New Week Same Humans #29

Is Tesla about to be crushed by legacy car makers? Boston Dynamics debut their newest creation. Plus more news and analysis from this week.

Welcome to the Wednesday update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.

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💡 This week’s Sunday essay was about the future of work. Go here to read: How the Remote Work Revolution will Transform Cities, Education, Innovation, and Nation States. 💡

This week, Volkswagen’s joke about electric cars fell flat. But the fuss obscured a much bigger story.

Delivery innovation is in global overdrive. And the mad scientists at Boston Dynamics are back with a new robot.

Let’s go!

🔌 EV does it

You know this week’s big story when it comes to electric vehicles. German automaker Volkswagen tweeted that they were changing their name to Voltswagen, to signal their commitment to an electric future.

It was an April fool’s joke. The consensus: not funny. Climate is no laughing matter, people said.

All the fuss, though, obscured the larger EV story currently unfolding. In short: Tesla were the pioneers, but the industry is now in systematic transition. And it’s VW leading the way among the legacy manufacturers.

The company’s electric ID3 was the second best-selling car in Europe in December; VW increased its share of the European EV market to 25% in 2020, while Tesla’s fell to 13%. CEO Herbert Diess wants VW to overtake Tesla in EV sales no later than 2025. Diess and Elon Musk are longtime friends, but Diess is turning up the heat on their friendly rivalry:

Meanwhile, Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi announced that they are investing $1.5 billion to create a new EV company. Founder and CEO Lei Jun says he wants Xiaomi cars to ‘run on roads across the globe.’

⚡ NWSH Take: Musk always said his real aim was to spark an EV revolution in the wider auto industry. It looks as though he’s getting his wish. // Tesla share’s rose 659% in 2020, and for a moment it was possible to believe that its dominance would be impossible to challenge. But VW has something Tesla still doesn’t: scale. It sold 9.3 million vehicles last year, against Tesla’s 500,000. Now it’s planning the global rollout of dozens of EVs. VW could rise to the global number one spot rapidly, and other traditional automakers may knock Tesla further down the league tables. Will we come to remember Musk’s company as the plucky challenger that opened up the market, only for others to take real advantage? // Whatever happens with the EV wars, the trend is clear: the car – the object that defined the decades following WWII in the way the smartphone has defined the years since 2007 – is amid fundamental transformation.

🚚 We can deliver it for you wholesale

A wave of delivery innovation is crashing onto the shores of 2021.

US fast food chain Chipotle this week announced that it is participating in a $500 million funding round for autonomous delivery vehicle startup Nuro. The company was founded by two ex-Googlers and its dinky self-driving vans are already delivering for Domino’s in some locations (video).

Meanwhile, Samsung phones are being delivered by drone to customers in Oranmore, Ireland. The Irish startup Manna has partnered with Samsung on the trial; their autonomous drones fly at an altitude of around 50 metres.

And in China, community-based group buying of groceries is the hot new ecommerce trend.

Massive ecommerce brands such as Pinduoduo and Meituan have launched platforms that allow neighbours – often groups of around 150 people – to pool grocery orders. The customers save money because they’re buying in bulk, and only paying for a single delivery. Group buying has been around in China for a few years, but the trend was massively accelerated in 2020.

⚡ NWSH Take: Two words: the pandemic. It pushed the adoption of ecommerce two years into the future, according to research firm Digital Commerce 360. // Ecommerce was accelerating rapidly anyway. Layer on the pandemic boost, and the numbers are huge: US ecommerce sales were $792 billion in 2020, up 32.4% from $598 billion the year before. // It’s the same story in China: Covid disrupted traditional grocery shopping patterns, and forced more rural consumers to shop online: cue a group buying frenzy. // Once people switch to ecommerce, they stay. Expect a ton of delivery innovation across the next couple of years. Check out, for example, DeliverZero, a NYC-based startup that wants to be the green, circular economy Deliveroo.

🦾 And stretch

Boston Dynamics have done it again.

That is, they’ve launched a new robot. Its name is Stretch. Stretch’s natural habitat is the warehouse, and its mission is to unload heavy boxes from trucks.

Boston Dynamics say they developed the new robot after hearing the same request over and again from corporate customers: give us something that can unload heavy boxes.

Warehousing is a great business to be in right now, thanks to booming ecommerce (see previous story).

🤖 GPT-300

AI research company OpenAI this week said its language model, GPT-3, is now powering over 300 applications. GPT-3’s freakishly realistic text outputs made headlines in 2020.

Developers who want to use the language model have to apply through via the OpenAI website; only a select few are chosen. Right now, the model is being used by a games company to create new virtual beings and a platform that helps brands mine customer feedback for insights, among others.

But the real revolution will begin when OpenAI let GPT-3 loose in the wild. No word, yet, on when that will be. But a tweet back in September did claim to give a sneak peak of the pricing structure they’ll use.

🗓️ Also this week

🎧 NWSH editor-at-large Monique van Dusseldorp was a guest on the Economist podcast The World Ahead. Monique was there to talk about her specialist subject: the future of live events.

👾 Chinese police say they’ve shut down the world’s largest video games cheat operation. The police partnered with tech giant Tencent to move on a gang that sold cheat codes to popular games.

🎤 Spotify is launching a Clubhouse competitor. The streaming music service says their version will focus on music, cultural, and sports conversations.

💰 This modder hacked a Nintendo Gameboy so that it can mine bitcoins. He does concede it will take about ‘a quadrillion years’ for it to actually mine a coin.

😶 Amazon was accused of using fake Twitter accounts to defend against claims of poor working conditions and union busting. Warehouse staff in Alabama are about to decide whether they become the first unionised Amazon staff.

🛰️ Satellites and space debris have brightened the night sky by more than 10%. Astronomers say the light pollution is making it increasingly hard for many around the world to see the stars.

🕵️ Privacy campaigners say the US National Security Agency wants to spy on household use of the internet. The NSA say the threat from hackers means they need greater surveillance powers.

📈 Trading app Robinhood is getting rid of its trademark confetti. Until now, confetti fell across the screen when users made their first trade and achieved other landmarks. Since the Gamestop debacle, the app has been criticised for gamifying stock trading.

👛 PayPal has enabled crypto payments. The new ‘Checkout with Crypto’ service allows users to pay with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether.

🤯 Scientists at Stanford University reverse engineered the Moderna Covid vaccine. They’ve posted the full mRNA sequence to GitHub.

🌍 Humans of Earth

Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.

🙋 Global population: 7,855,958,751
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7811717022

💉 Global population vaccinated: 1.6%

🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 25% complete

📖 On this day: On 31st March 1966 the Soviet Union launched Luna 10, the first space probe to orbit the moon.

Final Delivery

Thanks for reading this week.

It doesn’t take an army of drones to deliver New World Same Humans to your screen. But I’m still determined to innovate when it comes to the content I send to you, and forms in which I send it.

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Now that you’ve made it to the end of this week’s instalment, please consider forwarding the email to someone who’d also enjoy it. Or share it across one of your social networks, with a note on why you found it valuable. Remember: the larger and more diverse the NWSH community becomes, the better for all of us!

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I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,


P.S Thanks to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.

David Mattin is the founder of the Strategy and Futures Research Unit. He sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.