The false dichotomy between AI and humans — #95
This Issue is Curated With Your General Scepticism In Mind
After a slow and lazy summer break, pressing send on this email feels exciting and slightly different.
I started July by moving back to Stockholm from Berlin — with all the emotional turmoil you'd expect. (Yes, I have bangs now). It has made me particularly grateful for having friends who let me struggle constructively.
One friend shared this thought that resonated with me, "I think we have this childhood hangover. Still believing that summer should be the greatest time of the year. But I'm not sure that that applies anymore."
Instead, it's all social media pressure, family tension, and climate crises.
So, what's new?
Well, I'm still me. Although, that's not entirely true because I feel like I'm quite different depending on the city I inhabit.
However, one year after launching Better Odds, we're getting ready to present the first version of the tool we've built. Exciting and terrifying both.
Also, the survey I sent in the last issue (thank you for responding) revealed some fun insights into why you read my emails and what you like. For example, most of you want to learn things about the world and more of my personal thoughts — that's exciting and a little bit humbling. Someone even asked for more "life secrets". Let's see about that.
Zooming out a bit ...
I've realised that everything I do is connected. (1) I try to understand what's happening in the world, and (2) I use those insights to solve strategic problems. And the more perspectives I can add to the analysis, the more precise the solution. But also, the more I enjoy the work.
The tool we're building at Better Odds is focused on (actionable) insights. So is this Newsletter. Most of my consulting work then takes those insights and solves problems. It's all about Strategy.
Naturally, this will be my focus moving forward. Strategy. In the broadest possible interpretation of the word. Almost everything falls into this category, like a worldview and approach to life.
Apart from the apparent design updates. What changes have I made, and will you be able to notice?
Moving the newsletter from Substack. Don't worry; emails will still be in your inbox every Sunday morning. But the new platform will give me more control over the appearance and the opportunity to create different types of email content in the future. (It also means you cannot read the emails in the Substack app).
Raising the quality of insights. Since we're building tools for better strategic insights at Better Odds, it makes sense to use them when curating this newsletter. Don't worry, it will still be very personal and reflective, but if random life updates are what you enjoy most, I recommend that you also follow me on Instagram.
Less general news. Most of you are both curious and on top of the world event through other sources. So, instead of repeating what you get from other news sources, I will focus on things where I can provide additional context. This first issue does have a short summer recap section, but moving forward, you will see less news without deeper insights or analysis.
Thursday deep dives. With everything happening in the world, these emails become longer and longer. To make them possible to consume, I've decided to break out one section called the deep-dive and distribute it on Thursdays. The first one will arrive in your inbox next week and will focus on the military coup in Niger.
Additional content types. One thing I've been pondering for years is creating a podcast. Who doesn't want an excuse to have insightful conversations about the world with intelligent people? I will record a couple of pilot episodes, and take it from there. Also, if you have specific people you think I should interview or topics you want to learn about, you can make a wish by filling in this form.
Also, these emails are VERY long. But 93.3% of those answering the survey said this is "the perfect length" so I will keep it that way for now.
Enjoy the reading! ✨
Let's start with some things that happened while we all spent time reading fiction and eating ice cream.
Tories took £3.5m in donations from climate destroyers last year, and the UK government is now letting them drill for more oil
The UK government's decision to grant new oil and gas drilling licences in the North Sea has sparked controversy and criticism. The prime minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak claim that this will help the UK achieve net zero carbon emissions, enhance energy independence, and reduce reliance on hostile states like Russia. But today, only 20% of British oil is used domestically — 80% is exported. And only 4% of British gas comes from Russia.
Criticism of this decision has been fierce. For example, the influential Conservative MP Chris Skidmore called for an emergency debate, expressing concerns that the decision goes against climate goals and places the country on the wrong side of history. However, Tories got £3.5m in donations from actors linked to fossil fuels, high-polluting industries and climate denial. Naturally, this decision is seen as a way for the party to thank the donors for their support.
China is showing signs of deflation when everyone else is fighting inflation
China is beginning to show signs of deflation. This puts pressure on Beijing to reignite growth, or China risks falling into an economic spell that can be hard to break out of. While the rest of the world deals with inflation, China risk entering a cycle of falling prices that could reduce corporate profits, lower consumer spending, and push people out of work.
Prices charged by Chinese factories for products like steel, cement, and chemicals have been falling for months due to weak demand. The effects of Chinese deflation would spread across the globe, with lower prices on export products and a loss of Chinese demand for raw materials and consumer goods. If China does experience deflation over a more extended period, traditional methods to combat the issue may be ineffective since Chinese consumers and businesses are reluctant to borrow and spend.
Quran burnings in Sweden and Denmark created upset in several Muslim countries
In Sweden and Denmark, a series of Quran burnings by a small group of far-right activists has sparked global controversy and debate about freedom of speech. The incidents have led to outrage in parts of the Islamic world, creating diplomatic tensions, and world leaders have used the occasions for political gains.
As a response, Iraq is cutting ties with Sweden, and the Taliban government in Afghanistan is suspending all Swedish activities in the country. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has told its members to downgrade their diplomatic ties with Stockholm and Copenhagen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also tied the incidents to Sweden's bid to join NATO. Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric, has used the outrage to demonstrate political strength ahead of Iraq's national election.
The incidents have accentuated the tension between freedom of speech and religious beliefs. The Danish government is currently considering making it illegal to desecrate the Quran and other holy books outside foreign embassies. Sweden and Denmark have reported an increased national security risk, and Sweden is increasing its internal border control.
Meta launched the Twitter clone Threads, but it's not available within the European Union (yet)
In July, Meta launched its Twitter clone Threads, giving Instagram users access to a new app to publish short-form content and follow each other. (Like Twitter without Elon Musk). The app broke all records for most downloads, reaching 150 million global downloads in just six days, 5.5. times faster than the previous record holder, Pokémon Go.
Threads quickly reached one-quarter of Twitter's weekly active user figures, recording roughly 93 million active users globally in its first week to Twitter's 353 million. And while usage has expectedly gone down steadily since the launch, many analysts still believe that there is an opportunity for Threads to survive.
One noticeable growth boost is the app launch within the European Union. Yes, the Threads app only launched in the UK and US due to the upcoming Digital Markets Act set to take effect within the EU in 2024. However, Meta says Threads will launch in the EU eventually and claims the app already complies with current privacy laws.
Elon Musk rebranded Twitter to X, attempting to create a Western version of Chinese WeChat
In July, Elon Musk rebranded Twitter as “X,” moving towards his vision of creating the “everything app” for the Western world. Musk had envisioned this for Twitter before he bought it, repeatedly praising the Chinese app WeChat in a town hall at Twitter last summer.
The X CEO Linda Yaccarino tweeted that X would be “centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking.” Sounding just like the inspiration WeChat, known for providing almost all digital services in one app — messaging, audio/video, meetings, translation, social networking, shopping, payments, ride-sharing, food delivery, and more.
WeChat is indispensable in China, and Musk wants X to become that app in the United States. However, companies like Meta and Alphabet have made attempts before but failed. Most of the value creation for an "everything app" comes from payments, and China is a clear outlier when it comes to mobile payments, with 87.3% of the population using contactless payment methods in 2021. South Korea, in second place, had almost haft the adoption rate (45,6%), and the US is in third place (42,3%).
The second time is the charm. At the turn of the century, Elon Musk pushed for an X.com rebrand of the company, today known as PayPal, that he was building with Peter Thiel and Max Levchine. He also suggested they'd take on a larger scope than money transfers to become the "everything app". But focus groups reportedly thought the name sounded like a porn website, and Musk was ousted as CEO. More than 20 years later, Musk's dream of owning the "everything app" seems alive.
There has been a military coup in Niger, with consequences now rippling across the world
Look out for the first-ever Deep Dive Issue on Thursday to learn all you need to know about Niger and the complexity of the current situation.
Meta's ambiguous impact on news consumption and the political views of Users in the United States
News, Social Media, Society
Four new studies published at the end of July have examined the algorithms powering Facebook and Instagram. The mathematics driving what billions of people see on social networks have been debated for years by regulators and activists, who suggest that they lead to misinformation and political polarisation.
But to little surprise for anyone reading this newsletter, results show these questions are not simple to answer. The studies provide a contradictory and nuanced picture of how Americans have been using – and being affected by – two of the world’s largest social platforms. The conflicting results suggest that understanding social media’s role in shaping discourse will take years to understand fully and that there is no silver bullet to fixing the challenges these platforms provide.
One study found that removing certain key functions of the social platform’s algorithms had "no measurable effects" on the audience's political beliefs. But in one experiment on the Facebook algorithm, people’s knowledge of political news declined when they removed the ability to reshare posts.
Another study analysed people's exposure to the news during the US 2020 election using aggregated data for 208 million US Facebook users. It showed that political news consumption on Facebook and Instagram was highly segregated by ideology. This increases further when shifting the analysis from "potential exposure" to "actual exposure" to engagement. Additionally, there is an asymmetry between conservative and liberal audiences on the platform, with a substantial corner of the news ecosystem consumed exclusively by conservatives. More than 97% of the links to news stories rated as false by third-party fact-checkers on the apps during the 2020 election existed within the conservative corner, which has no equivalent on the liberal side.
While these results are ambiguous, more research is coming, with another 12 studies covering the same period. Hopefully, this will allow us to draw more robust conclusions about social media's impact on society. At the same time, the approach of independent researchers collaborating with Meta is being challenged since it is hard for the researchers to know what data to ask for and what questions are relevant to explore.
Pinterest is currently winning Gen Z
Gen Z, Social Media
Pinterest reported $708 million in revenue for the second quarter, and CEO Bill Ready said that the company has been seeing significant user growth, especially among its Gen Z users. “Most noteworthy, it was our best user growth quarter in more than two years,” Ready said. “Gen Z is our fastest-growing cohort, and they’re engaging more deeply than prior cohorts.”
The global general public view of China is clearly unfavourable
Views of China are broadly negative across 24 countries in a survey by Pew Research Center. 67% of adults express unfavourable views of the country, while 28% have a favourable opinion.
Negative views extend to evaluations of China’s international actions. 71% of respondents think that China does not contribute to global peace and stability, despite Beijing's high-profile diplomatic initiatives during the past year – such as brokering a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran and issuing a 12-point proposal for the end of violence in Ukraine. Most people also think China does not consider other countries' interests in its foreign policy (76%), and 57% say China interferes in the affairs of other nations a great deal or a fair amount.
The attitudes toward China are somewhat rosier in middle-income than high-income countries. Across eight middle-income countries, India stands out as the only country where most respondents have unfavourable views of China. And in three other middle-income countries – Kenya, Mexico and Nigeria – a majority even gives China a positive rating.
With information volumes steadily growing, scepticism towards curation seems to grow
Earlier this summer, the Reuters Insitute at the University of Oxford published its yearly Digital News Report. It gives us lots of insight into how we consume news media. Some of the main insights are:
Most people under 35 now say that social media, search engines, or news aggregators are their primary way of getting news online. However, social media as a news source has seen little growth in recent years.
Mainstream journalists still tend to lead conversations around news on Twitter and Facebook. Still, they struggle to get attention on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, where personalities, influencers, and ordinary people are often more prominent, even for news content.
39% of women and 33% of men actively try to avoid the news ("sometimes or always") by turning off the news on radio and TV and quickly scrolling past news online.
However, one of the more interesting insights for me is something else ...
Across all countries, only 19% of respondents agree that "having stories automatically selected for me on the basis of what my friends have consumed is a good way to get news", with 42% disagreeing. People have a slightly more positive view of automatic selection based on past consumption, but only 30% agree it’s a good way to get news – with 30% disagreeing.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is slightly more positive than people’s views of news selection by editors and journalists, with only 27% thinking that it is a good way to get a selection of news.
So, people are sceptical of all forms of news selection, whether done by humans or algorithms. Additionally, there is a strong correlation for scepticism, so the same people who are sceptical towards algorithmic selection are sceptical towards human selection. This is called "generalised scepticism" and was coined in research by Fletcher and Nielsen (2018).
So, my personal tendency to create an "either-or" situation between algorithms and humans seems to be very wrong.
But how will we ensure we receive a reasonable volume and selection of information in a world where AI can spit out new information in real time? (Look at Linkedin. It's overflowing with ChatGPT-written posts.)
Will we put our trust in individual human curators?
Will we select between several open-source algorithms?
If you have any thoughts on this, I'm curious to hear them (as always, reply to this email).
Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour will have an impact on the global economy greater than 50 countries
Economy, Taylor Swift
The average Taylor Swift concertgoer spends about $1,300 per show, according to a recent study. 71% of concertgoers say it was worth it, and 91% say they would go again. And if the current spending continues for all of the tour, The Eras tour will have generated an estimated $5 billion in economic impact, more than the gross domestic product of 50 countries.
The small things
Fiction — My most impactful summer read was the novel Assembly by Natasha Brown. It's less than 100 pages long but provokes enough thought to stay with you forever. (If you're interested in the books I read, follow me on Literal).
Music — My most repeated song this summer has been Mama's Eyes by METTE.
Tools — Since I found the tool Interact List a couple of months ago, I've been waiting for a good reason to try it. Maybe you have a use case?
Sleep — Legal Lullabies reads your favourite big tech company's terms and conditions. Close your eyes, and drift away.
Art — Looking to fill your art collection with something other than posters? Unit London Editions aims to connect artists with a new generation of art lovers. Slightly more expensive than a poster but not completely inaccessible. Previous drops have included two of my favourite contemporary artists, Seth Armstrong and William Mapan.
That's all for today. If you like this newsletter, the best way to show your appreciation is to share it with someone you think will enjoy it, too. 💕