Weekend Briefing No. 220

Welcome to the weekend.

Prime Numbers

10,000 – Scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada have developed a technology that can dramatically improve the specificity of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. The approach uses synthetic guide molecules known as bridged nucleic acids (BNAs) in place of the system’s native guide RNAs (gRNAs) which can improve accuracy 10,000-fold.

1,000 – More than 100 cryptocurrency exchanges and over 1,000 initial coin offerings are operating outside US laws meant to protect investors from fraud, says Gary Gensler, who chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 2009 to 2014.

1 – Despite being arrested seven times, Johnny Cash only spent one night in jail.


Future Factory

The best way to predict the future is to invent it… or so the saying goes. Back in the 1980’s a laboratory of misfits foresaw our future. Touch screens, automated driving instructions, wearable technology and electronic ink were all developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Today it’s creating technologies to grow food in the desert, control our dreams and build smart prosthetics. But my favorite project is run by Arnav Kapur. He’s developed a system to surf the internet with his mind. What happens is when you’re reading or when you’re talking to yourself, your brain transmits electrical signals to your vocal cords. It can actually pick these signals up and can get certain clues as to what the person intends to speak. Those signals can then be used to surf the internet. If you’ve been reading the Weekend Briefing for a while, you know that one of my obsessions in brain machine interfaces. This is one of the best prototypes I’ve seen. Check out this video. 60 Minutes (13 minutes)

Backpage Banned

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) became law on April 11, 2018. They clarify the country’s sex trafficking law to make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking, and make online services liable if any prostitution is facilitated on their site. Last week, FBI shut down Backpage.com, the largest online U.S. marketplace for sex trafficking and prostitution. This will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade. Will it also have some other unintended consequences for adult, voluntary sex workers? This podcast dives into the surprisingly complex world of anti-sex trafficking policy in the internet age. As someone who has worked in the anti-sex trafficking movement, this podcast was both enlightening and challenging to me. Reply All (29 minutes) 

AI & Nuclear War

Could artificial intelligence upend concepts of nuclear deterrence that have helped spare the world from nuclear war since 1945? Stunning advances in AI—coupled with a proliferation of drones, satellites, and other sensors—raise the possibility that countries could find and threaten each other’s nuclear forces, escalating tensions. The strategic stability provided by “mutually assured destruction” might be undermined if AI can offer us a new—and vastly superior—way to target an adversary’s weapons systems. Whoever wins the race for AI superiority, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, “will become the ruler of the world.” Tesla founder Elon Musk had a different take: The race for AI superiority, he warned, is the most likely cause of World War III. Gulp. Rand (7 minutes)

Digital Redlining

Edward Minor’s relationship to the world isn’t so different from that of an infant. That’s because, in October 2017, Minor was released from prison after being incarcerated for more than 40 years. A modern-day Rip Van Winkle (who left society for a mere two decades), Minor is adrift in a technological society that left him behind. While Minor may be an extreme case, he squarely fits the description of Americans who suffer most from the digital divide: He’s elderly, he’s poor, and he’s a person of color. As Tom Wheeler, former chair of the FCC, said in 2015, “The bottom line is this: If you are not connected to the internet…you cannot participate fully in our economy and our democracy.” Studies show that in Cleveland and Detroit, AT&T didn’t build out the sufficient broadband access in poor, majority-minority areas. It’s redlining in the digital age. Splinter News (10 minutes)

Trash Day

On a Wednesday afternoon in a sprawling lot on a former naval air station in Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco, workers are welding a massive black tube together. The tube–roughly the length of a football field–is one piece of a larger system that will set sail for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this summer, where it will begin collecting some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic trash brought there by ocean currents. By the end of 2018, it will bring back its first harvest of ocean plastic back from the North Pacific Gyre, along with concrete proof that the design works. The organization expects to bring 5,000 kilograms of plastic ashore per month with its first system. With a full fleet of systems deployed, it believes that it can collect half of the plastic trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–around 40,000 metric tons–within five years.

Hack Back Distractions

The tendency to get distracted, then, is human nature. And now, thanks to the modern distraction machines that we all keep right at our fingertips, that tendency has been amplified. To help sort through what’s keeping you from working how and when you want to, Eyal has identified three ways of managing distraction, with tricks for combating it. 1) Reclaim your calendar. Start with a technique that psychologists call implementation intentions, which is a fancy way of saying “planning out what we will do and when we will do it,” to schedule away distractions. In this day and age, if you don’t plan your day, someone or something else will. Every minute of your day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, should be scheduled. 2) Wear your red vest. You’ve got to find ways to communicate that you are in deep work mode to shut down the phone calls, the emails, the Slack notifications, a coworker tapping you on the shoulder. First Round Review (18 minutes)

Are We Friends?

You probably know that adding people to your inner circle takes time, but how much time it actually takes to go from strangers to buddies has been somewhat of a mystery—until now. A new study suggests you need to spend at least 90 hours with someone before they consider you a real friend. The report, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found that it usually takes roughly 50 hours of time together to go from acquaintance to “casual friend” (think drinking buddies, or friends of friends that you see at parties); around 90 hours to become a true-to-form “friend” (you both carve out time to specifically hang out with one another); and over 200 hours to form a BFF-type bond (you feel an emotional connection with this friend). If you’re not sure where you stand with someone you consider to be a friend (or is a friend candidate), check out this tool. Interactive Friendship Tool (2 minutes)

From the Community

Kohl Crecelius wrote an interesting piece on third wave social entrepreneurship.

Bobby Bailey produced and directed CONVICTION a short film on the end of Recidivism.

Weekend Wisdom

The things that have always been important: to be a good man, to try to live my life the way God would have me, to turn it over to Him that His will might be worked in my life, to do my work without looking back, to give it all I’ve got, and to take pride in my work as an honest performer.  -Johnny Cash

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.

Photo by Daniel Hansen