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. 108: 3 Thursday AM Reads – VW Scandal | New African Development Bank Chief of Staff | Zero to One

  1. You’ve probably seen the news of Martin Winterkorn’s resignation from his CEO post at the Volkswagen Group. Rough year for this guy. Earlier in the year, VW Group supervisory board chair Ferdinand Piech publicly stated that there was distance between him and Winterkorn. I wonder if anything related to this discovery of VW vehicles emitting pollutants up to 40 times the legal amount contributed to that distance. Look for Andrew Ross Sorkin to analyze Winterkorn’s apology (or lack thereof), and Harvard Business School to put out some case studies on leadership, the impact of government regulation on commerce, family-controlled businesses, and trust.

  2. New African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina announced yesterday that Dr. Sipho Moyo would be his Chief of Staff. My Howard University alum friends will like this, considering that she did quite a bit of graduate work there. Add Dr. Moyo to the list of women I’ll be pointing my daughter to. (As an aside, the little one has been killing it at school. She turns three in a couple weeks and is the youngest in her class that has students who will turn six during the school year. The feedback has been shock that she is so young, yet so vocal. That’s my girl!)

  3. I just finished up Zero to One by Peter Thiel. It’s provides helpful insight into how one of the most successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs/investors thinks. In unpacking his perspective on the ingredients to building a company as meaningful as Facebook, PayPal, Palantir, and Netscape, he traces the evolution of the technology industry before and after the dot com bubble and addresses how our society tracks individuals to not put together the building blocks necessary to do big things. At a more granular level, he gives his perspective on building technology, marketing, creating a team of people who know each other really well, and the list goes on. I will probably give this one another read. Some of the thinking in the technology world is pretty fascinating. Some of it is a bit scary. The concept of singularity, for example, is something I need to chew on. Basically, it is that concept of humans transcending our limitations exponentially thanks to technology. Here’s Singularity evangelist Ray Kurzweil discussing the idea. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile – the book I mentioned in my last post, says not nice things about Kurzweil in the book. Essentially, Taleb is all about stripping away things that he thinks make us die sooner – technology, GMOs, etc. Kurzweil is all about building tools that he thinks will make us immortal – technology, GMOs, etc.