Weekend Briefing No. 376

Welcome to the weekend.

There’s a new social network for short-form audio that I think is really interesting. Think about what Twitter did for blogs. Racket is doing the same for podcasts. It’s a platform that allows anybody to produce and post audio content (solo or a group conversation) simply and quickly. Each post or “racket” is a maximum of nine minutes in length.

The Racket team built the simplest recording studio they could. Go on stage with as many people as you want. Or, go solo, hit “record” and the clock starts ticking. You’ve then got nine minutes to say what you want. Then share it with the world, with all the nuance and detail, and the raw realness that makes live concerts and soapbox speeches great.

Follow me on Racket. This weekend, I’m going to experiment with audio versions of each story in the Weekend Briefing. In the future, I’ll continue to experiment with the platform.

Right now there’s a waiting list, but the founders were kind enough to hook me up with a batch of invites. So, if you’re interested…

  1. Click here to follow me on Racket.
  2. Then you’ll be prompted to grab your own handle and enter your account details to get on the waitlist. Do that.
  3. Lastly, enter your info here so I can shoot you an invite code.

I’ll do my very best to get everyone an invite, but they’ll go quick! First come, first serve.

Prime Numbers

68—More billionaires live in Shenzen (68) than in San Francisco (48).

40—NASA successfully flew a helicopter on Mars, with the Ingenuity robotic rotorcraft successfully conducting a 40-second flight on the surface of Mars

142—Every 20 years under the cover of darkness, scientists dig up seeds that were stashed 142 years ago beneath a college campus. The Beal seed viability experiment is a multi-century attempt to figure out how long seeds can lie dormant in the soil without losing their ability to germinate.

MOXIE

The growing list of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place on April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed February 18. While the technology demonstration is just getting started, it could pave the way for science fiction to become science fact—isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to help power rockets that could lift astronauts off the planet’s surface. Such devices also might one day provide breathable air for astronauts themselves. NASA (7 minutes)

Nuclear Spacecraft

The Pentagon’s research and development arm on Monday awarded a trio of companies with contracts to build and demonstrate a nuclear-based propulsion system on a spacecraft in orbit by 2025. General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA awards, under the agency’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program (DRACO). The goal of the program is deceptively simple: Use a nuclear thermal propulsion system to power a spacecraft beyond low Earth orbit. The Pentagon’s research and development agency says a nuclear-powered spacecraft has the potential to achieve both the high power of a chemical-based propulsion system and the high efficiency of an electrical-powered system. “This combination would give a DRACO spacecraft greater agility to implement the Department of Defense’s core tenet of rapid maneuver in cislunar space (between the Earth and moon),” the agency said. CNBC (6 minutes)

EU & AI

The European Union has published a new framework to regulate the use of artificial intelligence across the bloc’s 27 member states. Artificial intelligence (AI) applications are sorted into three groups of stratified risk. The bottom category includes common, low-risk applications like spam filters, for which regulation will likely not change at all. Above those are “limited-risk” use cases like chatbot, used to buy tickets or find out information, which will require a little more oversight. And above those are high-risk uses of AI, which are “the main focus of the framework,” as Vestager said. The high-risk applications are those which affect material aspects of people’s lives, like algorithms used to assess someone’s credit score or whether they can get a loan, as well as AI tools that control critical machinery like autonomous vehicles and medical devices. Their deployment and development will be overseen by various regulatory mechanisms—in some cases, based on existing national regulators like those devoted to digital privacy. The prohibited applications of AI include: 1) in real-time “remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces for the purpose of law enforcement,” 2) to create social credit scores, 3) to cause physical or physiological harm to people and 4) to manipulate people’s behavior using subliminal cues. The Verge (11 minutes)

Prospera

Próspera is Honduras’ first special economic zone “charter city.” The idea behind charter cities is that Shenzhen, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and the rest of the “rich” world aren’t rich. Why? Not because their citizens are morally superior to those of their poorer neighbors. They’re rich because they have better legal systems, less corruption, stronger rule of law and more competent administrators. Próspera  is a tech-utopian version of the charter city. This post is a digest on Próspera from basically every public source, plus some non-public ones. It’s about a private tech city and a prosperity vision and all that. But it’s also about “systemic change.” Usually that means something like fiddling with tax rates or ending the filibuster. But what if you could actually change the system? Let’s say you thought the following: “This system we have, the one that’s letting all these people starve and suffer violence and die of preventable diseases—I don’t care for it. Let’s try something else.” Yes, this is about startup governments and investment opportunities and blah blah blah, but it’s also about trying to fight global poverty by radically changing the rules of the game that makes it possible. Astral Codex Ten (32 minutes)

The Crypto State

Throughout history, world powers—Spain, the Netherlands, France, Britain—have found themselves routinely replaced by more dynamic rivals. Today, many speculate about whether the United States will cede place to China as the global superpower. What if this is the wrong way to look at the question, though—and what if we’re living through a more radical transition? What if all contemporary states are in the process of being replaced by a new kind of “state,” as different from existing governments as they themselves differed from ancient empires or primitive tribes? Technological development creates new sources of power, and it’s possible to discern a logic to that growth. First, information: Google knows more about you than your government ever will. Second, community: Facebook brings more people together on a single collective platform than any society, including China or India, can match. Third, currency: Bitcoin is a new kind of money, decentralized and free from political control. Fourth, law: Smart contracts are computer programs working without human intervention. All that remains is to combine these elements, and a new form of governance will be born. What might it look like? City Journal (12 minutes)

Locals Only

Maintaining a focus on local opinion content appears to have a healthy effect: When the Desert Sun, a daily newspaper serving Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley in Southern California, dropped national politics from its opinion section and focused on local issues instead, researchers found that polarization in its community spread more slowly. The newspaper also saw a surge in letters to the editor from local contributors on local topics. A new study comparing that paper to a similar paper, the Ventura County Star, which did not drop national politics, found reverberations across the community. While dropping national politics didn’t stop polarization in the community, it did slow it. Further, in the month before the experiment, less than half of the op-eds and letters to the editor were about California issues. However, in July, that rose to 95 percent. Readers also really enjoyed it: Online readership of op-eds doubled that July. American Press Institute (12 minutes)

Bezos Out

Jeff Bezos wrote his final letter to shareholders before stepping down as CEO. Two themes to pull out: First, he talks about the amount of value Amazon adds to the U.S. economy (written with DC in mind), and second, he reacts to Amazon winning a unionization vote last week not as a victory but as a signal that Amazon has to do better. Amazon has to become a better place to work. This is classic Bezos kaizen: Look for the root cause rather than arguing about symptoms. Of course, if Amazon can make it harder and more expensive to run warehouses, that’s less margin but also a competitive advantage. Amazon (24 minutes)

Bookshelf

Pappyland by Wright Thompson. This is the story of how Julian Van Winkle III, the caretaker of the most coveted cult Kentucky Bourbon whiskey in the world, fought to protect his family’s heritage and preserve the taste of his forebears, in a world where authenticity, like his product, is in very short supply. As a journalist said of Pappy Van Winkle, “You could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium.” Julian Van Winkle, the third-generation head of his family’s business, is now thought of as something like the Buddha of Bourbon—Booze Yoda, as Wright Thompson calls him. He is swarmed wherever he goes, and people stand in long lines to get him to sign their bottles of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, the whiskey he created to honor his grandfather, the founder of the family concern. A bottle of the 23-year-old Pappy starts at $3,000 on the internet. As Julian is the first to say, things have gone completely nuts. Forty years ago, Julian would have laughed in astonishment if you’d told him what lay ahead. He’d just stepped in to try to save the business after his father died, partly of heartbreak, having been forced to sell the old distillery in a brutal downturn in the market for whiskey. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Psychology of Human Misjudgment—Man’s (often wrong but generally useful) psychological tendencies are quite numerous and quite different.

Insanely Well-Connected—Chris Fralic is known among his peers in the venture capital sector as insanely well-connected. His thesis: The best way to be highly influential is to be human to everyone you meet. Here are his seven rules for making memorable connections.

Co-Founder Relationship—Much has been written about how to find and select your co-founder—and that’s important. What’s rarely covered, yet equally important, is how to manage the relationship over time. Founders tend to overweigh finding a co-founder, but that’s only the start. What happens after you choose the right co-founder?

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 Cameron Venti.

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Weekend Wisdom

Our life dreams the Utopia. Our death achieves the Ideal. Victor Hugo

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