🔮 Algorithmic Identity – #131

Who would you be without your digital twin?

Good morning,

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about algorithms.

Long story short, I started playing tennis last summer after a long break. I’ve started playing even more in the last few months, and my Instagram is now flooded with tennis content. It’s probably an accurate representation of what I watch on the app, but it’s been interesting to see how aggressively the algorithm has adapted to this new interest.

In one way, this makes me feel in control. I feel like I could easily “game” the type of social media content I’m being fed by actively watching it for a while and then letting the algorithm do its thing. This means I could use this proactively to my advantage.

  • Want to learn a new skill? Start watching videos about it.

  • Need inspiration to eat healthy? Watch videos about that.

  • Want reminders to stop scrolling? There are videos for that, too.

In another way, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m not in control of my online world. Tennis content might be harmless, but what about my political beliefs, preferences in art, food, and music, or what things I value in life?

When I worked at Spotify in 2017, one of the common feature requests was the ability to “reset” the music recommendation algorithm. When products like Discover Weekly became an important way to find new music, it was essential to them that their music taste was accurately captured and “represented.”

Although we might be able to actively game the algorithms in our lives to serve a purpose or intention that we set, they more often just keep us on our current path, feeding us more of what we already consume. And I’m not sure all the algorithms around us are as quick to adapt to interest changes as Instagram’s.

And how much of our experiences are shared if the online part of our lives is derived from our individual interactions?

On average, we spend almost 2.5 hours online every day. According to my screen time app, my number is closer to 8 hours and 20 minutes. All that time is not spent under the reign of algorithms. Most of it is work-related. But still, it’s a lot of time.

I guess my first question is, who would I be without the internet? The second is, will watching Reels on Instagram improve my tennis game?

Time will tell!

Anna

Read — A while ago, I read this text by Nat Eliason on why you should learn hard things, and it’s been with me ever since.

Podcast — The episode Why We Want What Tom Ripley Has of Critics at Large from The New Yorker.

Watch — Who runs the world? Ian Bremmer’s 2023 TED talk will teach you.

Music — Me (and Barack Obama) listen to Maggie Rogers, who released a new album on Friday.

Game — My friend Stefan has built and launched a beautiful Solitare game for Mac and iOS. I’ve been a beta tester, and it is my new favourite way to kill time. (PS. You can turn off the sound, and no one will know you are playing while in boring meetings …)

Bomb Threats Hit Planet Fitness Gym Chain After Right Wing Criticism of its Trans Policy

Security, Diversity

Over 40 Planet Fitness locations across the United States have been targeted with bomb threats following a conservative backlash against the gym’s policy of allowing transgender individuals to use locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity. This situation reflects broader tensions around transgender rights and safety concerns in public spaces.

The big picture: The backlash was ignited by a post from the rightwing social media account Libs of TikTok, which has been known to amplify conservative views on gender and sexuality issues. The controversy mirrors previous incidents, such as the Bud Light boycott last year, where businesses faced economic and safety repercussions for supporting transgender individuals.

Locations affected: Threats have been reported in at least 43 gyms across Connecticut, Florida, Alabama, and other states.

Response from Planet Fitness: The company coordinates with law enforcement to address the threats and reaffirmed its commitment to inclusivity, stating, "Discomfort is not a reason to deny access."

Market reaction: Following an initial 10% drop, Planet Fitness’s stock price has started to recover, indicating the volatile intersection of social issues and business performance.

Between the lines: The increase in threats against Planet Fitness locations underscores the challenges businesses face when their policies become focal points in the broader cultural battles over gender identity.

Bottom line: As Planet Fitness navigates the fallout, the incident serves as a potent reminder of the ongoing tensions surrounding transgender rights and corporate policies in America.

New Brexit Import Fees Set to Disrupt British Food Supply

Geopolitics, Trade

Starting April 30, new Brexit-imposed import checks and fees, costing up to £145 per consignment, will affect several products, including dairy, meats, and flowers. This could lead to shortages and higher costs for British consumers, many of whom are already challenged by rising prices.

By the numbers:

  • 10%: Expected rise in overall food import costs in the next year.

  • £1 billion: Additional annual cost to import chilled food and plants.

  • £140 billion: The reduced size of the British economy due to Brexit.

  • £30 billion: The shrinking of London’s economy due to Brexit.

  • £2,000: Brexit's negative impact on the average Briton in 2023. The average Londoner was £3,400 worse off.

The practicalities: The British government's new rules will require additional forms and fees for importing animal products, plants, and herbs, adding significant bureaucracy and costs for importers.

Estimated impact: Small retailers and wholesalers scramble to adapt, with many EU suppliers pulling out of the UK market due to the demanding new requirements. Industry experts warn of a significant disruption to the UK's food supply chain, urging the government to reconsider the timing and scale of these new regulations.

The reaction: Industry leaders and associations are pushing for a delay in these border checks, citing the severe impact on European exporters and British firms.

More to come: Fresh produce is not currently affected, though restrictions are expected by October under Brexit terms, potentially impacting the availability of items like blueberries and cucumbers.

Exhausted Sectors: The agriculture sector is particularly vulnerable, with the new rules increasing the cost of importing essential crops during an already challenging year due to poor weather conditions.

Government response: Officials state the new import charges are solely to cover new infrastructure costs and are not for profit. The measures are said to ensure biosecurity and protect the UK's food supply and agricultural industry from disease outbreaks.

United States and Japan Forge Major AI and Tech Alliance

Artificial Intelligence, Geopolitics

The United States and Japan have launched a comprehensive technology collaboration. President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida announced the collaboration, which aims to lead advancements in AI, quantum computing, and semiconductors. This marks a significant step in strengthening global technological and economic leadership.

Details:

  • AI Leadership: A new $110 million AI research initiative involves top universities such as the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon, backed by tech giants like NVIDIA and Microsoft. The initiative aims to position the US and Japan at the forefront of AI development.

  • AI Safety: Both nations are setting up national AI Safety Institutes and will collaborate on creating interoperable AI safety standards and risk management frameworks.

  • Quantum Computing: The US National Institute of Standards and Technology and Japan’s counterpart will develop robust quantum supply chains alongside a trilateral academic effort to train a competitive quantum workforce.

  • Semiconductor Cooperation: Potential new partnerships are being explored between Japan’s Leading-edge Semiconductor Technology Center and U.S. national programs to enhance semiconductor production and workforce training.

  • Commercial Expansions: Deals encompass quantum computing services, cloud computing, and more, underscoring a deep integration of public and private sector efforts across both countries.

Broader Implications:

  • Human Capital Development: The collaboration also focuses on human capital, with initiatives around STEM education, technology curriculums, and talent exchange programs designed to cultivate the next generation of innovators.

  • Strategic Competitiveness: By pooling resources and expertise, the US and Japan are enhancing their technological capacities and setting a strategic stance amid increasing global competition.

Bottom Line: This US-Japan alliance, blending cutting-edge technology initiatives with human capital development, represents a strategic move to harness and shape the technologies that will define economic and security paradigms in the future.

China Initiates Consumer Trade-In Program Following Rising Export Tensions

Economics

China is rolling out a trade-in program for consumer products like cars and appliances to revitalise its domestic market against the backdrop of increasing global tensions over its rising exports.

Key Details:

  • Program Focus: The initiative aims to boost the consumption of cars and home appliances by offering financial incentives for trading in used items.

  • Financial Incentives: Consumers will benefit from reduced down payments for auto loans, although the exact funding amounts weren't specified.

  • Environmental Goals: By 2025, China targets a 15% increase in recycled home appliances and a 50% rise in recycled cars from 2023 levels.

Economic Context: As of March 2024, China’s consumer price index rose by a mere 0.1% year-over-year, signalling subdued economic activity influenced by a slow property sector.

Global Trade Dynamics:

  • Export Growth: In Q1 2024, China's exports grew by 1.5% year over year, despite a significant drop in March due to escalating global trade tensions.

  • US Concerns: United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned China about its massive manufacturing output, urging a shift towards enhancing domestic consumption to alleviate international pressures.

  • Long-term Economic Challenges: China's real estate downturn and an ageing workforce are slowing economic growth, targeted at around 5% this year.

What’s Next: China's ongoing shift in economic policies, focusing on both internal consumption and managing export growth, is crucial as the nation navigates complex global economic landscapes and internal market dynamics.

Climate Change, Health

A global study across 204 countries shows a significant rise in stroke incidents due to extreme temperature fluctuations caused by climate change. This research highlights a deepening health crisis, especially in low sociodemographic index regions.

Key Findings:

  • 2019 Data: Nonoptimal temperatures led to 521,031 deaths and 9.42 million disability-adjusted life years worldwide.

  • Gender Disparity: Men recorded higher rates of stroke incidents due to extreme temperature fluctuations than women.

  • Regional Impact: Central Asia had the highest regional burden, with North Macedonia and Mongolia experiencing the highest national rates.

Study Insights:

  • Temperature Influence: Although low temperatures historically pose greater risks, high temperatures are rapidly becoming a significant threat, particularly affecting younger populations in areas like Africa.

  • Data Sources: The study used data from the Climate Research Unit Gridded Time Series, World Bank databases, and the Global Burden of Diseases study, covering 1990 to 2019.

  • Ageing Effect: The increasing stroke burden for society is partly due to ageing populations.

Health Policy Implications: The study calls for more preventive measures and public health strategies tailored to the growing risks of temperature-related strokes.

Bottom Line: Global warming's direct impact on health is undeniable, with increasing stroke rates driven by nonoptimal temperatures. This crucial data underlines the need for strategic health policies to mitigate the challenges of climate change.

Gen Z's Happiness Tied to Sense of Purpose in School and Work, Survey Shows

Mental Health, Gen Z

A new survey by Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation highlights that Generation Z's happiness depends on a sense of purpose at school and work. Yet, less than half are truly engaged with their education.

By the numbers:

  • 48% of Gen Zers in middle and high school report feeling motivated to attend school.

  • 52% say they do something interesting every day.

  • 73% of Gen Z overall consider themselves at least somewhat happy, though this varies significantly with age and other factors.

Between the lines: The survey, which involved over 2,000 individuals aged 12 to 26, reveals stark contrasts in how young people experience their day-to-day activities in educational and professional settings. Those who find their work or studies meaningful are significantly more likely to report feeling happy.

Be smart: The findings indicate that the happiness of younger Gen Zers decreases as they grow older, with a notable drop among those aged 24 to 26, where only 68% report some level of happiness compared to 80% of 12 to 14-year-olds.

Driving the situation:

  • Sleep and relaxation: Enough personal time for rest is a strong predictor of happiness.

  • Social pressures: High levels of anxiety are linked with frequent social comparisons.

  • Connection: Positive social interactions double the likelihood of reporting happiness.

What they're saying: "Expanding meaningful and engaging learning experiences, including career pathways, can lead to more fulfilled and motivated young people," says Romy Drucker, Education Program Director at the Walton Family Foundation.

The backdrop: This study is part of a broader effort to understand the declining rates of happiness among American youth, particularly in their educational and workplace environments.

The bottom line: As Generation Z continues to navigate the complexities of modern life, meaningful engagement at school and work is more crucial than ever for their overall well-being and happiness.

Bitcoin Mining's Climate Damage is More Comparable to Oil Than Gold

Sustainability, Bitcoin

A report published in Scientific Reports reveals that the environmental and climate damages caused by Bitcoin mining are so substantial that the cryptocurrency more closely resembles "digital crude" rather than the often-touted "digital gold."

By the numbers:

  • 75.4 terawatt-hours: The amount of electricity Bitcoin mining consumed in 2020, outpacing the energy usage of countries like Austria and Portugal.

  • $0.35: The cost of climate damage in dollars for every $1 of Bitcoin market value created, placing it between industries like beef production and crude oil.

Dirty Finance: Despite significant energy use and associated carbon emissions, only about 39% of the energy used for Bitcoin mining comes from renewable sources. This reliance on non-renewable energy contributes heavily to its environmental impact.

Context: The study proposes three sustainability criteria for assessing the climate impact of Bitcoin mining:

  1. Decreasing climate damages as the industry matures.

  2. The market price of Bitcoin should always exceed its climate damages.

  3. Climate damages per unit market value should be comparable to those of other regulated industries.

Between the lines: The findings suggest that not only are Bitcoin’s climate damages increasing, but there were periods when these damages exceeded the price of the coins being mined, signalling deep sustainability issues.

The big picture: With total climate damages from Bitcoin exceeding $3.7 billion in 2021 alone, the study underscores the urgent need for governance and regulation to mitigate the environmental impact of this and similar cryptocurrencies.

Bottom line: As the cryptocurrency sector grows, the environmental costs associated with its key technologies, like Bitcoin, are becoming increasingly untenable, calling for a critical evaluation of its sustainability practices.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something new. ✨

PS. If you got this email from a friend, click here to subscribe.