No. 222: Minerals, Electric Vehicles, and AI

Andreessen Horowitz posted this interesting conversation on cobalt – the mineral helping power our phones, electric vehicles, and more.

The conversation got me thinking about a piece I wrote back in 2015 (time flies!) on Jean-Yves Ollivier, Marc Andreessen, and the common interests they share in minerals that power the global economy.

There has been a lot written about how problematic cobalt mining is because of the extent to which child labor is involved in Democratic Republic of Congo where much of the world’s cobalt is currently produced. Companies like Tesla and Apple are working on improving the sourcing of these minerals.

While the adoption of smartphones is rapidly growing, we’re still in the early stages for electric vehicles. According to Clean Technica, about two percent of vehicles sold last year were electric vehicles to give you a sense of how far there is to go.

So, if the world moves to electric vehicles we could be consuming a lot more cobalt. In the piece I wrote, I link to a BBC piece on a city in Mongolia called Baotou. The city is a hub for the production of some key minerals in smartphones and other complex devices. There’s a lake near the city that is extremely toxic as a result of industrial waste.

We hear a lot about artificial intelligence and are moving towards the technology becoming more and more a part of our lives. Devices will come along with this: cars, sensors, devices connected to our brains, and more. Proponents of artificial intelligence say the technologies could create something of a utopia where we’re able to focus more on caring for others, the arts and more.

My worry is that this supposed utopia would be layered on top of an underworld like Baotou. I had never heard of the place before reading that BBC piece.

Perhaps we’re really moving to the singularity and an artificial intelligence-driven world like Ray Kurzweil says we are. Maybe Elon Musk succeeds in driving the global adoption of electric vehicles. If that’s so, we’ve got to be sure we’re thinking through to the outer edges of the supply chain to ensure we’re treating folks and the environment well.

No. 93: 7 Tuesday PM Reads

1. Bree Newsome penned good words on the moral duty of disruption when oppression is the status quo. 

2. Deray McKesson wrote a good reflection on the significance of social media in pursuing justice.

3. Tolu Ogunlesi discusses the impact social media has had on governance in Nigeria. Similar to what Deray wrote, social media mitigates the censuring of voices in Nigeria.

Let me pause here for a bit. I am frustrated to see things heating up again in Ferguson. I’m still wrestling with the words Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote to his son. The racist system we live in is not a mirage. Note in Bree Newsome’s excerpt from Dr. King’s letter that he mentions the white power structure. We still have that today and I don’t want that to be the case when Anna Olivia is my age.

What Deray and Bree are doing is critical to this not being my daughter’s reality.We need folks disrupting from the outside and the inside. Being part of the power structure and holding the power structure accountable.

Regarding being part of the power structure, I would just love to see more black people running platforms like Twitter and Instagram in the US like 2go does in Nigeria. The impact of black people on platforms like Twitter and Instagram is tangible, so when an Instagram account like that of the Dream Defenders is deleted for a short period, I feel anxious. A feeling of being “allowed” exists, and that feels like a cap on the struggle we see going on in America.

The work of folks like Mellody Hobson and John Thompson is critical in getting to those and shaping decisions that impact millions.

Alright.

4. Google, Inc is now a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc. I closed the post before I realized that this was huge. I look forward to hearing what Clayton Christensen has to say about what this means for disruptive innovation.

5. I’m nervous about governments and developers pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in developing Silicon Savannahs. Some are already being called potential white elephants. Two things come to mind. One. This is a long game. Silicon Valley came together over decades, the foundation of which arguably traces back nearly a century. The developments need to have a long term outlook. 100-years long. Which leads me to the second point. What crazy projects are African governments working on that don’t make sense today but could be commonplace fifty years from now? Silicon. Wi-Fi. GPS. Etc. If not at the governmental level, who’s doing this kind of work at the private sector level? That is a huge part of the foundation for a thriving future for the tech industry on the continent. 

6. This is a good piece on the danger of the big-man syndrome in the tech space and how there needs to be greater acknowledgement of the role government has played in technology. 

7. My face dropped when I saw the news or Berkshire Hathaway buying Precision Castparts for $37.2 billion. One of my uncles owns a company that makes parts for the federal government. We need to see about getting Buffett on the team!