This land is the only land there is / China’s experiment in AI education / Netflix is not a tech co / Lab grown dairy / Social Acceleration — No.89

This week: This land is the only land there is / China has started a grand experiment in AI education / Netflix is not a tech company / Forget synthetic meat, lab grown dairy is here / On social Acceleration

A year ago: Twitter is not your friend. The Sarah Jeong saga shows us why.


This Land Is the Only Land There Is

I’m always wondering how many climate collapse articles I should fling your way but there’s a new IPCC report and Robinson Meyer wrote a superb piece about it so I had to.

TL;DR (although you should read it) land has already warmed by 1.5C. We need to be largely vegetarian. Human demand for food, meat, clothes, and warmth now consumes at least 25 percent of the net product of photosynthesis on land, which is staggering. We might be facing “multiple bread-basket failure.” There are 52 million square mile of land “available.” We must reinvent how we use the land and produce our energy within those 52, including living space, and keeping all other lifeforms around.

[T]his will require immediate action from farmers, bankers, conservationists, and policy makers worldwide. And to really succeed, it will require hundreds of millions of affluent people in the Northern Hemisphere to change their diet, eating many more plants and much less meat—and especially much less red meat—than they do now. […]

[Human demand] now consumes at least 25 percent of the net product of photosynthesis on land. … And we have roughly hooked one out of every four of them into our planetary system of consumption and speculative exchange. […]

These 52 million grid squares cannot only service our needs. They are all the land, period. They must also hold the vast, lovely, unknowable thing that we call nature—every shady spot, every mountain stream, every sand dune. Every grain of rice and cobalt mine, every sidewalk square and platypus, has to be somewhere on that 52 million. […]

What’s incredible about this fact is not only the scale of economic production that it entails. It’s that photosynthesis isn’t even the energetic part of the economy. What we call “the energy sector” still mostly consists of fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas. […]

[The report] makes clear that climate change isn’t only about coal-fired power plants, or gas-guzzling cars; and it’s definitely not about littering or—God help us—recycling. It’s about the profound chemical and physical specificity of human life. You and I are not free-floating minds that move around the world through text messages, apologetic emails, and bank deposits. We are carbon-based creatures so pathetic that we need a lot of silent plants to make carbon for us. […]

Climate change requires us to alter the biogeochemical organism that we call the global economy on the fly, in our lifetimes. Such a task should command most of the time and attention of every economist, agriculturalist, investor, executive, and politician—anyone who fancies themselves a leader in the physical workings of the economy, or whatever we call it. It is our shame, and theirs, that they don’t.

China has started a grand experiment in AI education. It could reshape how the world learns

Quite the overstatement in the title but a good article on “AI” in education. In China “tens of millions of students now use some form of AI to learn” so it’s written around the visions of two Chinese ed-tech companies, how they function, what they’ve done, and some of the more general theory of learning as it applies to those visions. In my opinion the second model, Alo7’s, is a lot more interesting, sadly most of the article is about Squirrel.

Even if you’re not particularly “into” learning in this form, have a read considering it alongside the future work, hybrid / centaur supplementation of human intelligence, and in a framing around coaching. In Sentiers at Work, a recurring theme I featured was the idea of managers within companies enabling their team members and being there as coaches. Here teachers can be seen as coaches too, where a significant part of the learning happens individually through AI systems, accompanied by teachers, and where both aspects are important.

If on the other hand you are interested in ed-tech, then you absolutely have to dive into the work of Audrey Watters who critiques the field extremely thoroughly and pertinently.

Experts worry about the direction this rush to AI in education is taking. At best, they say, AI can help teachers foster their students’ interests and strengths. At worst, it could further entrench a global trend toward standardized learning and testing, leaving the next generation ill prepared to adapt in a rapidly changing world of work. […]

Every educational expert I spoke to for this story began by making the same point: to understand how AI could improve teaching and learning, you need to think about how it is reshaping the nature of work. […]

[Jutta Treviranus, OCAD] “We need students to understand their own learning. We need them to determine what they want to learn, and we need them to learn to learn,” Treviranus says. “Squirrel AI doesn’t address those things at all. It only makes it more efficient to bring all of the students to the same standardized place.” […]

[Pan Pengkai, Alo7] “Innovation comes from difference,” he says. “That’s exactly what China lacks. If you are able to speak multiple languages, you are able to talk to different people; you are able to communicate different ideas.” […]

Knowledge that can be exercised through adaptive learning, like vocabulary words, is practiced at home through the app. So are skills like pronunciation, which can be refined through speech-recognition algorithms. But anything requiring creativity, like writing and conversation, is learned in the classroom. The teacher’s contribution is vital.

Netflix is not a tech company

Good post by Ben Evans on whether Netflix is a tech or TV company. He believes that their tech, though good, is not the differentiator. They “used tech as a crowbar, and the crowbar had to be good, but it’s actually a TV company.” As software eats the world and almost everyone in every field uses digital technologies, it seems like a useful framing when comparing business models and competitors, especially when thinking about “what are the questions that matter?”

The same applies to Tesla, and indeed to many other companies using software to enter other industries, especially D2C – what are the questions that matter? Often, they’re not tech questions at all. […]

Hence, Netflix isn’t using TV to leverage some other business – TV is the business. It’s a TV company. Amazon is using content as a way to leverage its subscription service, Prime, in much the same way to telcos buying cable companies or doing IPTV – it’s a way to stop churn.

Forget Synthetic Meat, Lab Grown Dairy Is Here

Goes over a few startups who are trying to replicate whey and casein to develop better dairy-free product (or cow-free dairy?). Interesting directions, similar to Impossible Foods who based their plant-based meat product on the heme molecule found in hemoglobin.

Rather than forego the taste of real cheese and dairy for poor vegan substitutes, the pair decided to invent their own version of the real thing. The startup focused on the well-worn food path of microbial fermentation—harnessing custom yeast and bacteria to grow the proteins that make milk taste like milk. […]

Though it’s still early days, Perfect Day contends its proteins require 98% less water and 65% less energy than that required to produce whey from cows. […]

More: Last year I partnered with CloudRaker on their “thoughts” articles and the one about protein stores was a personal favourite.

On social acceleration

Alan Jacobs unpacking some of Hartmut Rosa’s book, Social Acceleration. Interesting view of a phenomenon of acceleration along three dimensions but I’m including it here for this Virilio quote.

Rosa often uses in the book a phrase by the cultural theorist Paul Virilio: “frenetic standstill” — the widespread sense that the world around us is in constant flux and yet nothing essential is happening — nothing essential can happen. (There’s a fascinating section of the book on the ways that depression is a natural response to this and therefore the characteristic disease of late modernity.)

Miscellany


Found via

Some of the articles included this week were found via Deb, samim,
Peter, and Jay. Thanks!

Header image: Selections from the Joint Photographic Survey’, a fictive colonial survey of Palestine and Holy Lands in the 1920s, reconstructed from real early 20th century photos.