New Week Same Humans #42
GitHub's new AI platform will finish your code for you. Andy Murray mints his Wimbledon win as an NFT. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote about the post-human future some promise is coming. Go here to read The End of History. 💡
This week, a new AI platform has just made writing great code a whole lot easier.
Also, digital artist Beeple wants to help famous people sell us ‘iconic moments in time’. And Boston Dynamics get their robots to dance to K-pop.
🧑💻 It’s automatic
This week, a deeper glimpse into our automated future and the society it will forge.
Microsoft partnered with OpenAI to launch GitHub Copilot, a new platform that makes coding suggestions to software developers as they work. When prompted with a single line of code or natural language instructions, Copilot can write entire chunks of code for the user.
The AI model at the heart of Copilot is called Codex, and it’s a descendent of OpenAI’s powerful language model GPT-3.
The tool works for multiple programming languages, and draws on the vast storehouse of code on GitHub, a code sharing platform. The GitHub CEO says hundreds of his developers are already using it, and they accept most of its suggestions.
Meanwhile, a research paper offered new insight into the impact of automation technologies on the economy. Writing in The National Bureau of Economic Research, MIT economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo say that between 50% and 70% of the change to the US wage structure across the last four decades is due to automation. In short, robots and software have automated away manufacturing and clerical tasks. And it’s this above all – not the breaking of labour union power, or anything else – that has led to the reduction in blue collar wages that we’ve seen since the 1980s.
So far, college-educated workers have survived pretty much unscathed. But here come tools such as GitHub Copilot. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
⚡ NWSH Take: Coding was supposed to be safe! It was the skill we were all set to teach our children so they could prosper in the brave new 21st-century economy. Tools such as GitHub Copilot throw that future into doubt. // Meanwhile, Acemoglu and Restrepo’s argument is arresting. Wage inequality in the US is sharply higher than it was in 1980, and workers without a college degree have seen their real wages fall. Often we look to political explanations: neoliberalism! But this new paper suggests that automation is responsible to a far greater degree than we thought. And as AI automates ever-more complex tasks, that phenomenon is set to impact even more people. // The danger in sight is an economy in which a tiny capital-owning elite take almost the whole pie, and workers take close to nothing. To avoid that, say Acemoglu and Restrepo, we need to ensure that we use AI not to shunt humans out of value creation entirely, but to restructure tasks so that workers can add value in new ways. Think healthcare professionals freed by AI diagnosis to spend more time talking to, and really seeing, patients.
🤖 Big hit entertainment
Speaking of automation, a double hit of robot news.
SoftBank were forced to deny that they are discontinuing their Pepper robot, star of a thousand trend presentations. Pepper was marketed as ‘the world’s first humanoid helper robot’, but failed to make much of a splash; only 27,000 units have been built.
Meanwhile, the Japanese tech giant also completed the sale of an 80% controlling stake in robotics firm Boston Dynamics to Hyundai. To celebrate, the marketing team got seven Spot robots to dance to music by K-pop sensation BTS.
Sure, Spot may soon be taking a job or surveilling a street near you. But don’t worry about that. Relax, everything is fine. Just enjoy the dancing robots.
🎾 Own the moment
The digital artist Beeple, famous for selling his piece Everydays: the First 5,000 Days for $69 million, has launched a new NFT platform.
WENEW will partner with leading sportspeople, actors, and creators to sell ‘iconic moments in time’. For its first offering, the platform has partnered with tennis star Andy Murray to mint and sell the moment he won Wimbledon back in 2013.
The auction will begin on Friday, and the winning bidder will also get to play tennis with Murray at the All England Club.
⚡ NWSH Take: Wait, how do you sell a moment in time? Via an NFT, of course. With the blessing of the star involved, WENEW will mint video or audio footage of iconic moments and auction them to the highest bidder. // It means a new way for famous people to turn their amazing feats – and the attention we give them – into real value. Don’t just watch the Oscars; own the moment I won Best Actress. Don’t just come to Glastonbury; own the moment I rocked the Pyramid Stage. The money involved here could be huge. Andy Murray is worth an estimated $165 million; he wouldn’t be doing this unless he expected a seven figure result. // At heart, this is about the way NFTs unlock new forms of ownership and value exchange. This moment with NFTs reminds me of when the App Store launched in 2008, and everyone realised: wow, it’s going to take years to innovate our way through all the implications of this. Much more is coming. And Beeple is likely, soon, to be even richer.
🧬 Injectable gene editing
Scientists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine announced a first for our primary gene-editing tool, CRISPR.
So far, the principal difficulty when it comes to using CRISPR has been getting the gene-editing drug to the right cells in the body. Scientists have had to harvest cells from the body, edit them in the lab, and put them back. But that’s impossible in some cases.
In this trial patients with the rare genetic condition amyloidosis – which causes the build up of a toxic protein in vital organs – had CRISPR-loaded nanoparticles injected straight into their bloodstream. The experimental treatment worked; levels of the toxic protein plummeted.
It’s the first time that scientists have shows CRISPR can be effective via a simple injection. And it opens the door to using this kind of gene editing to treat a host of other conditions.
⚡ NWSH Take: This result is huge. Professor Jennifer Doudna, who shared the Nobel prize for helping to develop CRISPR, calls it ‘a major milestone for patients.’ If we can administer CRISPR systemically in this way, that means we could see future CRISPR treatments for conditions such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. // Aubrey de Grey, the British scientist on a quest to solve death, likes to point out that most centenarians die of senile systemic amyloidosis. If we want to achieve radical human life extension, it seems we need a way to deal with amyloid. I wonder what de Grey makes of this CRISPR news; I hope NWSH will get the chance to ask him soon enough. In the meantime, NWSH reader Sam Harris did a great podcast with de Grey last year.
🗓️ Also this week
🚗 AI startup Alfi says it will put face-tracking tablets in the back of 10,000 Uber and Lyft cars. The tablets will play personalised ads to riders, and gauge their emotional response.
🍏 Apple is doubling down on its new hybrid work model in the face of worker criticism. A new note from Deirdre O’Brien, senior vice president of retail and people, says ‘we believe that in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future.’
🧑✈️ A prototype flying car has completed a flight between two airports in Slovakia. The AirCar runs on a BMW engine and ordinary petrol. Hyundai’s European Chief says flying cars will be a reality in cities around the world by 2030.
🚚 Amazon delivery drivers say bots routinely fire delivery staff by email. Critics say the retail giant is allowing an algorithm to manage staff for its Flex Delivery programme.
🎵 This new AI platform writes lyrics to music in real time. I don’t think Ed Sheeran needs to worry quite yet.
🥩 The world’s first lab-grown meat factory just opened in Israel. Biotech company Future Meat say the facility can produce 3,000 hamburgers per day, and that their cultured meat creates 80% fewer carbon emissions than farmed meat.
📢 Zoom has acquired AI translation startup Kites. The company plans to add real-time translation features to its video calls.
👽 The US Intelligence Community’s long-awaited report on UFOs was boring. TL;DR: there’s some stuff flying around out there, and we (say we) don’t know what it is.
🎈 A YouTuber used a weather balloon to send a Dogecoin into space. This may not be advisable. Reid Williamson pulled the stunt to celebrate Elon Musk’s 50th birthday.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,876,225,603
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7874014977
💉 Global population vaccinated: 10.8%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 50% complete
📖 On this day: On 30 June 1860 the Oxford evolution debate sees leading British scientists gather to debate Charles Darwin’s new theory of evolution.
Thanks for reading this week.
The decade ahead will reveal much more about the impact of AI and automation on our economies.
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I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And 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.