Innovation, Engineering Bio, Carbon Capture and Soft American Power

Your weekly dose of nerdy, world-positive techno-optimism and other goodness.

Happy Saturday! Here are your 5 things from the mind of Miles for this week.

  1. Conflicting Visions of Innovation. How much innovation have we seen recently? Are on the verge of an innovation-fueled boom that requires a new tax system and a new New Deal (like requiring companies to pay taxes in stock and use it to fund UBI)? In this corner: The AI “revolution is unstoppable. And a recursive loop of innovation, as these smart machines themselves help us make smarter machines, will accelerate the revolution’s pace.” Or is innovation failing us and slowing down so much that we either have to accept it or overhaul our innovation ecosystem? And in that corner: “start-ups founded during the last fifteen years have been far less successful than those of the preceding fifteen to thirty years...the most significant problem for today’s start-ups is that there have been few if any new technologies to exploit” and “the small market for AI in 2020 ($17 billion) suggest that AI and data analytics are still a long way from being truly revolutionary.” Or is it both true we are on the edge of innovation and we have been slowing down? Could it be the big cycles of innovation and society’s ability to adopt them? We do have an opportunity to rebuild our economy. Let’s not just do the same thing over again. (As an aside, if you want to bone up on the complaints about tech and venture capital, check out my list.)

  2. Give Directly. Find universal basic income intriguing? Think that people should not be locked out of opportunity just because of the circumstances of their birth? Believe that people should have freedom to choose what’s best for them? A GiveWell top charity, Give Directly allows you to give cash to people who need it. Check them out and give it a try.

  3. See Biology Like an Engineer. The Vital Question is a fascinating book on evolution at the molecular biological level. Really opened my eyes to thinking about the engineering (particularly energy) constraints in biology. Imagine that you were going to design a cell or a multi-cell organism. What would be the design constraints that flow from physics and the needs of homeostasis and replication? That gives you a sense of the design space that evolution is exploring. Can’t recommend it enough.

  4. Boning Up on Carbon Capture. If “carbon removal is a trillion dollar opportunity disguised as an existential crisis”, then I want to understand that! I recently finished reading the CDR Primer and much of Carbon Capture. Wow my head is spinning with chemical engineering that is a beyond my current understanding. I’m hoping to better understand all the new tech that should be coming out of Yale’s new $100M center. Anyone want to start a company?

  5. American History Outside the Lower 48. I read How to Hide an Empire a while ago, but it is one that sticks with you. I learned so much about the US overseas territories and not all of it is pretty. One of the most interesting parts is the point that WWII-disrupted supply lines forced innovation in raw materials. The increased material independence of the US was a major factor in the US having the incentive to seizing and hold more territory post WWII. The book also does a great job of explaining US hard and soft power in the 20th century. For example, it goes deep on the network effects of having a language of trade and setting the industrial standards.

As a reminder, my work projects are:

Until next week,