Techopian Weekly - Views on the News - 30 July 21

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Techopian Weekly - Views on the News - 30 July 21

Techopian's weekly roundup on some of the key stories covered this week. For those too busy during the week but need something to make them seem informed on Monday morning

Average American's lifetime carbon footprint kills 0.29 people
ESG can save civilisation
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?
Urgent: we need AI to counter labour shortages
Getting Started with an Enterprise-ready Technology Ethical Scorecard
UBI series proves highly popular
US economy passes pre-Covid level

Average American's lifetime carbon footprint kills 0.29 people

PhD candidate Daniel Bresser (@dannybressler1) has worked out that the lifetime carbon emissions of 3.5 Americans (from the USA) will kill one person.

The Guardian quoted him as saying: "My view is that people shouldn't take their per-person mortality emissions too personally."

Ummm. The Bressler study is quite brilliant in that it explains the consequences of our activities in terms of deaths rather than costs. If you like, Bressler has come up with a new yardstick for measuring climate change, one that could transform attitudes.

So make it personal — you could be responsible for the death of 3.5 people. No offence.

Bressler said: "Our emissions are very much a function of the technology and culture of the place that we live." And of course he is right. Given that I am a nasty meat-eating, carbon producing driver of a car with an internal combustion engine, the idea that it is not our individual responsibility comes as some relief.

But there is such a thing as personal responsibility?

The Bressler study  said, "reducing (adding) 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 saves one life (causes one excess death) in expectation globally between 2020 and 2100." And "In all, 4,434 metric tons is equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 3.5 average Americans, 146.2 Nigerians, and 12.8 average world people."

We are slightly puzzled by Brazil featuring so low in the chart — it is accurate, of course, but if you consider the effect of deforestation on the Amazon rain forest, then Brazil's contribution to climate change is much higher. Then again, if you consider the cumulative cost of deforestation in the US, Europe, and Asia, that puts the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest into some context.

But let's say it would be unfair to make each individual responsible for the deaths of others. Climate change denial and belittling, on the other hand, now may correlate with deaths.

It would be unfair to accuse each American of the manslaughter of 0.29 people, no doubt. However, maybe one day, as history looks back on the actions of past civilisations it will be climate change deniers and the corporations involved with polluting the earth who will be judged and relegated to the 'idiocy of mankind' chapter, while our future generations curse us.

ESG can save civilisation

Perhaps it boils down to ESG — environmental, social, governance. Companies that adopt ESG wholeheartedly should be applauded — but maybe those that don't should be measured using the Bressler type scale.

And that takes us to a study from a KPMG researcher who specialises in ESG, Gaya Harrington.

Back in the 1970s, scientists from MIT tried to work out when civilisation might come to an end. "2040," was their unfortunate conclusion.

Gaya Harrington has revisited the study. In a Yale Journal of Industrial, Ecology paper, she concluded that we have about a decade to go before things become irreversible unless we change course.

She is not suggesting that our species will be finished, but said: "economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living".

This does not mean we are all doomed or even that Harrington is herself a doom merchant. However, her prediction was based on business as usual and in the post-Covid age, business will surely be very different to what was usual before Covid.

But it does highlight why ESG is so important. Returning to the Bressler study, individuals don't like to think they are responsible for the death of other people, and if that means they can alleviate their consciousness by only buying from companies that adopt sustainable practices, that is what they will do.

So, ESG isn't just about corporate responsibility— although it is partly about that — but is also about remaining relevant and profitable in the 2020s and 2030s.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

A couple of people on LinkedIn took exception to one of our recent articles.

The article looked at why people believe in conspiracy theories — such as the US Deep State undermining the 2020 election, Covid denial, and faked moon landings.

Studies show that people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to score less well in tests designed to assess their critical thinking skills. Other studies show that belief in conspiracy theories is associated with poorer education levels (which makes sense as it's only when you get to higher education levels that you're taught how to be critical in your thinking. Prior to that you're fed facts and told not to question them).

This does not mean all conspiracy theory advocates have poor critical thinking skills and education — it means that, on average, they do.

We suggested that belief in conspiracy theories is also correlated to wanting to believe the theory. So if you are an ardent Trump fan, and nearly all your friends feel the same, you may find it hard to believe he lost the 2020 election. If someone comes along and says the election was fraudulent, you might react by saying, "Now that explains it."

What Daniel Kahneman calls fast-thinking cuts in, and your more careful slow thinking goes out the window.

It is not new: have you ever watched your favourite football team being thrashed, and when your fellow supporters start blaming the referee (maybe calling into doubt the legitimacy of his birth), you might join in and notice every single refereeing decision that does not go your team's way. As a result, you are motivated to believe the referee's conspiracy to side with the other team, although you may have moderated your views the next day.

One of the studies referred to above also found that conspiracy theory believers are unaware of their poor critical reasoning skills.

And that chimes — how many times have you heard a conspiracy theorist proclaim their advanced critical thinking skills, their own heightened ability to see things other miss and then accuse the rest of us of being gullible?

Anyway, it turns out that Techopian has poor critical thinking skills because, in fact, there is lots of evidence Trump really did win the 2020 election, the whole Covid thing was one big scare story bordering on hysteria, and in any case, we should have cited the Wuhan lab leak as an example of how conspiracy theories can be right.

So apologies for those oversights; consider us suitably chastened and now fully paid up members of the Trump fan club; the Covid is fake belief and supporters of the Wuhan lab leak.

(On the subject of the lab leak theory; the evidence is flimsy at best; but we can see how some people are motivated to believe the theory because that means they can dismiss the claim that we need to prepare for the next virus, dismiss the claim climate change and demographics were factors, and have an excuse for their initial cynicism.)

Why do people believe conspiracy theories?
A new study finds that people who believe in conspiracy theories have low critical thinking skills.

Urgent: we need AI to counter labour shortages

There is a labour shortage. Why?

Is it temporary, caused by one-off Covid factors, such as the so-called pindemic?

Is it because of Brexit leading to an exodus of immigrant labour? If it is, then why is there a labour shortage in the US, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and… well, the list goes on?

Maybe it is because immigrant workers have returned home because of Covid. Maybe it is because the benefits system is too generous — as US Republicans say. Maybe it is because employers are too mean, as US Democrats say.

But here is a controversial idea; maybe it is the baby boomers' fault — or, to be precise, their patents. There are just too many baby boomers, and they are retiring.

In this respect, Covid has had three effects —

  • It has meant that people have gotten used to not experiencing the stress of office life and they think 'I don't want to go back to work' (or that kind of work)
  • It has led to higher savings among many who have also become aware of how cheaply they can live
  • Covid has led to central bankers cutting interest rates, which has boosted house prices, enabling homeowners with significant equity to take out new mortgages at incredibly low-interest rates. Indeed, the cost of servicing this new debt might be less than the likely increase in their house's value.

Baby boomers may be right or wrong to assume their home will continue to rise in value, but just like a Bitcoin investor, they expect the trend will continue.

But unlike in the case of Japan, which is around 20 years ahead of us in the ageing of its population, the timing is good. AI, automation and even remote work mean we can produce more of the goods and services we want to consume, for fewer inputs.

Forget about whether automation may destroy jobs; the labour shortage means we need automation. The real challenge is in mindset (life long learning), reskilling and a huge lack of investment in employees by the large majority of companies.

We need AI to counter labour shortage as baby boomers retire
There is a labour shortage, and it is a worldwide problem. The causes are many, but the retirement of the baby boomers means this demographic crisis has legs; we need AI urgently.

Getting Started with an Enterprise-ready Technology Ethical Scorecard

In this magnificent piece, Sarah Burnett talks about how organisations can get started on measuring their corporate technology and AI ethics. It's a must-read for business leaders or business leaders of the future.

Ethical business is at the top of the agenda and as technology will be handling many of the business tasks and functions moving forward, getting a foundation in place has never been more important.

How to start your Technology Ethical Scorecard
In this article, Sarah Burnett, our contributing author and analyst, provides a guide on how to get started on measuring your corporate technology and AI ethics.

The model T Tesla

Also, this week, we look at Tesla. It turns out that Tesla sales to date mirror sales of the Model T Ford over a similar time frame from launch.

But can you really compare Tesla with early Ford? First, we look at Tesla's advantage's over rivals and Tesla's disadvantages — Elon Musk appears on both lists.

Tesla sales mirror Model T Ford, can its growth continue?
Sales of Teslas are on a similar trajectory to sales of the Model T Ford following its launch in 1908. But can the growth continue?

UBI: follow our series

Our latest UBI video will be released shortly, don't forget to follow on YouTube.


In the meantime, it turns out that lottery winners don't work so hard after winning the lottery.

UBI doesn’t work concludes meaningless study
A new study focusing on lottery winners in the US concludes that universal basic income decreases work ethic; seriously, is this the most bizarre argument you have ever heard?

Ergo, UBI will mean people will stop working so hard — errr, that's what the study says, so it must be true!

Here is a thought; maybe by that logic, increases in house prices stop people from working hard. So if you are against UBI because you think it will make people work-shy, you should be against homeownership.

US economy passes pre-Covid level

And finally here is some good news that has got lost.

Data out July 29th revealed that the US economy has returned to the Pre-Covid peak.

That's good!

The markets are unhappy because annualised growth in Q2 was 6.5 per cent, less than expected.

Just bear in mind as follows:

  • These figures tend to get revised — 6.5 per cent may eventually be revised significantly up or significantly down, so don't get too excited/depressed
  • Sixteen months or so ago, hardly anyone predicted such a road recovery (ahem, some of us did.)

So just put the recovery in the context of gloomy predictions a year ago and we're feeling fairly upbeat.

Hope you enjoy this newsletter, let us know by emailing and if you really like it, send it to a friend you really care about.

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