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FC93: Superfluous Sacks of Meat

Plus, legendary astronauts, dead children in VR, genetically engineered moths and good news on EU emissions, foster care in the US, and rhino poaching in South Africa.

Future Crunch
Future Crunch

The reports arrive thick and fast these days. From the big end of town, glossy 100-page monsters with stylish graphics and ‘seven key takeaways for the future of work,’ that land in your inbox with an almost physical thud. In their wake, a blizzard of tweets, LinkedIn updates and content from the long tail of freelancers and consultants, each trying to carve out space as thought leaders in the scramble for influence. It’s not easy to pick your way through the mess, and who has time to read a 100 page report these days, anyway?

If you do get a chance, you won’t find much middle ground. The optimists tell us everything is going to be fine and most of us are going to live in a world where humans and machines work in glorious symphony together — ‘Automotopia,’ a place with more than enough goods, services and leisure for everyone. The other, dystopian story (let’s call it ‘Automageddon’) also assumes quick and pervasive adoption of new technologies, but sees them displacing a huge number of jobs at most levels in the public and private sectors, and across industries and geographies, causing wide-ranging social disarray.

Without being melodramatic, the debate can make it seem as though we are standing on a precipice, walking the tightrope between a world of plenty and a world where megatrends, wicked problems and catastrophic decisions at the highest levels lead us down a path of inequality, corruption and mass social dislocation. These multiple pathways of what ‘might’ be ahead can be overwhelming. The possibilities seem endless and equally exhausting. Which one of the outcomes are more likely? Is there something different about it this time around?

The answer is complicated, and deserves a better explanation.

Read: Superfluous Sacks of Meat

Coal generation in the EU collapsed by 24% in 2019, and is now less than half its level in 2007. This led to a 12% fall in power sector carbon emissions – the biggest fall since 1990. Sandbag

The United Kingdom has brought its ban on petrol and diesel powered cars forward by five years, from 2040 to 2035. BBC

The number of foster care adoptions in the United States has reached a record high, up by almost a quarter since 2014. Pew

Swiss voters have overwhelmingly backed a proposal to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity illegal. BBC

The proportion of 16-18 year old females in England infected by HPV has dropped to zero. In 2008, when vaccinations began, it was 15%. Gov.uk

The prevalence of female genital mutilation in the Kurdistan region of Iraq has fallen by more than 75% in a single generation. UNFPA

New York has passed the most bird-friendly building policy in the US, which could reduce collision risks by up to 90%. Architectural Digest

Thanks to new regulations on marketing, Chile has cut the purchases of sugary drinks by nearly a quarter in the last two years. NYT

Rhino poaching has dropped significantly in South Africa, the 5th consecutive year of declines following major crackdowns on poaching. News24

The world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage, will stop producing the chemical by the end of the year. WaPo

Astronaut Christina Koch is back on earth after 328 days, earning her a place among the most inspirational space explorers in human history. Inverse

One step closer to a quantum internet - Chinese scientists have successfully entangled two memories across 50 km. Ars Technica

A startup in Texas has reached 18% efficiency for perovskite solar cells, while still exceeding all key benchmarks for solar manufacturing industry. SPW

In a South Korean documentary, a mother  interact with a facsimile of her deceased daughter in virtual reality. “Maybe it's a real paradise.” Inverse

Researchers in Colorado have created a living concrete teeming with photosynthetic bacteria, able to grow and regenerate itself. Science Alert

‘Self-limiting,’ diamondback moths with custom genomes have been released into the wild, in the hopes of curbing crop damage. Popular Mechanics

For the first time ever, Japanese doctors have successfully transplanted heart muscle cells grown from stem cells into a patient. Japan Times

Our newest brain crush: futurologist Rose Eveleth. Listen to her being interviewed here, then check out her podcast, Flash Forward, or newsletter.

Tired of seeing biotechnology discussed as if it will just happen to us, like something falling out of the sky? This book should help: 25 compelling visions of the future from the super geeks over at NEO.LIFE.

Eight laws that should be useful regardless of what field you’re in. Our favourite is Number 8: Benford’s law of controversy. Collaborative Fund

This explanation of cognition, by the incomparable Scott Alexander, transformed our understanding of how the brain works. Slate Star Codex

Benedict Evans has released his annual presentation on the state of tech. There’s a reason we recommend it every year.

Ian McEwan has some feelings about Brexit. “The magic dust of populism has blinded reason, and damage and diminishment lie ahead.” #needsahug

Critics of astrology don’t understand that it’s part of the human story; a horoscope is as a cosmic reminder of how unique each moment is. Nautilus

We are really thrilled to share this video. It’s something we’re very proud of, the culmination of many years playing with a presentation format that doesn’t fit any of the usual conventions.

Last year, we were approached by the team at SingularityU Australia, part of the wider Singularity University community. They wanted to know if we could put together a customised presentation to open Day 2 of their Summit. Specifically, they wanted us to summarise everything that happened on Day 1, in a really short space of time, be as entertaining as possible, and make all the other speakers look good.

"Sure" we replied, "as long as we can include our own content, and do the whole thing in musical form." This was the result.

Future Crunch @SingularityU Australia (23rd October 2019)


That’s it for this edition, thanks for reading, watching and paying with your attention, we really appreciate it. If you enjoy picking up what we’re putting down, please consider sharing the newsletter or subscribing to our Patreon.

With love, and perovskite,

Gus, Tane and the rest of the Future Crunch team.


PS - Substack just made comments available for all subscribers! If you have feelings, the floodgates are open. We’d love to hear from you, you should be able to see an option to comment directly on this newsletter.


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We're a team of science communicators. Our mission is to foster intelligent, optimistic thinking about the future, and create a 21st century that works for people and the planet.