Weekend Briefing No. 326

Welcome to the weekend.

This week has been a good week for many entrepreneurs because so many businesses have had Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans hit their account. My research shows that 47 percent of PPP applicants have received funding. If you’re interested in more PPP updates, check out my article in Forbes.

Bourbon & Briefing—our weekly Zoom happy hours have been such a joy for me. The discussion is intelligent and compassionate. We’ll keep them going at least as long as NYC is in quarantine. Everybody who has signed up thus far already has calendar invites, so this will be the last week I announce it in the briefing. If you want to join us at 5 p.m.. on Saturdays, click here.

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Prime Numbers

49—Facebook’s chatbot Blender won out in a Turing test over real human conversations 49 percent of the time.

44—According to a new survey, 44 percent of people working from home cited reduced commuting times as the best part of the shift, while others cited better work-life balance (14 percent), spending time with people they live with (14 percent), flexible hours (9 percent) and fewer distractions (5 percent) as the best part.

2—The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has followed the UK Intellectual Property Office in rejecting 2 patents that listed an artificial intelligence system as the inventor. According to U.S. law, only natural persons can be considered inventors.


I’ve loved that we’ve built a community over email the last 5-plus years, and this week I’m extending that community beyond just email by adding video. So, I launched a YouTube channel. I’m curious about how video might enrich that community and open up more interesting ways to connect. To start with, I’ve uploaded The Profit Motive—a four-minute clip from The New Breed documentary in which I discuss the failure of profit maximizing capitalism and philanthropy, as well as the rise of social entrepreneurship. I’ve also uploaded Stimulus Guide for Entrepreneurs—my PPP conversation with Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) recorded last week. It includes the most frequently asked questions about PPP as well as Q&A from the participants. Shoot me an email to let me know how you would like to see me use YouTube. I am looking forward to your feedback on the channel. While you’re there, hit the subscribe button because I don’t want you to miss any content I put out. There are more than 27,000 people reading this. Getting those first 500 subscribers on YouTube unlocks a lot of features, so will you help me reach that goal today? Thanks in advance. Now back to our regularly scheduled programing. YouTube (63 minutes)

AI Economist

Economic inequality is accelerating globally and is a growing concern due to its negative impact on economic opportunity, health and social welfare. Taxes are important tools for governments to reduce inequality. However, finding a tax policy that optimizes equality along with productivity is an unsolved problem. The AI Economist brings reinforcement learning (RL) to tax policy design to provide a purely simulation and data-driven solution. This framework does not use prior world knowledge or modeling assumptions, can directly optimize for any socioeconomic objective, and learns from observable data alone. Salesforce AI experiments show the AI Economist can improve the trade-off between equality and productivity by 16 percent, compared to a prominent tax framework proposed by Emmanuel Saez, with even larger gains over an adaptation of the US Federal income tax and the free market. Their vision for the AI Economist is to enable an objective study of policy impact on real-world economies, at a level of complexity that traditional economic research cannot easily address. The intersection of machine learning and economics presents a wide range of exciting research directions, and gives ample opportunity for machine learning to have a positive social impact. I love this application of AI. I’ve often thought about AI as a way to draw congressional districts to avoid gerrymandering, but not tax policy. This really excites me and sparks so many questions. Can we ensure that the models aren’t embedding racial bias into the process? If AI delivers better results, are we willing to trust it if its methods conflict with our political intuitions? Will there be politicians that will be brave enough to try it? Salesforce (11 minutes)

Starting Good

Over the span of 10 days in May, world-renowned social entrepreneurs, changemakers, and innovation leaders are gathering virtually to talk about creating a lasting positive impact in the world. The virtual summit includes action-focused workshops and in-depth interviews with game-changing social entrepreneurs, through which we aim to support, upskill and inspire the next generation of change leaders. The #StartingGood Virtual Summit is an annual free-to-access event presented by innovation agency and cause-crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood. Starting Good (Sponsored)

Race in Philanthropy

Philanthropy often sets out to mitigate inequality. But research shows that race remains a defining factor when looking at which organizations get funded and how much they receive. Nonprofit organizations led by black and Latino executive directors lag behind peer organizations with white leaders, according to the report from Echoing Green, an early-stage funder in social innovation, and the Bridgespan Group, a philanthropic consultancy. Among organizations focused on improving the outcomes of black boys, for example, groups with black leaders had 45 percent less revenue, and unrestricted assets that were 91 percent lower than their counterparts with white leaders. New York Times (9 minutes)

Lessons from the Apocalypse

StubHub was founded in March of 2000, a few months before the dotcom crash. Yet it navigated the crisis, and StubHub was acquired in February for more than $4 billion. That experience can teach us five important lessons that seem newly relevant for today’s founders. (1) It’s about market need, not market timing. The essential question is whether you can identify and meet the need of a customer. Pay attention to that. Everything else is noise. (2) Be flexible in your strategy. (3) VCs don’t decide your fate. (4) Depression-era values—frugality, flexibility and persistence—can build a strong culture. (5) Many things get easier. Recruiting great employees is easier because there are more talented people available and less competition for these people. Customer acquisition can often be easier because advertising rates drop. Fewer upstart competitors are getting funded, which means there is less competition for your target customers. Real estate leases get cheaper, and many other costs drop as well. Craft (12 minutes)

Future of Work

Even before the coronavirus, traditional and unchanging jobs fail to bring out the best of the people in them. And, because better, more dynamic ways of deploying talent already exist, we may get back to work sooner if the idea of jobs retires. (1) Most jobs fail to bring out the best in most people because they are too stiff. Stiff jobs are confining and have no future. (2) Better ways to organize exist. (3) Have hope. Jobs are limited, but work is not. Hayley Darden (11 minutes)

The Great Realization

This is a bedtime story of how the coronavirus changed the world, how it might change our perspective, and why hindsight’s 2020. Get your tissues ready. YouTube (4 minutes)


The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, and this is my second favorite book of the year. This year, it was nominated for a Pulitzer. Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart—who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient—into the social scene, to disastrous effects. Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, The Topeka School is the story of a family, its struggles and its strengths: Jane’s reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan’s marital transgressions and the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a riveting prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the New Right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

The New Breed—The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur is a new feature documentary, which I’m proud to be a part of.

Premeditatio Malorum—Seneca wrote that the only fighter who can go into the ring confident of winning is one who has “seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist.”

Profitability—Despite all evidence to the contrary, there’s more to building a startup than raising venture capital.

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 Olesia Misty.

Should We Work Together?

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Weekend Wisdom

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.Oscar Wilde

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