Last night I had dinner in San Francisco with an illustrious group of people. Some of them would arguably be perceived as the smartest people around. Yet their worldview was very biased by their life in Silicon Valley.
A lot of the conversation on inequality centered around how zoning laws are pricing a new generation out of the housing market. True here. Not true in Atlanta, Berlin, Miami. Are restrictive zoning laws a problem? Yes, but are they the reason why there is inequality? Only partly, and depends where. I have another explanation for inequality and that is: inheritances, elite education, uneven distribution of talent.
Another Bay Area centric explanation was that pervasive technology is causing violence. Do we believe that Syrians or Libyans are killing each other because they have Facebook or Twitter? Not really. Hutus and Tutsis killed each other without smartphones and with machetes. I see the violence in the Middle East as a resurgence of tribalism, fake us vs them. Religion being used for tribal purposes.
Then there was the belief that education is not what is needed to solve inequality, because many people with college degrees end up serving coffee. Yes this may be true here. But in most of the world access to education is indeed a ticket to the middle class. And less education will give us more Trumpism. As he said it he loves the uneducated. Moreover education is about being part of a culture, not only a way to get what job.
Lastly a very radical view, was that robots and AI are taking over the world, and hence, an experiment in basic income was started in Oakland to simulate a world in which nobody has a job. Could AI and robots leave many without work? Yes. But so did mechanized agriculture.
In short all the problems were real. But the intensity attributed to each one of them and the proposed solutions were very Northern California.
Today Leo (9) and I were on Messenger, using video, he in Madrid and me in Miami. We were having a long conversation as he walked around Madrid doing different things and I was doing my work. So we were virtually together for quite a while, happy the other person was there, sometimes silently. At some point Leo said to me. Dad, aren’t you glad we live in the future and you and I can do this? My reply was that for a long time I had beeen dissapointed about the future. Fabrice Grinda and I debated this point around 5 years ago and he was the first person who alerted me that the future was finally arriving. He knows I felt that when I was at university in the 80s we believed that by the year 2000 so much would be different, and it wasn´t. But over the last 4 years, I realized, that the future that we were promised in the 80s indeed has arrived. Prelude, my new company that is focused on having babies with fewer illnesses and whenever people are ready, involves two technologies, vitrification and genetic sequencing of embryos that were not available a few years back. Fon and others have blanketed the world with WiFi making it easier and cheaper for hundreds of millions to connect. Tablets and smartphones have reached the masses. Driverless cars are already going around the streets and while they may not fly as we thought, they are radical. CRISPR has given us a real chance to gain control of evolution and my belief is that we will use this tool wisely as we now use genetically modified food. Living in a connected world is enabling us to stay in touch emotionally and intellectually with the rest of the planet. The app economy has given us knowledge and comfort in the palm of our hands, almost as a second arm and a second brain, always with us. Hyperloop is doing away with the connection between speed and the sound barrier getting rid of the atmosphere at sea level. So yes, I am very glad Leo that we live in the future. And while nothing will replace the hug I would love to give you, following you around Madrid today, made me feel very close to you.
My elevator talks to me. But doesn’t listen. It says “8th floor” when we get there. But I can’t just say “8th floor” to go up, I have to press a button. And my elevator doesn’t recognize me, nor my voice. So anyone else who is not authorized can go to the 8th floor. I think it’s time that what Nest did to thermostats, somebody does to elevators. Have elevators respond to voice commands and only take authorized users to their floors. And how about having elevators tell you if your little kids get in by mistake. Or they notice that you walked in and tell your Uber or Lyft “Martin is arriving in 1m”. Or have sensors in the front door that call the elevator down before you get to it. Or use AI to learn building traffic patterns along the day and save energy and time for building occupants. There’s lots of cool things that a smart lift could do.
Unfortunately yesterday while on a road bike ride in Miami, I crashed. It wasn’t awful. I will be fine soon. But today I have pain in different parts of my body and stayed in bed. The last time I fell off my bike was in 1997. Back then all I could do while in bed was to read a book, speak on the phone and watch TV. 19 years later, in bed, I realize that a tremendous amount of technological effort has been invested in building what could be called the “life in bed” economy. And recovering from a bike accident is a world of choice.
-want to eat in bed? Seamless, GrubHub, Uber eats, and many others will make sure your recently cooked and warm food is home delivered.
-want to socialize in bed? Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn and many others will make that very easy.
-want to be entertained in bed? Netflix, Amazon Prime, Youtube, Showtime, HBO and many other digital services will give you all the movies and tv shows ever made on your iPad.
-want to shop in bed? there are so many services that will get you whatever you want while in bed! the most obvious ones Amazon, eBay, Apple.
-want to study in bed? Udacity and many other purely online or also online universities will help you get your in bed degree.
-want to read in bed? Kindle and the Kindle app will make that easy.
-want people to come home and give you a massage, manicure, or any other services while at home? TaskRabbit ThumbTack and all their competitors will basically get you any kind of service at home you can dream of.
-want to listen to music? no need to reach out for a CD anymore, Spotify, Soundcloud and others will give you all the music ever made at the touch of your smartphone.
As I recover I wonder if this life in bed economy is actually good for us. Not convinced. Certainly not good for social, for being fit, for socializing in the real world. Can’t wait to get out in the real world again.
Here’s an idea I had to stop rising sea level. This plan assumes that we will fail at stopping emissions and that rising sea level will be a reality. It is estimated that sea level has already risen 15cm from 100 years ago and that currently sea level is rising around 1cm every 4 years. So the question here is what could make sea level fall 1cm every 4 years and my idea is to use nuclear power to pump water on to the Antartic continent and accumulate it there to compensate for the 25mm or so that sea level is rising every year. Now in order to calculate if this is feasible first we need to know what is the sea level surface around the world and that is 510 million km2. Then we need to calculate the area of Antartica that is above 500m, as you know for every 500m you go up temperature drops 3C and so far global warming has been .85C in the last 100 years. The area of Antartica is around 14 million Km2. This means that the ratio of oceans to Antartica is around 30 to 1. That means that for every cm we take out of the ocean we need to accumulate 30cm in Antartica. Sounds doable. So if we pumped water above 500m that is the same of 500 years of global warming at current rates and it is safe to say that way before then will have stopped burning fossil fuels so it is very unlikely that the earth will warm more than 3C. So any ice that is now ice at whatever altitude it is it will be ice at 500m higher. But it turns out that Antartica is surprisingly a very high continent. The average height of Antartica is 2500m which means that the average Antartic temperature is 9C lower than at sea level so it is extremely likely that any water pumped over Antartica will freeze there for millions of years.
So now that we know all these the next thing we have to calculate is how much water is there in 25 mm multiplied by 510 million km2 because that is the amount of water than the ice melting is currently pouring in the oceans. And the plan here is that whatever water we are losing at sea level we pump to an altitude where it will stay frozen forever somewhere in Antartica. After that we need to calculate the energy we need to pump that water 500m up. And then we need to build a number of power stations which in my view should be molten salt nuclear reactors because they are much cheaper to build and also use very commonly available fuel. This video shows what China is doing with them and explains there advantages.
So using Wolfram Alpha I came up that there is around 1250km3 of water melting from the ice cap per year in the world. This doesn’t seem to be an impossible volume of water to pump up in Antartica to a level where it will stay frozen forever. If you´d like to please help me complete this calculation, I need to find out the energy that is needed to pump this amount of water up 500m over one year.
The war on terror has been brutal, inhumane, extremely costly and ineffective. But as opposed to what many argue, it is not Western brutality that gave rise to ISIS. European democracies are the kindest social systems around the world. With free health care and education for all, EU nations are more caring than US. And in terms of military interventions in the Middle East US has led in presence and arguably in inhumanity. Yet an estimated 4000 ISIS terrorists were raised in this kind Europe and went to the Middle East to behead Christians, Gays, to enslave women, to destroy history, to kill Shias, to send thousands of families to their death and millions into exile. Some of these terrorists are going back to Europe to bring their terror. We saw that twice in the horrible attacks in Paris, in Brussels, Copenhagen, Toulouse. Am I in favor of Western responses like Guantanamo or drone attacks? No. But not because closing Guantanamo or stopping drone attacks would end terrorism, but because becoming terrorists ourselves is not who we are nor what we stand for. But the brand of terrorism we are experiencing now is growing, not because of what we do, but because of its appeal to many. Jihadism has an evil logic of its own that is unrelated to our actions. Because of our colonial past we tend to believe that everything that happens around the world is because of our policies. But those days are over. ISIS is a movement similar to Nazism, an incredibly powerful ideology that draws people to it for its simple logic, clear explanations, black and white world, quick answers for everything. I would also love to think that if we were only nicer so would be ISIS. But I don’t think we have evidence that that is the case. ISIS hates us not for what we do, but for who we are. Because in Western democracies we promote the very uncertainties that they think they have eliminated. They don’t hate our actions, they hate our presence. Germany has been the kindest country in the world to Muslim refugees. I think we can all agree that there is no guarantee ISIS won’t attack there. No, we did not create ISIS.
Here is a list that explains how technology is disrupting my life.
-newspapers: Twitter,Facebook,newspaper online apps, news apps.
-magazines:Medium, Tumblr, magazine apps.
-my car: Uber, Lyft
-my desk: iPad lying in the couch.
-cable TV: fiber optic internet.
-linear TV: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu.
-fix line telephones: smartphones.
-CD holders: Spotify
-movie theaters: large TV displays with video on demand.
-hard drives: cloud
-paper agendas and calendars: apps
-intercoms: whatsapp from downstairs.
-shopping malls: Amazon
-credit cards: Apple pay, CC inside smartphone
-printed photography: looking at photographs on iPad
-travel guides: Yelp, Google, Tripadvisor.
-pens, pencils, markers, handwriting: glass keyboards.
-printers: iPad, QR codes.
-alarm clocks: clock app.
-dumb watches: smart watches
-maps and asking for directions: google maps.
-phone calls and texting: whatsapp, viber, Messenger.
-GPS devices like Garmin: google maps, sports apps.
-Microsoft Office: Google docs.
-reading on airplanes: WiFi on airplanes.
-travel agents: travel app.
-in person learning: online tutorials, Youtube, Udacity.
-taxis: Uber, Lyft
I am a father to three girls and three boys. But this post is only about the father son relationship. More precisely it is about father son communication, or lack of it. First my experience: as a dad it is easy to speak with boys until they are around 8, then there’s a ten year silence and communications restarts after they are 18. From 8 to 18 it is extremely hard for dads to have normal conversations with their boys, or at least that’s been my experience. With Tom, I am still getting over the car rides we took alone on skiing trips when he was 13, we would say one sentence every 100km. Now I am spending a weekend in Menorca alone with Leo (9) and getting a conversation out of him, getting him out of his books, his games, his movies is like getting a splinter out from his foot. And while I hope it’s not the case, I fear the same will be true of Davidi when he turns 8. Now at 2 he does talk a lot to me, in broken English, German or Spanish but because of what I lived through with the older boys he must think it weird when I hug him with gratitude. He doesn’t know what I know, that this hug is a slow good bye to the time in which I will be unable to get him to look up from his iPad. These days I thank him for whatever broken language I get. Davidi go dad pool? Yes Davidi, go pool!! Let`s go swimming. With Mia (4) instead I don’t worry. I know ours will be an uninterrupted conversation.
Women, and by that I mean sisters and moms, do find ways to talk to boys. Like Nina Varsavsky does get Leo to speak. And she was able to get Tom to speak when he went through his 10 year silence. Women know how to play men along, somehow be interested in their obsession of the week. But dads, we just don’t know what to say to them. Men you know, we are not great conversationistas. And when a game obsessed boy meets a work obsessed dad conversation is not easy. Because as a dad to start a conversation with your 12 year old, either you totally get into whatever weird game he´s into at the moment, or whatever book that has 350 characters in 150 moods each (a book that your dad brain would never be able to keep up with but he knows all possible combinations)….or well, they just won’t talk. As opposed to girls don’t expect them to start a conversation. So you stay quiet and they go back to their book, iPad, or as in the case of Leo, Kindle book in the iPad.
I understand girls who are 14 and fall in love with a 14 year old boy only to cry over the fact that they just won’t talk to them. Hey girls, you are not alone. That boy can’t talk to his own father! But there is hope. Now Tom and I meet and have the most awesome conversations, yes he´s 21 but dads, be patient. The silence cracks, it just takes a decade
I celebrated 18 Thanksgivings in the USA, then moved to Europe for 19 years and now I am back in the US celebrating Thanksgiving again. Thanksgiving is a US holiday, that as opposed to Halloween, can’t be exported. Because Thanksgiving is mainly about being American. But I have another take on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the American holiday that is most about being with your family, which in a career driven society in which family is many times second priority to professional objectives, turns out to be quite uncommon. Thanksgiving is the weekend that makes up for Americans mostly not seeing their family the rest of the year. I don’t have stats on this, but most likely, Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians, see their families much more than Americans do. Therefore they don’t need a holiday whose main purpose is to see their family. Now because Americans see their families much less, my social media is full of stories, some actually very funny, about how awkward it is to see your family. Which makes sense. When you rarely see them, it does become awkward. I see posts that give tips on how to “put up” with loved ones. How to go through Thanksgiving without conflict, how to emerge from the holiday unhurt. But as funny as some of these stories are (and Americans make the best movies about awkward families), there is a real sadness to them. As a husband and father of 6, as someone who adores parenting, I would hope that when my family members see me, they don’t feel like the Thanksgiving stories on my newsfeed. I love to see my older kids , I love to be with Nina Varsavsky and the little ones. To me, family is the most important daily celebration. I sincerely hope there will never be anything awkward about us being together. I like Thanksgiving, but I like Thanksgiving every day.
Recently quite a few people have been using the term WWIII to speak about the new escalation of global terrorism. This is wrong. If the comparison relates the number of victims, we are not anywhere near WWIII. 80 million people died in WWII and the world had 2.5bn people then, if WWIII means something of similar magnitude, 240 million people would have to die in this war today, I think the chances of something like that are incredibly small. The world is safer than it’s ever been. The probability of any of us dying in an armed conflict or victims of terrorism is insignificant. Yes, there are and there will be global terrorists, before it was Al Qaeda, now ISIS, and yes they maybe will kill around 1000 people per year in the USA and EU during the next decade. I am not denying terrorism, nor saying that it will go away. But terrorist attack like Paris are not WWIII. There’s no way that 3% of the world’s population will be killed by a few people with Kalashnikovs and explosives. Now in the Middle East, there have been many more victims than in EU/USA from terrorism and regional wars. Over 1 million Muslims have died, mostly killed by other Muslims, in the Iran-Iraq war, the Lebanese civil war, the Algerian civil war, the Syrian civil war, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the Libyan civil war and the confrontations involving Muslims vs Christians in Africa. And this wars will probably go on, but these are local conflicts, not WWIII. It would be surprising to know that even in the Israeli Palestinian conflict over the last 30 less than 15,000 people have died while every day in the world around 150,000 people die of natural causes. So while we will have regional wars and conflicts, and we will have terrorism, the vast majority of humanity will wake up and go to sleep day after day without anything violent ever happening to them. And the proportion of violent deaths to total deaths keep shrinking decade after decade.