Weekend Briefing No. 201

Welcome to the weekend. Congrats to Camila Pazos on winning 4 nights at Playa Viva! She leads Echoing Green’s search and selection process from start to finish. She tirelessly improves the process for social entrepreneurs, staff, and their readers to make it inclusive, accessible, and generous. A big thanks to Min Pease at Echoing Green for nominating Camila and David Leventhal at Playa Viva for making this possible. Thanks to everybody who took the time to nominate. I continue to be impressed by the impact that our community is creating. Keep up the great work!

Prime Numbers

80,000 The US tried to lease more than 10MM acres of land in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. But oil firms only bid for 0.8% of the land or 80,000 acres.

24 AlphaGoZero – Google’s machine learning system – was told how the chess pieces move — nothing more. 24 hours later it had mastered the game beating the best programs in the world convincingly, all through self-teaching.

7 It took Chinese authorities just 7 minutes to locate and apprehend BBC reporter John Sudworth using its powerful network of CCTV camera and facial recognition technology.

SEC on Cryptocurrencies

The SEC sees the potential benefits of cryptocurrencies – efficiency, decentralization, verification – it also sees the risks –  facilitating illicit trading and financial transactions. However, it warns that replacing a traditional corporate interest recorded in a central ledger with an enterprise interest recorded through a blockchain entry on a distributed ledger may change the form of the transaction, but it does not change the substance. And while there are cryptocurrencies that do not appear to be securities, simply calling something a “currency” or a currency-based product does not mean that it is not a security.  Before launching a cryptocurrency or a product with its value tied to one or more cryptocurrencies, its promoters must either (1) be able to demonstrate that the currency or product is not a security or (2) comply with applicable registration and other requirements under our securities laws.  SEC (10 minutes)


Coinciding with the substantial growth in cryptocurrencies, companies and individuals increasingly have been using initial coin offerings (ICOs) to raise capital for their businesses and projects.  ICOs can take many different forms, and the rights and interests a coin is purported to provide the holder can vary widely.  A key question for all ICO market participants: “Is the coin or token a security?”  As securities law practitioners know well, the answer depends on the facts.  For example, a token that represents a participation interest in a book-of-the-month club may not implicate our securities laws, and may well be an efficient way for the club’s operators to fund the future acquisition of books and facilitate the distribution of those books to token holders.  In contrast, many token offerings appear to have gone beyond this construct and are more analogous to interests in a yet-to-be-built publishing house with the authors, books and distribution networks all to come.  It is especially troubling when the promoters of these offerings emphasize the secondary market trading potential of these tokens.  Prospective purchasers are being sold on the potential for tokens to increase in value – with the ability to lock in those increases by reselling the tokens on a secondary market – or to otherwise profit from the tokens based on the efforts of others.  These are key hallmarks of a security and a securities offering.  SEC (10 minutes)

AI Building AI

In a project called AutoML, Google’s researchers have taught machine-learning software to build machine-learning software. Much work in what is called metalearning or learning to learn, is aimed at speeding up the process of deploying artificial neural networks. That technique involves feeding data through networks of math operations loosely inspired by studies of neurons in the brain. A good part of getting neural networks to perform tasks comes down to well-paid grunt work. Experts must use instinct and trial and error to discover the right architecture for a neural network. With a limited supply of AI experts, GoogleML is creating their own. In some instances, what they come up with is more powerful and efficient than the best systems the researchers themselves can design. Google says the system recently scored a record 82 percent at categorizing images by their content. If AI-made AI becomes practical, machine learning could spread outside of the tech industry, for example in healthcare and finance, much faster. Wired (6 minutes)

Capitalism & Millennials

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, the popularity of capitalism and socialism is neck-and-neck among younger Americans, while older generations are still distrusting of socialism, Millennials are more prone to embrace socialism. Americans aged 18 to 29, according to a recent WSJ poll, are more likely than any other age bracket to say that they believe the government should be doing more, not less, to help people in need. That may be connected to the fact that the first generation in modern memory to be on track to be worse off than their parents. The median earnings of millennials in 2013 were 43% lower than someone who was their age and working in 1995. Even though average wages have inched slowly upward in recent years after a long period of stagnation, they’re still 8% lower than they were before the 2008 recession. And average student debt, has, since 2008, climbed from around $24,000 to over $37,000. Fast Company (5 minutes)

Dopamine Destruction

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.” The Verge (6 minutes)

AI & the Law

As of 2016, there were over 1,300,000 licensed lawyers and 200,000 paralegals in the U.S. Consultancy group McKinsey estimates that 22 percent of a lawyer’s job and 35 percent of a law clerk’s job can be automated, which means that while humanity won’t be completely overtaken, major businesses and career adjustments aren’t far off. So far, AI-powered document discovery tools have had the biggest impact on the field. By training on millions of existing documents, case files, and legal briefs, a machine-learning algorithm can learn to flag the appropriate sources a lawyer needs to craft a case, often more successfully than humans. For example, JPMorgan announced earlier this year that it is using software called Contract Intelligence, or COIN, which can in seconds perform document review tasks that took legal aides 360,000 hours. MIT Technology Review (6 minutes)

Manager v. Maker

A manager’s job is to, well, manage other people and systems. The point is that their job revolves around organizing other people and making decisions. A maker’s job is to create some form of tangible value. If you find that your role is a combination of manager and maker, you need to be very smart with your schedule. The important point to note is that people who successfully combine both schedules do so by making a clear distinction, setting boundaries for those around them, and adjusting their environment in accordance depending on whether they are wearing a manager or maker hat. They don’t design for an hour, have meetings for an hour, then return to designing, and so on. To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. One idea in particular that seems to be essential is the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Farnam Street (13 minutes)

About the Weekend Briefing

The best articles on innovation, impact and growth distilled into one email every Saturday morning by Kyle Westaway – author of Profit & Purpose and Managing Partner of Westaway.

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.