New Week Same Humans #51

A new social network just made the NFT hall of mirrors even more dizzying. Jeff Bezos is funding a startup that wants to solve death. 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.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet subscribed, join 18,000+ curious souls on a journey to build a better shared future 🚀🔮

💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote about Extinction Rebellion and the tyrant that rules us in 2021. Go here to read The Mad King.💡

This week, users of a new NFT platform called Loot spend $200 million on short fragments of text.

Also, Singapore trials a new surveillance robot. And hiring automation software that’s used by 75% of US employers may be hurting the national economy.

Let’s go!

💰 Hyperverse treasure

The NFT renaissance continues apace. This week, a new social network offered a glimpse of where the phenomenon is taking us.

Loot is a new platform founded by Dom Hofmann, the co-creator of Vine. It uses a random text generator to create virtual bags of loot – consisting of typical in-game items such as weapons and pieces of armour – and then allows users to buy those bags as NFTs. Yep, you understand right. Users get to buy a piece of text. Like this:

Hofmann launched the platform with a tweet last week; the 7,777 bags he put on sale were purchased instantly. At time of writing the median price for a bag of loot across the last seven days was $43,600. The most expensive bag was sold on Thursday for $945,600.

This is where it gets interesting. This week, bag owners have instigated a wide range of creative projects. Owners of the Divine Robes – there are only 396 such items on offer – have created their own Guild. A Loot newspaper, The Herald, has been established. This site will generate a pixelated character for owners based on their Loot bag number. And some owners are imagining entire new immersive worlds built around Loot:

Yes, it’s a lot to take in. For more see this excellent piece by tech journalist Casey Newton, which is the main source for the short account I’ve provided here. But here’s my take:

⚡ NWSH Take: As I highlighted in New Week #49, August was a huge month for NFTs; trading platform Opensea recorded over $3 billion in sales. So why does Loot signal a next evolution? // At heart, it’s about the ecosystem that the platform has engendered. As the website explains, ‘Loot is the unfiltered, uncensorable building block for stories, experiences, games, and more, in the hands of the community’. The result is an explosion in decentralised collaboration that’s given rise to new art, communities, and immersive worlds. The Loot ecosystem is a weird new form of decentralised company: one in which no single person has creative control, and the rules are made up as you go along. As one user put it on Twitter: Loot is NFT improv. // In that way, Loot signals the emergence of a new kind of internet. One in which ownership of virtual objects will allow access to gated but leaderless communities, and vast collaborative projects will pop in and out of existence in days. // This is Web3, and it’s arriving fast. NWSH will keep watching.

🤖 Don’t look now

A new robot is patrolling the streets of Singapore.

Across the next three weeks, Xavier will move among crowds in the city’s Toa Payoh Central district. Singapore authorities say Xavier will monitor citizens for ‘undesirable social behaviours’, including smoking in prohibited areas, illegal street hawking, and breaking COVID social distancing rules.

When Xavier detects unwanted behaviour, it issues a warning message and alerts a central command centre.

Authorities say they hope the robots will augment Singapore’s extensive use of CCTV; they plan to double the number of cameras to 200,000 across the next decade.

🏃 Work arounds

This week, two powerful signals of the way work is being transformed in 2021.

According to a new report from independent worker platform MBO Partners, the number of US workers employed in non-traditional ways – think freelances, gig economy workers, and temps – now stands at 51 million.

That’s a 34% jump on 2020, and represents a third of all US employment.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics say there are 5.7 million fewer Americans employed today than there were before the pandemic.

News arrived this week that can help explain that. According to a new study published in Harvard Business Law, popular software used to automate the hiring process is mistakenly rejecting millions of qualified candidates.

The software, called Applicant Tracking System, is used by 75% of US employers to take an initial cut of job applicants. But it is auto-rejecting candidates based on criteria that may not be clear to the managers using it, including when an otherwise qualified applicant’s work history has a gap of over six months.

⚡ NWSH Take: Two stories, both signals of the ways in which new technologies are remapping the work landscape. // The tools, platforms, and collaboration strategies that make independent and gig economy work possible aren’t new. But that MBO data shows just how forcefully the pandemic has accelerated us into a non-traditional work future. What is the upshot? The old settlement between employee, employer, and state is now irrelevant for tens of millions in the US alone. We urgently need a new social settlement that offers them the protections – sick pay, healthcare, paid holiday – that workers fought for in the 20th-century. // Meanwhile, a single piece of hiring automation software may be helping to depress the employment numbers of the world’s largest economy. A reminder, then, that automation is set to reconfigure the economy in all kinds of unexpected ways. As AI and automation weaves itself deeper into the fabric of our work, expect more stories like this one.

🔬 New age therapies

Jeff Bezos is partnering with billionaire investor Yuri Milner on a new startup that wants to solve ageing and death.

Bezos has invested in Altos Labs, a biotech company founded by Milner that intends to pursue research in the biological reprogramming of living cells. The company will have a presence in Silicon Valley, as well as Cambridge in the UK, and Japan.

Altos Labs is currently hiring a roster of superstar scientists, including Shinya Yamanaka, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that cells can be reprogrammed to become stem cells.

⚡ NWSH Take: Several high-profile projects aimed at human immortality already exist, including Alphabet’s Calico Labs, and the Sens Research Foundation, founded by British scientist Aubrey de Grey. Proponents say there has been progress. But a breakthrough moment remains elusive. // Can Altos Labs rewrite the script? It has resources: papers filed in California in June indicate that the company has raised at least $270 million. // An even bigger question: if we do achieve the radical extension of human lifespan, what does that mean for society? I’ll be tackling that question in this Sunday’s essay, with some help from the NWSH community.

🗓️ Also this week

🌆 Retail billionaire and Walmart ecommerce leader Marc Lore wants to build a $400 billion utopian city in the American desert. The city of Telosa will house 5 million people. Back in Charter City Dreams I wrote about the rising movement to reimagine life for billions by building new cities from scratch.

🎤 China has banned reality TV talent shows. The CCP says idol development shows, which are wildly popular in China, are leading young fans into ‘chaotic and irrational’ lifestyles.

✈️ NASA is testing electric flying taxis in California. The tests are intended to help NASA scientists study how Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft moves and sounds during flight.

👀 TikTok has overtaken YouTube on average monthly watch time among US users. According to new data, as of June 2021 TikTok users watched for over 24 hours per month, compared with 22 hours and 40 minutes on YouTube.

El Salvador became the world’s first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. Launch day was beset by technical hitches and market volatility; the price of bitcoin fell from $52,000 to under $43,000.

🧮 Scientists have developed a method that allows quantum computers to peer review each other’s work. Researchers at the University of Vienna say the method can ensure greater confidence in the outputs generated by these computers.

📖 Wikipedia is launching new programmable functions that will allow the site to automatically draw information from the open web. Wikifunctions are intended to ensure the site remains accurate in every language.

🦠 A massive cache of documents on historical coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been released. The documents became public as this newsletter neared completion, and were obtained after an FOIA request by US publication The Intercept.

🌍 Humans of Earth

Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.

🙋 Global population: 7,891,801,453
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.791893363

💉 Global population vaccinated: 29.1%

🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 69% complete

📖 On this day: On 8 September 1966 US television network NBC broadcasts the first episode of a new sci-fi series called Star Trek.

Forever is Now

Thanks for reading this week.

The explosion in creativity fuelled by Loot across the last few days is just the beginning. NFTs unlock new ways to serve powerful human needs: status, community, self-expression.

It’s a classic case of new world, same humans. And we’re at the edges of a new infinite horizon.

This newsletter will keep watching. And there’s one thing you can do to help: share!

If you found today’s instalment valuable, why not take a second to forward this email to one person – a friend, relative, or colleague – who’d also enjoy it? Or share New World Same Humans across one of your social networks, and let others know why you think it’s worth their time. Just hit the share button:

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I’ll be back this 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.