Andrew Lockley – Exponential Investor (United Kingdom) –
Remember the hole in the ozone layer?
You don’t hear much about it anymore. But for a brief time in the late 1980s and early 90s this was headline news everywhere.
The reaction was similar to what we see today with global warming. Only back then “things were simpler”. Everyone agreed it was happening, agreed on what was causing it, and agreed on a way to stop it.
In 1989, 12 European Economic Community nations (we’re talking pre-EU here) voted to eradicate the chemicals that were causing it (CFCs). I remember in the early 90s, all the deodorant cans used to proudly proclaim themselves “CFC free”.
The reason why I’m writing about this today is, it actually worked. As Ars Technica reported last week, the hole in the ozone layer is repairing itself.
This is a massive achievement! I find it quite strange the climate change lobbies don’t make more of this achievement. Surely people are more likely to respond to climate change if they feel empowered to stop it.
The current rhetoric of these organisations is:
We’re doomed, there’s nothing we can do about it. Look how bad it’s going to be. If we make a change now, maybe we can make it slightly less bad. But make no mistake, it’s going to be very, very bad either way.
Surely it would be better to say:
This is looking bad. But we’re faced things like this in the past and fixed them. Look what we managed to do about the hole in the ozone layer. If we start making changes now, we can fix this too. But it’s not going to be easy.
Which message makes you feel like taking action? There’s no contest.
Okay, so now we’ve fixed the planet, let’s have a look at some of last week’s other big tech stories.
Just how bad are “meltdown” and “spectre”?
It’s not often a computer security flaw makes it onto Radio 4’s Today programme. But these are no ordinary security flaws.
They may sound like made-up titles of James Bond films, but they are very real, and potentially very bad. That’s why they’re making even mainstream headlines.
If you want a good analogy of how they work, you can find one on The Verge. But even the analogy involves parallel universes and quantum physics.
Basically they are vulnerabilities in almost every computer processor (CPU) made in the last 20 years. They potentially let a hacker get any information they want with a few simple lines of code. These lines could be programmed into a webpage. And there is no way to find out if you’ve been hacked or not. It doesn’t leave a trail.
These vulnerabilities have mostly been patched now, but these patches mean that your computer’s CPU will run between 5% and 30% slower. New CPUs with these vulnerabilities fixed will also run that much slower.
It’s also easy to think these patches will solve all the issues. But remember, they rely on people actually updating their computers so the patch installs. And as we know from the WannaCry hacks, many, many big institutions don’t do this.
This story is likely to be around for some time yet. It’s about as big as it gets in terms of cybersecurity.
“Alexa, you’re the only one who understands me”
About a year ago, Dan Denning bought an Amazon Echo for the office.
The voice recognition in it was very good. It could easily decipher my northern accent shouting, “Alexa! Volume ten. Alexa! Play some Slayer” across the office. Which surprised both me and Dan at first, and later came to annoy Dan and amuse me far too much.
But as good as Alexa’s voice recognition is, it’s still very far off what you see in sci-fi. Dan could never get Alexa to say goodbye to me, for example. No matter how clearly he spoke to her.
If you’ve ever seen the film Her, you can see where the potential of this voice technology is. In the film, people use their voices for almost every computer interaction. In fact, the main character ends up… well I won’t ruin it. But it’s worth watching.
One of the key things current voice recognition is missing is the ability to recognise not just what we say, but how we say it. However, according to this article by Wired, that time is fast approaching. And it’s going to entirely change the way we interact with our machines.
The world or Her could be coming sooner than we think.
Facebook is coming for crypto
Since last April, I’ve been wondering how long it will take Facebook to make a move on crypto.
The idea of decentralised data, putting users in control and doing away with the central authority goes against everything Facebook stands for.
Its business model is based on selling the details of your life to third parties. If you control your own data, that kind of kills its business model. So it was only a matter of time before it stood up and took notice.
This year Mark Zuckerberg is looking into how to leverage cryptos for Facebook. It will be very interesting to see what comes of this. Here’s what he had to say on it in his end of year post:
If we’ve learned anything from the last ten years in tech, it’s that it’s probably foolish to bet against Zuckerberg.
Self-driving taxis are closer than you think
Last week I wrote about the rise of driverless cars and why I think they could bankrupt the railways.
In it I had a quote buy the chancellor that he wants to see fully driverless cars on our roads by 2021. Well, it’s looking like 2021 could be a big year in driverless cars, with both Volkswagen and Hyundai launching driverless fleets.
Bill Gates says everything is going to be okay
Bill Gates has decided to edit an issue of TIME. Why? So show us how the world is getting better.
In this piece, he explains why he decided to do it and gives us some actual evidence about why the world is improving.
Here’s an extract:
You can read the whole thing here. He also goes on to explain why, even though the world is actually getting better, many people feel and believe it’s getting worse. Definitely worth a read.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor
PS If you’re into cryptos, I found a site you might find interesting recently. Instead of just listing prices, it claims to track “social sentiment” of every coin. I haven’t looked at it in enough detail yet to see if it’s actually any good or not. But it is interesting. Here’s the site: solume.io.
PPS As I’m writing this (on Monday) almost every crypto on coinmarketcap.com has dropped 10% to 20%. But, this drop isn’t all that it seems.
Coinmarketcap.com made the decision out of the blue to delist the Korean exchanges from its price calculations. Korean exchanges tend to trade about 10% to 20% more expensive than US ones. And that’s why there’s been a sudden dip.
If you check what your coins are worth on a Western exchange, they’ll be worth the same… although this kind of thing is infectious and it will probably trigger an actual dip by the time you’re reading this. I guess we’ll see how it plays out tomorrow.