Azeem Azhar – Exponential Views

By Om Malik

I quote Om, I link to his writing. Hopefully, I succeed in convincing others to stay in touch with his thoughts, endeavors, directly. And, now, I find I must read the weekly newsletter from Azeem Azhar.

A couple of quotes from Om’s latest…on Azeem Azhar’s EXPONENTIAL VIEW.

Excerpts from the beginning and end of a short interview conducted via email and Google Docs with Azeem.

Q: From a layman’s perspective, what is Exponential View?

A: Exponential View is a newsletter charting the impact of this major techno-economic-political transition that we are going through. It started life in 2015 as a simple newsletter to help me learn. We were (and still are) witnessing the collision of general-purpose technologies in the fields of computing, energy, biology, and manufacturing. Each of these was improving — on a price/performance basis — very quickly, more than 10% per annum. Silicon chips have improved at around 40-45% per annum for several decades. And startup should destabilize (and then help redefine) our ways of doing things.

EV investigated these trends from a technical, startup, and social perspective. Exponential View is the thesis that emerged from this activity: that technology and societal changes are intertwined and that now more than ever, we need to understand those interrelationships…

Q: What does the near future look like? What are some of the key trends that will shape that future?

A: I wrote my decade predictions in an essay at the end of 2018. Largely, they hold up. Climate change is the most important trend.

Equally, the technologies of the Exponential Age in computing, biology, energy, and manufacturing will continue to get cheaper and cheaper. This will make many areas of activity currently uneconomical, economical. Cheap solar electricity will create a market for hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Great computation will enable better ML methods to allow us to design sophisticated microorganisms in silico before deploying them in the world to fix nitrogen with a lower energy cost than the Haber-Bosch process.

And yet, these technologies will be destabilizing. They will upset the status quo and shift power away from certain actors and towards others. This destabilization process could increase national and civil conflicts, disadvantaging in some fundamental ways many groups or simply creating political unrest as others feel a lack of agency. This last trend may be the one that punishes us for any technical progress, so figuring out how to put humanity’s hand on the tiller that guides the direction of their technologies needs to be a priority.

October 24, 2021. San Francisco.

Plug-in cars are the future. The grid isn’t ready, yet.

By 2035, the chief automakers will have turned away from the internal combustion engine. It’ll be up to the grid to fuel all those new cars, trucks and buses.

Converting the nation’s fleet of automobiles and trucks to electric power is a critical piece of the battle against climate change. The Biden administration wants to see them account for half of all sales by 2030, and New York state has enacted a ban on the sale of internal combustion cars and trucks starting in 2035.

But making America’s cars go electric is no longer primarily a story about building the cars. Against this ambitious backdrop, America’s electric grid will be sorely challenged by the need to deliver clean power to those cars. Today, though, it barely functions in times of ordinary stress, and fails altogether too often for comfort, as widespread blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and elsewhere have shown.

By 2030, according to one study, the nation will need to invest as much as $125 billion in the grid to allow it to handle electric vehicles. The current infrastructure bill before Congress puts about $5 billion toward transmission line construction and upgrades.

Sorry, Will. My immediate reaction to your article – necessary as it is to light a fire under the butts of what passes for politicians in the GOUSA – are three rather commonplace aspects of what you fear that aren’t especially scary after all.

First, $125 billion over 9 years or so averages out to less than $14 billion/year. Less than production costs of several F-35s. Not counting cost of flying and maintaining our military pets.

Second, the cost per mile traveled by this conversion from infernal combustion to electric vehicles looks to be continuing to decline over this period – counter to the existing tab for fuel-burners. A cost divided between private and public bill payers.

Third, is my favorite because hardly anyone recognizes that, in practice, most folks will be trickle-charging overnight for next-day use. The lowest possible increase in grid-load. Especially compared to past crashes worrying the author. Most all resulting from millions of folks turning on the least efficient use of electricity there could be. Running air conditioners.

Cat up a tree…desert style

A photographer captured a rather unusual scene in the Arizona desert- a bobcat was sitting on top of a giant Saguaro cactus to avoid becoming a prey of a mountain lion.

One skillful bobcat climbed on the top of a 40-foot tall cactus to avoid being eaten by a mountain lion!..The massive plant with two-inch spikes in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert became her safe spot. The Giant Saguaro Cactus is very rare, and this one is thought to be up to 300-years-old.

The entire event was documented by photographer Curt Fonger, 69, from Gold Canyon, Arizona, in April 2011.

Click through to the article. Includes telephoto closeups of the bobcat.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

Walmart Navy sails around traffic jams

Before Covid, it was rare to see more than one ship lined up at America’s biggest port complex, the Los Angeles and Long Beach terminal. As of today, there are over 60 of them, filled with billions worth of toys, furniture, and home electronics. The traffic’s almost as nightmarish as the I-405.

Now, the nautical logjam has gotten so bad that big box retailers are chartering their own ships to get around the lines in time for the holiday shopping season…

Incoming cargo at the Port of Los Angeles — which sees half of all U.S. imports — is up 30% from record levels set last year. Cue the long line of boats stacked with so much stuff that trucks and trains can’t move the goods out fast enough to make a dent in the bottleneck. Now big retailers are taking matters into their own hands:

Walmart has chartered a grain cargo ship, stuffed it full of toys and consumer goods, and sent it away from the LA Port to a nearby cargo dock, Reuters reported Thursday. Home Depot sent its own vessel loaded with Halloween and Christmas decorations to San Diego. Target, Costco, Ikea, and Dollar Tree are also getting on board the boat-chartering trend.

Traffic managers get paid to come up with solutions for problems like this. Which – BTW – are considered “good problems”. Lots better than sitting around like Congress wondering what can we do to justify our paychecks?