Weekend Briefing No. 250

Welcome to the weekend. This is the 250th week in a row that I’ve sent out the Weekend Briefing. What started out with just a simple email to friends has grown. This week we just crossed 25,000 subscribers! I’m grateful for your support and engagement. Because of you, I’m excited to write every week. The WB has come a long way, but I feel like we’re just at the starting line. I’m going to continue to strive to improve my ability to give you quality, concise content every week. Thanks so much!

Prime Numbers

100 B – Facebook says that its Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram users send 100 billion messages per day – 1 billion of those are Instagram stories. (I have to imagine most of those involved food this week!)

1 B – In a sign of great progress, over 120 million people worldwide gained access to electricity in 2017. This means that for the first time ever, the total number of people without access fell below 1 billion.

86 86 percent of teens surveyed said their next phone would be an iPhone.

The End of the Beginning

One of my favorite venture capitalist Ben Evans, just posted a video of his presentation The End of the Beginning. He notes that close to three quarters of all the adults on earth now have a smartphone, and most of the rest will get one in the next few years. However, the use of this connectivity is still only just beginning. As we think about the next decade or two, we have some new fundamental building blocks. The internet began as an open, ‘permissionless’, decentralized network, but then we got (and indeed needed) new centralized networks on top, and so we’ve spent a lot of the past decade talking about search and social. Machine learning and crypto give new and often decentralized, permissionless fundamental layers for looking at meaning, intent and preference, and for attaching value to those. Ben Evans (24 minutes)

Feeling the Stones

The Chinese economy has grown so fast for so long now that it is easy to forget how unlikely its metamorphosis into a global powerhouse was, how much of its ascent was improvised and born of desperation. China now leads the world in the number of homeowners, internet users, college graduates and, by some counts, billionaires. Extreme poverty has fallen to less than 1 percent. An isolated, impoverished backwater has evolved into the most significant rival to the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. China’s Communist leaders have defied expectations again and again. They embraced capitalism even as they continued to call themselves Marxists. They used repression to maintain power but without stifling entrepreneurship or innovation. Surrounded by foes and rivals, they avoided war, with one brief exception, even as they fanned nationalist sentiment at home. And they presided over 40 years of uninterrupted growth, often with unorthodox policies the textbooks said would fail. They did this by adopting a go-slow, experimental approach “crossing the river by feeling the stones” — allowing farmers to grow and sell their own crops, for example, while retaining state ownership of the land; lifting investment restrictions in “special economic zones,” while leaving them in place in the rest of the country; or introducing privatization by selling only minority stakes in state firms at first. New York Times (38 minutes)


The ‘Geno-economists’ say DNA can predict our chances of success. Critics counter that their methods are naïve, offensive or both. But all agree that multi-gene testing will lead to social upheaval. More than 80 authors from more than 50 institutions, including the private company 23andMe, gathered and studied the DNA of over 1.1 million people. It was the largest genetics study ever published, and the subject was not height or heart disease, but how far we go in school. The authors calculated, for instance, that those in the top fifth of polygenic scores had a 57 percent chance of earning a four-year degree, while those in the bottom fifth had a 12 percent chance. And with that degree of correlation, the authors wrote, polygenic scores can improve the accuracy of other studies of education. The genes with which you are born travel during your life through a mediating layer of biology and social experience — racism, puberty, vacations, illness, industrial accidents, sexual harassment, poverty, divorce — that seems so complicated as to be unmeasurable. But their study, part of a field now called “geno-economics,” claims to measure, in part, the degree to which our genes determine who we become. New York Times Magazine (28 minutes)

We Are Never Getting Back Together

When Taylor Swift’s contract with Big Machine expired this November, she became the hottest free agent in the music world, triggering a label bidding war that resulted in her breakup with Big Machine and a massive contract with Universal (the deal size is undisclosed) that guaranteed her rights to all her future records — an unprecedented win for an artist. But Swift wasn’t content winning an unprecedented battle for the rights to her own music — she wanted to help other artists do it, too. As a part her contract, Swift demanded that if/when Universal Music Group (who is a major investor in Spotify) sells any of its shares in the streaming company in the future, it must distribute the profits to all of its artists (including her, of course). The Hustle (4 minutes)

Fake Fingerprints

AI can generate fake fingerprints that work as master keys to unlock phones with biometric locks. According to the researchers that developed the technique, the attack can be launched against individuals with “some probability of success.” Biometric IDs seem to be about as close to a perfect identification system as you can get. However, researchers from New York University and the University of Michigan detailed how they trained a machine learning algorithm to generate fake fingerprints that can serve as a match for a “large number” of real fingerprints stored in databases. Known as DeepMasterPrints, these artificially generated fingerprints are similar to the master key for a building. To create a master fingerprint the researchers fed an artificial neural network—a type of computing architecture loosely modeled on the human brain that “learns” based on input data—the real fingerprints from over 6,000 individuals. Motherboard (5 minutes)

Teens & Sex

In a study hailed by every parent of a teenager across the US, the CDC found that from 1991 to 2017, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. (And no, they aren’t having oral sex instead—that rate hasn’t changed much.) Meanwhile, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate has plummeted to a third of its modern high. When this decline started, in the 1990s, it was widely and rightly embraced. But now some observers are beginning to wonder whether an unambiguously good thing might have roots in less salubrious developments. Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood. The Atlantic (13 minutes)

Peak Range

Colin O’Brady thinks it’s possible—but just barely—to haul enough calories to traverse the continent. On November 3, a Twin Otter dropped O’Brady off on the Ronne Ice Shelf. Over the next two months, he’ll be trying to make it 921 miles across Antarctica, via the South Pole, to the Ross Ice Shelf, roughly approximating the route that British adventurer Henry Worsley was trying to complete when he died, 900 miles into his trek, in 2016. The weight of Colin’s sled is a life or death matter. The more food he brings, the heavier his sled becomes, the more calories he burn pulling it, and the slower he moves, meaning that he’ll have to bring even more food to cover the extra days. Conversely, a lightly laden sled allows him to move more quickly and efficiently, but he’ll run out of food sooner. Somewhere in the middle is a theoretical optimum—a peak range, where either adding or subtracting a single energy bar from your sled will reduce the distance you’re able to cover. The question that has remained unanswered so far is whether that peak range is greater than the width of Antarctica. Outside (10 minutes)

Gift Ideas

Amidst the chaotic conspicuous consumption of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I’ve suggested two gift ideas that may bring more meaningful connection into your life.

Holstee Reflection Cards are a fun way to spark meaningful conversations and deepen relationships with the people in your life. Every deck includes 100+ thought-provoking questions centered around mindful themes like Adventure, Creativity, and Resilience. Perfect to use with friends, family, and coworkers.

Timeshel is a simple way to remember those special moments in life. Simply select your favorite photos on your phone, when the month comes to a close they automatically print and arrive at your door in beautiful packaging.

Weekend Wisdom

Like, ever.Taylor Swift

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 NRKbeta.