Weekend Briefing No. 379

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

50,693,552,078,053—In addition to the 500 Ether coins (valued at over $2 million), Vitalik Buterin donated 50,693,552,078,053 Shiba Inu coins (valued at $1.2 billion) to the Indian Crypto COVID Relief Fund after numerous meme cryptocurrency creators donated large amounts of their respective tokens to the Ethereum founder.

20—Companies on the continent ordered 20 percent more robots in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2020. Robot orders saw particularly high growth outside of the car-making world. Q1 was the second-best quarter ever for non-auto robot sales, and Q4 2020 was the best-ever.

2—Last week, IBM Research announced a major breakthrough for the chip world (and, by association, the whole world). After four years of work, the company unveiled the first chip in history with 2-nanometer tech. The technology can make chips either 45% faster or 75% more energy efficient than today’s leading options, according to IBM Research.

Jobs

In a red-hot economy coming out of a pandemic and lockdowns, with unemployment still far higher than it was pre-COVID, the country is in a striking predicament. Businesses can’t find enough people to hire. Why? Surveys suggest why some can’t or won’t go back to work. Millions of adults say they aren’t working for fear of getting or spreading COVID-19. Businesses are reopening ahead of schools, leaving some parents without childcare. Many people are receiving more in unemployment benefits than they would earn in the available jobs. Some who are out of work don’t have the skills needed for jobs that are available or are unwilling to switch to a new career. Wall Street Journal (12 minutes)

Typing by Thinking

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know that the three technologies I believe will have the most impact on our future are (1) CRISPR gene editing, (2) artificial intelligence and (3) brain-computer Interfaces (BCI). The power of these three will be self-reinforcing, and it will push humanity to new limits. This week, there’s been a breakthrough in BCI. A neural interface has been developed that could enable people with paralysis to type faster than they could, using other technologies, by directly translating attempts at handwriting into text. We can think much faster than we can communicate—a fact that many of us feel aware of as we struggle with our smartphone keyboards. For people with severe paralysis, this information bottleneck is much more extreme. A new paper in Nature reports the development of a BCI for typing that could eventually let people with paralysis communicate at the speed of their thoughts. Woah. Think about that for a second, typing by thinking. Commercially available assistive typing devices predominantly rely on the person using the device being able to make eye movements or deliver voice commands. Eye-tracking keyboards can let people with paralysis type at around 47.5 characters per minute, slower than the 115-per-minute speeds achieved by people without a comparable injury. By contrast, this new BCI (which includes AI) allows users to type at 90 characters per minute with a high degree of accuracy. Nature (9 minutes)

Fixing Healthcare

Those that pay for healthcare—insurers, employers, the government—pay for procedures and prescriptions. It does not matter whether the procedure makes a person better. The worse a person gets, the more catastrophic and costly the procedure, the higher the price. Kidney disease is a prime example—the industry reimburses $100K to $200K per year for a dialysis patient. Still, proactive care that would keep a person healthier and avoid disease progression is not paid for. Essential care is only delivered for chronic diseases after a critical illness strikes an individual and not before. The shift from a fee-based healthcare system as it currently exists today to a “value-based” or “outcome-based” care model is slowly happening. Teddy Cha and Hai Po Sun recognize this gradual change occurring, and are working to accelerate proactive treatment of chronic diseases with their startup, pulseData. pulseData aggregates patient medical data, uses machine learning to predict who is most likely to experience chronic kidney disease (CKD) and proactively matches these high-risk patients with the necessary renal care needed. The healthcare startup raised $16.5 million in their Series A from Bain Capital and Two Bear Capital leading the round. Forbes (8 minutes)

Karaoke

Karaoke is a microcosm of everything we haven’t been able to do since the pandemic began. Large groups of people singing and shouting at the top of their lungs and sharing mics, drinks and hugs in a small, windowless space with little ventilation. Can you imagine? For decades, we sang our hearts out with little regard for the germs we might have been spreading. In fact, for some of us, it was a way of life. FiveThirtyEight spoke to some self-professed karaoke lovers about why they feel so passionately about these dingy bars, and what not singing together for over a year has meant for them. Check out this touching video. FiveThirtyEight (12 minutes)

Mulberry

On March 10, 1945, five months before World War II ended in mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese accidentally came close to ending production of the radioactive materials needed for the atomic bombs—using paper balloons. One of the thousands of bomb-carrying balloons they launched into the jet stream toward North America knocked out electricity for a moment to the plutonium processing plant in Hanford, Washington. Had it not been for conservative engineering, the attack might have succeeded in stopping production. Hanford was crucial to the Manhattan Project because it produced the plutonium needed for U.S. bombs. The Japanese plan was audacious. The Japanese invented some balloons—some 30 feet in diameter—made out of paper from mulberry trees and they attached a bomb. A simple timing switch triggered the bomb after three days. It is believed the Japanese launched more than 9,000 hydrogen-filled balloons, starting Nov. 3, 1944, of which only a small percentage actually made it to land. About 300 bombs were detected, but most landed in remote areas, and as late as 2014 unexploded bombs were being found in western Canada. Inside Science (8 minutes)

Tiny

This is simply a video of a man in the Netherlands parking his tiny car in a tiny garage with 3 cm on either side. But it’s perfect. I’ve watched it a number of times. Watch it all the way to the end. YouTube (2 minutes)

Bitcoin and Energy

It seems like every other tweet in my Twitter feed this week is about Tesla removing bitcoin as a currency they accept for consumers to purchase vehicles. The rationale is that currently bitcoin consumes too much energy. Is that true? A recent report from Coindesk addresses whether bitcoin has an energy problem. Bitcoin now uses a meaningful amount of energy, making up roughly 0.58% of global energy consumption. If bitcoin were a country, it would be ranked 29th in energy consumption—between Ukraine and Argentina (as of April 18, 2021). Anything that uses as much energy as entire nation states will undoubtedly get attention, and it should. While Bitcoin mining uses a substantial amount of energy, a good percentage comes from renewable energy. According to a 2020 study carried out by the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), 39% of total energy for bitcoin mining came from renewable sources in 2019 (compared to 28% in 2018) with 76% of miners using renewable sources as part of their energy mix. This upward trend and meaningful renewable energy penetration should be encouraging. The CCAF estimates that 65% of mining is in China, whose energy generation mix has historically skewed heavily toward coal. To understand the potential implications of this going forward, we should zoom in on the regional breakdown of bitcoin miners in China. Fifteen percent of mining occurs in Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai, where the energy mix is mainly renewable. However, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia make up a meaningful portion of mining. Both have historically used cheap, plentiful coal power for energy production. China is the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy and has consistently brought on the newest annual renewable energy capacity in the world since 2019. Some might say that bitcoin is driving a new wave of investment in renewable energy. Coindesk (21 minutes)

Feedback Loop

What do you think? Read the report, then click here to make an argument for or against this proposition: An investment in bitcoin could conceivably be considered an investment in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), given its potential impact on energy use and generation mix.

Bookshelf

High Output Management by Andy Grove. The essential skill of creating and maintaining new businesses – the art of the entrepreneur – can be summed up in a single word: managing. In High Output Management, Andrew S. Grove, former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel, shares his perspective on how to build and run a company. Born of Grove’s experiences at one of America’s leading technology companies, this legendary management book is a Silicon Valley staple, equally appropriate for sales managers, accountants, consultants, and teachers, as well as CEOs and start-up founders. Grove covers techniques for creating highly productive teams, demonstrating methods of motivation that lead to peak performance – throughout, High Output Management is a practical handbook for navigating real-life business scenarios and a powerful management manifesto with the ability to revolutionize the way we work. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

World Changing Ideas – I’m excited to share that my law firm was recognized as one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas.

Calendar & Values – I had a great 9-minute conversation with my friend, coach and angel investor Steve Schlafman about aligning your calendar with what matters most. It turns out we’re both obsessed with our calendar.

Operation Neptune’s Spear – The effort to track and execute Osama bin Laden, which took place 10 years ago, was the most closely held operational secret in modern American history—a highly sensitive, politically fraught and physically risky mission that involved breaching the sovereign territory of a purported U.S. ally to target an icon of international violence and terror.

Feedback Loop – Last week’s questions were: (1) In the next 20 years, how likely is it that “Moore’s Law for Everything” actually happens? (2) From your perspective would this create a utopia or dystopia? Why?

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 Jake Blucker.

Should We Work Together?

This newsletter is my passion project. I hope it helps you gain deeper insight and equips you to create meaningful impact in the world. Many readers have asked about how we can work together. In case you’re interested, I run a law firm for startups. Our innovative flat monthly fee legal service called General Counsel was recently recognized by Fast Company as a World Changing Idea. If you’re a startup and interested in working with me, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a call.

Weekend Wisdom

Whereas most technologies tend to automate workers on the periphery doing menial tasks, blockchains automate away the center. Instead of putting the taxi driver out of a job, blockchain puts Uber out of a job and lets the taxi drivers work with the customer directly.Vitalik Buterin

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