is the man behind these high-profile Tesla product launches? It is easy to confuse who someone is with what they do, and thus turn them into a caricature who fits neatly into a storybook view of the world. Our culture always needs villains and heroes, fools and geniuses, scapegoats and role models. However, despite opinions to the contrary, Elon Musk is not a robot sent from the future to save humanity. Nor is he a Silicon Valley savant whose emotional affect has been replaced with supercomputer-like intelligence. This intimate profile is human and endearing. For instance, he has a very complicated relationship with his dad. He says he was raised by books – specifically Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. He hates going to sleep alone and, surprisingly… he has a hard time getting a date. Rolling Stone (21 minutes)
The most important skill our children will need to learn is “intellectual discipline.” The ability to recall facts (we have Google) and parrot popular arguments (the canon is dead) has become obsolete. Students need to wade through the noise, discern the facts, analyze perspectives, and develop their own expertise. The future is always uncertain but what seems clear is that one of the most powerful tools anyone can harness is the single-minded pursuit of mastering how to seek the truth from information. Children are going to have to learn something that we didn’t have to learn as much, which is discipline, intellectual discipline—the ability to say no. Quartz (6 minutes)
Hedgehog & Fox
Around 2700 years ago, the Greek poet Archilochus wrote: “the fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.” The fox is a generalist. A person who is a competent jack of all trades, with lots of divergent useful skills and capabilities. The general practitioner doctor whom you see for any minor health problem (and who refers you to a specialist for anything major). The psychologist who works with the media, publishes research papers, and teaches about a broad topic. The hedgehog is a specialist. Someone with distinct knowledge and skills related to a single area. This is the cardiologist who spends their career treating and understanding heart conditions. Rather than choosing one or the other, consider being a generalizing specialist who develops a core competency while building a base of interdisciplinary knowledge. Specialize most of the time, but spend time understanding the broader ideas of the world. Farnam Street (10 minutes)
From the Community
Raan and Shea Parton at Apolis ran a brilliant Black Friday campaign. Rather than running a sale, they gave the first $6,750 in sales to a co-op they work with in Bangladesh to upgrade the women’s manual sewing machine to automatic sewing machines. They hit the goal in 3 hours!
About the Weekend Briefing
Thanks for making the Weekend Briefing a part of your Saturday morning routine. Feel free to shoot me an email with any feedback, insights, tips or suggestions. If you like what you’re reading, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. Have a restful and thoughtful weekend.