Weekly Dose of Optimism #33
Superconductor Batteries, US/EU Mineral Alliance, ERC-4337 PaLM-E, Buying Happiness
Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday and welcome back to our 33rd Weekly Dose of Optimism. With the struggles at Silicon Valley Bank, things are as shaky in the markets as they’ve been in a while. So let’s zoom out and take a look at all the good things happening out there.
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Let’s get to it.
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(1) The Scientific Breakthrough That Could Make Batteries Last Longer
Aylin Woodward for the The Wall Street Journal
U.S. scientists say they have produced the first commercially accessible material that eliminates the loss of energy as electricity moves along a wire, a breakthrough that could mean longer-lasting batteries, more-efficient power grids and improved high-speed trains.
Another step towards energy abundance, this time in materials science. A team of research scientists from the University of Rochester published their findings on superconductivity in Nature this week. The breakthrough makes superconductivity commercially viable within the decade.
So what does superconductivity mean? It’s a phenomenon in which materials exhibit zero electrical resistance and perfect diamagnetism at temperatures close to absolute zero, allowing for the efficient transmission of electrical current with zero energy loss. The breakthrough from Dr. Dias’ lab is that the materials it created can be deployed in normal temperatures and with much less pressure applied.
So what will the commercialization of superconductivity looks like? Longer lasting batteries in our devices, long distance EVs, more efficient powergrids, better magnets used in nuclear reactors, and the list goes on.
As a bonus, superconductivity also demonstrates what is called the Meissner effect, which is when a material expels its magnetic field. Put a superconductor near a magnet, and it will levitate.
(2) US, EU to launch talks on free-trade-like status, easing EV trade dispute
Andrea Shalal and David Shepardson for Reuters
U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to agree on Friday to begin negotiations on ensuring free-trade agreement-like status for the European Union…Working with allies to reduce U.S. reliance on China for critical minerals would aid U.S. energy and economic security, the spokesperson added.
Brandon at it again with the diplomacy. This time, President Biden is tightening relations with the EU in order to sure up the U.S.’ critical mineral supply chain. Remember how we just mentioned the importance of material science in the story above? Well it turns out, those rare minerals are sourced from around the world. Historically, the U.S. has relied pretty heavily on China for mineral sourcing, but as the Second Cold War heats up the Biden Administration is looking to wean off of this China dependency.
Geopolitics aside, we support the Biden Administration’s focus on strengthening (or at least lowering dependencies) supply chains and investing in clean energy technologies. We, of course, don’t blindly support everything the Administration does or believes, but a story like this, which lies at the intersection of supply chains and clean energy, is something we can get behind.
(3) ERC-4337 Explainer
Back in September 2021, a group including Vitalik Buterin submitted an Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP), ERC-4337: Account Abstraction Using Alt Mempool. Last week, at ETHDenver, it went live.
Without going too deep into the details (you can read the thirdweb thread or this one or this one or this one or the proposal itself), ERC-4337 allows for Smart Accounts that would solve a lot of the issues with Externally Owned Accounts (EOAs), like your Metamask wallet.
Instead of forcing people to write down their private key or seed phrase and do a bunch of clunky things in order to transact, and leaving them out to dry if they lose that key or seed phrase, wallet and dapp developers can build in a bunch of features that make the experience feel a lot more like normal financial products or apps. Think account recovery, transaction limits, improved security, gasless transactions, and subscriptions. It enables all of that while preserving decentralization.
Might seem kind of wonky, but we’re including it here because it addresses a bunch of problems that web3’s critics argued would force either permanently shitty UX or inevitable decentralization. While prices remain depressed, the infrastructure keeps improving.
(4) PaLM-E: An Embodied Multimodal Language Model
We propose embodied language models to directly incorporate real-world continuous sensor modalities into language models and thereby establish the link between words and percepts.
LLM 🤝 Physical World.
A team of researchers from Google and the Technical University of Berlin have infused a LLM with real-world continuous input. “PaLM-E” is the combination of Google’s PaLM (a LLM similar to GPT) and “E,” which stands for Embodied, or the infusion of the sensory information and robotic control.
Taken together, PaLM-E can perform a variety of tasks in the real-world, without the need for retraining. It’s able to learn and operate within its physical surroundings. Interestingly, PaLM-E also exhibited “positive transfer,” meaning it takes the skills and knowledge gained in performing one task and can apply it to a new task. Unlike an old dog, LLMs just keep revealing new tricks.
We’re not there yet, but this is a meaningful step towards the creation of autonomous, human-like robots. AI is already scary good, but as more multimodal applications roll out, it’ll become more obvious just how these technologies will impact our daily lives.
And rumor has it GPT-4 may be dropping next week…
(5) Can money buy happiness? Scientists say it can.
Adela Suliman for The Washington Post
Two prominent researchers, Daniel Kahneman and Matthew Killingsworth, came to this conclusion in a joint study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturning the dominant thinking that people are generally happier as they earn more, with their joy leveling out when their income hits $75,000.
I knew something seemed fishy with that whole “money can’t buy happiness” mumbo-jumbo. A recent study from Kahneman (yes, that Kahneman) and Killingworth found that “happiness continues to rise with income even in the high range of incomes.”
The main exception to this finding is of course that a certain percentage of people are going to be miserable whether or not they have money, and a percentage of those peoples’ misery will only increase as wealth increases.
While this article is a bit clickbaity, I do think the underlining finding on wealth and happiness is important. In fact, it’s one of the central ideas driving this whole capitalism thing that we do. If happiness is what life is all about, and there’s a strong correlation (and perhaps causation) between happiness and wealth, then we should continue to pursue innovation that makes more people wealthier. But, the authors caution, “if you’re rich and miserable, more money won’t help.”
Bonus: Not Boring Shameless Plugs
Internet Computers: Packy’s 12,000 word essay on the history and future of the internet browser. The essay is on pace to be Not Boring’s most popular piece ever and we think it’s an important read for folks interested technologically market dynamics.
Not Boring Founders: Trevor Bacon, Kellan Grenier, Jason Lewris (Parcl)
Packy sat down with the three founders of Parcl. Parcl bridges traditional real estate investments with cutting-edge blockchain technology to provide data-driven solutions for investors. Parcl is a Not Boring Capital portfolio company, and a good example of the type of bits-based hard company we like to back.
And finally, let’s wrap this thing up with a little Wonder:
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Thanks for reading,
(yes, that Kahneman)- often seems to have counterintuitive results! 👍🏾🤔 He is amazing!
The literal least abundant lanthanide, further using a molecule synthesized "in a high pressure, high temperaturo environment". Or in other words: something requiring a fantastically rare, rare earth that probably requires more energy in its creation than would be saved in a lifetime's worth of "superconducting".
The entire world produces maybe 10 tons of lutetium per year. To put this in comparison: 22 million metric tons of copper mined per year; 68 million tons of aluminum mined per year. These don't all go into conducting electricity, but a significant percentage does.