Sunday Specialist 👩‍🎓

Starting next week, this newsletter will feature an emerging technology. Each month will be dedicated to a different technology, asking the same four questions:

  • Is there a need?

  • May it be done?

  • Should it be done?

  • Can it be done?

For you visual thinkers out there:

I was inspired by this concept after listening to a friend speak at a conference. Her presentation asked these questions and linked to a paper that introduced this framework. After her talk, we discussed how the promise of technology often clouds our ability to step back and ask the big questions.

Let’s dive in.

The first topic we’ll explore is Synthetic Biology. Synthetic biology is the application of engineering principles to biology, using recombinant DNA technology like CRISPR-Cas9. Rapidly growing in popularity, this field is poised to shape how we live, work, and play.

Confused Perplexed GIF - Confused Perplexed What GIFs

Still with me?

Synthetic Biology is a perfect candidate for this framework. It’s got a little bit of everything: cutting-edge technology, political controversy, and a growing hype that has promised everything from curing disease to growing living buildings.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll explore emerging companies in the space, discuss policy and moral issues, and get into the nitty-gritty of how it all works.

And then we’ll do it all over again.


📚 Reading

Elon’s secret master plan for Tesla has remained unchanged for over a decade.

This post is a playbook for clear and concise writing. At this time, Elon had not yet taken over as CEO of Tesla; he was the primary investor and board member, but Martin was still running the company. I love this letter because Elon’s writing doesn’t shy away from diving into the details of why electric vehicles are superior to gas engines. I’d challenge you to find another CEO that uses the phrase “average CO2 per joule of US power production.” The takeaway: don’t dumb it down, and stick to your guns.

A confidential briefing written to prepare President Carter for the secret negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords.

The declassified memo came from diplomat and National Security Advisor (‘77 - ‘81) Zbigniew Brzezinski. This is an amazing and rare behind the scenes glimpse into the preparation for a high-stakes multi-party negotiation. I hadn’t known much about the accords, but this document inspired me to read into it. For those looking for an overview, the History Channel has a helpful summary.

The DeepMind team has created a pipeline to translate ancient texts with accuracy that outperforms human translation.

Figure 1: Damaged inscription: a decree of the Athenian Assembly relating to the management of the Acropolis (dating 485/4 BCE). IG I3 4B. (CC BY-SA 3.0, WikiMedia)

This week, Google claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy. IBM immediately refuted this result based on a technicality.

The concept of quantum supremacy revolves around the use of new computing methods to solve problems previously impossible with classical supercomputers. From the Google.AI blog:

For such large-scale endeavors it is good engineering practice to formulate decisive short-term goals that demonstrate whether the designs are going in the right direction. So, we devised an experiment as an important milestone to help answer these questions. This experiment, referred to as a quantum supremacy experiment, provided direction for our team to overcome the many technical challenges inherent in quantum systems engineering to make a computer that is both programmable and powerful. To test the total system performance we selected a sensitive computational benchmark that fails if just a single component of the computer is not good enough.

An open letter from a Google engineer on Google (not) being a platform company. Amazon does platforms well because they are willing to “eat their own dogfood”.

The author, on why Amazon had succeeded as a platform company:

So one day Jeff Bezos issued a mandate. He's doing that all the time, of course, and people scramble like ants being pounded with a rubber mallet whenever it happens. But on one occasion -- back around 2002 I think, plus or minus a year -- he issued a mandate that was so out there, so huge and eye-bulgingly ponderous, that it made all of his other mandates look like unsolicited peer bonuses.

The mandate:

  1. All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.

  2. Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.

  3. There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team's data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.

  4. It doesn't matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols -- doesn't matter. Bezos doesn't care.

  5. All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.

  6. Anyone who doesn't do this will be fired.

  7. Thank you; have a nice day!

A photo of our night sky … in 4 billion years.

Milkdromeda

The Milky Way is scheduled to collide with the Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years. Despite the fact that the Earth will be bathed in radiation, the view will be spectacular.


📺 Video

This talk is a thought-provoking call to action about building a better society. I won’t say that I agree with all of the points, especially since it promotes an “us” vs “them” mentality in regards to capitol hill, but it is worth a listen. A summary won’t do it justice — find 15 minutes today and watch this video on your way to the office.


💎 Quote

We learn not in school, but in life.

Seneca


💡 Have an idea for a future topic? Send me an email at newsletter@philmohun.com

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