How Challenging the Energy Transition Will Be

This excellent article in The Atlantic ‘Why the Energy Transition Will Be So Complicated‘ provides an important reminder and insight into how dependent we are on carbonated fuel, and how tough it will be to change: “The degree to which the world depends on oil and gas is not well understood“.


The article underlines how much we are dependent on oil&gas for a variety of materials in addition to energy, and how pervasive usage of oil can be in our societies. As a result, some warn “that going into overdrive on transitioning away from fossil fuels would lead to major economic shocks similar to the oil crises that rocked the global economy in the 1970s. “Policymakers,” [Jean Pisani-Ferry] wrote, “should get ready for tough choices.”

The term energy transition somehow sounds like it is a well-lubricated slide from one reality to another. In fact, it will be far more complex: Throughout history, energy transitions have been difficult, and this one is even more challenging than any previous shift.” In addition, it is supposed to happen much quicker than any other such transitions in the past, necessarily impacting the value of assets and making investment into anything related to energy more hazardous. Previously such energy transitions typically took more than a century to be established and to replace previous energy sources.

I am personally convinced that oil & gas will remain an important industry in the next 2 decades, while coal may start to whither. The solution may lie more in carbon capture than cutting too fact our dependency on oil & gas.

The current energy transition will be more challenging and complex that usually anticipated, in particular because it is supposed to be much quicker than any such historical transition. Let’s not forget this in our anticipations.


How Marketing Rules Have Changed Significantly In a Few Years with AI

Since the beginning of the Fourth Revolution there is a growing concern of the gap building between technology have and have nots. This has been quite alleviated since the arrival of the smart phone. However, there is still a growing issue when it comes to understand how algorithms work and take advantage of them. In this eye-opening piece ‘What’s On My Mind: What About the Gap?‘, Christopher Penn provides a compelling example about the difference it can make in marketing to understand AI-driven algorithms, because it drives directly what potential customers see or not.

In the era before popular, commercial use of machine learning, success in business was largely a combination of effort and luck. Effort encompasses the skill needed to make a good product and sell it well, and luck encompasses being in the right place at the right time, whether you’re the local burger joint or a multinational corporation.”

Today, data science, machine learning, and AI have thrown a bit of a wrinkle into this. So much of our lives are intermediated by machines and machine learning. What products we see, what ads we see, what news we see, what friends we see in the digital realm – which is the primary realm now for so many of these tasks ever since the smartphone became our external brains – are all controlled by machines and algorithms.”

Christopher Penn then continues to provide the example of what he could achieve easily given his background in data science for a florist shop friend, substantially increasing ranking and visibility on the internet through clever understanding of data analytics.

For a while, the Internet presented a level playing field where a small business could appear larger than it was, where relevance and not budget could win the day. That 20-year golden era of Internet marketing – 1997-2017 – has been supplanted by the AI-powered marketing era, and this is an era in which whoever has the technical resources to win will do so.

To be clear, having great products, good prices, and phenomenal service will still be fundamental to succeeding at business. No amount of AI will change a crap product, prices that aren’t competitive, or abusive service and get people to buy, long-term, who would not have bought before. But becoming visible, being seen, will be harder for those without skillful use of AI.”

Certainly a very useful warning. AI and data analytics knowledge is now the key to being visible and we all need to understand that the game has changed only a couple a years. Marketing is now different, rules are different and thus the game changed.


How Electromagnetic Weapons May Be Decisive in Future Wars

This excellent article ‘‘Revolution in warfare’: Israel has new ‘invisible’ defense system‘ provides useful insight into electromagnetic weapons that aim to destroy the enemy’s electronic systems, which are now so important in all weaponry.

The weapon, which reportedly can halt electronic capabilities of an enemy, is part of a new suite of electromagnetic warfare called Scorpius. The Scorpius “missiles” send narrowly targeted beams of energy that disrupt enemy electronic sensors, navigation, radar or other electronic activity.” Also, this new weapon is supposedly much more discriminating as “the new Scorpius weapons have an advantage over older forms of electromagnetic warfare because they can send targeted beams without interfering with unintended targets.”

We can also observe this type of weapons to be deployed in the form of drone killing devices. It may be difficult to protect electronics from such weapons if the electromagnetic energy sent is very dense. This has not yet be deployed in major conflicts between technological armies, but could certainly be a game changer in terms of requiring a new generation of reinforced electronics in all weapons to survive electromagnetic aggressions.

Electromagnetic weapons are now operational and will have a significant impact on how future wars may develop, not to mention their potentiel effect on unprotected civilian infrastructure. This is certainly a significant change ahead!


How to Explain the Trend Toward Sovereign Individuals and Entities

Have you heard about sovereign individuals announcing themselves to be above any state or country law? See for example this Forbes article ‘What is a Sovereign Citizen?‘, and a latest example at municipal level: ‘A California city council voted to make itself a ‘Constitutional Republic City’ to skirt state and federal orders it doesn’t want to enforce‘.

It has become a trend, inspired by individualism and often by anarchism thought about the fact that government is superfluous. “The short answer: a sovereign citizen is someone who believes that he or she is above all laws.” The longer answer: finding some basis to avoid applying some law or regulation you don’t like. People involved are often close to conspiracy theory and anarchistic movements.

Still, in the US, “The sovereign citizen movement is big and is growing fast, thanks to the Internet. There are an estimated 300,000 people in the movement, and approximately one third of these are what I would call hard-core believers – people willing to act on their beliefs rather than simply walk away.” It has become a concern and a trend, because it is so easy to declare oneself no obeying to certain laws you don’t like!

You can’t pick and choose the laws you are willing to obey and those you don’t. We all participate in a social construct and much of our wealth and peace is based on the addition of laws and regulations over the year. We also all belong to a country, a municipality. If we want to change something, in our democratic societies we can campaign for it. It is a bit easy to declare oneself a sovereign citizen to do as you like.


How Geopolitical Competition Give Rise to Grey War

In a new book ‘The Wires of War: Technology and the Global Struggle for Power‘ the author Jacob Helberg describes some geostrategic drivers in the modern world, as explained in detail in this post ‘The Wires of War: Technology and the Global Struggle for Power‘.

Those are:

  1. The Gray War is redefining international politics.
  2. The new weapons of war are everyday technologies.
  3. The face of censorship has fundamentally changed.
  4. Old conceptions of sovereignty no longer apply.
  5. In the Gray War, de-industrialization is disarmament.

What I find interesting here is the concept of ‘grey war’ and the fact that industrialization is the key to remain at an essential place in the world order. “Gray zone competition conflicts are now a pervasive and predominant feature of international politics. I use the term “Gray War” to describe the systemic global tech-fueled struggle between U.S.-led democracies and China-led autocracies. The stakes of this war are ultimately about political power and influence over every meaningful aspect of our everyday lives, our economy, our infrastructure, our ability to compete and innovate, our personal privacy, and subtle decisions we make based on information we interact with every single day.”

Interconnection of our economies and our technologies has changed significantly the face of geopolitical competition. Conflict takes a different face, with grey war and more permanent threats and attacks.


How To Regulate Essential Services Like Residential Real Estate

This interesting post ‘Housing, money laundry, speculation and precarity‘ addresses the issue of speculation in real estate. It revolves around the re-regulation of real estate and the limits of deregulation in that area.

Confronted to a meteoritic rise of rents in Berlin the decision was taken to propose to renationalise a part of the real-estate A referendum supported this decision in September, however it still needs to be put in effect.

Real estate was privatized and financialized as bonds and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) focusing on profitability without taking into account the usage of the underlying assets. Moreover, “REITs are private equity, and they’re a devastatingly effective tool for money-laundering. REITs are typically backed by anonymous shell companies from financial secrecy havens and onshore-offshore zones like Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming.

According to the author the situation is worse in the US where homeowning has been transferred to opaque companies with unknown beneficiaries, which may create substantial issues in the medium and long term. All sorts of unhealthy practices seem to develop in particular in distressed communities. This raises the question of how to put some limits on the financialization of such essential services like personal accommodation real estate.

I am convinced that some essential parts of the economy require proper regulation, however the market principles still need to be at play. What is absolutely important is to make that abusive or fraud behavior is avoided, and that certain financial mechanisms are not a conduit to money laundering.


How Amazon is Changing the Novel Format

In this interesting article ‘Is Amazon Changing the Novel?‘, the author takes a historical tack to explain how publishing media has always influenced the format of novels. And how the new diffusion channels like Amazon are now changing it again.

In the 19th century, novels were often published in episodes in newspapers or, as explained in the article, in several bands that could be borrowed from public libraries one at a time. This definitely had an influence on the way they were written, including the need to maintain attention through suspense at the end of each part.

Now “Amazon […] controlled almost three-quarters of new-adult-book sales online and almost half of all new-book sales in 2019” (in the US one can presume), and in particular through the publishing possibilities of e-books through Kindle publishing, is definitely changing how novels look like. What are the influences at play?

The platform pays the author by the number of pages read, which creates a strong incentive for cliffhangers early on, and for generating as many pages as possible as quickly as possible. The writer is exhorted to produce not just one book or a series but something closer to a feed—what McGurl calls a “series of series.” In order to fully harness K.D.P.’s promotional algorithms, McGurl says, an author must publish a new novel every three months.” I also believe it tends to make novels shorter on average, as well as part of a series. A bit like Netflix promotes series over movies, with the result a much longer total time spent in front on the screen!

The rise of Amazon as a major publisher and a driving force in e-book publishing will shift the novel genre to shorter formats and new ways to consume them. The impact of the publishing media on the novel has always been there and continues.


How to Use Deepfake to Promote Local Business: an Indian Application

I love this initiative in India for Diwali (one of the most important annual celebrations). A company has provided a platform allowing local businesses to generate short films promoting their business and using the image of one of the biggest stars of the country, Shah Rukh Khan. Watch the video ‘Supporting Local Retailers This Diwali | Not Just A Cadbury Ad Campaign Video

The idea is that anyone can insert the name of the business and a deepfake is generated with this name being inserted in the video. If can then be used for promotion purpose.

This is just the start. Expect such deepfake technology to be deployed for adds that would be personalized and adapted to your immediate location. Don’t be surprised if you get called by your name by some local star when you walk in the street, suggesting you should visit some nearby store! I hope we will just be able to turn some of it off.


How China Is Promoting a Government Spy App

This excellent Quartz paper ‘One of the world’s most popular iOS apps right now was developed by Chinese police’ exposes how chinese authorities heavily promote an app that basically spies on people phones, to the point that it is visible in download statistics.

While “targeted towards telecom scams, which are among the most rampant crimes in China. In 2020 alone, Chinese police reportedly cracked around 250,000 such cases“, “there are concerns over the extent to which the app is surveilling users.” The app is asking for a lot access and apparently is reacting whenever users do things like consulting foreign web sites.

This is an interesting example of what can happen when there are no strict laws regarding the use of personal data. Of course we all know that it is relatively easy to access phone data for someone with the capabilities to do it. However, having users installing an app with potentially a significant spying capability is something new at this scale.

This provides another example of the always delicate balance between the benefits of technology and its potential drawbacks, and how regulation is essential to protect citizens. The same issue is also of concern with Facebook and others. It is time for strict regulations to come into force that reflect our country view on personal freedom and the need for surveillance to avoid social disruption.


How the Debate About Shorter Work Time Has Reignited

This Wired article promotes the 5-hours day: ‘The perfect number of hours to work every day? Five‘. Based on some experiments, the concept of compressed working is being more widely tested, sometimes with mixed results.

Some companies that have tested the concept reported mixed results. Shorter workdays result in people being more focused on their tasks, but also some stress about getting things done. There is also a debate between 4-day week and 5-hour days concepts.

Promoter of the 5-hours day assert that “Research indicates that five hours is about the maximum that most of us can concentrate hard on something. There are periods when you can push past that, but the reality is that most of us have about that good work time in us every day.” In that sense some organizations report significant effectiveness increase of having shorter days with no breaks. However “not all jobs are suitable to be done in five-hour bursts. Research may have found that people’s creativity dwindles after five hours of concentration, but not all jobs require people doing them to be creative. “There’s an awful lot of work that doesn’t require deep focus,” Pang says. In call centres, care homes and factory lines, staff are needed simply to get the work done and, as Ford Motor Company demonstrated, there is a very good reason to ask them to do it in eight-hour shifts“.

In any case, the debate about the best working timetable remains open. For creative work it would seem that shorter but more intense worktimes is favorable, and this needs then to fit around personal schedules.


How Third Workplaces Become a Trend

‘Third Workplaces’ are alternative working environments, close to home but within a dedicated working space, co-working with other people. According to this article ‘The rise of “third workplaces”‘, they are clearly on the rise. “People aren’t working from the office, but they’re not working from home either.”

Third workplaces allow to work outside of home constraints, concentrate on work in an environment that provides the possibility of such focus, coffee and sustainable, and (optionally) exchange informally with other people doing the same.

In my working environment, I have observed how this is really needed for people that don’t have the space at home to have a working desk, or have small children and can’t concentrate on their work.

According to the article, there are even startups created to benefit from the trend, not to mention older startups created around the concept of co-working spaces.

I have been working in my consulting company for 10 years not having any other office than a home office, being mostly in client’s offices and otherwise meeting people in coffees. I welcome such ‘third workplaces’ concepts and I firmly believe this will be a strong trend in the years to come.


How Infrastructure Projects Cost Has Increased Dramatically in Developed Countries

This VOX article poses a great question ‘Why does it cost so much to build things in America?‘ in the context of infrastructure and mass transit construction. This can be generalized probably to all developed countries, with some differences: why has it become (relatively) so expensive to build infrastructure in those countries?

Research by New York Federal Reserve Bank and Brown University researchers reveals that the cost to construct a “lane mile of interstate increased five-fold” between 1990 and 2008. New construction — widening and building interchanges and building new sections of road altogether — is where the bulk of the problem lies

Reasons mentioned beyond the density of those locations where infrastructure are being built include institutional reasons (in particular, more power given to opposing groups leading to complaints and lawsuits). The article also mentions the lack of experience of government agencies and construction companies due to the lack of construction in the last decades. I personally suspect also financing mechanisms – long projects like infrastructure will get heavily burdened by financial costs if the government does not step in for part of the financing.

In any case, it is certainly the accumulation of layers of requirements in developed countries that lead to substantial delays and even more substantial increase in cost for transportation and other infrastructure building. This is a concern for our societies that need to be overcome if we want to remain competitive.