What's interesting this week? Quick takes on tweets, articles, and books I've been reading. The weekly essay will be sent on Friday, as usual.
From Zero Covid to Zero China
Nikkei reports, "Japanese companies are striving to build supply chains that do not depend on China."
Following China-US tensions and China's growing hostility towards Taiwan and its neighbors, Japan is waking up to the fact that it cannot afford to rely on its giant neighbor. More countries are likely to follow suit.
Related: See this report from Asia Times about the estimated economic costs of cutting Chinese imports.
Artificial Intelligence is becoming pretty good at generating content — illustrations, text, and music. As Dr. Kate Compton points out, this results in a paradox: Machines can create more valuable content — but the value of that content drops to zero because machines can create it.
Kate calls this type of situation a "Bach Faucet," named after one of the earliest examples of this phenomenon: In the 1980s, David Cope developed a piece of software that analyzed the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. By the early 1990s, Cope's software could generate thousands of "Bach" pieces. In 1994, Cope released Bach by Design, an album with a selection of these pieces. (You can listen to it here)
I am not sure that flooding the world with content will make all content valueless. Bach's genius surely did not fade since computers started mimicking him three decades ago. What's more likely to happen is that abundance will lead to a more polarized distribution of rewards from creative work. This is similar to what happened to music or video once anyone on earth could access all the content ever created. More content will only intensify this dynamic.
Another interesting aspect of "generative content" is not the amount of content that can be created but the fact that it can be created dynamically to appeal to individual people. These days, different people are already shown different headlines and product descriptions when they visit the same website. Marketing systems optimize headlines and content based on the visitor's location, demographics, and search history.
Soon enough, the same will apply to other content we consume — news, films, and songs. Many of us will live in our own bubble, with content optimized to engage us but with a diminishing quantity of common culture with the people around us.
Geopolitics and Generative Content
Generative content will also have an impact on politics and global stability. As I pointed out in my weekly essay:
"Soon enough, social media will be flooded with machine-generated content. Most of it might not be good or appealing, but algorithms will figure out which bits are good and appealing. And as production and curation become integrated, the world will see viral content that is more appealing and more potent than ever.
Unlike Khomeini's or Hitler's ideas, the viral ideas generated by machines will not have a specific agenda. But they will emerge quickly and move people to do things that impact the real world — things that could disrupt public order and threaten the powers that be.
Social media is a way to mobilize crowds. Initially, based on human ideas. Ultimately, based on whatever software thinks will be most likely to get people excited. This presents a severe challenge to social stability and our existing political systems."
How can we meet this challenge? I will look into it in this Friday's weekly essay. Subscribe, so you don't miss it.
Nationalizing Elon Musk's Starlink
Elon Musk's Starlink satellite network is a marvel. It can provide high-speed internet to any point on earth, straight from the sky. Starlink is already pivotal in empowering Ukraine's resistance to Russian aggression and is now empowering Iranian dissidents.
Unfettered internet access poses a significant threat to dictators and oppressors everywhere. But not just to them. The idea of free internet is losing favor even in democratic countries. A week ago, I speculated that the US government might try nationalizing Musk's satellite network.
A couple of days later, Bloomberg reported that US officials are increasingly concerned with Musk's power:
"Biden administration officials are discussing whether the US should subject some of Elon Musk's ventures to national security reviews, including the deal for Twitter Inc. and SpaceX's Starlink satellite network, according to people familiar with the matter."
I suspect we'll hear more about this in the coming years. Ultimately, a combination of globally-available internet and censorship-free social networks (Twitter or others) is a significant threat to anyone in power — democratically-elected or otherwise.
Who's Actually at the office?
Tomorrow, I'm hosting a video discussion with Stanford Professor Nick Bloom about remote work and productivity trends. Nick leads the academic study of these trends and has plenty of data and informed opinions to share. Click here to register and join us (or access the event recording). It's free.
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